ultravoid #06 — Pleasure Center

I didn’t go out at night. That maintenance hour when the growth glow dimmed and the white hot grills of the P-S-U’s above went cold. It was always tricky to tell what critters could be out here hiding between the boards. I hadn’t spotted anything of considerable size so far, just the occasional cord-snake and dust-spider. Guess I owed the debugger team a few beers for that.

The CPU was still a long hike from camp. If I had any luck then that was the source of our problems. The programmers had explained everything in Speedy Gonzales speak, words blurring together, as if their tongues were obsolete for their brains. I caught something about outputs, the machine returning gobbledygook no matter what they entered. They ran tests over the computer’s exterior for the aberration’s birthmark. The Z-Series EchoSystem, in their lingo, had gone chill. Some kind of coagulation in the circulation they thought. One German theralyst brought on spent time with the machine and could only describe it as “frustrated”.

That’s when they called me. Rococo Martinez. Certified Computer Survivalist, post-apocalyptic reality TV star, and Dundee International three-time Crocodile Dundee look-alike supreme. They said I came highly recommended and they were god damn right. After conquering the Tibetan RAID stack and untangling the Equinix Exchange by hand, I told them their EchoSystem would be child’s play. I even offered a discount. I was all too familiar with supercomputers of the Z-Series variety. Their architecture transcended von Neumann into something more like natural selection- cords slithering from one component to the next and feeding on capacitor grubs. Blinking diodes fluttered through the air only to be caught in webs of dust. Quiet humming blocks of drives and processors attracted blankets of blue glowing mushrooms. All of it meshed in among the green and brown moss and overgrowth that sprung up between light wires underboot.

The breeze of distant cooling fans woke me from my nap. A thin coolant fog swirled in chaotic loops and obscured the view ahead. For breakfast I cut the head from a jumper flower, its fiber-optic wiregore spilling out in pink and aqua. The leaf tasted like an old battery, metal and soda fizz, but it kept my eyes open and senses alert. I was thankful that it was at least easy to know where to go. All EchoSystem CPUs were clocked by a mini-Hawking Hole that warped the interior, the ground gradually sloping in its direction. At its center- a sudden sink hole drop with the core resting on the vanishing point. Space itself was stretched out the closer you got, a strange effect that made near goals into distant objectives with each step. Not that I’m complaining. I needed a nice down-slope hike to clear my head and think about my next big venture.

When I came across a bus-boar rootin’ between the RAM blocks, I took pause. On any other expedition I would have troubleshot the thing right there. See if it had anything to say about the computer’s well-being. Lucky for it, the only weapon the programmers allowed me was a vibrum machete. I couldn’t help but picture the flat, angular boarhead hanging in my open suite, even as I knew its silicon tusks could tear through my cool-coat and electriphobic suit like open ports. Not that any self-respecting expense exec would ever let a boardman walk out the door with a trophy like that. It was sophisticated tech and, more importantly, privately-owned. I watched the bus-boar just to see how it was acting, its snout churning up the detritus, my greedy eyes appraising the fine aluminum wires bristling along its black spine.

It felt like two hours had passed since leaving the RAM blocks when I came to the CPU. I straddled over a low wall of piled fungi onto a steeper slope. A wide circumference suddenly funneled down to a middle dip where a thin white membrane rested. It was just as I thought. The truth was all of their assessments had been right. I hopped down the slope and knelt low next to that tumor-brain. It was soft and deflated, hair-thin veins rimming its edge like red eye. The Hawking Hole spun somewhere below view. Packed in by this squirming muscle mass rising up from a moss-caked event horizon and filtering light data like a whale sucking up krill. The membrane was more puddle than pimple, a condition I had seen before.

I pulled a music player from my pocket, put on some low R&B, and set it nearby. I dipped my gloved fingers into a pouch of thermal gel on my hip. Dabbing a bit of the blue substance on the membrane, I gently spread it over the surface, careful not to squash any of the brittle veins. The reaction was almost instant. A thickening of the liquid, curdling in that non-Newtonian way. It rose up to greet me like a bun-in-the-oven. I applied another layer and spread my hands over the whole of its smooth, bulbing surface.

It wasn’t inflating but erupting. As I whispered softly to it, slick white flesh tissue bloomed up from the middle and flowed over itself like advancing lava. I had to take care not to lose a limb to the forming elephant’s foot. The ground around was radiating outwards, physical space pulsing from this center in an aura of wet fungus. I couldn’t tell if I was standing still or sinking slowly between kaleidoscopic waves.

But the fluids were pumping again. The veins twice the size and the pimple squirming now like a tied-up bag with a cat inside. It was just about threatening to jump into my lap. My job here was done. I went back for my music player but found it half-consumed by the thickened pus.

From there getting out to the exterior was easy. I climbed over the lip of the funnel and sat myself looking back towards the CPU. I watched it not fall or move but simply recede into the distance, the ground around it like liquid draining down a sink but in reverse. When I stood up and looked away, I could see the dark looming shade of the casing wall penetrating the fog.

To the programmers I must have looked like Jeff Goldblum from The Fly, unprisoned coolant misting around my form as I crawled through the small exterior door. They sprayed me with disinfectant and gave me the green light to strip down.

“We’re getting fully responsive readings out here,” said the programmer who looked the most like a phasmid. “What happened in there?”

Now at the time I advised them about stuff like proper circuitry flow and maintaining mood surges and recommended they should check with their teams about loosening inhibitors. I was on the clock and I am a professional after-all. But on the drive home I thought of a way simpler way to put it so I’m going to tell you that instead.

“Well,” I would’ve smiled while peeling off my gloves. “You kids tend to get your heads so stuck in the higher order, you miss the finer details.”

I pull out a cigar and light it.

“You forgot to turn it on.”