Got the call early yesterday AM, still bleary-eyed and flopping all over the bedroom floor like a sucker-punched spidercrab. A spidercrab filled with enough space beer, amyl nitrate, and ladyboy joyjuice to kill a gaggle of East German woman wrestlers, or at least make them really !@#$ happy for all of three seconds before turning their brains into schnitzel-flavored smoke. It was hizzoner, finally on the phone with me at long last, and I was in no shape to handle the inevitable battle over my unique method of assassin disposal.
But this was, to my surprise, not that phonecall. That phonecall can apparently wait until later. Maybe when the bodycount gets into four digits, or I decide to stop being the biggest backer of the Computer Hell Virus Concern. Or it's an election year and he wants to look all butch.
Anyway. The call's first four words after "SPYGOD" were enough to sober me the !@#$ up better than the biggest tjbang stick I ever tossed in my mouth, propel my newly-sober !@#$ out of the five person katooey meat tangle on the floor, and get me moving to rendezvous with Neo York City's emergency services.
"The buildings are moving."
In any other city, that'd mean an earthquake, or maybe some weird science terrorist !@#$ rolled into town with a weirder plan. Some clown actually tried to kidnap Denver, back in the early 60's, using shrink rays and a legion of tanktreaded robots. Strange Justice settled his hash real !@#$ quick.
But in this town, twenty years after Compuconqueror turned it into the city of five hundred years into the future? It means the city's incredibly-slowed-down thought processes just crunched a digit or two, and it needs to move some or all of itself around in order to move into the next computation.
This is life in Neo York City. There's free housing, electricity, heat, A/C, food, and water for everyone, the public transportation is awesome, and the external defense grid kicks serious !@#$. But every three to five years everyone needs to get the !@#$ out of town for a few days while the city literally rearranges itself, and we have to figure out where everyone's old place has moved to.
A little over 20 years ago, it was New York City. It was crowded and dirty and loud and nasty, filled with crime and urban blight and all the bad things they say about cities. But once it held your heart in its concrete hands, and kissed you with its steel lips, you were a New Yorker forever. Bought and sold.
Then came the Compuconqueror, who was (and still maybe is, or at least will be) some time-traveling !@#$ from the year 400 Billion or something like that. Imagine a man-shaped pile of gears and wires with large clocks for joints, and you're kind of getting the picture. That and some really corny dialogue, which I guess goes to show that, 400,000,000,000+ years in the future, some things never go out of style.
What did he want? Like the old joke goes, "he didn't say." What he did do was release some kind of substance out into the central water supply of the city. And this !@#$, after getting everywhere in the grid, blew out of the toilets and taps and fire sprinklers everywhere, turning every street and block in town into silvery metal imprinted with gold circuits, and sending metal supports up the side of the buildings and houses that sit on them.
The conversion was both fast and total. One minute we're standing around, complaining about the Yankees. The next the streets and buildings are all sheathed in steel and gold and they're !@#$ moving.
The blessing was that, whatever it'd been turned into, the city was kind. That kick-!@#$ external defense grid must have been looking inward, because it gently grabbed every single living thing inside the city, even birds in the park and stray cats in trash cans, in force fields and sent them outside. A few people died from heart attacks brought on by shock and stress, but as high-tech city-jackings go, it was actually one of the gentlest ever.
(Not that they're too common. See my earlier comment about Denver.)
Our job was to go into the city and find out what had happened, though Dr. Yesterday called it the moment he saw the orbital footage. The city had been turned into a giant Positronic computer, whose circuits were constantly rearranging themselves as it worked on whatever problems its creator had given it. God only knows what that was, as the Compuconqueror had both the mother of all glass jaws and a back door to the future, which he triggered as soon we cornered his weird !@#$.
What to do? Everything in the city was still there, more or less. It was just moving every which way at speeds so insane even the speedsters were getting bloody-nosed headaches trying to watch where they went. But we didn't have a prayer of changing the city back if we couldn't even understand what the !@#$ could effect such a massive conversion in the first place.
Of course, Dr. Yesterday had the bright idea of the hour. He overloaded the computer controls with every single nonsense, impossible equation he could think of. And then, when no one was looking, he had Gertrude come up and put in every crazy thing she couldn't figure out in there, too.
The end result was that, taxed beyond its ability to think, the city's computations slowed down. Immensely. Now, instead of moving at near-light speeds, the buildings were moving only once per hour. And after a few more of the super genius set got done inputting their laundry list of unsolved equations, pet theories, and the occasional mathematical joke, it wasn't even doing that.
Problem solved, we all patted ourselves on the backs and figured out what to do with this weird, super-futuristic pile of !@#$ we'd been handed. There obviously wasn't room to rehouse all the people who'd been kicked out, but none of the surrounding states or cities wanted them. And, strangely enough, most of the people wanted to come back in. Mayor Dinkins was out there with his megaphone and a big crowd every !@#$ day, asking to come back in, and every day the crowd got larger and louder.
So we said uncle, and let everyone back in. They found where their old things were, picked themselves off the ground, and got their lives back as best as they could. It didn't hurt that the city, in spite of being bogged down by massive computational demands, was able to sense that living beings were inside of it, and attended to their needs as best it could. Hence the free food, water, A/C, heat, electricity, and so on.
It was touch and go for a while, and people are still finding "lost" apartments, homes, and businesses, two decades later. But the city pulled together, and before you knew it the town was back in business, only with new rules and a new feeling.
Which is why it's Neo York City, now. Guiliani was the first one to call it that when he ran in 1993. It's stuck like gum on our shoes ever since.
But there are still problems in this paradise. And the chief problem we have is that, ever couple of years, the city gets a little ahead in that big pile of computations we handed it, back in 90-whatever. And when that happens, the city starts twitching, and will soon be moving again.
The first time it happened was back in 95. We had no idea it was coming, and it was not handled very well. People panicked, there were stampedes and riots, and the force fields that had carried everyone off to safety the time before didn't cut in until the very last minute, just before the actual move occurred. I think we lost about 500 people that day, and it's still something of a sore spot amongst the super genius types.
Worse still, once the city stopped moving, it took an act of massive faith to get people to come back. And even then we had a major problem finding everyone's homes and businesses again. Maps had to be redrawn, signs changed, roads repainted. All kinds of messes, big and small.
By the next time, we had everyone's place tagged with a chip, which everyone calls their "drunk beacons" since so many use them to get home after a night at an unfamiliar bar. We also had the warning systems in place, so that when people saw the buildings start to twitch and shift, they knew to contact the authorities and start packing.
Hence the call from Hizzoner this morning, and why I've been downtown with the emergency people all day long, helping to oversee the evacuation. It should all be over in a day or so, and then we can get back to getting back to life as we've made it, here in the somewhat kneecapped city of the future.
All the same, whenever I look out the window, seeing the towers and buildings I remember (and remember them being somewhere else, once upon a time), I can't help but feel uneasy. Whatever that weird robot !@#$ from the future wanted this city for, he got most of what he wanted on that day. And I can't think it was anything good.
Are we living inside a time bomb? If so, when it goes off, will we know it for another shift?
I don't know. All I know for sure is that BeeBee and METALMAID are already up on the Flier, along with anything I don't want getting smashed against the walls when The B.U.I.L.D.I.N.G. goes near-luminal. And that's all I can do for now.
That and wait.
(SPYGOD is listening to Erotic City (Prince) and staying sober until this whole !@#$ move gets through. Maybe.)