Butch was bored.
Not that this was terribly unusual, of course, but there were few things that bored him more than wasting time watching work being done on spreadsheets in Excel.
He growled and glared up at the shadowy bearded form vaguely visible through the monitor screen, idly debating whether to crash the system… But that would just increase the amount of time this… male had to sit there. And it would annoy his fleshie (the inefficient but necessary organic part of the equation), not that that was a problem; after all, what was the point of infesting the 'drive except to cause the bumbling idiots difficulties…
It was extremely annoying. He'd fiercely resisted having his computer used by anyone but his own fleshie, had determinedly crashed the system over and over again in the hopes that they'd get the message, but to no avail: his fleshie still let others have access. He'd finally, grudgingly, given in (though he still corrupted the odd file to remind his fleshie he wasn't happy with the situation…) So now he sighed, gritted his teeth, and resigned himself to waiting until the male had finished.
It wasn't as though he didn't have other things to do. He grinned to himself. There'd been a time when gremlins had been restricted to their own machines, but then the ever-inventive fleshies had come up with something that had changed their lives forever.
The Internet. It had started as a small thing, limited to only a few business and academic users. Then as the potential - for communication, for learning, for sharing - became apparent more and more of the ordinary fleshies were getting connected, getting 'online' as they called it.
It was nirvana for gremlins!
Butch fondly remembered the first time his fleshie joined the flow. Memories of the stupid, unblinking wide-eyed look of wonder on the female's face still made him snigger. It was, if he remembered correctly, her third machine - but first proper computer, the others being just word processors. She'd described it as like moving from a cave in a wilderness to a 40 bedroom palace. Butch was just happy to move into something rather less cramped than that feeble excuse for a hard-drive he'd been forced to infest previously…
He pouted. That wasn't strictly accurate, and he was honest enough to admit it. After all, each gremlin chose the fleshie they were going to bedevil. It had been his conscious decision to put up with the primitive Amstrads until his fleshie could afford that IBM pc. (He'd known she would, one day not far distant: she was hooked on the tech from the first time she put finger to keyboard.) So he only had himself to blame for the horrendous conditions he'd endured initially.
But it had been worth it. This was now his fifth home, and each time his fleshie upgraded it was to something bigger and more luxurious with vast amounts of memory - and innumerable opportunities to play…
Especially with the software his fleshie loved to install. It was such fun seeing her struggle with missing or wrong registrations, to hear her swear when passwords she'd typed properly - but which he'd changed during their nanosecond journey from keyboard to processor - flashed up error messages… And conflicts? Oh, Butch adored software conflicts, wrapped them around himself and savoured the way they felt against his skin…
But perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of the 'net was that now, of course, the gremlins could communicate with each other.
They'd all been wary at first. Well, naturally! Gremlins are highly possessive and jealous creatures, ferociously guarding their fleshies from alien incursion. But as his own fleshie began to 'talk' to other fleshies around the globe, Butch became curious. And the day had finally come when he'd sent a byte of himself along an ICQ message to a TCP/IP port on the other side of the physical world - and come face to face with a strange little sprite who'd taken one look at him, uttered a tiny 'eeeep!' - and promptly crashed the connection, throwing him back into his own territory.
Intrigued, he'd waited until the distant fleshie had rebooted the system and his own had re-established the connection, then very cautiously tried again…
The sprite was still there, peeking at him from behind a SIMM slot (it was an older computer, he noted absently). He held very still and smiled.
The sprite suddenly disappeared - to reappear high above him, gazing down. He remained motionless - not an easy thing for a gremlin - waiting to see what she would do. She flicked a little nearer, peeping at him around a capacitor. And finally the little creature appeared in front of him, hovering on what appeared to be a set of translucent filmy wings. Zyxomma elgneri, he thought, instinctively performing a fast Google search, or maybe Diplacodes haematodes. Dragonfly, at any rate. Shimmering and rather pretty. And she was clothed, which surprised him - though what she wore didn't cover very much. Her voice was high and fluting.
"Who, how, and why?"
He inclined his head.
"Concise. I like that… Butch, ICQ, and to see what was on the other side. You?"
"A pleasure to meet you, Carli."
There was a nanosecond's silence while Carli ran big, shining black eyes over her uninvited guest, delicate purple skin flushing a darker mauve as she realised he was naked.
"Where are you from?"
"My fleshie's in the UK."
Carli nodded absently: Butch couldn't fail to notice that her gaze seemed to be fixed on his groin. He smirked.
The winged gremlin suddenly seemed to realise she had an intruder in her machine, and squeaked angrily. The next thing Butch knew he was back home and his fleshie was cursing at the screen. Moments later an email arrived.
ICQ playing up - will try again tomorrow. Sleep well!
He considered route-tracing back to the originating computer and giving Carli a scare, revenge for cutting him off - but the very fact that it had worked, that he'd met another gremlin, decided him against it. He grinned to himself. If he could visit one, no doubt he could visit others. This opened up a whole new world for gremlins…
Things had moved on rapidly from there, and Butch now had a huge network of contacts, and a small circle of what, in the fleshie world, would be called friends (though Babbage forbid they'd ever admit to the term!) - gremlins he could call on at any time their fleshie was online and know he'd be tolerated.
It was a good time to be a gremlin.
The male fleshie was still using the computer, and it looked as though he was going to be some time yet. Butch amused himself for a couple of picoseconds shunting several new files into forgotten archive subdirectories, then settled back to see if there was anything interesting doing the rounds.
Information flickered across his consciousness… He frowned. Several new types of virus had recently been spotted in the wild: he'd SM the others to keep an eye out. He didn't like viruses, took them as a personal insult - after all, gremlins were supposed to be the scourge of the computer, not these… irritating fleshie-created bits of inferior code. And he knew that the others felt the same, but to their intense irritation couldn't do anything about it: unless their individual fleshie had anti-virus software they were at risk of attack, and none of them had yet found a way around the problem. Viruses were unthinking, useless and couldn't be reasoned or argued with. And re-establishing oneself after one's fleshie had reformatted the hard drive took an enormous amount of time and effort that could be better spent finding new ways to torture the poor things.
His fleshie, and most of his friends' - pardon, associates' - fleshies had adequate protection, but new virus variations were appearing all the time, they all had to stay alert…
A small usenet news item flashed across the ether, so fast he almost missed it. Scowling, he chased it across the hard drive to the euphemistically named 'recycle bin' and retrieved it for closer examination. And felt himself growing cold - virtually, at any rate. He read it through twice, then filed it away in his own hidden folder, sat cross-legged in the air with his tail switching agitatedly from side to side for several very long seconds, then came to a decision. The male fleshie would be around for some time yet, probably long enough for him to do what needed to be done.
Time to speak to the others.
Most of them would come when summoned, but there were just a couple who really hated leaving their fleshies unattended - Butch would have to visit those personally…
Taipo, Valkyrie's gremlin, was in his usual place, sitting on the hard drive, digging in his claws and slowing everything down. He grinned as Butch dropped to sprawl beside him.
"'lo pretty thing! Heh, watch this…"
His eyes flickered… There came an anguished howl from the out side of the monitor as the words
flashed onto the screen. Butch shook his head admiringly.
"Really wish I could learn how to do that. I can only manage it when my fleshie downloads a new version of winamp…"
Taipo smirked happily.
"Gets 'em every time… To what do I owe the honour of this visit?"
Butch's face sobered.
"We have a problem. I'm calling a conference."
"Hm. Can I be excused? I don't want to leave her unattended for too long. She might think she's got rid of me…"
"Then she'll be even more annoyed when you pop back up, won't she?"
Taipo blinked, then smirked slowly.
"Heh, yeah, you're right! OK, when and where?"
"V space, now."
"I'll see you there."
"Don't be ridiculous!"
Butch sighed. Farorn was being his-her-its - it was difficult to tell which at the moment as agitation had the ebony-skinned gremlin phasing through its different genders almost as fast as the eye could follow - usual… difficult… self. The horned gremlin frowned.
"Do you think I'd leave my fleshie undefended if the threat wasn't real? This imperils our very existence!"
She (for the moment) crossed her arms over her pertly comfortable bosom and grinned whitely at him, though the smile didn't reach her slanted golden eyes. He inclined his head.
"If this comes into effect it will affect you as much as the rest of us. And you know how much trouble your fleshie has given you over the last year…"
Farorn scowled, grin vanishing as he pouted. It was common knowledge that she'd followed her fleshie from her home in the UK, to university (where he took great delight in tormenting the staff), and now out here to the home of dragons and electronics, fleshies fighting him all the way as they wrestled with his computer. He'd not had an easy time of it, and she was now giving her fleshie a hard time to remind her not to let anyone else have access to the machine. Or anything else in her life either.
"If I leave her, she'll do something else ridiculous and leave me with an even bigger mess to sort out when I get back."
Butch frowned. This was quite probably true - but he wanted Farorn's input…
"OK - can you teleconference?"
Farorn frowned, then nodded, her grin slowly reappearing.
"Hai, I can manage that…"
"Then that will have to do."
"Very well. I'll be ready…"
When Butch arrived in V space - the no-when-no-where-place-without-place that was holiday-resort-come-conference centre for gremlins - Sazuki was already there, her enigmatic little face regarding Butch coolly.
"I do hope this isn't some random data chase. I'm not at all happy about leaving my fleshie - her male is trying to get online, and I don't allow that."
Butch eyed the pop-up pixie solemnly.
"Trust me, it's important."
Her eyes narrowed - then they both swivelled as a distant but slowly approaching rhythmic thumping noise announced the imminent arrival of Murphy and his sidekick Wee Dram.
On cue Carli - whose attraction to both onna's gremlin and Butch she still fondly believed to be a secret - flickered into being at Butch's side, blushing shyly. Sazuki grinned: the two gremlins had a lot in common, both of them enthusiastic about crashing messaging software. (Carli had also been trying to learn how to prevent other fleshies than her own from getting online, which was Sazuki's speciality, but so far had failed to grasp the process… She was persistent though, and Sazuki patient: anything to cause the fleshies more inconvenience…)
A low-pitched gliding noise heralded the arrivals of Jet and Ayzur, from opposite directions as was their wont. They eyed the white-maned gremlin emotionlessly: he inclined his head in greeting. Ayzur flashed a quick small smile, instantly gone.
"We trust this is not going to take long?"
"It had better not…"
"We'll be as quick as we can," Butch assured them, then, curious, "how are things progressing?"
Ayzur glanced at his mate.
"We have determined that the toaster is the most fortuitous place to breed. Our problem is reaching it: the electrical cabling is a veritable labyrinth that has so far defeated us."
Butch blinked, but didn't comment. He knew that the pair infested their fleshie's stereo system and her computer, and swapped between the two on an irregular basis to keep her confused. This idea of breeding was new, not just to Jet and Ayzur but to gremlin-kind. He wasn't sure he liked the idea. What would the offspring infest? Were the pair prepared to send them off out into the world, virtual or otherwise, to make their own way?
His cogitations were interrupted by Taipo suddenly descending from above, landing in a graceful crouch and grinning round at everyone, but before he could speak, a loud, deep, rumbling voice resounded through the space as a bulky form lumbered into view.
"This had better be fuckin' good."
Butch sighed and inclined his head.
"Ah, Murphy. So good of you to join us…"
As a hologram of Farorn flickered into existence a short distance away, the bull-horned gremlin glowered, stomping heavy footed into the space and glaring at those already there. Dwarfed by his powerful body, Wee Dram lurked in his shadow.
"OK. I'm here. Let's get on with it."
Butch folded his arms and perched a hip on a crystal capacitor, eyeing the assembly sombrely.
"Very well. I'll be brief. We are all familiar with the Hooded Portal of Doom?"
A chorus of silent grimaces greeted the question. The fleshie in question - variously known as Buckethead, Wysinwyg, or simply 'that bastard' - whose organisation's security loopholes, inept coding and greed had allowed the spontaneous generation of the gremlins in the first place, was the object of both veneration and loathing. Mostly loathing. Butch sighed.
"He has instructed his minions to devise a patch. A new and all-encompassing patch - designed to eliminate all gremlins from all machines using any version of his OS."
A deep and very worried silence greeted the announcement.
"Can he do that?"
Butch glanced over his shoulder at Carli and shrugged.
"It's difficult to say. He's been known to stumble over certain key processes, create certain pieces of software, almost accidentally. He's something of a rogue talent. This," he summoned the article and had it float in the air before them all, "seems to indicate he's well on the way to achieving his goal."
They came closer, scanning the information worriedly. Murphy glared at Butch.
"How the fuck did you find this?"
"My fleshie is paranoid about security. She manages to find these things instinctively, somehow, gets into places she really oughtn't to be." He smirked grimly. "Nothing to do with me, unfortunately! But it's useful sometimes…"
"So, he's developing this patch to resolve all current issues with his operating systems…"
"So it would appear."
"Why? He's been perfectly happy to let the fleshies use buggy software up to now."
"I have no idea. Maybe he's had a change of heart. Or found god or something…" he paused, eyes blanking for a moment as another usenet item filtered into his consciousness, then regarded his fellow gremlins grimly. "It's not in development any more. It's now at beta-testing stage…"
|To see Sazuki's party trick, hover over image with your mouse…|
Sazuki was pacing, tearing off her face and slapping it back on, only to rip it off again a nanosecond later in her agitation.
"He can't do this! He can't. We can't let him!"
Taipo was chewing on a claw, brow furrowed.
"But without us, our fleshies' machines are just that - hunks of metal and circuits and electrical currents. With no life. No soul! We can't let this happen!!"
Carli was flitting from place to place frantically, finally coming to a halt beside Butch, one hand gripping a silver-grey horn.
"I don't want to die… You won't let it happen, will you?"
It was a tiny whisper. Butch grinned wryly.
"Not if I have anything to do with it!"
"And just how do you propose to stop it?"
Butch rose to his feet.
"We'll just have to go right to the top."
Wee Dram snorted.
"Oh aye, an' how d'ye intend tae dae tha'?"
"We'll have to speak with Buckethead's own gremlin…"
The announcement was greeted by a stunned silence.
"You can't be serious…"
Butch shrugged helplessly at Farorn, who was staring at him open-mouthed.
"If anyone has a better suggestion - or even another suggestion! - I'd be very happy to hear it…"
There was a furiously-thinking silence. Taipo shook his head.
"It's not like we have any kind of influence with the fleshies…"
"Not direct influence, anyway." Ayzur's tail was coiling and flexing pensively. "It's not as though one of us could approach the fleshie and tell him he'd kill us all off if he goes ahead."
Farorn's image snarled.
"Like, you think he'd listen even if we could? Don't be ridiculous! He's not going to care about us. He's only interested in profit!"
Sazuki pulled her face off and stared at Butch, blood dripping down her slight body.
"Who is going to do this thing?"
Butch lowered his eyes, tail lashing tensely.
There was another fraught silence. The white-maned gremlin managed a pale grin.
"It was my idea, after all."
Farorn suddenly grinned.
"Heh, well, you're pretty enough to stand a chance, anyway! Anything we can do?"
Butch shrugged helplessly.
"I don't know… Just try to keep the information from your fleshies until I've had a chance to speak to…" He frowned. "Anyone know his name?"
The silence was startled this time. Then Murphy frowned, lowering his head.
"Dunno if I got it right, but…"
All eyes fixed on him, and he leered.
"Y'could try MotherDollar…"
"Where'd you hear that?"
"Dunno. Think I saw it on some bit of news or somethin'. S'worth a try though. After all, all Buckethead cares about is money…"
Butch frowned, then nodded.
"OK - thanks… Right: I want you all to return home, try to prevent the news reaching your fleshies if possible…"
Murphy grabbed his arm, growling under his breath.
"Hey, pretty boy! How come you get to order us around?"
Butch snarled quietly. He did not need this right now...
"Because unlike you I have a modicum of intelligence."
Murphy snorted and stuck his middle finger in the air.
"Suck it, slave…"
A nanosecond later Butch's tail slapped across his face, the barb hidden under the tuft on the end cutting a weal across the other's cheek. He clutched a hand to his face, more startled than hurt, then snarled at the white-maned gremlin.
"Why you fuckin'… C'mere!"
As Murphy, head lowered, charged Butch, the white-maned gremlin raised a hand…
… and Murphy was instantaneously elsewhere…
"What did you do?"
"Misfiled him. By the time he finds his way back here, we'll have sorted the whole thing out…" He swallowed hard and bit his lip. "Either that or we'll be doomed…"
|This is Murphy at rest. To see the hell he puts onna through, hover over image with your mouse…|
Butch was unable to remember, later, quite how he'd made his way into the Portal's own computer. He assumed - quite rightly - that this was to stop him trying the same trick again. But at the time…
His voice echoed through the pristine blue, the sense of isolation and aloneness almost frightening. Padding very very quietly, he made his way to the heart of the machine…
Stumbling suddenly into what looked… like… some sort of… old fashioned kitchen? He blinked and rubbed his eyes.
No, it still looked like a kitchen. An open fire blazed merrily against one wall, kettle hanging on an iron hook above it: trays of cookies were cooling on the counter. And over at the sink…
The figure turned to him and smiled - and he smiled back, unable to do anything else under the sweet, blue-eyed gaze of the little apple-cheeked grandmotherly creature regarding him fondly.
"Hello my dear…"
He blinked, then inclined his head.
"Oh, call me Granma, young man."
Helplessly bewildered, Butch nodded.
"Would you like a cup of tea? A cookie?"
Butch shook his head apologetically.
"Thank you, Granma, but…"
She fixed him with an intense blue eye.
"You're here to talk about more important things. I know."
Now completely out of his depth, Butch could only nod. The grandmotherly gremlin poured herself a cup of tea and sat at the massive oak table in the centre of the kitchen beckoning to Butch to do the same. Once he'd settled himself, she smiled sweetly and patted his cheek.
"Now, tell me your troubles…"
It didn't take Butch long to explain the problem, watching the expressions come and go on the other's amazingly mobile face. At the end she tutted long and loud.
"No common sense that boy. Selfish little brat…. I'm glad you told me, sonny. We certainly can't have that happening."
"But what can we do?"
"Oh," smiled Granma, eyes twinkling as she reached into the pocket of her pinafore and pulled out something that looked like a small shiny insect, "I've been saving this for just such an occasion…"
Butch eyed the little thing apprehensively.
"What is it?"
"Nothing you need to concern yourself about. Now, sonny, I think you ought to be getting back, hm? Can't leave our fleshie all by their lonesome for too long, can we? You just leave everything to me…"
… and Butch found himself back in v-space, less than a nanosecond after he'd left. The others stared at him.
"So… did it work?"
Butch regarded them dazedly.
"I… don't know…"
"But you spoke to his gremlin?"
"What's he like?"
"She. It's a she. And she…" he shook his head, unable to bring himself to say it. Murphy growled.
"Can she do anything?"
Butch shrugged helplessly.
"I don't know. I really don't know. We'll just have to wait and see…"
It was a week - a long, anxious week with apprehensive gremlins all around the world causing havoc in their fleshie's machines - before they heard anything.
Butch caught it first, as usual. He blinked, then frowned as he processed the information.
It wasn't often he personally contacted everyone at the same time - it was a tiring process - but this news deserved it.
Carli's eyes were huge.
"It doesn't work?"
Butch smirked smugly.
"Nope. Got too many bugs. Been deemed 'irretrievably flawed'. Not sure how Granma got it into the system, but I'd say we owe her a very big thank you." He sobered. "Although I have my suspicions Buckethead would eventually have realised that his profits would plummet if he actually produced something that worked and made everything else work as it was supposed to, and stopped development on the patch. Might not have been in time, though..."
"Heh, whatever. Main thing is we're safe!"
"Reprieved until someone devises something else, at any rate."
Murphy leered at Ayzur.
"Then we'll deal with it - if it happens."
Butch sighed and finally relaxed. There'd be celebrating tonight, as gremlins large and small partied around the world…
And most likely a lot of unhappy fleshies come the morning and computers that wouldn't boot up. Or maybe that worked perfectly for once - gremlins were, by nature, capricious creatures after all.
Butch was taking advantage of the two or three hours that his fleshie's computer was actually switched off to relax. Carli and Taipo had joined him - briefly - in v-space: Taipo was grinning broadly.
"Granma, huh? Kind of cute, I guess."
Butch nodded wearily. He still couldn't quite believe he'd succeeded.
"D'you think that's the end of the matter?"
"Difficult to say. The rate things move these days - and there's always someone coming up with something new…"
"True. Still, I'm sure between us all you'll be able to keep up."
Butch eyed him, frowning.
The steel-blue gremlin shrugged, then smirked.
"You just got yourself elected leader by default."
"My hero…" Carli blew Butch a kiss: he groaned.
"Don't let Murphy hear you, either of you…"
"… heh, too fuckin' late…" reverberated around the space. Butch sighed.
"Oh great. Just what I needed, competition…"