a cybergonzo thriller
[the annotated version]
by Ernest Hogan

copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997
Random illustrations by the author

let's begin...


Death? Dismemberment? Brain-damage? I was gleefully
flirting with them all at 60 mph as I kept pedaling my customized
Chinese Flying Pigeon into the downhill slope of Cave Creek Road.
Adrenaline spurted into the RC-Cola-spiked-with-Folgers-Coffee-
Crystals that had my heart pounding a serious hyperrhythm. Since
I can cut in and out of traffic, down sidewalks and alleys, etc.,
I can get any small package I can strap onto the Pigeon or put in
my backpack from point A to point B in Phoenix faster than any
motored vehicle can -- especially during rush hours.

I usually deliver disks, sometimes documents, sometimes
sealed packages that I don't ask about -- hey, we all gotta make
a living somehow, and there simply ain't enough time to looksee
if it's legal this week. And how else am I gonna get my burger
bucks AND save up for the virtual reality system of my wettest

This time it was one of those mysterious packages picked up
from a nervous taser-toting Nigerian in a Moon Valley parking lot
to my long-time, not-quite-a-friend Doc Burnout, who for some
reason would be waiting for me in the coffee shop of the Smitty's
in Sunnyslope rather than masturbating over the latest Mondo 2000
in his sleazy little apartment across the street, as usual.

Go figure. I shoulda known.

When I zipped into the Smitty's parking lot, past a faded
yellow Honda that screeched its brakes as both the driver and
passenger gave me the finger, I heard Burnout's raspy voice
straining at full volume:


And the Nigerian threatened to give me his own special
electroshock treatment if I didn't get the package to Doc muy
pronto. I was confused.

Then there was the sound of automatic gunfire.

I put the Pigeon into a sideways skid, pointing my left
workboot to catch my fall as everything went into slow-motion. I
was soon part of a high-tech Hollywood-style macho ballet, trying
to kill my forward motion while the Doc and several Asian guys in
expensive Italian suits blasted away at each other with Uzis.
Tattooed bystanders took off to take extra doses of their
medication as I lost control, and tumbled across the sizzling
asphalt until I skidded on my skull into an overflowing dumpster.

No pain, not at that moment. Just a gooey blackness
engulfing me as I heard:

"We can rebuild him. We have the technology."


After a few centuries of cool, sticky darkness I figured
that I wasn't dead,
but somewhere, somehow, somebody was doing
some serious messing around with my body and brain.
Then my mother was there, cradling my head in her lap,
picking chunks of asphalt out of my exposed brain with plastic
chopsticks, saying, "I always told you to wear a helmet, but no,
Flash, you never listen to me. Tisk, tisk!"

Then she changed into Doc Burnout, who dug into my gray
matter with a crusty spork, saying, "Nothing like a fresh pineal
gland to chase those blues away!"

Then there was light. Bright, painful light. It gave me a
murderous headache, but did prove that there was a little more
left of me than brainpan fallout. I hoped.

"How many fingers am I holding up?" a sexy female voice
asked. It had a German accent.

There were fingers in front of me. They were long, thin,
soft and pink with nails the color of a TV set jammed between

"Uno, dos -- one, two -- tres, cuatro," I said. "I mean

"How do you know Rudolph Brunhoff?" asked another voice,
this one with a distinct L.A. accent.

"Rudolph Brunhoff?" I said. "Oh, Doc Burnout. He's a
delivery client and sometime technical advisor to me."

The man with the L.A. voice -- who was either a suntanned
Asian or a Hispanic or Native American -- nodded and said, "What
do you know about Project Brainboost?"

"What?" I answered, fixing my eyes on a nearby porthole. We
were in a stretched limo. Outside was the Sonoran desert -- we
couldn't be far from Phoenix -- with lots of saguaro cacti.

"How about the Krell chip?" asked the woman, who was a
beautiful blonde with hair like a silk helmet.

"Hunh?" I said. The saguaros were moving around. Some of
them were holding things.

"You better be more cooperative, or things could become
unpleasant for you," said the man. Then he pressed a button
causing a section of imitation wood paneling to slide open,
revealing an array of diabolical-looking medical instruments.

The things the saguaros were holding were assault rifles,
and they were pointing them at us.

Suddenly, an amplified voice said,

[What? Why am I interrupting the story right at moment of Stan Lee would have called "pulse-pounding, cliff-hanging suspense?" Because this is serial. The whole point serialization is that the audience is left hanging, goes back to real life for a while, then plug back in, bringing a lot of his/her own into the experience. With BPF in book form, a lot of you will be tempted to reading all in one sitting, and find out that I wasn't kidding about your needing to scrape your brain off the ceiling -- even though Emily proofread it in one sitting and didn't have any problem with the mouthful-of-freezed-dried-coffee-crystals density, but then if you've read her novels "Shade", "Larissa", "Scorpianne", "Eggheads" and "The Kronos Kid", you'll know that she'll tougher than she looks, and things live in her brain that would have no
trouble tearing apart your sweet little psyche and sprinkling it over it's cornflakes.]


The brown-skinned Asiatic man looked out the porthole at the
heavily-armed cacti that had surrounded the limo.

"How on earth did they find us?" he said.

His blonde companion screamed into the intercom at the
driver, "Get us out of here."

The limo lurched into a dust-vomiting start. I was thrown
back into the seat that I was strapped into. The g-forces made
my headache explode. I grabbed my head; it was covered with
bandages -- what had these people done to me?

Through the windshield and portholes and cloud of dust I
could see saguaros firing their assault rifles, running for
cover, and tumbling over the limo's hood. They were rather
funny-looking saguaros -- too fat and squat to be real, but about
the right size for an average-sized human to fit inside. Years
ago, when I was but a child, not yet the Flash that I am now, I
saw a news report about how somebody in Washington had the
brilliant idea to dress DEA agents in saguaro suits along the
border to stop smugglers from bringing drugs into Arizona. I
laughed, but then I was young, and still believed that the world
made sense.

Soon the driver was making some impressive high-speed turns
through suburban-looking streets. So, we hadn't left Phoenix
after all, we were in one of the mountain preserves, probably not
far from the heart of town. This is the sort of city that gives
you the impression of being in the middle of nowhere in certain

"Head for the freeway," the man said in his L.A. accent.

The limo soon charged up an onramp. I imagined Wagner's
Ride of the Valkyries as suitable background music. Like the
helicopter assault in Apocalypse Now. Or the Klu Klux Klan
coming to the rescue in Birth of a Nation. My blood ran cold,
but it didn't help my aching head.

"How are you feeling?" asked the blonde woman, her German
accent sounding so European and civilized.

"Awful," I said.

"Well, you are a very lucky young man," she said. "If it
wasn't for us, you would be dead."

"I've always found freeways to be good places to talk," said
the man, "especially at 60 miles per hour and up. Do you feel
like talking?"

"I don't feel like doing anything," I said. "My head . . ."

The woman took my hand. The man picked up an oversized pair
of chrome-plated pliers and aimed them at my nose.


He didn't have to touch me. My bandaged head already hurt
like hell. I screamed at the sight the gleaming pliers.

"Okay," I said, "what would like to talk about?"

"Very good, darling," the blonde said, squeezing my hand.

"What were you delivering to Brunhoff?"

"Brunhoff? Oh, you mean Doc Burnout. I don't know," I
said, which the brought the chrome pliers closer to my face. "It
was a sealed-package, no-questions-asked deal! Honest! I'd
swear on an autographed copy of Neuromancer!"

They did a quick exchange in what didn't sound like German
or Japanese.

He let the pliers hover in front of my eyes, and asked,
"Then what about Project Brainboost, and the Krell chip?"

"Nothing. Nada. Please believe me. I do know some
things -- like local business opportunities in high-speed
delivery via bike."

She stroked my arm, and asked, "Were you involved in
Burnout's experiments?"

"What experiments? He just piddles around with all kinds of
incomprehensible stuff. Like every other computer geek who
thinks he's a cyberpunk."

Again they conferred in the unknown language.

He put the pliers away. My throbbing head was relieved.

Letting go of my arm, she said, "Then we made a good choice.
You are a perfect subject for our little experiment."

"Experiment?" I repeated, flashing on horror movies and/or
me as human guinea pig turned monster. Would my girlfriend be
repulsed or turned on?

"You see," he said. "We've had to perform some surgery on
you. Most of it reconstructive, because of your . . . accident,
but we also implanted . . ."

The limo was then rammed from behind. The impact cranked my
pain up to max. Then there was some rapid-fire horn-honking,
with the booming of a rap backbeat.

The driver rolled down the partition from the passenger area
and his window with a couple of keystrokes on his NASA control
panel dashboard.

Beside us was a red, battle-scared Cadillac Seville full of
homeboys all wearing red bandanas. Then one riding shotgun had
his head out the rolled-down window, said, "We like your bullet-
holes! Like some more?" and pulled out a .357 Magnum, took aim
and . . .

[Yes, yes, William Gibson's Neuromancer has indeed become a
bible for certain parts of postmodern society. Cyberpunk has
spawned the high-tech counterculture that the high-tech middle
class has wanted for so long. In BF, I am both reporting on, and
making fun of this new counterculture. Some may prefer to use
the word "exploitation."

[Yes, I am in the tradition of the exploitation filmmakers
of the past, who were one step ahead of the rest of the culture
in figuring out what would get the kids to the drive-ins. I
count Roger Corman, Samuel Z. Arkoff, Sam Katzman, William
Castle, Inoshiro Honda, and Abel Salazar among my heroes. This
working-class hero dreams of making a living off of high

[Of course, I have been warned that somethings are just so
strange that they are impossible to parody.]


The driver cold-bloodedly punched the accelerator, causing
the limo to lurch ahead just before the Magnum coughed up a slug.
His hand hovered over a red blinking button as he asked, "Should
I nuke 'em?"

"Just get us off the freeway," said the man.

"And don't lose them," said the woman, "just keep far enough
ahead to be a difficult target."

We sped away in a path that was lightning fast and just as
crooked. The g-forces and bodily collisions nearly killed me.
My head, my head . . .

"Let's take advantage of this situation," the man said, "and
start the field experiment now."

"Excellent idea," she said.

The Cadillac kept on our tail, far back, but dead on. The
triggerman kept taking aim, but couldn't get a bead on us.

"This area looks suitable," said the man.

We were in that industrial area next to downtown Phoenix
that could be used to film a low-budget remake of Bladerunner.

"Pull over and park somewhere," she told the driver.

We became stationary over cracked asphalt and broken glass
so fast if felt like my brain crashed into the top of my skull,
pulling my spinal cord and all my nerves up to fuse with it in an
implosion of pain.

"As we were saying," the man said, "you are a lucky young
man, escaping death to become a prototype for the 21st century."

"The Krell chip should allow you to survive in the chaos of
the fractalized Information Society," the woman said.

The Cadillac screeched to halt nearby, taking a bite out of
a chain-link-topped-with-razor-wire fence. The homeboys piled
out, and they all had guns.

"In some ways," the man said, "I envy you; I really do."

The woman smiled, and opened the door that wheezed like an airlock.

The man gave me a swift kick, sending my ultra-sensitive
head into the post-holocaust pavement. I kept thinking that I
couldn't possibly hurt any more; then, I would hurt more. I was
getting sick of it.

Through some weed growing through the cracks, I saw the limo
skid around a corner. With my other eye I could see the
homeboys, glaring at me.
Something, maybe the Krell chip, made me stand up.

[I am not a native Arizonan. I was born in L.A., East L.A.
Freeways make me feel at home if I'm in San Francisco, Austin, or
Mexico City. The roar of nearby traffic soothes my nerves. I am
a product of my environment: I feel a spiritual connection to
[This does not explain that I am only now getting around to
getting a driver's license. Maybe nothing will.]


When they got a good look at me, the homeboys -- as Little
Richard would put it -- screamed like white ladies.

"Allah have mercy!" "What the hell!" "Let's get out of
here -- he might be radioactive of something!" "He's bleeding --
he's gonna give us AIDS!" they yelled as they flowed back into
the Cadillac and left in a cloud of dust and grime.

I felt my bandages, carefully. I must have looked like an
old-fashioned horror movie monster. If there was a mirror
around, I'd probably scare myself. Dumb luck saved me.

Or was it the Krell chip?

What was this thing they put in my head? And who are they,
while I'm at it. Just another Information Age problem. The
right data could solve it, but where to look . . .

The hospital-bunny-suit pajamas I was wearing didn't have
any pockets. I didn't have any underwear. No sign of my wallet
or my pager. I was downtown, miles from home. What was I
supposed to do?

My throbbing brain (or was it the chip?) lurched into
action. I found myself looking around, scanning for information.
I wasn't really that far from the Mercado. Maybe an offering to
the concrete Quetzalcoatl would help. My girlfriend Vampiko
would be proud. I picked a flowering weed from an eruption in
the asphalt and walked.

In the middle of an unpaved parking lot was a saguaro, a
phoney-looking one, like the gun-totters that chased us out of
the desert. I waved at it. It didn't wave back. I walked on,
and when I looked back the giant cactus was gone.

The Mercado was empty, as usual, and hot from all the
pavement, the pseudo-Mexican architecture, and the lack of shade.
Nobody noticed when I tossed the flower into the larger-than-life
replica of the feathered serpent's mouth. A bus with the Great
God Barkley painted on the side passed. If I didn't feel like I
was going to die it would have been like a religious experience
or something. Vampiko would have seen it as a sign of spiritual

Vampiko. If I called her she'd come get me. She did love
me, as she often said.

I wandered around for a few blocks, trying to bum a coin.
dressed-for-success citizens took off at the sight of me.
Finally, a toothless homeless guy gave me a quarter.
Suddenly, something hissed. A lizard the size of a pit-bull
was licking up a trail of blood that I was leaving. It looked at
me, then licked its lips and leaped.

[The Barkley bus, sadly, is no more (this writing: 19 April
1995). And Sir Charles is in decline. Godhood is not forever.
[Yes, Virgina, there really is a Mercado in downtown
Phoenix. A mad dream of Governor Fife Symington (back when he
was just Developer Fife Symington) and Chicanos Por La Causa.
The businesses in the Mercado haven't caught on, but in then this
the day of the air-conditioned mall, and the open-air Mercado
allows you to experience upclose&personal; Phoenix's murderous
heat-island effect most months out of the year.
[They also didn't know their Aztec mythology: An art
gallery existed there for a while under the name Casa de
Xochipilli, and a plaque identified Xochipilli as the patron
diety of the arts -- WRONG! "Pilli" is N huatl for prince! He's
the god of mind-altering substances, which are very important to
a lot of artists -- not to mention preColumbian religion -- but
not the same. The goddess they thought they were evoking is
Xochiquetzal, patroness of the flowering Earth, which includes creativity.
[Who knows, maybe the god and goddess got together and put a
curse on the place.
[Anyway, it is nice to have a life-sized Quetzalcoatl in
town. Feed him a flower for me if you ever visit.]


It must have been the chip, my maimed brain couldn't have
done it. Calculating the velocity and trajectory of the lizard,
I simply stepped out of its way.

It was confused when it didn't land so its jaws could lock
on my throat. I ran a few blocks before its reptilian brain
could sort things out.

Phoenix was full of lizards this year. It could be because
of all the rain. Obeah X15 ("I'm an experimental model," he sez)
thinks it's televoodoo hacking. Most lizards were twice their
normal size, but this was way out of line.

Passing a public phone, I did a Charlie Chaplin one-footed-
stall&turn;, fed it my quarter and dialed home. It rang and rang.
"Come on, Vampiko, honey, wake up," I said. Finally, there was
the sound of a pick up.

"Hel . . ." she said, then stalled out.

"Vampiko," I leaped in, "it's me, Flash!"

"Flash!" Her adrenal gland popped into action. "Where have
you been? I've been worried sick. Your machines have been
making an awful racket for days. They keep waking me up, and you
know I need my sleep to be beautiful for work." As if anybody
would be looking at her face. "I think we should get my coffin

"Sorry, honey, but I've had an accident."

"Oh, no. I told you that you should wear a helmet."

"Yeah, I know. Could you come an get me.?"

There was pregnant pause. "That would mean going out into
the daylight . . . the harsh, deadly Phoenix daylight . . ."

"Use your protective gear, honey." At first the vampire
thing was just part of her topless-dancer act, but now it was
going too far. I enjoy a good neck-bite as much as the next guy,
but lately she's been wanting to draw blood.

"First, that gigantic lizard trying to get in the window,
and now this . . ."

"Vampiko, are you coming to get me?"

"Well . . . I guess so. Which hospital are you at?"

"No hospital. Meet me at the Central Library." That was
the chip talking. It located the nearest, largest information

"Take care, mon cher," she signed off.

The chip soon had me powerwalking to the library. If I
tried real hard I could glance back and see that a saguaro was
following me. It was moving fast. Did it have a gun?

[Televoodoo makes perfect sense to me. Cybernetics and
voodoo are both just manipulating information. I wrote about
'lectronic loas in my first published story ("The Rape of Things
to Come" in Amazing Stories)back in '82 when Elinor Mavor was
editor, years before Gibson's Count Zero. He may have gotten the
idea from me, or the loas are whispering to both of us.
[People who dress, and act like, and actually believe that
they are vampires exist, and becoming more and more common. You
see them on talk shows, and hanging out in public places after
sundown. Vampiko is composite of real people I have met in the
flesh. Ask my wife -- she'll back me up.
[There was that science fiction convention several years
back, where Emily was scheduled to be on a panel about vampires
at midnight. We'd figured nobody would show up for it, but they
were almost literally hanging from the rafters. They were dead
serious. Some of them had prosthetic fangs that made them talk
like Elmer Fudd. Somehow, we got away before there were any
unsolicited exchange of bodily fluids.
[And that was before all those folks from California started
moving to Phoenix!]


Soon I had to run to stay ahead of the saguaro. Then I --
or maybe the Krell chip -- got fed up. I stopped, turned around
and said, "Who are you? What are you? What do you want?"

It just stood there. Didn't move. Didn't talk.

A white homeless man, with his hair and beard in crude
dredlocks, whose sunburn seemed to be breaking down his DNA as he
sat in lotus position on the sidewalk said, "That's right young
fella, we're all cacti under the skin -- learned that from

The chip had me bee-lining it to the library. The saguaro
didn't move. Mr. Dredlock Peyote cracked a beatific smile.

With my blood-stained bandages and bunny-suit, I didn't
stand out at the Central Library among the unconscious homeless,
the migrant workers, Native Americans with French-braided hair
and Budweiser bandanas, Indians in sports shirts and saris,
Nigerians in mirrorshades speaking Yoruba into cellular phones, a
low-rider girl with a Virgin of Guadalupe T-shirt, and an Anglo
nerd with a gun and knife on his belt and a NUKE 'EM FROM ORBIT
T-shirt. "Phoenix is the new Interzone," as Doc Burnout says.

The chip didn't know where to start at first, but soon had
me keying away at a computer terminal, making random stuff flash
on the monitor. A primitively animated cockroach scurried across
the screen followed by HELP! I'M BEING HELD PRISONER IN A
BULGARIAN VIRUS-FACTORY! Soon I took charge, found some books I
was interested in, and got them off the shelf.

I'd been trying to get through The Satanic Verses ever since
Rushdie got the death penalty for it. Now I finished it, and
went through the Koran so I could better understand all the
references, in less than a half hour. Reading is usually a slow-
go for me that can cause drowsiness. Somekinda brainpan fallout here!

Next I went through The Hacker Crackdown, which Doc Burnout
had recommended, in about four minutes, chuckling here and there;
if only Chairman Bruce knew what was really happening! Then I
read Carlos Fuentes' Christopher Unborn (about 20 minutes), and I
could see why my dad liked it so much. Ishmael Reed's Japanese
by Spring
(3 min.) was just as dead on about postmodern
multicultural relations and as funny as Obeah X15 had said.

I read all the day's newspapers (18 min.) and was in the
process of pulling the complete works of William Burroughs off
the shelves when three-inch nails in a black-velvet glove like
the claws of the Aztec goddess Itzpapaotl dug into my shoulder.

[This chapter was written before the mass exodus from SoCal
and the media put in its bid to make Phoenix the new center of
the known universe. Really. I came up with the whole idea of
Phoenix as the new Interzone as a joke. I had no idea that is
was about to come true.

[The description of the people in the library is documentary
with splash of satire.

[I recommend the books and authors mentioned. Ishmael and
Carlos will blow your minds. Free Salman Rushdie -- Mongrel
Power is alive and growing!

[Bruce Sterling is often brilliant, has produced some of the
best fiction of our times, but, like other writers of my g-g-
generation, he spends more and more time screwing around rather
than taking care of business. And he doesn't know everything.
'Nuff sed.

[Iztpapaotl is the Aztec goddess of night and visions:
Nightmares. Her name means Obsidian Butterfly. I know the touch
of her claws well.]


I caressed the velvet claw with my own hand.
It was Vampiko in her full-body anti-radiation suit. She
had designed the esthetics features -- like the all black velvet
shroud and veil. Doc Burnout and I helped with the insulation
layer and the hat with the built-in fan to which we added a
micro-misting system.

"Oh, mon cher," she said, her accent pure San Fernando
Valley, "it is you." She turned me around and looked me over.
"Mon deiu, is this an accident or some kind of fashion

"Accident," I said.

"Good! You've had some lapses in taste before, but this..."
She shook her not-quite transparent veil.

"Yeah," I stood up, let her hug me, gritted my teeth, let
out a groan. "It hurts like hell."

"Oh, mon amour," she said, "we must get you home then. And
we must be careful. The anti-vampire people are all over. I
swear a car followed me all the way over here. And with those
big lizards all around ... And now, my beloved hurt! I don't
feel safe. It's as if the world has gone mad."

Mad indeed. We must have looked like the son of the Mummy
and Dracula's daughter making our way through the magnetic
sensors, arm in arm, the ancient guard glaring at us, and me
fighting the chip that wanted me to read everything in sight.
This sure wasn't no Age of Reason going on here.

"Look," she pointed a velvet-shrouded finger, "those people!
Their looking at my car!"

I didn't have the energy to say that maybe it was because it
was an all-black Volkswagen Beetle with black-tinted windows and
a vanity plate that read UNDEAD. Maybe it was better for our
relationship that I kept my mouth shut.

"People have been trying to get in touch with you," she
said, "those machines of yours have been going berserk . . ."

Something was ticking, the chip soon had me focusing on a
package on the back seat.

"What's that?" I asked.

"Somebody put it on our welcome mat a day or so ago. It
looked important, so I brought it along."

"Was it ticking before?"

"Why, no. I don't think so."

I carefully picked it up. It was a big, padded envelope
with TO: FLASH GOMEZ -- IMPORTANT! scrawled on it in a thick
purple marker. It wasn't very heavy.

Then it began to beep.

[Arizona is the land of ultraviolet radiation. My skin had
gotten darker since I got here nine years ago. If you listen
carefully, you can hear chromosomes snapping. I predict a lot
mutation and skin cancer in the 21st century.

[Yup, Flash is Hispanic, a Chicano -- like me -- to be
specific. What? You thought he was Anglo? And isn't Hogan
Irish? Things are seldom what they seem. My mission in life
seems to be to get people question their perceptions of reality.

[By the time I wrote this episode, I hadn't heard from
Barnes and was too busy cleaning toilets to try to catch up with
him. Suddenly, he's handing me a stack of the first issue of The
Red Dog Journal, the hard copy version, that was also available
thru FaxMO. This software had jumped media like a mutating
virus. People in local coffee shops and bookstores were eating
up the copies Barnes was giving away. More episodes were
needed -- so I got busy.]

Part 2