"We need you down at the studio, Mama. Can you come now?" came the plaintive voice on the telephone.

Mama Plugs turned over and slapped at the annoying machine and dragged herself out of bed. They were always calling her at strange times of the day. She swung two long, lean legs over the side of the bed and scratched sleepily at the little neural plug at the base of her neck.

Tiredly she got out of bed and pulled on a thin tank top, staring at herself in the mirror. She was a tall, thinnish woman with short black hair cut in a ragged, boyish shag and a slim angular face. She pulled on a pair of grey-green khakis, covering the dark rows of metal plugs in her legs. She always got dressed in the dark, and never looked at herself very carefully, as she couldn't stand seeing the red sores that puckered up as grey, dead flesh in the area around her twenty five neural-jack plugs. They were disgusting, and it hurt like hell the days after she got them from that black-market surgeon in the alley, but they were a living and without them she'd be out there in the street with the rest of the rubbish.

Mama Plugs was a memory angel. They uploaded unfinished clips into her and she'd edit them for the simstim companies. Without her human ability to meld feelings - senses like touch, taste, and smell - simstims would just be virtual-reality movies, without the pure impact of sensory immersion. Simstim - the ultimate indulgence of the corporeal body. Simstim - the ultimate form of entertainment - it could hold audiences of millions in a surreal sort of unthinking, zombified stupor as their senses were spoon-fed a rush of images, taste, touch, smell and sound.

Mama Plugs ruminated on this as she walked down the street, carrying a small handbag and with a double-barreled ripper magnum in a holster, rakishly slung across her hips. She wore a shiny pleather jacket that reflected the bristling neon light of the city around her. An endless maze of flashing sodium-yellow and crimson incandescence stretched out before her.

Its official name was Rotovilla, but it had a lot of names. Some called it Night City, others called it Rouge City. Still others called it the Neon Jungle, or Neon City. But it had always been Rotovilla to Mama Plugs. A million-volt web of buzzing, flaring, flashing, thumping. A wild tangle and profusion of oranges, cerulean-greens, cobalt blues, night indigo and vapid, urine yellow. It glowed bright as if a drunkard had taken the warm colours of the rainbow and splashed them helter-skelter according to a paint-by-numbers scheme drawn up by an epileptic on an acid trip. Mama Plugs smiled as she walked down one level of hard, grey concrete; Rotovilla was home, it was beautiful. Her face shone in lustrous pink as she passed under the insectile hum of a neon sign.

"So whatcha need?" she said, bursting through the shabby door of an even shabbier little hole in the wall of one of the big skyscrapers that loomed up into the sky.

"Hey, Plugs, great timing," said a hunched, simian man with long, thin arms and a pale blonde shock of hair.

"What's up?"

"Oh, nothing. Just that Don Vid-Vid's comin' over in about four hours and - well - you know that simstim we were supposed to make?"

"Oh hell no!"

"Well - yeah. I kinda..."

"Oh HELL no! Johnny!" she whined.

"Yeah. I kinda didn't do it. And I need you to put it together - fast. Don Vid-Vid's expecting a blockbuster class sim by tonight, and we haven't got anything more than a bunch of pictures."

"You're full of shit, Johnny Livewire, d'you know that?" spat Mama Plugs.

"I'm sorry! Stuff came up!"

"Bullshit, Johnny, bullshit!"

She angrily stalked over to a circular platform of metal, plugging the draping neural conduits into herself. They were left drooping all around, limp, and they blended into the rest of the cramped room, becoming like every other bit and piece of electronic junk. Yet it was in this tiny little, red-light drenched shop that they made the simstim tapes. Mama Plugs stood naked, the wires clinging to her twenty five plugs and covered her eyes with a pair of sleeping blinds. She took a deep breath and with a click the rush of images began. Her back arched and she gritted her teeth. It was like a wave of liquid fire running backwards through her veins.

"You doing okay?" said Johnny Livewire, "Your EKG's just spiked."

"Yeah. Fine," she whispered through gritted teeth, "Now shut up. You're killing the resolution."

The images swam in her head, and she began the long, agonizing process of adding the sense-parts of the simstim tape.

"Ahh, the indefatigable Mama Plugs. I knew I could count on you," murmured Johnny Livewire as he moved ghostlike around the circular metal platform. He admired her hard work and diligence. She might just save their skins.

"God damnit, Livewire, what'd you do to this tape?" she ground out, the pain of augmented sensory immersion burning her nerves.

Fully into her digital rapture, the images were beginning to coalesce in her mind, coming together from a wild, kaleidoscopic jumble. Her fingers twitched, causing the Medusa's mane of nerve conduits to wiggle slightly with the movement. She added the sounds, pieced together the taste and touch. It became clearer and clearer, burning white in her mind. Closer, closer. Her eyes flitted in REM movement and she checked an internal register. Ninety percent cohesion - almost there... Suddenly something snapped. It went black. Mama Plugs had just enough time to utter, "Shit!" before she collapsed.

"Plugs? Oh c'mon Mama, wake up, wake up!" Johnny was over her, cradling her head in his lap and gently shaking her. Plugs sat up with a start, and the world swam before her. She had a white towel draped over her shoulders. A wave of nausea hit her and she fell back down, her nose bleeding.

"Hey, hey, take it easy. You flatlined there, I thought you'd hemorrhaged."

"Wh-what time is it? How much time do we have left?"

"Uhh... two hours, about."

"Oh man! Let me go! C'mon, load it up!" she said, getting shakily to her feet. Her plugs ached, burning with a shadow of the memory of sensory overload.

"No way, man! No fucking way! Look, I'll clear this stuff out, and get those old railbus tickets we've been saving. We'll run away! Far away!"

"No, come on. I just needed a little break, that's all."

Johnny handed her a paper tissue, "You're bleeding."

"I'm ready, I'm pumped, let's go!"

"Hold up, Mama, you can't jack-in in this condition. I checked your monitors at the time, you've got nerve-burn - nervous atrophy - if I load you up again..."

"I don't care. I've been taking pills for it. I'll be fine now if you'd just gimme some of them, they're in my handbag."


"C'mon. I promise, I won't load up anymore after this last one. And we'll have the money to get my nerves fixed. C'mon Livewire."

"Y'like the power, don't you? You like the way it feels, to have all your senses aware, vast, powerful. S'kinda like bein' God, huh? Only God doesn't have nerves to burn."

"Whatever. Look, we're wasting time here, you wanna save our asses or what?"

"Yeah, sure. Okay."

The click-hiss sound of electronic connections came as she carefully reinserted the neural conduits into her plugs.

"Did you save it?"

"Yeah, I could recall most of it, but we lost a lot anyway. Maybe you should take it a little easier this time, huh? Don't overload yourself."

"I told you, I'm fine. Now load me up!"

With a click and a tap of keys, the flood of images, tastes, sounds and smells manifest themselves again and she began editing.


"Hey, sorry to bother, but we've got like one hour left! How're you holding up?"

"Almost done."

Livewire began worrying. Time was running out. He watched the monitors and looked back at the memory angel. Beads of sweat stood out on her forehead and she glistened with the clear liquid. The wires wound all around her, plugging into her thin, emaciated body like creeping tentacles of some violating vine.

He hoped she'd finish soon.

In her mind she pushed the images together. Cohesion at eighty-five percent. She added in a burst of touch, a whiff of scent. The senses pulsed with activity and life. Her nerves felt as if they were being ripped apart, her head was racked with a splitting headache. Yet she felt so alive - so fresh - it was like flying! A million-hue burst of colour, a ripple of taste rolling like an ocean wave. Cohesion at eighty-seven percent - almost finished.

"Oh God! Thirty minutes, Mama, you'd better hurry up!"

"What? Thirty?"



She pushed it into overdrive. The simstim tape came together, bits and pieces of disparate images flying together into a glowing sphere of white brilliance. Faster and faster. The pain was like a spear of ice being driven through her skull, and torrents of liquid fire rushing through her blood vessels towards her heart. It felt as if her spine would buckle and twist, snap apart into two halves dripping yellow spinal juices like ichor. It felt as if her skin were prickling and burning with acid, as if someone had dumped flaming vitriol into her face. It felt as if her fingernails were being pulled from her fingers. But the pictures grew clearer - she could feel the simstim growing exponentially more intense, immersive and realistic.

Johnny Livewire wiped a trail of red blood from her nose. He examined her brain scan and felt sick. A black spiderweb grew over her frontal lobe like some sort of festering malignancy, gripping the surface of her brain. It was beginning. He injected another dose of medicine into her arm to slow the attenuation. Johnny heard something come. It was the rumble and crackling noise of a car on old asphalt. A pair of glowing headlights lit up the dark street and a long black sedan rolled into view. Don Vid-Vid had come.

"Shit! He's here, Plugs, what am I gonna do?"

"Stall him. I'm almost done."

An obese man in a purple pin-striped suit, flanked by a pair of bodyguards, began walking towards the shop.

Mama Plugs added another bust of sense. It was coming together faster now, she could view entire sections of the simstim. Ninety-three percent cohesion.

"Oh, hi Don Vid-Vid! Welcome. Uhh... how are we doing this evening?" came the voice of Johnny Livewire in an obsequious tone.

"Cut the crap, Livewire. I wanna see this simstim you've got," growled the Don.

"Oh - well - uh, well, um, come in, come in. Sit here, you must be tired, sir. I'll fetch you some Sani-Cola."

Livewire stuck his head into the room where Mama Plugs was standing transfixed.

"Are you done yet?" he hissed.

"Almost... there," she said in a strained voice.

Ninety-seven percent cohesion. The plugs began to burn visibly. The room began to fill with the stench of burning flesh.

"I'm getting impatient, Livewire," warned the Don.

"Just a minute, sir," he yelled back, "C'mon mama, don't give up on me now!"

Ninety eight percent cohesion...

The veins showed visibly on her thin arms. Mama Plugs saw the simstim take shape and rush together, falling into place like a jigsaw puzzle. The brain scan showed a growing black spiderweb-shape, distended and multi-armed, grasping and swollen.

"I've got it right here!" said Johnny, "I've just got to - um - compile it."

"Enough of this. Brutus? Will?"

The two gorilla-faced bodyguards in black pinstripes walked through the door, seeming to fill the small room with the width of their shoulders. They held heavy submachine-guns.

"No, wait, just a minute!"

Ninety-nine percent. Just a little further.

"Get him."

Johnny screamed at Mama, "PLUGS!"

It snapped. Her eyes flew open and she fell, bleeding from her ears and both nostrils. Her naked, emaciated body was slick with cold sweat. Her breath came in ragged little gasps, like a cold fish out of water.

The little grey square of the simstim tape came sliding out of the side of a stack of electronic machinery. Livewire took the plastic square and tossed it to the Don.

"Here! Take it, take it! There's your simstim!" The Don connected the tape to his personal deck and began playing it, a beneficent smile on his pudgy face.

Johnny dashed over to Mama Plugs and took her trembling body in his arms, rocking back and forth as he frantically prepared a first aid kit. In the ancient past they would have called a hospital, but nobody could afford those anymore.

"Don't worry, I've gotcha," he whispered over and over again, "Johnny's gotcha, Johnny's gotcha, Johnny's gotcha..."


Mama Plugs woke up on a sweat-soaked pallet on the floor, and recoiled, her eyes swimming in the new lights. The room was drenched, as it always was, in a bath of orange-red light, but it was all a muted grey to her. She felt only a strange numbness over herself, and her mouth felt as if someone had stuffed it full of cotton. Johnny came out of an adjacent room.

"Hi. Welcome to the land of the living."

"What happened to me?" she asked weakly.

"You were OS'ing on me. Overstimulated. Lucky you disconnected when you did, I wouldn't have been able to keep you alive and intact."

"The simstim deck, what-?"

"Don't worry! Don Vid-Vid loved it! He gave us a huge payout! Thousands of credits!"

"I get my share, don't I?"

"Well, sure, but it depends on how much you want."

"Seventy percent."


"Look, Livewire," she shifted a bit on the pallet and leaned against the wall, "I almost died doing that simstim for you. I deserve seventy."

Johnny sighed, putting down the little black box he was fiddling with.

"Yeah, alright, sure. What can I say? I'm in debt to you, Mama."

"Don't sweat about it. It ain't about debts, Livewire."

She smiled at him and he cracked a goofy, wide grin. She took her cred-card and got her seventy percent. Plugs got dressed, throwing the pleather jacket over her shoulders, and walked out the door. Outside she turned around as Johnny came to the doorway.

" 'Later, Livewire."

"See ya, Mama."

The red portal closed and she turned around and walked into the neon night. To her the colours were flashing points of white, some brighter then others, but everything seemed to fade into grey and darkness. It wasn't too bad - they could fix it. And she knew just the place.

All text on this page are copyright of Anh-vu Doan, c. 2003. May not be reproduced without consent of author.