At first, urban tribalism was considered nothing more than another fifteen-minute fad that would fade along with all of the other crazes that came before. But the tribals didn’t go away. They proved the adaptability of human nature by finding ways to continue and to survive. They took ancient folkways and techniques and adapted them to life in the urban jungle. They found niches in the city ecology where they could live and hunt and raise their families. They cut themselves off from the rest of the world. They established their own “reservations” in the midst of the chaos of the sprawls, staked out their territory and defended it against all comers. Now there is even a second-generation of primitives, those who have known no life other than that of their tribe. Some of them are forming the basis for the future continuation of their tribes, while others, like youth everywhere, rebel against the ideals of their parents and want to learn more about the society that they have never been allowed to be part of. They are drawn back into the places and ideas that their parents rejected. Some return to their tribes shaken by what they have seen while others find new lives in the outside world and are never heard from again. -from Urban Primitives, by Dr. Niles Wolfe, Ambrosius Publications, Boston, 2049 I am amazed at how easy it is to settle into life with the tribe. I expected it to be more difficult, but I truly feel at home here. Nobody even questions my not remembering them from before; they say I’m a different person now and it’s only right I should start a new life with a clean slate. Some even think that forgetting what happened to me before I underwent the Resonance means I am destined to be a truly great shaman, that I really have been reborn in all of the ways that matter, able to look on the world with new eyes. The Netwalkers welcome me into their tribe with open arms and, although I have no blood relations here, I feel like I am part of a family. There are forty-six members of the tribe living in a complex of structures in the Rox-the Roxbury Barrens of Boston. Most of the tribe is made up of people who have dropped out of ordinary society, forced by a variety of circumstances to live in the wilderness of the Rox instead of the clean and protected corporate enclaves of the city. Papa Lo is the tribe’s chief. He keeps us together with his leadership and teaches the tribe’s children the skills to make the Netwalkers something special among the tribes in the Rox. He shows us the ways of the Matrix, like few other people ever learn them. But now I am learning them all. Dipping into the well of knowledge and information that is the Matrix and drinking deeply, just as in my dream, taking in all of the knowledge I can for my people, our territory, and the world around us. Many of the things I have learned feel very familiar, like relearning things I’ve known before, exercising old reflexes. Other lessons feel entirely new to me. It’s no surprise, since I’m told I knew the paths of the Matrix quite well even before I was initiated. One thing that feels the most familiar and yet the most different is the Matrix itself. I know all of the different structures and pathways of the virtual world like they were written on my soul, like I have known them my entire life, but I see them in an entirely new way now. I need nothing more than a live feed plugged into the chrome jack behind my ear to be connected to the otherworld of cyberspace. Other people need a computer to sit between them and the glory of the virtual world, translating its signals into sensations they can experience, but I experience the Matrix directly. I spend hours every day jacked in and exploring the bounds of the Matrix. Within it, I can travel around the world in a few seconds and visit distant places like a spirit, faster than most computer-users can even dream. Millions of people visit the Matrix every day, but I am one of the few who make it my home. I make sure everyone can see my persona icon the moment I walk through the virtual door. Out on the street, samurai live or die depending on how tough they look. You are sized up from the moment you walk into a room and those first few seconds are the most important. If you don’t say right off “don’t frag with me or I can mess you up something bad,” you are in for trouble. It’s the same way on the wild side of Matrix, and everything about my persona tells people who see me that I’m bad news in cyberspace. Most street samurai would think the idea funny, because there isn’t anything threatening about my icon to someone who doesn’t know the Matrix. Unlike a lot of deckers, my persona isn’t a giant robot, chromed samurai, animal, mythic beast, or giant bug. I also don’t go in for any of the numerous historical figures, pagan gods, modern celebrities, or fictional characters inhabiting virtual reality. I’m already a legend in cyberspace: a technoshaman, cyberadept, otaku, someone who can enter the Matrix like an amphibian enters the water, equally at home in both worlds. Without the need for a bulky cyberdeck. No, I use only the power of my mind. My persona is basic, almost nondescript, because it looks just like me. In the Matrix I have the same “statistics,” the same appearance I do outside of it. I don’t feel a need to make myself bigger in cyberspace just to feel tough, unlike some of the ‘trix dancers out there. My living persona has the same height and build as me, to keep the kinesthetics as closely matched as possible, giving me a slightly quicker response time. My persona has my dark hair and my somewhat angular face. All in all, nothing spectacular. Certainly nothing to compare with looking like a chromed-up preying mantis or a carved-out-of marble Adonis or even a talking pair of breasts like some of the exaggerated am’me-style female personas I’ve seen. But in the Matrix it’s not a matter of what you do as much as how you do it. My persona may look just like me, but it’s because my persona is me, an extension of my true self in the electron world. Every detail, every nuance is there, just like reality only more so. From the depths of my gaze to the black of my polished boots. From the folds and flow of the cloak to the individual resolution of my hair. And not only the sights, but the other senses many programmers neglect, the little cues that go into making an image more real. Like sounds. The faint creak of leather, the whisper of flowing cloth, the quiet sounds of footsteps, the clink of metal ratting loose in a leather satchel, and the brash of cloth on cloth. Textures, from the smooth-worn surface of comfortable leather to the dry nubiness of woven wool to the cool smoothness of metal and the warm softness of skin. Even the smells of wool and leather and skin mixed with the faintest scent of chrome and rain. All of these little elements go into building an image to make all of the fantasy figures used by normal deckers look like cartoons by comparison. Two-dimensional, without substance or style. The kind of resolution my persona has, the presence, tells everyone who knows anything about programming that I am like nothing they have ever seen before. The losers and wannabes don’t have a clue about the kind of complex programming needed to create a persona like mine and don’t notice the subtle details, of course. All they see is a persona without much flash or glitz, which makes them think I’m no big deal. That’s just fine with me because it means they tend to underestimate me. By the time they get an indication of my real Power, they’re recovering from a dump-shock headache the size of the Denver Front Range Free Zone. The real deckers in the Matrix know how to recognize the subtle cues, so when a persona like mine strolls into a site, it draws attention. Generally there are some newbies in the place who take notice until someone else tells them who and what I am. I admit it-I like generating speculation about who I am and why I’m there. A little mystery can do wonders for the reputation. Now the eyes. The eyes are the most important part. They’re the same shade of violet as my real eyes, an unusual color to inspire just a touch of discomfort in people when I fix them with the right kind of stare (which is much easier to do in virtual reality, where you don’t have to blink). Mine have a quality eyes in the Matrix don’t usually have. Mine show the depths of my living persona, the presence of a mind and a soul behind them. Other eyes in the Matrix are windows onto nothing, but people in cyberspace can look into the eyes of my persona and see me looking back at them. It’s a difference people notice, whether they’re aware of it or not. In the Matrix I dress in dark jeans, a blue tunic, and black boots with a gray cloak thrown over the whole thing (good for being able to pull things out of at a moment’s notice). A woven leather belt and the leather bag for carrying my Forms. The Forms are my tools in the Matrix, my magical weapons and charms in the electron world. Deckers make use of programs with names like Black Hammer, Squeeze-It, Aegis-IV, and Shoggoth to do things in the Matrix. The programs run on a cyberdeck interfaced with the decker’s brain. The decker thinks of what he wants, and the program does the work to make it happen, translating the task into the appropriate image in the Matrix. An attack program can look like a gun, a sword, a blazing energy blast, a spiked mace, or anything else the decker wants, but it is just what it is programmed to be. It isn’t really any of those things, it’s just a program. A tool. Programs have to be written and stored on a cyberdeck for a decker’s use. They are loaded into the deck’s active memory, limited by the hardware’s processing power and storage capacity. And deckers must run their programs with the limits of their decks in mind. The Forms are different. I have no computer to connect me to the Matrix, nothing to hold any programs. I do things in the Matrix with nothing more than the power of my mind and spirit. I have headware memory-computer chips installed in my neo-cortex-to store data I copy from the computers of the Matrix, but I don’t use programs to get things done. The Forms are created from inside me, molded from the stuff of my will and imagination to create tools in the Matrix. They are not illusions like a decker’s programs. They are real. Forms are not limited by memory or hardware. Their only limits are my imagination. The first Form I learn to summon in the Matrix is my sacred sword, a shining steel manifestation of my will and power as a shaman that I can use to dispatch enemies in the Matrix. Few can withstand its sharp edge. I also make other Forms and keep them in the sacred bag I carry with me. They are talismans to aid the power of my own Channels and help me do things in the Matrix: magical dust, silvery runes, thin chrome chains, and other treasures. I meet different travelers in exploring the Matrix, deckers who slide like shadows through the vast corporate databases. I also meet others like me and the technoshamans of the tribe. There are tiny groups of us in other cities like Seattle and Denver. I speak to them about the electron world and learn some of the important lore of the data-streams and the systems creating them. I hone my skills as a warrior in the Matrix and fight enemies both mortal and inhuman. Few can stand against the kind of power I bring to bear. I learn from Papa Lo and the other cybershamans-both of my tribe and others. They show me how to envision and call upon my spirit helpers in the electron world and command them to perform different tasks. The spirits of the Matrix are like our Forms, made from the stuff of the electron world, but the spirits differ from the Forms in that they are not tools, but helpers. Deckers also have helpers called “frames,” but they are soulless and lifeless automatons of code. My helpers are living beings, spirits of the Matrix. I learn to conjure from the depths of my mind and spirit the first of my helpers, a spirit I name Rook. She is a raven with feathers of glossy black chrome and dark eyes shining with cleverness. She flies at my command through the paths of the Matrix, searching far and wide and returning to whisper in my ear what she sees and hears in the distant places, allowing me to learn more quickly without even having to go anywhere. Rook ferrets out hidden systems and secret knowledge for me. My other helper is a different spirit. He is called Bake-mono and he is a more material creature than Rook. He is a small goblin, bent and twisted, no more than half my height. His dark skin is stretched tight over his bones, giving him a leering, skeletal look, and his eyes are a glowing yellow. Bakemono is a trickster and a fighter, who attacks and bedevils my enemies when I command it. He watches my back in the Matrix and does small tasks for me while I deal with more important matters. Bakemono fights with the same animal strength I felt when I fought the ghoul in the body-snatcher’s lair. Papa Lo says I learn very fast, but he expected no less. “I always knew you would be a great shaman, Babel,” he says to me. “There is an important destiny awaiting you.” He never explains what he means. The tribe’s elders also teach me some other skills I need to know. The Rox is an urban jungle that requires survival skills to live here. I learn how to forage and how to make my way through the ferrocrete canyons without being seen. One of the tribal elders is a man named Hunter, which is also his role in the tribe. He is a warrior and one of the tribe’s strongest protectors. He has known Papa Lo for a long time. Although Hunter is not nearly so old, his hair does show traces of gray. Hunter teaches me to fight and to defend myself. He says all of the members of the tribe must know how to protect himself and each other from attack, and Papa Lo agrees. Even we shamans have to know some of the basic skills of combat. “You won’t always have the luxury of fighting in the Matrix,” Hunter says. “Sometimes an enemy will come looking for you in the real world. Those times, it’s best to be somewhere else when they come looking, but if you can’t, then you need to know how to fight.”
I learn to fight with my bare hands and with whatever weapons are at hand. Hunter says there are weapons all around to the warrior’s trained eye, but Hunter has the power of magic to improve his sight. His skill in combat is greater than any normal man’s and his speed is like a spirit of the Matrix-like electrons moving and responding at the speed of thought. Although I am very fast, I am no match for him in our sparring matches. I am not the best student of hand-to-hand combat. I do better learning to shoot-Hunter says I have an eye for precision-but guns are not something the members of the tribe use casually. In the Rox they are difficult to find and more difficult to maintain and supply with ammunition. The tribe has guns, but they are carefully cared for and used sparingly. One day while sparring, I tell Hunter about the fight with the ghoul and my escape, before he and some of the tribe’s warriors found me in the alley. I also tell him about the memory of the weapon I used to stop the ghoul from killing me. When I show him the mark on the back of my arm and then concentrate, a slim, dark blade snaps out like a striking snake. “Ghost!” he cries and jumps back a step from me. The blade emerges from just behind my wrist and arcs smoothly over the back of my hand, slightly curved to fit the contour of my arm. There is almost no weight to it as I wave my arm slightly to test the feel of it. Hunter steps toward me again and seizes hold of my wrist to examine the blade. He lets out a low whistle as he runs a finger just above its rear edge. “That is one nasty cutter, Babel,” he says with respect. “I’ve seen plenty of street-muscle with razors but never anything quite like this. It’s like a standard spur, but the brushing on the arm-sheath is nearly invisible, and the blade looks like some kind of carbon-fiber composite. It would be almost impossible to detect, and the damn thing must be sharper than hell. Do you know where you got it?” I shake my head. “Did I have it when I came to the tribe?” I ask and Hunter shrugs and shakes his own head in response. “I don’t know, kid. You might have. We don’t have the kind of gear to scan people for cyber, but I doubt we would have found it even if we did. If you had it when you got grabbed by the Tamanous, it was already there.” I still cannot recall anything from before awakening after my initiation, and the blade becomes another mystery for me. Hunter teaches me how to fight with it, and I learn that it is indeed “sharper than hell,” able to tear through wood and plastic with ease, just as it sliced through the flesh and bone of Crawley’s wrist. I ask Hunter and some of the others of the tribe about what I was like before my initiation, how I came to the tribe. They tell me I have been part of the Netwalkers for only a matter of months. I was barely getting by working the streets as a decker with the handle of Rook, the same name I gave to my first spirit helper. It is a fitting passing of the name, I am told. Papa Lo was impressed with my abilities after I did some work with the ‘walkers and asked me to join the tribe. Compared to the way I must have been scraping by, I could see why I accepted. While the Netwalkers do not live in luxury, we are better off than many of the people who live in the Rox, and the tribe takes good care of its own. I wonder about my life as a street-decker and where I came from before. Was I born in the Rox? It seems likely, since most of the people from here tend to stay. If the Rox is where you come from, there isn’t really anywhere else logo. I learn more about the tribe’s history, its allies and enemies and my duties as a shaman. Only four of us have undergone the Deep Resonance and learned the Channels, to enter the Matrix without the hardware and equipment even Papa Lo still needs. That makes us important, and we have a responsibility to the tribe to travel in the Matrix, seeking the knowledge to help the tribe survive and prosper. Knowledge is power, and there are many secrets to be wrested from the spirits of the electron world that are worth something to the right people. The trick is finding the right people and making sure they don’t kill you to get what you have.