Coyote's last hack
3 January 1997

A Digital Folktale from the Sonoran Desert

They say that one time, long ago, Hummingbird brought the Net down to the animals of the desert. One day, it seems, she had noticed a flashing in the sky, so she flew way, way up to where she could see a shiny thing like a long silver [advertisement]snake dangling from the sky-hole leading to the next world. It was one end of an Ethernet cable, and when she put her ear to it she could hear, ever so faintly, the Sky People on the Net talking and laughing and cursing and exchanging pictures of themselves without any garments on. Maybe, she thought, this gift would help the Animals become like the Sky People too! So she grabbed the cable in her beak and flew until it stretched all the way down to the earth.

The Animals had gathered around the cable and debated how to use it. "We could take turns holding the Net to our ears," Mule Deer shyly suggested. "We could eat it," said Javelina 1, who could stomach anything. But Packrat, who was something of a geek by nature, darted out and scoffed, "You clueless newbies! You get on the Net by building a Hardware Shrine and dancing before it to invoke the Connection! Hang on, I think I've got some parts down in my den..."

"You clueless newbies! You get on the Net by building a Hardware Shrine and dancing before it to invoke the Connection!
And Packrat had built a Hardware Shrine for them, out of saguaro ribs and mesquite branches and prickly pear pads. It had a shiny screen made out of mica, and lots of mysterious quartz crystals and obsidian chips and turquoise bits for controls, and some tinkly copper pieces and little bone flutes attached, because Packrat said it would be no good without plenty of bells and whistles. Then Packrat turned it on, and it whirred and buzzed and beeped, and finally the mica screen lit up and said "General Protection Fault," and the Animals all sent up a great cheer because they knew the Shrine was working as Packrat had designed it to.

"Now we dance for Connection," said Packrat. And all the Animals jumped and stamped and shuffled, raising a whirlwind of dust, until suddenly great thunderclouds appeared, and they were pelted by a hail of countless small hard black squares. "ANIMALS ONLINE," each square read, "30 DAY FREE TRIAL!"

And so the Animals began to surf the Net.

--All but Coyote. He moped and sulked for days, sure that the Animals would eventually leave the Hardware Shrine for long enough to listen to his usual jokes and tall tales. When they didn't, he wrote a ballad called "Saguaro Snake Oil", all about how the Shrine was a fraud and a cheat and nowhere near as good as rolling in the dust and biting fleas in the Real World, and he sang it in his loud howly voice to annoy them, but they only ignored him.

So Coyote swallowed his pride and sidled up to the Hardware Shrine one day when Roadrunner was at the controls. On the mica screen, Coyote could see a garish likeness of Roadrunner and all sorts of tiny odd pictographs and signs. "It's the ROADRUNNERS HOME PAGE!" Roadrunner proudly explained. "Look, I'm in an applet!" Roadrunner touched a quartz crystal to one of the pictographs, and after a minute or two Coyote saw a stick-figure simulacrum of Roadrunner jerkily running across the screen, chased by a boxlike, halting Coyote. "Meep-meep!" said the Shrine, "Meep-meep!"

"Come back after I upgrade," said Roadrunner, "Packrat says we just need a bigger and faster Shrine for the animation to look right."
"Roadrunner," said Coyote, "I just don't get it. I've seen five-year-old Human kids who could peck out a better petroglyph of you than that stick thing..." "Come back after I upgrade," said Roadrunner, "Packrat says we just need a bigger and faster Shrine for the animation to look right." "Friend Roadrunner," said Coyote, "I don't usually do my Criticism Ceremony for free, but your site is in urgent need of a Purifying Web Review." And he proceeded to stomp around the Hardware Shrine, howling and singing magic syllables: "Weya-hey-heya, multi-meed-ya, way-cool-site-a, top-five-percent-a, lotta-hits-a, ai-ai-ai, coyote-scat!"

Suddenly he stopped. "Roadrunner, this is bad. Your site's missing the latest protocol. You've got TCP/IP, and you've got HTTP, but you don't have coy-oh-tee-pee! Should I download it for you?" "I--I guess you better," said Roadrunner. So Coyote lifted his leg and proceeded to download as much as he could onto the Hardware Shrine before Roadrunner unfroze and came after him with that vicious beak of his. "Jeesh, some folks can't take criticism," said Coyote, as he went bounding through the creosote bushes. "What a temper! You'd think that degenerate offspring of a velociraptor had just learned he'd made the Useless Pages or something. Meep-meep!"

His review had short-circuited the Hardware Shrine, but Coyote knew he'd won only a temporary victory. In fact he'd made things worse, because Packrat had figured out how to divide up the Sky Cable so that every burrow, den, and nest could have its own little Shrine. Nobody ever invited Coyote in any more to swap stories or pile legend upon legend; all the Animals' stories came through the Shrines now.

Coyote was worried. In the past, whenever the Animals had started to make Humans out of themselves he'd always been able to rescue them by running off with the Sun or stealing their tails or painting their butts blue or some other mischief that shocked them into their senses, but now he couldn't get their attention at all. Baffled, he sought out old Horned Lizard, the only other Animal who hadn't put a Shrine in his burrow.

"Coyote," said Horned Lizard. "The Net is void of soul, and so it sucks in the Animals. But there is a way to give it a soul, if you are brave enough." "How, grandfather?" "The Ultimate Hack is in your power, Coyote. Become one with the Protocol." Horned Lizard closed his eyes and would say no more.

One with the Protocol? But how? Protocols came from the Sky People, not from mere Animals. And even if they'd listen to him, Coyote couldn't fly up to the sky-hole like Hummingbird. Not unless he could somehow get out of his earthbound body...

"Oh, crap," said Coyote. "This must be the place in the story where I have to kill myself to get anything accomplished." And with a leap and a bound and a last yip-yip he flung himself onto the Animals' great cookfire, making a huge sizzling stench that was enough to draw the Animals from their Shrines for the first time in days, to watch in wonder as the smoke-that-was-Coyote rose up, up, up toward the sky-hole.

Coyote's smoke emerged through the sky-hole into a meeting of the Skynet Engineering Task Force
Now, the legend they still tell in southern Arizona is that Coyote's smoke emerged through the sky-hole into a meeting of the Skynet Engineering Task Force, where they were busy trying to come up with improvements to their transmission protocol so that the Net wouldn't come screeching to a halt from the weight of all those conversations and curses and pictures-without-clothes-on that people were sending back and forth. And Coyote snuck right into their fancy new protocol, disguising himself as a few bytes in a routing header, so that each and every Net packet sent from that day on would have a little piece of Coyote in it.

And the legend goes on to say that if the Animals on the Net ever become so greedy, or self-important, or clueless, that they start turning into Humans, all the little Coyote bits will clump together until they form a great, big, ugly, smelly, lying, thieving and generally up-to-no-good Virtual Coyote who'll jump right out of everybody's Shrines and start biting the balls off their mice and peeing on their home pages and tickling them with cactus spines all at the same time until they give up and laugh at themselves. Then the Net will lose its power to warp them, and they will be free to use it as sensible Animals should.

And that, they say, will be Coyote's victory: Coyote's Last Hack. *

-- David Sewell <> is a writer and editor who lives somewhere in the vicinity of Ed Abbey's secret gravesite in Arizona.

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