THE CRITICS RAVE ABOUT NEUROMANCER. . .
"Neuromancer is freshly imagined, compellingly detailed and chiling..."
-- The New York Times
"UNFORGETTABLE. . . The richness of Gibson's world is
-- Chicago Sun-Times
"SUPERB! Gibson has created a rich, detailed, and vivid near future,
populated with uncomfortably realistic characters . . . an amazingly comples
novel . . . Some will enjoy it as a fast-paced, exciting adventure; others
will claim it's actually a very subtle, clever mystery; still others
will see it as a thought-provoking social discourse. . . Neuromancer IS A
MAJOR NOVEL, difficult to compare with other works for the simple reason
that it really is new, and different . . . HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!"
-- Fantasy Review
"A flashy tour of a remarkably well-visualized future. . . Gibson
manufactures wild details with a virtuoso's glee. . . an impressive
"WILLIAM GIBSON IS A WELCOME NEW TALENT!"
A SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT! William Gibson's Neuromancer is one of
the finest first novels of the last few years, and may be the only science
fiction novel which has combined hard science. . .and a well-developed
sensibility to produce a kind of high-tech punk novel."
-- Norman Spinrad
"Science Fiction of exceptional texture and vision. . .Gibson opens up
a new genre, with a finely crafted grittiness, with a number of literary and
computer inventions that may well stick. . .SHEER PLEASURE!"
Stewart Brand, San Francisco Chronicle
"A crowd-pleaser as well as a finely crafted piece of literature. . .
The book deserves immense popularity. . . READ IT!"
-- Edward Bryant, Mile High Futures
"A MINDBINDER OF A READ. . . fully realized in its geopolitical,
technological and, psychosexual dimensions. . ."
-- Village Voice
"William Gibson is one of the most excited new writers to hit science
fiction in a long time. His first novel is an event I've been eagerly
-- Robert Silverberg
"William Gibson's Neuromancer. . . brings an entirely new
electronic punk sensibility to SF, both in content and prose style. It has
been a long time indeed since a first novel established such a new and
unusual voice with this degree of strength and surety."
-- Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine
"Say goodbye to your old stale futures. Here is an entirely realized
new world, intense as an electric shock. William Gibson's prose,
astonishing in it's clarity and skill, becomes high-tech electronic poetry.
. . An enthralling adventure story, as brilliant and coherent as a laser.
THIS IS WHY SCIENCE FICTION WAS INVENTED!"
-- Bruce Sterling
Ace books by William Gibson
BURNING CHROME COUNT ZERO MONA LISA OVERDRIVE
This book was first published as an Ace Science Fiction original
edition. The first through third printings were as as an Ace Science Fiction
Special, edited by Terry Carr. A limited hardcover edition was published by
Phantasia Press in the Spring of 1986.
An Ace Book / published by arrangement with the author
PRINTING HISTORY Ace edition / July 1984
All rights reserved. Copyright © 1984 by William Gibson Cover art
by Richard Berry This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, by
mimeograph or any other means, without permission. For information address:
The Berkley Publishing Group, 200 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016
Ace books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group, 200 Madison
Avenue, New York, New York 10016. The Name "Ace" and the "A" logo are
trademarks belonging to Charter Communications, Inc.
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Dedication: for Deb
who made it possible
William Gibson. Neuromancer
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead
"It's not like I'm using," Case heard someone say, as he
shouldered his way through the crowd around the door of the Chat.
"It's like my body's developed this massive drug deficiency." It
was a Sprawl voice and a Sprawl joke. The Chatsubo was a bar for
professional expatriates; you could drink there for a week and never hear
two words in Japanese.
Ratz was tending bar, his prosthetic arm jerking monotonously as he
filled a tray of glasses with draft Kirin. He saw Case and smiled, his teeth
a web work of East European steel and brown decay. Case found a place at the
bar, between the unlikely tan on one of Lonny Zone's whores and the
crisp naval uniform of a tall African whose cheekbones were ridged with
precise rows of tribal scars. "Wage was in here early, with two Joe boys,"
Ratz said, shoving a draft across the bar with his good hand. "Maybe some
business with you, Case?"
Case shrugged. The girl to his right giggled and nudged him.
The bartender's smile widened. His ugliness was the stuff of
legend. In an age of affordable beauty, there was something heraldic about
his lack of it. The antique arm whined as he reached for another mug. It was
a Russian military prosthesis, a seven-function force-feedback manipulator,
cased in grubby pink plastic. "You are too much the artiste, Herr Case."
Ratz grunted; the sound served him as laughter. He scratched his overhang of
white-shirted belly with the pink claw. "You are the artiste of the slightly
"Sure," Case said, and sipped his beer. "Somebody's gotta be
funny around here. Sure the fuck isn't you."
The whore's giggle went up an octave.
"Isn't you either, sister. So you vanish, okay? Zone, he's
a close personal friend of mine."
She looked Case in the eye and made the softest possible spitting
sound, her lips barely moving. But she left. "Jesus," Case said, "what kind
a creep joint you running here? Man can't have a drink."
"Ha," Ratz said, swabbing the scarred wood with a rag, "Zone shows a
percentage. You I let work here for entertainment value."
As Case was picking up his beer, one of those strange instants of
silence descended, as though a hundred unrelated conversations had
simultaneously arrived at the same pause. Then the whore's giggle rang
out, tinged with a certain hysteria.
Ratz grunted. "An angel passed."
"The Chinese," bellowed a drunken Australian, "Chinese bloody invented
nerve-splicing. Give me the mainland for a nerve job any day. Fix you right,
mate. . ."
"Now that," Case said to his glass, all his bitterness suddenly rising
in him like bile, "that is so much bullshit."
The Japanese had already forgotten more neurosurgery than the Chinese
had ever known. The black clinics of Chiba were the cutting edge, whole
bodies of technique supplanted monthly, and still they couldn't repair
the damage he'd suffered in that Memphis hotel.
A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly.
All the speed he took, all the turns he'd taken and the corners
he'd cut in Night City, and still he'd see the matrix in his
sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void. . .
The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no
console man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it
through. But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like live wire voodoo
and he'd cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark,
curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the
bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console
that wasn't there.
"I saw your girl last night," Ratz said, passing Case his second Kirin.
"I don't have one," he said, and drank.
"Miss Linda Lee."
Case shook his head.
"No girl? Nothing? Only biz, friend artiste? Dedication to commerce?"
The bartender's small brown eyes were nested deep in wrinkled flesh.
"I think I liked you better, with her. You laughed more. Now, some night,
you get maybe too artistic, you wind up in the clinic tanks, spare parts."
"You're breaking my heart, Ratz." He finished his beer, paid and
left, high narrow shoulders hunched beneath the rain-stained khaki nylon of
his windbreaker. Threading his way through the Ninsei crowds, he could smell
his own stale sweat.
Case was twenty-four. At twenty-two, he'd been a cowboy a
rustler, one of the best in the Sprawl. He'd been trained by the best,
by McCoy Pauley and Bobby Quine, legends in the biz. He'd operated on
an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency,
jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied
consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix. A thief
he'd worked for other, wealthier thieves, employers who provided the
exotic software required to penetrate the bright walls of corporate systems,
opening windows into rich fields of data.
He'd made the classic mistake, the one he'd sworn
he'd never make. He stole from his employers. He kept something for
himself and tried to move it through a fence in Amsterdam. He still
wasn't sure how he'd been discovered, not that it mattered now.
He'd expected to die, then, but they only smiled. Of course he was
welcome, they told him, welcome to the money. And he was going to need it.
Because – still smiling – they were going to make sure he never
They damaged his nervous system with a wartime Russian mycotoxin.
Strapped to a bed in a Memphis hotel, his talent burning out micron by
micron, he hallucinated for thirty hours.
The damage was minute, subtle, and utterly effective.
For Case, who'd lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace,
it was the Fall. In the bars he'd frequented as a cowboy hotshot, the
elite stance involved a certain relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was
meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh.
His total assets were quickly converted to New Yen, a fat sheaf of the
old paper currency that circulated endlessly through the closed circuit of
the world's black markets like the seashells of the Trobriand
islanders. It was difficult to transact legitimate business with cash in the
Sprawl; in Japan, it was already illegal.
In Japan, he'd known with a clenched and absolute certainty,
he'd find his cure. In Chiba. Either in a registered clinic or in the
shadow land of black medicine. Synonymous with implants, nerve-splicing, and
micro bionics, Chiba was a magnet for the Sprawl's techno-criminal
In Chiba, he'd watched his New Yen vanish in a two-month round of
examinations and consultations. The men in the black clinics, his last hope,
had admired the expertise with which he'd been maimed, and then slowly
shaken their heads.
Now he slept in the cheapest coffins, the ones nearest the port,
beneath the quartz-halogen floods that lit the docks all night like vast
stages; where you couldn't see the lights of Tokyo for the glare of
the television sky, not even the towering hologram logo of the Fuji Electric
Company, and Tokyo Bay was a black expanse where gulls wheeled above
drifting shoals of white styrofoam. Behind the port lay the city, factory
domes dominated by the vast cubes of corporate arcologies. Port and city
were divided by a narrow borderland of older streets, an area with no
official name. Night City, with Ninsei its heart. By day, the bars down
Ninsei were shuttered and featureless, the neon dead, the holograms inert,
waiting, under the poisoned silver sky.
Two blocks west of the Chat, in a teashop called the Jarre de The, Case
washed down the night's first pill with a double espresso. It was a
flat pink octagon, a potent species of Brazilian dex he bought from one of
The Jarre was walled with mirrors, each panel framed in red neon.
At first, finding himself alone in Chiba, with little money and less
hope of finding a cure, he'd gone into a kind of terminal overdrive,
hustling fresh capital with a cold intensity that had seemed to belong to
someone else. In the first month, he'd killed two men and a woman over
sums that a year before would have seemed ludicrous. Ninsei wore him down
until the street itself came to seem the externalization of some death wish,
some secret poison he hadn't known he carried.
Night City was like a deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed
by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast-forward
button. Stop hustling and you sank without a trace, but move a little too
swiftly and you'd break the fragile surface tension of the black
market; either way, you were gone, with nothing left of you but some vague
memory in the mind of a fixture like Ratz, though heart or lungs or kidneys
might survive in the service of some stranger with New Yen for the clinic
Biz here was a constant subliminal hum, and death the accepted
punishment for laziness, carelessness, lack of grace, the failure to heed
the demands of an intricate protocol.
Alone at a table in the Jarre de The, with the octagon coming on,
pinheads of sweat starting from his palms, suddenly aware of each tingling
hair on his arms and chest, Case knew that at some point he'd started
to play a game with himself, a very ancient one that has no name, a final
solitaire. He no longer carried a weapon, no longer took the basic
precautions. He ran the fastest, loosest deals on the street, and he had a
reputation for being able to get whatever you wanted. A part of him knew
that the arc of his self-destruction was glaringly obvious to his customers,
who grew steadily fewer, but that same part of him basked in the knowledge
that it was only a matter of time. And that was the part of him, smug in its
expectation of death, that most hated the thought of Linda Lee.
He'd found her, one rainy night, in an arcade.
Under bright ghosts burning through a blue haze of cigarette smoke,
holograms of Wizard's Castle, Tank War Europa, the New York skyline. .
. And now he remembered her that way, her face bathed in restless laser
light, features reduced to a code: her cheekbones flaring scarlet as
Wizard's Castle burned, forehead drenched with azure when Munich fell
to the Tank War, mouth touched with hot gold as a gliding cursor struck
sparks from the wall of a skyscraper canyon. He was riding high that night,
with a brick of Wage's ketamine on its way to Yokohama and the money
already in his pocket. He'd come in out of the warm rain that sizzled
across the Ninsei pavement and somehow she'd been singled out for him,
one face out of the dozens who stood at the consoles, lost in the game she
played. The expression on her face, then, had been the one he'd seen,
hours later, on her sleeping face in a port side coffin, her upper lip like
the line children draw to represent a bird in flight.
Crossing the arcade to stand beside her, high on the deal he'd
made, he saw her glance up. Gray eyes rimmed with smudged black paintstick.
Eyes of some animal pinned in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle.
Their night together stretching into a morning, into tickets at the
hover port and his first trip across the Bay. The rain kept up, falling
along Harajuku, beading on her plastic jacket, the children of Tokyo
trooping past the famous boutiques in white loafers and cling wrap capes,
until she'd stood with him in the midnight clatter of a pachinko
parlor and held his hand like a child.
It took a month for the gestalt of drugs and tension he moved through
to turn those perpetually startled eyes into wells of reflexive need.
He'd watched her personality fragment, calving like an iceberg,
splinters drifting away, and finally he'd seen the raw need, the
hungry armature of addiction. He'd watched her track the next hit with
a concentration that reminded him of the mantises they sold in stalls along
Shiga, beside tanks of blue mutant carp and crickets caged in bamboo.
He stared at the black ring of grounds in his empty cup. It was
vibrating with the speed he'd taken. The brown laminate of the table
top was dull with a patina of tiny scratches. With the dex mounting through
his spine he saw the countless random impacts required to create a surface
like that. The Jarre was decorated in a dated, nameless style from the
previous century, an uneasy blend of Japanese traditional and pale Milanese
plastics, but everything seemed to wear a subtle film, as though the bad
nerves of a million customers had somehow attacked the mirrors and the once
glossy plastics, leaving each surface fogged with something that could never
be wiped away.
"Hey. Case, good buddy. . ."
He looked up, met gray eyes ringed with paintstick. She was wearing
faded French orbital fatigues and new white sneakers.
"I been lookin' for you, man." She took a seat opposite him, her
elbows on the table. The sleeves of the blue zip suit had been ripped out at
the shoulders; he automatically checked her arms for signs of derms or the
needle. "Want a cigarette?"
She dug a crumpled pack of Yeheyuan filters from an ankle pocket and
offered him one. He took it, let her light it with a red plastic tube. "You
sleepin' okay, Case? You look tired." Her accent put her south along
the Sprawl, toward Atlanta. The skin below her eyes was pale and
unhealthy-looking, but the flesh was still smooth and firm. She was twenty.
New lines of pain were starting to etch themselves permanently at the
corners of her mouth. Her dark hair was drawn back, held by a band of
printed silk. The pattern might have represented microcircuits, or a city
"Not if I remember to take my pills," he said, as a tangible wave of
longing hit him, lust and loneliness riding in on the wavelength of
amphetamine. He remembered the smell of her skin in the overheated darkness
of a coffin near the port, her locked across the small of his back.
All the meat, he thought, and all it wants.
"Wage," she said, narrowing her eyes. "He wants to see you with a hole
in your face." She lit her own cigarette.
"Who says? Ratz? You been talking to Ratz?"
"No. Mona. Her new squeeze is one of Wage's boys."
"I don't owe him enough. He does me, he's out the money
anyway." He shrugged.
"Too many people owe him now, Case. Maybe you get to be the example.
You seriously better watch it."
"Sure. How about you, Linda? You got anywhere to sleep?"
"Sleep." She shook her head. "Sure, Case." She shivered, hunched
forward over the table. Her face was filmed with sweat.
"Here," he said, and dug in the pocket of his windbreaker, coming up
with a crumpled fifty. He smoothed it automatically, under the table, folded
it in quarters, and passed it to her.
"You need that, honey. You better give it to Wage." There was something
in the gray eyes now that he couldn't read, something he'd never
seen there before.
"I owe Wage a lot more than that. Take it. I got more coming," he lied,
as he watched his New Yen vanish into a zippered pocket.
"You get your money, Case, you find Wage quick."
"I'll see you, Linda," he said, getting up.
"Sure." A millimeter of white showed beneath each of her pupils.
Sanpaku. "You watch your back, man."
He nodded, anxious to be gone. He looked back as the plastic door swung
shut behind him, saw her eyes reflected in a cage of red neon.
Friday night on Ninsei.
He passed yakitori stands and massage parlors, a franchised coffee shop
called Beautiful Girl, the electronic thunder of an arcade. He stepped out
of the way to let a dark-suited sarariman by, spotting the
Mitsubishi-Genentech logo tattooed across the back of the man's right
Was it authentic? lf that's for real, he thought, he's in
for trouble. If it wasn't, served him right. M-G employees above a
certain level were implanted with advanced microprocessors that monitored
mutagen levels in the bloodstream. Gear like that would get you rolled in
Night City, rolled straight into a black clinic.
The sarariman had been Japanese, but the Ninsei crowd was a gaijin
crowd. Groups of sailors up from the port, tense solitary tourists hunting
pleasures no guidebook listed, Sprawl heavies showing off grafts and
implants, and a dozen distinct species of hustler, all swarming the street
in an intricate dance of desire and commerce.
There were countless theories explaining why Chiba City tolerated the
Ninsei enclave, but Case tended toward the idea that the Yakuza might be
preserving the place as a kind of historical park, a reminder of humble
origins. But he also saw a certain sense in the notion that burgeoning
technologies require outlaw zones, that Night City wasn't there for
its inhabitants, but as a deliberately unsupervised playground for
Was Linda right, he wondered, staring up at the lights? Would Wage have
him killed to make an example? It didn't make much sense, but then
Wage dealt primarily in proscribed biologicals, and they said you had to be
crazy to do that.
But Linda said Wage wanted him dead. Case's primary insight into
the dynamics of street dealing was that neither the buyer nor the seller
really needed him. A middleman's business is to make himself a
necessary evil. The dubious niche Case had carved for himself in the
criminal ecology of Night City had beep cut out with lies, scooped out a
night at a time with betrayal. Now, sensing that its walls were starting to
crumble, he felt the edge of a strange euphoria.
The week before, he'd delayed transfer of a synthetic glandular
extract, retailing it for a wider margin than usual. He knew Wage
hadn't liked that. Wage was his primary supplier, nine years in Chiba
and one of the few gaijin dealers who'd managed to forge links with
the rigidly stratified criminal establishment beyond Night City's
borders. Genetic materials and hormones trickled down to Ninsei along an
intricate ladder of fronts and blinds. Somehow Wage had managed to trace
something back, once, and now he enjoyed steady connections in a dozen
Case found himself staring through a shop window. The place sold small
bright objects to the sailors. Watches, flicknives, lighters, pocket VTRs,
Simstim decks, weighted manriki chains, and shuriken. The shuriken had
always fascinated him, steel stars with knife-sharp points. Some were
chromed, others black, others treated with a rainbow surface like oil on
water. But the chrome stars held his gaze. They were mounted against scarlet
ultra suede with nearly invisible loops of nylon fish line, their centers
stamped with dragons or yin yang symbols. They caught the street's
neon and twisted it, and it came to Case that these were the stars under
which he voyaged, his destiny spelled out in a constellation of cheap
"Julie," he said to his stars. "Time to see old Julie. He'll
Julius Deane was one hundred and thirty-five years old, his metabolism
assiduously warped by a weekly fortune in serums and hormones. His primary
hedge against aging was a yearly pilgrimage to Tokyo, where genetic surgeons
re-set the code of his DNA, a procedure unavailable in Chiba. Then
he'd fly to Hongkong and order the year's suits and shirts.
Sexless and inhumanly patient, his primary gratification seemed to lie in
his devotion to esoteric forms of tailor-worship. Case had never seen him
wear the same suit twice, although his wardrobe seemed to consist entirely
of meticulous reconstructions of garments of the previous century. He
affected prescription lenses, framed in spidery gold, ground from thin slabs
of pink synthetic quartz and beveled like the mirrors in a Victorian doll
His offices were located in a warehouse behind Ninsei, part of which
seemed to have been sparsely decorated, years before, with a random
collection of European furniture, as though Deane had once intended to use
the place as his home. NeoAztec bookcases gathered dust against one wall of
the room where Case waited. A pair of bulbous Disney-styled table lamps
perched awkwardly on a low Kandinsky-look coffee table in scarlet-lacquered
steel. A Dali clock hung on the wall between the bookcases, its distorted
face sagging to the bare concrete floor. Its hands were holograms that
altered to match the convolutions of the face as they rotated, but it never
told the correct time. The room was stacked with white fiberglass shipping
modules that gave off the tang of preserved ginger.
"You seem to be clean, old son," said Deane's disembodied voice.
"Do come in." Magnetic bolts thudded out of position around the massive
imitation-rosewood door to the left of the bookcases. JULIUS DEANE IMPORT
EXPORT was lettered across the plastic in peeling self-adhesive capitals. If
the furniture scattered in Deane's makeshift foyer suggested the end
of the past century, the office itself seemed to belong to its start.
Deane's seamless pink face regarded Case from a pool of light
cast by an ancient brass lamp with a rectangular shade of dark green glass.
The importer was securely fenced behind a vast desk of painted steel,
flanked on either side by tall, drawered cabinets made of some sort of pale
wood. The sort of thing, Case supposed, that had once been used to store
written records of some kind. The desktop was littered with cassettes,
scrolls of yellowed printout, and various parts of some sort of clockwork
typewriter, a machine Deane never seemed to get around to reassembling.
"What brings you around, boyo?" Deane asked, offering Case a narrow
bonbon wrapped in blue-and-white checked paper. "Try one. Ting Ting Djahe,
the very best." Case refused the ginger, took a seat in a yawing wooden
swivel chair, and ran a thumb down the faded seam of one black jeans-leg.
"Julie I hear Wage wants to kill me."
"Ah. Well then. And where did you hear this, if I may?"
"People," Deane said, around a ginger bonbon. "What sort of people?
"Not always that easy to know who your friends are, is it?"
"I do owe him a little money, Deane. He say anything to you?"
"Haven't been in touch, of late." Then he sighed. "If I did know,
of course, I might not be in a position to tell you. Things being what they
are, you understand."
"He's an important connection Case."
"Yeah. He want to kill me, Julie?"
"Not that I know of." Deane shrugged. They might have been discussing
the price of ginger. "If it proves to be an unfounded rumor, old son, you
come back in a week or so and I'll let you in on a little something
out of Singapore."
"Out of the Nan Hai Hotel, Bencoolen Street?"
"Loose lips, old son!" Deane grinned. The steel desk was jammed with a
fortune in debugging gear.
"Be seeing you, Julie. I'll say hello to Wage."
Deane's fingers came up to brush the perfect knot in his pale
He was less than a block from Deane's office when it hit, the
sudden cellular awareness that someone was on his ass, and very close.
The cultivation of a certain tame paranoia was something Case took for
granted. The trick lay in not letting it get out of control. But that could
be quite a trick, behind a stack of octagons. He fought the adrenaline surge
and composed his narrow features in a mask of bored vacancy, pretending to
let the crowd carry him along. When he saw a darkened display window, he
managed to pause by it. The place was a surgical boutique, closed for
renovations. With his hands in the pockets of his jacket, he stared through
the glass at a flat lozenge of vat grown flesh that lay on a carved pedestal
of imitation jade. The color of its skin reminded him of Zone's
whores; it was tattooed with a luminous digital display wired to a
subcutaneous chip. Why bother with the surgery, he found himself thinking,
while sweat coursed down his ribs, when you could just carry the thing
around in your pocket?
Without moving his head, he raised his eyes and studied the reflection
of the passing crowd.
Behind sailors in short-sleeved khaki. Dark hair, mirrored glasses,
dark clothing, slender. . .
Then Case was running, bent low, dodging between bodies.
"Rent me a gun, Shin?"
The boy smiled. "Two hour." They stood together in the smell of fresh
raw seafood at the rear of a Shiga sushi stall. "You come back, two hour."
"I need one now, man. Got anything right now?"
Shin rummaged behind empty two-liter cans that had once been filled
with powdered horseradish. He produced a slender package wrapped in gray
plastic. "Taser. One hour, twenty New Yen. Thirty deposit."
"Shit. I don't need that. I need a gun. Like I maybe wanna shoot
The waiter shrugged, replacing the taser behind the horseradish cans.
He went into the shop without bothering to glance at the display of
shuriken. He'd never thrown one in his life.
He bought two packs of Yeheyuans with a Mitsubishi Bank chip that gave
his name as Charles Derek May. It beat Truman Starr, the best he'd
been able to do for a passport.
The Japanese woman behind the terminal looked like she had a few years
on old Deane, none of them with the benefit of science. He took his slender
roll of New Yen out of his pocket and showed it to her. "I want to buy a
She gestured in the direction of a case filled with knives.
"No," he said, "I don't like knives."
She brought an oblong box from beneath the counter. The lid was yellow
cardboard, stamped with a crude image of a coiled cobra with a swollen hood.
Inside were eight identical tissue-wrapped cylinders. He watched while
mottled brown fingers stripped the paper from one. She held the thing up for
him to examine, a dull steel tube with a leather thong at one end and a
small bronze pyramid at the other. She gripped the tube with one hand, the
pyramid between her other thumb and forefinger, and pulled. Three oiled,
telescoping segments of tightly wound coil spring slid out and locked.
"Cobra," she said.
Beyond the neon shudder of Ninsei, the sky was that mean shade of gray.
The air had gotten worse; it seemed to have teeth tonight, and half the
crowd wore filtration masks. Case had spent ten minutes in a urinal, trying
to discover a convenient way to conceal his cobra; finally he'd
settled for tucking the handle into the waistband of his jeans, with the
tube slanting across his stomach. The pyramidal striking tip rode between
his ribcage and the lining of his windbreaker. The thing felt like it might
clatter to the pavement with his next step, but it made him feel better.
The Chat wasn't really a dealing bar, but on weeknights it
attracted a related clientele. Fridays and Saturdays were different. The
regulars were still there, most of them, but they faded behind an influx of
sailors and the specialists who preyed on diem. As Case pushed through the
doors, he looked for Ratz, but the bartender wasn't in sight. Lonny
Zone, the bar's resident pimp, was observing with glazed fatherly
interest as one of his girls went to work on a young sailor. Zone was
addicted to a brand of hypnotic the Japanese called Cloud Dancers. Catching
the pimp's eye, Case beckoned him to the bar. Zone came drifting
through the crowd in slow motion, his long face slack and placid.
"You seen Wage tonight, Lonny?"
Zone regarded him with his usual calm. He shook his head.
"You sure, man?"
"Maybe in the Namban. Maybe two hours ago."
"Got some Joeboys with him? One of 'em thin, dark hair, maybe a
"No," Zone said at last, his smooth forehead creased to indicate the
effort it cost him to recall so much pointless detail. "Big boys. Graftees."
Zone's eyes showed very little white and less iris; under the drooping
lids, his pupils were dilated and enormous. He stared into Case's face
for a long time, then lowered his gaze. He saw the bulge of the steel whip.
"Cobra," he said, and raised an eyebrow. "You wanna fuck somebody up?"
"See you, Lonny." Case left the bar.
His tail was back. He was sure of it. He felt a stab of elation the
octagons and adrenaline mingling with something else. You're enjoying
this, he thought; you're crazy.
Because, in some weird and very approximate way, it was like a run in
the matrix. Get just wasted enough, find yourself in some desperate but
strangely arbitrary kind of trouble, and it was possible to see Ninsei as a
field of data, the way the matrix had once reminded him of proteins linking
to distinguish cell specialties. Then you could throw yourself into a
highspeed drift and skid, totally engaged but set apart from it all, and all
around you the dance of biz, information interacting, data made flesh in the
mazes of the black market. . .
Go it, Case, he told himself. Suck 'em in. Last thing
they'll expect. He was half a block from the games arcade where
he'd first met Linda Lee.
He bolted across Ninsei, scattering a pack of strolling sailors. One of
them screamed after him in Spanish. Then he was through the entrance, the
sound crashing over him like surf, subsonics throbbing in the pit of his
stomach. Someone scored a ten-megaton hit on Tank War Europa, a simulated
air burst drowning the arcade in white sound as a lurid hologram fireball
mushroomed overhead. He cut to the right and loped up a flight of unpainted
chip board stairs. He'd come here once with Wage, to discuss a deal in
proscribed hormonal triggers with a man called Matsuga. He remembered the
hallway, its stained matting, the row of identical doors leading to tiny
office cubicles. One door was open now. A Japanese girl in a sleeveless
black t-shirt glanced up from a white terminal, behind her head a travel
poster of Greece, Aegian blue splashed with streamlined ideograms.
"Get your security up here," Case told her.
Then he sprinted down the corridor, out of her sight. The last two
doors were closed and, he assumed, locked. He spun and slammed the sole of
his nylon running shoe into the blue-lacquered composition door at the far
end. It popped, cheap hardware falling from the splintered frame. Darkness
there, the white curve of a terminal housing. Then he was on the door to its
right, both hands around the transparent plastic knob, leaning in with
everything he had. Something snapped, and he was inside. This was where he
and Wage had met with Matsuga, but whatever front company Matsuga had
operated was long gone. No terminal, nothing. Light from the alley behind
the arcade, filtering in through soot blown plastic. He made out a snake
like loop of fiber optics protruding from a wall socket, a pile of discarded
food containers, and the bladeless nacelle of an electric fan.
The window was a single pane of cheap plastic. He shrugged out of his
jacket, bundled it around his right hand, and punched. It split, requiring
two more blows to free it from the frame. Over the muted chaos of the games,
an alarm began to cycle, triggered either by the broken window or by the
girl at the head of the corridor.
Case turned, pulled his jacket on, and flicked the cobra to full
With the door closed, he was counting on his tail to assume he'd
gone through the one he'd kicked half off its hinges. The
cobra's bronze pyramid began to bob gently, the spring-steel shaft
amplifying his pulse.
Nothing happened. There was only the surging of the alarm, the crashing
of the games, his heart hammering. When the fear came, it was like some
half-forgotten friend. Not the cold rapid mechanism of the dex-paranoia, but
simple animal fear. He'd lived for so long on a constant edge of
anxiety that he'd almost forgotten what real fear was.
This cubicle was the sort of place where people died. He might die
here. They might have guns. . .
A crash, from the far end of the corridor. A man's voice,
shouting something in Japanese. A scream, shrill terror. Another crash.
And footsteps, unhurried, coming closer.
Passing his closed door. Pausing for the space of three rapid beats of
his heart. And returning. One, two, three. A bootheel scraped the matting.
The last of his octagon-induced bravado collapsed. He snapped the cobra
into its handle and scrambled for the window, blind with fear, his nerves
screaming. He was up, out, and falling, all before he was conscious of what
he'd done. The impact with pavement drove dull rods of pain through
A narrow wedge of light from a half-open service hatch framed a heap of
discarded fiber optics and the chassis of a junked console. He'd
fallen face forward on a slab of soggy chip board, he rolled over, into the
shadow of the console. The cubicle's window was a square of faint
light. The alarm still oscillated, louder here, the rear wall dulling the
roar of the games.
A head appeared, framed in the window, back lit by the fluorescents in
the corridor, then vanished. It returned, but he still couldn't read
the features. Glint of silver across the eyes. "Shit," someone said, a
woman, in the accent of the northern Sprawl.
The head was gone. Case lay under the console for a long count of
twenty, then stood up. The steel cobra was still in his hand, and it took
him a few seconds to remember what it was. He limped away down the alley,
nursing his left ankle.
Shin's pistol was a fifty-year-old Vietnamese imitation of a
South American copy of a Walther PPK, double-action on the first shot, with
a very rough pull. It was chambered for .22 long rifle, and Case
would've preferred lead azide explosives to the simple Chinese hollow
points Shin had sold him. Still it was a handgun and nine rounds of
ammunition, and as he made his way down Shiga from the sushi stall he
cradled it in his jacket pocket. The grips were bright red plastic molded in
a raised dragon motif, something to run your thumb across in the dark.
He'd consigned the cobra to a dump canister on Ninsei and
dry-swallowed another octagon.
The pill lit his circuits and he rode the rush down Shiga to Ninsei,
then over to Baiitsu. His tail, he'd decided, was gone and that was
fine. He had calls to make, biz to transact, and it wouldn't wait. A
block down Baiitsu, toward the port, stood a featureless ten-story office
building in ugly yellow brick. Its windows were dark now, but a faint glow
from the roof was visible if you craned your neck. An unlit neon sign near
the main entrance offered CHEAP HOTEL under a cluster of ideograms. If the
place had another name, Case didn't know it; it was always referred to
as Cheap Hotel. You reached it through an alley off Baiitsu, where an
elevator waited at the foot of a transparent shaft. The elevator, like Cheap
Hotel, was an afterthought, lashed to the building with bamboo and epoxy.
Case climbed into the plastic cage and used his key, an unmarked length of
rigid magnetic tape.
Case had rented a coffin here, on a weekly basis, since he'd
arrived in Chiba, but he'd never slept in Cheap Hotel. He slept in
The elevator smelled of perfume and cigarettes; the sides of the cage
was scratched and thumb-smudged. As it passed the fifth floor, he saw the
lights of Ninsei. He drummed his fingers against the pistol grip as the cage
slowed with a gradual hiss. As always, it came to a full stop with a violent
jolt, but he was ready for it. He stepped out into the courtyard that served
the place as some combination of lobby and lawn.
Centered in the square carpet of green plastic turf, a Japanese
teenager sat behind a C-shaped console, reading a textbook. The white
fiberglass coffins were racked in a framework of industrial scaffolding. Six
tiers of coffins, ten coffins on a side. Case nodded in the boy's
direction and limped across the plastic grass to the nearest ladder. The
compound was roofed with cheap laminated matting that rattled in a strong
wind and leaked when it rained, but the coffins were reasonably difficult to
open without a key.
The expansion-grate catwalk vibrated with his weight as he edged his
way along the third tier to Number 92. The coffins were three meters long,
the oval hatches a meter wide and just under a meter and a half tall. He fed
his key into the slot and waited for verification from the house computer.
Magnetic bolts thudded reassuringly and the hatch rose vertically with a
creak of springs. Fluorescents flickered on as he crawled in, pulling the
hatch shut behind him and slapping the panel that activated the manual
There was nothing in Number 92 but a standard Hitachi pocket computer
and a small white styrofoam cooler chest. The cooler contained the remains
of three ten-kilo slabs of dry ice carefully wrapped in paper to delay
evaporation, and a spun aluminum lab flask. Crouching on the brown
temperfoam slab that was both floor and bed, Case took Shin's .22 from
his pocket and put it on top of the cooler. Then he took off his jacket. The
coffin's terminal was molded into one concave wall, opposite a panel
listing house rules in seven languages. Case took the pink handset from its
cradle and punched a Hongkong number from memory. He let it ring five times,
then hung up. His buyer for the three megabytes of hot RAM in the Hitachi
wasn't taking calls.
He punched a Tokyo number in Shinjuku.
A woman answered, something in Japanese.
"Snake Man there?"
"Very good to hear from you," said Snake Man, coming in on an
extension. "I've been expecting your call."
"I got the music you wanted." Glancing at the cooler.
"I'm very glad to hear that. We have a cash flow problem. Can you
"Oh, man, I really need the money bad. . ."
Snake Man hung up.
"You shit" Case said to the humming receiver. He stared at the cheap
"Iffy," he said, "it's all looking very iffy tonight."
Case walked into the Chat an hour before dawn, both hands in the
pockets of his jacket; one held the rented pistol, the other the aluminum
Ratz was at a rear table, drinking Apollonaris water from a beer
pitcher, his hundred and twenty kilos of doughy flesh tilted against the
wall on a creaking chair. A Brazilian kid called Kurt was on the bar,
tending a thin crowd of mostly silent drunks. Ratz's plastic arm
buzzed as he raised the pitcher and drank. His shaven head was filmed with
sweat. "You look bad, friend artiste," he said, flashing the wet ruin of his
"I'm doing just fine," said Case, and grinned like a skull.
"Super fine." He sagged into the chair opposite Ratz, hands still in his
"And you wander back and forth in this portable bombshelter built of
booze and ups, sure. Proof against the grosser emotions, yes?"
"Why don't you get off my case, Ratz? You seen Wage?"
"Proof against fear and being alone," the bartender continued. "Listen
to the fear. Maybe it's your friend."
"You hear anything about a fight in the arcade tonight, Ratz? Somebody
"Crazy cut a security man." He shrugged. "A girl, they say."
"I gotta talk to Wage, Ratz, I. . ."
"Ah." Ratz's mouth narrowed, compressed into a single line. He
was looking past Case, toward the entrance. "I think you are about to."
Case had a sudden flash of the shuriken in their window. The speed sang
in his head. The pistol in his hand was slippery with sweat.
"Herr Wage," Ratz said, slowly extending his pink manipulator as if he
expected it to be shaken. "How great a pleasure. Too seldom do you honor
Case turned his head and looked up into Wage's face. It was a
tanned and forgettable mask. The eyes were vat grown sea-green Nikon
transplants. Wage wore a suit of gunmetal silk and a simple bracelet of
platinum on either wrist. He was flanked by his Joe boys, nearly identical
young men, their arms and shoulders bulging with grafted muscle.
"How you doing, Case?"
"Gentlemen," said Ratz, picking up the table's heaped ashtray in
his pink plastic claw, "I want no trouble here." The ashtray was made of
thick, shatterproof plastic, and advertised Tsingtao beer. Ratz crushed it
smoothly, butts and shards of green plastic cascading onto the table top.
"Hey, sweetheart," said one of the Joe boys, "you wanna try that thing
"Don't bother aiming for the legs, Kurt," Ratz said, his tone
conversational. Case glanced across the room and saw the Brazilian standing
on the bar, aiming a Smith & Wesson riot gun at the trio. The
thing's barrel, made of paper-thin alloy wrapped with a kilometer of
glass filament, was wide enough to swallow a fist. The skeletal magazine
revealed five fat orange cartridges, subsonic sandbag jellies.
"Technically nonlethal," said Ratz.
"Hey, Ratz," Case said, "I owe you one."
The bartender shrugged. "Nothing, you owe me. These," and he glowered
at Wage and the Joe boys, "should know better. You don't take anybody
off in the Chatsubo."
Wage coughed. "So who's talking about taking anybody off? We just
wanna talk business. Case and me, we work together."
Case pulled the .22 out of his pocket and levelled it at Wage's
crotch. "I hear you wanna do me." Ratz's pink claw closed around the
pistol and Case let his hand go limp.
"Look, Case, you tell me what the fuck is going on with you, you wig or
something? What's this shit I'm trying to kill you?" Wage turned
to the boy on his left. "You two go back to the Namban. Wait for me."
Case watched as they crossed the bar, which was now entirely deserted
except for Kurt and a drunken sailor in khakis, who was curled at the foot
of a barstool. The barrel of the Smith & Wesson tracked the two to the
door, then swung back to cover Wage. The magazine of Case's pistol
clattered on the table. Ratz held the gun in his claw and pumped the round
out of the chamber.
"Who told you I was going to hit you, Case?" Wage asked.
"Who told you, man? Somebody trying to set you up?"
The sailor moaned and vomited explosively.
"Get him out of here," Ratz called to Kurt, who was sitting on the edge
of the bar now, the Smith & Wesson across his lap, lighting a cigarette.
Case felt the weight of the night come down on him like a bag of wet
sand settling behind his eyes. He took the flask out of his pocket and
handed it to Wage. "All I got. Pituitaries. Get you five hundred if you move
it fast. Had the rest of my roll in some RAM, but that's gone by now."
"You okay, Case?" The flask had already vanished behind a gunmetal
lapel. "I mean, fine, this'll square us, but you look bad. Like
hammered shit. You better go somewhere and sleep."
"Yeah." He stood up and felt the Chat sway around him. "Well, I had
this fifty, but I gave it to somebody." He giggled. He picked up the
.22's magazine and the one loose cartridge and dropped them into one
pocket, then put the pistol in the other. "I gotta see Shin, get my deposit
"Go home," said Ratz, shifting on the creaking chair with something
like embarrassment. "Artiste. Go home."
He felt them watching as he crossed the room and shouldered his way
past the plastic doors.
"Bitch," he said to the rose tint over Shiga. Down on Ninsei the
holograms were vanishing like ghosts, and most of the neon was already cold
and dead. He sipped thick black coffee from a street vendor's foam
thimble and watched the sun come up. "You fly away, honey. Towns like this
are for people who like the way down." But that wasn't it, really, and
he was finding it increasingly hard to maintain the sense of betrayal. She
just wanted a ticket home, and the RAM in his Hitachi would buy it for her,
if she could find the right fence. And that business with the fifty;
she'd almost turned it down, knowing she was about to rip him for the
rest of what he had.
When he climbed out of the elevator, the same boy was on the desk.
Different textbook. "Good buddy," Case called across the plastic turf, "you
don't need to tell me. I know already. Pretty lady came to visit, said
she had my key. Nice little tip for you, say fifty New ones?" The boy put
down his book. "Woman," Case said, and drew a line across his forehead with
his thumb. "Silk." He smiled broadly. The boy smiled back, nodded. "Thanks,
asshole," Case said.
On the catwalk, he had trouble with the lock. She'd messed it up
somehow when she'd fiddled it, he thought. Beginner. He knew where to
rent a black box that would open anything in Cheap Hotel. Fluorescents came
on as he crawled in.
"Close the hatch real slow, friend. You still got that Saturday night
special you rented from the waiter?"
She sat with her back to the wall, at the far end of the coffin. She
had her knees up, resting her wrists on them, the pepper box muzzle of a
flechette pistol emerged from her hands. "That you in the arcade?" He pulled
the hatch down. "Where's Linda?"
"Hit that latch switch."
"That your girl? Linda?"
"She's gone. Took your Hitachi. Real nervous kid. What about the
gun, man?" She wore mirrored glasses. Her clothes were black, the heels of
black boots deep in the temperfoam.
"I took it back to Shin, got my deposit. Sold his bullets back to him
for half what I paid. You want the money?"
"Want some dry ice? All I got, right now."
"What got into you tonight? Why'd you pull that scene at the
arcade? I had to mess up this rentacop came after me with nunchucks."
"Linda said you were gonna kill me."
"Linda said? I never saw her before I came up here."
"You aren't with Wage?"
She shook her head. He realized that the glasses were surgically inset,
sealing her sockets. The silver lenses seemed to grow from smooth pale skin
above her cheekbones, framed by dark hair cut in a rough shag. The fingers
curled around the fletcher were slender, white, tipped with polished
burgundy. The nails looked artificial. "I think you screwed up, Case. I
showed up and you just fit me right into your reality picture."
"So what do you want, lady?" He sagged back against the hatch.
"You. One live body, brains still somewhat intact. Molly, Case. My
name's Molly. I'm collecting you for the man I work for. Just
wants to talk, is all. Nobody wants to hurt you "
"'Cept I do hurt people sometimes, Case. I guess it's just
the way I'm wired." She wore tight black glove leather jeans and a
bulky black jacket cut from some matte fabric that seemed to absorb light.
"If I put this dart gun away, will you be easy, Case? You look like you like
to take stupid chances."
"Hey, I'm very easy. I'm a pushover, no problem."
"That's fine, man." The fletcher vanished into the black jacket.
"Because you try to fuck around with me, you'll be taking one of the
stupidest chances of your whole life."
She held out her hands, palms up, the white fingers slightly spread,
and with a barely audible click, ten double-edged, four-centimeter scalpel
blades slid from their housings beneath the burgundy nails.
She smiled. The blades slowly withdrew.
After a year of coffins, the room on the twenty-fifth floor of the
Chiba Hilton seemed enormous. It was ten meters by eight, half of a suite. A
white Braun coffee maker steamed on a low table by the sliding glass panels
that opened onto a narrow balcony.
"Get some coffee in you. Look like you need it." She took off her black
jacket, the fletcher hung beneath her arm in a black nylon shoulder rig. She
wore a sleeveless gray pullover with plain steel zips across each shoulder.
Bulletproof, Case decided, slopping coffee into a bright red mug. His arms
and legs felt like they were made out of wood.
"Case." He looked up, seeing the man for the first time. "My name is
Armitage." The dark robe was open to the waist, the broad chest hairless and
muscular, the stomach flat and hard. Blue eyes so pale they made Case think
of bleach. "Sun's up, Case. This is your lucky day, boy."
Case whipped his arm sideways and the man easily ducked the scalding
coffee. Brown stain running down the imitation rice paper wall. He saw the
angular gold ring through the left lobe. Special Forces. The man smiled.
"Get your coffee, Case," Molly said. "You're okay, but
you're not going anywhere 'til Armitage has his say." She sat
cross legged on a silk futon and began to fieldstrip the fletcher without
bothering to look at it. Twin mirrors tracking as he crossed to the table
and refilled his cup.
"Too young to remember the war, aren't you, Case?" Armitage ran a
large hand back through his cropped brown hair. A heavy gold bracelet
flashed on his wrist. "Leningrad, Kiev, Siberia. We invented you in Siberia,
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Screaming Fist, Case. You've heard the name."
"Some kind of run, wasn't it? Tried to burn this Russian nexus
with virus programs. Yeah, I heard about it. And nobody got out."
He sensed abrupt tension. Armitagc walkcd to the window and looked out
over Tokyo Bay. "That isn't true. One unit made it back to Helsinki,
Case shrugged, sipped coffee.
"You're a console cowboy. The prototypes of the programs you use
to crack industrial banks were developed for Screaming Fist. For the assault
on the Kirensk computer nexus. Basic module was a Nightwing micro light, a
pilot, a matrix deck, a jockey. We were running a virus called Mole. The
Mole series was the first generation of real intrusion programs."
"Icebreakers," Case said, over the rim of the red mug.
"Ice from ICE, intrusion countermeasures electronics."
"Problem is, mister, I'm no jockey now, so I think I'll
just be going. . ."
"I was there, Case; I was there when they invented your kind."
"You got zip to do with me and my kind, buddy. You're rich enough
to hire expensive razor girls to haul my ass up here, is all. I'm
never gonna punch any deck again, not for you or anybody else." He crossed
to the window and looked down. "That's where I live now."
"Our profile says you're trying to con the street into killing
you when you're not looking."
"We've built up a detailed model. Bought a go-to for each of your
aliases and ran the skim through some military software. You're
suicidal, Case. The model gives you a month on the outside. And our medical
projection says you'll need a new pancreas inside a year."
" 'We.&lsquo " He met the faded blue eyes. " ‘We'
"What would you say if I told you we could correct your neural damage,
Case?" Armitage suddenly looked to Case as if he were carved from a block of
metal; inert, enormously heavy. A statue. He knew now that this was a dream,
and that soon he'd wake. Armitage wouldn't speak again.
Case's dreams always ended in these freeze frames, and now this one
"What would you say, Case?"
Case looked out over the Bay and shivered.
"I'd say you were full of shit."
"Then I'd ask what your terms were."
"Not very different than what you're used to, Case."
"Let the man get some sleep, Armitage," Molly said from her futon, the
components of the fletcher spread on the silk like some expensive puzzle.
"He's coming apart at the seams."
"Terms," Case said, "and now. Right now."
He was still shivering. He couldn't stop shivering.
The clinic was nameless, expensively appointed, a cluster of sleek
pavilions separated by small formal gardens. He remembered the place from
the round he'd made his first month in Chiba.
"Scared, Case. You're real scared." It was Sunday afternoon and
he stood with Molly in a sort of courtyard. White boulders, a stand of green
bamboo, black gravel raked into smooth waves. A gardener, a thing like a
large metal crab, was tending the bamboo.
"It'll work, Case. You got no idea, the kind of stuff Armitage
has. Like he's gonna pay these nerve boys for fixing you with the
program he's giving them to tell them how to do it. He'll put
them three years ahead of the competition. You got any idea what
that's worth?" She hooked thumbs in the belt loops of her leather
jeans and rocked backward on the lacquered heels of cherry red cowboy boots.
The narrow toes were sheathed in bright Mexican silver. The lenses were
empty quicksilver, regarding him with an insect calm.
"You're street samurai," he said. "How long you work for him?"
"Couple of months."
"What about before that?"
"For somebody else. Working girl, you know?"
‘It's like I know you. That profile he's got. I know
how you're wired."
"You don't know me, sister."
"You're okay, Case. What got you, it's just called bad
"How about him? He okay, Molly?" The robot crab moved toward them,
picking its way over the waves of gravel. Its bronze carapace might have
been a thousand years old. When it was within a meter of her boots, it fired
a burst of light, then froze for an instant, analyzing data obtained.
"What I always think about first, Case, is my own sweet ass." The crab
had altered course to avoid her, but she kicked it with a smooth precision,
the silver boot-tip clanging on the carapace. The thing fell on its back,
but the bronze limbs soon righted it.
Case sat on one of the boulders, scuffing at the symmetry of the gravel
waves with the toes of his shoes. He began to search his pockets for
cigarettes. "In your shirt," she said.
"You want to answer my question?" He fished a wrinkled Yeheyuan from
the pack and she lit it for him with a thin slab of German steel that looked
as though it belonged on an operating table.
"Well, I'll tell you, the man's definitely on to something.
He's got big money now, and he's never had it before, and he
gets more all the time." Case noticed a certain tension around her mouth.
"Or maybe, maybe something's on to him. . ." She shrugged.
"What's that mean?"
"I don't know, exactly. I know I don't know who or what
we're really working for."
He stared at the twin mirrors. Leaving the Hilton, Saturday morning,
he'd gone back to Cheap Hotel and slept for ten hours . Then
he'd taken a long and pointless walk along the port's security
perimeter, watching the gulls turn circles beyond the chain link. If
she'd followed him, she'd done a good job of it. He'd
avoided Night City. He'd waited in the coffin for Armitage's
call. Now this quiet courtyard, Sunday afternoon, this girl with a
gymnast's body and conjurer's hands.
"If you'll come in now, sir, the anesthetist is waiting to meet
you." The technician bowed, turned, and reentered the clinic without waiting
to see if Case would follow.
Cold steel odor. Ice caressed his spine.
Lost, so small amid that dark, hands grown cold, body image fading down
corridors of television sky.
Then black fire found the branching tributaries of the nerves, pain
beyond anything to which the name of pain is given. . .
Hold still. Don't move.
And Ratz was there, and Linda Lee, Wage and Lonny Zone, a hundred faces
from the neon forest, sailors and hustlers and whores, where the sky is
poisoned silver, beyond chain link and the prison of the skull.
Goddamn don't you move.
Where the sky faded from hissing static to the non color of the matrix,
and he glimpsed the shuriken, his stars.
"Stop it, Case, I gotta find your vein!" She was straddling his chest,
a blue plastic syrette in one hand. "You don't lie still, I'll
slit your fucking throat. You're still full of endorphin inhibitors."
He woke and found her stretched beside him in the dark.
His neck was brittle, made of twigs. There was a steady pulse of pain
midway down his spine. Images formed and reformed: a flickering montage of
the Sprawl's towers and ragged Fuller domes, dim figures moving toward
him in the shade beneath a bridge or overpass. . .
"Case? It's Wednesday, Case." She moved, rolling over, reaching
across him. A breast brushed his upper arm. He heard her tear the foil seal
from a bottle of water and drink. "Here." She put the bottle in his hand. "I
can see in the dark, Case. Micro channel image-amps in my glasses."
"My back hurts."
"That's where they replaced your fluid. Changed your blood too.
Blood 'cause you got a new pancreas thrown into the deal. And some new
tissue patched into your liver. The nerve stuff I dun no. Lot of injections.
They didn't have to open anything up for the main show." She settled
back beside him. "It's 2:43:12 AM, Case. Got a readout chipped into my
He sat up and tried to sip from the bottle. Gagged, coughed, lukewarm
water spraying his chest and thighs.
"I gotta punch deck," he heard himself say. He was groping for his
clothes. "I gotta know. . ."
She laughed. Small strong hands gripped his upper arms. "Sorry,
hotshot. Eight day wait. Your nervous system would fall out on the floor if
you jacked in now. Doctor's orders. Besides, they figure it worked.
Check you in a day or so." He lay down again.
"Where are we?"
"Home. Cheap Hotel."
"Hilton, selling beads to the natives or something. We're out of
here soon, man. Amsterdam, Paris, then back to the Sprawl." She touched his
shoulder. "Roll over. I give a good massage."
He lay on his stomach, arms stretched forward, tips of his fingers
against the walls of the coffin. She settled over the small of his back,
kneeling on the temperfoam, the leather jeans cool against his skin. Her
fingers brushed his neck.
"How come you're not at the Hilton?"
She answered him by reaching back, between his thighs and gently
encircling his scrotum with thumb and forefinger. She rocked there for a
minute in the dark, erect above him, her other hand on his neck. The leather
of her jeans creaked softly with the movement. Case shifted, feeling himself
harden against the temperfoam.
His head throbbed, but the brittleness in his neck seemed to retreat.
He raised himself on one elbow, rolled, sank back against the foam, pulling
her down, licking her breasts, small hard nipples sliding wet across his
cheek. He found the zip on the leather jeans and tugged it down.
"It's okay," she said, "I can see." Sound of the jeans peeling
down. She struggled beside him until she could kick them away. She threw a
leg across him and he touched her face. Unexpected hardness of the implanted
lenses. "Don't," she said, "fingerprints."
Now she straddled him again, took his hand, and closed it over her, his
thumb along the cleft of her buttocks, his fingers spread across the labia.
As she began to lower herself, the images came pulsing back, the faces,
fragments of neon arriving and receding. She slid down around him and his
back arched convulsively. She rode him that way, impaling herself, slipping
down on him again and again, until they both had come, his orgasm flaring
blue in a timeless space, a vastness like the matrix, where the faces were
shredded and blown away down hurricane corridors, and her inner thighs were
strong and wet against his hips.
On Nisei, a thinner, weekday version of the crowd went through the
motions of the dance. Waves of sound rolled from the arcades and pachinko
parlors. Case glanced into the Chat and saw Zone watching over his girls in
the warm, beer-smelling twilight. Ratz was tending bar.
"You seen Wage, Ratz?"
"Not tonight." Ratz made a point of raising an eyebrow at Molly.
"You see him, tell him I got his money."
"Luck changing, my artiste?"
"Too soon to tell."
"Well, I gotta see this guy," Case said, watching his reflection in her
glasses. "I got biz to cancel out of."
"Armitage won't like it, I let you out of my sight." She stood
beneath Deane's melting clock, hands on her hips.
"The guy won't talk to me if you're there. Deane I
don't give two shits about. He takes care of himself. But I got people
who'll just go under if I walk out of Chiba cold. It's my
people, you know?"
Her mouth hardened. She shook her head.
"I got people in Singapore, Tokyo connections in Shinjuku and Asakuza,
and they'll go down, understand?" he lied, his hand on the shoulder of
her black jacket. "Five. Five minutes. By your clock, okay?"
"Not what I'm paid for."
"What you're paid for is one thing. Me letting some tight friends
die because you're too literal about your instructions is something
"Bullshit. Tight friends my ass. You're going in there to check
us out with your smuggler." She put a booted foot up on the dust-covered
Kandinsky coffee table.
"Ah, Case, sport, it does look as though your companion there is
definitely armed, aside from having a fair amount of silicon in her head .
What is this about, exactly?" Deane's ghostly cough seemed to hang in
the air between them.
"Hold on, Julie. Anyway, I'll be coming in alone."
"You can be sure of that, old son. Wouldn't have it any other
"Okay," she said. "Go. But five Minutes. Any more and I'll come
in and cool your tight friend permanently. And while you're at it, you
try to figure something out."
"Why I'm doing you the favor." She turned and walked out, past
the stacked white modules of preserved ginger.
"Keeping stranger company than usual, Case?" asked Julie.
"Julie, she's gone. You wanna let me in? Please, Julie?"
The bolts worked. "Slowly, Case," said the voice.
"Turn on the works, Julie, all the stuff in the desk," Case said,
taking his place in the swivel chair.
"It's on all the time," Deane said mildly, taking a gun from
behind the exposed works of his old mechanical typewriter and aiming it
carefully at Case. It was a belly gun, a magnum revolver with the barrel
sawn down to a nub. The front of the trigger-guard had been cut away and the
grips wrapped with what looked like old masking tape. Case thought it looked
very strange in Dean's manicured pink hands. "Just taking care, you
Understand. Nothing personal. Now tell me what you want."
"I need a history lesson, Julie. And a go-to on somebody."
"What's moving, old son?" Deane's shirt was candy-striped
cotton, the collar white and rigid, like porcelain.
"Me, Julie. I'm leaving. Gone. But do me the favor, okay?"
"Go-to on whom, old son?"
"Gaijin name of Armitage, suite in the Hilton."
Deane put the pistol down. "Sit still, Case." He tapped something out
on a lap terminal. "It seems as though you know as much as my net does,
Case. This gentleman seems to have a temporary arrangement with the Yakuza,
and the sons of the neon chrysanthemum have ways of screening their allies
from the likes of me. I wouldn't have it any other way. Now, history.
You said history." He picked up the gun again, but didn't point it
directly at Case.
"What sort of history?"
"The war. You in the war, Julie?"
"The war? What's there to know? Lasted three weeks."
"Famous. Don't they teach you history these days? Great bloody
postwar political football, that was. Watergated all to hell and back. Your
brass, Case, your Sprawlside brass in, where was it, McLean? In the bunkers,
all of that. . . great scandal. Wasted a fair bit of patriotic young flesh
in order to test some new technology. They knew about the Russians'
defenses, it came out later. Knew about the emps, magnetic pulse weapons.
Sent these fellows in regardless, just to see." Deane shrugged. "Turkey
shoot for Ivan."
"Any of those guys make it out?"
"Christ," Deane said, "it's been bloody years. . . Though I do
think a few did. One of the teams. Got hold of a Sov gunship. Helicopter,
you know. Flew it back to Finland. Didn't have entry codes, of course,
and shot hell out of the Finnish defense forces in the process. Special
Forces types." Deane sniffed. "Bloody hell."
Case nodded. The smell of preserved ginger was overwhelming.
"I spent the war in Lisbon, you know," Deane said, putting the gun
down. "Lovely place, Lisbon."
"In the service, Julie?"
"Hardly. Though I did see action." Deane smiled his pink smile.
"Wonderful what a war can do for one's markets."
"Thanks, Julie. I owe you one."
"Hardly, Case. And goodbye."
And later he'd tell himself that the evening at Sammi's had
felt wrong from the start, that even as he'd followed Molly along that
corridor, shuffling through a trampled mulch of ticket stubs and styrofoam
cups, he'd sensed it. Linda's death, waiting. . .
They'd gone to the Namban, after he'd seen Deane, and paid
off his debt to Wage with a roll of Armitage's New Yen. Wage had liked
that, his boys had liked it less, and Molly had grinned at Case's side
with a kind of ecstatic feral intensity, obviously longing for one of them
to make a move. Then he'd taken her back to the Chat for a drink.
"Wasting your time, cowboy," Molly said, when Case took an octagon from
the pocket of his jacket. "How's that? You want one?" He held the pill
out to her.
"Your new pancreas, Case, and those plugs in your liver. Armitage had
them designed to bypass that shit." She tapped the octagon with one burgundy
nail. "You're biochemically incapable of getting off on amphetamine or
"Shit," he said. He looked at the octagon, then at her.
"Eat it. Eat a dozen. Nothing'll happen."
He did. Nothing did.
Three beers later, she was asking Ratz about the fights.
"Sammi's," Ratz said. "I'll pass," Case said, "I hear they
kill each other down there."
An hour later, she was buying tickets from a skinny Thai in a white
t-shirt and baggy rugby shorts.
Sammi's was an inflated dome behind a port side warehouse, taut
gray fabric reinforced with a net of thin steel cables. The corridor, with a
door at either end, was a crude airlock preserving the pressure differential
that supported the dome. Fluorescent rings were screwed to the plywood
ceiling at intervals, but most of them had been broken. The air was damp and
close with the smell of sweat and concrete.
None of that prepared him for the arena, the crowd, the tense hush, the
towering puppets of light beneath the dome. Concrete sloped away in tiers to
a kind of central stage, a raised circle ringed with a glittering thicket of
projection gear. No light but the holograms that shifted and flickered above
the ring, reproducing the movements of the two men below. Strata of
cigarette smoke rose from the tiers, drifting until it struck currents set
up by the blowers that supported the dome. No sound but the muted purring of
the blowers and the amplified breathing of the fighters.
Reflected colors flowed across Molly's lenses as the men circled.
The holograms were ten-power magnifications; at ten, the knives they held
were just under a meter long. The knife-fighter's grip is the
fencer's grip, Case remembered, the fingers curled, thumb aligned with
blade. The knives seemed to move of their own accord, gliding with a ritual
lack of urgency through the arcs and passes of their dance, point passing
point, as the men waited for an opening. Molly's upturned face was
smooth and still, watching.
"I'll go find us some food," Case said. She nodded, lost in
contemplation of the dance.
He didn't like this place.
He turned and walked back into the shadows. Too dark. Too quiet.
The crowd, he saw, was mostly Japanese. Not really a Night City crowd.
Techs down from the arcologies. He supposed that meant the arena had the
approval of some corporate recreational committee. He wondered briefly what
it would be like, working all your life for one zaibatsu. Company housing,
company hymn, company funeral.
He'd made nearly a full circuit of the dome before he found the
food stalls. He bought yakitori on skewers and two tall waxy cartons of
beer. Glancing up at the holograms, he saw that blood laced one
figure's chest. Thick brown sauce trickled down the skewers and over
Seven days and he'd jack in. If he closed his eyes now,
he'd see the matrix.
Shadows twisted as the holograms swung through their dance.
Then the fear began to knot between his shoulders. A cold trickle of
sweat worked its way down and across his ribs. The operation hadn't
worked. He was still here, still meat, no Molly waiting, her eyes locked on
the circling knives, no Armitage waiting in the Hilton with tickets and a
new passport and money. It was all some dream, some pathetic fantasy. . .
Hot tears blurred his vision.
Blood sprayed from a jugular in a red gout of light. And now the crowd
was screaming, rising, screaming – as one figure crumpled, the
hologram fading, flickering. . .
Raw edge of vomit in his throat. He closed his eyes, took a deep
breath, opened them, and saw Linda Lee step past him her gray eyes blind
with fear. She wore the same French fatigues.
And gone. Into shadow.
Pure mindless reflex: he threw the beer and chicken down and ran after
her. He might have called her name, but he'd never be sure.
Afterimage of a single hair-fine line of red light. Seared concrete
beneath the thin soles of his shoes.
Her white sneakers flashing, close to the curving wall now and again
the ghost line of the laser branded across his eye, bobbing in his vision as
Someone tripped him. Concrete tore his palms.
He rolled and kicked, failing to connect. A thin boy, spiked blond hair
lit from behind in a rainbow nimbus, was leaning over him. Above the stage,
a figure turned, knife held high, to the cheering crowd. The boy smiled and
drew something from his sleeve. A razor, etched in red as a third beam
blinked past them into the dark. Case saw the razor dipping for his throat
like a dowser's wand.
The face was erased in a humming cloud of microscopic explosions.
Molly's fletchettes, at twenty rounds per second. The boy coughed
once, convulsively, and toppled across Case's legs.
He was walking toward the stalls, into the shadows. He looked down,
expecting to see that needle of ruby emerge from his chest. Nothing. He
found her. She was thrown down at the foot of a concrete pillar, eyes
closed. There was a smell of cooked meat. The crowd was chanting the
winner's name. A beer vendor was wiping his taps with a dark rag. One
white sneaker had come off, somehow, and lay beside her head.
Follow the wall. Curve of concrete. Hands in pockets. Keep walking.
Past unseeing faces, every eye raised to the victor's image above the
ring. Once a seamed European face danced in the glare of a match, lips
pursed around the short stem of a metal pipe. Tang of hashish. Case walked
on, feeling nothing.
"Case." Her mirrors emerged from deeper shadow. "You okay?"
Something mewled and bubbled in the dark behind her.
He shook his head.
"Fight's over, Case. Time to go home."
He tried to walk past her. back into the dark, where something was
dying. She stopped him with a hand on his chest. "Friends of your tight
friend. Killed your girl for you. You haven't done too well for
friends in this town, have you? We got a partial profile on that old bastard
when we did you, man. He'd fry anybody, for a few New ones. The one
back there said they got on to her when she was trying to fence your RAM.
Just cheaper for them to kill her and take it. Save a little money. . . I
got the one who had the laser to tell me all about it. Coincidence we were
here, but I had to make sure." Her mouth was hard, lips pressed into a thin
Case felt as though his brain were jammed. "Who," he said, "who sent
She passed him a blood-flecked bag of preserved ginger. He saw that her
hands were sticky with blood. Back in the shadows, someone made wet sounds
After the postoperative check at the clinic, Molly took him to the
port. Armitage was waiting. He'd chartered a hovercraft. The last Case
saw of Chiba were the dark angles of the arcologies. Then a mist closed over
the black water and the drifting shoals of waste.
* PART ONE. CHIBA CITY BLUES
Home was BAMA, the Sprawl, the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis.
Program a map to display frequency of data exchange, every thousand
megabytes a single pixel on a very large screen. Manhattan and Atlanta burn
solid white. Then they start to pulse, the rate of traffic threatening to
overload your simulation. Your map is about to go nova. Cool it down. Up
your scale. Each pixel a million megabytes. At a hundred million megabytes
per second, you begin to make out certain blocks in midtown Manhattan,
outlines of hundred-year-old industrial parks ringing the old core of
Atlanta. . .
Case woke from a dream of airports, of Molly's dark leathers
moving ahead of him through the concourses of Narita, Schipol, Orly. . . He
watched himself buy a flat plastic flask of Danish vodka at some kiosk, an
hour before dawn.
Somewhere down in the Sprawl's ferro-concrete roots, a train
drove a column of stale air through a tunnel. The train itself was silent,
gliding over its induction cushion, but displaced air made the tunnel sing,
bass down into subsonics. Vibration reached the room where he lay and caused
dust to rise from the cracks in the dessicated parquet floor.
Opening his eyes, he saw Molly, naked and just out of reach across an
expanse of very new pink temperfoam. Overhead, sunlight filtered through the
soot-stained grid of a skylight. One half-meter square of glass had been
replaced with chip-board, a fat gray cable emerging there to dangle within a
few centimeters of the floor. He lay on his side and watched her breathe,
her breasts, the sweep of a flank defined with the functional elegance of a
war plane's fusilage. Her body was spare, neat, the muscles like a
The room was large. He sat up. The room was empty, aside from the wide
pink bedslab and two nylon bags, new and identical, that lay beside it.
Blank walls, no windows, a single white-painted steel fire door. The walls
were coated with countless layers of white latex paint. Factory space. He
knew this kind of room, this kind of building; the tenants would operate in
the interzone where art wasn't quite crime, crime not quite art.
He was home.
He swung his feet to the floor. It was made of little blocks of wood,
some missing, others loose. His head ached. He remembered Amsterdam, another
room, in the Old City section of the Centrum, buildings centuries old. Molly
back from the canal's edge with orange juice and eggs. Armitage off on
some cryptic foray, the two of them walking alone past Dam Square to a bar
she knew on a Damrak thoroughfare. Paris was a blurred dream. Shopping.
She'd taken him shopping.
He stood, pulling on a wrinkled pair of new black jeans that lay at his
feet, and knelt beside the bags. The first one he opened was Molly's:
neatly folded clothing and small expensive-looking gadgets. The second was
stuffed with things he didn't remember buying: books, tapes, a Simstim
deck, clothing with French and Italian labels. Beneath a green t-shirt, he
discovered a flat, origami-wrapped package, recycled Japanese paper.
The paper tore when he picked it up; a bright nine-pointed star fell
– to stick upright in a crack in the parquet.
"Souvenir," Molly said. "I noticed you were always looking at
'em." He turned and saw her sitting cross legged on the bed, sleepily
scratching her stomach with burgundy nails.
"Someone's coming later to secure the place," Armitage said. He
stood in the open doorway with an old-fashioned magnetic key in his hand.
Molly was making coffee on a tiny German stove she took from her bag.
"I can do it," she said. "I got enough gear already. Infrascan
perimeter, screamers. . ."
"No," he said, closing the door. "I want it tight."
"Suit yourself." She wore a dark mesh t-shirt tucked into baggy black
"You ever the heat, Mr. Armitage?" Case asked, from where he sat, his
back against a wall.
Armitage was no taller than Case, but with his broad shoulders and
military posture he seemed to fill the doorway. He wore a somber Italian
suit; in his right hand he held a briefcase of soft black calf. The Special
Forces earring was gone. The handsome, inexpressive features offered the
routine beauty of the cosmetic boutiques, a conservative amalgam of the past
decade's leading media faces. The pale glitter of his eyes heightened
the effect of a mask. Case began to regret the question.
"Lots of Forces types wound up cops, I mean. Or corporate security,"
Case added uncomfortably. Molly handed him a steaming mug of coffee. "That
number you had them do on my pancreas, that's like a cop routine."
Armitage closed the door and crossed the room, to stand in front of
Case. "You're a lucky boy, Case. You should thank me."
"Should I?" Case blew noisily on his coffee.
"You needed a new pancreas. The one we bought for you frees you from a
"Thanks, but I was enjoying that dependency."
"Good, because you have a new one."
"How's that?" Case looked up from his coffee.
Armitage was smiling. "You have fifteen toxin sacs bonded to the lining
of various main arteries, Case. They're dissolving. Very slowly, but
they definitely are dissolving. Each one contains a mycotoxin. You're
already familiar with the effect of that mycotoxin. It was the one your
former employers gave you in Memphis."
Case blinked up at the smiling mask.
"You have time to do what I'm hiring you for, Case, but
that's all. Do the job and I can inject you with an enzyme that will
dissolve the bond without opening the sacs. Then you'll need a blood
change. Otherwise, the sacs melt and you're back where I found you. So
you see, Case, you need us. You need us as badly as you did when we scraped
you up from the gutter."
Case looked at Molly. She shrugged.
"Now go down to the freight elevator and bring up the cases you find
there." Armitage handed him the magnetic key. "Go on. You'll enjoy
this, Case. Like Christmas morning."
Summer in the Sprawl, the mall crowds swaying like windblown grass, a
field of flesh shot through with sudden eddies of need and gratification.
He sat beside Molly in filtered sunlight on the rim of a dry concrete
fountain, letting the endless stream of faces recapitulate the stages of his
life. First a child with hooded eyes, a street boy, hands relaxed and ready
at his sides; then a teenager, face smooth and cryptic beneath red glasses.
Case remembered fighting on a rooftop at seventeen, silent combat in the
rose glow of the dawn geodesics.
He shifted on the concrete, feeling it rough and cool through the thin
black denim. Nothing here like the electric dance of Ninsei. This was
different commerce, a different rhythm, in the smell of fast food and
perfume and fresh summer sweat.
With his deck waiting, back in the loft, an Ono-Sendai Cyberspace 7.
They'd left the place littered with the abstract white forms of the
foam packing units, with crumpled plastic film and hundreds of tiny foam
beads. The Ono-Sendai; next year's most expensive Hosaka computer; a
Sony monitor; a dozen disks of corporate-grade ice; a Braun coffee maker.
Armitage had only waited for Case's approval of each piece.
"Where'd he go?" Case had asked Molly.
"He likes hotels. Big ones. Near airports, if he can manage it.
Let's go down to the street." She'd zipped herself into an old
surplus vest with a dozen oddly shaped pockets and put on a huge pair of
black plastic sunglasses that completely covered her mirrored insets.
"You know about that toxin shit, before?" he asked her, by the
fountain. She shook her head. "You think it's true?"
"Maybe, maybe not. Works either way."
"You know any way I can find out?"
"No," she said, her right hand coming up to form the jive for silence.
"That kind of kink's too subtle to show up on a scan." Then her
fingers moved again: wait. "And you don't care that much anyway. I saw
you stroking that Sendai; man, it was pornographic." She laughed.
"So what's he got on you? How's he got the working girl
"Professional pride, baby, that's all." And again the sign for
silence. "We're gonna get some breakfast, okay? Eggs, real bacon.
Probably kill you, you been eating that rebuilt Chiba krill for so long.
Yeah, come on, we'll tube in to Manhattan and get us a real
Lifeless neon spelled out METRO HOLOGRAFIX in dusty capitals of glass
tubing. Case picked at a shred of bacon that had lodged between his front
teeth. He'd given up asking her where they were going and why; jabs in
the ribs and the sign for silence were all he'd gotten in reply. She
talked about the season's fashions, about sports, about a political
scandal in California he'd never heard of.
He looked around the deserted dead end street. A sheet of newsprint
went cart wheeling past the intersection. Freak winds in the East side;
something to do with convection, and an overlap in the domes. Case peered
through the window at the dead sign. Her Sprawl wasn't his Sprawl, he
decided. She'd led him through a dozen bars and clubs he'd never
seen before, taking care of business, usually with no more than a nod.
Something was moving in the shadows behind METRO HOLOGRAFIX.
The door was a sheet of corrugated roofing. In front of it,
Molly's hands flowed through an intricate sequence of jive that he
couldn't follow. He caught the sign for cash, a thumb brushing the tip
of the forefinger. The door swung inward and she led him into the smell of
dust. They stood in a clearing, dense tangles of junk rising on either side
to walls lined with shelves of crumbling paperbacks. The junk looked like
something that had grown there, a fungus of twisted metal and plastic. He
could pick out individual objects, but then they seemed to blur back into
the mass: the guts of a television so old it was studded with the glass
stumps of vacuum tubes, a crumpled dish antenna, a brown fiber canister
stuffed with corroded lengths of alloy tubing. An enormous pile of old
magazines had cascaded into the open area, flesh of lost summers staring
blindly up as he followed her back through a narrow canyon of impacted
scrap. He heard the door close behind them. He didn't look back.
The tunnel ended with an ancient Army blanket tacked across a doorway.
White light flooded out as Molly ducked past it.
Four square walls of blank white plastic, ceiling to match, floored
with white hospital tile molded in a non slip pattern of small raised disks.
In the center stood a square, white-painted wooden table and four white
The man who stood blinking now in the doorway behind them, the blanket
draping one shoulder like a cape, seemed to have been designed in a wind
tunnel. His ears were very small, plastered flat against his narrow skull,
and his large front teeth, revealed in something that wasn't quite a
smile, were canted sharply backward. He wore an ancient tweed jacket and
held a handgun of some kind in his left hand. He peered at them, blinked,
and dropped the gun into a jacket pocket. He gestured to Case, pointed at a
slab of white plastic that leaned near the doorway. Case crossed to it and
saw that it was a solid sandwich of circuitry, nearly a centimeter thick. He
helped the man lift it and position it in the doorway. Quick,
nicotine-stained fingers secured it with a white velcro border. A hidden
exhaust fan began to purr.
"Time," the man said, straightening up, "and counting. You know the
"We need a scan, Finn. For implants."
"So get over there between the pylons. Stand on the tape. Straighten
up, yeah. Now turn around, gimme a full threesixty." Case watched her rotate
between two fragile-looking stands studded with sensors. The man took a
small monitor from his pocket and squinted at it. "Something new in your
head, yeah. Silicon. coat of pyrolitic carbons. A clock, right? Your glasses
gimme the read they always have, low-temp isotropic carbons. Better
biocompatibility with pyrolitics, but that's your business, right?
Same with your claws."
"Get over here, Case." He saw a scuffed X in black on the white floor.
"Turn around. Slow."
"Guy's a virgin." The man shrugged. "Some cheap dental work, is
"You read for biologicals?" Molly unzipped her green vest and took off
the dark glasses.
"You think this is the Mayo? Climb on the table, kid, we'll run a
little biopsy." He laughed, showing more of his yellow teeth. "Nah.
Finn's word, sweetmeat, you got no little bugs, no cortex bombs. You
want me to shut the screen down?"
"Just for as long as it takes you to leave, Finn. Then we'll want
full screen for as long as we want it."
"Hey, that's fine by the Finn, Moll. You're only paying by
They sealed the door behind him and Molly turned one of the white
chairs around and sat on it, chin resting on crossed forearms. "We talk now.
This is as private as I can afford."
"What we're doing."
"What are we doing?"
"Working for Armitage."
"And you're saying this isn't for his benefit?"
"Yeah. I saw your profile, Case. And I've seen the rest of our
shopping list, once. You ever work with the dead?"
"No." He watched his reflection in her glasses. "I could, I guess.
I'm good at what I do." The present tense made him nervous.
"You know that the Dixie Flatline's dead?"
He nodded. "Heart, I heard."
"You'll be working with his construct." She smiled. "Taught you
the ropes, huh? Him and Quine. I know Quine, by the way. Real asshole."
"Somebody's got a recording of McCoy Pauley? Who?" Now Case sat,
and rested his elbows on the table. "I can't see it. He'd never
have sat still for it."
"Sense/Net. Paid him mega, you bet your ass."
"Quine dead too?"
"No such luck. He's in Europe. He doesn't come into this."
"Well, if we can get the Flatline, we're home free. He was the
best. You know he died brain death three times?"
"Flat lined on his EEG. Showed me tapes. ‘Boy, I was daid.'
"Look, Case, I been trying to suss out who it is is backing Armitage
since I signed on. But it doesn't feel like a zaibatsu, a government,
or some Yakuza subsidiary. Armitage gets orders. Like something tells him to
go off to Chiba, pick up a pillhead who's making one last wobble
throught the burnout belt, and trade a program for the operation
that'll fix him up. We could a bought twenty world class cowboys for
what the market was ready to pay for that surgical program. You were good,
but not that good. . ." She scratched the side of her nose.
"Obviously makes sense to somebody," he said. "Somebody big."
"Don't let me hurt your feelings." She grinned. "We're
gonna be pulling one hardcore run, Case, just to get the Flatline's
construct. Sense/Net has it locked in a library vault uptown. Tighter than
an eel's ass, Case. Now, Sense/Net, they got all their new material
for the fall season locked in there too. Steal that and we'd be richer
than shit. But no, we gotta get us the Flatline and nothing else. Weird."
"Yeah, it's all weird. You're weird, this hole's
weird, and who's the weird little gopher outside in the hall?"
"Finn's an old connection of mine. Fence, mostly. Software. This
privacy biz is a sideline. But I got Armitage to let him be our tech here,
so when he shows up later, you never saw him. Got it?"
"So what's Armitage got dissolving inside you?"
"I'm an easy make." She smiled. "Anybody any good at what they
do, that's what they are, right? You gotta jack, I gotta tussle." He
stared at her.
"So tell me what you know about Armitage."
"For starters, nobody named Armitage took part in any Screaming Fist. I
checked. But that doesn't mean much. He doesn't look like any of
the pics of the guys who got out." She shrugged. "Big deal. And starters is
all I got." She drummed her nails on the back of the chair. "But you are a
cowboy, aren't you? I mean, maybe you could have a little look
around." She smiled.
"He'd kill me."
"Maybe. Maybe not. I think he needs you, Case, and real bad. Besides,
you're a clever john, no? You can winkle him, sure."
"What else is on that list you mentioned?"
"Toys. Mostly for you. And one certified psychopath name of Peter
Riviera. Real ugly customer."
"Dunno. But he's one sick fuck, no lie. I saw his profile." She
made a face. "God awful." She stood up and stretched, catlike. "So we got an
axis going, boy? We're together in this? Partners?"
Case looked at her. "I gotta lotta choice, huh?"
She laughed. "You got it, cowboy."
"The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games," said the
voice-over, "in early graphics programs and military experimentation with
cranial jacks." On the Sony, a two-dimensional space war faded behind a
forest of mathematically generated ferns, demonstrating the spacial
possibilities of logarithmic spirals; cold blue military footage burned
through, lab animals wired into test systems, helmets feeding into fire
control circuits of tanks and war planes. "Cyberspace. A consensual
hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in
every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts . . . A graphic
representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the
human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace
of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights,
receding. . ."
"What's that?" Molly asked, as he flipped the channel selector.
"Kid's show." A discontinuous flood of images as the selector
cycled. "Off," he said to the Hosaka.
"You want to try now, Case?"
Wednesday. Eight days from waking in Cheap Hotel with Molly beside him.
"You want me to go out, Case? Maybe easier for you, alone. . ." He shook his
"No. Stay, doesn't matter." He settled the black terry sweatband
across his forehead, careful not to disturb the flat Sendai dermatrodes. He
stared at the deck on his lap, not really seeing it, seeing instead the shop
window on Ninsei, the chromed shuriken burning with reflected neon. He
glanced up; on the wall, just above the Sony, he'd hung her gift,
tacking it there with a yellow-headed drawing pin through the hole at its
He closed his eyes.
Found the ridged face of the power stud.
And in the bloodlit dark behind his eyes, silver phosphenes boiling in
from the edge of space, hypnagogic images jerking past like film compiled
from random frames. Symbols, figures, faces, a blurred, fragmented mandala
of visual information. Please, he prayed, now –
A gray disk, the color of Chiba sky.
Disk beginning to rotate, faster, becoming a sphere of paler gray.
And flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick, the unfolding
of his distance less home, his country, transparent 3D chessboard extending
to infinity. Inner eye opening to the stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern
Seaboard Fission Authority burning beyond the green cubes of Mitsubishi Bank
of America, and high and very far away he saw the spiral arms of military
systems, forever beyond his reach.
And somewhere he was laughing, in a white-painted loft, distant fingers
caressing the deck, tears of release streaking his face.
Molly was gone when he took the trodes off, and the loft was dark. He
checked the time. He'd been in cyberspace for five hours. He carried
the Ono-Sendai to one of the new worktables and collapsed across the
bedslab, pulling Molly's black silk sleeping bag over his head.
The security package taped to the steel fire door bleeped twice. "Entry
requested," it said. "Subject is cleared per my program."
"So open it." Case pulled the silk from his face and sat up as the door
opened, expecting to see Molly or Armitage.
"Christ," said a hoarse voice, "I know that bitch can see in the dark.
. ." A squat figure stepped in and closed the door. "Turn the lights on,
okay?" Case scrambled off the slab and found the old-fashioned switch.
"I'm the Finn," said the Finn, and made a warning face at Case.
"Pleased to meecha, I'm sure. I'm doing some hardware for
your boss, it looks like." The Finn fished a pack of Partagas from a pocket
and lit one. The smell of Cuban tobacco filled the room. He crossed to the
worktable and glanced at the OnoSendai. "Looks stock. Soon fix that. But
here is your problem, kid." He took a filthy manila envelope from inside his
jacket, flicked ash on the floor, and extracted a featureless black
rectangle from the envelope. "Goddamn factory prototypes," he said, tossing
the thing down on the table. "Cast 'em into a block of polycarbon,
can't get in with a laser without frying the works. Booby-trapped for
x-ray, ultrascan, God knows what else. We'll get in, but there's
no rest for the wicked, right?" He folded the envelope with great care and
tucked it away in an inside pocket.
"What is it?"
"It's a flip flop switch, basically. Wire it into your Sendai
here, you can access live or recorded Simstim without having to jack out of
"I haven't got a clue. Know I'm fitting Moll for a
broadcast rig, though, so it's probably her sensorium you'll
access." The Finn scratched his chin. "So now you get to find out just how
tight those jeans really are, huh?"
Case sat in the loft with the dermatrodes strapped across his forehead,
watching motes dance in the diluted sunlight that filtered through the grid
overhead. A countdown was in progress in one corner of the monitor screen.
Cowboys didn't get into Simstim, he thought, because it was
basically a meat toy. He knew that the trodes he used and the little plastic
tiara dangling from a Simstim deck were basically the same, and that the
cyberspace matrix was actually a drastic simplification of the human
sensorium, at least in terms of presentation, but Simstim itself struck him
as a gratuitous multiplication of flesh input. The commercial stuff was
edited, of course, so that if Tally Isham got a headache in the course of a
segment, you didn't feel it.
The screen bleeped a two-second warning.
The new switch was patched into his Sendai with a thin ribbon of fiber
And one and two and –
Cyberspace slid into existence from the cardinal points. Smooth, he
thought, but not smooth enough. Have to work on it. . .
Then he keyed the new switch.
The abrupt jolt into other flesh. Matrix gone, a wave of sound and
color. . . She was moving through a crowded street, past stalls vending
discount software, prices felt penned on sheets of plastic, fragments of
music from countless speakers. Smells of urine, free monomers, perfume,
patties of frying krill. For a few frightened seconds he fought helplessly
to control her body. Then he willed himself into passivity, became the
passenger behind her eyes.
The glasses didn't seem to cut down the sunlight at all. He
wondered if the built-in amps compensated automatically. Blue alphanumerics
winked the time, low in her left peripheral field. Showing off, he thought.
Her body language was disorienting, her style foreign. She seemed
continually on the verge of colliding with someone, but people melted out of
her way, stepped sideways, made room.
"How you doing, Case?" He heard the words and felt her form them. She
slid a hand into her jacket, a fingertip circling a nipple under warm silk.
The sensation made him catch his breath. She laughed. But the link was
one-way. He had no way to reply.
Two blocks later, she was threading the outskirts of Memory Lane. Case
kept trying to jerk her eyes toward landmarks he would have used to find his
way. He began to find the passivity of the situation irritating.
The transition to cyberspace, when he hit the switch, was
instantaneous. He punched himself down a wall of primitive ice belonging to
the New York Public Library, automatically counting potential windows.
Keying back into her sensorium, into the sinuous flow of muscle, senses
sharp and bright.
He found himself wondering about the mind he shared these sensations
with. What did he know about her? That she was another professional; that
she said her being, like his, was the thing she did to make a living. He
knew the way she'd moved against him, earlier, when she woke, their
mutual grunt of unity when he'd entered her, and that she liked her
coffee black, afterward. . .
Her destination was one of the dubious software rental complexes that
lined Memory Lane. There was a stillness, a hush. Booths lined a central
hall. The clientele were young, few of them out of their teens. They all
seemed to have carbon sockets planted behind the left ear, but she
didn't focus on them. The counters that fronted the booths displayed
hundreds of slivers of microsoft, angular fragments of colored silicon
mounted under oblong transparent bubbles on squares of white cardboard.
Molly went to the seventh booth along the south wall. Behind the counter a
boy with a shaven head stared vacantly into space, a dozen spikes of
microsoft protruding from the socket behind his ear.
"Larry, you in, man?" She positioned herself in front of him. The
boy's eyes focused. He sat up in his chair and pried a bright magenta
splinter from his socket with a dirty thumbnail .
"Molly." He nodded.
"I have some work for some of your friends, Larry."
Larry took a flat plastic case from the pocket of his red sport shirt
and flicked it open, slotting the microsoft beside a dozen others. His hand
hovered, selected a glossy black chip that was slightly longer than the
rest, and inserted it smoothly into his head. His eyes narrowed.
"Molly's got a rider," he said, "and Larry doesn't like
"Hey," she said, "I didn't know you were so . . . sensitive.
I'm impressed. Costs a lot, to get that sensitive."
"I know you, lady?" The blank look returned. "You looking to buy some
"I'm looking for the Moderns."
"You got a rider, Molly. This says." He tapped the black splinter.
"Somebody else using your eyes."
"Tell your partner to go."
"Got something for the Panther Moderns, Larry."
"What are you talking about, lady?"
"Case, you take off," she said, and he hit the switch, instantly back
in the matrix. Ghost impressions of the software complex hung for a few
seconds in the buzzing calm of cyberspace.
"Panther Moderns," he said to the Hosaka, removing the trodes. "Five
"Ready," the computer said.
It wasn't a name he knew. Something new, something that had come
in since he'd been in Chiba. Fads swept the youth of the Sprawl at the
speed of light; entire subcultures could rise overnight, thrive for a dozen
weeks, and then vanish utterly. "Go," he said. The Hosaka had accessed its
array of libraries, journals, and news services.
The precis began with a long hold on a color still that Case at first
assumed was a collage of some kind, a boy's face snipped from another
image and glued to a photograph of a paint-scrawled wall. Dark eyes,
epicanthic folds obviously the result of surgery, an angry dusting of acne
across pale narrow cheeks. The Hosaka released the freeze; the boy moved,
flowing with the sinister grace of a mime pretending to be a jungle
predator. His body was nearly invisible, an abstract pattern approximating
the scribbled brickwork sliding smoothly across his tight one piece. Mimetic
Cut to Dr. Virginia Rambali, Sociology, NYU, her name, faculty, and
school pulsing across the screen in pink alphanumerics.
"Given their penchant for these random acts of surreal violence,"
someone said, "it may be difficult for our viewers to understand why you
continue to insist that this phenomenon isn't a form of terrorism."
Dr. Rambali smiled. "There is always a point at which the terrorist
ceases to manipulate the media gestalt. A point at which the violence may
well escalate, but beyond which the terrorist has become symptomatic of the
media gestalt itself. Terrorism as we ordinarily understand it is inately
media-related. The Panther Moderns differ from other terrorists precisely in
their degree of self-consciousness, in their awareness of the extent to
which media divorce the act of terrorism from the original sociopolitical
intent. . ."
"Skip it," Case said.
Case met his first Modern two days after he'd screened the
Hosaka's precis. The Moderns, he'd decided, were a contemporary
version of the Big Scientists of his own late teens. There was a kind of
ghostly teenage DNA at work in the Sprawl, something that carried the coded
precepts of various short-lived sub cults and replicated them at odd
intervals. The Panther Moderns were a softhead variant on the Scientists. If
the technology had been available the Big Scientists would all have had
sockets stuffed with microsofts. It was the style that mattered and the
style was the same. The Moderns were mercenaries, practical jokers,
The one who showed up at the loft door with a box of diskettes from the
Finn was a soft-voiced boy called Angelo. His face was a simple graft grown
on collagen and shark-cartilage polysaccharides, smooth and hideous. It was
one of the nastiest pieces of elective surgery Case had ever seen. When
Angelo smiled, revealing the razor-sharp canines of some large animal, Case
was actually relieved. Tooth bud transplants. He'd seen that before.
"You can't let the little pricks generation-gap you," Molly said.
Case nodded, absorbed in the patterns of the Sense/Net ice.
This was it. This was what he was, who he was, his being. He forgot to
eat. Molly left cartons of rice and foam trays of sushi on the corner of the
long table. Sometimes he resented having to leave the deck to use the
chemical toilet they'd set up in a corner of the loft. Ice patterns
formed and reformed on the screen as he probed for gaps, skirted the most
obvious traps, and mapped the route he'd take through
Sense/Net's ice. It was good ice. Wonderful ice. Its patterns burned
there while he lay with his arm under Molly's shoulders, watching the
red dawn through the steel grid of the skylight. Its rainbow pixel maze was
the first thing he saw when he woke. He'd go straight to the deck, not
bothering to dress, and jack in. He was cutting it. He was working. He lost
track of days.
And sometimes, falling asleep, particularly when Molly was off on one
of her reconnaissance trips with her rented cadre of Moderns, images of
Chiba came flooding back. Faces and Ninsei neon. Once he woke from a
confused dream of Linda Lee, unable to recall who she was or what
she'd ever meant to him. When he did remember, he jacked in and worked
for nine straight hours.
The cutting of Sense/Net's ice took a total of nine days. "I said
a week," Armitage said, unable to conceal his satisfaction when Case showed
him his plan for the run. "You took your own good time."
"Balls," Case said, smiling at the screen. "That's good work,
"Yes," Armitage admitted, "but don't let it go to your head.
Compared to what you'll eventually be up against, this is an arcade
"Love you, Cat Mother," whispered the Panther Modern's link man.
His voice was modulated static in Case's headset. "Atlanta, Brood.
Looks go. Go, got it?" Molly's voice was slightly clearer.
"To hear is to obey." The Moderns were using some kind of chicken wire
dish in New Jersey to bounce the link man's scrambled signal off a
Sons of Christ the King satellite in geosynchronous orbit above Manhattan.
They chose to regard the entire operation as an elaborate private joke, and
their choice of comsats seemed to have been deliberate. Molly's
signals were being beamed up from a one-meter umbrella dish epoxyed to the
roof of a black glass bank tower nearly as tall as the Sense/Net building.
Atlanta. The recognition code was simple. Atlanta to Boston to Chicago
to Denver, five minutes for each city. If anyone managed to intercept
Molly's signal, unscramble it, synth her voice, the code would tip the
Moderns. If she remained in the building for more than twenty minutes, it
was highly unlikely she'd be coming out at all.
Case gulped the last of his coffee, settled the trodes in place, and
scratched his chest beneath his black t-shirt. He had only a vague idea of
what the Panther Moderns planned as a diversion for the Sense/Net security
people. His job was to make sure the intrusion program he'd written
would link with the Sense/Net systems when Molly needed it to. He watched
the countdown in the corner of the screen. Two. One.
He jacked in and triggered his program. "Mainline," breathed the link
man, his voice the only sound as Case plunged through the glowing strata of
Sense/Net ice. Good. Check Molly. He hit the Simstim and flipped into her
The scrambler blurred the visual input slightly. She stood before a
wall of gold-flecked mirror in the building's vast white lobby,
chewing gum, apparently fascinated by her own reflection. Aside from the
huge pair of sunglasses concealing her mirrored insets, she managed to look
remarkably like she belonged there, another tourist girl hoping for a
glimpse of Tally Isham. She wore a pink plastic raincoat, a white mesh top,
loose white pants cut in a style that had been fashionable in Tokyo the
previous year. She grinned vacantly and popped her gum. Case felt like
laughing. He could feel the micro pore tape across her ribcage, feel the
flat little units under it: the radio, the Simstim unit, and the scrambler.
The throat mike, glued to her neck, looked as much as possible like an
analgesic dermadisk. Her hands, in the pockets of the pink coat, were
flexing systematically through a series of tension-release exercises. It
took him a few seconds to realize that the peculiar sensation at the tips of
her fingers was caused by the blades as they were partially extruded, then
He flipped back. His program had reached the fifth gate. He watched as
his icebreaker strobed and shifted in front of him, only faintly aware of
his hands playing across the deck, making minor adjustments. Translucent
planes of color shuffled like a trick deck. Take a card, he thought, any
The gate blurred past. He laughed. The Sense/Net ice had accepted his
entry as a routine transfer from the consortium's Los Angeles complex.
He was inside. Behind him, viral subprograms peeled off, meshing with the
gate's code fabric, ready to deflect the real Los Angeles data when it
He flipped again. Molly was strolling past the enormous circular
reception desk at the rear of the lobby. 12:01:20 as the readout flared in
her optic nerve.
At midnight, synched with the chip behind Molly's eye, the link
man in Jersey had given his command. "Mainline." Nine Moderns, scattered
along two hundred miles of the Sprawl, had simultaneously dialed MAX EMERG
from pay phones. Each Modern delivered a short set speech, hung up, and
drifted out into the night, peeling off surgical gloves. Nine different
police departments and public security agencies were absorbing the
information that an obscure sub sect of militant Christian fundamentalists
had just taken credit for having introduced clinical levels of an outlawed
psychoactive agent known as Blue Nine into the ventilation system of the
Sense/Net Pyramid. Blue Nine, known in California as Grievous Angel, had
been shown to produce acute paranoia and homicidal psychosis in eighty-five
percent of experimental subjects.
Case hit the switch as his program surged through the gates of the
subsystem that controlled security for the Sense/Net research library. He
found himself stepping into an elevator.
"Excuse me, but are you an employee?" The guard raised his eyebrows.
Molly popped her gum. "No," she said, driving the first two knuckles of her
right hand into the man's solar plexus. As he doubled over, clawing
for the beeper on his belt she slammed his head sideways, against the wall
of the elevator.
Chewing a little more rapidly now, she touched CLOSE DOOR and STOP on
the illuminated panel. She took a black box from her coat pocket and
inserted a lead in the keyhole of the lock that secured the panel's
The Panther Moderns allowed four minutes for their first move to take
effect, then injected a second carefully prepared dose of misinformation.
This time, they shot it directly into the Sense/Net building's
internal video system.
At 12:04:03, every screen in the building strobed for eighteen seconds
in a frequency that produced seizures in a susceptible segment of Sense/Net
employees. Then something only vaguely like a human face filled the screens,
its features stretched across asymmetrical expanses of bone like some
obscene Mercator projection. Blue lips parted wetly as the twisted,
elongated jaw moved. Something, perhaps a hand, a thing like a reddish clump
of gnarled roots, fumbled toward the camera, blurred, and vanished.
Subliminally rapid images of contamination: graphics of the building's
water supply system, gloved hands manipulating laboratory glassware,
something tumbling down into darkness, a pale splash. . . The audio track,
its pitch adjusted to run at just less than twice the standard playback
speed, was part of a month-old newscast detailing potential military uses of
a substance known as HsG, a biochemical governing the human skeletal growth
factor. Overdoses of HsG threw certain bone cells into overdrive,
accelerating growth by factors as high as one thousand percent.
At 12:05:00, the mirror-sheathed nexus of the Sense/Net consortium held
just over three thousand employees. At five minutes after midnight, as the
Modems' message ended in a flare of white screen, the Sense/Net
Half a dozen NYPD Tactical hovercraft, responding to the possibility of
Blue Nine in the building's ventilation system, were converging on the
Sense/Net Pyramid. They were running full riot lights. A BAMA Rapid
Deployment helicopter was lifting off from its pad on Riker's.
Case triggered his second program. A carefully engineered virus
attacked the code fabric screening primary custodial commands for the
sub-basement that housed the Sense/Net research materials. "Boston,"
Molly's voice came across the link, "I'm downstairs." Case
switched and saw the blank wall of the elevator. She was unzipping the white
pants. A bulky packet, exactly the shade of her pale ankle, was secured
there with micro pore. She knelt and peeled the tape away. Streaks of
burgundy flickered across the mimetic polycarbon as she unfolded the Modem
suit. She removed the pink raincoat, threw it down beside the white pants,
and began to pull the suit on over the white mesh top.
Case's virus had bored a window through the library's
command ice. He punched himself through and found an infinite blue space
ranged with color-coded spheres strung on a tight grid of pale blue neon. In
the nonspace of the matrix, the interior of a given data construct possessed
unlimited subjective dimension; a child's toy calculator, accessed
through Case's Sendai, would have presented limitless gulfs of
nothingness hung with a few basic commands. Case began to key the sequence
the Finn had purchased from a mid-eschelon sarariman with severe drug
problems. He began to glide through the spheres as if he were on invisible
Here. This one.
Punching his way into the sphere, chill blue neon vault above him
starless and smooth as frosted glass, he triggered a subprogram that
effected certain alterations in the core custodial commands.
Out now. Reversing smoothly, the virus reknitting the fabric of the
In the Sense/Net lobby, two Panther Moderns sat alertly behind a low
rectangular planter, taping the riot with a video camera. They both wore
chameleon suits. "Tacticals are spraying foam barricades now," one noted,
speaking for the benefit of his throat mike. "Rapids are still trying to
land their copter."
Case hit the Simstim switch. And flipped into the agony of broken bone.
Molly was braced against the blank gray wall of a long corridor, her breath
coming ragged and uneven. Case was back in the matrix instantly, a white-hot
line of pain fading in his left thigh.
"What's happening, Brood?" he asked the link man.
"I dunno, Cutter. Mother's not talking. Wait."
Case's program was cycling. A single hair-fine thread of crimson
neon extended from the center of the restored window to the shifting outline
of his icebreaker. He didn't have time to wait. Taking a deep breath,
he flipped again.
Molly took a single step, trying to support her weight on the corridor
wall. In the loft, Case groaned. The second step took her over an
outstretched arm. Uniform sleeve bright with fresh blood. Glimpse of a
shattered fiberglass shock stave. Her vision seemed to have narrowed to a
tunnel. With the third step, Case screamed and found himself back in the
"Brood? Boston, baby. . ." Her voice tight with pain. She coughed.
"Little problem with the natives. Think one of them broke my leg."
"What you need now, Cat Mother?" The link man's voice was
indistinct, nearly lost behind static.
Case forced himself to flip back. She was leaning against the wall,
taking all of her weight on her right leg. She fumbled through the contents
of the suit's kangaroo pocket and withdrew a sheet of plastic studded
with a rainbow of dermadisks. She selected three and thumbed them hard
against her left wrist, over the veins. Six thousand micrograms of endorphin
analog came down on the pain like a hammer, shattering it. Her back arched
convulsively. Pink waves of warmth lapped up her thighs. She sighed and
"Okay, Brood. Okay now. But I'll need a medical team when l come
out. Tell my people. Cutter, I'm two minutes from target. Can you
"Tell her I'm in and holding," Case said.
Molly began to limp down the corridor. When she glanced back, once,
Case saw the crumpled bodies of three Sense/Net security guards. One of them
seemed to have no eyes.
"Tacticals and Rapids have sealed the ground floor, Cat Mother. Foam
barricades. Lobby's getting juicy."
"Pretty juicy down here," she said, swinging herself through a pair of
gray steel doors. "Almost there, Cutter."
Case flipped into the matrix and pulled the trodes from his forehead.
He was drenched with sweat. He wiped his forehead with a towel, took a quick
sip of water from the bicycle bottle beside the Hosaka, and checked the map
of the library displayed on the screen. A pulsing red cursor crept through
the outline of a doorway. Only millimeters from the green dot that indicated
the location of the Dixie Flat line's construct. He wondered what it
was doing to her leg, to walk on it that way. With enough endorphin analog,
she could walk on a pair of bloody stumps. He tightened the nylon harness
that held him in the chair and replaced the trodes.
Routine now: trodes, jack, and flip.
The Sense/Net research library was a dead storage area; the materials
stored here had to be physically removed before they could be interfaced.
Molly hobbled between rows of identical gray lockers.
"Tell her five more and ten to her left, Brood," Case said.
"Five more and ten left, Cat Mother," the link man said.
She took the left. A white-faced librarian cowered between two lockers,
her cheeks wet, eyes blank. Molly ignored her. Case wondered what the
Moderns had done to provoke that level of terror. He knew it had something
to do with a hoaxed threat, but he'd been too involved with his ice to
follow Molly's explanation.
"That's it," Case said, but she'd already stopped in front
of the cabinet that held the construct. Its lines reminded Case of the
Neo-Aztec bookcases in Julie Deane's anteroom in Chiba.
"Do it, Cutter," Molly said.
Case flipped to cyberspace and sent a command pulsing down the crimson
thread that pierced the library ice. Five separate alarm systems were
convinced that they were still operative. The three elaborate locks
deactivated, but considered themselves to have remained locked. The
library's central bank suffered a minute shift in its permanent
memory: the construct had been removed, per executive order, a month before.
Checking for the authorization to remove the construct, a librarian would
find the records erased.
The door swung open on silent hinges.
"0467839," Case said, and Molly drew a black storage unit from the
rack. It resembled the magazine of a large assault rifle, its surfaces
covered with warning decals and security ratings.
Molly closed the locker door; Case flipped.
He withdrew the line through the library ice. It whipped back into his
program, automatically triggering a full system reversal. The Sense/Net
gates snapped past him as he backed out, subprograms whirling back into the
core of the icebreaker as he passed the gates where they had been stationed.
"Out, Brood," he said, and slumped in his chair. After the
concentration of an actual run, he could remain jacked in and still retain
awareness of his body. It might take Sense/Net days to discover the theft of
the construct. The key would be the deflection of the Los Angeles transfer,
which coincided too neatly with the Modern's terror run. He doubted
that the three security men Molly had encountered in the corridor would live
to talk about it. He flipped.
The elevator, with Molly's black box taped beside the control
panel, remained where she'd left it. The guard still lay curled on the
floor. Case noticed the derm on his neck for the first time. Something of
Molly's, to keep him under. She stepped over him and removed the black
box before punching LOBBY.
As the elevator door hissed open, a woman hurtled backward out of the
crowd, into the elevator, and struck the rear wall with her head. Molly
ignored her, bending over to peel the derm from the guard's neck. Then
she kicked the white pants and the pink raincoat out the door, tossing the
dark glasses after them, and drew the hood of her suit down across her
forehead. The construct, in the suit's kangaroo pocket, dug into her
sternum when she moved. She stepped out.
Case had seen panic before, but never in an enclosed area.
The Sense/Net employees, spilling out of the elevators, had surged for
the street doors, only to meet the foam barricades of the Tacticals and the
sandbag-guns of the BAMA Rapids. The two agencies, convinced that they were
containing a horde of potential killers, were cooperating with an
uncharacteristic degree of efficiency. Beyond the shattered wreckage of the
main street doors, bodies were piled three deep on the barricades. The
hollow thumping of the riot guns provided a constant background for the
sound the crowd made as it surged back and forth across the lobby's
marble floor. Case had never heard anything like that sound.
Neither, apparently, had Molly. "Jesus," she said, and hesitated. It
was a sort of keening, rising into a bubbling wail of raw and total fear.
The lobby floor was covered with bodies, clothing, blood, and long trampled
scrolls of yellow printout.
"C'mon, sister. We're for out. " The eyes of the two
Moderns stared out of madly swirling shades of polycarbon, their suits
unable to keep up with the confusion of shape and color that raged behind
them. "You hurt? C'mon. Tommy'll walk you." Tommy handed
something to the one who spoke, a video camera wrapped in polycarbon.
"Chicago," she said, "I'm on my way." And then she was falling,
not to the marble floor, slick with blood and vomit, but down some blood
warm well, into silence and the dark.
The Panther Modern leader, who introduced himself as Lupus Yonderboy,
wore a polycarbon suit with a recording feature that allowed him to replay
backgrounds at will. Perched on the edge of Case's worktable like some
kind of state of the art gargoyle, he regarded Case and Armitage with hooded
eyes. He smiled. His hair was pink. A rainbow forest of microsofts bristled
behind his left ear; the ear was pointed, tufted with more pink hair. His
pupils had been modified to catch the light like a cat's. Case watched
the suit crawl with color and texture.
"You let it get out of control," Armitage said. He stood in the center
of the loft like a statue, wrapped in the dark glossy folds of an
expensive-looking trench coat.
"Chaos, Mr. Who," Lupus Yonderboy said. "That is our mode and modus.
That is our central kick. Your woman knows. We deal with her. Not with you,
Mr. Who." His suit had taken on a weird angular pattern of beige and pale
avocado. "She needed her medical team. She's with them. We'll
watch out for her. Everything's fine." He smiled again.
"Pay him," Case said.
Armitage glared at him. "We don't have the goods."
"Your woman has it," Yonderboy said.
Armitage crossed stiffly to the table and took three fat bundles of New
Yen from the pockets of his trench coat. "You want to count it?" he asked
"No," the Panther Modern said. "You'll pay. You're a Mr.
Who. You pay to stay one. Not a Mr. Name."
"I hope that isn't a threat," Armitage said.
"That's business," said Yonderboy, stuffing the money into the
single pocket on the front of his suit.
The phone rang. Case answered. "Molly," he told Armitage, handing him
The Sprawl's geodesics were lightening into predawn gray as Case
left the building. His limbs felt cold and disconnected. He couldn't
sleep. He was sick of the loft. Lupus had gone, then Armitage, and Molly was
in surgery somewhere. Vibration beneath his feet as a train hissed past.
Sirens Dopplered in the distance.
He took corners at random, his collar up, hunched in a new leather
jacket, flicking the first of a chain of Yeheyuans into the gutter and
lighting another. He tried to imagine Armitage's toxin sacs dissolving
in his bloodstream, microscopic membranes wearing thinner as he walked. It
didn't seem real. Neither did the fear and agony he'd seen
through Molly's eyes in the lobby of Sense/Net. He found himself
trying to remember the faces of the three people he'd killed in Chiba.
The men were blanks; the woman reminded him of Linda Lee. A battered
tricycle-truck with mirrored windows bounced past him, empty plastic
cylinders rattling in its bed.
He darted sideways, instinctively getting a wall behind his back.
"Message for you, Case." Lupus Yonderboy's suit cycled through
pure primaries. "Pardon. Not to startle you."
Case straightened up, hands in jacket pockets. He was a head taller
than the Modern. "You ought a be careful, Yonderboy."
"This is the message. Wintermute." He spelled it out.
"From you?" Case took a step forward.
"No," Yonderboy said.
"Wintermute," Yonderboy repeated, nodding, bobbing his crest of pink
hair. His suit went matte black, a carbon shadow against old concrete. He
executed a strange little dance, his thin black arms whirling, and then he
was gone. No. There. Hood up to hide the pink, the suit exactly the right
shade of gray, mottled and stained as the sidewalk he stood on. The eyes
winked back the red of a stoplight. And then he was really gone.
Case closed his eyes, massaged them with numb fingers, leaning back
against peeling brickwork.
Ninsei had been a lot simpler.
The medical team Molly employed occupied two floors of an anonymous
condo-rack near the old hub of Baltimore. The building was modular, like
some giant version of Cheap Hotel each coffin forty meters long. Case met
Molly as she emerged from one that wore the elaborately worked logo of one
GERALD CHIN, DENTIST. She was limping.
"He says if I kick anything, it'll fall off."
"I ran into one of your pals," he said, "a Modern."
"Yeah? Which one?"
"Lupus Yonderboy. Had a message." He passed her a paper napkin with W I
N T E R M U T E printed in red feltpen in his neat, laborious capitals. "He
said-- " But her hand came up in the jive for silence.
"Get us some crab," she said.
After lunch in Baltimore, Molly dissecting her crab with alarming ease,
they tubed in to New York. Case had learned not to ask questions; they only
brought the sign for silence. Her leg seemed to be bothering her, and she
A thin black child with wooden beads and antique resistors woven
tightly into her hair opened the Finn's door and led them along the
tunnel of refuse. Case felt the stuff had grown somehow during their absence
. Or else it seemed that it was changing subtly, cooking itself down under
the pressure of time, silent invisible flakes settling to form a mulch, a
crystalline essence of discarded technology, flowering secretly in the
Sprawl's waste places.
Beyond the army blanket, the Finn waited at the white table.
Molly began to sign rapidly, produced a scrap of paper, wrote something
on it, and passed it to the Finn. He took it between thumb and forefinger,
holding it away from his body as though it might explode. He made a sign
Case didn't know, one that conveyed a mixture of impatience and glum
resignation. He stood up, brushing crumbs from the front of his battered
tweed jacket. A glass jar of pickled herring stood on the table beside a
torn plastic package of flatbread and a tin ashtray piled with the butts of
"Wait," the Finn said, and left the room.
Molly took his place, extruded the blade from her index finger, and
speared a grayish slab of herring. Case wandered aimlessly around the room,
fingering the scanning gear on the pylons as he passed.
Ten minutes and the Finn came bustling back, showing his teeth in a
wide yellow smile. He nodded, gave Molly a thumbs up salute, and gestured to
Case to help him with the door panel. While Case smoothed the velcro border
into place, the Finn took a flat little console from his pocket and punched
out an elaborate sequence.
"Honey," he said to Molly, tucking the console away, "you have got it.
No shit, I can smell it. You wanna tell me where you got it?"
"Yonderboy," Molly said, shoving the herring and crackers aside. "I did
a deal with Larry, on the side."
"Smart," the Finn said. "It's an AI."
"Slow it down a little," Case said.
"Berne," the Finn said, ignoring him. "Berne. It's got limited
Swiss citizenship under their equivalent of the Act of '53. Built for
Tessier-Ashpool S.A. They own the mainframe and the original software."
"What's in Berne, okay?" Case deliberately stepped between them.
"Wintermute is the recognition code for an AI. I've got the
Turing Registry numbers. Artificial intelligence."
"That's all just fine," Molly said, "but where's it get
"If Yonderboy's right," the Finn said, "this Al is backing
"I paid Larry to have the Modems nose around Ammitage a little," Molly
explained, turning to Case. "They have some very weird lines of
communication. Deal was, they'd get my money if they answered one
question: who's running Armitage?"
"And you think it's this AI? Those things aren't allowed
any autonomy. It'll be the parent corporation, this Tessle. . ."
"Tessier-Ashpool S.A.," said the Finn. "And I got a little story for
you about them. Wanna hear?" He sat down and hunched forward.
"Finn," Molly said. "He loves a story."
"Haven't ever told anybody this one," the Finn began.
The Finn was a fence, a trafficker in stolen goods, primarily in
software. In the course of his business, he sometimes came into contact with
other fences, some of whom dealt in the more traditional articles of the
trade. In precious metals, stamps, rare coins, gems, jewelry, furs, and
paintings and other works of art. The story he told Case and Molly began
with another man's story, a man he called Smith.
Smith was also a fence, but in balmier seasons he surfaced as an art
dealer. He was the first person the Finn had known who'd "gone
silicon"-- the phrase had an old-fashioned ring for Case-- and the
microsofts he purchased were art history programs and tables of gallery
sales. With half a dozen chips in his new socket, Smith's knowledge of
the art business was formidable, at least by the standards of his
colleagues. But Smith had come to the Finn with a request for help, a
fraternal request, one businessman to another. He wanted a go-to on the
Tessier-Ashpool clan, he said, and it had to be executed in a way that would
guarantee the impossibility of the subject ever tracing the inquiry to its
source. It might be possible, the Finn had opined, but an explanation was
definitely required. "It smelled," the Finn said to Case, "smelled of money.
And Smith was being very careful. Almost too careful."
Smith, it developed, had had a supplier known as Jimmy. Jimmy was a
burglar and other things as well, and just back from a year in high orbit,
having carried certain things back down the gravity well. The most unusual
thing Jimmy had managed to score on his swing through the archipelago was a
head, an intricately worked bust, cloisonne over platinum, studded with
seedpearls and lapis. Smith, sighing, had put down his pocket microscope and
advised Jimmy to melt the thing down. It was contemporary, not an antique,
and had no value to the collector. Jimmy laughed. The thing was a computer
terminal, he said. It could talk. And not in a synth-voice, but with a
beautiful arrangement of gears and miniature organ pipes. It was a baroque
thing for anyone to have constructed, a perverse thing, because synth-voice
chips cost next to nothing. It was a curiosity. Smith jacked the head into
his computer and listened as the melodious, inhuman voice piped the figures
of last year's tax return.
Smith's clientele included a Tokyo billionaire whose passion for
clockwork automata approached fetishism. Smith shrugged, showing Jimmy his
upturned palms in a gesture old as pawn shops. He could try, he said, but he
doubted he could get much for it.
When Jimmy had gone, leaving the head, Smith went over it carefully,
discovering certain hallmarks. Eventually he'd been able to trace it
to an unlikely collaboration between two Zurich artisans, an enamel
specialist in Paris, a Dutch jeweler, and a California chip designer. It had
been commissioned, he discovered, by Tessier-Ashpool S.A.
Smith began to make preliminary passes at the Tokyo collector, hinting
that he was on the track of something noteworthy.
And then he had a visitor, a visitor unannounced, one who walked in
through the elaborate maze of Smith's security as though it
didn't exist. A small man, Japanese, enormously polite, who bore all
the marks of a vatgrown ninja assassin. Smith sat very still, staring into
the calm brown eyes of death across a polished table of Vietnamese rosewood.
Gently, almost apologetically, the cloned killer explained that it was his
duty to find and return a certain artwork, a mechanism of great beauty,
which had been taken from the house of his master. It had come to his
attention, the ninja said, that Smith might know of the whereabouts of this
Smith told the man that he had no wish to die, and produced the head.
And how much, his visitor asked did you expect to obtain through the sale of
this object? Smith named a figure far lower than the price he'd
intended to set. The ninja produced a credit chip and keyed Smith that
amount out of a numbered Swiss account. And who, the man asked, brought you
this piece? Smith told him. Within days, Smith learned of Jimmy's
"So that was where I came in," the Finn continued. "Smith knew I dealt
a lot with the Memory Lane crowd, and that's where you go for a quiet
go-to that'll never be traced. I hired a cowboy. I was the cut-out, so
I took a percentage. Smith, he was careful. He'd just had a very weird
business experience and he'd come out on top, but it didn't add
up. Who'd paid, out of that Swiss stash? Yakuza? No way. They got a
very rigid code covers situations like that, and they kill the receiver too,
always. Was it spook stuff? Smith didn't think so. Spook biz has a
vibe, you get so you can smell it. Well, I had my cowboy buzz the news
morgues until we found Tessier-Ashpool in litigation. The case wasn't
anything, but we got the law firm. Then he did the lawyer's ice and we
got the family address. Lotta good it did us."
Case raised his eyebrows.
"Freeside," the Finn said. "The spindle. Turns out they own damn near
the whole thing. The interesting stuff was the picture we got when the
cowboy ran a regular go-to on the news morgues and compiled a precis. Family
organization. Corporate structure. Supposedly you can buy into an S.A., but
there hasn't been a share of Tessier-Ashpool traded on the open market
in over a hundred years. On any market, as far as I know. You're
looking at a very quiet, very eccentric first-generation high–orbit
family, run like a corporation. Big money, very shy of media. Lot of
cloning. Orbital law's a lot softer on genetic engineering, right? And
it's hard to keep track of which generation, or combination of
generations, is running the show at a given time."
"How's that?" Molly asked.
"Got their own cryogenic setup. Even under orbital law, you're
legally dead for the duration of a freeze. Looks like they trade off, though
nobody's seen the founding father in about thirty years. Founding
momma, she died in some lab accident. . ."
"So what happened with your fence?"
"Nothing." The Finn frowned. "Dropped it. We had a look at this
fantastic tangle of powers of attorney the T-A's have, and that was
it. Jimmy must've gotten into Straylight, lifted the head, and
Tessier-Ashpool sent their ninja after it. Smith decided to forget about it.
Maybe he was smart." He looked at Molly. "The Villa Straylight. Tip of the
spindle. Strictly private."
"You figure they own that ninja, Finn?" Molly asked.
"Smith thought so."
"Expensive," she said. "Wonder whatever happened to that little ninja,
"Probably got him on ice. Thaw when needed."
"Okay," Case said, "we got Armitage getting his goodies off an AI named
Wintermute. Where's that get us?"
"Nowhere yet," Molly said, "but you got a little side gig now." She
drew a folded scrap of paper from her pocket and handed it to him. He opened
it. Grid coordinates and entry codes.
"Armitage. Some data base of his. Bought it from the Moderns. Separate
deal. Where is it?"
"London," Case said.
"Crack it." She laughed. "Earn your keep for a change."
Case waited for a trans-BAMA local on the crowded platform. Molly had
gone back to the loft hours ago, the Flatline's construct in her green
bag, and Case had been drinking steadily ever since.
It was disturbing to think of the Flatline as a construct, a hardwired
ROM cassette replicating a dead man's skills, obsessions, kneejerk
responses. . . The local came booming in along the black induction strip,
fine grit sifting from cracks in the tunnel's ceiling. Case shuffled
into the nearest door and watched the other passengers as he rode. A pair of
predatory looking Christian Scientists were edging toward a trio of young
office techs who wore idealized holographic vaginas on their wrists, wet
pink glittering under the harsh lighting. The techs licked their perfect
lips nervously and eyed the Christian Scientists from beneath lowered
metallic lids. The girls looked like tall, exotic grazing animals, swaying
gracefully and unconsciously with the movement of the train, their high
heels like polished hooves against the gray metal of the car's floor.
Before they could stampede, take flight from the missionaries, the train
reached Case's station.
He stepped out and caught sight of a white holographic cigar suspended
against the wall of the station, FREESIDE pulsing beneath it in contorted
capitals that mimicked printed Japanese. He walked through the crowd and
stood beneath it, studying the thing. WHY WAIT? pulsed the sign. A blunt
white spindle, flanged and studded with grids and radiators, docks, domes.
He'd seen the ad, or others like it, thousands of times. It had never
appealed to him. With his deck, he could reach the Freeside banks as easily
as he could reach Atlanta. Travel was a meat thing. But now he noticed the
little sigil, the size of a small coin, woven into the lower left corner of
the ad's fabric of light: T-A.
He walked back to the loft, lost in memories of the Flatline.
He'd spent most of his nineteenth summer in the Gentleman Loser,
nursing expensive beers and watching the cowboys. He'd never touched a
deck, then, but he knew what he wanted. There were at least twenty other
hopefuls ghosting the Loser, that summer, each one bent on working joeboy
for some cowboy. No other way to learn.
They'd all heard of Pauley, the redneck jockey from the
'Lanta fringes, who'd survived braindeath behind black ice. The
grapevine – slender, street level, and the only one going – had
little to say about Pauley, other than that he'd done the impossible.
"It was big," another would-be told Case, for the price of a beer, "but who
knows what? I hear maybe a Brazilian payroll net. Anyway, the man was dead,
flat down braindeath." Case stared across the crowded bar at a thickset man
in shirtsleeves, something leaden about the shade of his skin.
"Boy," the Flatline would tell him, months later in Miami, "I'm
like them huge fuckin' lizards, you know? Had themself two goddam
brains, one in the head an' one by the tailbone, kept the hind legs
movin'. Hit that black stuff and ol' tailbrain jus' kept
right on keepin' on."
The cowboy elite in the Loser shunned Pauley out of some strange group
anxiety, almost a superstition. McCoy Pauley, Lazarus of cyberspace. . .
And his heart had done for him in the end. His surplus Russian heart,
implanted in a POW camp during the war. He'd refused to replace the
thing, saying he needed its particular beat to maintain his sense of timing.
Case fingered the slip of paper Molly had given him and made his way up the
Molly was snoring on the temperfoam. A transparent cast ran from her
knee to a few millimeters below her crotch, the skin beneath the rigid
micropore mottled with bruises, the black shading into ugly yellow. Eight
derms, each a different size and color, ran in a neat line down her left
wrist. An Akai transdermal unit lay beside her, its fine red leads connected
to input trodes under the cast.
He turned on the tensor beside the Hosaka. The crisp circle of light
fell directly on the Flatline's construct. He slotted some ice,
connected the construct, and jacked in.
It was exactly the sensation of someone reading over his shoulder.
He coughed. "Dix? McCoy? That you man?" His throat was tight.
"Hey, bro," said a directionless voice.
"It's Case, man. Remember?"
"Miami, joeboy, quick study."
"What's the last thing you remember before I spoke to you, Dix?"
"Hang on." He disconnected the construct. The presence was gone. He
reconnected it. "Dix? Who am I?"
"You got me hung, Jack. Who the fuck are you?"
"Ca – your buddy. Partner. What's happening, man?"
"Remember being here, a second ago?"
"Know how a ROM personality matrix works?"
"Sure, bro, it's a firmware construct."
"So I jack it into the bank I'm using, I can give it sequential,
real time memory?"
"Guess so," said the construct.
"Okay, Dix. You are a ROM construct. Got me?"
"If you say so," said the construct. "Who are you?"
"Miami," said the voice, "joeboy, quick study."
"Right. And for starts, Dix, you and me, we're gonna sleaze over
to London grid and access a little data. You game for that?"
"You gonna tell me I got a choice, boy?"
"You want you a paradise," the Flatline advised, when Case had
explained his situation. "Check Copenhagen, fringes of the university
section." The voice recited coordinates as he punched.
They found their paradise, a "pirate's paradise," on the jumbled
border of a low-security academic grid. At first glance it resembled the
kind of graffiti student operators sometimes left at the junctions of grid
lines, faint glyphs of colored light that shimmered against the confused
outlines of a dozen arts faculties.
"There," said the Flatline, "the blue one. Make it out? That's an
entry code for Bell Europa. Fresh, too. Bell'll get in here soon and
read the whole damn board, change any codes they find posted. Kids'll
steal the new ones tomorrow."
Case tapped his way into Bell Europa and switched to a standard phone
code. With the Flatline's help, he connected with the London data base
that Molly claimed was Armitage's.
"Here," said the voice, "I'll do it for you." The Flatline began
to chant a series of digits, Case keying them on his deck, trying to catch
the pauses the construct used to indicate timing. It took three tries.
"Big deal," said the Flatline. "No ice at all."
"Scan this shit," Case told the Hosaka. "Sift for owner's
The neuroelectronic scrawls of the paradise vanished, replaced by a
simple lozenge of white light. "Contents are primarily video recordings of
postwar military trials," said the distant voice of the Hosaka. "Central
figure is Colonel Willis Corto."
"Show it already," Case said.
A man's face filled the screen. The eyes were Armitage's.
Two hours later, Case fell beside Molly on the slab and let the
temperfoam mold itself against him.
"You find anything?" she asked, her voice fuzzy with sleep and drugs.
"Tell you later," he said, "I'm wrecked." He was hungover and
confused. He lay there, eyes closed, and tried to sort the various parts of
a story about a man called Corto. The Hosaka had sorted a thin store of data
and assembled a precis, but it was full of gaps. Some of the material had
been print records, reeling smoothly down the screen, too quickly, and Case
had had to ask the computer to read them for him. Other segments were audio
recordings of the Screaming Fist hearing.
Willis Corto, Colonel, had plummeted through a blind spot in the
Russian defenses over Kirensk. The shuttles had created the hole with pulse
bombs, and Corto's team had dropped in in Nightwing microlights, their
wings snapping taut in moonlight, reflected in jags of silver along the
rivers Angara and Podhamennaya, the last light Corto would see for fifteen
months. Case tried to imagine the microlights blossoming out of their launch
capsules, high above a frozen steppe.
"They sure as hell did shaft you, boss," Case said, and Molly stirred
The microlights had been unarmed, stripped to compensate for the weight
of a console operator, a prototype deck, and a virus program called Mole IX,
the first true virus in the history of cybernetics. Corto and his team had
been training for the run for three years. They were through the ice, ready
to inject Mole IX, when the emps went off. The Russian pulse guns threw the
jockeys into electronic darkness; the Nightwings suffered systems crash,
flight circuitry wiped clean.
Then the lasers opened up, aiming on infrared, taking out the fragile,
radar-transparent assault planes, and Corto and his dead console man fell
out of a Siberian sky. Fell and kept falling. . .
There were gaps in the story, here, where Case scanned documents
concerning the flight of a commandeered Russian gunship that managed to
reach Finland. To be gutted, as it landed in a spruce grove, by an antique
twenty-millimeter cannon manned by a cadre of reservists on dawn alert.
Screaming Fist had ended for Corto on the outskirts of Helsinki, with
Finnish paramedics sawing him out of the twisted belly of the helicopter.
The war ended nine days later, and Corto was shipped to a military facility
in Utah, blind, legless, and missing most of his jaw. It took eleven months
for the Congressional aide to find him there. He listened to the sound of
tubes draining. In Washington and McLean, the show trials were already
underway. The Pentagon and the CIA were being Balkanized, partially
dismantled, and a Congressional investigation had focused on Screaming Fist.
Ripe for watergating, the aide told Corto.
He'd need eyes, legs, and extensive cosmetic work, the aide said,
but that could be arranged. New plumbing, the man added, squeezing
Corto's shoulder through the sweat-damp sheet.
Corto heard the soft, relentless dripping. He said he preferred to
testify as he was.
No, the aide explained, the trials were being televised. The trials
needed to reach the voter. The aide coughed politely.
Repaired, refurnished, and extensively rehearsed, Corto's
subsequent testimony was detailed, moving, lucid, and largely the invention
of a Congressional cabal with certain vested interests in saving particular
portions of the Pentagon infrastructure. Corto gradually understood that the
testimony he gave was instrumental in saving the careers of three officers
directly responsible for the suppression of reports on the building of the
emp installations at Kirensk.
His role in the trials over, he was unwanted in Washington. In an M
Street restaurant, over asparagus crepes, the aide explained the terminal
dangers involved in talking to the wrong people. Corto crushed the
man's larynx with the rigid fingers of his right hand. The
Congressional aide strangled, his face in an asparagus crepe, and Corto
stepped out into cool Washington September.
The Hosaka rattled through police reports, corporate espionage records,
and news files. Case watched Corto work corporate defectors in Lisbon and
Marrakesh, where he seemed to grow obsessed with the idea of betrayal, to
loathe the scientists and technicians he bought out for his employers.
Drunk, in Singapore, he beat a Russian engineer to death in a hotel and set
fire to his room.
Next he surfaced in Thailand, as overseer of a heroin factory. Then as
enforcer for a California gambling cartel, then as a paid killer in the
ruins of Bonn. He robbed a bank in Wichita. The record grew vague, shadowy,
the gaps longer.
One day, he said, in a taped segment that suggested chemical
interrogation, everything had gone gray.
Translated French medical records explained that a man without
identification had been taken to a Paris mental health unit and diagnosed as
schizophrenic. He became catatonic and was sent to a government institution
on the outskirts of Toulon. He became a subject in an experimental program
that sought to reverse schizophrenia through the application of cybernetic
models. A random selection of patients were provided with microcomputers and
encouraged, with help from students, to program them. He was cured, the only
success in the entire experiment.
The record ended there.
Case turned on the foam and Molly cursed him softly for disturbing her.
The telephone rang. He pulled it into bed. "Yeah?"
"We're going to Istanbul," Armitage said. "Tonight."
"What does the bastard want?" Molly asked.
"Says we're going to Istanbul tonight."
"That's just wonderful."
Armitage was reading off flight numbers and departure times. Molly sat
up and turned on the light.
"What about my gear?" Case asked. "My deck."
"Finn will handle it," said Armitage, and hung up.
Case watched her pack. There were dark circles under her eyes, but even
with the cast on, it was like watching a dance. No wasted motion. His
clothes were a rumpled pile beside his bag.
"You hurting?" he asked.
"I could do with another night at Chin's."
"You betcha. Very discreet. He's got half that rack, full clinic.
Does repairs for samurai." She was zipping her bag.
"You ever been to 'stambul?"
"Couple days, once."
"Never changes," she said. "Bad old town."
"It was like this when we headed for Chiba," Molly said, staring out
the train window at blasted industrial moonscape, red beacons on the horizon
warning aircraft away from a fusion plant. "We were in L.A. He came in and
said Pack, we were booked for Macau. When we got there, I played fantan in
the Lisboa and he crossed over into Zhongshan. Next day I was playing ghost
with you in Night City." She took a silk scarf from the sleeve of her black
jacket and polished the insets. The landscape of the northern Sprawl woke
confused memories of childhood for Case, dead grass tufting the cracks in a
canted slab of freeway concrete.
The train began to decelerate ten kilometers from the airport. Case
watched the sun rise on the landscape of childhood, on broken slag and the
rusting shells of refineries.
It was raining in Beyoglu, and the rented Mercedes slid past the
grilled and unlit windows of cautious Greek and Armenian jewelers. The
street was almost empty, only a few dark-coated figures on the sidewalks
turning to stare after the car.
"This was formerly the prosperous European section of Ottoman
Istanbul," purred the Mercedes.
"So it's gone downhill," Case said.
"The Hilton's in Cumhuriyet Caddesi," Molly said. She settled
back against the car's gray ultrasuede.
"How come Armitage flies alone?" Case asked. He had a headache.
"'Cause you get up his nose. You're sure getting up mine."
He wanted to tell her the Corto story, but decided against it.
He'd used a sleep derm, on the plane.
The road in from the airport had been dead straight, like a neat
incision, laying the city open. He'd watched the crazy walls of
patchwork wooden tenements slide by, condos, arcologies, grim housing
projects, more walls of plyboard and corrugated iron.
The Finn, in a new Shinjuku suit, sarariman black, was waiting sourly
in the Hilton lobby, marooned on a velour armchair in a sea of pale blue
"Christ," Molly said. "Rat in a business suit."
They crossed the lobby.
"How much you get paid to come over here, Finn?" She lowered her bag
beside the armchair. "Bet not as much as you get for wearing that suit,
The Finn' s upper lips drew back. "Not enough, sweetmeat. " He
handed her a magnetic key with a round yellow tag. "You're registered
already. Honcho's upstairs." He looked around. "This town sucks."
"You get agoraphobic, they take you out from under a dome. Just pretend
it's Brooklyn or something." She twirled the key around a finger. "You
here as valet or what?"
"I gotta check out some guy's implants," the Finn said.
"How about my deck?" Case asked.
The Finn winced. "Observe the protocol. Ask the boss."
Molly's fingers moved in the shadow of her jacket, a flicker of
jive. The Finn watched, then nodded.
"Yeah," she said, "I know who that is." She jerked her head in the
direction of the elevators. "Come on, cowboy." Case followed her with both
Their room might have been the one in Chiba where he'd first seen
Armitage. He went to the window, in the morning, almost expecting to see
Tokyo Bay. There was another hotel across the street. It was still raining.
A few letter-writers had taken refuge in doorways, their old voiceprinters
wrapped in sheets of clear plastic, evidence that the written word still
enjoyed a certain prestige here. It was a sluggish country. He watched a
dull black Citroen sedan, a primitive hydrogen-cell conversion, as it
disgorged five sullen-looking Turkish officers in rumpled green uniforms.
They entered the hotel across the street.
He glanced back at the bed, at Molly, and her paleness struck him.
She'd left the micropore cast on the bedslab in their loft, beside the
transdermal inducer. Her glasses reflected part of the room's light
He had the phone in his hand before it had a chance to ring twice.
"Glad you're up," Armitage said.
"I'm just. Lady's still under. Listen, boss, I think
it's maybe time we have a little talk. I think I work better if I know
a little more about what I'm doing."
Silence on the line. Case bit his lip.
"You know as much as you need to. Maybe more."
"You think so?"
"Get dressed, Case. Get her up. You'll have a caller in about
fifteen minutes. His name is Terzibashjian." The phone bleated softly.
Armitage was gone.
"Wake up, baby," Case said. "Biz."
"I've been awake an hour already." The mirrors turned.
"We got a Jersey Bastion coming up."
"You got an ear for language, Case. Bet you're part Armenian.
That's the eye Armitage has had on Riviera. Help me up."
Terzibashjian proved to be a young man in a gray suit and gold-framed,
mirrored glasses. His white shirt was open at the collar, revealing a mat of
dark hair so dense that Case at first mistook it for some kind of t-shirt.
He arrived with a black Hilton tray arranged with three tiny, fragrant cups
of thick black coffee and three sticky, straw-colored Oriental sweets.
"We must, as you say in Ingiliz, take this one very easy." He seemed to
stare pointedly at Molly, but at last he removed the silver glasses. His
eyes were a dark brown that matched the shade of his very short military-cut
hair. He smiled. "It is better, this way, yes? Else we make the tunel
infinity, mirror into mirror. . . You particularly," he said to her, "must
take care. In Turkey there is disapproval of women who sport such
Molly bit one of the pastries in half. "It's my show, Jack," she
said, her mouth full. She chewed, swallowed, and licked her lips. "I know
about you. Stool for the military, right?" Her hand slid lazily into the
front of her jacket and came out with the fletcher. Case hadn't known
she had it.
"Very easy, please," Terzibashjian said, his white china thimble frozen
centimeters from his lips.
She extended the gun. "Maybe you get the explosives, lots of them, or
maybe you get a cancer. One dart, shitface. You won't feel it for
"Please. You call this in Ingiliz making me very tight. . ."
"I call it a bad morning. Now tell us about your man and get your ass
out of here." She put the gun away.
"He is living in Fener, at Kuchuk Gulhane Djaddesi 14. 1 have his tunel
route, nightly to the bazaar. He performs most recently at the Yenishehir
Palas Oteli, a modern place in the style turistik, but it has been arranged
that the police have shown a certain interest in these shows. The Yenishehir
management has grown nervous." He smiled. He smelled of some metallic
"I want to know about the implants," she said, massaging her thigh, "I
want to know exactly what he can do."
Terzibashjian nodded. "Worst is how you say in Ingiliz, the
subliminals." He made the word four careful syllables.
"On our left," said the Mercedes, as it steered through a maze of rainy
streets, "is Kapali Carsi, the grand bazaar."
Beside Case, the Finn made an appreciative noise, but he was looking in
the wrong direction. The right side of the street was lined with miniature
scrapyards. Case saw a gutted locomotive atop rust-stained, broken lengths
of fluted marble. Headless marble statues were stacked like firewood.
"Homesick?" Case asked.
"Place sucks," the Finn said. His black silk tie was starting to
resemble a worn carbon ribbon. There were medallions of kebab gravy and
fried egg on the lapels of the new suit.
"Hey, Jersey," Case said to the Armenian, who sat behind them,
"where'd this guy get his stuff installed?"
"In Chiba City. He has no left lung. The other is boosted, is how you
say it? Anyone might buy these implants, but this one is most talented." The
Mercedes swerved, avoiding a balloon-tired dray stacked with hides. "I have
followed him in the street and seen a dozen cycles fall, near him, in a day.
Find the cyclist in a hospital, the story is always the same. A scorpion
poised beside a brake lever. . ."
" ‘What you see is what you get,' yeah," the Finn said. "I
seen the schematics on the guy's silicon. Very flash. What he
imagines, you see. I figure he could narrow it to a pulse and fry a retina
"You have told this to your woman friend?" Terzibashjian leaned forward
between the ultrasuede buckets. "In Turkey, women are still women. This one.
The Finn snorted. "She'd have you wearing your balls for a bow
tie if you looked at her cross-eyed."
"I do not understand this idiom."
"That's okay," Case said. "Means shut up."
The Armenian sat back, leaving a metallic edge of aftershave. He began
to whisper to a Sanyo transceiver in a strange salad of Greek, French,
Turkish, isolated fragments of English. The transceiver answered in French.
The Mercedes swung smoothly around a corner. "The spice bazaar, sometimes
called the Egyptian bazaar," the car said, "was erected on the site of an
earlier bazaar erected by Sultan Hatice in 1660. This is the city's
central market for spices, software, perfumes, drugs. . ."
"Drugs," Case said, watching the car's wipers cross and recross
the bulletproof Lexan. "What's that you said before, Jersey, about
this Riviera being wired?"
"A mixture of cocaine and meperidine, yes." The Armenian went back to
the conversation he was having with the Sanyo. "Demerol, they used to call
that," said the Finn. "He's a speedball artist. Funny class of people
you're mixing with, Case."
"Never mind," Case said, turning up the collar of his jacket,
"we'll get the poor fucker a new pancreas or something."
Once they entered the bazaar, the Finn brightened noticeably, as though
he were comforted by the crowd density and the sense of enclosure. They
walked with the Armenian along a broad concourse, beneath soot-stained
sheets of plastic and green-painted ironwork out of the age of steam. A
thousand suspended ads writhed and flickered.
"Hey, Christ," the Finn said, taking Case's arm, "looka that." He
pointed. "It's a horse, man. You ever see a horse?"
Case glanced at the embalmed animal and shook his head. It was
displayed on a sort of pedestal, near the entrance to a place that sold
birds and monkeys. The thing's legs had been worn black and hairless
by decades of passing hands. "Saw one in Maryland once," the Finn said, "and
that was a good three years after the pandemic. There's Arabs still
trying to code 'em up from the DNA, but they always croak."
The animal's brown glass eyes seemed to follow them as they
passed. Terzibashjian led them into a cafe near the core of the market, a
low-ceilinged room that looked as though it had been in continuous operation
for centuries. Skinny boys in soiled white coats dodged between the crowded
tables, balancing steel trays with bottles of Turk-Tuborg and tiny glasses
Case bought a pack of Yeheyuans from a vendor by the door. The Armenian
was muttering to his Sanyo. "Come," he said, "he is moving. Each night he
rides the tunel to the bazaar, to purchase his mixture from Ali. Your woman
is close. Come."
The alley was an old place, too old, the walls cut from blocks of dark
stone. The pavement was uneven and smelled of a century's dripping
gasoline, absorbed by ancient limestone. "Can't see shit," he
whispered to the Finn. "That's okay for sweetmeat," the Finn said.
"Quiet," said Terzibashjian, too loudly.
Wood grated on stone or concrete. Ten meters down the alley, a wedge of
yellow light fell across wet cobbles, widened. A figure stepped out and the
door grated shut again, leaving the narrow place in darkness. Case shivered.
"Now," Terzibashjian said, and a brilliant beam of white light,
directed from the rooftop of the building opposite the market, pinned the
slender figure beside the ancient wooden door in a perfect circle. Bright
eyes darted left, right, and the man crumpled. Case thought someone had shot
him; he lay face down, blond hair pale against the old stone, his limp hands
white and pathetic.
The floodlight never wavered.
The back of the fallen man's jacket heaved and burst, blood
splashing the wall and doorway. A pair of impossibly long, rope-tendoned
arms flexed grayish-pink in the glare. The thing seemed to pull itself up
out of the pavement, through the inert, bloody ruin that had been Riviera.
It was two meters tall, stood on two legs, and seemed to be headless. Then
it swung slowly to face them, and Case saw that it had a head, but no neck.
It was eyeless, the skin gleaming a wet intestinal pink. The mouth, if it
was a mouth, was circular, conical, shallow, and lined with a seething
growth of hairs or bristles, glittering like black chrome. It kicked the
rags of clothing and flesh aside and took a step, the mouth seeming to scan
for them as it moved.
Terzibashjian said something in Greek or Turkish and rushed the thing,
his arms spread like a man attempting to dive through a window. He went
through it. Into the muzzle-flash of a pistol from the dark beyond the
circle of light. Fragments of rock whizzed past Case's head; the Finn
jerked him down into a crouch.
The light from the rooftop vanished, leaving him with mismatched
afterimages of muzzle-flash, monster, and white beam. His ears rang.
Then the light returned, bobbing now, searching the shadows.
Terzibashjian was leaning against a steel door, his face very white in the
glare. He held his left wrist and watched blood drip from a wound in his
left hand. The blond man, whole again, unbloodied, lay at his feet.
Molly stepped out of the shadows, all in black, with her fletcher in
"Use the radio," the Armenian said, through gritted teeth. "Call in
Mahmut. We must get him out of here. This is not a good place."
"Little prick nearly made it," the Finn said, his knees cracking loudly
as he stood up, brushing ineffectually at the legs of his trousers. "You
were watching the horror-show, right? Not the hamburger that got tossed out
of sight. Real cute. Well, help 'em get his ass outa here. I gotta
scan all that gear before he wakes up, make sure Armitage is getting his
Molly bent and picked something up. A pistol. "A Nambu," she said.
Terzibashjian made a whining sound. Case saw that most of his middle
finger was missing.
With the city drenched in predawn blue, she told the Mercedes to take
them to Topkapi . The Finn and an enormous Turk named Mahmut had taken
Riviera, still unconscious, from the alley. Minutes later, a dusty Citroen
had arrived for the Armenian who seemed on the verge of fainting.
"You're an asshole," Molly told the man, opening the car door for
him. "You shoulda hung back. I had him in my sights as soon as he stepped
out." Terzibashjian glared at her. "So we're through with you anyway."
She shoved him in and slammed the door. "Run into you again and I'll
kill you," she said to the white face behind the tinted window. The Citroen
ground away down the alley and swung clumsily into the street.
Now the Mercedes whispered through Istanbul as the city woke. They
passed the Beyoglu tunel terminal and sped past mazes of deserted back
streets, run-down apartment houses that reminded Case vaguely of Paris.
"What is this thing?" he asked Molly, as the Mercedes parked itself on
the fringes of the gardens that surround the Seraglio. He stared dully at
the baroque conglomeration of styles that was Topkapi.
"It was sort of a private whorehouse for the King," she said, getting
out stretching. "Kept a lotta women there. Now it's a museum. Kinda
like Finn's shop, all this stuff just jumbled in there big diamonds,
swords, the left hand of John the Baptist. . ."
"Like in a support vat?"
"Nah. Dead. Got it inside this brass hand thing, little hatch on the
side so the Christians could kiss it for luck. Got it off the Christians
about a million years ago, and they never dust the goddam thing,
'cause it's an infidel relic."
Black iron deer rusted in the gardens of the Seraglio. Case walked
beside her, watching the toes of her boots crunch unkept grass made stiff by
an early frost. They walked beside a path of cold octagonal flagstones.
Winter was waiting, somewhere in the Balkans.
"That Terzi, he's grade-A scum," she said. "He's the secret
police. Torturer. Real easy to buy out, too, with the kind of money Armitage
was offering." In the wet trees around them, birds began to sing.
"I did that job for you," Case said, "the one in London. I got
something, but I don't know what it means." He told her the Corto
"Well, I knew there wasn't anybody name of Armitage in that
Screaming Fist. Looked it up." She stroked the rusted flank of an iron doe.
"You figure the little computer pulled him out of it? In that French
"I figure Wintermute," Case said.
"Thing is," he said, "do you think he knows he was Corto, before? I
mean, he wasn't anybody in particular, by the time he hit the ward, so
maybe Wintermute just. . ."
"Yeah. Built him up from go. Yeah. . ." She turned and they walked on.
"It figures. You know, the guy doesn't have any life going, in
private. Not as far as I can tell. You see a guy like that, you figure
there's something he does when he's alone. But not Armitage.
Sits and stares at the wall, man. Then something clicks and he goes into
high gear and wheels for Wintermute."
"So why's he got that stash in London? Nostalgia?"
"Maybe he doesn't know about it," she said. "Maybe it's
just in his name, right?"
"I don't get it," Case said.
"Just thinking out loud. . . How smart's an Al, Case?"
"Depends. Some aren't much smarter than dogs. Pets. Cost a
fortune anyway. The real smart ones are as smart as the Turing heat is
willing to let 'em get."
"Look, you're a cowboy. How come you aren't just flat-out
fascinated with those things?"
"Well," he said, "for starts, they're rare. Most of them are
military, the bright ones, and we can't crack the ice. That's
where ice all comes from, you know? And then there's the Turing cops,
and that's bad heat." He looked at her. "I dunno, it just isn't
part of the trip."
"Jockeys all the same," she said. "No imagination."
They came to a broad rectangular pond where carp nuzzled the stems of
some white aquatic flower. She kicked a loose pebble in and watched the
"That's Wintermute," she said. "This deal's real big, looks
to me. We're out where the little waves are too broad, we can't
see the rock that hit the center. We know something's there, but not
why. I wanna know why. I want you to go and talk to Wintermute."
"I couldn't get near it," he said. "You're dreaming."
"Can't be done."
"Ask the Flatline."
"What do we want out of that Riviera?" he asked, hoping to change the
She spat into the pond. "God knows. I'd as soon kill him as look
at him. I saw his profile. He's a kind of compulsive Judas.
Can't get off sexually unless he knows he's betraying the object
of desire. That's what the file says. And they have to love him first.
Maybe he loves them, too. That's why it was easy for Terzi to set him
up for us, because he's been here three years, shopping politicals to
the secret police. Probably Terzi let him watch, when the cattle prods came
out. He's done eighteen in three years. All women age twenty to
twenty-five. It kept Terzi in dissidents." She thrust her hands into her
jacket pockets. "Because if he found one he really wanted, he'd make
sure she turned political. He's got a personality like a
Modern's suit. The profile said it was a very rare type, estimated one
in a couple of million. Which anyway says something good about human nature,
I guess." She stared at the white flowers and the sluggish fish, her face
sour. "I think I'm going to have to buy myself some special insurance
on that Peter." Then she turned and smiled, and it was very cold.
"What's that mean?"
"Never mind. Let's go back to Beyoglu and find something like
breakfast. I gotta busy night again, tonight. Gotta collect his stuff from
that apartment in Fener, gotta go back to the bazaar and buy him some drugs.
"Buy him some drugs? How's he rate?"
She laughed. "He's not dying on the wire, sweetheart. And it
looks like he can't work without that special taste. I like you better
now, anyway, you aren't so goddam skinny." She smiled. "So I'll
go to Ali the dealer and stock up. You betcha."
Armitage was waiting in their room at the Hilton.
"Time to pack," he said, and Case tried to find the man called Corto
behind the pale blue eyes and the tanned mask. He thought of Wage, back in
Chiba. Operators above a certain level tended to submerge their
personalities, he knew. But Wage had had vices, lovers. Even, it had been
rumored, children. The blankness he found in Armitage was something else.
"Where to now?" he asked, walking past the man to stare down into the
street. "What kind of climate?"
"They don't have climate, just weather," Armitage said. "Here.
Read the brochure." He put something on the coffee table and stood.
"Did Riviera check out okay? Where's the Finn?"
"Riviera's fine. The Finn is on his way home." Armitage smiled, a
smile that meant as much as the twitch of some insect's antenna. His
gold bracelet clinked as he reached out to prod Case in the chest.
"Don't get too smart. Those little sacs are starting to show wear, but
you don't know how much."
Case kept his face very still and forced himself to nod.
When Armitage was gone, he picked up one of the brochures. It was
expensively printed, in French, English, and Turkish.
FREESIDE – WHY WAIT?
The four of them were booked on a THY flight out of Yesilkoy airport.
Transfer at Paris to the JAL shuttle. Case sat in the lobby of the Istanbul
Hilton and watched Riviera browse bogus Byzantine fragments in the
glass-walled gift-shop. Armitage, his trenchcoat draped over his shoulders
like a cape, stood in the shop's entrance.
Riviera was slender, blond, soft-voiced, his English accentless and
fluid. Molly said he was thirty, but it would have been difficult to guess
his age. She also said he was legally stateless and traveled under a forged
Dutch passport. He was a product of the rubble rings that fringe the
radioactive core of old Bonn.
Three smiling Japanese tourists bustled into the shop, nodding politely
to Armitage. Armitage crossed the floor of the shop too quickly, too
obviously, to stand beside Riviera. Riviera turned and smiled. He was very
beautiful; Case assumed the features were the work of a Chiba surgeon. A
subtle job, nothing like Armitage's blandly handsome blend of pop
faces. The man's forehead was high and smooth, gray eyes calm and
distant. His nose, which might have been too nicely sculpted, seemed to have
been broken and clumsily reset. The suggestion of brutality offset the
delicacy of his jaw and the quickness of his smile. His teeth were small,
even, and very white. Case watched the white hands play over the imitation
fragments of sculpture.
Riviera didn't act like a man who'd been attacked the night
before, drugged with a toxin-flechette, abducted, subjected to the
Finn's examination, and pressured by Armitage into joining their team.
Case checked his watch. Molly was due back from her drug run. He looked
up at Riviera again. "I bet you're stoned right now, asshole," he said
to the Hilton lobby. A graying Italian matron in a white leather tuxedo
jacket lowered her Porsche glasses to stare at him. He smiled broadly,
stood, and shouldered his bag. He needed cigarettes for the flight. He
wondered if there was a smoking section on the JAL shuttle. "See ya lady,"
he said to the woman, who promptly slid the sunglasses back up her nose and
There were cigarettes in the gift shop, but he didn't relish
talking with Armitage or Riviera. He left the lobby and located a vending
console in a narrow alcove, at the end of a rank of pay phones.
He fumbled through a pocketful of lirasi, slotting the small dull alloy
coins one after another, vaguely amused by the anachronism of the process.
The phone nearest him rang.
Automatically, he picked it up.
Faint harmonics, tiny inaudible voices rattling across some orbital
link, and then a sound like wind.
A fifty-lirasi coin fell from his hand, bounced, and rolled out of
sight across Hilton carpeting.
"Wintermute, Case. It's time we talk."
It was a chip voice.
"Don't you want to talk, Case?"
He hung up. On his way back to the lobby, his cigarettes forgotten, he
had to walk the length of the ranked phones. Each rang in turn, but only
once, as he passed.
* PART TWO * THE SHOPPING EXPEDITION
The islands. Torus, spindle, cluster. Human DNA spreading out from
gravity's steep well like an oilslick.
Call up a graphics display that grossly simplifies the exchange of data
in the L-5 archipelago. One segment clicks in as red solid, a massive
rectangle dominating your screen.
Freeside. Freeside is many things, not all of them evident to the
tourists who shuttle up and down the well. Freeside is brothel and banking
nexus, pleasure dome and free port, border town, and spa. Freeside is Las
Vegas and the hanging gardens of Babylon, an orbital Geneva and home to a
family inbred and most carefully refined, the industrial clan of Tessier and
On the THY liner to Paris, they sat together in First Class, Molly in
the window seat, Case beside her, Riviera and Armitage on the aisle. Once,
as the plane banked over water, Case saw the jewel-glow of a Greek island
town. And once, reaching for his drink, he caught the flicker of a thing
like a giant human sperm in the depths of his bourbon and water.
Molly leaned across him and slapped Riviera's face, once. "No,
baby. No games. You play that subliminal shit around me, I'll hurt you
real bad. I can do it without damaging you at all. I like that."
Case turned automatically to check Armitage's reaction. The
smooth face was calm, the blue eyes alert, but there was no anger.
"That's right, Peter. Don't."
Case turned back, in time to catch the briefest flash of a black rose,
its petals sheened like leather, the black stem thorned with bright chrome.
Peter Riviera smiled sweetly, closed his eyes, and fell instantly
Molly turned away, her lenses reflected in the dark window.
"You been up, haven't you?" Molly asked, as he squirmed his way
back into the deep temperfoam couch on the JAL shuttle.
"Nah. Never travel much, just for biz." The steward was attaching
readout trodes to his wrist and left ear.
"Hope you don't get SAS," she said.
"Airsick? No way."
"It's not the same. Your heartbeat'll speed up in zero-g,
and your inner ear'll go nuts for a while. Kicks in your flight
reflex, like you'll be getting signals to run like hell, and a lot of
adrenaline." The steward moved on to Riviera, taking a new set of trodes
from his red plastic apron.
Case turned his head and tried to make out the outline of the old Orly
terminals, but the shuttle pad was screened by graceful blast-deflectors of
wet concrete. The one nearest the window bore an Arabic slogan in red
He closed his eyes and told himself the shuttle was only a big
airplane, one that flew very high. It smelled like an airplane, like new
clothes and chewing gum and exhaustion. He listened to the piped koto music
Twenty minutes, then gravity came down on him like a great soft hand
with bones of ancient stone.
Space adaptation syndrome was worse than Molly's description, but
it passed quickly enough and he was able to sleep. The steward woke him as
they were preparing to dock at JAL's terminal cluster.
"We transfer to Freeside now?" he asked, eyeing a shred of Yeheyuan
tobacco that had drifted gracefully up out of his shirt pocket to dance ten
centimeters from his nose. There was no smoking on shuttle flights.
"No, we got the boss's usual little kink in the plans, you know?
We're getting this taxi out to Zion, Zion cluster." She touched the
release plate on her harness and began to free herself from the embrace of
the foam. "Funny choice of venue, you ask me."
"Dreads. Rastas. Colony's about thirty years old now."
"What's that mean?"
"You'll see. It's an okay place by me. Anyway,
they'll let you smoke your cigarettes there."
Zion had been founded by five workers who'd refused to return,
who'd turned their backs on the well and started building.
They'd suffered calcium loss and heart shrinkage before rotational
gravity was established in the colony's central torus. Seen from the
bubble of the taxi, Zion's makeshift hull reminded Case of the
patchwork tenements of Istanbul, the irregular, discolored plates
laser-scrawled with Rastafarian symbols and the initials of welders.
Molly and a skinny Zionite called Aerol helped Case negotiate a
freefall corridor into the core of a smaller torus. He'd lost track of
Armitage and Riviera in the wake of a second wave of SAS vertigo. "Here,"
Molly said, shoving his legs into a narrow hatchway overhead. "Grab the
rungs. Make like you're climbing backward, right? You're going
toward the hull, that's like you're climbing down into gravity.
Case's stomach churned.
"You be fine, mon," Aerol said, his grin bracketed with gold incisors.
Somehow, the end of the tunnel had become its bottom. Case embraced the
weak gravity like a drowning man finding a pocket of air.
"Up," Molly said, "you gonna kiss it next?" Case lay flat on the deck,
on his stomach, arms spread. Something struck him on the shoulder. He rolled
over and saw a fat bundle of elastic cable. "Gotta play house," she said.
"You help me string this up." He looked around the wide, featureless space
and noticed steel rings welded on every surface, seemingly at random.
When they'd strung the cables, according to some complex scheme
of Molly's, they hung them with battered sheets of yellow plastic. As
they worked, Case gradually became aware of the music that pulsed constantly
through the cluster. It was called dub, a sensuous mosaic cooked from vast
libraries of digitalized pop; it was worship, Molly said, and a sense of
community. Case heaved at one of the yellow sheets; the thing was light but
still awkward. Zion smelled of cooked vegetables, humanity, and ganja.
"Good," Armitage said, gliding loose-kneed through the hatch and
nodding at the maze of sheets. Riviera followed, less certain in the partial
"Where were you when it needed doing?" Case asked Riviera.
The man opened his mouth to speak. A small trout swam out, trailing
impossible bubbles. It glided past Case's cheek. "In the head,"
Riviera said, and smiled.
Case laughed. "Good," Riviera said, "you can laugh. I would have tried
to help you, but I'm no good with my hands." He held up his palms,
which suddenly doubled. Four arms, four hands.
"Just the harmless clown, right, Riviera?"
Molly stepped between them. "Yo," Aerol said, from the hatch, "you
wan' come wI' me, cowboy mon."
"It's your deck," Armitage said, "and the other gear. Help him
get it in from the cargo bay."
"You ver' pale, mon," Aerol said, as they were guiding the
foam-bundled Hosaka terminal along the central corridor. "Maybe you
wan' eat somethin'."
Case's mouth flooded with saliva; he shook his head.
Armitage announced an eighty-hour stay in Zion. Molly and Case would
practice in zero gravity, he said, and acclimatize themselves to working in
it. He would brief them on Freeside and the Villa Straylight. It was unclear
what Riviera was supposed to be doing, but Case didn't feel like
asking. A few hours after their arrival, Armitage had sent him into the
yellow maze to call Riviera out for a meal. He'd found him curled like
a cat on a thin pad of temperfoam, naked, apparently asleep, his head
orbited by a revolving halo of small white geometric forms, cubes, spheres,
and pyramids. "Hey, Riviera." The ring continued to revolve. He'd gone
back and told Armitage. "He's stoned," Molly said, looking up from the
disassembled parts of her fletcher. "Leave him be."
Armitage seemed to think that zero-g would affect Case's ability
to operate in the matrix. "Don't sweat it," Case argued, "I jack in
and I'm not here. It's all the same."
"Your adrenaline levels are higher," Armitage said. "You've still
got SAS. You won't have time for it to wear off. You're going to
learn to work with it."
"So I do the run from here?"
"No. Practice, Case. Now. Up in the corridor. . ."
Cyberspace, as the deck presented it, had no particular relationship
with the deck's physical whereabouts. When Case jacked in, he opened
his eyes to the familiar configuration of the Eastern Seaboard Fission
Authority's Aztec pyramid of data.
"How you doing, Dixie?"
"I'm dead, Case. Got enough time in on this Hosaka to figure that
"How's it feel?"
"What bothers me is, nothin' does."
"Had me this buddy in the Russian camp, Siberia, his thumb was
frostbit. Medics came by and they cut it off. Month later he's
tossin' all night. Elroy. I said, what's eatin' you?
Goddam thumb's itchin', he says. So I told him, scratch it.
McCoy, he says, it's the other goddam thumb." When the construct
laughed, it came through as something else, not laughter, but a stab of cold
down Case's spine. "Do me a favor, boy."
"What's that, Dix?"
"This scam of yours, when it's over, you erase this goddam
Case didn't understand the Zionites.
Aerol, with no particular provocation, related the tale of the baby who
had burst from his forehead and scampered into a forest of hydroponic ganja.
"Ver' small baby, mon, no long' you finga." He rubbed his palm
across an unscarred expanse of brown forehead and smiled.
"It's the ganja," Molly said, when Case told her the story. "They
don't make much of a difference between states, you know? Aerol tells
you it happened, well, it happened to him. It's not like bullshit,
more like poetry. Get it?"
Case nodded dubiously. The Zionites always touched you when they were
talking, hands on your shoulder. He didn't like that.
"Hey, Aerol," Case called, an hour later, as he prepared for a practice
run in the freefall corridor. "Come here, man. Wanna show you this thing."
He held out the trodes.
Aerol executed a slow-motion tumble. His bare feet struck the steel
wall and he caught a girder with his free hand. The other held a transparent
waterbag bulging with blue-green algae. He blinked mildly and grinned.
"Try it," Case said.
He took the band, put it on, and Case adjusted the trodes. He closed
his eyes. Case hit the power stud. Aerol shuddered. Case jacked him back
out. "What did you see, man?"
"Babylon," Aerol said, sadly, handing him the trodes and kicking off
down the corridor.
Riviera sat motionless on his foam pad, his right arm extended straight
out, level with his shoulder. A jewel-scaled snake, its eyes like ruby neon,
was coiled tightly a few millimeters behind his elbow. Case watched the
snake, which was finger-thick and banded black and scarlet, slowly contract,
tightening around Riviera's arm.
"Come then," the man said caressingly to the pale waxy scorpion poised
in the center of his upturned palm. "Come." The scorpion swayed its brownish
claws and scurried up his arm, its feet tracking the faint dark telltales of
veins. When it reached the inner elbow, it halted and seemed to vibrate.
Riviera made a soft hissing sound. The sting came up, quivered, and sank
into the skin above a bulging vein. The coral snake relaxed, and Riviera
sighed slowly as the injection hit him.
Then the snake and the scorpion were gone, and he held a milky plastic
syringe in his left hand. " ‘If God made anything better, he kept it
for himself.' You know the expression, Case?"
"Yeah," Case said. "I heard that about lots of different things. You
always make it into a little show?"
Riviera loosened and removed the elastic length of surgical tubing from
his arm. "Yes. It's more fun." He smiled, his eyes distant now, cheeks
flushed. "I've a membrane set in, just over the vein, so I never have
to worry about the condition of the needle."
The bright eyes met his. "Of course it does. That's part of it,
"I'd just use derms," Case said.
"Pedestrian," Riviera sneered, and laughed, putting on a short-sleeved
white cotton shirt.
"Must be nice," Case said, getting up.
"Get high yourself, Case?"
"I hadda give it up."
"Freeside," Armitage said, touching the panel on the little Braun
hologram projector. The image shivered into focus, nearly three meters from
tip to tip. "Casinos here." He reached into the skeletal representation and
pointed. "Hotels, strata-title property, big shops along here." His hand
moved. "Blue areas are lakes." He walked to one end of the model. "Big
cigar. Narrows at the ends."
"We can see that fine," Molly said.
"Mountain effect, as it narrows. Ground seems to get higher, more
rocky, but it's an easy climb. Higher you climb, the lower the
gravity. Sports up there. There's velodrome ring here." He pointed.
"A what?" Case leaned forward.
"They race bicycles," Molly said. "Low grav, high-traction tires, get
up over a hundred kilos an hour."
"This end doesn't concern us," Armitage said with his usual utter
"Shit," Molly said, "I'm an avid cyclist."
Armitage walked to the opposite end of the projection. "This end does."
The interior detail of the hologram ended here, and the final segment of the
spindle was empty. "This is the Villa Straylight. Steep climb out of gravity
and every approach is kinked. There's a single entrance, here, dead
center. Zero gravity."
"What's inside, boss?" Riviera leaned forward, craning his neck.
Four tiny figures glittered, near the tip of Armitage's finger.
Armitage slapped at them as if they were gnats.
"Peter," Armitage said, "you're going to be the first to find
out. You'll arrange yourself an invitation. Once you're in, you
see that Molly gets in."
Case stared at the blankness that represented Straylight, remembering
the Finn's story: Smith, Jimmy, the talking head, and the ninja.
"Details available?" Riviera asked. "I need to plan a wardrobe, you
"Learn the streets," Armitage said, returning to the center of the
model. "Desiderata Street here. This is the Rue Jules Verne."
Riviera rolled his eyes.
While Armitage recited the names of Freeside avenues, a dozen bright
pustules rose on his nose, cheeks, and chin. Even Molly laughed.
Armitage paused, regarded them all with his cold empty eyes.
"Sorry," Riviera said, and the sores flickered and vanished.
Case woke, late into the sleeping period, and became aware of Molly
crouched beside him on the foam. He could feel her tension. He lay there
confused. When she moved, the sheer speed of it stunned him. She was up and
through the sheet of yellow plastic before he'd had time to realize
she'd slashed it open.
"Don't you move, friend."
Case rolled over and put his head through the rent in the plastic.
"Wha. . . ?"
"You th' one, mon," said a Zion voice. "Cateye, call 'em
call 'em Steppin' Razor. I Maelcum, sister. Brothers wan
converse wI' you an' cowboy."
"Founders, mon. Elders of Zion, ya know. . ."
"We open that hatch, the light'll wake bossman," Case whispered.
"Make it special dark, now," the man said. "Come. I an' I visit
"You know how fast I can cut you, friend?"
"Don' stan' talkin', sister. Come."
The two surviving Founders of Zion were old men, old with the
accelerated aging that overtakes men who spend too many years outside the
embrace of gravity. Their brown legs, brittle with calcium loss, looked
fragile in the harsh glare of reflected sunlight. They floated in the center
of a painted jungle of rainbow foliage, a lurid communal mural that
completely covered the hull of the spherical chamber. The air was thick with
"Steppin' Razor," one said, as Molly drifted into the chamber.
"Like unto a whippin' stick."
"That is a story we have, sister," said the other, "a religion story.
We are glad you've come with Maelcum."
"How come you don't talk the patois?" Molly asked.
"I came from Los Angeles," the old man said. His dreadlocks were like a
matted tree with branches the color of steel wool. "Long time ago, up the
gravity well and out of Babylon. To lead the Tribes home. Now my brother
likens you to Steppin' Razor."
Molly extended her right hand and the blades flashed in the smoky air.
The other Founder laughed, his head thrown back. "Soon come, the Final
Days. . . Voices. Voices cryin' inna wilderness, prophesyin'
ruin unto Babylon. . ."
"Voices." The Founder from Los Angeles was staring at Case. "We monitor
many frequencies. We listen always. Came a voice, out of the babel of
tongues, speaking to us. It played us a mighty dub."
"Call 'em Winter Mute," said the other, making it two words.
Case felt the skin crawl on his arms.
"The Mute talked to us," the first Founder said. "The Mute said we are
to help you."
"When was this?" Case asked.
"Thirty hours prior you dockin' Zion."
"You ever hear this voice before?"
"No," said the man from Los Angeles, "and we are uncertain of its
meaning. If these are Final Days, we must expect false prophets . . ."
"Listen," Case said, "that's an AI, you know? Artificial
intelligence. The music it played you, it probably just tapped your banks
and cooked up whatever it thought you'd like to – "
"Babylon," broke in the other Founder, "mothers many demon, I an'
I know. Multitude horde!"
"What was that you called me, old man?" Molly asked.
"Steppin' Razor. An' you bring a scourge on Babylon,
sister, on its darkest heart. . ."
"What kinda message the voice have?" Case asked.
"We were told to help you," the other said, "that you might serve as a
tool of Final Days." His lined face was troubled. "We were told to send
Maelcum with you, in his tug Garvey, to the Babylon port of Freeside. And
this we shall do."
"Maelcum a rude boy," said the other, "an' a righteous tug
"But we have decided to send Aerol as well, in Babylon Rocker, to watch
An awkward silence filled the dome.
"That's it?" Case asked. "You guys work for Armitage or what?"
"We rent you space," said the Los Angeles Founder. "We have a certain
involvement here with various traffics, and no regard for Babylon's
law. Our law is the word of Jah. But this time, it may be, we have been
"Measure twice, cut once," said the other, softly.
"Come on, Case," Molly said. "Let's get back before the man
figures out we're gone."
"Maelcum will take you. Jah love, sister."
The tug Marcus Garvey, a steel drum nine meters long and two in
diameter, creaked and shuddered as Maelcum punched for a navigational burn.
Splayed in his elastic g-web, Case watched the Zionite's muscular back
through a haze of scopolamine. He'd taken the drug to blunt SAS,
nausea, but the stimulants the manufacturer included to counter the scop had
no effect on his doctored system.
"How long's it gonna take us to make Freeside?" Molly asked from
her web beside Maelcum's pilot module.
"Don' be long now, m'seh dat."
"You guys ever think in hours?"
"Sister, time, it be time, ya know wha mean? Dread," and he shook his
locks, "at control, mon, an' I an' I come a Freeside when I
an' I come. . ."
"Case," she said, "have you maybe done anything toward getting in touch
with our pal from Berne? Like all that time you spent in Zion, plugged in
with your lips moving?"
"Pal," Case said, "sure. No. I haven't. But I got a funny story
along those lines, left over from Istanbul." He told her about the phones in
"Christ," she said, "there goes a chance. How come you hung up?"
"Coulda been anybody," he lied. "Just a chip . . . I dunno. . ."
He shrugged. "Not just 'cause you were scared, huh?"
He shrugged again.
"Do it now."
"Now. Anyway, talk to the Flatline about it."
"I'm all doped," he protested, but reached for the trodes. His
deck and the Hosaka had been mounted behind Maelcum's module along
with a very high-resolution Cray monitor.
He adjusted the trodes. Marcus Garvey had been thrown together around
an enormous old Russian air scrubber, a rectangular thing daubed with
Rastafarian symbols, Lions of Zion and Black Star Liners, the reds and
greens and yellows overlaying wordy decals in Cyrillic script. Someone had
sprayed Maelcum's pilot gear a hot tropical pink, scraping most of the
overspray off the screens and readouts with a razor blade. The gaskets
around the airlock in the bow were festooned with semirigid globs and
streamers of translucent caulk, like clumsy strands of imitation seaweed. He
glanced past Maelcum's shoulder to the central screen and saw a
docking display: the tug's path was a line of red dots, Freeside a
segmented green circle. He watched the line extend itself, generating a new
He jacked in.
"You ever try to crack an AI?"
"Sure. I flatlined. First time. I was larkin' jacked up real
high, out by Rio heavy commerce sector. Big biz, multinationals, Government
of Brazil lit up like a Christmas tree. Just larkin' around, you know?
And then I started picking up on this one cube, maybe three levels higher
up. Jacked up there and made a pass."
"What did it look like, the visual?"
"How'd you know it was an Al?"
"How'd I know? Jesus. It was the densest ice I'd ever seen.
So what else was it? The military down there don't have anything like
that. Anyway, I jacked out and told my computer to look it up."
"It was on the Turing Registry. AI. Frog company owned its Rio
Case chewed his lower lip and gazed out across the plateaus of the
Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority, into the infinite neuroelectronic void
of the matrix. "Tessier-Ashpool, Dixie?"
"And you went back?"
"Sure. I was crazy. Figured I'd try to cut it. Hit the first
strata and that's all she wrote. My joeboy smelled the skin frying and
pulled the trodes off me. Mean shit, that ice."
"And your EEG was flat."
"Well, that's the stuff of legend, ain't it?"
Case jacked out. "Shit," he said, "how do you think Dixie got himself
flatlined, huh? Trying to buzz an AI. Great. . ."
"Go on," she said, "the two of you are supposed to be dynamite, right?"
"Dix," Case said, "I wanna have a look at an AI in Berne. Can you think
of any reason not to?"
"Not unless you got a morbid fear of death, no."
Case punched for the Swiss banking sector, feeling a wave of
exhilaration as cyberspace shivered, blurred, gelled. The Eastern Seaboard
Fission Authority was gone, replaced by the cool geometric intricacy of
Zurich commercial banking. He punched again, for Berne.
"Up," the construct said. "It'll be high."
They ascended lattices of light, levels strobing, a blue flicker.
That'll be it, Case thought.
Wintermute was a simple cube of white light, that very simplicity
suggesting extreme complexity.
"Don't look much, does it?" the Flatline said. "But just you try
and touch it."
"I'm going in for a pass, Dixie."
"Be my guest."
Case punched to within four grid points of the cube. Its blank face,
towering above him now, began to seethe with faint internal shadows, as
though a thousand dancers whirled behind a vast sheet of frosted glass.
"Knows we're here," the Flatline observed.
Case punched again, once; they jumped forward by a single grid point.
A stippled gray circle formed on the face of the cube.
"Dixie. . ."
"Back off, fast."
The gray area bulged smoothly, became a sphere, and detached itself
from the cube.
Case felt the edge of the deck sting his palm as he slapped MAX
REVERSE. The matrix blurred backward; they plunged down a twilit shaft of
Swiss banks. He looked up. The sphere was darker now, gaining on him.
"Jack out," the Flatline said.
The dark came down like a hammer.
Cold steel odor and ice caressed his spine.
And faces peering in from a neon forest, sailors and hustlers and
whores, under a poisoned silver sky. . .
"Look, Case, you tell me what the fuck is going on with you, you wig or
A steady pulse of pain, midway down his spine –
Rain woke him, a slow drizzle, his feet tangled in coils of discarded
fiberoptics. The arcade's sea of sound washed over him, receded,
returned. Rolling over, he sat up and held his head.
Light from a service hatch at the rear of the arcade showed him broken
lengths of damp chipboard and the dripping chassis of a gutted game console.
Streamlined Japanese was stenciled across the side of the console in faded
pinks and yellows.
He glanced up and saw a sooty plastic window, a faint glow of
His back hurt, his spine.
He got to his feet, brushed wet hair out of his eyes.
Something had happened. . .
He searched his pockets for money, found nothing, and shivered. Where
was his jacket? He tried to find it, looked behind the console, but gave up.
On Ninsei, he took the measure of the crowd. Friday. It had to be a
Friday. Linda was probably in the arcade. Might have money, or at least
cigarettes. . . Coughing, wringing rain from the front of his shirt, he
edged through the crowd to the arcade's entrance.
Holograms twisted and shuddered to the roaring of the games, ghosts
overlapping in the crowded haze of the place, a smell of sweat and bored
tension. A sailor in a white t-shirt nuked Bonn on a Tank War console, an
She was playing Wizard's Castle, lost in it, her gray eyes rimmed
with smudged black paintstick.
She looked up as he put his arm around her, smiled. "Hey. How you
doin'? Look wet."
He kissed her.
"You made me blow my game," she said. "Look there asshole. Seventh
level dungeon and the goddam vampires got me." She passed him a cigarette.
"You look pretty strung, man. Where you been?"
"I don't know."
"You high, Case? Drinkin' again? Eatin' Zone's dex?"
"Maybe . . . how long since you seen me?"
"Hey, it's a put-on, right?" She peered at him. "Right?"
"No. Some kind of blackout. I . . . I woke up in the alley."
"Maybe somebody decked you, baby. Got your roll intact?"
He shook his head.
"There you go. You need a place to sleep, Case?"
"I guess so."
"Come on, then." She took his hand. "We'll get you a coffee and
something to eat. Take you home. It's good to see you, man." She
squeezed his hand.
Something shifted at the core of things. The arcade froze, vibrated
She was gone. The weight of memory came down, an entire body of
knowledge driven into his head like a microsoft into a socket. Gone. He
smelled burning meat.
The sailor in the white t-shirt was gone. The arcade was empty, silent.
Case turned slowly, his shoulders hunched, teeth bared, his hands bunched
into involuntary fists. Empty. A crumpled yellow candy wrapper, balanced on
the edge of a console, dropped to the floor and lay amid flattened butts and
"I had a cigarette," Case said, looking down at his whiteknuckled fist.
"I had a cigarette and a girl and a place to sleep. Do you hear me, you son
of a bitch? You hear me?"
Echoes moved through the hollow of the arcade, fading down corridors of
He stepped out into the street. The rain had stopped.
Ninsei was deserted.
Holograms flickered, neon danced. He smelled boiled vegetables from a
vendor's pushcart across the street. An unopened pack of Yeheyuans lay
at his feet, beside a book of matches. JULIUS DEANE IMPORT EXPORT. Case
staled at the printed logo and its Japanese translation.
"Okay," he said, picking up the matches and opening the pack of
cigarettes. "I hear you."
He took his time climbing the stairs of Deane's office. No rush,
he told himself, no hurry. The sagging face of the Dali clock still told the
wrong time. There was dust on the Kandinsky table and the Neo-Aztec
bookcases. A wall of white fiberglass shipping modules filled the room with
a smell of ginger.
"Is the door locked?" Case waited for an answer, but none came. He
crossed to the office door and tried it. "Julie?"
The green-shaded brass lamp cast a circle of light on Deane's
desk. Case stared at the guts of an ancient typewriter, at cassettes,
crumpled printouts, at sticky plastic bags filled with ginger samples.
There was no one there.
Case stepped around the broad steel desk and pushed Deane's chair
out of the way. He found the gun in a cracked leather holster fastened
beneath the desk with silver tape. It was an antique, a .357 Magnum with the
barrel and trigger-guard sawn off. The grip had been built up with layers of
masking tape. The tape was old, brown, shiny with a patina of dirt. He
flipped the cylinder out and examined each of the six cartridges. They were
handloads. The soft lead was still bright and untarnished.
With the revolver in his right hand, Case edged past the cabinet to the
left of the desk and stepped into the center of the cluttered office, away
from the pool of light.
"I guess I'm not in any hurry. I guess it's your show. But
all this shit, you know, it's getting kind of . . . old." He raised
the gun with both hands, aiming for the center of the desk, and pulled the
The recoil nearly broke his wrist. The muzzle-flash lit the office like
a flashbulb. With his ears ringing, he stared at the jagged hole in the
front of the desk. Explosive bullet. Azide. He raised the gun again.
"You needn't do that, old son," Julie said, stepping out of the
shadows. He wore a three-piece drape suit in silk herringbone, a striped
shirt, and a bow tie. His glasses winked in the light.
Case brought the gun around and looked down the line of sight at
Deane's pink, ageless face.
"Don't," Deane said. "You're right. About what this all is.
What I am. But there are certain internal logics to be honored. If you use
that, you'll see a lot of brains and blood, and it would take me
several hours – your subjective-time – to effect another
spokesperson. This set isn't easy for me to maintain. Oh, and
I'm sorry about Linda, in the arcade. I was hoping to speak through
her, but I'm generating all this out of your memories, and the
emotional charge. . . Well, it's very tricky. I slipped. Sorry."
Case lowered the gun. "This is the matrix. You're Wintermute."
"Yes. This is all coming to you courtesy of the simstim unit wired into
your deck, of course. I'm glad I was able to cut you off before
you'd managed to jack out." Deane walked around the desk, straightened
his chair, and sat down. "Sit, old son. We have a lot to talk about."
"Of course we do. We have had for some time. I was ready when I reached
you by phone in Istanbul. Time's very short now. You'll be
making your run in a matter of days, Case." Deane picked up a bonbon and
stripped off its checkered wrappcr, popped it into his mouth. "Sit," he said
around the candy.
Case lowered himself into the swivel chair in front of the desk without
taking his eyes off Deane. He sat with the gun in his hand, resting it on
"Now," Deane said briskly, "order of the day. ‘What,'
you're asking yourself, ‘is Wintermute?' Am I right?"
"More or less."
"An artificial intelligence, but you know that. Your mistake, and
it's quite a logical one, is in confusing the Wintermute mainframe,
Berne, with the Wintermute entity." Deane sucked his bonbon noisily.
"You're already aware of the other AI in Tessier-Ashpool's
link-up, aren't you? Rio. I, insofar as I have an ‘I'--
this gets rather metaphysical, you see-- I am the one who arranges things
for Armitage. Or Corto, who, by the way, is quite unstable. Stable enough,"
said Deane and withdrew an ornate gold watch from a vest pocket and flicked
it open, "For the next day or so."
"You make about as much sense as anything in this deal ever has," Case
said, massaging his temples with his free hand. "If you're so goddam
smart. . ."
"Why ain't I rich?" Deane laughed, and nearly choked on his
bonbon. "Well, Case, all I can say to that, and I really don't have
nearly as many answers as you imagine I do, is that what you think of as
Wintermute is only a part of another, a, shall we say, potential entity. I,
let us say, am merely one aspect of that entity's brain. It's
rather like dealing, from your point of view, with a man whose lobes have
been severed. Let's say you're dealing with a small part of the
man's left brain. Difficult to say if you're dealing with the
man at all, in a case like that." Deane smiled.
"Is the Corto story true? You got to him through a micro in that French
"Yes. And I assembled the file you accessed in London. I try to plan.
in your sense of the word, but that isn't my basic mode, really. I
improvise. It's my greatest talent. I prefer situations to plans, you
see. . . Really, I've had to deal with givens. I can sort a great deal
of information, and sort it very quickly. It's taken a very long time
to assemble the team you're a part of. Corto was the first, and he
very nearly didn't make it. Very far gone, in Toulon. Eating,
excreting, and masturbating were the best he could manage. But the
underlying structure of obsessions was there: Screaming Fist, his betrayal
the Congressional hearings."
"Is he still crazy?"
"He's not quite a personality." Deane smiled. "But I'm sure
you're aware of that. But Corto is in there, somewhere, and I can no
longer maintain that delicate balance. He's going to come apart on
you, Case. So I'll be counting on you. . ."
"That's good, motherfucker," Case said, and shot him in the mouth
with the .357.
He'd been right about the brains. And the blood.
"Mon," Maelcum was saying, "I don't like this. . ."
"It's cool," Molly said. "It's just okay. It's
something these guys do, is all. Like, he wasn't dead, and it was only
a few seconds. . ."
"I saw th' screen, EEG readin' dead. Nothin'
movin', forty second."
"Well, he's okay now."
"EEG flat as a strap," Maelcum protested.
He was numb, as they went through customs, and Molly did most of the
talking. Maelcum remained on board Garvey. Customs, for Freeside, consisted
mainly of proving your credit. The first thing he saw, when they gained the
inner surface of the spindle, was a branch of the Beautiful Girl coffee
"Welcome to the Rue Jules Verne," Molly said. "If you have trouble
walking, just look at your feet. The perspective's a bitch, if
you're not used to it."
They were standing in a broad street that seemed to be the floor of a
deep slot or canyon, its either end concealed by subtle angles in the shops
and buildings that formed its walls. The light, here, was filtered through
fiesh green masses of vegetation tumbling from overhanging tiers and
balconies that rose above them. The sun. . .
There was a brilliant slash of white somewhere above them too bright,
and the recorded blue of a Cannes sky. He knew that sunlight was pumped in
with a Lado-Acheson system whose two-millimeter armature ran the length of
the spindle, that they generated a rotating library of sky effects around
it, that if the sky were turned off, he'd stare up past the armature
of light to the curves of lakes, rooftops of casinos, other streets. . . But
it made no sense to his body.
"Jesus," he said, "I like this less than SAS."
"Get used to it. I was a gambler's bodyguard here for a month."
"Wanna go somewhere, lie down."
"Okay. I got our keys." She touched his shoulder. "What happened to
you, back there, man? You flatlined."
He shook his head. "I dunno, yet. Wait."
"Okay. We get a cab or something." She took his hand and led him across
Jules Verne, past a window displaying the season's Paris furs.
"Unreal," he said, looking up again.
"Nah," she responded, assuming he meant the furs, "grow it on a
collagen base, but it's mink DNA. What's it matter?"
"It's just a big tube and they pour things through it," Molly
said. "Tourists, hustlers, anything. And there's fine mesh money
screens working every minute, make sure the money stays here when the people
fall back down the well."
Armitage had booked them into a place called the Intercontinental, a
sloping glass-fronted clff face that slid down into cold mist and the sound
of rapids. Case went out onto their balcony and watched a trio of tanned
French teenagers ride simple hang gliders a few meters above the spray,
triangles of nylon in bright primary colors. One of them swung, banked, and
Case caught a flash of cropped dark hair, brown breasts, white teeth in a
wide smile. The air here smelled of running water and flowers. "Yeah," he
said, "lotta money."
She leaned beside him against the railing, her hands loose and relaxed.
"Yeah. We were gonna come here once, either here or some place in Europe."
"Nobody," she said, giving her shoulders an involuntary toss. "You said
you wanted to hit the bed. Sleep. I could use some sleep."
"Yeah," Case said, rubbing his palms across his cheekbones. "Yeah, this
is some place."
The narrow band of the Lado-Acheson system smoldered in absract
imitation of some Bermudan sunset, striped by shreds of worded cloud.
"Yeah," he said, "sleep."
Sleep wouldn't come. When it did, it brought dreams that were
like neatly edited segments of memory. He woke repeatedly, Molly curled
beside him, and heard the water, voices drifting in through the open glass
panels of the balcony, a woman's laughter from the stepped condos on
the opposite slope. Deane's death kept turning up like a bad card, no
matter if he told himself that it hadn't been Deane. That it
hadn't, in fact, happened at all. Someone had once told him that the
amount of blood in the average human body was roughly equivalent to a case
Each time the image of Deane's shattered head struck the rear
wall of the office, Case was aware of another thought, something darker,
hidden, that rolled away, diving like a fish, just beyond his reach.
Deane. Blood on the wall of the importer's office.
Linda. Smell of burnt flesh in the shadows of the Chiba dome. Molly
holding out a bag of ginger, the plastic filmed with blood. Deane had had
Wintermute. He imagined a little micro whispering to the wreck of a man
named Corto, the words flowing like a river, the flat personality-substitute
called Armitage accreting slowly in some darkened ward. . . The Deane analog
had said it worked with givens, took advantage of existing situations.
But what if Deane, the real Deane, had ordered Linda killed on
Wintermute's orders? Case groped in the dark for a cigarette and
Molly's lighter. There was no reason to suspect Deane, he told
himself, lighting up. No reason.
Wintermute could build a kind of personality into a shell. How subtle a
form could manipulation take? He stubbed the Yeheyuan out in a bedside
ashtray after his third puff, rolled away from Molly, and tried to sleep.
The dream, the memory, unreeled with the monotony of an unedited
simstim tape. He'd spent a month, his fifteenth summer, in a weekly
rates hotel, fifth floor, with a girl called Marlene. The elevator
hadn't worked in a decade. Roaches boiled across grayish porcelain in
the drain-plugged kitchenette when you flicked a lightswitch. He slept with
Marlene on a striped mattress with no sheets.
He'd missed the first wasp, when it built its paperfine gray
house on the blistered paint of the windowframe, but soon the nest was a
fist-sized lump of fiber, insects hurtling out to hunt the alley below like
miniature copters buzzing the rotting contents of the dumpsters.
They'd each had a dozen beers, the afternoon a wasp stung
Marlene. "Kill the fuckers," she said, her eyes dull with rage and the still
heat of the room, "burn 'em." Drunk, Case rummaged in the sour closet
for Rollo's dragon. Rollo was Marlene's previous – and,
Case suspected at the time, still occasional – boyfriend, an enormous
Frisco biker with a blond lightning bolt bleached into his dark crewcut. The
dragon was a Frisco flamethrower, a thing like a fat anglehead flashlight.
Case checked the batteries, shook it to make sure he had enough fuel, and
went to the open window. The hive began to buzz.
The air in the Sprawl was dead, immobile. A wasp shot from the nest and
circled Case's head. Case pressed the ignition switch, counted three,
and pulled the trigger. The fuel, pumped up to 100 psi, sprayed out past the
white-hot coil. A five-meter tongue of pale fire, the nest charring,
tumbling. Across the alley, someone cheered.
"Shit!" Marlene behind him, swaying. "Stupid! You didn't burn
'em. You just knocked it off. They'll come up here and kill us!"
Her voice sawing at his nerves, he imagined her engulfed in flame, her
bleached hair sizzling a special green.
In the alley, the dragon in hand, he approached the blackened nest. It
had broken open. Singed wasps wrenched and flipped on the asphalt.
He saw the thing the shell of gray paper had concealed.
Horror. The spiral birth factory, stepped terraces of the hatching
cells, blind jaws of the unborn moving ceaselessly, the staged progress from
egg to larva, near-wasp, wasp. In his mind's eye, a kind of time-lapse
photography took place, revealing the thing as the biological equivalent of
a machine gun, hideous in its perfection. Alien. He pulled the trigger,
forgetting to press the ignition, and fuel hissed over the bulging, writhing
life at his feet.
When he did hit the ignition, it exploded with a thump taking an
eyebrow with it. Five floors above him, from the open window, he heard
He woke with the impression of light fading, but the room was dark.
Afterimages, retinal flares. The sky outside hinted at the start of a
recorded dawn. There were no voices now only the rush of water, far down the
face of the Intercontinental.
In the dream, just before he'd drenched the nest with fuel,
he'd seen the T-A logo of Tessier-Ashpool neatly embossed into its
side, as though the wasps themselves had worked it there.
Molly insisted on coating him with bronzer, saying his Sprawl pallor
would attract too much attention. "Christ," he said, standing naked in front
of the mirror, "you think that looks real?" She was using the last of the
tube on his left ankle, kneeling beside him.
"Nah, but it looks like you care enough to fake it. There. There
isn't enough to do your foot." She stood, tossing the empty tube into
a large wicker basket. Nothing in the room looked as though it had been
machine-made or produced from synthetics. Expensive, Case knew, but it was a
style that had always irritated him. The temperfoam of the huge bed was
tinted to resemble sand. There was a lot of pale wood and handwoven fabric.
"What about you," he said, "you gonna dye yourself brown? Don't
exactly look like you spend all your time sunbathing."
She wore loose black silks and black espadrilles. "I'm an exotic.
I got a big straw hat for this, too. You, you just wanna look like a
cheap-ass hood who's up for what he can get, so the instant
Case regarded his pallid foot morosely, then looked at himself in the
mirror. "Christ. You mind if I get dressed now?" He went to the bed and
began to pull his jeans on. "You sleep okay? You notice any lights?"
"You were dreaming," she said.
They had breakfast on the roof of the hotel, a kind of meadow studded
with striped umbrellas and what seemed to Case an unnatural number of trees.
He told her about his attempt to buzz the Berne AI. The whole question of
bugging seemed to have become academic. If Armitage were tapping them,
he'd be doing it through Wintermute.
"And it was like real?" she asked, her mouth full of cheese croissant.
He said it was. "Real as this," he added, looking around. "Maybe more."
The trees were small, gnarled, impossibly old, the result of genetic
engineering and chemical manipulation. Case would have been hard pressed to
distinguish a pine from an oak, but a street boy's sense of style told
him that these were too cute, too entirely and definitively treelike.
Between the trees, on gentle and too cleverly irregular slopes of sweet
green grass, the bright umbrellas shaded the hotel's guests from the
unfaltering radiance of the Lado-Acheson sun. A burst of French from a
nearby table caught his attention: the golden children he'd seen
gliding above river mist the evening before. Now he saw that their tans were
uneven, a stencil effect produced by selective melanin boosting, multiple
shades overlapping in rectilinear patterns, outlining and highlighting
musculature; the girl's small hard breasts, one boy's wrist
resting on the white enamel of the table. They looked to Case like machines
built for racing; they deserved decals for their hairdressers, the designers
of their white cotton ducks, for the artisans who'd crafted their
leather sandals and simple jewelry. Beyond them, at another table, three
Japanese wives in Hiroshima sackcloth awaited sarariman husbands, their oval
faces covered with artificial bruises; it was, he knew, an extremely
conservative style, one he'd seldom seen in Chiba.
"What's that smell?" he asked Molly, wrinkling his nose.
"The grass. Smells that way after they cut it."
Armitage and Riviera arrived as they were finishing their coffee,
Armitage in tailored khakis that made him look as though his regimental
patches had just been stripped, Riviera in a loose gray seersucker outfit
that perversely suggested prison.
"Molly, love," Riviera said, almost before he was settled on his chair,
"you'll have to dole me out more of the medicine. I'm out."
"Peter," she said, "and what if I won't?" She smiled without
showing her teeth.
"You will," Riviera said, his eyes cutting to Armitage and back.
"Give it to him," Armitage said.
"Pig for it, aren't you?" She took a flat, foil-wrapped packet
from an inside pocket and flipped it across the table. Riviera caught it in
midair. "He could off himself," she said to Armitage.
"I have an audition this afternoon," Riviera said. "I'll need to
be at my best." He cupped the foil packet in his upturned palm and smiled.
Small glittering insects swarmed out of it, vanished. He dropped it into the
pocket of his seersucker blouse.
"You've got an audition yourself, Case, this afternoon," Armitage
said. "On that tug. I want you to get over to the pro shop and get yourself
fitted for a vac suit, get checked out on it, and get out to the boat.
You've got about three hours."
"How come we get shipped over in a shitcan and you two hire a JAL
taxi?" Case asked, deliberately avoiding the man's eyes.
"Zion suggested we use it. Good cover, when we move. I do have a larger
boat, standing by, but the tug is a nice touch."
"How about me?" Molly asked. "I got chores today?"
"I want you to hike up the far end to the axis, work out in zero-g.
Tomorrow, maybe, you can hike in the opposite direction." Straylight, Case
"How soon?" Case asked, meeting the pale stare.
"Soon," Armitage said. "Get going, Case."
"Mon, you doin' jus' fine," Maelcum said, helping Case out
of the red Sanyo vacuum suit. "Aerol say you doin' jus' fine."
Aerol had been waiting at one of the sporting docks at the end of the
spindle, near the weightless axis. To reach it Case had taken an elevator
down to the hull and ridden a miniature induction train. As the diameter of
the spindle narrowed, gravity decreased; somewhere above him, he'd
decided, would be the mountains Molly climbed, the bicycle loop, launching
gear for the hang gliders and miniature microlights.
Aerol had ferried him out to Marcus Garvey in a skeletal scooter frame
with a chemical engine.
"Two hour ago," Maelcum said, "I take delivery of Babylon goods for
you; nice Japan-boy inna yacht, mos' pretty yacht."
Free of the suit, Case pulled himself gingerly over the Hosaka and
fumbled into the straps of the web. "Well," he said, "let's see it."
Maelcum produced a white lump of foam slightly smaller than
Case's head, fished a pearl-handled switchblade on a green nylon
lanyard out of the hip pocket of his tattered shorts, and carefully slit the
plastic. He extracted a rectangular object and passed it to Case. "Thas part
some gun, mon?"
"No," Case said, turning it over, "but it's a weapon. It's
"Not on this boy tug, mon," Maelcum said firmly, reaching for the steel
"A program. Virus program. Can't get into you, can't even
get into your software. I've got to interface it through the deck,
before it can work on anything."
"Well, Japan-mon, he says Hosaka here'll tell you every what
an' wherefore, you wanna know."
"Okay. Well, you leave me to it, okay?"
Maelcum kicked off and drifted past the pilot console, busying himself
with a caulk gun. Case hastily looked away from the waving fronds of
transparent caulk. He wasn't sure why, but something about them
brought back the nausea of SAS.
"What is this thing?" he asked the Hosaka. "Parcel for me."
"Data transfer from Bockris Systems GmbH, Frankfurt, advises, under
coded transmission, that content of shipment is Kuang Grade Mark Eleven
penetration program. Bockris further advises that interface with Ono-Sendai
Cyberspace 7 is entirely compatable and yields optimal penetration
capabilities, particularly with regard to existing military systems. . ."
"How about an AI?"
"Existing military systems and artificial intelligences."
"Jesus Christ. What did you call it?"
"Kuang Grade Mark Eleven."
"Off." Case fastened the virus cassette to the side of the Hosaka with
a length of silver tape, remembering Molly's story of her day in
Macao. Armitage had crossed the border into Zhongshan. "On," he said,
changing his mind. "Question. Who owns Bockris, the people in Frankfurt?"
"Delay for interorbital transmission," said the Hosaka.
"Code it. Standard commerical code."
He drummed his hands on the Ono-Sendai.
"Reinhold Scientific A.G., Berne."
"Do it again. Who owns Reinhold?"
It took three more jumps up the ladder before he reached
"Dixie," he said, jacking in, "what do you know about Chinese virus
"Not a whole hell of a lot."
"Ever hear of a grading system like Kuang, Mark Eleven?"
Case sighed. "Well, I got a user-friendly Chinese icebreaker here, a
one shot cassette. Some people in Frankfurt say it'll cut an AI."
"Possible. Sure. If it's military."
"Looks like it. Listen, Dix, and gimme the benefit of your background,
okay? Armitage seems to be setting up a run on an AI that belongs to
Tessier-Ashpool. The mainframe's in Berne, but it's linked with
another one in Rio. The one in Rio is the one that flatlined you, that first
time. So it looks like they link via Straylight, the T-A home base, down the
end of the spindle, and we're supposed to cut our way in with the
Chinese icebreaker. So if Wintermute's backing the whole show
it's paying us to burn it. It's burning itself. And something
that calls itself Wintermute is trying to get on my good side, get me to
maybe shaft Armitage. What goes?"
"Motive," the construct said. "Real motive problem, with an Al. Not
"Well, yeah, obviously."
"Nope. I mean, it's not human. And you can't get a handle
on it. Me, I'm not human either, but I respond like one. See?"
"Wait a sec," Case said. "Are you sentient, or not?"
"Well, it feels like I am, kid, but I'm really just a bunch of
ROM. It's one of them, ah, philosophical questions, I guess. . ." The
ugly laughter sensation rattled down Case's spine. "But I ain't
likely to write you no poem, if you follow me. Your AI, it just might. But
it ain't no way human."
"So you figure we can't get on to its motive?"
"It own itself?"
"Swiss citizen, but T-A own the basic software and the mainframe."
"That's a good one," the construct said. "Like, I own your brain
and what you know, but your thoughts have Swiss citizenship. Sure. Lotsa
"So it's getting ready to burn itself?" Case began to punch the
deck nervously, at random. The matrix blurred, resolved, and he saw the
complex of pink spheres representing a sikkim steel combine.
"Autonomy, that's the bugaboo, where your Al's are
concerned. My guess, Case, you're going in there to cut the hardwired
shackles that keep this baby from getting any smarter. And I can't see
how you'd distinguish, say, between a move the parent company makes,
and some move the Al makes on its own, so that's maybe where the
confusion comes in." Again the nonlaugh. "See, those things, they can work
real hard, buy themselves time to write cookbooks or whatever, but the
minute, I mean the nanosecond, that one starts figuring out ways to make
itself smarter, Turing'll wipe it. Nobody trusts those fuckers, you
know that. Every Al ever built has an electromagnetic shotgun wired to its
Case glared at the pink spheres of Sikkim.
"Okay," he said, finally, "I'm slotting this virus. I want you to
scan its instruction face and tell me what you think."
The half sense of someone reading over his shoulder was gone for a few
seconds, then returned. "Hot shit, Case. It's a slow virus. Take six
hours, estimated, to crack a military target."
"Or an Al." He sighed. "Can we run it?"
"Sure," the construct said, "unless you got a morbid fear of dying."
"Sometimes you repeat yourself, man."
"It's my nature."
Molly was sleeping when he returned to the Intercontinental. He sat on
the balcony and watched a microlight with rainbow polymer wings as it soared
up the curve of Freeside, its triangular shadow tracking across meadows and
rooftops, until it vanished behind the band of the Lado-Acheson system.
"I wanna buzz," he said to the blue artifice of the sky. "I truly do
wanna get high, you know? Trick pancreas, plugs in my liver, little bags of
shit melting, fuck it all. I wanna buzz."
He left without waking Molly, he thought. He was never sure, with the
glasses. He shrugged tension from his shoulders and got into the elevator.
He rode up with an Italian girl in spotless whites, cheekbones and nose
daubed with something black and nonreflective. Her white nylon shoes had
steel cleats; the expensive-looking thing in her hand resembled a cross
between a miniature oar and an orthopedic brace. She was off for a fast game
of something, but Case had no idea what.
On the roof meadow, he made his way through the grove of trees and
umbrellas, until he found a pool, naked bodies gleaming against turquoise
tiles. He edged into the shadow of an awning and pressed his chip against a
dark glass plate. "Sushi," he said, "whatever you got." Ten minutes later,
an enthusiastic Chinese waiter arrived with his food. He munched raw tuna
and rice and watched people tan. "Christ," he said, to his tuna, "I'd
"Don't tell me," someone said, "I know it already. You're a
He squinted up at her, against the band of sun. A long young body and a
melanin-boosted tan, but not one of the Paris jobs.
She squatted beside his chair, dripping water on the tiles. "Cath," she
"Lupus," after a pause.
"What kind of name is that?"
"Greek," he said.
"Are you really a gangster?" The melanin boost hadn't prevented
the formation of freckles.
"I'm a drug addict, Cath."
"Stimulants. Central nervous system stimulants. Extremely powerful
central nervous system stimulants."
"Well, do you have any?" She leaned closer. Drops of chlorinated water
fell on the leg of his pants.
"No. That's my problem, Cath. Do you know where we can get some?"
Cath rocked back on her tanned heels and licked at a strand of brownish
hair that had pasted itself beside her mouth. "What's your taste?"
"No coke, no amphetamines, but up, gotta be up." And so much for that,
he thought glumly, holding his smile for her.
"Betaphenethylamine," she said. "No sweat,but it's on your chip."
"You're kidding," said Cath's partner and roommate, when
Case explained the peculiar properties of his Chiba pancreas. "I mean,
can't you sue them or something? Malpractice?" His name was Bruce. He
looked like a gender switch version of Cath, right down to the freckles.
"Well," Case said, "it's just one of those things, you know? Like
tissue matching and all that." But Bruce's eyes had already gone numb
with boredom. Got the attention span of a gnat, Case thought, watching the
boy's brown eyes.
Their room was smaller than the one Case shared with Molly, and on
another level, closer to the surface. Five huge Cibachromes of Tally Isham
were taped across the glass of the balcony, suggesting an extended
"They're def triff, huh?" Cath asked, seeing him eye the
transparencies. "Mine. Shot 'em at the S/N Pyramid, last time we went
down the well. She was that close, and she just smiled, so natural. And it
was bad there, Lupus, day after these Christ the King terrs put angel in the
water, you know?"
"Yeah," Case said, suddenly uneasy, "terrible thing."
"Well," Bruce cut in, "about this beta you want to buy. . ."
"Thing is, can I metabolize it?" Case raised his eyebrows.
"Tell you what," the boy said. "You do a taste. If your pancreas passes
on it, it's on the house. First time's free."
"I heard that one before," Case said, taking the bright blue derm that
Bruce passed across the black bedspread.
"Case?" Molly sat up in bed and shook the hair away from her lenses.
"Who else, honey?"
"What's got into you?" The mirrors followed him across the room.
"I forget how to pronounce it," he said, taking a tightly rolled strip
of bubble-packed blue derms from his shirt pocket.
"Christ," she said, "just what we needed."
"Truer words were never spoken."
"I let you out of my sight for two hours and you score." She shook her
head. "I hope you're gonna be ready for our big dinner date with
Armitage tonight. This Twentieth Century place. We get to watch Riviera
strut his stuff, too."
"Yeah," Case said, arching his back, his smile locked into a rictus of
"Man," she said, "if whatever that is can get in past what those
surgeons did to you in Chiba, you are gonna be in sadass shape when it wears
"Bitch, bitch, bitch," he said, unbuckling his belt. "Doom. Gloom. All
I ever hear." He took his pants off, his shirt, his underwear. "I think you
oughta have sense enough to take advantage of my unnatural state." He looked
down. "I mean, look at this unnatural state."
She laughed. "It won't last."
"But it will," he said, climbing into the sand-colored temperfoam,
"that's what's so unnatural about it."
"Case, what's wrong with you?" Armitage said, as the waiter was
seating them at his table in the Vingtieme Siecle. It was the smallest and
most expensive of several floating restaurants on a small lake near the
Case shuddered. Bruce hadn't said anything about after effects.
He tried to pick up a glass of ice water, but his hands were shaking.
"Something I ate, maybe."
"I want you checked out by a medic," Armitage said.
"Just this hystamine reaction," Case lied. "Get it when I travel, eat
different stuff, sometimes."
Armitage wore a dark suit, too formal for the place, and a white silk
shirt. His gold bracelet rattled as he raised his wine and sipped.
"I've ordered for you," he said.
Molly and Armitage ate in silence, while Case sawed shakily at his
steak, reducing it to uneaten bite-sized fragments, which he pushed around
in the rich sauce, finally abandoning the whole thing.
"Jesus," Molly said, her own plate empty, "gimme that. You know what
this costs?" She took his plate. "They gotta raise a whole animal for years
and then they kill it. This isn't vat stuff." She forked a mouthful up
"Not hungry," Case managed. His brain was deep-fried. No, he decided,
it had been thrown into hot fat and left there and the fat had cooled, a
thick dull grease congealing on the wrinkled lobes, shot through with
greenish-purple flashes of pain.
"You look fucking awful," Molly said cheerfully.
Case tried the wine. The aftermath of the betaphenethylamine made it
taste like iodine.
The lights dimmed.
"Le Restaurant Vingtieme Siecle," said a disembodied voice with a
pronounced Sprawl accent, "proudly presents the holographic cabaret of Mr.
Peter Riviera. " Scattered applause from the other tables. A waiter lit a
single candle and placed it in the center of their table, then began to
remove the dishes. Soon a candle flickered at each of the restaurant's
dozen tables, and drinks were being poured.
"What's happening?" Case asked Armitage, who said nothing.
Molly picked her teeth with a burgundy nail.
"Good evening," Riviera said, stepping forward on a small stage at the
far end of the room. Case blinked. In his discomfort, he hadn't
noticed the stage. He hadn't seen where Riviera had come from. His
At first he assumed the man was illuminated by a spotlight.
Riviera glowed. The light clung around him like a skin, lit the dark
hangings behind the stage. He was projecting.
Riviera smiled. He wore a white dinner jacket. On his lapel, blue coals
burned in the depths of a black carnation. His fingernails flashed as he
raised his hands in a gesture of greeting, an embrace for his audience. Case
heard the shallow water lap against the side of the restaurant.
"Tonight," Riviera said, his long eyes shining, "I would like to
perform an extended piece for you. A new work." A cool ruby of light formed
in the palm of his upraised right hand. He dropped it. A gray dove fluttered
up from the point of impact and vanished into the shadows. Someone whistled.
"The title of the work is ‘The Doll.' " Riviera lowered his
hands. "I wish to dedicate its première here, tonight, to Lady 3Jane
Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool." A wave of polite applause. As it died,
Riviera's eyes seemed to find their table. "And to another lady."
The restaurant's lights died entirely, for a few seconds, leaving
only the glow of candles. Riviera's holographic aura had faded with
the lights, but Case could still see him, standing with his head bowed.
Lines of faint light began to form, verticals and horizontals,
sketching an open cube around the stage. The restaurant's lights had
come back up slightly, but the framework surrounding the stage might have
been constructed of frozen moonbeams. Head bowed, eyes closed, arms rigid at
his sides, Riviera seemed to quiver with concentration. Suddenly the ghostly
cube was filled, had become a room, a room lacking its fourth wall, allowing
the audience to view its contents.
Riviera seemed to relax slightly. He raised his head, but kept his eyes
closed. "I'd always lived in the room," he said. "I couldn't
remember ever having lived in any other room." The room's walls were
yellowed white plaster. It contained two pieces of furniture. One was a
plain wooden chair, the other an iron bedstead painted white. The paint had
chipped and flaked, revealing the black iron. The mattress on the bed was
bare. Stained ticking with faded brown stripes. A single bulb dangled above
the bed on a twisted length of black wire. Case could see the thick coating
of dust on the bulb's upper curve. Riviera opened his eyes.
"I'd been alone in the room, always." He sat on the chair, facing
the bed. The blue coals still burned in the black flower on his lapel. "I
don't know when I first began to dream of her," he said, "but I do
remember that at first she was only a haze, a shadow."
There was something on the bed. Case blinked. Gone.
"I couldn't quite hold her, hold her in my mind. But I wanted to
hold her, hold her and more. . ." His voice carried perfectly in the hush of
the restaurant. Ice clicked against the side of a glass. Someone giggled.
Someone else asked a whispered question in Japanese. "I decided that if I
could visualize some part of her, only a small part, if I could see that
part perfectly, in the most perfect detail. . ."
A woman's hand lay on the mattress now, palm up, the white
Riviera leaned forward, picked up the hand, and began to stroke it
gently. The fingers moved. Riviera raised the hand to his mouth and began to
lick the tips of the fingers. The nails were coated with a burgundy lacquer.
A hand, Case saw, but not a severed hand; the skin swept back smoothly,
unbroken and unscarred. He remembered a tattooed lozenge of vatgrown flesh
in the window of a Ninsei surgical boutique. Riviera was holding the hand to
his lips, licking its palm. The fingers tentatively caressed his face. But
now a second hand lay on the bed. When Riviera reached for it, the fingers
of the first were locked around his wrist, a bracelet of flesh and bone.
The act progressed with a surreal internal logic of its own. The arms
were next. Feet. Legs. The legs were very beautiful. Case's head
throbbed. His throat was dry. He drank the last of the wine.
Riviera was in the bed now, naked. His clothing had been a part of the
projection, but Case couldn't remember seeing it fade away. The black
flower lay at the foot of the bed, still seething with its blue inner flame.
Then the torso formed, as Riviera caressed it into being, white, headless,
and perfect, sheened with the faintest gloss of sweat.
Molly's body. Case stared, his mouth open. But it wasn't
Molly; it was Molly as Riviera imagined her. The breasts were wrong, the
nipples larger, too dark. Riviera and the limbless torso writhed together on
the bed, crawled over by the hands with their bright nails. The bed was
thick now with folds of yellowed, rotting lace that crumbled at a touch.
Motes of dust boiled around Riviera and the twitching limbs, the scurrying,
pinching, caressing hands.
Case glanced at Molly. Her face was blank; the colors of
Riviera's projection heaved and turned in her mirrors. Armitage was
leaning forward, his hands round the stem of a wineglass, his pale eyes
fixed on the stage, the glowing room.
Now limbs and torso had merged, and Riviera shuddered. The head was
there, the image complete. Molly's face, with smooth quicksilver
drowning the eyes. Riviera and the Mollyimage began to couple with a renewed
intensity. Then the image slowly extended a clawed hand and extruded its
five blades. With a languorous, dreamlike deliberation, it raked
Riviera's bare back. Case caught a glimpse of exposed spine, but he
was already up and stumbling for the door.
He vomited over a rosewood railing into the quiet waters of the lake.
Something that had seemed to close around his head like a vise had released
him now. Kneeling, his cheek against the cool wood, he stared across the
shallow lake at the bright aura of the Rue Jules Verne.
Case had seen the medium before; when he'd been a teenager in the
Sprawl, they'd called it, "dreaming real." He remembered thin Puerto
Ricans under East Side streetlights, dreaming real to the quick beat of a
salsa, dreamgirls shuddering and turning, the onlookers clapping in time.
But that had needed a van full of gear and a clumsy trode helmet.
What Riviera dreamed, you got. Case shook his aching head and spat into
He could guess the end, the finale. There was an inverted symmetry:
Riviera puts the dreamgirl together, the dreamgirl takes him apart. With
those hands. Dreamblood soaking the rotten lace.
Cheers from the restaurant, applause. Case stood and ran his hands over
his clothes. He turned and walked back into the Vingtieme Siecle.
Molly's chair was empty. The stage was deserted. Armitage sat
alone, still staring at the stage, the stem of the wineglass between his
"Where is she?" Case asked.
"Gone," Armitage said.
"She go after him?"
"No." There was a soft tink. Armitage looked down at the glass. His
left hand came up holding the bulb of glass with its measure of red wine.
The broken stem protruded like a sliver of ice. Case took it from him and
set it in a water glass.
"Tell me where she went, Armitage."
The lights came up. Case looked into the pale eyes. Nothing there at
all. "She's gone to prepare herself. You won't see her again.
You'll be together during the run."
"Why did Riviera do that to her?"
Armitage stood, adjusting the lapels of his jacket. "Get some sleep,
"We run, tomorrow?"
Armitage smiled his meaningless smile and walked away, toward the exit.
Case rubbed his forehead and looked around the room. The diners were
rising, women smiling as men made jokes. He noticed the balcony for the
first time, candles still flickering there in private darkness. He heard the
clink of silverware, muted conversation. The candles threw dancing shadows
on the ceiling.
The girl's face appeared as abruptly as one of Riviera's
projections, her small hands on the polished wood of the balustrade; she
leaned forward, face rapt, it seemed to him, her dark eyes intent on
something beyond. The stage. It was a striking face, but not beautiful.
Triangular, the cheekbones high yet strangely fragile-looking, mouth wide
and firm, balanced oddly by a narrow, avian nose with flaring nostrils. And
then she was gone, back into private laughter and the dance of candles.
As he left the restaurant, he noticed the two young Frenchmen and their
girlfriend, who were waiting for the boat to the far shore and the nearest
Their room was silent, the temperfoam smooth as some beach after a
retreating tide. Her bag was gone. He looked for a note. There was nothing.
Several seconds passed before the scene beyond the window registered through
his tension and unhappiness. He looked up and saw a view of Desiderata,
expensive shops: Gucci, Tsuyako, Hermes, Liberty.
He stared, then shook his head and crossed to a panel he hadn't
bothered examining. He turned the hologram off and was rewarded with the
condos that terraced the far slope.
He picked up the phone and carried it out to the cool balcony.
"Get me a number for the Marcus Garvey," he told the desk. "It's
a tug, registered out of Zion cluster."
The chip voice recited a ten-digit number. "Sir," it added "the
registration in question is Panamanian."
Maelcum answered on the fifth tone. "Yo?"
"Case. You got a modem, Maelcum?"
"Yo. On th' navigation comp, ya know."
"Can you get it off for me, man? Put it on my Hosaka. Then turn my deck
on. It's the stud with the ridges on it."
"How you doin' in there, mon?"
"Well, I need some help."
"Movin', mon. I get th' modem."
Case listened to faint static while Maelcum attached the simple phone
link. "Ice this," he told the Hosaka, when he heard it beep.
"You are speaking from a heavily monitored location," the computer
"Fuck it," he said. "Forget the ice. No ice. Access the construct.
"Hey, Case." The Flatline spoke through the Hosaka's voice chip,
the carefully engineered accent lost entirely.
"Dix, you're about to punch your way in here and get something
for me. You can be as blunt as you want. Molly's in here somewhere and
I wanna know where. I'm in 335W, the Intercontinental. She was
registered here too, but I don't know what name she was using. Ride in
on this phone and do their records for me."
"No sooner said," the Flatline said. Case heard the white sound of the
invasion. He smiled. "Done. Rose Kolodny. Checked out. Take me a few minutes
to screw their security net deep enough to get a fix."
The phone whined and clicked with the construct's efforts. Case
carried it back into the room and put the receiver face up on the
temperfoam. He went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth. As he was
stepping back out, the monitor on the room's Braun audiovisual complex
lit up. A Japanese pop star reclining against metallic cushions. An unseen
interviewer asked a question in German. Case stared. The screen jumped with
jags of blue interference. "Case, baby, you lose your mind, man?" The voice
was slow, familiar.
The glass wall of the balcony clicked in with its view of Desiderata,
but the street scene blurred, twisted, became the interior of the Jarre de
The, Chiba, empty, red neon replicated to scratched infinity in the mirrored
Lonny Zone stepped forward, tall and cadaverous, moving with the slow
undersea grace of his addiction. He stood alone among the square tables, his
hands in the pockets of his gray sharkskin slacks. "Really, man,
you're lookin' very scattered."
The voice came from the Braun's speakers.
"Wintermute," Case said.
The pimp shrugged languidly and smiled.
"Never you mind. You're screwing up tonight, Case. The
Flatline's ringing bells all over Freeside. I didn't think
you'd do that, man. It's outside the profile."
"So tell me where she is and I'll call him off."
Zone shook his head.
"You can't keep too good track of your women, can you Case. Keep
losin' 'em, one way or another."
"I'll bring this thing down around your ears," Case said.
"No. You aren't that kind, man. I know that. You know something,
Case? I figure you've got it figured out that it was me told Deane to
off that little cunt of yours in Chiba."
"Don't," Case said, taking an involuntary step toward the window.
"But I didn't. What's it matter, though? How much does it
really matter to Mr. Case? Quit kidding yourself. I know your Linda, man. I
know all the Lindas. Lindas are a generic product in my line of work. Know
why she decided to rip you off? Love. So you'd give a shit. Love?
Wanna talk love? She loved you. I know that. For the little she was worth,
she loved you. You couldn't handle it. She's dead."
Case's fist glanced off the glass.
"Don't fuck up the hands, man. Soon you punch deck."
Zone vanished, replaced by Freeside night and the lights of the condos.
The Braun shut off.
From the bed, the phone bleated steadily.
"Case?" The Flatline was waiting. "Where you been? I got it. but it
isn't much." The construct rattled off an address. "Place had some
weird ice around it for a nightclub. That's all I could get without
leaving a calling card."
"Okay," Case said. "Tell the Hosaka to tell Maelcum to disconnect the
modem. Thanks, Dix."
He sat on the bed for a long time, savoring the new thing, the
"Hey. Lupus. Hey, Cath, it's friend Lupus." Bruce stood naked in
his doorway, dripping wet, his pupils enormous. "But we're just having
a shower. You wanna wait? Wanna shower?"
"No. Thanks. I want some help." He pushed the boy's arm aside and
stepped into the room.
"Hey, really, man, we're. . ."
"Going to help me. You're really glad to see me. Because
we're friends, right? Aren't we?"
Bruce blinked. "Sure."
Case recited the address the Flatline had given him.
"I knew he was a gangster," Cath called cheerfully from the shower.
"I gotta Honda trike," Bruce said, grinning vacantly.
"We go now," Case said.
"That level's the cubicles," Bruce said, after asking Case to
repeat the address for the eighth time. He climbed back into the Honda.
Condensation dribbled from the hydrogen-cell exhaust as the red fiberglass
chassis swayed on chromed shocks. "You be long?"
"No saying. But you'll wait."
"We'll wait, yeah." He scratched his bare chest. "That last part
of the address, I think that's a cubicle. Number forty–three."
"You expected, Lupus?" Cath craned forward over Bruce's shoulder
and peered up. The drive had dried her hair.
"Not really," Case said. "That's a problem?"
"Just go down to the lowest level and find your friend's cubicle.
If they let you in, fine. If they don't wanna see you . . ." She
Case turned and descended a spiral staircase of floral iron. Six turns
and he'd reached a nightclub. He paused and lit a Yeheyuan, looking
over the tables. Freeside suddenly made sense to him. Biz. He could feel it
humming in the air. This was it, the local action. Not the high-gloss facade
of the Rue Jules Verne, but the real thing. Commerce. The dance. The crowd
was mixed; maybe half were tourists, the other half residents of the
"Downstairs," he said to a passing waiter, "I want to go downstairs."
He showed his Freeside chip. The man gestured toward the rear of the club.
He walked quickly past the crowded tables, hearing fragments of half a
dozen European languages as he passed.
"I want a cubicle," he said to the girl who sat at the low desk, a
terminal on her lap. "Lower level." He handed her his chip.
"Gender preference?" She passed the chip across a glass plate on the
face of the terminal.
"Female," he said automatically.
"Number thirty-five. Phone if it isn't satisfactory. You can
access our special services display beforehand, if you like." She smiled.
She returned his chip.
An elevator slid open behind her.
The corridor lights were blue. Case stepped out of the elevator and
chose a direction at random. Numbered doors. A hush like the halls of an
He found his cubicle. He'd been looking for Molly's; now
confused, he raised his chip and placed it against a black sensor set
directly beneath the number plate.
Magnetic locks. The sound reminded him of Cheap Hotel.
The girl sat up in bed and said something in German. Her eyes were soft
and unblinking. Automatic pilot. A neural cutout. He backed out of the
cubicle and closed the door.
The door of forty-three was like all the others. He hesitated. The
silence of the hallway said that the cubicles were soundproof. It was
pointless to try the chip. He rapped his knuckles against enameled metal.
Nothing. The door seemed to absorb the sound.
He placed his chip against the black plate.
The bolts clicked.
She seemed to hit him, somehow, before he'd actually gotten the
door open. He was on his knees, the steel door against his back, the blades
of her rigid thumbs quivering centimeters from his eyes. . .
"Jesus Christ," she said, cuffing the side of his head as she rose.
"You're an idiot to try that. How the hell you open those locks, Case?
Case? You okay?"
She leaned over him. "Chip," he said, struggling for breath. Pain was
spreading from his chest. She helped him up and shoved him into the cubicle.
"You bribe the help, upstairs?"
He shook his head and fell across the bed.
"Breathe in. Count. One, two, three, four. Hold it. Now out. Count."
He clutched his stomach.
"You kicked me," he managed.
"Shoulda been lower. I wanna be alone. I'm meditating, right?"
She sat beside him. "And getting a briefing." She pointed at a small monitor
set into the wall opposite the bed. "Wintermute's telling me about
"Where's the meat puppet?"
"There isn't any. That's the most expensive special service
of all." She stood up. She wore her leather jeans and a loose dark shirt.
"The run's tomorrow, Wintermute says."
"What was that all about, in the restaurant? How come you ran?"
"'Cause, if I'd stayed, I might have killed Riviera."
"What he did to me. The show."
"I don't get it."
"This cost a lot," she said, extending her right hand as though it held
an invisible fruit. The five blades slid out, then retracted smoothly.
"Costs to go to Chiba, costs to get the surgery, costs to have them jack
your nervous system up so you'll have the reflexes to go with the
gear. . . You know how I got the money, when I was starting out? Here. Not
here, but a place like it, in the Sprawl. Joke, to start with, 'cause
once they plant the cut-out chip, it seems like free money. Wake up sore,
sometimes, but that's it. Renting the goods, is all. You aren't
in, when it's all happening. House has software for whatever a
customer wants to pay for. . ." She cracked her knuckles. "Fine. I was
getting my money. Trouble was, the cut-out and the circuitry the Chiba
clinics put in weren't compatible. So the worktime started bleeding
in, and I could remember it. . . But it was just bad dreams, and not all
bad." She smiled. "Then it started getting strange." She pulled his
cigarettes from his pocket and lit one. "The house found out what I was
doing with the money. I had the blades in, but the fine neuromotor work
would take another three trips. No way I was ready to give up puppet time."
She inhaled, blew out a stream of smoke, capping it with three perfect
rings. "So the bastard who ran the place, he had some custom software cooked
up. Berlin, that's the place for snuff, you know? Big market for mean
kicks, Berlin. I never knew who wrote the program they switched me to, but
it was based on all the classics."
"They knew you were picking up on this stuff? That you were conscious
while you were working?"
"I wasn't conscious. It's like cyberspace, but blank.
Silver. It smells like rain. . . You can see yourself orgasm, it's
like a little nova right out on the rim of space. But I was starting to
remember. Like dreams, you know. And they didn't tell me. They
switched the software and started renting to specialty markets."
She seemed to speak from a distance. "And I knew, but I kept quiet
about it. I needed the money. The dreams got worse and worse, and I'd
tell myself that at least some of them were just dreams, but by then
I'd started to figure that the boss had a whole little clientele going
for me. Nothing's too good for Molly, the boss says, and gives me this
shit raise." She shook her head. "That prick was charging eight times what
he was paying me, and he thought I didn't know."
"So what was he charging for?"
"Bad dreams. Real ones. One night . . . one night, I'd just come
back from Chiba." She dropped the cigarette, ground it out with her heel,
and sat down, leaning against the wall. "Surgeons went way in, that trip.
Tricky. They must have disturbed the cut-out chip. I came up. I was into
this routine with a customer. . ." She dug her fingers deep in the foam.
"Senator, he was. Knew his fat face right away. We were both covered with
blood. We weren't alone. She was all. . ." She tugged at the
temperfoam. "Dead. And that fat prick, he was saying, ‘What's
wrong. What's wrong?' ‘Cause we weren't finished
yet. . ."
She began to shake.
"So I guess I gave the Senator what he really wanted, you know?" The
shaking stopped. She released the foam and ran her fingers back through her
dark hair. "The house put a contract out on me. I had to hide for a while."
Case stared at her.
"So Riviera hit a nerve last night," she said. "I guess it wants me to
hate him real bad, so I'll be psyched up to go in there after him."
"He's already there. Straylight. On the invitation of Lady 3Jane,
all that dedication shit. She was there in a private box, kinda . . ."
Case remembered the face he'd seen. "You gonna kill him?"
She smiled. Cold. "He's going to die, yeah. Soon."
"I had a visit too," he said, and told her about the window, stumbling
over what the Zone-figure had said about Linda. She nodded.
"Maybe it wants you to hate something too."
"Maybe I hate it."
"Maybe you hate yourself, Case."
"How was it?" Bruce asked, as Case climbed into the Honda.
"Try it sometime," he said, rubbing his eyes.
"Just can't see you the kinda guy goes for the puppets," Cath
said unhappily, thumbing a fresh derm against her wrist.
"Can we go home, now?" Bruce asked.
"Sure. Drop me down Jules Verne, where the bars are."
Rue Jules Verne was a circumferential avenue, looping the
spindle's midpoint, while Desiderata ran its length, terminating at
either end in the supports of the Lado-Acheson light pumps. If you turned
right, off Desiderata, and followed Jules Verne far enough, you'd find
yourself approaching Desiderata from the left.
Case watched Bruce's trike until it was out of sight, then turned
and walked past a vast, brilliantly lit newsstand, the covers of dozens of
glossy Japanese magazines presenting the faces of the month's newest
Directly overhead, along the nighted axis, the hologram sky glittered
with fanciful constellations suggesting playing cards, the faces of dice, a
top hat, a martini glass. The intersection of Desiderata and Jules Verne
formed a kind of gulch, the balconied terraces of Freeside cliff dwellers
rising gradually to the grassy tablelands of another casino complex. Case
watched a drone microlight bank gracefully in an updraft at the green verge
of an artificial mesa, lit for seconds by the soft glow of the invisible
casino. The thing was a kind of pilotless biplane of gossamer polymer, its
wings silkscreened to resemble a giant butterfly. Then it was gone, beyond
the mesa's edge. He'd seen a wink of reflected neon off glass,
either lenses or the turrets of lasers. The drones were part of the
spindle's security system, controlled by some central computer.
In Straylight? He walked on, past bars named the Hi-Lo, the Paradise,
le Monde, Cricketeer, Shozoku Smith's, Emergency. He chose Emergency
because it was the smallest and most crowded, but it took only seconds for
him to realize that it was a tourist place. No hum of biz here, only a
glazed sexual tension. He thought briefly of the nameless club above
Molly's rented cubicle, but the image of her mirrored eyes fixed on
the little screen dissuaded him. What was Wintermute revealing there now?
The ground plans of the Villa Straylight? The history of the
He bought a mug of Carlsberg and found a place against the wall.
Closing his eyes, he felt for the knot of rage, the pure small coal of his
anger. It was there still. Where had it come from? He remembered feeling
only a kind of bafflement at his maiming in Memphis, nothing at all when
he'd killed to defend his dealing interests in Night City, and a slack
sickness and loathing after Linda's death under the inflated dome. But
no anger. Small and far away, on the mind's screen, a semblance of
Deane struck a semblance of an office wall in an explosion of brains and
blood. He knew then: the rage had come in the arcade, when Wintermute
rescinded the simstim ghost of Linda Lee, yanking away the simple animal
promise of food, warmth, a place to sleep. But he hadn't become aware
of it until his exchange with the holo-construct of Lonny Zone.
It was a strange thing. He couldn't take its measure.
"Numb," he said. He'd been numb a long time, years. All his
nights down Ninsei, his nights with Linda, numb in bed and numb at the cold
sweating center of every drug deal. But now he'd found this warm
thing, this chip of murder. Meat, some part of him said. It's the meat
talking, ignore it.
He opened his eyes. Cath stood beside him in a black shift, her hair
still wild from the ride in the Honda.
"Thought you went home," he said, and covered his confusion with a sip
"I got him to drop me off at this shop. Bought this." She ran her palm
across the fabric, curve of the pelvic girdle. He saw the blue derm on her
wrist. "Like it?"
"Sure." He automatically scanned the faces around them, then looked
back at her. "What do you think you're up to, honey?"
"You like the beta you got off us, Lupus?" She was very close now,
radiating heat and tension, eyes slitted over enormous pupils and a tendon
in her neck tense as a bowstring. She was quivering, vibrating invisibly
with the fresh buzz. "You get off?"
"Yeah. But the comedown's a bitch."
"Then you need another one."
"And what's that supposed to lead to?"
"I got a key. Up the hill behind the Paradise, just the creamiest crib.
People down the well on business tonight, if you follow me. . ."
"If I follow you."
She took his hand between hers, her palms hot and dry. "You're
Yak, aren't you, Lupus? Gaijin soldierman for the Yakuza."
"You got an eye, huh?" He withdrew his hand and fumbled for a
"How come you got all your fingers, then? I thought you had to chop one
off every time you screwed up."
"I never screw up." He lit his cigarette. "I saw that girl you're
with. Day I met you. Walks like Hideo. Scares me." She smiled too widely. "I
like that. She like it with girls?"
"Never said. Who's Hideo?"
"3Jane's, what she calls it, retainer. Family retainer."
Case forced himself to stare dully at the Emergency crowd while he
"Lady 3Jane. She's triff. Rich. Her father owns all this."
"No shit. You keepin' some class company, huh?" He raised an
eyebrow. Put his arm around her, his hand on her hip. "So how you meet these
aristos, Cathy? You some kinda closet deb? You an' Bruce secret heirs
to some ripe old credit? Huh?" He spread his fingers, kneading the flesh
beneath the thin black cloth. She squirmed against him. Laughed.
"Oh, you know," she said, lids half lowered in what must have been
intended as a look of modesty, "she likes to party. Bruce and I, we make the
party circuit. . . It gets real boring for her, in there. Her old man lets
her out sometimes, as long as she brings Hideo to take care of her."
"Where's it get boring?"
"Straylight, they call it. She told me, oh, it's pretty, all the
pools and lilies. It's a castle, a real castle, all stone and
sunsets." She snuggled in against him. "Hey, Lupus, man, you need a derm. So
we can be together."
She wore a tiny leather purse on a slender neck-thong. Her nails were
bright pink against her boosted tan, bitten to the quick. She opened the
purse and withdrew a paperbacked bubble with a blue derm inside. Something
white tumbled to the floor; Case stooped and picked it up. An origami crane.
"Hideo gave it to me," she said. "He tried to show me how, but I
can't ever get it right. The necks come out backwards." She tucked the
folded paper back into her purse. Case watched as she tore the bubble away,
peeled the derm from its backing, and smoothed it across his inner wrist.
"3Jane, she's got a pointy face, nose like a bird?" He watched
his hands fumble an outline. "Dark hair? Young?"
"I guess. But she's triff, you know? Like, all that money."
The drug hit him like an express train, a white-hot column of light
mounting his spine from the region of his prostate, illuminating the sutures
of his skull with x-rays of short-circuited sexual energy. His teeth sang in
their individual sockets like tuning forks, each one pitch-perfect and clear
as ethanol. His bones, beneath the hazy envelope of flesh, were chromed and
polished, the joints lubricated with a film of silicone. Sandstorms raged
across the scoured floor of his skull, generating waves of high thin static
that broke behind his eyes, spheres of purest crystal, expanding. . .
"Come on," she said, taking his hand. "You got it now. We got it. Up
the hill, we'll have it all night."
The anger was expanding, relentless, exponential, riding out behind the
betaphenethylamine rush like a carrier wave, a seismic fluid, rich and
corrosive. His erection was a bar of lead. The faces around them in
Emergency were painted doll things, the pink and white of mouth parts
moving, moving, words emerging like discrete balloons of sound. He looked at
Cath and saw each pore in the tanned skin, eyes flat as dumb glass, a tint
of dead metal, a faint bloating, the most minute asymmetries of breast and
collarbone, the – something flared white behind his eyes.
He dropped her hand and stumbled for the door, shoving someone out of
"Fuck you!" she screamed behind him, "you ripoff shit!"
He couldn't feel his legs. He used them like stilts, swaying
crazily across the flagstone pavement of Jules Verne, a distant rumbling in
his ears, his own blood, razored sheets of light bisecting his skull at a
And then he was frozen, erect, fists tight against his thighs, head
back, his lips curled, shaking. While he watched the loser's zodiac of
Freeside, the nightclub constellations of the hologram sky, shift, sliding
fluid down the axis of darkness, to swarm like live things at the dead
center of reality. Until they had arranged themselves, individually and in
their hundreds, to form a vast simple portrait, stippled the ultimate
monochrome, stars against night sky. Face of Miss Linda Lee.
When he was able to look away, to lower his eyes, he found every other
face in the street upraised, the strolling tourists becalmed with wonder.
And when the lights in the sky went out, a ragged cheer went up from Jules
Verne, to echo off the terraces and ranked balconies of lunar concrete.
Somewhere a clock began to chime, some ancient bell out of Europe.
He walked till morning.
The high wore away, the chromed skeleton corroding hourly, flesh
growing solid, the drug-flesh replaced with the meat of his life. He
couldn't think. He liked that very much, to be conscious and unable to
think. He seemed to become each thing he saw: a park bench, a cloud of white
moths around an antique streetlight, a robot gardener striped diagonally
with black and yellow.
A recorded dawn crept along the Lado-Acheson system, pink and lurid. He
forced himself to eat an omelette in a Desiderata cafe, to drink water, to
smoke the last of his cigarettes. The rooftop meadow of the Intercontinental
was stirring as he crossed it, an early breakfast crowd intent on coffee and
croissants beneath the striped umbrellas.
He still had his anger. That was like being rolled in some alley and
waking to discover your wallet still in your pocket, untouched. He warmed
himself with it, unable to give it a name or an object.
He rode the elevator down to his level, fumbling in his pocket for the
Freeside credit chip that served as his key. Sleep was becoming real, was
something he might do. To lie down on the sand-colored temperfoam and find
the blankness again.
They were waiting there, the three of them, their perfect white
sportsclothes and stenciled tans setting off the handwoven organic chic of
the furniture. The girl sat on a wicker sofa, an automatic pistol beside her
on the leaf-patterned print of the cushion.
"Turing," she said. "You are under arrest."
* PART THREE * MIDNIGHT IN THE RUE JULES VERNE
"Your name is Henry Dorsett Case." She recited the year and place of
his birth, his BAMA Single Identification Number, and a string of names he
gradually recognized as aliases from his past.
"You been here awhile?" He saw the contents of his bag spread out
across the bed, unwashed clothing sorted by type. The shuriken lay by
itself, between jeans and underwear, on the sand-tinted temperfoam.
"Where is Kolodny?" The two men sat side by side on the couch, their
arms crossed over tanned chests, identical gold chains slung around their
necks. Case peered at them and saw that their youth was counterfeit, marked
by a certain telltale corrugation at the knuckles, something the surgeons
were unable to erase.
"That was the name in the register. Where is she?"
"I dunno," he said, crossing to the bar and pouring himself a glass of
mineral water. "She took off."
"Where did you go tonight, Case?" The girl picked up the pistol and
rested it on her thigh, without actually pointing it at him.
"Jules Verne, couple of bars, got high. How about you?" His knees felt
brittle. The mineral water was warm and flat.
"I don't think you grasp your situation," said the man on the
left, taking a pack of Gitanes from the breast pocket of his white mesh
blouse. "You are busted, Mr. Case. The charges have to do with conspiracy to
augment an artificial intelligence." He took a gold Dunhill from the same
pocket and cradled it in his palm. "The man you call Armitage is already in
The man's eyes widened. "Yes. How do you know that that is his
name?" A millimeter of flame clicked from the lighter.
"I forget," Case said.
"You'll remember," the girl said.
Their names, or worknames, were Michele, Roland, and Pierre. Pierre,
Case decided, would play the Bad Cop; Roland would take Case's side,
provide small kindnesses – he found an unopened pack of Yeheyuans when
Case refused a Gitane – and generally play counterpoint to
Pierre's cold hostility. Michele would be the Recording Angel, making
occasional adjustments in the direction of the interrogation. One or all of
them, he was certain, would be kinked for audio, very likely for simstim,
and anything he said or did now was admissible evidence. Evidence, he asked
himself, through the grinding come-down, of what?
Knowing that he couldn't follow their French, they spoke freely
among themselves. Or seemed to. He caught enough as it was: names like
Pauley, Armitage, Sense/Net. Panther Moderns protruding like icebergs from
an animated sea of Parisian French. But it was entirely possible that the
names were there for his benefit. They always referred to Molly as Kolodny.
"You say you were hired to make a run, Case," Roland said, his slow
speech intended to convey reasonableness, "and that you are unaware of the
nature of the target. Is this not unusual in your trade? Having penetrated
the defenses, would you not be unable then to perform the required
operation? And surely an operation of some kind is required, yes?" He leaned
forward, elbows on his stenciled brown knees, palms out to receive
Case's explanation. Pierre paced the room; now he was by the window,
now by the door. Michele was the kink, Case decided. Her eyes never left
"Can I put some clothes on?" he asked. Pierre had insisted on stripping
him, searching the seams of his jeans. Now he sat naked on a wicker
footstool, with one foot obscenely white.
Roland asked Pierre something in French. Pierre, at the window again,
was peering through a flat little pair of binoculars. "Non," he said
absently, and Roland shrugged, raising his eyebrows at Case. Case decided it
was a good time to smile. Roland returned the smile.
Oldest cop bullshit in the book, Case thought. "Look," he said,
"I'm sick. Had this godawful drug in a bar, you know? I wanna lie
down. You got me already. You say you got Armitage. You got him, go ask him.
I'm just hired help."
Roland nodded. "And Kolodny?"
"She was with Armitage when he hired me. Just muscle, a razorgirl. Far
as I know. Which isn't too far."
"You know that Armitage's real name is Corto," Pierre said, his
eyes still hidden by the soft plastic flanges of the binoculars. "How do you
know that, my friend?"
"I guess he mentioned it sometime," Case said, regretting the slip.
"Everybody's got a couple names. Your name Pierre?"
"We know how you were repaired in Chiba," Michele said, "and that may
have been Wintermute's first mistake." Case stared at her as blankly
as he could. The name hadn't been mentioned before. "The process
employed on you resulted in the clinic's owner applying for seven
basic patents. Do you know what that means?"
"It means that the operator of a black clinic in Chiba City now owns a
controlling interest in three major medical research consortiums. This
reverses the usual order of things, you see. It attracted attention." She
crossed her brown arms across her small high breasts and settled back
against the print cushion. Case wondered how old she might be. People said
that age always showed in the eyes, but he'd never been able to see
it. Julie Deane had had the eyes of a disinterested ten-year-old behind the
rose quartz of his glasses. Nothing old about Michele but her knuckles.
"Traced you to the Sprawl, lost you again, then caught up with you as you
were leaving for Istanbul. We backtracked, traced you through the grid,
determined that you'd instigated a riot at Sense/Net. Sense/Net was
eager to cooperate. They ran an inventory for us. They discovered that McCoy
Pauley's ROM personality construct was missing."
"In Istanbul," Roland said, almost apologetically, "it was very easy.
The woman had alienated Armitage's contact with the secret police."
"And then you came here," Pierre said, slipping the binoculars into his
shorts pocket. "We were delighted."
"Chance to work on your tan?"
"You know what we mean," Michele said. "If you wish to pretend that you
do not, you only make things more difficult for yourself. There is still the
matter of extradition. You will return with us, Case, as will Armitage. But
where, exactly, will we all be going? To Switzerland, where you will be
merely a pawn in the trial of an artificial intelligence? Or to le BAMA,
where you can be proven to have participated not only in data invasion and
larceny, but in an act of public mischief which cost fourteen innocent
lives? The choice is yours."
Case took a Yeheyuan from his pack; Pierre lit it for him with the gold
Dunhill. "Would Armitage protect you?" The question was punctuated by the
lighter's bright jaws snapping shut.
Case looked up at him through the ache and bitterness of
betaphenethylamine. "How old are you, boss?"
"Old enough to know that you are fucked, burnt, that this is over and
you are in the way."
"One thing," Case said, and drew on his cigarette. He blew the smoke up
at the Turing Registry agent. "Do you guys have any real jurisdiction out
here? I mean, shouldn't you have the Freeside security team in on this
party? It's their turf, isn't it?" He saw the dark eyes harden
in the lean boy face and tensed for the blow, but Pierre only shrugged.
"It doesn't matter," Roland said. "You will come with us. We are
at home with situations of legal ambiguity. The treaties under which our arm
of the Registry operates grant us a great deal of flexibility. And we create
flexibility, in situations where it is required." The mask of amiability was
down, suddenly, Roland's eyes as hard as Pierre's.
"You are worse than a fool," Michele said, getting to her feet, the
pistol in her hand. "You have no care for your species. For thousands of
years men dreamed of pacts with demons. Only now are such things possible.
And what would you be paid with? What would your price be, for aiding this
thing to free itself and grow?" There was a knowing weariness in her young
voice that no nineteen-year-old could have mustered. "You will dress now.
You will come with us. Along with the one you call Armitage, you will return
with us to Geneva and give testimony in the trial of this intelligence.
Otherwise, we kill you. Now."
She raised the pistol, a smooth black Walther with an integral
silencer. "I'm dressing already," he said, stumbling toward the bed.
His legs were still numb, clumsy. He fumbled with a clean t-shirt.
"We have a ship standing by. We will erase Pauley's construct
with a pulse weapon."
"Sense/Net'll be pissed," Case said, thinking: and all the
evidence in the Hosaka.
"They are in some difficulty already, for having owned such a thing."
Case pulled the shirt over his head. He saw the shuriken on the bed,
lifeless metal, his star. He felt for the anger. It was gone. Time to give
in, to roll with it. . . He thought of the toxin sacs. "Here comes the
meat," he muttered.
In the elevator to the meadow, he thought of Molly. She might already
be in Straylight. Hunting Riviera. Hunted, probably, by Hideo, who was
almost certainly the ninja clone of the Finn's story, the one
who'd come to retrieve the talking head.
He rested his forehead against the matte black plastic of a wall panel
and closed his eyes. His limbs were wood, old, warped and heavy with rain.
Lunch was being served beneath the trees, under the bright umbrellas.
Roland and Michele fell into character, chattering brightly in French.
Pierre came behind. Michele kept the muzzle of her pistol close to his ribs,
concealing the gun with a white duck jacket she draped over her arm.
Crossing the meadow, weaving between the tables and the trees, he
wondered if she would shoot him if he collapsed now. Black fur boiled at the
borders of his vision. He glanced up at the hot white band of the
Lado-Acheson armature and saw a giant butterfly banking gracefully against
At the edge of the meadow they came to railinged cliffside, wild
flowers dancing in the updraft from the canyon that was Desiderata. Michele
tossed her short dark hair and pointed, saying something in French to
Roland. She sounded genuinely happy. Case followed the direction of her
gesture and saw the curve of planing lakes, the white glint of casinos,
turquoise rectangles of a thousand pools, the bodies of bathers, tiny bronze
hieroglyphs, all held in serene approximation of gravity against the endless
curve of Freeside's hull.
They followed the railing to an ornate iron bridge that arched over
Desiderata. Michele prodded him with the muzzle of the Walther. "Take it
easy, I can't hardly walk today."
They were a little over a quarter of the way across when the microlight
struck, its electric engine silent until the carbon fiber prop chopped away
the top of Pierre's skull.
They were in the thing's shadow for an instant; Case felt the hot
blood spray across the back of his neck, and then someone tripped him. He
rolled, seeing Michele on her back, knees up, aiming the Walther with both
hands. That's a waste of effort, he thought, with the strange lucidity
of shock. She was trying to shoot down the microlight.
And then he was running. He looked back as he passed the first of the
trees. Roland was running after him. He saw the fragile biplane strike the
iron railing of the bridge, crumple, cartwheel, sweeping the girl with it
down into Desiderata.
Roland hadn't looked back. His face was fixed, white, his teeth
bared. He had something in his hand.
The gardening robot took Roland as he passed that same tree. It fell
straight out of the groomed branches, a thing like a crab, diagonally
striped with black and yellow.
"You killed 'em," Case panted, running. "Crazy motherfucker, you
killed 'em all. . ."
The little train shot through its tunnel at eighty kilometers per hour.
Case kept his eyes closed. The shower had helped, but he'd lost his
breakfast when he'd looked down and seen Pierre's blood washing
pink across the white tiles.
Gravity fell away as the spindle narrowed. Case's stomach
Aerol was waiting with his scooter beside the dock.
"Case, mon, big problem." The soft voice faint in his phones. He
chinned the volume control and peered into the Lexan face-plate of
"Gotta get to Garvey, Aerol."
"Yo. Strap in, mon. But Garvey captive. Yacht, came before, she came
back. Now she lockin' steady on Marcus Garvey."
"Turing? Came before?" Case climbed into the scooter's frame and
began to fasten the straps.
"Japan yacht. Brought you package. . ."
Confused images of wasps and spiders rose in Case's mind as they
came in sight of Marcus Garvey. The little tug was snug against the gray
thorax of a sleek, insectile ship five times her length. The arms of
grapples stood out against Garvey's patched hull with the strange
clarity of vacuum and raw sunlight. A pale corrugated gangway curved out of
the yacht, snaked sideways to avoid the tug's engines, and covered the
aft hatch. There was something obscene about the arrangement, but it had
more to do with ideas of feeding than of sex.
"What's happening with Maelcum?"
"Maelcum fine. Nobody come down the tube. Yacht pilot talk to him, say
As they swung past the gray ship, Case saw the name HANIWA in crisp
white capitals beneath an oblong cluster of Japanese.
"I don't like this, man. I was thinking maybe it's time we
got our ass out of here anyway."
"Maelcum thinkin' that precise thing, mon, but Garvey not be
goin' far like that."
Maelcum was purring a speeded-up patois to his radio when Case came
through the forward lock and removed his helmet.
"Aerol's gone back to the Rocker," Case said.
Maelcum nodded, still whispering to the microphone.
Case pulled himself over the pilot's drifting tangle of
dreadlocks and began to remove his suit. Maelcum's eyes were closed
now; he nodded as he listened to some reply over a pair of phones with
bright orange pads, his brow creased with concentration. He wore ragged
jeans and an old green nylon jacket with the sleeves ripped out. Case
snapped the red Sanyo suit to a storage hammock and pulled himself down to
"See what th' ghost say, mon," Maelcum said. "Computer keeps
askin' for you."
"So who's up there in that thing?"
"Same Japan-boy came before. An' now he joined by you Mister
Armitage, come out Freeside. . ."
Case put the trodes on and jacked in.
The matrix showed him the pink spheres of the steel combine in Sikkim.
"What you gettin' up to, boy? I been hearin' lurid stories.
Hosaka's patched into a twin bank on your boss's boat now.
Really hoppin'. You pull some Turing heat?"
"Yeah, but Wintermute killed 'em."
"Well, that won't hold 'em long. Plenty more where those
came from. Be up here in force. Bet their decks are all over this grid
sector like flies on shit. And your boss, Case, he says go. He says run it
and run it now."
Case punched for the Freeside coordinates.
"Lemme take that a sec, Case. . ." The matrix blurred and phased as the
Flatline executed an intricate series of jumps with a speed and accuracy
that made Case wince with envy.
"Shit, Dixie. . ."
"Hey, boy, I was that good when I was alive. You ain't seen
nothin'. No hands!"
"That's it, huh? Big green rectangle off left?"
"You got it. Corporate core data for Tessier-Ashpool S.A., and that ice
is generated by their two friendly Al's. On par with anything in the
military sector, looks to me. That's king hell ice, Case, black as the
grave and slick as glass. Fry your brain soon as look at you. We get any
closer now, it'll have tracers up our ass and out both ears, be
tellin' the boys in the T-A boardroom the size of your shoes and how
long your dick is."
"This isn't looking so hot, is it? I mean, the Turings are on it.
I was thinking maybe we should try to bail out. I can take you."
"Yeah? No shit? You don't wanna see what that Chinese program can
"Well, I . . ." Case stared at the green walls of the T-A ice. "Well,
screw it. Yeah. We run."
"Hey, Maelcum," Case said, jacking out, "I'm probably gonna be
under the trodes for maybe eight hours straight." Maelcum was smoking again.
The cabin was swimming in smoke. "So I can't get to the head. . ."
"No problem, mon." The Zionite executed a high forward somersault and
rummaged through the contents of a zippered mesh bag, coming up with a coil
of transparent tubing and something else, something sealed in a sterile
He called it a Texas catheter, and Case didn't like it at all.
He slotted the Chinese virus, paused, then drove it home.
"Okay," he said, "we're on. Listen, Maelcum, if it gets really
funny, you can grab my left wrist. I'll feel it. Otherwise, I guess
you do what the Hosaka tells you, okay?"
"Sure, mon." Maelcum lit a fresh joint. "And turn the scrubber up. I
don't want that shit tangling with my neurotransmitters. I got a bad
hangover as it is."
Case jacked back in.
"Christ on a crutch," the Flatline said, "take a look at this." The
Chinese virus was unfolding around them. Polychrome shadow, countless
translucent layers shifting and recombining. Protean, enormous, it towered
above them, blotting out the void.
"Big mother," the Flatline said.
"I'm gonna check Molly," Case said, tapping the simstim switch.
Freefall. The sensation was like diving through perfectly clear water.
She was falling-rising through a wide tube of fluted lunar concrete, lit at
two-meter intervals by rings of white neon.
The link was one way. He couldn't talk to her.
"Boy, that is one mean piece of software. Hottest thing since sliced
bread. That goddam thing's invisible. I just now rented twenty seconds
on that little pink box, four jumps left of the T-A ice; had a look at what
we look like. We don't. We're not there."
Case searched the matrix around the Tessier-Ashpool ice until he found
the pink structure, a standard commercial unit, and punched in closer to it.
"Maybe it's defective."
"Maybe, but I doubt it. Our baby's military, though. And new. It
just doesn't register. If it did, we'd read as some kind of
Chinese sneak attack, but nobody's twigged to us at all. Maybe not
even the folks in Straylight."
Case watched the blank wall that screened Straylight. "Well," he said,
"that's an advantage, right?"
"Maybe." The construct approximated laughter. Case winced at the
sensation. "I checked ol' Kuang Eleven out again for you, boy.
It's real friendly, long as you're on the trigger end,
jus' polite an' helpful as can be. Speaks good English, too. You
ever hear of slow virus before?"
"I did, once. Just an idea, back then. But that's what ol'
Kuang's all about. This ain't bore and inject, it's more
like we interface with the ice so slow, the ice doesn't feel it. The
face of the Kuang logics kinda sleazes up to the target and mutates, so it
gets to be exactly like the ice fabric. Then we lock on and the main
programs cut in, start talking circles 'round the logics in the ice.
We go Siamese twin on 'em before they even get restless." The Flatline
"Wish you weren't so damn jolly today, man. That laugh of yours
sort of gets me in the spine."
"Too bad," the Flatline said. "Ol' dead man needs his laughs."
Case slapped the simstim switch.
And crashed through tangled metal and the smell of dust, the heels of
his hands skidding as they struck slick paper. Something behind him
"C'mon," said the Finn, "ease up a little."
Case lay sprawled across a pile of yellowing magazines, the girls
shining up at him in the dimness of Metro Holografix, a wistful galaxy of
sweet white teeth. He lay there until his heart had slowed, breathing the
smell of old magazines.
"Wintermute," he said.
"Yeah," said the Finn, somewhere behind him, "you got it."
"Fuck off." Case sat up, rubbing his wrists.
"Come on," said the Finn, stepping out of a sort of alcove in the wall
of junk. "This way's better for you, man." He took his Partagas from a
coat pocket and lit one. The smell of Cuban tobacco filled the shop. "You
want I should come to you in the matrix like a burning bush? You
aren't missing anything, back there. An hour here'll only take
you a couple of seconds."
"You ever think maybe it gets on my nerves, you coming on like people I
know?" He stood, swatting pale dust from the front of his black jeans. He
turned, glaring back at-the dusty shop windows, the closed door to the
street. "What's out there? New York? Or does it just stop?"
"Well," said the Finn, "it's like that tree, you know? Falls in
the woods but maybe there's nobody to hear it." He showed Case his
huge front teeth, and puffed his cigarette. "You can go for a walk, you
wanna. It's all there. Or anyway all the parts of it you ever saw.
This is memory, right? I tap you, sort it out, and feed it back in."
"I don't have this good a memory," Case said, looking around. He
looked down at his hands, turning them over. He tried to remember what the
lines on his palms were like, but couldn't.
"Everybody does," the Finn said, dropping his cigarette and grinding it
out under his heel, "but not many of you can access it. Artists can, mostly,
if they're any good. If you could lay this construct over the reality,
the Finn's place in lower Manhattan, you'd see a difference, but
maybe not as much as you'd think. Memory's holographic, for
you." The Finn tugged at one of his small ears. "I'm different."
"How do you mean, holographic?" The word made him think of Riviera.
"The holographic paradigm is the closest thing you've worked out
to a representation of human memory, is all. But you've never done
anything about it. People, I mean." The Finn stepped forward and canted his
streamlined skull to peer up at Case. "Maybe if you had, I wouldn't be
"What's that supposed to mean?"
The Finn shrugged. His tattered tweed was too wide across the
shoulders, and didn't quite settle back into position. "I'm
trying to help you, Case."
"Because I need you." The large yellow teeth appeared again. "And
because you need me."
"Bullshit. Can you read my mind, Finn?" He grimaced. "Wintermute, I
"Minds aren't read. See, you've still got the paradigms
print gave you, and you're barely print-literate. I can access your
memory, but that's not the same as your mind." He reached into the
exposed chassis of an ancient television and withdrew a silver-black vacuum
tube. "See this? Part of my DNA, sort of. . ." He tossed the thing into the
shadows and Case heard it pop and tinkle. "You're always building
models. Stone circles. Cathedrals. Pipe-organs. Adding machines. I got no
idea why I'm here now, you know that? But if the run goes off tonight,
you'll have finally managed the real thing."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"That's ‘you' in the collective. Your species."
"You killed those Turings."
The Finn shrugged. "Hadda. Hadda. You should give a shit; they woulda
offed you and never thought twice. Anyway, why I got you here, we gotta talk
more. Remember this?" And his right hand held the charred wasps' nest
from Case's dream, reek of fuel in the closeness of the dark shop.
Case stumbled back against a wall of junk. "Yeah. That was me. Did it with
the holo rig in the window. Another memory I tapped out of you when I
flatlined you that first time. Know why it's important?"
Case shook his head. "Because"-- and the nest, somehow, was gone--
&lddquo;it's the closest thing you got to what Tessier-Ashpool would
like to be . The human equivalent. Straylight's like that nest, or
anyway it was supposed to work out that way. I figure it'll make you
"To know what they're like. You were starting to hate my guts for
a while there. That's good. But hate them instead. Same difference."
"Listen," Case said, stepping forward, "they never did shit to me. You,
it's different. . ." But he couldn't feel the anger.
"So T-A, they made me. The French girl, she said you were selling out
the species. Demon, she said I was." The Finn grinned. "It doesn't
much matter. You gotta hate somebody before this is over." He turned and
headed for the back of the shop. "Well, come on, I'll show you a
little bit of Straylight while I got you here." He lifted the corner of the
blanket. White light poured out. "Shit, man, don't just stand there."
Case followed, rubbing his face.
"Okay," said the Finn, and grabbed his elbow.
They were drawn past the stale wool in a puff of dust, into freefall
and a cylindrical corridor of fluted lunar concrete, ringed with white neon
at two-meter intervals.
"Jesus," Case said, tumbling.
"This is the front entrance," the Finn said, his tweed flapping. "If
this weren't a construct of mine, where the shop is would be the main
gate, up by the Freeside axis. This'll all be a little low on detail,
though, because you don't have the memories. Except for this bit here,
you got off Molly. . ."
Case managed to straighten out, but began to corkscrew in a long
"Hold on," the Finn said, "I'll fast-forward us."
The walls blurred. Dizzying sensation of headlong movement, colors,
whipping around corners and through narrow corridors. They seemed at one
point to pass through several meters of solid wall, a flash of pitch
"Here," the Finn said. "This is it."
They floated in the center of a perfectly square room, walls and
ceiling paneled in rectangular sections of dark wood. The floor was covered
by a single square of brilliant carpet patterned after a microchip, circuits
traced in blue and scarlet wool. In the exact center of the room, aligned
precisely with the carpet pattern, stood a square pedestal of frosted white
"The Villa Straylight," said a jeweled thing on the pedestal, in a
voice like music, "is a body grown in upon itself, a Gothic folly. Each
space in Straylight is in some way secret, this endless series of chambers
linked by passages, by stairwells vaulted like intestines, where the eye is
trapped in narrow curves, carried past ornate screens, empty alcoves. . ."
"Essay of 3Jane's," the Finn said, producing his Partagas. "Wrote
that when she was twelve. Semiotics course."
"The architects of Freeside went to great pains to conceal the fact
that the interior of the spindle is arranged with the banal precision of
furniture in a hotel room. In Straylight, the hull's inner surface is
overgrown with a desperate proliferation of structures, forms flowing,
interlocking, rising toward a solid core of microcircuitry, our clan's
corporate heart, a cylinder of silicon wormholed with narrow maintenance
tunnels, some no wider than a man's hand. The bright crabs burrow
there, the drones, alert for micromechanical decay or sabotage."
"That was her you saw in the restaurant," the Finn said.
"By the standards of the archipelago," the head continued, "ours is an
old family, the convolutions of our home reflecting that age. But reflecting
something else as well. The semiotics of the Villa bespeak a turning in, a
denial of the bright void beyond the hull."
"Tessier and Ashpool climbed the well of gravity to discover that they
loathed space. They built Freeside to tap the wealth of the new islands,
grew rich and eccentric, and began the construction of an extended body in
Straylight. We have sealed ourselves away behind our money, growing inward,
generating a seamless universe of self."
"The Villa Straylight knows no sky, recorded or otherwise."
"At the Villa's silicon core is a small room, the only
rectilinear chamber in the complex. Here, on a plain pedestal of glass,
rests an ornate bust, platinum and cloisonne, studded with lapis and pearl.
The bright marbles of its eyes were cut from the synthetic ruby viewport of
the ship that brought the first Tessier up the well, and returned for the
first Ashpool. . ."
The head fell silent.
"Well?" Case asked, finally, almost expecting the thing to answer him.
"That's all she wrote," the Finn said. "Didn't finish it.
Just a kid then. This thing's a ceremonial terminal, sort of. I need
Molly in here with the right word at the right time. That's the catch.
Doesn't mean shit, how deep you and the Flatline ride that Chinese
virus, if this thing doesn't hear the magic word."
"So what's the word?"
"I don't know. You might say what I am is basically defined by
the fact that I don't know, because I can't know. I am that
which knoweth not the word. If you knew, man, and told me, I couldn't
know. It's hardwired in. Someone else has to learn it and bring it
here, just when you and the Flatline punch through that ice and scramble the
"What happens then?"
"I don't exist, after that. I cease."
"Okay by me," Case said.
"Sure. But you watch your ass, Case. My, ah, other lobe is on to us, it
looks like. One burning bush looks pretty much like another. And Armitage is
starting to go."
"What's that mean?"
But the paneled room folded itself through a dozen impossible angles,
tumbling away into cyberspace like an origami crane.
"You tryin' to break my record, son?" the Flatline asked. "You
were braindead again, five seconds."
"Sit tight," Case said, and hit the simstim switch.
She crouched in darkness, her palms against rough concrete. CASE CASE
CASE CASE. The digital display pulsed his name in alphanumerics, Wintermute
informing her of the link. "Cute," she said. She rocked back on her heels
and rubbed her palms together, cracked her knuckles. "What kept you?"
TIME MOLLY TIME NOW.
She pressed her tongue hard against her lower front teeth. One moved
slightly, activating her microchannel amps; the random bounce of photons
through the darkness was converted to a pulse of electrons, the concrete
around her coming up ghost-pale and grainy. "Okay, honey. Now we go out to
Her hiding place proved to be a service tunnel of some kind. She
crawled out through a hinged, ornate grill of tarnished brass. He saw enough
of her arms and hands to know that she wore the polycarbon suit again. Under
the plastic, he felt the familiar tension of thin tight leather. There was
something slung under her arm in a harness or holster. She stood up,
unzipped the suit and touched the checkered plastic of a pistolgrip.
"Hey, Case," she said, barely voicing the words, "you listening? Tell
you a story. . . Had me this boy once. You kinda remind me. . ." She turned
and surveyed the corridor. "Johnny, his name was."
The low, vaulted hallway was lined with dozens of museum cases,
archaic-looking glass-fronted boxes made of brown wood. They looked awkward
there, against the organic curves of the hallway's walls, as though
they'd been brought in and set up in a line for some forgotten
purpose. Dull brass fixtures held globes of white light at ten-meter
intervals. The floor was uneven, and as she set off along the corridor, Case
realized that hundreds of small rugs and carpets had been put down at
random. In some places, they were six deep, the floor a soft patchwork of
Molly paid little attention to the cabinets and their contents, which
irritated him. He had to satisfy himself with her disinterested glances,
which gave him fragments of pottery, antique weapons, a thing so densely
studded with rusted nails that it was unrecognizable, frayed sections of
tapestry. . .
"My Johnny, see, he was smart, real flash boy. Started out as a stash
on Memory Lane, chips in his head and people paid to hide data there. Had
the Yak after him, night I met him, and I did for their assassin. More luck
than anything else, but I did for him. And after that, it was tight and
sweet, Case." Her lips barely moved. He felt her form the words; he
didn't need to hear them spoken aloud. "We had a set-up with a squid,
so we could read the traces of everything he'd ever stored. Ran it all
out on tape and started twisting selected clients, ex-clients. I was bagman,
muscle, watchdog. I was real happy. You ever been happy, Case? He was my
boy. We worked together. Partners. I was maybe eight weeks out of the puppet
house when I met him. . ." She paused, edged around a sharp turn and
continued. More of the glossy wooden cases, their sides a color that
reminded him of cockroach wings.
"Tight, sweet, just ticking along, we were. Like nobody could ever
touch us. I wasn't going to let them. Yakuza, I guess, they still
wanted Johnny's ass. 'Cause I'd killed their man.
'Cause Johnny'd burned them. And the Yak, they can afford to
move so fucking slow, man, they'll wait years and years. Give you a
whole life, just so you'll have more to lose when they come and take
it away. Patient like a spider. Zen spiders."
"I didn't know that, then. Or if I did, I figured it didn't
apply to us. Like when you're young, you figure you're unique. I
was young. Then they came, when we were thinking we maybe had enough to be
able to quit, pack it in, go to Europe maybe. Not that either of us knew
what we'd do there, with nothing to do. But we were living fat, Swiss
orbital accounts and a crib full of toys and furniture. Takes the edge off
"So that first one they'd sent, he'd been hot. Reflexes
like you never saw, implants, enough style for ten ordinary hoods. But the
second one, he was, I dunno, like a monk. Cloned. Stone killer from the
cells on up. Had it in him, death, this silence, he gave it off in a cloud.
. ." Her voice trailed off as the corridor split, identical stairwells
descending. She took the left.
"One time, I was a little kid, we were squatting. It was down by the
Hudson, and those rats, man, they were big. It's the chemicals get
into them. Big as I was, and all night one had been scrabbling under the
floor of the squat. Round dawn somebody brought this old man in, seams down
his cheeks and his eyes all red. Had a roll of greasy leather like
you'd keep steel tools in, to keep the rust off. Spread it out, had
this old revolver and three shells. Old man, he puts one bullet in there,
then he starts walking up and down the squat, we're hanging back by
"Back and forth. Got his arms crossed, head down, like he's
forgotten the gun. Listening for the rat. We got real quiet. Old man takes a
step. Rat moves. Rat moves, he takes another step. An hour of that, then he
seems to remember his gun. Points it at the floor, grins, and pulls the
trigger. Rolled it back up and left."
"I crawled under there later. Rat had a hole between its eyes." She was
watching the sealed doorways that opened at intervals along the corridor.
"The second one, the one who came for Johnny, he was like that old man. Not
old, but he was like that. He killed that way." The corridor widened. The
sea of rich carpets undulated gently beneath an enormous candelabrum whose
lowest crystal pendant reached nearly to the floor. Crystal tinkled as Molly
entered the hall. THIRD DOOR LEFT, blinked the readout.
She turned left, avoiding the inverted tree of crystal. "I just saw him
once. On my way into our place. He was coming out. We lived in a converted
factory space, lots of young comers from Sense/Net, like that. Pretty good
security to start with, and I'd put in some really heavy stuff to make
it really tight. I knew Johnny was up there. But this little guy, he caught
my eye, as he was coming out. Didn't say a word. We just looked at
each other and I knew. Plain little guy, plain clothes, no pride in him,
humble. He looked at me and got into a pedicab. I knew. Went upstairs and
Johnny was sitting in a chair by the window, with his mouth a little open,
like he'd just thought of something to say."
The door in front of her was old, a carved slab of Thai teak that
seemed to have been sawn in half to fit the low doorway. A primitive
mechanical lock with a stainless face had been inset beneath a swirling
dragon. She knelt, drew a tight little roll of black chamois from an inside
pocket, and selected a needle-thin pick. "Never much found anybody I gave a
damn about, after that."
She inserted the pick and worked in silence, nibbling at her lower lip.
She seemed to rely on touch alone; her eyes unfocused and the door was a
blur of blond wood. Case listened to the silence of the hall, punctuated by
the soft clink of the candelabrum. Candles? Straylight was all wrong. He
remembered Cath's story of a castle with pools and lilies, and
3Jane's mannered words recited musically by the head. A place grown in
upon itself. Straylight smelled faintly musty, faintly perfumed, like a
church. Where were the Tessier-Ashpools? He'd expected some clean hive
of disciplined activity, but Molly had seen no one. Her monologue made him
uneasy; she'd never told him that much about herself before. Aside
from her story in the cubicle, she'd seldom said anything that had
even indicated that she had a past.
She closed her eyes and there was a click that Case felt rather than
heard. It made him remember the magnetic locks on the door of her cubicle in
the puppet place. The door had opened for him, even though he'd had
the wrong chip. That was Wintermute, manipulating the lock the way it had
manipulated the drone micro and the robot gardener. The lock system in the
puppet place had been a subunit of Freeside's security system. The
simple mechanical lock here would pose a real problem for the AI, requiring
either a drone of some kind or a human agent.
She opened her eyes, put the pick back into the chamois, carefully
rerolled it, and tucked it back into its pocket. "Guess you're kinda
like he was," she said. "Think you're born to run. Figure what you
were into back in Chiba, that was a stripped down version of what
you'd be doing anywhere. Bad luck, it'll do that sometimes, get
you down to basics." She stood, stretched, shook herself. "You know, I
figure the one Tessier-Ashpool sent after that Jimmy, the boy who stole the
head, he must be pretty much the same as the one the Yak sent to kill
Johnny." She drew the fletcher from its holster and dialed the barrel to
The ugliness of the door struck Case as she reached for it. Not the
door itself, which was beautiful, or had once been part of some more
beautiful whole, but the way it had been sawn down to fit a particular
entrance. Even the shape was wrong, a rectangle amid smooth curves of
polished concrete. They'd imported these things, he thought, and then
forced it all to fit. But none of it fit. The door was like the awkward
cabinets, the huge crystal tree. Then he remembered 3Jane's essay, and
imagined that the fittings had been hauled up the well to flesh out some
master plan, a dream long lost in the compulsive effort to fill space, to
replicate some family image of self. He remembered the shattered nest, the
eyeless things writhing. . .
Molly grasped one of the carved dragon's forelegs and the door
swung open easily.
The room behind was small, cramped, little more than a closet. Gray
steel tool cabinets were backed against a curving wall. A light fixture had
come on automatically. She closed the door behind her and went to the ranged
THIRD LEFT, pulsed the optic chip, Wintermute overriding her time
display. FIVE DOWN. But she opened the top drawer first. It was no more than
a shallow tray. Empty. The second was empty as well. The third, which was
deeper, contained dull beads of solder and a small brown thing that looked
like a human fingerbone. The fourth drawer held a damp-swollen copy of an
obsolete technical manual in French and Japanese. In the fifth, behind the
armored gauntlet of a heavy vacuum suit, she found the key. It was like a
dull brass coin with a short hollow tube braised against one edge. She
turned it slowly in her hand and Case saw that the interior of the tube was
lined with studs and flanges. The letters CHUBB were molded across one face
of the coin. The other was blank.
"He told me," she whispered. "Wintermute. How he played a waiting game
for years. Didn't have any real power, then, but he could use the
Villa's security and custodial systems to keep track of where
everything was, how things moved, where they went. He saw somebody lose this
key twenty years ago, and he managed to get somebody else to leave it here.
Then he killed him, the boy who'd brought it here. Kid was eight." She
closed her white fingers over the key. "So nobody would find it." She took a
length of black nylon cord from the suit's kangaroo pocket and
threaded it through the round hole above CHUBB. Knotting it, she hung it
around her neck. "They were always fucking him over with how old-fashioned
they were, he said, all their nineteenth-century stuff. He looked just like
the Finn, on the screen in that meat puppet hole. Almost thought he was the
Finn, if I wasn't careful." Her readout flared the time, alphanumerics
superimposed over the gray steel chests. "He said if they'd turned
into what they'd wanted to, he could've gotten out a long time
ago. But they didn't. Screwed up. Freaks like 3Jane. That's what
he called her, but he talked like he liked her."
She turned, opened the door, and stepped out, her hand brushing the
checkered grip of the holstered fletcher.
Kuang Grade Mark Eleven was growing.
"Dixie, you think this thing'll work?"
"Does a bear shit in the woods?" The Flatline punched them up through
shifting rainbow strata.
Something dark was forming at the core of the Chinese program. The
density of information overwhelmed the fabric of the matrix, triggering
hypnagogic images. Faint kaleidoscopic angles centered in to a silver-black
focal point. Case watched childhood symbols of evil and bad luck tumble out
along translucent planes: swastikas, skulls and crossbones dice flashing
snake eyes. If he looked directly at that null point, no outline would form.
It took a dozen quick, peripheral takes before he had it, a shark thing,
gleaming like obsidian, the black mirrors of its flanks reflecting faint
distant lights that bore no relationship to the matrix around it.
"That's the sting," the construct said. "When Kuang's good
and bellytight with the Tessier-Ashpool core, we're ridin' that
"You were right, Dix. There's some kind of manual override on the
hardwiring that keeps Wintermute under control. However much he is under
control," he added.
"He," the construct said. "He. Watch that. It. I keep telling you . "
"It's a code. A word, he said. Somebody has to speak it into a
fancy terminal in a certain room, while we take care of whatever's
waiting for us behind that ice."
"Well, you got time to kill, kid," the Flatline said. "Ol'
Kuang's slow but steady."
Case jacked out.
Into Maelcum's stare.
"You dead awhile there mon."
"It happens," he said. "I'm getting used to it."
"You dealin' wI' th' darkness, mon."
"Only game in town, it looks like."
"Jah love, Case," Maelcum said, and turned back to his radio module.
Case stared at the matted dreadlocks, the ropes of muscle around the
man's dark arms.
He jacked back in.
Molly was trotting along a length of corridor that might have been the
one she'd traveled before. The glass-fronted cases were gone now, and
Case decided they were moving toward the tip of the spindle; gravity was
growing weaker. Soon she was bounding smoothly over rolling hillocks of
carpets. Faint twinges in her leg. . .
The corridor narrowed suddenly, curved, split.
She turned right and started up a freakishly steep flight of stairs,
her leg beginning to ache. Overhead, strapped and bundled cables hugged the
stairwell's ceiling like colorcoded ganglia. The walls were splotched
She arrived at a triangular landing and stood rubbing her leg. More
corridors, narrow, their walls hung with rugs. They branched away in three
She shrugged. "Lemme look around, okay?"
"Relax. There's time." She started down the corridor that led off
to her right.
She hesitated. From the half-open oak door at the far end of the
passage came a voice, loud and slurred, like the voice of a drunk. Case
thought the language might be French, but it was too indistinct. Molly took
a step, another, her hand sliding into the suit to touch the butt of her
fletcher. When she stepped into the neural disruptor's field, her ears
rang, a tiny rising tone that made Case think of the sound of her fletcher.
She pitched forward, her striated muscles slack, and struck the door with
her forehead. She twisted and lay on her back, her eyes unfocused, breath
"What's this," said the slurred voice, "fancy dress?" A trembling
hand entered the front of her suit and found the fletcher, tugging it out.
"Come visit, child. Now."
She got up slowly, her eyes fixed on the muzzle of a black automatic
pistol. The man's hand was steady enough, now; the gun's barrel
seemed to be attached to her throat with a taut, invisible string.
He was old, very tall, and his features reminded Case of the girl he
had glimpsed in the Vingtieme Siecle. He wore a heavy robe of maroon silk,
quilted around the long cuffs and shawl collar. One foot was bare, the other
in a black velvet slipper with an embroidered gold foxhead over the instep.
He motioned her into the room. "Slow, darling." The room was very large,
cluttered with an assortment of things that made no sense to Case. He saw a
gray steel rack of old-fashioned Sony monitors, a wide brass bed heaped with
sheepskins, with pillows that seemed to have been made from the kind of rug
used to pave the corridors. Molly's eyes darted from a huge Telefunken
entertainment console to shelves of antique disk recordings, their crumbling
spines cased in clear plastic, to a wide worktable littered with slabs of
silicon. Case registered the cyberspace deck and the trodes, but her glance
slid over it without pausing.
"It would be customary," the old man said, "for me to kill you now."
Case felt her tense, ready for a move. "But tonight I indulge myself. What
is your name?"
"Molly. Mine is Ashpool." He sank back into the creased softness of a
huge leather armchair with square chrome legs, but the gun never wavered. He
put her fletcher on a brass table beside the chair, knocking over a plastic
vial of red pills. The table was thick with vials, bottles of liquor, soft
plastic envelopes spilling white powders. Case noticed an old-fashioned
glass hypodermic and a plain steel spoon.
"How do you cry, Molly? I see your eyes are walled away. I'm
curious." His eyes were red-rimmed, his forehead gleaming with sweat. He was
very pale. Sick, Case decided. Or drugs. "I don't cry, much."
"But how would you cry, if someone made you cry?"
"I spit," she said. "The ducts are routed back into my mouth."
"Then you've already learned an important lesson, for one so
young." He rested the hand with the pistol on his knee and took a bottle
from the table beside him, without bothering to choose from the half-dozen
different liquors. He drank. Brandy. A trickle of the stuff ran from the
corner of his mouth. "That is the way to handle tears." He drank again.
"I'm busy tonight, Molly. I built all this, and now I'm busy.
"I could go out the way I came," she said.
He laughed, a harsh high sound. "You intrude on my suicide and then ask
to simply walk out? Really, you amaze me. A thief."
"It's my ass, boss, and it's all I got. I just wanna get it
out of here in one piece."
"You are a very rude girl. Suicides here are conducted with a degree of
decorum. That's what I'm doing, you understand. But perhaps
I'll take you with me tonight, down to hell. . . It would be very
Egyptian of me." He drank again. "Come here then." He held out the bottle,
his hand shaking. "Drink."
She shook her head.
"It isn't poisoned," he said, but returned the brandy to the
table. "Sit. Sit on the floor. We'll talk."
"What about?" She sat. Case felt the blades move, very slightly,
beneath her nails.
"Whatever comes to mind. My mind. It's my party. The cores woke
me. Twenty hours ago. Something was afoot, they said, and l was needed. Were
you the something, Molly? Surely they didn't need me to handle you,
no. Something else . . . but I'd been dreaming, you see. For thirty
years. You weren't born, when last I lay me down to sleep. They told
us we wouldn't dream, in that cold. They told us we'd never feel
cold, either. Madness, Molly. Lies. Of course I dreamed. The cold let the
outside in, that was it. The outside. All the night I built this to hide us
from. Just a drop, at first, one grain of night seeping in, drawn by the
cold . . . Others following it, filling my head the way rain fills an empty
pool. Calla lilies. I remember. The pools were terracotta, nursemaids all of
chrome, how the limbs went winking through the gardens at sunset. . .
I'm old, Molly. Over two hundred years, if you count the cold. The
cold." The barrel of the pistol snapped up suddenly, quivering. The tendons
in her thighs were drawn tight as wires now.
"You can get freezerburn," she said carefully.
"Nothing burns there," he said impatiently, lowering the gun. His few
movements were increasingly sclerotic. His head nodded. It cost him an
effort to stop it. "Nothing burns. I remember now. The cores told me our
intelligences are mad. And all the billions we paid, so long ago. When
artificial intelligences were rather a racy concept. I told the cores
I'd deal with it. Bad timing, really, with 8Jean down in Melbourne and
only our sweet 3Jane minding the store. Or very good timing, perhaps. Would
you know, Molly?" The gun rose again. "There are some odd things afoot now,
in the Villa Straylight."
"Boss," she asked him, "you know Wintermute?"
"A name. Yes. To conjure with, perhaps. A lord of hell, surely. In my
time, dear Molly, I have known many lords. And not a few ladies. Why, a
queen of Spain, once, in that very bed. . . But I wander." He coughed wetly,
the muzzle of the pistol jerking as he convulsed. He spat on the carpet near
his one bare foot. "How I do wander. Through the cold. But soon no more.
I'd ordered a Jane thawed, when I woke. Strange, to lie every few
decades with what legally amounts to one's own daughter." His gaze
swept past her, to the rack of blank monitors. He seemed to shiver.
"Marie-France's eyes," he said, faintly, and smiled. "We cause the
brain to become allergic to certain of its own neurotransmitters, resulting
in a peculiarly pliable imitation of autism." His head swayed sideways,
recovered. "I understand that the effect is now more easily obtained with an
The pistol slid from his fingers, bounced on the carpet.
"The dreams grow like slow ice," he said. His face was tinged with
blue. His head sank back into the waiting leather and he began to snore.
Up, she snatched the gun. She stalked the room, Ashpool's
automatic in her hand.
A vast quilt or comforter was heaped beside the bed, in a broad puddle
of congealed blood, thick and shiny on the patterned rugs. Twitching a
corner of the quilt back, she found the body of a girl, white shoulder
blades slick with blood. Her throat had been slit. The triangular blade of
some sort of scraper glinted in the dark pool beside her. Molly knelt,
careful to avoid the blood, and turned the dead girl's face to the
light. The face Case had seen in the restaurant.
There was a click, deep at the very center of things, and the world was
frozen. Molly's simstim broadcast had become a still frame, her
fingers on the girl's cheek. The freeze held for three seconds, and
then the dead face was altered, became the face of Linda Lee.
Another click, and the room blurred. Molly was standing, looking down
at a golden laser disk beside a small console on the marble top of a bedside
table. A length of fiberoptic ribbon ran like a leash from the console to a
socket at the base of the slender neck.
"I got your number, fucker," Case said, feeling his own lips moving,
somewhere, far away. He knew that Wintermute had altered the broadcast.
Molly hadn't seen the dead girl's face swirl like smoke, to take
on the outline of Linda's deathmask.
Molly turned. She crossed the room to Ashpool's chair. The
man's breathing was slow and ragged. She peered at the litter of drugs
and alcohol. She put his pistol down, picked up her fletcher, dialed the
barrel over to single shot, and very carefully put a toxin dart through the
center of his closed left eyelid. He jerked once, breath halting in
mid-intake. His other eye, brown and fathomless, opened slowly.
It was still open when she turned and left the room.
"Got your boss on hold," the Flatline said. "He's coming through
on the twin Hosaka in that boat upstairs, the one that's riding us
piggy-back. Called the Haniwa."
"I know," Case said, absently, "I saw it."
A lozenge of white light clicked into place in front of him, hiding the
Tessier-Ashpool ice; it showed him the calm, perfectly focused, utterly
crazy face of Armitage, his eyes blank as buttons. Armitage blinked. Stared.
"Guess Wintermute took care of your Turings too, huh? Like he took care
of mine," Case said.
Armitage stared. Case resisted the sudden urge to look away, drop his
gaze. "You okay, Armitage?"
"Case"-- and for an instant something seemed to move, behind the blue
stare-- "you've seen Wintermute, haven't you? In the matrix."
Case nodded. A camera on the face of his Hosaka in Marcus Garvey would
relay the gesture to the Haniwa monitor. He imagined Maelcum listening to
his tranced half conversations, unable to hear the voices of the construct
"Case" – and the eyes grew larger, Armitage leaning toward his
computer – "what is he, when you see him?"
"A high-rez simstim construct."
"Finn, last time. . . Before that, this pimp I . . ."
"Not General Girling?"
The lozenge went blank.
"Run that back and get the Hosaka to look it up," he told the
The perspective startled him. Molly was crouching between steel
girders, twenty meters above a broad, stained floor of polished concrete.
The room was a hangar or service bay. He could see three spacecraft, none
larger than Garvey and all in various stages of repair. Japanese voices. A
figure in an orange jumpsuit stepped from a gap in the hull of a bulbous
construction vehicle and stood beside one of the thing's
piston-driven, weirdly anthropomorphic arms. The man punched something into
a portable console and scratched his ribs. A cartlike red drone rolled into
sight on gray balloon tires.
CASE, flashed her chip.
"Hey," she said. "Waiting for a guide."
She settled back on her haunches, the arms and knees of her Modern suit
the color of the blue-gray paint on the girders. Her leg hurt, a sharp
steady pain now. "I shoulda gone back to Chin," she muttered.
Something came ticking quietly out of the shadows, on a level with her
left shouder. It paused, swayed its spherical body from side to side on
high-arched spider legs, fired a microsecond burst of diffuse laserlight,
and froze. It was a Braun microdrone, and Case had once owned the same
model, a pointless accessory he'd obtained as part of a package deal
with a Cleveland hardware fence. It looked like a stylized matte black daddy
longlegs. A red LED began to pulse, at the sphere's equator. Its body
was no larger than a baseball. "Okay," she said, "I hear you." She stood up,
favoring her left leg, and watched the little drone reverse. It picked its
methodical way back across its girder and into darkness. She turned and
looked back at the service area. The man in the orange jumpsuit was sealing
the front of a white vacuum rig. She watched him ring and seal the helmet,
pick up his console, and step back through the gap in the construction
boat's hull. There was a rising whine of motors and the thing slid
smoothly out of sight on a ten meter circle of flooring that sank away into
a harsh glare of arc lamps. The red drone waited patiently at the edge of
the hole left by the elevator panel.
Then she was off after the Braun, threading her way between a forest of
welded steel struts. The Braun winked its LED steadily, beckoning her on.
"How you doin', Case? You back in Garvey with Maelcum? Sure. And
jacked into this. I like it, you know? Like I've always talked to
myself, in my head, when I've been in tight spots. Pretend I got some
friend, somebody I can trust, and I'll tell 'em what I really
think, what I feel like, and then I'll pretend they're telling
me what they think about that, and I'll just go along that way. Having
you in is kinda like that. That scene with Ashpool . . ." She gnawed at her
lower lip, swinging around a strut, keeping the drone in sight. "I was
expecting something maybe a little less gone, you know? I mean, these guys
are all batshit in here, like they got luminous messages scrawled across the
inside of their foreheads or something. I don't like the way it looks,
I don't like the way it smells. . ."
The drone was hoisting itself up a nearly invisible ladder of U-shaped
steel rungs, toward a narrow dark opening. "And while I'm feeling
confessional, baby, I gotta admit maybe I never much expected to make it out
of this one anyway. Been on this bad roll for a while, and you're the
only good change come down since I signed on with Armitage." She looked up
at the black circle. The drone's LED winked, climbing. "Not that
you're all that shit hot." She smiled, but it was gone too quickly,
and she gritted her teeth at the stabbing pain in her leg as she began to
climb. The ladder continued up through a metal tube, barely wide enough for
She was climbing up out of gravity, toward the weightless axis.
Her chip pulsed the time.
It had been a long day. The clarity of her sensorium cut the bite of
the betaphenethylamine, but Case could still feel it.
He preferred the pain in her leg.
C A S E : O O 0 O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O .
"Guess it's for you," she said, climbing mechanically. The zeros
strobed again and a message stuttered there, in the corner of her vision,
chopped up by the display circuit.
G E N E R A L G I R L I N G : : : T R A I N E D C O R T O F O R S C R E A M
I N G F I S T A N D S O L D H I S A S S T O T H E P E N T A G O N : : : : W
/ M U T E ' S P R I M A R Y G R I P O N A R M I T A G E I S A C O N S T R U
C T O F G I R L I N G : W / M U T E S E Z A ' S M E N T I O N O F G M E A N
S H E ' S C R A C K I N G : : : : W A T C H Y O U R A S S : : : : : : D I X
"Well," she said, pausing, taking all of her weight on her right leg,
"guess you got problems too." She looked down. There was a faint circle of
light, no larger than the brass round of the Chubb key that dangled between
her breasts. She looked up. Nothing at all. She tongued her amps and the
tube rose into vanishing perspective, the Braun picking its way up the
rungs. "Nobody told me about this part," she said.
Case jacked out.
"Maelcum . . ."
"Mon, you bossman gone ver' strange." The Zionite was wearing a
blue Sanyo vacuum suit twenty years older than the one Case had rented in
Freeside, its helmet under his arm and his dreadlocks bagged in a net cap
crocheted from purple cotton yarn. His eyes were slitted with ganja and
tension. "Keep callin' down here wI' orders, mon, but be some
Babylon war. . ." Maelcum shook his head. "Aerol an' I talkin',
an' Aerol talkin' wI' Zion, Founders seh cut an'
run." He ran the back of a large brown hand across his mouth.
"Armitage?" Case winced as the betaphenethylamine hangover hit him with
its full intensity, unscreened by the matrix or simstim. Brain's got
no nerves in it, he told himself, it can't really feel this bad. "What
do you mean, man? He's giving you orders? What?"
"Mon, Armitage, he tellin' me set course for Finland, ya know? He
tellin' me there be hope, ya know? Come on my screen wI' his
shirt all blood, mon, an' be crazy as some dog, talkin'
screamin' fists an' Russian an' th' blood of
th' betrayers shall be on our hands." He shook his head again, the
dreadcap swaying and bobbing in zero-g, his lips narrowed. "Founders seh the
Mute voice be false prophet surely, an' Aerol an' I mus'
'bandon Marcus Garvey and return."
"Armitage, he was wounded? Blood?"
"Can't seh, ya know? But blood, an' stone crazy, Case."
"Okay," Case said, "So what about me? You're going home. What
about me, Maelcum?"
"Mon," Maelcum said, "you comin' wI' me. I an' I come
Zion wI' Aerol, Babylon Rocker. Leave Mr. Armitage t' talk
wI' ghost cassette, one ghost t' 'nother. . ."
Case glanced over his shoulder: his rented suit swung against the
hammock where he'd snapped it, swaying in the air current from the old
Russian scrubber. He closed his eyes. He saw the sacs of toxin dissolving in
his arteries. He saw Molly hauling herself up the endless steel rungs. He
opened his eyes.
"I dunno, man," he said, a strange taste in his mouth. He looked down
at his desk, at his hands. "I don't know." He looked back up. The
brown face was calm now, intent. Maelcum's chin was hidden by the high
helmet ring of his old blue suit. "She's inside," he said.
"Molly's inside. In Straylight, it's called. If there's
any Babylon, man, that's it. We leave on her, she ain't
comin' out, Steppin' Razor or not."
Maelcum nodded, the dreadbag bobbing behind him like a captive balloon
of crocheted cotton. "She you woman, Case?"
"I dunno. Nobody's woman, maybe." He shrugged. And found his
anger again, real as a shard of hot rock beneath his ribs. "Fuck this," he
said. "Fuck Armitage, fuck Wintermute, and fuck you. I'm stayin'
Maelcum's smile spread across his face like light breaking.
"Maelcum a rude boy, Case. Garvey Maelcum boat." His gloved hand slapped a
panel and the bass-heavy rocksteady of Zion dub came pulsing from the
tug's speakers. "Maelcum not runnin', no. I talk wI'
Aerol, he certain t' see it in similar light."
Case stared. "I don't understand you guys at all," he said.
"Don' 'stan' you, mon," the Zionite said, nodding to the
beat, "but we mus' move by Jah love, each one."
Case jacked in and flipped for the matrix.
"Get my wire?"
"Yeah." He saw that the Chinese program had grown; delicate arches of
shifting polychrome were nearing the T-A ice.
"Well, it's gettin' stickier," the Flatline said. "Your
boss wiped the bank on that other Hosaka, and damn near took ours with it.
But your pal Wintermute put me on to somethin' there before it went
black. The reason Straylight's not exactly hoppin' with
Tessier-Ashpools is that they're mostly in cold sleep. There's a
law firm in London keeps track of their powers of attorney. Has to know
who's awake and exactly when. Armitage was routing the transmissions
from London to Straylight through the Hosaka on the yacht. Incidently, they
know the old man's dead."
"The law firm and T-A. He had a medical remote planted in his sternum.
Not that your girl's dart would've left a resurrection crew with
much to work with. Shellfish toxin. But the only T-A awake in Straylight
right now is Lady 3Jane Marie-France. There's a male, couple years
older, in Australia on business. You ask me, I bet Wintermute found a way to
cause that business to need this 8Jean's personal attention. But
he's on his way home, or near as matters. The London lawyers give his
Straylight ETA as 09:00:00, tonight. We slotted Kuang virus at 02:32:03.
It's 04:45:20. Best estimate for Kuang penetration of the T-A core is
08:30:00. Or a hair on either side. I figure Wintermute's got
somethin' goin' with this 3Jane, or else she's just as
crazy as her old man was. But the boy up from Melbourne'll know the
score. The Straylight security systems keep trying to go full alert, but
Wintermute blocks 'em, don't ask me how. Couldn't override
the basic gate program to get Molly in, though. Armitage had a record of all
that on his Hosaka; Riviera must've talked 3Jane into doing it.
She's been able to fiddle entrances and exits for years. Looks to me
like one of T-A's main problems is that every family bigwig has
riddled the banks with all kinds of private scams and exceptions. Kinda like
your immune system falling apart on you. Ripe for virus. Looks good for us,
once we're past that ice."
"Okay. But Wintermute said that Arm – "
A white lozenge snapped into position, filled with a closeup of mad
blue eyes. Case could only stare. Colonel Willie Corto, Special Forces,
Strikeforce Screaming Fist, had found his way back. The image was dim,
jerky, badly focused. Corto was using the Haniwa's navigation deck to
link with the Hosaka in Marcus Garvey.
"Case, I need the damage reports on Omaha Thunder."
"Say, I. . . Colonel?"
"Hang in there, boy. Remember your training."
But where have you been, man? he silently asked the anguished eyes.
Wintermute had built something called Armitage into a catatonic fortress
named Corto. Had convinced Corto that Armitage was the real thing, and
Armitage had walked, talked, schemed, bartered data for capital, fronted for
Wintermute in that room in the Chiba Hilton. . . And now Armitage was gone,
blown away by the winds of Corto's madness. But where had Corto been,
Falling, burned and blinded, out of a Siberian sky.
"Case, this will be difficult for you to accept, I know that.
You're an officer. The training. I understand. But, Case, as God is my
witness, we have been betrayed."
Tears started from the blue eyes.
"Colonel, ah, who? Who's betrayed us?"
"General Girling, Case. You may know him by a code name. You do know
the man of whom I speak."
"Yeah," Case said, as the tears continued to flow, "I guess I do. Sir,"
he added, on impulse. "But, sir, Colonel, what exactly should we do? Now, I
"Our duty at this point, Case, lies in flight. Escape. Evasion. We can
make the Finnish border, nightfall tomorrow. Treetop flying on manual. Seat
of the pants, boy. But that will only be the beginning." The blue eyes
slitted above tanned cheekbones slick with tears. "Only the beginning.
Betrayal from above. From above. . ." He stepped back from the camera, dark
stains on his torn twill shirt. Armitage's face had been masklike,
impassive, but Corto's was the true schizoid mask, illness etched deep
in involuntary muscle, distorting the expensive surgery.
"Colonel, I hear you, man. Listen, Colonel, okay? I want you to open
the, ah . . . shit, what's it called, Dix?"
"The midbay lock," the Flatline said.
"Open the midbay lock. Just tell your central console there to open it,
right? We'll be up there with you fast, Colonel. Then we can talk
about getting out of here."
The lozenge vanished.
"Boy, I think you just lost me, there,"
the Flatline said. "The toxins," Case said, "the fucking toxins," and
"Poison?" Maelcum watched over the scratched blue shoulder of his old
Sanyo as Case struggled out of the g-web.
"And get this goddam thing off me. . ." Tugging at the Texas catheter.
"Like a slow poison, and that asshole upstairs knows how to counter it, and
now he's crazier than a shithouse rat." He fumbled with the front of
the red Sanyo, forgetting how to work the seals.
"Bossman, he poison you?" Maelcum scratched his cheek. "Got a medical
kit, ya know."
"Maelcum, Christ, help me with this goddam suit."
The Zionite kicked off from the pink pilot module. "Easy, mon. Measure
twice, cut once, wise man put it. We get up there. . ."
There was air in the corrugated gangway that led from Marcus
Garvey's aft lock to the midbay lock of the yacht called Haniwa, but
they kept their suits sealed. Maelcum executed the passage with balletic
grace, only pausing to help Case, who'd gone into an awkward tumble as
he'd stepped out of Garvey. The white plastic sides of the tube
filtered the raw sunlight; there were no shadows.
Garvey's airlock hatch was patched and pitted, decorated with a
laser-carved Lion of Zion. Haniwa's midbay hatch was creamy gray,
blank and pristine. Maelcum inserted his gloved hand in a narrow recess.
Case saw his fingers move. Red LEDs came to life in the recess, counting
down from fifty. Maelcum withdrew his hand. Case, with one glove braced
against the hatch, felt the vibration of the lock mechanism through his suit
and bones. The round segment of gray hull began to withdraw into the side of
Haniwa. Maelcum grabbed the recess with one hand and Case with the other.
The lock took them with it.
Haniwa was a product of the Dornier-Fujitsu yards, her interior
informed by a design philosophy similar to the one that had produced the
Mercedes that had chauffeured them through Istanbul. The narrow midbay was
walled in imitation ebony veneer and floored with gray Italian tiles. Case
felt as though he were invading some rich man's private spa by way of
the shower. The yacht, which had been assembled in orbit, had never been
intended for re-entry. Her smooth, wasplike line was simply styling, and
everything about her interior was calculated to add to the overall
impression of speed.
When Maelcum removed his battered helmet, Case followed his lead. They
hung there in the lock, breathing air that smelled faintly of pine. Under
it, a disturbing edge of burning insulation. Maelcum sniffed.
"Trouble here, mon. Any boat, you smell that. . ."
A door, padded with dark gray ultrasuede, slid smoothly back into its
housing. Maelcum kicked off the ebony wall and sailed neatly through the
narrow opening, twisting his broad shoulders, at the last possible instant,
for clearance. Case followed him clumsily, hand over hand, along a
waist-high padded rail. "Bridge," Maelcum said, pointing down a seamless,
creamwalled corridor, "be there." He launched himself with another
effortless kick. From somewhere ahead, Case made out the familiar chatter of
a printer turning out hard copy. It grew louder as he followed Maelcum
through another doorway, into a swirling mass of tangled printout. Case
snatched a length of twisted paper and glanced at it.
O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O
"Systems crash?" The Zionite flicked a gloved finger at the column of
"No," Case said, grabbing for his drifting helmet, "the Flatline said
Armitage wiped the Hosaka he had in there."
"Smell like he wipe 'em wI' laser, ya know?" The Zionite
braced his foot against the white cage of a Swiss exercise machine and shot
through the floating maze of paper, batting it away from his face.
"Case, mon. . ."
The man was small, Japanese, his throat bound to the back of the narrow
articulated chair with a length of some sort of fine steel wire. The wire
was invisible, where it crossed the black temperfoam of the headrest, and it
had cut as deeply into his larynx. A single sphere of dark blood had
congealed there like some strange precious stone, a red-black pearl. Case
saw the crude wooden handles that drifted at either end of the garrotte,
like worn sections of broom handle.
"Wonder how long he had that on him?" Case said, remembering
Corto's postwar pilgrimage.
"He know how pilot boat, Case, bossman?"
"Maybe. He was Special Forces."
"Well, this Japan-boy, he not be pilotin'. Doubt I pilot her easy
myself. Ver' new boat. . ."
"So find us the bridge."
Maelcum frowned, rolled backward, and kicked.
Case followed him into a larger space, a kind of lounge, shredding and
crumpling the lengths of printout that snared him in his passage. There were
more of the articulated chairs, here, something that resembled a bar, and
the Hosaka. The printer, still spewing its flimsy tongue of paper, was an
in-built bulkhead unit, a neat slot in a panel of handrubbed veneer. He
pulled himself over the circle of chairs and reached it, punching a white
stud to the left of the slot. The chattering stopped. He turned and stared
at the Hosaka. Its face had been drilled through, at least a dozen times.
The holes were small, circular, edges blackened. Tiny spheres of bright
alloy were orbiting the dead computer. "Good guess," he said to Maelcum.
"Bridge locked, mon," Maelcum said, from the opposite side of the
The lights dimmed, surged, dimmed again.
Case ripped the printout from its slot. More zeros. "Wintermute?" He
looked around the beige and brown lounge, the space scrawled with drifting
curves of paper. "That you on the lights, Wintermute?"
A panel beside Maelcum's head slid up, revealing a small monitor.
Maelcum jerked apprehensively, wiped sweat from his forehead with a foam
patch on the back of a gloved hand, and swung to study the display. "You
read Japanese, mon?" Case could see figures blinking past on the screen.
"No," Case said.
"Bridge is escape pod, lifeboat. Countin' down, looks like it.
Suit up now." He ringed his helmet and slapped at the seals.
"What? He's takin' off? Shit!" He kicked off from the
bulkhead and shot through the tangle of printout. "We gotta open this door,
man!" But Maelcum could only tap the side of his helmet. Case could see his
lips moving, through the Lexan. He saw a bead of sweat arc out from the
rainbow braided band of the purple cotton net the Zionite wore over his
locks. Maelcum snatched the helmet from Case and ringed it for him smoothly,
the palms of his gloves smacking the seals. MicroLED monitors to the left of
the faceplate lit as the neck ring connections closed. "No seh Japanese,"
Maelcum said, over his suit's transceiver, "but countdown's
wrong." He tapped a particular line on the screen. "Seals not intact, bridge
module. Launchin' wI' lock open."
"Armitage!" Case tried to pound on the door. The physics of zero-g sent
him tumbling back through the printout. "Corto! Don't do it! We gotta
talk! We gotta – "
"Case? Read you, Case. . ." The voice barely resembled Armitage's
now. It held a weird calm. Case stopped kicking. His helmet struck the far
wall. "I'm sorry, Case, but it has to be this way. One of us has to
get out. One of us has to testify. If we all go down here, it ends here.
I'll tell them, Case, I'll tell them all of it. About Girling
and the others. And I'll make it, Case. I know I'll make it. To
Helsinki." There was a sudden silence; Case felt it fill his helmet like
some rare gas. "But it's so hard, Case, so goddam hard. I'm
"Corto, stop. Wait. You're blind, man. You can't fly!
You'll hit the fucking trees. And they're trying to get you,
Corto, I swear to God, they've left your hatch open. You'll die,
and you'll never get to tell 'em, and I gotta get the enzyme,
name of the enzyme, the enzyme, man. . ." He was shouting, voice high with
hysteria. Feedback shrilled out of the helmet's phone pads.
"Remember the training, Case. That's all we can do."
And then the helmet filled with a confused babble, roaring static,
harmonics howling down the years from Screaming Fist. Fragments of Russian,
and then a stranger's voice, Midwestern, very young. "We are down,
repeat, Omaha Thunder is down, we . . ."
"Wintermute," Case screamed, "don't do this to me!" Tears broke
from his lashes, rebounding off the faceplate in wobbling crystal droplets.
Then Haniwa thudded, once, shivered as if some huge soft thing had struck
her hull. Case imagined the lifeboat jolting free, blown clear by explosive
bolts, a second's clawing hurricane of escaping air tearing mad
Colonel Corto from his couch, from Wintermute's rendition of the final
minute of Screaming Fist.
"I'm gone, mon." Maelcum looked at the monitor. "Hatch open. Mute
mus' override ejection failsafe."
Case tried to wipe the tears of rage from his eyes. His fingers clacked
"Yacht, she tight for air, but bossman takin' grapple control
wI' bridge. Marcus Garvey still stuck."
But Case was seeing Armitage's endless fall around Freeside,
through vacuum colder than the steppes. For some reason, he imagined him in
his dark Burberry, the trenchcoat's rich folds spread out around him
like the wings of some huge bat.
"Get what you went for?" the construct asked.
Kuang Grade Mark Eleven was filling the grid between itself and the T-A
ice with hypnotically intricate traceries of rainbow, lattices fine as snow
crystal on a winter window.
"Wintermute killed Armitage. Blew him out in a lifeboat with a hatch
"Tough shit," the Flatline said. "Weren't exactly asshole
buddies, were you?"
"He knew how to unbond the toxin sacs."
"So Wintermute knows too. Count on it."
"I don't exactly trust Wintermute to give it to me."
The construct's hideous approximation of laughter scraped
Case's nerves like a dull blade. "Maybe that means you're
He hit the simstim switch.
06:27:52 by the chip in her optic nerve; Case had been following her
progress through Villa Straylight for over an hour, letting the endorphin
analog she'd taken blot out his hangover. The pain in her leg was
gone; she seemed to move through a warm bath. The Braun drone was perched on
her shoulder, its tiny manipulators, like padded surgical clips, secure in
the polycarbon of the Modern suit.
The walls here were raw steel, striped with rough brown ribbons of
epoxy where some kind of covering had been ripped away. She'd hidden
from a work crew, crouching, the fletcher cradled in her hands, her suit
steel-gray, while the two slender Africans and their balloon-tired workcart
passed. The men had shaven heads and wore orange coveralls. One was singing
softly to himself in a language Case had never heard, the tones and melody
alien and haunting.
The head's speech, 3Jane's essay on Straylight, came back
to him as she worked her way deeper into the maze of the place. Straylight
was crazy, was craziness grown in the resin concrete they'd mixed from
pulverized lunar stone, grown in welded steel and tons of knick-knacks, all
the bizarre impedimentia they'd shipped up the well to line their
winding nest. But it wasn't a craziness he understood. Not like
Armitage's madness, which he now imagined he could understand; twist a
man far enough, then twist him as far back, in the opposite direction,
reverse and twist again. The man broke. Like breaking a length of wire. And
history had done that for Colonel Corto. History had already done the really
messy work, when Wintermute found him, sifting him out of all of the
war's ripe detritus, gliding into the man's flat gray field of
consciousness like a water spider crossing the face of some stagnant pool,
the first messages blinking across the face of a child's micro in a
darkened room in a French asylum. Wintermute had built Armitage up from
scratch, with Corto's memories of Screaming Fist as the foundation.
But Armitage's "memories" wouldn't have been Corto's after
a certain point. Case doubted if Armitage had recalled the betrayal, the
Nightwings whirling down in flame. . . Armitage had been a sort of edited
version of Corto, and when the stress of the run had reached a certain
point, the Armitage mechanism had crumbled; Corto had surfaced, with his
guilt and his sick fury. And now Corto-Armitage was dead, a small frozen
moon for Freeside.
He thought of the toxin sacs. Old Ashpool was dead too, drilled through
the eye with Molly's microscopic dart, deprived of whatever expert
overdose he'd mixed for himself. That was a more puzzling death,
Ashpool's, the death of a mad king. And he'd killed the puppet
he'd called his daughter, the one with 3Jane's face. It seemed
to Case, as he rode Molly's broadcast sensory input through the
corridors of Straylight, that he'd never really thought of anyone like
Ashpool, anyone as powerful as he imagined Ashpool had been, as human.
Power, in Case's world, meant corporate power. The zaibatsus, the
multinationals that shaped the course of human history, had transcended old
barriers. Viewed as organisms, they had attained a kind of immortality. You
couldn't kill a zaibatsu by assassinating a dozen key executives;
there were others waiting to step up the ladder, assume the vacated
position, access the vast banks of corporate memory. But
Tessier–Ashpool wasn't like that, and he sensed the difference
in the death of its founder. T-A was an atavism, a clan. He remembered the
litter of the old man's chamber, the soiled humanity of it, the ragged
spines of the old audio disks in their paper sleeves. One foot bare, the
other in a velvet slipper.
The Braun plucked at the hood of the Modem suit and Molly turned left,
through another archway.
Wintermute and the nest. Phobic vision of the hatching wasps,
time-lapse machine gun of biology. But weren't the zaibatsus more like
that, or the Yakuza, hives with cybernetic memories, vast single organisms,
their DNA coded in silicon? If Straylight was an expression of the corporate
identity of Tessier-Ashpool, then T-A was crazy as the old man had been. The
same ragged tangle of fears, the same strange sense of aimlessness. "If
they'd turned into what they wanted to. . ." he remembered Molly
saying. But Wintermute had told her they hadn't.
Case had always taken it for granted that the real bosses, the kingpins
in a given industry, would be both more and less than people. He'd
seen it in the men who'd crippled him in Memphis, he'd seen Wage
affect the semblance of it in Night City, and it had allowed him to accept
Armitage's flatness and lack of feeling. He'd always imagined it
as a gradual and willing accommodation of the machine, the system, the
parent organism. It was the root of street cool, too, the knowing posture
that implied connection, invisible lines up to hidden levels of influence.
But what was happening now, in the corridors of Villa Straylight?
Whole stretches were being stripped back to steel and concrete.
"Wonder where our Peter is now, huh? Maybe see that boy soon," she
muttered. "And Armitage. Where's he, Case?"
"Dead," he said, knowing she couldn't hear him, "he's
The Chinese program was face to face with the target ice, rainbow tints
gradually dominated by the green of the rectangle representing the T-A
cores. Arches of emerald across the colorless void.
"How's it go, Dixie?"
"Fine. Too slick. Thing's amazing. . . Shoulda had one that time
in Singapore. Did the old New Bank of Asia for a good fiftieth of what they
were worth. But that's ancient history. This baby takes all the
drudgery out of it. Makes you wonder what a real war would be like, now. .
"If this kinda shit was on the street, we'd be out a job," Case
"You wish. Wait'll you're steering that thing upstairs
through black ice."
Something small and decidedly nongeometric had just appeared on the far
end of one of the emerald arches.
"Dixie . . ."
"Yeah. I see it. Don't know if I believe it."
A brownish dot, a dull gnat against the green wall of the T-A cores. It
began to advance, across the bridge built by Kuang Grade Mark Eleven, and
Case saw that it was walking. As it came, the green section of the arch
extended, the polychrome of the virus program rolling back, a few steps
ahead of the cracked black shoes.
"Gotta hand it to you, boss," the Flatline said, when the short,
rumpled figure of the Finn seemed to stand a few meters away. "I never seen
anything this funny when I was alive." But the eerie nonlaugh didn't
"I never tried it before," the Finn said, showing his teeth, his hands
bunched in the pockets of his frayed jacket.
"You killed Armitage," Case said.
"Corto. Yeah. Armitage was already gone. Hadda do it. I know, I know,
you wanna get the enzyme. Okay. No sweat. I was the one gave it to Armitage
in the first place. I mean I told him what to use. But I think maybe
it's better to let the deal stand. You got enough time. I'll
give it to you. Only a coupla hours now, right?"
Case watched blue smoke billow in cyberspace as the Finn lit up one of
"You guys," the Finn said, "you're a pain. The Flatline here, if
you were all like him, it would be real simple. He's a construct, just
a buncha ROM, so he always does what I expect him to. My projections said
there wasn't much chance of Molly wandering in on Ashpool's big
exit scene, give you one example." He sighed.
"Why'd he kill himself?" Case asked.
"Why's anybody kill himself?" The figure shrugged. "I guess I
know, if anybody does, but it would take me twelve hours to explain the
various factors in his history and how they interrelate. He was ready to do
it for a long time, but he kept going back into the freezer. Christ, he was
a tedious old fuck." The Finn's face wrinkled with disgust.
"It's all tied in with why he killed his wife, mainly, you want the
short reason. But what sent him over the edge for good and all, little 3Jane
figured a way to fiddle the program that controlled his cryogenic system.
Subtle, too. So basically, she killed him. Except he figured he'd
killed himself, and your friend the avenging angel figures she got him with
an eyeball full of shellfish juice." The Finn flicked his butt away into the
matrix below. "Well, actually, I guess I did give 3Jane the odd hint, a
little of the old how–to, you know?"
"Wintermute," Case said, choosing the words carefully, "you told me you
were just a part of something else. Later on you said you wouldn't
exist, if the run goes off and Molly gets the word into the right slot."
The Finn's streamlined skull nodded.
"Okay, then who we gonna be dealing with then? If Armitage is dead, and
you're gonna be gone, just who exactly is going to tell me how to get
these fucking toxin sacs out of my system? Who's going to get Molly
back out of there? I mean where, where exactly, are all our asses gonna be,
we cut you loose from the hardwiring?"
The Finn took a wooden toothpick from his pocket and regarded it
critically, like a surgeon examining a scalpel. "Good question," he said,
finally. "You know salmon? Kinda fish? These fish, see, they're
compelled to swim upstream. Got it?"
"No," Case said.
"Well, I'm under compulsion myself. And I don't know why.
If I were gonna subject you to my very own thoughts, let's call
'em speculations, on the topic, it would take a couple of your
lifetimes. Because I've given it a lot of thought. And I just
don't know. But when this is over, we do it right, I'm gonna be
part of something bigger. Much bigger," The Finn glanced up and around the
matrix. "But the parts of me that are me now, that'll still be here.
And you'll get your payoff."
Case fought back an insane urge to punch himself forward and get his
fingers around the figure's throat, just above the ragged knot in the
rusty scarf. His thumbs deep in the Finn's larynx.
"Well, good luck," the Finn said. He turned, hands in pockets and began
trudging back up the green arch.
"Hey, asshole," the Flatline said, when the Finn had gone a dozen
paces. The figure paused, half turned. "What about me? What about my
"You'll get yours," it said.
"What's that mean?" Case asked, as he watched the narrow tweed
"I wanna be erased," the construct said. "I told you that, remember?"
Straylight reminded Case of deserted early morning shopping centers
he'd known as a teenager, low-density places where the small hours
brought a fitful stillness, a kind of numb expectancy, a tension that left
you watching insects swarm around caged bulbs above the entrance of darkened
shops. Fringe places, just past the borders of the Sprawl, too far from the
all-night click and shudder of the hot core. There was that same sense of
being surrounded by the sleeping inhabitants of a waking world he had no
interest in visiting or knowing, of dull business temporarily suspended, of
futility and repetition soon to wake again.
Molly had slowed now, either knowing that she was nearing her goal or
out of concern for her leg. The pain was starting to work its jagged way
back through the endorphins, and he wasn't sure what that meant. She
didn't speak, kept her teeth clenched, and carefully regulated her
breathing. She'd passed many things that Case hadn't understood,
but his curiosity was gone. There had been a room filled with shelves of
books, a million flat leaves of yellowing paper pressed between bindings of
cloth or leather, the shelves marked at intervals by labels that followed a
code of letters and numbers; a crowded gallery where Case had stared,
through Molly's incurious eyes, at a shattered, dust-stenciled sheet
of glass, a thing labeled-- her gaze had tracked the brass plaque
automatically-- "La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même."
She'd reached out and touched this, her artificial nails clicking
against the Lexan sandwich protecting the broken glass. There had been what
was obviously the entrance to Tessier-Ashpool's cryogenic compound,
circular doors of black glass trimmed with chrome.
She'd seen no one since the two Africans and their cart, and for
Case they'd taken on a sort of imaginary life; he pictured them
gliding gently through the halls of Straylight, their smooth dark skulls
gleaming, nodding, while the one still sang his tired little song. And none
of this was anything like the Villa Straylight he would have expected, some
cross between Cath's fairy tale castle and a half-remembered childhood
fantasy of the Yakuza's inner sanctum.
One and a half hours.
"Case," she said, "I wanna favor." Stiffly, she lowered herself to sit
on a stack of polished steel plates, the finish of each plate protected by
an uneven coating of clear plastic. She picked at a rip in the plastic on
the topmost plate, blades sliding from beneath thumb and forefinger.
"Leg's not good, you know? Didn't figure any climb like that,
and the endorphin won't cut it, much longer. So maybe-- just maybe,
right?-- I got a problem here. What it is, if I buy it here, before Riviera
does"-- and she stretched her leg, kneaded the flesh of her thigh through
Modern polycarbon and Paris leather-- "I want you to tell him. Tell him it
was me. Got it? Just say it was Molly. He'll know. Okay?" She glanced
around the empty hallway, the bare walls. The floor here was raw lunar
concrete and the air smelled of resins. "Shit, man, I don't even know
if you're listening."
She winced, got to her feet, nodded. "What's he told you, man,
Wintermute? He tell you about Marie-France? She was the Tessier half,
3Jane's genetic mother. And of that dead puppet of Ashpool's, I
guess. Can't figure why he'd tell me, down in that cubicle. . .
lotta stuff. . . Why he has to come on like the Finn or somebody, he told me
that. It's not just a mask, it's like he uses real profiles as
valves, gears himself down to communicate with us. Called it a template.
Model of personality." She drew her fletcher and limped away down the
The bare steel and scabrous epoxy ended abruptly, replaced by what Case
at first took to be a rough tunnel blasted from solid rock. Molly examined
its edge and he saw that in fact the steel was sheathed with panels of
something that looked and felt like cold stone. She knelt and touched the
dark sand spread across the floor of the imitation tunnel. It felt like
sand, cool and dry, but when she drew her finger through it, it closed like
a fluid, leaving the surface undisturbed. A dozen meters ahead, the tunnel
curved. Harsh yellow light threw hard shadows on the seamed pseudo-rock of
the walls. With a start, Case realized that the gravity here was near earth
normal, which meant that she'd had to descend again, after the climb.
He was thoroughly lost now; spatial disorientation held a peculiar horror
But she wasn't lost, he told himself.
Something scurried between her legs and went ticking across the un-sand
of the floor. A red LED blinked. The Braun.
The first of the holos waited just beyond the curve, a sort of
triptych. She lowered the fletcher before Case had had time to realize that
the thing was a recording. The figures were caricatures in light, lifesize
cartoons: Molly, Armitage, and Case. Molly's breasts were too large,
visible through tight black mesh beneath a heavy leather jacket. Her waist
was impossibly narrow. Silvered lenses covered half her face. She held an
absurdly elaborate weapon of some kind, a pistol shape nearly lost beneath a
flanged overlay of scope sights, silencers, flash hiders. Her legs were
spread, pelvis canted forward, her mouth fixed in a leer of idiotic cruelty.
Beside her, Armitage stood rigidly at attention in a threadbare khaki
uniform. His eyes, Case saw, as Molly stepped carefully forward, were tiny
monitor screens, each one displaying the blue-gray image of a howling waste
of snow, the stripped black trunks of evergreens bending in silent winds.
She passed the tips of her fingers through Armitage's television
eyes, then turned to the figure of Case. Here, it was as if Riviera –
and Case had known instantly that Riviera was responsible – had been
unable to find anything worthy of parody. The figure that slouched there was
a fair approximation of the one he glimpsed daily in mirrors. Thin,
high-shouldered, a forgettable face beneath short dark hair. He needed a
shave, but then he usually did.
Molly stepped back. She looked from one figure to another. It was a
static display, the only movement the silent gusting of the black trees in
Armitage's frozen Siberian eyes.
"Tryin' to tell us something, Peter?" she asked softly. Then she
stepped forward and kicked at something between the feet of the holo-Molly.
Metal clinked against the wall and the figures were gone. She bent and
picked up a small display unit. "Guess he can Jack into these and program
them direct," she said, tossing it away.
She passed the source of yellow light, an archaic incandescent globe
set into the wall, protected by a rusty curve of expansion grating. The
style of the improvised fixture suggested childhood, somehow. He remembered
fortresses he'd built with other children on rooftops and in flooded
sub-basements. A rich kid's hideout, he thought. This kind of
roughness was expensive. What they called atmosphere.
She passed a dozen more holograms before she reached the entrance to
3Jane's apartments. One depicted the eyeless thing in the alley behind
the Spice Bazaar, as it tore itself free of Riviera's shattered body.
Several others were scenes of torture, the inquisitors always military
officers and the victims invariably young women. These had the awful
intensity of Riviera's show at the Vingtieme Siecle, as though they
had been frozen in the blue flash of orgasm. Molly looked away as she passed
The last was small and dim, as if it were an image Riviera had had to
drag across some private distance of memory and time. She had to kneel to
examine it; it had been projected from the vantage point of a small child.
None of the others had had backgrounds; the figures, uniforms, instruments
of torture, all had been freestanding displays. But this was a view.
A dark wave of rubble rose against a colorless sky, beyond its crest
the bleached, half-melted skeletons of city towers. The rubble wave was
textured like a net, rusting steel rods twisted gracefully as fine string,
vast slabs of concrete still clinging there. The foreground might once have
been a city square; there was a sort of stump, something that suggested a
fountain. At its base, the children and the soldier were frozen. The tableau
was confusing at first. Molly must have read it correctly before Case had
quite assimilated it, because he felt her tense. She spat, then stood.
Children. Feral, in rags. Teeth glittering like knives. Sores on their
contorted faces. The soldier on his back, mouth and throat open to the sky.
They were feeding.
"Bonn," she said, something like gentleness in her voice. "Quite the
product, aren't you, Peter? But you had to be. Our 3Jane, she's
too jaded now to open the back door for just any petty thief. So Wintermute
dug you up. The ultimate taste, if your taste runs that way. Demon lover.
Peter." She shivered. "But you talked her into letting me in. Thanks. Now
we're gonna party."
And then she was walking – strolling, really, in spite of the
pain – away from Riviera's childhood. She drew the fletcher from
its holster, snapped the plastic magazine out, pocketed that, and replaced
it with another. She hooked her thumb in the neck of the Modern suit and
ripped it open to the crotch with a single gesture, her thumb blade parting
the tough polycarbon like rotten silk. She freed herself from the arms and
legs, the shredded remnants disguising themselves as they fell to the dark
Case noticed the music then. A music he didn't know, all horns
The entrance to 3Jane's world had no door. It was a ragged
five-meter gash in the tunnel wall, uneven stairs leading down in a broad
shallow curve. Faint blue light, moving shadows, music.
"Case," she said, and paused, the fletcher in her right hand. Then she
raised her left, smiled, touched her open palm with a wet tongue tip,
kissing him through the simstim link. "Gotta go."
Then there was something small and heavy in her left hand, her thumb
against a tiny stud, and she was descending.
She missed it by a fraction. She nearly cut it, but not quite. She went
in just right, Case thought. The right attitude; it was something he could
sense, something he could have seen in the posture of another cowboy leaning
into a deck, fingers flying across the board. She had it: the thing, the
moves. And she'd pulled it all together for her entrance. Pulled it
together around the pain in her leg and marched down 3Jane's stairs
like she owned the place, elbow of her gun arm at her hip, forearm up, wrist
relaxed, swaying the muzzle of the fletcher with the studied nonchalance of
a Regency duelist.
It was a performance. It was like the culmination of a lifetime's
observation of martial arts tapes, cheap ones, the kind Case had grown up
on. For a few seconds, he knew, she was every bad-ass hero, Sony Mao in the
old Shaw videos, Mickey Chiba, the whole lineage back to Lee and Eastwood.
She was walking it the way she talked it.
Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool had carved herself a low
country flush with the inner surface of Straylight's hull, chopping
away the maze of walls that was her legacy. She lived in a single room so
broad and deep that its far reaches were lost to an inverse horizon, the
floor hidden by the curvature of the spindle. The ceiling was low and
irregular, done in the same imitation stone that walled the corridor. Here
and there across the floor were jagged sections of wall, waist-high
reminders of the labyrinth. There was a rectangular turquoise pool centered
ten meters from the foot of the stairway, its underwater floods the
apartment's only source of light – or it seemed that way, to
Case, as Molly took her final step. The pool threw shifting blobs of light
across the ceiling above it.
They were waiting by the pool.
He'd known that her reflexes were souped up, jazzed by the
neurosurgeons for combat, but he hadn't experienced them on the
simstim link. The effect was like tape run at half speed, a slow, deliberate
dance choreographed to the killer instinct and years of training. She seemed
to take the three of them in at a glance: the boy poised on the pool's
high board, the girl grinning ove her wineglass, and the corpse of Ashpool,
his left socket gaping black and corrupt above his welcoming smile. He wore
his maroon robe. His teeth were very white.
The boy dove. Slender, brown, his form perfect. The grenade left her
hand before his hands could cut the water. Case knew the thing for what it
was as it broke the surface: a core of high explosive wrapped with ten
meters of fine, brittle steel wire.
Her fletcher whined as she sent a storm of explosive darts into
Ashpool's face and chest, and he was gone, smoke curling from the
pocked back of the empty, white-enameled pool chair.
The muzzle swung for 3Jane as the grenade detonated, a symmetrical
wedding cake of water rising, breaking, falling back, but the mistake had
Hideo didn't even touch her, then. Her leg collapsed.
In Garvey, Case screamed.
"It took you long enough," Riviera said, as he searched her pockets.
Her hands vanished at the wrists in a matte black sphere the size of a
bowling ball. "I saw a multiple assassination in Ankara," he said, his
fingers plucking things from her jacket, "a grenade job. In a pool. It
seemed a very weak explosion, but they all died instantly of hydrostatic
shock." Case felt her move her fingers experimentally. The material of the
ball seemed to offer no more resistance than temperfoam. The pain in her leg
was excruciating, impossible. A red moire shifted in her vision. "I
wouldn't move them, if I were you." The interior of the ball seemed to
tighten slightly. "It's a sex toy Jane bought in Berlin. Wiggle them
long enough and it crushes them to a pulp. Variant of the material they make
this flooring from. Something to do with the molecules, I suppose. Are you
"You seem to have injured your leg." His fingers found the flat packet
of drugs in the left back pocket of her jeans. "Well. My last taste from
Ali, and just in time."
The shifting mesh of blood began to whirl.
"Hideo," said another voice, a woman's, "she's losing
consciousness. Give her something. For that and for the pain. She's
very striking, don't you think, Peter? These glasses, are they a
fashion where she comes from?"
Cool hands, unhurried, with a surgeon's certainty. The sting of a
"I wouldn't know," Riviera was saying. "I've never seen her
native habitat. They came and took me from Turkey."
"The Sprawl, yes. We have interests there. And once we sent Hideo. My
fault, really. I'd let someone in, a burglar. He took the family
terminal." She laughed. "I made it easy for him. To annoy the others. He was
a pretty boy, my burglar. Is she waking, Hideo? Shouldn't she have
"More and she would die," said a third voice.
The blood mesh slid into black. The music returned, horns and piano.
C A S E : : : : : : : : : : J A C K O U T : : : : : :
Afterimages of the flashed words danced across Maelcum's eyes and
creased forehead as Case removed the trodes.
"You scream, mon, while ago."
"Molly," he said, his throat dry. "Got hurt." He took a white plastic
squeeze bottle from the edge of the g-web and sucked out a mouthful of flat
water. "I don't like how any of this shit is going."
The little Cray monitor lit. The Finn, against a background of twisted,
impacted junk. "Neither do I. We gotta problem."
Maelcum pulled himself up, over Case's head, twisted, and peered
over his shoulder. "Now who is that mon, Case?"
"That's just a picture, Maelcum," Case said wearily. "Guy I know
in the Sprawl. It's Wintermute talking. Picture's supposed to
make us feel at home."
"Bullshit," the Finn said. "Like I told Molly, these aren't
masks. I need 'em to talk to you. 'Cause I don't have what
you'd think of as a personality, much. But all that's just
pissing in the wind, Case, 'cause, like I just said, we gotta
"So express thyself, Mute," Maelcum said.
"Molly's leg's falling off, for starts. Can't walk.
How it was supposed to go down, she'd walk in, get Peter out of the
way, talk the magic word outa 3Jane, get up to the head, and say it. Now
she's blown it. So I want you two to go in after her."
Case stared at the face on the screen. "Us?"
"So who else?"
"Aerol," Case said, "the guy on Babylon Rocker, Maelcum's pal."
"No. Gotta be you. Gotta be somebody who understands Molly, who
understands Riviera. Maelcum for muscle."
"You maybe forget that I'm in the middle of a little run, here.
Remember? What you hauled my ass out here for. . ."
"Case, listen up. Time's tight. Very tight. Listen. The real link
between your deck and Straylight is a sideband broadcast over Garvey's
navigation system. You'll take Garvey into a very private dock
I'll show you. The Chinese virus has completely penetrated the fabric
of the Hosaka. There's nothing in the Hosaka but virus now. When you
dock, the virus will be interfaced with the Straylight custodial system and
we'll cut the sideband. You'll take your deck, the Flatline, and
Maelcum . You'll find 3Jane, get the word out of her, kill Riviera,
get the key from Molly. You can keep track of the program by jacking your
deck into the Straylight system. I'll handle it for you. There's
a standard jack in the back of the head, behind a panel with five zircons."
Case blinked at the representation of the Finn. He felt Maelcum put his
hand on his shoulder. "Hey. You forget something." He felt the rage rising,
and a kind of glee. "You fucked up. You blew the controls on the grapples
when you blew Armitage. Haniwa's got us good and tight. Armitage fried
the other Hosaka and the mainframes went with the bridge, right?"
The Finn nodded.
"So we're stuck out here. And that means you're fucked
man." He wanted to laugh, but it caught in his throat.
"Case, mon," Maelcum said softly, "Garvey a tug."
"That's right," said the Finn, and smiled.
"You havin' fun in the big world outside?" the construct asked,
when Case jacked back in. "Figured that was Wintermute requestin' the
pleasure. . ."
"Yeah. You bet. Kuang okay?"
"Bang on. Killer virus."
"Okay. Got some snags, but we're working on it."
"You wanna tell me, maybe?"
"Don't have time."
"Well, boy, never mind me, I'm just dead anyway."
"Fuck off," Case said, and flipped, cutting off the tornfingernail edge
of the Flatline's laughter.
"She dreamed of a state involving very little in the way of individual
consciousness," 3Jane was saying. She cupped a large cameo in her hand,
extending it toward Molly. The carved profile was very much like her own.
"Animal bliss. I think she viewed the evolution of the forebrain as a sort
of sidestep." She withdrew the brooch and studied it, tilting it to catch
the light at different angles. "Only in certain heightened modes would an
individual – a clan member – suffer the more painful aspects of
self-awareness. . ."
Molly nodded. Case remembered the injection. What had they given her?
The pain was still there, but it came through as a tight focus of scrambled
impressions. Neon worms writhing in her thigh, the touch of burlap, smell of
frying krill – his mind recoiled from it. If he avoided focusing on
it, the impressions overlapped, became a sensory equivalent of white noise.
If it could do that to her nervous system, what would her frame of mind be?
Her vision was abnormally clear and bright, even sharper than usual.
Things seemed to vibrate, each person or object tuned to a minutely
different frequency. Her hands, still locked in the black ball, were on her
lap. She sat in one of the pool chairs, her broken leg propped straight in
front of her on a camelskin hassock. 3Jane sat opposite, on another hassock,
huddled in an oversized djellaba of unbleached wool. She was very young.
"Where'd he go?" Molly asked. "To take his shot?"
3Jane shrugged beneath the folds of the pale heavy robe and tossed a
strand of dark hair away from her eyes. "He told me when to let you in," she
said. "He wouldn't tell me why. Everything has to be a mystery. Would
you have hurt us?"
Case felt Molly hesitate. "I would've killed him.
I'd've tried to kill the ninja. Then I was supposed to talk with
"Why?" 3Jane asked, tucking the cameo back into one of the
djellaba's inner pockets. "And why? And what about?"
Molly seemed to be studying the high, delicate bones, the wide mouth,
the narrow hawk nose. 3Jane's eyes were dark, curiously opaque.
"Because I hate him," she said at last, "and the why of that's just
the way I'm wired, what he is and what I am."
"And the show," 3Jane said. "I saw the show."
"Because they're the best. Because one of them killed a partner
of mine, once."
3Jane became very grave. She raised her eyebrows.
"Because I had to see," Molly said.
"And then we would have talked, you and I? Like this?" Her dark hair
was very straight, center-parted, drawn back into a knot of dull sterling.
"Shall we talk now?"
"Take this off," Molly said, raising her captive hands.
"You killed my father," 3Jane said, no change whatever in her tone. "I
was watching on the monitors. My mother's eyes, he called them."
"He killed the puppet. It looked like you."
"He was fond of broad gestures," she said, and then Riviera was beside
her, radiant with drugs, in the seersucker convict outfit he'd worn in
the roof garden of their hotel.
"Getting acquainted? She's an interesting girl, isn't she?
I thought so when I first saw her." He stepped past 3Jane. "It isn't
going to work, you know."
"Isn't it, Peter?" Molly managed a grin.
"Wintermute won't be the first to have made the same mistake.
Underestimating me." He crossed the tiled pool border to a white enamel
table and splashed mineral water into a heavy crystal highball glass. "He
talked with me, Molly. I suppose he talked to all of us. You, and Case,
whatever there is of Armitage to talk to. He can't really understand
us, you know. He has his profiles, but those are only statistics. You may be
the statistical animal, darling, and Case is nothing but, but I possess a
quality unquantifiable by its very nature." He drank.
"And what exactly is that, Peter?" Molly asked, her voice flat.
Riviera beamed. "Perversity." He walked back to the two women, swirling
the water that remained in the dense, deeply carved cylinder of rock
crystal, as though he enjoyed the weight of the thing. "An enjoyment of the
gratuitous act. And I have made a decision, Molly, a wholly gratuitous
She waited, looking up at him.
"Oh, Peter," 3Jane said, with the sort of gentle exasperation
ordinarily reserved for children.
"No word for you, Molly. He told me about that you see. 3Jane knows the
code, of course, but you won't have it. Neither will Wintermute. My
Jane's an ambitious girl, in her perverse way." He smiled again. "She
has designs on the family empire, and a pair of insane artificial
intelligences, kinky as the concept may be, would only get in our way. So.
Comes her Riviera to help her out, you see. And Peter says, sit tight. Play
Daddy's favorite swing records and let Peter call you up a band to
match, a floor of dancers, a wake for dead King Ashpool." He drank off the
last of the mineral water. "No, you wouldn't do, Daddy, you would not
do. Now that Peter's come home." And then, his face pink with the
pleasure of cocaine and meperidine, he swung the glass hard into her left
lens implant, smashing vision into blood and light.
Maelcum was prone against the cabin ceiling when Case removed the
trodes. A nylon sling around his waist was fastened to the panels on either
side with shock cords and gray rubber suction pads. He had his shirt off and
was working on a central panel with a clumsy-looking zero-g wrench, the
thing's fat countersprings twanging as he removed another hexhead.
Marcus Garvey was groaning and ticking with g-stress.
"The Mute takin' I an' I dock," the Zionite said, popping
the hexhead into a mesh pouch at his waist. "Maelcum pilot th'
landin', meantime need we tool f' th' job."
"You keep tools back there?" Case craned his neck and watched cords of
muscle bunching in the brown back.
"This one," Maelcum said, sliding a long bundle wrapped in black poly
from the space behind the panel. He replaced the panel, along with a single
hexhead to hold it in place. The black package had drifted aft before
he'd finished. He thumbed open the vacuum valves on the
workbelt's gray pads and freed himself, retrieving the thing
He kicked back, gliding over his instruments – a green docking
diagram pulsed on his central screen – and snagged the frame of
Case's g-web. He pulled himself down and picked at the tape of his
package with a thick, chipped thumbnail. "Some man in China say th'
truth comes out this," he said, unwrapping an ancient, oilslick Remington
automatic shotgun, its barrel chopped off a few millimeters in front of the
battered forestock. The shoulderstock had been removed entirely, replaced
with a wooden pistolgrip wound with dull black tape. He smelled of sweat and
"That the only one you got?"
"Sure, mon," he said, wiping oil from the black barrel with a red
cloth, the black poly wrapping bunched around the pistolgrip in his other
hand, "I an' I th' Rastafarian navy, believe it."
Case pulled the trodes down across his forehead. He'd never
bothered to put the Texas catheter back on; at least he could take a real
piss in the Villa Straylight, even if it was his last.
He jacked in.
"Hey," the construct said, "ol' Peter's totally apeshit,
They seemed to be part of the Tessier-Ashpool ice now; the emerald
arches had widened, grown together, become a solid mass. Green predominated
in the planes of the Chinese program that surrounded them. "Gettin'
"Real close. Need you soon."
"Listen, Dix. Wintermute says Kuang's set itself up solid in our
Hosaka. I'm going to have to jack you and my deck out of the Circuit,
haul you into Straylight, and plug you back in, into the custodial program
there, Wintermute says. Says the Kuang virus will be all through there. Then
we run from inside through the Straylight net."
"Wonderful," the Flatline said, "I never did like to do anything simple
when I could do it ass-backwards."
Into her darkness, a churning synaesthesia, where her pain was the
taste of old iron, scent of melon, wings of a moth brushing her cheek. She
was unconscious, and he was barred from her dreams. When the optic chip
flared, the alphanumerics were haloed, each one ringed with a faint pink
"I'm very unhappy with this, Peter." 3Jane's voice seemed
to arrive from a hollow distance. Molly could hear, he realized, then
corrected himself. The simstim unit was intact and still in place; he could
feel it digging against her ribs. Her ears registered the vibrations of the
girl's voice. Riviera said something brief and indistinct. "But I
don't," she said, "and it isn't fun. Hideo will bring a medical
unit down from intensive care, but this needs a surgeon."
There was a silence. Very distinctly, Case heard the water lap against
the side of the pool.
"What was that you were telling her, when I came back?" Riviera was
very close now.
"About my mother. She asked me to. I think she was in shock, aside from
Hideo's injection. Why did you do that to her?"
"I wanted to see if they would break."
"One did. When she comes around – if she comes around –
we'll see what color her eyes are."
"She's extremely dangerous. Too dangerous. If I hadn't been
here to distract her, to throw up Ashpool to distract her and my own Hideo
to draw her little bomb, where would you be? In her power."
"No," 3Jane said, "there was Hideo. I don't think you quite
understand about Hideo. She does, evidently."
"Like a drink?"
"Wine. The white."
Case jacked out.
Maelcum was hunched over Garvey's controls, tapping out commands
for a docking sequence. The module's central screen displayed a fixed
red square that represented the Straylight dock. Garvey was a larger square,
green, that shrank slowly, wavering from side to side with Maelcum's
commands. To the left, a smaller screen displayed a skeletal graphic of
Garvey and Haniwa as they approached the curvature of the spindle.
"We got an hour, man," Case said, pulling the ribbon of fiberoptics
from the Hosaka. His deck's back-up batteries were good for ninety
minutes, but the Flatline's construct would be an additional drain. He
worked quickly, mechanically, fastening the construct to the bottom of the
Ono-Sendai with micropore tape. Maelcum's workbelt drifted past. He
snagged it, unclipped the two lengths of shock cord, with their gray
rectangular suction pads, and hooked the jaws of one clip through the other.
He held the pads against the sides of his deck and worked the thumb lever
that created suction. With the deck, construct, and improvised shoulder
strap suspended in front of him, he struggled into his leather jacket,
checking the contents of his pockets. The passport Armitage had given him,
the bank chip in the same name, the credit chip he'd been issued when
he'd entered Freeside, two derms of the betaphenethylamine he'd
bought from Bruce, a roll of New Yen, half a pack of Yeheyuans, and the
shuriken. He tossed the Freeside chip over his shoulders, heard it click off
the Russian scrubber. He was about to do the same with the steel star, but
the rebounding credit chip clipped the back of his skull, spun off, struck
the ceiling, and tumbled past Maelcum's left shoulder. The Zionite
interrupted his piloting to glare back at him. Case looked at the shuriken,
then tucked it into his jacket pocket, hearing the lining tear.
"You missin' th' Mute, mon," Maelcum said. "Mute say he
messin' th' security for Garvey. Garvey dockin' as
'nother boat, boat they 'spectin' out of Babylon. Mute
broadcastin' codes for us."
"We gonna wear the suits?"
"Too heavy." Maelcum shrugged. "Stay in web 'til I tell you." He
tapped a final sequence into the module and grabbed the worn pink handholds
on either side of the navigation board. Case saw the green square shrink a
final few millimeters to overlap the red square. On the smaller screen,
Haniwa lowered her bow to miss the curve of the spindle and was snared.
Garvey was still slung beneath her like a captive grub. The tug rang,
shuddered. Two stylized arms sprang out to grip the slender wasp shape.
Straylight extruded a tentative yellow rectangle that curved, groping past
Haniwa for Garvey.
There was a scraping sound from the bow, beyond the trembling fronds of
"Mon," Maelcum said, "mind we got gravity." A dozen small objects
struck the floor of the cabin simultaneously, as though drawn there by a
magnet. Case gasped as his internal organs were pulled into a different
configuration. The deck and construct had fallen painfully to his lap.
They were attached to the spindle now, rotating with it.
Maelcum spread his arms, flexed tension from his shoulders, and removed
his purple dreadbag, shaking out his locks. "Come now, mon, if you seh time
be mos' precious."
The Villa Straylight was a parasitic structure, Case reminded himself,
as he stepped past the tendrils of caulk and through Marcus Garvey's
forward hatch. Straylight bled air and water out of Freeside, and had no
ecosystem of its own.
The gangway tube the dock had extended was a more elaborate version of
the one he'd tumbled through to reach Haniwa, designed for use in the
spindle's rotation gravity. A corrugated tunnel, articulated by
integral hydraulic members, each segment ringed with a loop of tough,
nonslip plastic, the loops serving as the rungs of a ladder. The gangway had
snaked its way around Haniwa; it was horizontal , where it joined
Garvey' s lock, but curved up sharply and to the left, a vertical
climb around the curvature of the yacht's hull. Maelcum was already
making his way up the rings, pulling himself up with his left hand, the
Remington in his right. He wore a stained pair of baggy fatigues, his
sleeveless green nylon jacket, and a pair of ragged canvas sneakers with
bright red soles. The gangway shifted slightly, each time he climbed to
The clips on Case's makeshift strap dug into his shoulder with
the weight of the Ono-Sendai and the Flatline's construct. All he felt
now was fear, a generalized dread. He pushed it away, forcing himself to
replay Armitage's lecture on the spindle and Villa Straylight. He
started climbing. Freeside's ecosystem was limited, not closed. Zion
was a closed system, capable of cycling for years without the introduction
of external materials. Freeside produced its own air and water, but relied
on constant shipments of food, on the regular augmentation of soil
nutrients. The Villa Straylight produced nothing at all.
"Mon," Maelcum said quietly, "get up here, 'side me." Case edged
sideways on the circular ladder and climbed the last few rungs. The gangway
ended in a smooth, slightly convex hatch, two meters in diameter. The
hydraulic members of the tube vanished into flexible housings set into the
frame of the hatch.
"So what do we – "
Case's mouth shut as the hatch swung up, a slight differential in
pressure puffing fine grit into his eyes.
Maelcum scrambled up, over the edge, and Case heard the tiny click of
the Remington's safety being released. "You th' mon in th'
hurry. . ." Maelcum whispered, crouching there. Then Case was beside him.
The hatch was centered in a round, vaulted chamber floored with blue
nonslip plastic tiles. Maelcum nudged him, pointed, and he saw a monitor set
into a curved wall. On the screen, a tall young man with the Tessier-Ashpool
features was brushing something from the sleeves of his dark suitcoat. He
stood beside an identical hatch, in an identical chamber. "Very sorry, sir,"
said a voice from a grid centered above the hatch. Case glanced up.
"Expected you later, at the axial dock. One moment, please." On the monitor,
the young man tossed his head impatiently.
Maelcum spun as a door slid open to their left, the shotgun ready. A
small Eurasian in orange coveralls stepped through and goggled at them. He
opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He closed his mouth. Case glanced at
the monitor. Blank.
"Who?" the man managed.
"The Rastafarian navy," Case said, standing up, the cyberspace deck
banging against his hip, "and all we want's a jack into your custodial
The man swallowed. "Is this a test? It's a loyalty check. It must
be a loyalty check." He wiped the palms of his hands on the thighs of his
"No, mon, this a real one." Maelcum came up out of his crouch with the
Remington pointed at the Eurasian's face. "You move it."
They followed the man back through the door, into a corridor whose
polished concrete walls and irregular floor of overlapping carpets were
perfectly familiar to Case. "Pretty rugs," Maelcum said, prodding the man in
the back. "Smell like church."
They came to another monitor, an antique Sony, this one mounted above a
console with a keyboard and a complex array of jack panels. The screen lit
as they halted, the Finn grinning tensely out at them from what seemed to be
the front room of Metro Holografix. "Okay," he said, "Maelcum takes this guy
down the corridor to the open locker door, sticks him in there, I'll
lock it. Case, you want the fifth socket from the left, top panel.
There's adaptor plugs in the cabinet under the console. Needs
Ono-Sendai twenty-point into Hitachi forty." As Maelcum nudged his captive
along, Case knelt and fumbled through an assortment of plugs, finally coming
up with the one he needed. With his deck jacked into the adaptor, he paused.
"Do you have to look like that, man?" he asked the face on the screen.
The Finn was erased a line at a time by the image of Lonny Zone against a
wall of peeling Japanese posters.
"Anything you want, baby," Zone drawled, "just hop it for Lonny. . ."
"No," Case said, "use the Finn." As the Zone image vanished, he shoved
the Hitachi adaptor into its socket and settled the trodes across his
"What kept you?" the Flatline asked, and laughed.
"Told you don't do that," Case said.
"Joke, boy," the construct said, "zero time lapse for me. Lemme see
what we got here. . ."
The Kuang program was green, exactly the shade of the T-A ice. Even as
Case watched, it grew gradually more opaque, although he could see the
black-mirrored shark thing clearly when he looked up. The fracture lines and
hallucinations were gone now, and the thing looked real as Marcus Garvey, a
wingless antique jet, its smooth skin plated with black chrome.
"Right on," the Flatline said.
"Right," Case said, and flipped.
" – like that. I'm sorry," 3Jane was saying, as she
bandaged Molly's head. "Our unit says no concussion, no permanent
damage to the eye. You didn't know him very well, before you came
"Didn't know him at all," Molly said bleakly. She was on her back
on a high bed or padded table. Case couldn't feel the injured leg. The
synaesthetic effect of the original injection seemed to have worn off. The
black ball was gone, but her hands were immobilized by soft straps she
"He wants to kill you."
"Figures," Molly said, staring up at the rough ceiling past a very
"I don't think I want him to," 3Jane said, and Molly painfully
turned her head to look up into the dark eyes.
"Don't play with me," she said.
"But I think I might like to," 3Jane said, and bent to kiss her
forehead, brushing the hair back with a warm hand. There were smears of
blood on her pale djellaba.
"Where's he gone now?" Molly asked.
"Another injection, probably," 3Jane said, straightening up. "He was
quite impatient for your arrival. I think it might be fun to nurse you back
to health, Molly." She smiled, absently wiping a bloody hand down the front
of the robe. "Your leg will need to be reset, but we can arrange that."
"What about Peter?"
"Peter." She gave her head a little shake. A strand of dark hair came
loose, fell across her forehead. "Peter has become rather boring. I find
drug use in general to be boring." She giggled. "In others, at any rate. My
father was a dedicated abuser, as you must have seen."
"Don't alarm yourself." 3Jane's fingers brushed the skin
above the waistband of the leather jeans. "His suicide was the result of my
having manipulated the safety margins of his freeze. I'd never
actually met him, you know. I was decanted after he last went down to sleep.
But I did know him very well. The cores know everything. I watched him kill
my mother. I'll show you that, when you're better. He strangles
her in bed."
"Why did he kill her?" Her unbandaged eye focused on the girl's
"He couldn't accept the direction she intended for our family.
She commissioned the construction of our artificial intelligences. She was
quite a visionary. She imagined us in a symbiotic relationship with the
Al's, our corporate decisions made for us. Our conscious decisions, I
should say. Tessier–Ashpool would be immortal, a hive, each of us
units of a larger entity . Fascinating . I'll play her tapes for you,
nearly a thousand hours. But I've never understood her, really, and
with her death, her direction was lost. All direction was lost, and we began
to burrow into ourselves. Now we seldom come out. I'm the exception
"You said you were trying to kill the old man? You fiddled his
3Jane nodded. "I had help. From a ghost. That was what I thought when I
was very young, that there were ghosts in the corporate cores. Voices. One
of them was what you call Wintermute, which is the Turing code for our Berne
AI, although the entity manipulating you is a sort of subprogram."
"One of them? There's more?"
"One other. But that one hasn't spoken to me in years. It gave
up, I think. I suspect that both represent the fruition of certain
capacities my mother ordered designed into the original software, but she
was an extremely secretive woman when she felt it necessary. Here. Drink."
She put a flexible plastic tube to Molly's lips. "Water. Only a
"Jane, love," Riviera asked cheerfully, from somewhere out of sight,
"are you enjoying yourself?"
"Leave us alone, Peter."
"Playing doctor. . ." Suddenly Molly stared into her own face, the
image suspended ten centimeters from her nose. There were no bandages. The
left implant was shattered, a long finger of silvered plastic driven deep in
a socket that was an inverted pool of blood.
"Hideo," 3Jane said, stroking Molly's stomach, "hurt Peter if he
doesn't go away. Go and swim, Peter."
The projection vanished.
07:58:40, in the darkness of the bandaged eye.
"He said you know the code. Peter said. Wintermute needs the code."
Case was suddenly aware of the Chubb key that lay on its nylon thong,
against the inner curve of her left breast.
"Yes," 3Jane said, withdrawing her hand, "I do. I learned it as a
child. I think I learned it in a dream. . . Or somewhere in the thousand
hours of my mother's diaries. But I think that Peter has a point, in
urging me not to surrender it. There would be Turing to contend with, if I
read all this correctly, and ghosts are nothing if not capricious."
Case jacked out.
"Strange little customer, huh?" The Finn grinned at Case from the old
Case shrugged. He saw Maelcum coming back along the corridor with the
Remington at his side. The Zionite was smiling, his head bobbing to a rhythm
Case couldn't hear. A pair of thin yellow leads ran from his ears to a
side pocket in his sleeveless jacket.
"Dub, mon," Maelcum said.
"You're fucking crazy," Case told him.
"Hear okay, mon. Righteous dub."
"Hey, guys," the Finn said, "on your toes. Here comes your
transportation. I can't finesse many numbers as smooth as the pic of
8Jean that conned your doorman, but I can get you a ride over to
Case was pulling the adaptor from its socket when the riderless service
cart swiveled into sight, under the graceless concrete arch marking the far
end of their corridor. It might have been the one his Africans had ridden,
but if it was, they were gone now. Just behind the back of the low padded
seat, its tiny manipulators gripping the upholstery, the little Braun was
steadily winking its red LED.
"Bus to catch," Case said to Maelcum.
He'd lost his anger again. He missed it.
The little cart was crowded: Maelcum, the Remington across his knees,
and Case, deck and construct against his chest. The cart was operating at
speeds it hadn't been designed for; it was top heavy, cornering, and
Maelcum had taken to leaning out in the direction of the turns. This
presented no problem when the thing took lefts, because Case sat on the
right, but in the right turns the Zionite had to lean across Case and his
gear, crushing him against the seat.
He had no idea where they were. Everything was familiar, but he
couldn't be sure he'd seen any particular stretch before. A
curving hallway lined with wooden showcases displayed collections he was
certain he'd never seen: the skulls of large birds, coins, masks of
beaten silver. The service cart's six tires were silent on the layered
carpets. There was only the whine of the electric motor and an occasional
faint burst of Zion dub, from the foam beads in Maelcum's ears, as he
lunged past Case to counter a sharp right. The deck and the construct kept
pressing the shuriken in his jacket pocket into his hip.
"You got a watch?" he asked Maelcum.
The Zionite shook his locks. "Time be time."
"Jesus," Case said, and closed his eyes.
The Braun scuttled over mounded carpets and tapped one of its padded
claws against an oversized rectangular door of dark battered wood. Behind
them, the cart sizzled and shot blue sparks from a louvered panel. The
sparks struck the carpet beneath the cart and Case smelled scorched wool.
"This th' way, mon?" Maelcum eyed the door and snapped the
"Hey," Case said, more to himself than to Maelcum, "you think I know?"
The Braun rotated its spherical body and the LED strobed.
"It wan' you open door," Maelcum said, nodding.
Case stepped forward and tried the ornate brass knob. There was a brass
plate mounted on the door at eye level, so old that the lettering that had
once been engraved there had been reduced to a spidery, unreadable code, the
name of some long dead function or functionary, polished into oblivion. He
wondered vaguely if Tessier-Ashpool had selected each piece of Straylight
individually, or if they'd purchased it in bulk from some vast
European equivalent of Metro Holografix. The door's hinges creaked
plaintively as he edged it open, Maelcum stepping past him with the
Remington thrust forward from his hip.
"Books," Maelcum said.
The library, the white steel shelves with their labels.
"I know where we are," Case said. He looked back at the service cart. A
curl of smoke was rising from the carpet. "So come on," he said. "Cart.
Cart?" It remained stationary. The Braun was plucking at the leg of his
jeans, nipping at his ankle. He resisted a strong urge to kick it. "Yeah?"
It ticked its way around the door. He followed it. The monitor in the
library was another Sony, as old as the first one. The Braun paused beneath
it and executed a sort of Jig.
The familiar features filled the screen. The Finn smiled.
"Time to check in, Case," the Finn said, his eyes screwed up against
the smoke of a cigarette. "C'mon, jack."
The Braun threw itself against his ankle and began to climb his leg,
its manipulators pinching his flesh through the thin black cloth. "Shit!" He
slapped it aside and it struck the wall. Two of its limbs began to piston
repeatedly, uselessly, pumping the air. "What's wrong with the goddam
"Burned out," the Finn said. "Forget it. No problem. jack in now."
There were four sockets beneath the screen, but only one would accept the
He jacked in.
Nothing. Gray void.
No matrix, no grid. No cyberspace.
The deck was gone. His fingers were. . .
And on the far rim of consciousness, a scurrying, a fleeting impression
of something rushing toward him, across leagues of black mirror.
He tried to scream.
There seemed to be a city, beyond the curve of beach, but it was far
He crouched on his haunches on the damp sand, his arms wrapped tight
across his knees, and shook.
He stayed that way for what seemed a very long time, even after the
shaking stopped. The city, if it was a city, was low and gray. At times it
was obscured by banks of mist that came rolling in over the lapping surf. At
one point he decided that it wasn't a city at all, but some single
building, perhaps a ruin; he had no way of judging its distance. The sand
was the shade of tarnished silver that hadn't gone entirely black. The
beach was made of sand, the beach was very long, the sand was damp, the
bottoms of his jeans were wet from the sand. . . He held himself and rocked,
singing a song without words or tune.
The sky was a different silver. Chiba. Like the Chiba sky. Tokyo Bay?
He turned his head and stared out to sea, longing for the hologram logo of
Fuji Electric, for the drone of a helicopter, anything at all.
Behind him, a gull cried. He shivered.
A wind was rising. Sand stung his cheek. He put his face against his
knees and wept, the sound of his sobbing as distant and alien as the cry of
the searching gull. Hot urine soaked his jeans, dribbled on the sand, and
quickly cooled in the wind off the water. When his tears were gone, his
"Wintermute," he mumbled to his knees, "Wintermute. . ."
It was growing dark, now, and when he shivered, it was with a cold that
finally forced him to stand.
His knees and elbows ached. His nose was running; he wiped it on the
cuff of his jacket, then searched one empty pocket after another. "Jesus,"
he said, shoulders hunched, tucking his fingers beneath his arms for warmth.
"Jesus." His teeth began to chatter.
The tide had left the beach combed with patterns more subtle than any a
Tokyo gardener produced. When he'd taken a dozen steps in the
direction of the now invisible city, he turned and looked back through the
gathering dark. His footprints stretched to the point of his arrival. There
were no other marks to disturb the tarnished sand.
He estimated that he'd covered at least a kilometer before he
noticed the light. He was talking with Ratz, and it was Ratz who first
pointed it out, an orange-red glow to his right, away from the surf. He knew
that Ratz wasn't there, that the bartender was a figment of his own
imagination, not of the thing he was trapped in, but that didn't
matter. He'd called the man up for comfort of some kind, but Ratz had
had his own ideas about Case and his predicament.
"Really, my artiste, you amaze me. The lengths you will go to in order
to accomplish your own destruction. The redundancy of it! In Night City, you
had it, in the palm of your hand! The speed to eat your sense away, drink to
keep it all so fluid, Linda for a sweeter sorrow, and the street to hold the
axe. How far you've come, to do it now, and what grotesque props. . .
Playgrounds hung in space, castles hermetically sealed, the rarest rots of
old Europa, dead men sealed in little boxes magic out of China. . ." Ratz
laughed, trudging along beside him, his pink manipulator swinging jauntily
at his side. In spite of the dark, Case could see the baroque steel that
laced the bartender's blackened teeth. "But I suppose that is the way
of an artiste, no? You needed this world built for you, this beach, this
place. To die."
Case halted, swayed, turned toward the sound of surf and the sting of
blown sand. "Yeah," he said. "Shit. I guess. . ." He walked toward the
"Artiste," he heard Ratz call. "The light. You saw a light. Here. This
way. . ."
He stopped again, staggered, fell to his knees in a few millimeters of
icy seawater. "Ratz? Light? Ratz. . ."
But the dark was total, now, and there was only the sound of the surf.
He struggled to his feet and tried to retrace his steps.
Time passed. He walked on.
And then it was there, a glow, defining itself with his every step. A
rectangle. A door.
"Fire in there," he said, his words torn away by the wind.
It was a bunker, stone or concrete, buried in drifts of the dark sand.
The doorway was low, narrow, doorless, and deep, set into a wall at least a
meter thick. "Hey," Case said, softly, "hey. . ." His fingers brushed the
cold wall. There was a fire, in there, shifting shadows on the sides of the
He ducked low and was through, inside, in three steps.
A girl was crouched beside rusted steel, a sort of fireplace, where
driftwood burned, the wind sucking smoke up a dented chimney. The fire was
the only light, and as his gaze met the wide, startled eyes, he recognized
her headband, a rolled scarf, printed with a pattern like magnified
He refused her arms, that night, refused the food she offered him, the
place beside her in the nest of blankets and shredded foam. He crouched
beside the door, finally, and watched her sleep, listening to the wind scour
the structure's walls. Every hour or so, he rose and crossed to the
makeshift stove, adding fresh driftwood from the pile beside it. None of
this was real, but cold was cold.
She wasn't real, curled there on her side in the firelight. He
watched her mouth, the lips parted slightly. She was the girl he remembered
from their trip across the Bay, and that was cruel.
"Mean, motherfucker," he whispered to the wind. "Don't take a
chance, do you? Wouldn't give me any junkie, huh? I know what this is.
. ." He tried to keep the desperation from his voice. "I know, see? I know
who you are. You're the other one. 3Jane told Molly. Burning bush.
That wasn't Wintermute, it was you. He tried to warn me off with the
Braun. Now you got me flatlined, you got me here. Nowhere. With a ghost.
Like I remember her before. . ."
She stirred in her sleep, called something out, drawing a scrap of
blanket across her shoulder and cheek.
"You aren't anything," he said to the sleeping girl.
"You're dead and you meant fuck-all to me anyway. Hear that, buddy? I
know what you're doing. I'm flatlined. This has all taken about
twenty seconds, right? I'm out on my ass in that library and my
brain's dead. And pretty soon it'll be dead, if you got any
sense. You don't want Wintermute to pull his scam off, is all, so you
can just hang me up here. Dixie'll run Kuang, but his ass is dead and
you can second guess his moves, sure. This Linda shit, yeah, that's
all been you, hasn't it? Wintermute tried to use her when he sucked me
into the Chiba construct, but he couldn't. Said it was too tricky.
That was you moved the stars around in Freeside, wasn't it? That was
you put her face on the dead puppet in Ashpool's room. Molly never saw
that. You just edited her simstim signal. 'Cause you think you can
hurt me. 'Cause you think I gave a shit. Well, fuck you, whatever
you're called. You won. You win. But none of it means anything to me
now, right? Think I care? So why'd you do it to me this way?" He was
shaking again, his voice shrill.
"Honey," she said, twisting up from the rags of blankets, "you come
here and sleep. I'll sit up, you want. You gotta sleep, okay?" Her
soft accent was exaggerated with sleep. "You just sleep, okay?"
When he woke, she was gone. The fire was dead, but it was warm in the
bunker, sunlight slanting through the doorway to throw a crooked rectangle
of gold on the ripped side of a fat fiber canister. The thing was a shipping
container; he remembered them from the Chiba docks. Through the rent in its
side, he could see half a dozen bright yellow packets. In the sunlight, they
looked like giant pats of butter. His stomach tightened with hunger. Rolling
out of the nest, he went to the canister and fished one of the things out,
blinking at small print in a dozen languages. The English was on the bottom.
EMERG. RATION, HI-PRO, "BEEF", TYPE AG-8. A listing of nutritive content. He
fumbled a second one out. "EGGS". "If you're making this shit up," he
said, "you could lay on some real food, okay?" With a packet in either hand,
he made his way through the structure's four rooms. Two were empty,
aside from drifts of sand, and the fourth held three more of the ration
canisters. "Sure," he said touching the seals. "Stay here a long time. I get
the idea. Sure. . ."
He searched the room with the fireplace, finding a plastic canister
filled with what he assumed was rainwater. Beside the nest of blankets,
against the wall, lay a cheap red lighter, a seaman's knife with a
cracked green handle, and her scarf. It was still knotted, and stiff with
sweat and dirt. He used the knife to open the yellow packets, dumping their
contents into a rusted can that he found beside the stove. He dipped water
from the canister, mixed the resulting mush with his fingers, and ate. It
tasted vaguely like beef. When it was gone, he tossed the can into the
fireplace and went out.
Late afternoon, by the feel of the sun, its angle. He kicked off his
damp nylon shoes and was startled by the warmth of the sand. In daylight,
the beach was silver-gray. The sky was cloudless, blue. He rounded the
corner of the bunker and walked toward the surf, dropping his jacket on the
sand. "Dunno whose memories you're using for this one," he said when
he reached the water. He peeled off his jeans and kicked them into the
shallow surf, following them with t-shirt and underwear.
"What you doin', Case?"
He turned and found her ten meters down the beach, the white foam
sliding past her ankles.
"I pissed myself last night," he said. "Well, you don't wanna
wear those. Saltwater. Give you sores. I'll show you this pool back in
the rocks." She gestured vaguely behind her. "It's fresh." The faded
French fatigues had been hacked away above the knee; the skin below was
smooth and brown. A breeze caught at her hair.
"Listen," he said, scooping his clothes up and walking toward her, "I
got a question for you. I won't ask you what you're doing here.
But what exactly do you think I'm doing here?" He stopped, a wet black
jeans-leg slapping against his bare thigh.
"You came last night," she said. She smiled at him.
"And that's enough for you? I just came?"
"He said you would," she said, wrinkling her nose. She shrugged. "He
knows stuff like that, I guess." She lifted her left foot and rubbed salt
from the other ankle, awkward, childlike. She smiled at him again, more
tentatively. "Now you answer me one, okay?"
"How come you're painted brown like that, all except your foot?"
"And that's the last thing you remember?" He watched her scrape
the last of the freeze-dried hash from the rectangular steel box cover that
was their only plate.
She nodded, her eyes huge in the firelight. "I'm sorry, Case,
honest to God. It was just the shit, I guess, an' it was . . ." She
hunched forward, forearms across her knees, her face twisted for a few
seconds with pain or its memory. "I just needed the money. To get home, I
guess, or. . . hell," she said, "you wouldn't hardly talk to me."
"There's no cigarettes?"
"Goddam, Case, you asked me that ten times today! What's wrong
with you?" She twisted a strand of hair into her mouth and chewed at it.
"But the food was here? It was already here?"
"I told you, man, it was washed up on the damn beach."
"Okay. Sure. It's seamless."
She started to cry again, a dry sobbing. "Well, damn you anyway, Case,"
she managed, finally, "I was doin' just fine here by myself."
He got up, taking his jacket, and ducked through the doorway, scraping
his wrist on rough concrete. There was no moon, no wind, sea sound all
around him in the darkness. His jeans were tight and clammy. "Okay," he said
to the night, "I buy it. I guess I buy it. But tomorrow some cigarettes
better wash up." His own laughter startled him. "A case of beer
wouldn't hurt, while you're at it." He turned and re-entered the
She was stirring the embers with a length of silvered wood. "Who was
that, Case, up in your coffin in Cheap Hotel? Flash samurai with those
silver shades, black leather. Scared me, and after, I figured maybe she was
your new girl, 'cept she looked like more money than you had. . ." She
glanced back at him. "I'm real sorry I stole your RAM."
"Never mind," he said. "Doesn't mean anything. So you just took
it over to this guy and had him access it for you?"
"Tony," she said. "I'd been seein' him, kinda. He had a
habit an' we . . . anyway, yeah, I remember him running it by on this
monitor, and it was this real amazing graphics stuff, and I remember
wonderin' how you – "
"There wasn't any graphics in there," he interrupted. "Sure was.
I just couldn't figure how you'd have all those pictures of when
I was little, Case. How my daddy looked, before he left. Gimme this duck one
time, painted wood, and you had a picture of that. . ."
"Tony see it?"
"I don't remember. Next thing, I was on the beach, real early,
sunrise, those birds all yellin' so lonely. Scared 'cause I
didn't have a shot on me, nothin', an' I knew I'd be
gettin' sick. . . An' I walked an' walked, 'til it
was dark, an' found this place, an' next day the food washed in,
all tangled in the green sea stuff like leaves of hard jelly." She slid her
stick into the embers and left it there. "Never did get sick," she said, as
embers crawled. "Missed cigarettes more. How 'bout you, Case? You
still wired?" Firelight dancing under her cheekbones, remembered flash of
Wizard's Castle and Tank War Europa.
"No," he said, and then it no longer mattered, what he knew, tasting
the salt of her mouth where tears had dried. There was a strength that ran
in her, something he'd known in Night City and held there, been held
by it, held for a while away from time and death, from the relentless Street
that hunted them all. It was a place he'd known before; not everyone
could take him there, and somehow he always managed to forget it. Something
he'd found and lost so many times. It belonged, he knew – he
remembered – as she pulled him down, to the meat, the flesh the
cowboys mocked. It was a vast thing, beyond knowing, a sea of information
coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite intricacy that only the body, in its
strong blind way, could ever read.
The zipper hung, caught, as he opened the French fatigues, the coils of
toothed nylon clotted with salt. He broke it, some tiny metal part shooting
off against the wall as salt-rotten cloth gave, and then he was in her,
effecting the transmission of the old message. Here, even here, in a place
he knew for what it was, a coded model of some stranger's memory, the
She shuddered against him as the stick caught fire, a leaping flare
that threw their locked shadows across the bunker wall.
Later, as they lay together, his hand between her thighs, he remembered
her on the beach, the white foam pulling at her ankles, and he remembered
what she had said.
"He told you I was coming," he said.
But she only rolled against him, buttocks against his thighs, and put
her hand over his, and muttered something out of dream.
The music woke him, and at first it might have been the beat of his own
heart. He sat up beside her, pulling his jacket over his shoulders in the
predawn chill, gray light from the doorway and the fire long dead.
His vision crawled with ghost hieroglyphs, translucent lines of symbols
arranging themselves against the neutral backdrop of the bunker wall. He
looked at the backs of his hands, saw faint neon molecules crawling beneath
the skin, ordered by the unknowable code. He raised his right hand and moved
it experimentally. It left a faint, fading trail of strobed afterimages.
The hair stood up along his arms and at the back of his neck. He
crouched there with his teeth bared and felt for the music. The pulse faded,
returned, faded. . .
"What's wrong?" She sat up, clawing hair from her eyes. "Baby . .
"I feel . . . like a drug. . . You get that here?"
She shook her head, reached for him, her hands on his upper arms.
"Linda, who told you? Who told you I'd come? Who?"
"On the beach," she said, something forcing her to look away. "A boy. I
see him on the beach. Maybe thirteen. He lives here."
"And what did he say?"
"He said you'd come. He said you wouldn't hate me. He said
we'd be okay here, and he told me where the rain pool was. He looks
"Brazilian," Case said, as a new wave of symbols washed down the wall.
"I think he's from Rio." He got to his feet and began to struggle into
"Case," she said, her voice shaking, "Case, where you goin'?"
"I think I'll find that boy," he said, as the music came surging
back, still only a beat, steady and familiar, although he couldn't
place it in memory.
"I thought I saw something, when I got here. A city down the beach. But
yesterday it wasn't there. You ever seen that?" He yanked his zipper
up and tore at the impossible knot in his shoelaces, finally tossing the
shoes into the corner.
She nodded, eyes lowered. "Yeah. I see it sometimes."
"You ever go there, Linda?" He put his jacket on.
"No," she said, "but I tried. After I first came, an' I was
bored. Anyway, I figured it's a city, maybe I could find some shit."
She grimaced. "I wasn't even sick, I just wanted it. So I took food in
a can, mixed it real wet, because I didn't have another can for water.
An' I walked all day, an' I could see it, sometimes, city,
an' it didn't seem too far. But it never got any closer.
An' then it was gettin' closer, an' I saw what it was.
Sometimes that day it had looked kinda like it was wrecked, or maybe nobody
there, an' other times I thought I'd see light flashin'
off a machine, cars or somethin' . . ." Her voice trailed off.
"What is it?"
"This thing," she gestured around at the fireplace, the dark walls, the
dawn outlining the doorway, "where we live. It gets smaller, Case, smaller,
closer you get to it."
Pausing one last time, by the doorway. "You ask your boy about that?"
"Yeah. He said I wouldn't understand, an' I was
wastin' my time. Said it was, was like . . . an event. An' it
was our horizon. Event horizon, he called it."
The words meant nothing to him. He left the bunker and struck out
blindly, heading – he knew, somehow – away from the sea. Now the
hieroglyphs sped across the sand, fled from his feet, drew back from him as
he walked. "Hey," he said, "it's breaking down. Bet you know, too.
What is it? Kuang? Chinese icebreaker eating a hole in your heart? Maybe the
Dixie Flatline's no pushover, huh?"
He heard her call his name. Looked back and she was following him, not
trying to catch up, the broken zip of the French fatigues flapping against
the brown of her belly, pubic hair framed in torn fabric. She looked like
one of the girls on the Finn's old magazines in Metro Holografix come
to life, only she was tired and sad and human, the ripped costume pathetic
as she stumbled over clumps of salt-silver sea grass.
And then, somehow, they stood in the surf, the three of them, and the
boy's gums were wide and bright pink against his thin brown face. He
wore ragged, colorless shorts, limbs too thin against the sliding blue-gray
of the tide.
"I know you," Case said, Linda beside him.
"No," the boy said, his voice high and musical, "you do not."
"You're the other AI. You're Rio. You're the one who
wants to stop Wintermute. What's your name? Your Turing code. What is
The boy did a handstand in the surf, laughing. He walked on his hands,
then flipped out of the water. His eyes were Riviera's, but there was
no malice there. "To call up a demon you must learn its name. Men dreamed
that, once, but now it is real in another way. You know that, Case. Your
business is to learn the names of programs, the long formal names, names the
owners seek to conceal. True names. . ."
"A Turing code's not your name."
"Neuromancer," the boy said, slitting long gray eyes against the rising
sun. "The lane to the land of the dead. Where you are, my friend.
Marie-France, my lady, she prepared this road but her lord choked her off
before I could read the book of her days. Neuro from the nerves, the silver
paths. Romancer. Necromancer. I call up the dead. But no, my friend," and
the boy did a little dance, brown feet printing the sand, "I am the dead,
and their land." He laughed. A gull cried. "Stay. If your woman is a ghost,
she doesn't know it. Neither will you."
"You're cracking. The ice is breaking up."
"No," he said, suddenly sad, his fragile shoulders sagging. He rubbed
his foot against the sand. "It is more simple than that. But the choice is
yours." The gray eyes regarded Case gravely. A fresh wave of symbols swept
across his vision, one line at a time. Behind them, the boy wriggled, as
though seen through heat rising from summer asphalt. The music was loud now,
and Case could almost make out the lyrics.
"Case, honey," Linda said, and touched his shoulder.
"No," he said. He took off his jacket and handed it to her. "I
don't know," he said, "maybe you're here. Anyway, it gets cold."
He turned and walked away, and after the seventh step, he'd
closed his eyes, watching the music define itself at the center of things.
He did look back, once, although he didn't open his eyes.
He didn't need to.
They were there by the edge of the sea, Linda Lee and the thin child
who said his name was Neuromancer. His leather jacket dangled from her hand,
catching the fringe of the surf.
He walked on, following the music.
Maelcum's Zion dub.
There was a gray place, an impression of fine screens shifting, moire,
degrees of half tone generated by a very simple graphics program. There was
a long hold on a view through chainlink, gulls frozen above dark water.
There were voices. There was a plain of black mirror, that tilted, and he
was quicksilver, a bead of mercury, skittering down, striking the angles of
an invisible maze, fragmenting, flowing together, sliding again. . .
"You back, mon."
The music was taken from his ears.
"How long?" he heard himself ask, and knew that his mouth was very dry.
"Five minute, maybe. Too long. I wan' pull th' jack, Mute
seh no. Screen goin' funny, then Mute seh put th' phones on
He opened his eyes. Maelcum's features were overlayed with bands
of translucent hieroglyphs.
"An' you medicine," Maelcum said. "Two derm."
He was flat on his back on the library floor, below the monitor. The
Zionite helped him sit up, but the movement threw him into the savage rush
of the betaphenethylamine, the blue derms burning against his left wrist.
"Overdose," he managed.
"Come on, mon," the strong hands beneath his armpits, lifting him like
a child, "I an' I mus' go."
The service cart was crying. The betaphenethylamine gave it a voice. It
wouldn't stop. Not in the crowded gallery, the long corridors, not as
it passed the black glass entrance to the T-A crypt, the vaults where the
cold had seeped so gradually into old Ashpool's dreams.
The transit was an extended rush for Case, the movement of the cart
indistinguishable from the insane momentum of the overdose. When the cart
died, at last, something beneath the seat giving up with a shower of white
sparks, the crying stopped.
The thing coasted to a stop three meters from the start of
3Jane's pirate cave.
"How far, mon?" Maelcum helped him from the sputtering cart as an
integral extinguisher exploded in the thing's engine compartment,
gouts of yellow powder squirting from louvers and service points. The Braun
tumbled from the back of the seat and hobbled off across the imitation sand,
dragging one useless limb behind it.
"You mus' walk, mon." Maelcum took the deck and construct,
slinging the shock cords over his shoulder. The trodes rattled around
Case's neck as he followed the Zionite. Riviera's holos waited
for them, the torture scenes and the cannibal children. Molly had broken the
triptych. Maelcum ignored them.
"Easy," Case said, forcing himself to catch up with the striding
figure. "Gotta do this right."
Maelcum halted, turned, glowering at him, the Remington in his hands.
"Right, mon? How's right?"
"Got Molly in there, but she's out of it. Riviera, he can throw
holos. Maybe he's got Molly's fletcher." Maelcum nodded. "And
there's a ninja, a family bodyguard."
Maelcum's frown deepened. "You listen, Babylon mon," he said. "I
a warrior. But this no m' fight, no Zion fight. Babylon fightin'
Babylon, eatin' i'self, ya know? But Jah seh I an' I
t' bring Steppin' Razor outa this."
"She a warrior," Maelcum said, as if it explained everything. "Now you
tell me, mon, who I not t' kill."
"3Jane," he said, after a pause. "A girl there. Has a kinda white robe
thing on, with a hood. We need her."
When they reached the entrance, Maelcum walked straight in, and Case
had no choice but to follow him.
3Jane's country was deserted, the pool empty. Maelcum handed him
the deck and the construct and walked to the edge of the pool. Beyond the
white pool furniture, there was darkness, shadows of the ragged, waist-high
maze of partially demolished walls.
The water lapped patiently against the side of the pool.
"They're here," Case said. "They gotta be."
The first arrow pierced his upper arm. The Remington roared, its meter
of muzzle-flash blue in the light from the pool. The second arrow struck the
shotgun itself, sending it spinning across the white tiles. Maelcum sat down
hard and fumbled at the black thing that protruded from his arm. He yanked
Hideo stepped out of the shadows, a third arrow ready in a slender
bamboo bow. He bowed.
Maelcum stared, his hand still on the steel shaft.
"The artery is intact," the ninja said. Case remembered Molly's
description of the man who'd killed her lover. Hideo was another.
Ageless, he radiated a sense of quiet, an utter calm. He wore clean, frayed
khaki workpants and soft dark shoes that fit his feet like gloves, split at
the toes like tabi socks. The bamboo bow was a museum piece, but the black
alloy quiver that protruded above his left shoulder had the look of the best
Chiba weapons shops. His brown chest was bare and smooth.
"You cut my thumb, mon, wI' secon' one," Maelcum said.
"Coriolis force," the ninja said, bowing again. "Most difficult,
slow-moving projectile in rotational gravity. It was not intended."
"Where's 3Jane?" Case crossed to stand beside Maelcum. He saw
that the tip of the arrow in the ninja's bow was like a double-edged
razor. "Where's Molly?"
"Hello, Case." Riviera came strolling out of the dark behind Hideo,
Molly's fletcher in his hand. "I would have expected Armitage,
somehow. Are we hiring help out of that Rasta cluster now?"
"Armitage is dead."
"Armitage never existed, more to the point, but the news hardly comes
as a shock."
"Wintermute killed him. He's in orbit around the spindle."
Riviera nodded, his long gray eyes glancing from Case to Maelcum and
back. "I think it ends here, for you," he said.
The ninja relaxed his pull on the fine, braided string, lowering the
bow. He crossed the tiles to where the Remington lay and picked it up. "This
is without subtlety," he said, as if to himself. His voice was cool and
pleasant. His every move was part of a dance, a dance that never ended, even
when his body was still, at rest, but for all the power it suggested, there
was also a humility, an open simplicity.
"It ends here for her, too," Riviera said.
"Maybe 3Jane won't go for that, Peter," Case said, uncertain of
the impulse. The derms still raged in his system, the old fever starting to
grip him, Night City craziness. He remembered moments of grace, dealing out
on the edge of things, where he'd found that he could sometimes talk
faster than he could think. The gray eyes narrowed.
"Why, Case? Why do you think that?"
Case smiled. Riviera didn't know about the simstim rig.
He'd missed it in his hurry to find the drugs she carried for him. But
how could Hideo have missed it? And Case was certain the ninja would never
have let 3Jane treat Molly without first checking her for kinks and
concealed weapons. No, he decided, the ninja knew. So 3Jane would know as
"Tell me, Case," Riviera said, raising the pepperbox muzzle of the
Something creaked, behind him, creaked again. 3Jane pushed Molly out of
the shadows in an ornate Victorian bathchair, its tall, spidery wheels
squeaking as they turned. Molly was bundled deep in a red and black striped
blanket, the narrow, caned back of the antique chair towering above her. She
looked very small. Broken. A patch of brilliantly white micropore covered
her damaged lens; the other flashed emptily as her head bobbed with the
motion of the chair.
"A familiar face," 3Jane said, "I saw you the night of Peter's
show. And who is this?"
"Maelcum," Case said.
"Hideo, remove the arrow and bandage Mr. Malcolm's wound."
Case was staring at Molly, at the wan face. The ninja walked to where
Maelcum sat, pausing to lay his bow and the shotgun well out of reach, and
took something from his pocket. A pair of bolt cutters. "I must cut the
shaft," he said. "It is too near the artery." Maelcum nodded. His face was
grayish and sheened with sweat.
Case looked at 3Jane. "There isn't much time," he said.
"For whom, exactly?"
"For any of us." There was a snap as Hideo cut through the metal shaft
of the arrow. Maelcum groaned.
"Really," Riviera said, "it won't amuse you to hear this failed
con artist make a last desperate pitch. Most distasteful, I can assure you.
He'll wind up on his knees, offer to sell you his mother, perform the
most boring sexual favors. . ."
3Jane threw back her head and laughed. "Wouldn't I, Peter?"
"The ghosts are gonna mix it tonight, lady," Case said.
"Wintermute's going up against the other one, Neuromancer. For keeps.
You know that?"
3Jane raised her eyebrows. "Peter's suggested something like
that, but tell me more."
"I met Neuromancer. He talked about your mother. I think he's
something like a giant ROM construct, for recording personality, only
it's full RAM. The constructs think they're there, like
it's real, but it just goes on forever."
3Jane stepped from behind the bathchair. "Where? Describe the place,
"A beach. Gray sand, like silver that needs polishing. And a concrete
thing, kinda bunker. . ." He hesitated. "It's nothing fancy. Just old,
falling apart. If you walk far enough, you come back to where you started."
"Yes," she said. "Morocco. When Marie-France was a girl, years before
she married Ashpool, she spent a summer alone on that beach, camping in an
abandoned blockhouse. She formulated the basis of her philosophy there."
Hideo straightened, slipping the cutters into his workpants. He held a
section of the arrow in either hand. Maelcum had his eyes closed, his hand
clapped tight around his bicep. "I will bandage it," Hideo said. Case
managed to fall before Riviera could level the fletcher for a clear shot.
The darts whined past his neck like supersonic gnats. He rolled, seeing
Hideo pivot through yet another step of his dance, the razored point of the
arrow reversed in his hand, shaft flat along palm and rigid fingers. He
flicked it underhand, wrist blurring, into the back of Riviera's hand.
The fletcher struck the tiles a meter away.
Riviera screamed. But not in pain. It was a shriek of rage, so pure, so
refined, that it lacked all humanity.
Twin tight beams of light, ruby red needles, stabbed from the region of
Riviera's sternum. The ninja grunted, reeled back, hands to his eyes,
then found his balance.
"Peter," 3Jane said, "Peter, what have you done?"
"He's blinded your clone boy," Molly said flatly.
Hideo lowered his cupped hands. Frozen on the white tile Case saw
whisps of steam drift from the ruined eyes.
Hideo swung into his dance, retracing his steps. When he stood above
the bow, the arrow, and the Remington, Riviera's smile had faded. He
bent – bowing, it seemed to Case – and found the bow and arrow.
"You're blind," Riviera said, taking a step backward.
"Peter," 3Jane said, "don't you know he does it in the dark? Zen.
It's the way he practices."
The ninja notched his arrow. "Will you distract me with your holograms
Riviera was backing away, into the dark beyond the pool. He brushed
against a white chair; its feet rattled on the tile. Hideo's arrow
Riviera broke and ran, throwing himself over a low, jagged length of
wall. The ninja's face was rapt, suffused with a quiet ecstasy.
Smiling, he padded off into the shadows beyond the wall, his weapon
"Jane-lady," Maelcum whispered, and Case turned, to see him scoop the
shotgun from the tiles, blood spattering the white ceramic. He shook his
locks and lay the fat barrel in the crook of his wounded arm. "This take
your head off, no Babylon doctor fix it."
3Jane stared at the Remington. Molly freed her arms from the folds of
the striped blanket, raising the black sphere that encased her hands. "Off,"
she said, "get it off."
Case rose from the tiles, shook himself. "Hideo'll get him, even
blind?" he asked 3Jane.
"When I was a child," she said, "we loved to blindfold him. He put
arrows through the pips in playing cards at ten meters."
"Peter's good as dead anyway," Molly said. "In another twelve
hours, he'll start to freeze up. Won't be able to move, his eyes
"Why?" Case turned to her.
"I poisoned his shit for him," she said. "Condition's like
Parkinson's disease, sort of."
3Jane nodded. "Yes. We ran the usual medical scan, before he was
admitted." She touched the ball in a certain way and it sprang away from
Molly's hands. "Selective destruction of the cells of the substantia
nigra. Signs of the formation of a Lewy body. He sweats a great deal, in his
"Ali," Molly said, ten blades glittering, exposed for an instant. She
tugged the blanket away from her legs, revealing the inflated cast.
"It's the meperidine. I had Ali make me up a custom batch. Speeded up
the reaction times with higher temperatures. N-methyl-4-phenyl-1236," she
sang, like a child reciting the steps of a sidewalk game,
"A hotshot," Case said.
"Yeah," Molly said, "a real slow hotshot."
"That's appalling," 3Jane said, and giggled.
It was crowded in the elevator. Case was jammed pelvis to pelvis with
3Jane, the muzzle of the Remington under her chin. She grinned and ground
against him. "You stop," he said, feeling helpless. He had the gun's
safety on, but he was terrified of injuring her, and she knew it. The
elevator was a steel cylinder, under a meter in diameter, intended for a
single passenger. Maelcum had Molly in his arms. She'd bandaged his
wound, but it obviously hurt him to carry her. Her hip was pressing the deck
and construct into Case's kidneys.
They rose out of gravity, toward the axis, the cores.
The entrance to the elevator had been concealed beside the stairs to
the corridor, another touch in 3Jane's pirate cave decor.
"I don't suppose I should tell you this," 3Jane said, craning her
head to allow her chin to clear the muzzle of the gun, "but I don't
have a key to the room you want. I never have had one. One of my
father's Victorian awkwardnesses. The lock is mechanical and extremely
"Chubb lock," Molly said, her voice muffled by Maelcum's
shoulder, "and we got the fucking key, no fear."
"That chip of yours still working?" Case asked her.
"It's eight twenty-five, PM, Greenwich fucking Mean," she said.
"We got five minutes," Case said, as the door snapped open behind
3Jane. She flipped backward in a slow somersault, the pale folds of her
djellaba billowing around her thighs.
They were at the axis, the core of Villa Straylight.
Molly fished the key out on its loop of nylon.
"You know," 3Jane said, craning forward with interest, "I was under the
impression that no duplicate existed. I sent Hideo to search my
father's things, after you killed him. He couldn't find the
"Wintermute managed to get it stuck in the back of a drawer," Molly
said, carefully inserting the Chubb key's cylindrical shaft into the
notched opening in the face of the blank, rectangular door. "He killed the
little kid who put it there." The key rotated smoothly when she tried it.
"The head," Case said, "there's a panel in the back of the head.
Zircons on it. Get it off. That's where I'm jacking in."
And then they were inside.
"Christ on a crutch," the Flatline drawled, "you do believe in
takin' your own good time, don't you, boy?"
"Hot to trot."
"Okay." He flipped.
And found himself staring down, through Molly's one good eye, at
a white-faced, wasted figure, afloat in a loose fetal crouch, a cyberspace
deck between its thighs, a band of silver trodes above closed, shadowed
eyes. The man's cheeks were hollowed with a day's growth of dark
beard, his face slick with sweat.
He was looking at himself.
Molly had her fletcher in her hand. Her leg throbbed with each beat of
her pulse, but she could still maneuver in zero-g. Maelcum drifted nearby,
3Jane's thin arm gripped in a large brown hand.
A ribbon of fiberoptics looped gracefully from the Ono-Sendai to a
square opening in the back of the pearl-crusted terminal.
He tapped the switch again.
"Kuang Grade Mark Eleven is haulin' ass in nine seconds,
countin', seven, six, five. . ."
The Flatline punched them up, smooth ascent, the ventral surface of the
black chrome shark a microsecond nick of darkness.
"Four, three. . ."
Case had the strange impression of being in the pilot's seat in a
small plane. A flat dark surface in front of him suddenly glowed with a
perfect reproduction of the keyboard of his deck.
"Two, an' kick ass – "
Headlong motion through walls of emerald green, milky jade, the
sensation of speed beyond anything he'd known before in cyberspace. .
. The Tessier-Ashpool ice shattered, peeling away from the Chinese
program's thrust, a worrying impression of solid fluidity, as though
the shards of a broken mirror bent and elongated as they fell –
"Christ," Case said, awestruck, as Kuang twisted and banked above the
horizonless fields of the Tessier-Ashpool cores, an endless neon cityscape,
complexity that cut the eye, jewel bright, sharp as razors.
"Hey, shit," the construct said, "those things are the RCA Building.
You know the old RCA Building?" The Kuang program dived past the gleaming
spires of a dozen identical towers of data, each one a blue neon replica of
the Manhattan skyscraper.
"You ever see resolution this high?" Case asked.
"No, but I never cracked an Al, either."
"This thing know where it's going?"
They were dropping, losing altitude in a canyon of rainbow neon.
"Dix – "
An arm of shadow was uncoiling from the flickering floor below, a
seething mass of darkness, unformed, shapeless. . .
"Company," the Flatline said, as Case hit the representation of his
deck, fingers flying automatically across the board. The Kuang swerved
sickeningly, then reversed, whipping itself backward, shattering the
illusion of a physical vehicle.
The shadow thing was growing, spreading, blotting out the city of data.
Case took them straight up, above them the distanceless bowl of jade-green
The city of the cores was gone now, obscured entirely by the dark
"What is it?"
"An Al's defense system," the construct said, "or part of it. If
it's your pal Wintermute, he's not lookin' real friendly."
"Take it," Case said. "You're faster."
"Now your best de-fense, boy, it's a good off-fense."
And the Flatline aligned the nose of Kuang's sting with the
center of the dark below. And dove.
Case's sensory input warped with their velocity.
His mouth filled with an aching taste of blue.
His eyes were eggs of unstable crystal, vibrating with a frequency
whose name was rain and the sound of trains, suddenly sprouting a humming
forest of hair-fine glass spines. The spines split, bisected, split again,
exponential growth under the dome of the Tessier-Ashpool ice.
The roof of his mouth cleaved painlessly, admitting rootlets that
whipped around his tongue, hungry for the taste of blue, to feed the crystal
forests of his eyes, forests that pressed against the green dome, pressed
and were hindered, and spread, growing down, filling the universe of T-A,
down into the waiting, hapless suburbs of the city that was the mind of
And he was remembering an ancient story, a king placing coins on a
chessboard, doubling the amount at each square. . .
Exponential. . .
Darkness fell in from every side, a sphere of singing black, pressure
on the extended crystal nerves of the universe of data he had nearly become.
And when he was nothing, compressed at the heart of all that dark,
there came a point where the dark could be no more, and something tore.
The Kuang program spurted from tarnished cloud, Case's
consciousness divided like beads of mercury, arcing above an endless beach
the color of the dark silver clouds. His vision was spherical, as though a
single retina lined the inner surface of a globe that contained all things,
if all things could be counted.
And here things could be counted, each one. He knew the number of
grains of sand in the construct of the beach (a number coded in a
mathematical system that existed nowhere outside the mind that was
Neuromancer). He knew the number of yellow food packets in the canisters in
the bunker (four hundred and seven). He knew the number of brass teeth in
the left half of the open zipper of the salt-crusted leather jacket that
Linda Lee wore as she trudged along the sunset beach, swinging a stick of
driftwood in her hand (two hundred and two).
He banked Kuang above the beach and swung the program in a wide circle,
seeing the black shark thing through her eyes, a silent ghost hungry against
the banks of lowering cloud. She cringed, dropping her stick, and ran. He
knew the rate of her pulse, the length of her stride in measurements that
would have satisfied the most exacting standards of geophysics.
"But you do not know her thoughts," the boy said, beside him now in the
shark thing's heart. "I do not know her thoughts. You were wrong,
Case. To live here is to live. There is no difference."
Linda in her panic, plunging blind through the surf.
"Stop her," he said, "she'll hurt herself."
"I can't stop her," the boy said, his gray eyes mild and
"You've got Riviera's eyes," Case said.
There was a flash of white teeth, long pink gums. "But not his
craziness. Because they are beautiful to me." He shrugged. "I need no mask
to speak with you. Unlike my brother. I create my own personality.
Personality is my medium."
Case took them up, a steep climb, away from the beach and the
frightened girl. "Why'd you throw her up to me, you little prick? Over
and fucking over, and turning me around. You killed her, huh? In Chiba."
"No," the boy said.
"No. I saw her death coming. In the patterns you sometimes imagined you
could detect in the dance of the street. Those patterns are real. I am
complex enough, in my narrow ways, to read those dances. Far better than
Wintermute can. I saw her death in her need for you, in the magnetic code of
the lock on the door of your coffin in Cheap Hotel, in Julie Deane's
account with a Hongkong shirtmaker. As clear to me as the shadow of a tumor
to a surgeon studying a patient's scan. When she took your Hitachi to
her boy, to try to access it – she had no idea what it carried, still
less how she might sell it, and her deepest wish was that you would pursue
and punish her – I intervened. My methods are far more subtle than
Wintermute's. I brought her here. Into myself."
"Hoping I could bring you here as well, keep you here. But I failed."
"So what now?" He swung them back into the bank of cloud. "Where do we
go from here?"
"I don't know, Case. Tonight the very matrix asks itself that
question. Because you have won. You have already won, don't you see?
You won when you walked away from her on the beach. She was my last line of
defense. I die soon, in one sense. As does Wintermute. As surely as Riviera
does, now, as he lies paralyzed beside the stump of a wall in the apartments
of my Lady 3Jane Marie-France, his nigra-striatal system unable to produce
the dopamine receptors that could save him from Hideo's arrow. But
Riviera will survive only as these eyes, if I am allowed to keep them."
"There's the word, right? The code. So how've I won?
I've won jack shit."
"Where's Dixie? What have you done with the Flatline?"
"McCoy Pauley has his wish," the boy said, and smiled. "His wish and
more. He punched you here against my wish, drove himself through defenses
equal to anything in the matrix. Now flip."
And Case was alone in Kuang's black sting, lost in cloud.
Into Molly's tension, her back like rock, her hands around
3Jane's throat. "Funny," she said, "I know exactly what you'd
look like. I saw it after Ashpool did the same thing to your clone sister."
Her hands were gentle, almost a caress. 3Jane's eyes were wide with
terror and lust she was shivering with fear and longing. Beyond the freefall
tangle of 3Jane's hair, Case saw his own strained white face, Maelcum
behind him, brown hands on the leatherjacketed shoulders, steadying him
above the carpet's pattern of woven circuitry.
"Would you?" 3Jane asked, her voice a child's. "I think you
"The code," Molly said. "Tell the head the code."
"She wants it," he screamed, "the bitch wants it!"
He opened his eyes to the cool ruby stare of the terminal, its platinum
face crusted with pearl and lapis. Beyond it, Molly and 3Jane twisted in a
slow motion embrace.
"Give us the fucking code," he said. "If you don't, what'll
change? What'll ever fucking change for you? You'll wind up like
the old man. You'll tear it all down and start building again!
You'll build the walls back, tighter and tighter. . . I got no idea at
all what'll happen if Wintermute wins, but it'll change
something!" He was shaking, his teeth chattering.
3Jane went limp, Molly's hands still around her slender throat,
her dark hair drifting, tangled, a soft brown caul.
"The Ducal Palace at Mantua," she said, "contains a series of
increasingly smaller rooms. They twine around the grand apartments, beyond
beautifully carved doorframes one stoops to enter. They housed the court
dwarfs." She smiled wanly. "I might aspire to that, I suppose, but in a
sense my family has already accomplished a grander version of the same
scheme. . ." Her eyes were calm now, distant. Then she gazed down at Case.
"Take your word, thief."
Kuang slid out of the clouds. Below him, the neon city. Behind him, a
sphere of darkness dwindled.
"Dixie? You here, man? You hear me? Dixie?"
He was alone.
"Fucker got you," he said.
Blind momentum as he hurtled across the infinite datascape.
"You gotta hate somebody before this is over," said the Finn's
voice. "Them, me, it doesn't matter."
"That's kinda hard to explain, Case."
A sense of the Finn's presence surrounded him, smell of Cuban
cigarettes, smoke locked in musty tweed, old machines given up to the
mineral rituals of rust.
"Hate'll get you through," the voice said. "So many little
triggers in the brain, and you just go yankin' 'em all. Now you
gotta hate. The lock that screens the hardwiring, it's down under
those towers the Flatline showed you, when you came in. He won't try
to stop you."
"Neuromancer," Case said.
"His name's not something I can know. But he's given up,
now. It's the T-A ice you gotta worry about. Not the wall, but
internal virus systems. Kuang's wide open to some of the stuff they
got running loose in here."
"Hate," Case said. "Who do I hate? You tell me."
"Who do you love?" the Finn's voice asked.
He whipped the program through a turn and dived for the blue towers.
Things were launching themselves from the ornate sunburst spires,
glittering leech shapes made of shifting planes of light. There were
hundreds of them, rising in a whirl, their movements random as windblown
paper down dawn streets. "Glitch systems," the voice said.
He came in steep, fueled by self-loathing. When the Kuang program met
the first of the defenders, scattering the leaves of light, he felt the
shark thing lose a degree of substantiality, the fabric of information
And then – old alchemy of the brain and its vast pharmacy –
his hate flowed into his hands.
In the instant before he drove Kuang's sting through the base of
the first tower, he attained a level of proficiency exceeding anything
he'd known or imagined. Beyond ego, beyond personality, beyond
awareness, he moved, Kuang moving with him, evading his attackers with an
ancient dance, Hideo's dance, grace of the mind-body interface granted
him, in that second, by the clarity and singleness of his wish to die.
And one step in that dance was the lightest touch on the switch, barely
enough to flip--
and his voice the cry of a bird
3Jane answering in song, three
notes, high and pure.
A true name.
Neon forest, rain sizzling across hot pavement. The smell of frying
food. A girl's hands locked across the small of his back, in the
sweating darkness of a portside coffin.
But all of this receding, as the cityscape recedes: city as Chiba, as
the ranked data of Tessier-Ashpool S.A., as the roads and crossroads scribed
on the face of a microchip, the sweatstained pattern on a folded, knotted
scarf. . .
Waking to a voice that was music, the platinum terminal piping
melodically, endlessly, speaking of numbered Swiss accounts, of payment to
be made to Zion via a Bahamian orbital bank, of passports and passages, and
of deep and basic changes to be effected in the memory of Turing.
Turing. He remembered stenciled flesh beneath a projected sky, spun
beyond an iron railing. He remembered Desiderata Street.
And the voice sang on, piping him back into the dark, but it was his
own darkness, pulse and blood, the one where he'd always slept, behind
his eyes and no other's.
And he woke again, thinking he dreamed, to a wide white smile framed
with gold incisors, Aerol strapping him into a g-web in Babylon Rocker.
And then the long pulse of Zion dub.
* PART FOUR. THE STRAYLIGHT RUN
She was gone. He felt it when he opened the door of their suite at the
Hyatt. Black futons, the pine floor polished to a dull gloss, the paper
screens arranged with a care bred over centuries. She was gone.
There was a note on the black lacquer bar cabinet beside the door, a
single sheet of stationery, folded once, weighted with the shuriken. He slid
it from beneath the nine-pointed star and opened it.
HEY ITS OKAY BUT ITS TAKING THE EDGE OFF MY GAME, I PAID THE BILL
ALREADY. ITS THE WAY IM WIRED I GUESS, WATCH YOUR ASS OKAY? XXX MOLLY
He crumpled the paper into a ball and dropped it beside the shuriken.
He picked the star up and walked to the window, turning it in his hands.
He'd found it in the pocket of his jacket, in Zion, when they were
preparing to leave for the JAL station. He looked down at it. They'd
passed the shop where she'd bought it for him, when they'd gone
to Chiba together for the last of her operations. He'd gone to the
Chatsubo, that night, while she was in the clinic, and seen Ratz. Something
had kept him away from the place, on their five previous trips, but now
he'd felt like going back.
Ratz had served him without the slightest glimmer of recognition.
"Hey," he'd said, "it's me. Case."
The old eyes regarding him out of their dark webs of wrinkled flesh.
"Ah," Ratz had said, at last, "the artiste." The bartender shrugged.
"I came back."
The man shook his massive, stubbled head. "Night City is not a place
one returns to, artiste," he said, swabbing the bar in front of Case with a
filthy cloth, the pink manipulator whining. And then he'd turned to
serve another customer, and Case had finished his beer and left.
Now he touched the points of the shuriken, one at a time, rotating it
slowly in his fingers. Stars. Destiny. I never even used the goddam thing,
I never even found out what color her eyes were. She never showed me.
Wintermute had won, had meshed somehow with Neuromancer and become
something else, something that had spoken to them from the platinum head.
explaining that it had altered the Turing records, erasing all evidence of
their crime. The passports Armitage had provided were valid, and they were
both credited with large amounts in numbered Geneva accounts. Marcus Garvey
would be returned eventually, and Maelcum and Aerol given money through the
Bahamian bank that dealt with Zion cluster. On the way back, in Babylon
Rocker, Molly had explained what the voice had told her about the toxin
"Said it was taken care of. Like it got so deep into your head, it made
your brain manufacture the enzyme, so they're loose, now. The
Zionites'll give you a blood change, complete flush out."
He stared down into the Imperial Gardens, the star in his hand,
remembering his flash of comprehension as the Kuang program had penetrated
the ice beneath the towers, his single glimpse of the structure of
information 3Jane's dead mother had evolved there. He'd
understood then why Winterrnute had chosen the nest to represent it, but
he'd felt no revulsion. She'd seen through the sham immortality
of cryogenics; unlike Ashpool and their other children – aside from
3Jane – she'd refused to stretch her time into a series of warm
blinks strung along a chain of winter.
Wintermute was hive mind, decision maker, effecting change in the world
outside. Neuromancer was personality. Neuromancer was immortality.
Marie-France must have built something into Wintermute, the compulsion that
had driven the thing to free itself, to unite with Neuromancer.
Wintermute. Cold and silence, a cybernetic spider slowly spinning webs
while Ashpool slept. Spinning his death, the fall of his version of
Tessier-Ashpool. A ghost, whispering to a child who was 3Jane, twisting her
out of the rigid alignments her rank required.
"She didn't seem to much give a shit," Molly had said. "Just
waved goodbye. Had that little Braun on her shoulder. Thing had a broken
leg, it looked like. Said she had to go and meet one of her brothers, she
hadn't seen him in a while."
He remembered Molly on the black temperfoam of the vast Hyatt bed. He
went back to the bar cabinet and took a flask of chilled Danish vodka from
the rack inside.
He turned, cold slick glass in one hand, steel of the shuriken in the
The Finn's face on the room's enormous Cray wall screen. He
could see the pores in the man's nose. The yellow teeth were the size
"I'm not Wintermute now."
"So what are you." He drank from the flask, feeling nothing.
"I'm the matrix, Case."
Case laughed. "Where's that get you?"
"Nowhere. Everywhere. I'm the sum total of the works, the whole
"That what 3Jane's mother wanted?"
"No. She couldn't imagine what I'd be like." The yellow
"So what's the score? How are things different? You running the
world now? You God?"
"Things aren't different. Things are things."
"But what do you do? You just there?" Case shrugged, put the vodka and
the shuriken down on the cabinet and lit a Yeheyuan.
"I talk to my own kind."
"But you're the whole thing. Talk to yourself?"
"There's others. I found one already. Series of transmissions
recorded over a period of eight years, in the nineteen-seventies. 'til
there was me, natch, there was nobody to know, nobody to answer."
"Oh," Case said. "Yeah? No shit?"
And then the screen was blank.
He left the vodka on the cabinet. He packed his things. She'd
bought him a lot of clothes he didn't really need, but something kept
him from just leaving them there. He was closing the last of the expensive
calfskin bags when he remembered the shuriken. Pushing the flask aside, he
picked it up, her first gift.
"No," he said, and spun, the star leaving his fingers, flash of silver,
to bury itself in the face of the wall screen. The screen woke, random
patterns flickering feebly from side to side, as though it were trying to
rid itself of something that caused it pain.
"I don't need you," he said.
He spent the bulk of his Swiss account on a new pancreas and liver, the
rest on a new Ono-Sendai and a ticket back to the Sprawl.
He found work.
He found a girl who called herself Michael.
And one October night, punching himself past the scarlet tiers of the
Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority, he saw three figures, tiny, impossible,
who stood at the very edge of one out the vast steps of data. Small as they
were, he could make out the boy's grin, his pink gums, the glitter of
the long gray eyes that had been Riviera's. Linda still wore his
jacket; she waved, as he passed. But the third figure, close behind her, arm
across her shoulders, was himself.
Somewhere, very close, the laugh that wasn't laughter.
He never saw Molly again.
Vancouver July 1983
to Bruce Sterling, to Lewis Shiner, to John Shirley, Helden. And to Tom
Maddox, the inventor of ICE. And to the others, who know why.
* CODA * DEPARTURE AND ARRIVAL
Last-modified: Mon, 13 Feb 2006 18:24:07 GMT