Front Cover
     Back Cover




     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
incredible!"
     -- 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
new voice!"
     -- Newsday

     "WILLIAM GIBSON IS A WELCOME NEW TALENT!"
     -- Locus
     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
awaiting."
     -- 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.

     NEUROMANCER
     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

     ISBN: 0-441-56959-5
     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
                       with love






     The sky  above the port was the color  of television, tuned  to a  dead
channel.
     "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
funny deal."
     "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
worked again.
     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
subcultures.
     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
Zone's girls.
     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
tanks.
     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
map.
     "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
hand.
     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
technology itself.
     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
cities.
     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
chrome.
     "Julie,"  he said to his  stars. "Time  to  see old Julie.  He'll
know."

     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
house.
     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."
     "People,"  Deane  said,  around a ginger bonbon. "What sort  of people?
Friends?"
     Case nodded.
     "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."
     "Things?"
     "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
silk tie.

     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.
     There.
     Behind  sailors in short-sleeved  khaki.  Dark  hair, mirrored glasses,
dark clothing, slender. . .
     And gone.
     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
somebody, understand?"
     The waiter shrugged,  replacing the taser  behind the horseradish cans.
"Two hour."

     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
weapon."
     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
black jacket?"
     "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
extension.
     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
his shins.
     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
cheaper places.
     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
latch.
     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
front?"
     "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
little pistol.
     "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
flask.
     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
teeth.
     "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
pockets.
     "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
hurt?"
     "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
us."
     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.
"You understand?"
     "Hey, sweetheart," said one of the Joe boys, "you  wanna try that thing
on me?"
     "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.
     Linda.
     "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
back."
     "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."
     He did.
     "That your girl? Linda?"
     He nodded.
     "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?"
     "No."
     "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 "
     "That's good."
     "'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,
Case."
     "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."
     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."
     "Profile?"
     "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'
who?"
     "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
was over.
     "What would you say, Case?"
     Case looked out over the Bay and shivered.
     "I'd say you were full of shit."
     Armitage nodded.
     "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?"
     He nodded.
     "Funny, Case."
     "What's funny?"
     ‘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
luck."
     "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.
     Voices.
     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
optic nerve."
     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."
     "Where's Armitage?"
     "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
else."
     "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
way."
     "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."
     "What's that?"
     "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."
     "Screaming Fist."
     "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
cocaine."
     "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
his knuckles.
     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
he ran.
     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
line.
     Case felt as though  his brain were  jammed. "Who,"  he said, "who sent
them?"
     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
and died.

     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.









     Home.
     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
dancer's.
     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
cotton pants.
     "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
dangerous dependency."
     "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
kinked?"
     "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
breakfast."

     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.
Maintaining connections.
     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
folding chairs.
     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
rate, Moll."
     "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
all."
     "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
the second."
     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 about?"
     "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?"
     She nodded.
     "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."
     "Where's he?"
     "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
head.
     "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
center.
     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.
     Now –
     Disk  beginning to  rotate,  faster, becoming  a  sphere of paler gray.
Expanding –
     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.
     "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
the matrix."
     "What for?"
     "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
optics.
     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 .
     "Hey, Larry."
     "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
that."
     "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
softs?"
     "I'm looking for the Moderns."
     "You  got a  rider,  Molly.  This says." He  tapped the black splinter.
"Somebody else using your eyes."
     "My partner."
     "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
minute precis."
     "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
polycarbon.
     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,
nihilistic technofetishists.

     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,
Armitage."
     "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
toy."

     "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
sensorium.
     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
retracted.
     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
card.
     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
arrived.
     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
circuitry.

     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
Pyramid screamed.
     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.

     12:06:26.
     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
tracks.
     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
window.
     Done.


     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
matrix.
     "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
slowly relaxed.
     "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
hold?"
     "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.
     "Pay him."
     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
Yonderboy.
     "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 phone.

     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.
     "Case."
     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.
     "For you."
     "Who from?"
     "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
seldom spoke.
     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
Partagas.
     "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
us?"
     "If  Yonderboy's  right,"  the  Finn  said, "this Al  is  backing
Armitage."
     "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
object.
     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
death.
     "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,
Finn?"
     "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.
     "Who's this?"
     "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
stairs.
     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?"
     "Nothin'."
     "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?"
     "Good question."
     "Remember being here, a second ago?"
     "No."
     "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?"
     "Case."
     "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
personal history."
     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
beside him.
     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."
     "Your dentist?"
     "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
carpeting.
     "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,
huh?"
     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
bags.

     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
fixture.
     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
modifications."
     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
months."
     "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
aftershave.
     "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
over easy."
     "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
of tea.
     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
her hand.
     "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
money's worth."
     Molly bent and  picked something  up.  A  pistol. "A Nambu,"  she said.
"Nice gun."
     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
story.
     "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
hospital?"
     "I figure Wintermute," Case said.
     She nodded.
     "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
ripples spread.
     "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."
     "Try."
     "Can't be done."
     "Ask the Flatline."
     "What do we want out of that Riviera?" he asked,  hoping  to change the
subject.
     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
turned away.
     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.
     "Yeah?"
     Faint  harmonics,  tiny inaudible voices  rattling  across some orbital
link, and then a sound like wind.
     "Hello. Case."
     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.









     Archipelago.
     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
Ashpool.

     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
asleep.
     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
spraybomb.
     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
and waited.
     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."
     "How's that?"
     "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.
Got it?"
     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
gravity.
     "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
one."
     "How's it feel?"
     "It doesn't."
     "Bother you?"
     "What bothers me is, nothin' does."
     "How's that?"
     "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
thing."

     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."
     "Doesn't hurt?"
     The bright eyes met his. "Of course  it does.  That's part of it,
isn't 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
seriousness.
     "Shit," Molly said, "I'm an avid cyclist."
     Riviera giggled.
     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
see."
     "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. . . ?"
     "Shut up."
     "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."
     "What brothers?"
     "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
th' Founders."
     "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
resinous smoke.
     "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
pilot."
     "But we have decided to send Aerol as well, in Babylon Rocker, to watch
over Garvey."
     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
mistaken."
     "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
the Hilton.
     "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."
     "What?"
     "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
dot.
     He jacked in.
     "Dixie?"
     "Yeah."
     "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?"
     "White cube."
     "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."
     "Yeah?"
     "It  was  on the  Turing  Registry. AI.  Frog  company  owned  its  Rio
mainframe."
     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?"
     "Tessier, yeah."
     "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.
Falling.
     "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
something?"
     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
fluorescents.
     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
azure flash.
     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.
     He smiled.
     Something cracked.
     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
styrofoam cups.
     "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
consoles.
     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
trigger.
     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."
     "Do we?"
     "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
his thigh.
     "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
hospital?"
     "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
franchise.
     "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."
     "We who?"
     "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
of beer.
     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.
     Linda.
     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
her killed.
     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
Marlene laughing.
     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
tan's okay."
     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.
"Like simstim?"
     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
thought.
     "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
virus."
     "Not on this boy tug, mon," Maelcum said firmly, reaching for the steel
cassette.
     "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."
     "It's Chinese?"
     "Yes."
     "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."
     "Done."
     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
Tessier-Ashpool.
     "Dixie,"  he  said, jacking in, "what do  you know  about Chinese virus
programs?"
     "Not a whole hell of a lot."
     "Ever hear of a grading system like Kuang, Mark Eleven?"
     "No."
     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
human, see?"
     "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
luck, AI."
     "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
forehead."
     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
go nuts."
     "Don't tell me," someone said, "I know it already. You're a
gangster, right?"
     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
said.
     "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."
     "What kind?"
     "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
residency.
     "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
delight, "beautiful."
     "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
off."
     "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
Intercontinental.
     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
and chewed.
     "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
uneasiness increased.
     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.
More applause.
     "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
fingers pale.
     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
the lake.
     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
fingers.
     "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,
Case."
     "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
casino.

     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
advised primly.
     "Fuck it,"  he  said.  "Forget the  ice. No  ice. Access the construct.
Dixie?"
     "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."
     "Go."
     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
walls.
     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.
     "Where's Molly?"
     "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."
     "A pleasure."
     He  sat on  the bed  for  a  long  time, savoring  the new  thing,  the
treasure.
     Rage.

     "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
shrugged.
     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
islands.
     "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
expensive clinic.
     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
Straylight."
     "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."
     "Why?"
     "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."
     "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
simstim stars.
     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
Tessier-Ashpools?
     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.
     "Gangster."
     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
of Carlsberg.
     "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
cigarette.
     "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
spoke. "Dee-Jane?"
     "Lady 3Jane. She's triff. Rich. Her father owns all this."
     "This bar?"
     "Freeside!"
     "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
the way.
     "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
dozen angles.
     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.
     Midnight.

     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."









     "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.
     "Who's Kolodny?"
     "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
custody."
     "Corto?"
     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
him.
     "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?"
     "No."
     "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
recorded sky.
     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
churned.
     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
Aerol's helmet.
     "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. . ."
     Armitage.

     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
relax."
     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
the g-web.
     "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.


     "Dixie?"
     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
do?"
     "Well, I  . . ." Case stared  at the green walls of the T-A ice. "Well,
screw it. Yeah. We run."
     "Slot it."
     "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
bubble pack.
     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."
     Maelcum grinned.
     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.
     He flipped.

     "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?"
     "No."
     "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
laughed.
     "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
collapsed noisily.
     "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
happening."
     "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."
     "Why?"
     "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
mean."
     "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
feel better."
     "Feel better?"
     "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
spiral.
     "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
darkness.
     "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
glass.
     "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
cores."
     "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
play."
     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
handwoven wool.
     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
your game."
     "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
the walls."
     "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
full auto.
     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
lockers.
     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.
     Case flipped.

     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
through."
     "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.
     And flipped.

     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
with damp.
     She  arrived at  a  triangular landing  and stood rubbing her leg. More
corridors, narrow, their walls  hung with rugs. They branched away in  three
directions.

     LEFT.
     She shrugged. "Lemme look around, okay?"

     LEFT.
     "Relax. There's time." She started down the corridor that led off
to her right.

     STOP.

     GO BACK.

     DANGER.

     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
gone.
     "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."
     "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.
Dying."
     "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
embedded microchip."
     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.



    16

"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 or Armitage. "Case" – and the eyes grew larger, Armitage leaning toward his computer – "what is he, when you see him?" "A high-rez simstim construct." "But who?" "Finn, last time. . . Before that, this pimp I . . ." "Not General Girling?" "General who?" The lozenge went blank. "Run that back and get the Hosaka to look it up," he told the construct. He flipped. 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 her shoulders. She was climbing up out of gravity, toward the weightless axis. Her chip pulsed the time. 04:23:04 . 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 I E "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' right here." 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." "Who knows?" "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, those years? 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 mean." "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 jacked out. "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 zeros. "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 lounge. 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 blind." "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 against Lexan. "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.

    17

"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 open." "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 gettin' smart." 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 dead." He flipped. 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 said. "You wish. Wait'll you're steering that thing upstairs through black ice." "Sure." 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 come. "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 his Partagas. "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 payoff?" "You'll get yours," it said. "What's that mean?" Case asked, as he watched the narrow tweed back recede. "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. 07:02:18. 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."

    CASE.

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 corridor. 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 for cowboys. 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 them. 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 false sand. Case noticed the music then. A music he didn't know, all horns and piano. 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.

    18

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 been made. 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 in pain?" She groaned. "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 needle. "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?" "More and she would die," said a third voice. The blood mesh slid into black. The music returned, horns and piano. Dance music. 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 problem." "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." "Kill Riviera!" "Kill him." 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 you." "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." Molly nodded. "But Hideo?" "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 decision." 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'd removed. 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 ganja. "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.

    x x x

"Hey," the construct said, "ol' Peter's totally apeshit, huh?" 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' close, Dixie?" "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." Case flipped. 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 aura. 07:29:40. "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 caulk. "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."

    19

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 another ring. 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 system." 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 orange suit. "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 forehead. "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 here?" "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 couldn't see. "He wants to kill you." "Figures," Molly said, staring up at the rough ceiling past a very bright light. "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." Molly tensed. "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 face. "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 there." "You said you were trying to kill the old man? You fiddled his cryogenic programs?" 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 little." "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 Sony. 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 3Jane's place." 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.

    20

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 shotgun's safety. "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. "Wintermute?" 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 thing?" "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 Hitachi adaptor. 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 away. 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 throat ached. "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 sound. "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 entrance. 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 circuitry. 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?" He nodded. "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 bunker. 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 drive held. 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.

    21

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 Mexican." "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 his jeans. "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. "Don't, Case." "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 it?" 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. . . "Case? Mon?" The music. "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 you." 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."

    22

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." Case blinked. "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." Maelcum nodded. 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 at it. 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. "Where's Molly?" 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 well. "Tell me, Case," Riviera said, raising the pepperbox muzzle of the fletcher. 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, this construct." "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. Riviera smiled. 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 now?" 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 twitched. 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 held ready. "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 is all." "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 sleep." "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, "tetra-hydro-pyridene." "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 complex." "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.

    23

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 original." "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?" "Kuang's ready?" "Hot to trot." "Okay." He flipped.

    x x x

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?" "It better." 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 ice. The city of the cores was gone now, obscured entirely by the dark beneath them. "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 TessierAshpool S.A. 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 beautiful. "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. "Wintermute?" "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." "Why?" "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." "Flip now." "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. He flipped. 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 would." "The code," Molly said. "Tell the head the code." Jacking out. "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." He jacked. 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." "Where's Dixie?" "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 loosening. 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-- –now and his voice the cry of a bird unknown, 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.

    * CODA * DEPARTURE AND ARRIVAL

    24

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, he thought. 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 sacs. "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. "Case." He turned, cold slick glass in one hand, steel of the shuriken in the other. 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 of pillows. "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 show." "That what 3Jane's mother wanted?" "No. She couldn't imagine what I'd be like." The yellow smile widened. "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." "From where?" "Centauri system." "Oh," Case said. "Yeah? No shit?" "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

    MY THANKS

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.

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