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Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
15

   "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.
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Capo di tutti capi


Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
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" amp;ndash; and for an instant something seemed to move, behind the blue stare amp;ndash; "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" amp;ndash; and the eyes grew larger, Armitage leaning toward his computer amp;ndash; "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 amp;ndash; "
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 amp;ndash; "
"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.
"'Im 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.
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
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Apple iPhone 6s
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 amp;ndash;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 amp;ndash;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 amp;ndash; her gaze had tracked the brass plaque automatically amp;ndash; "La mari e mise nu par ses c libataires, m me ." 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 amp;ndash; just maybe, right? amp;ndash; 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 amp;ndash; "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 amp;ndash; and Case had known instantly that Riviera was responsible amp;ndash; 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 amp;ndash; strolling, really, in spite of the pain amp;ndash; 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.
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   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 amp;ndash; 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 amp;ndash; a clan member amp;ndash; 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 amp;ndash; 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 amp;ndash; a green docking diagram pulsed on his central screen amp;ndash; 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.
* * *
"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 amp;ndash; if she comes around amp;ndash; 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."
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
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Apple iPhone 6s
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 amp;ndash; "
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.
" amp;ndash; 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 amp;ndash;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.
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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 amp;ndash; "
"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 amp;ndash; he remembered amp;ndash; 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.
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Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
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 amp;ndash; he knew, somehow amp;ndash; 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."
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
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 amp;ndash; bowing, it seemed to Case amp;ndash; 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.
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Underpromise; overdeliver.

Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
mob
Apple iPhone 6s
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.
* * *
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 amp;ndash; "
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 amp;ndash;
"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 amp;ndash; "
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 amp;ndash; 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 amp;ndash; 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 amp;ndash; old alchemy of the brain and its vast pharmacy amp;ndash; 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-
amp;ndash;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.
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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 amp;ndash; aside from 3Jane amp;ndash; 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
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