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   Monsieur Lucien Arslau's apartments were in Passy. At noon, Oliphant presented his card to the concierge, who conveyed it via pneumatic tube to Monsieur Arslau's establishment. Almost immediately, the whistle attached to a nickeled speaking-tube peeped twice; the concierge bent his ear to the funnel; Oliphant made out faint tones of shouted French.
   The concierge showed Oliphant to the lift.
   He was admitted, on the fifth floor, by a liveried manservant wearing an ornate Corsican stiletto through a pleated sash of gros de Naples. The young man managed to bow without taking his eyes from Oliphant. Monsieur Arslau regretted, the servant said, that he was unable at the moment to receive Monsieur Oliphant; in the meantime, would Monsieur Oliphant care for any sort of refreshment?
   Oliphant declared that he would very much appreciate an opportunity to bathe. He would also find a pot of coffee most agreeable.
   He was led through a broad drawing-room, rich in satin and ormolu, buhl cabinets, bronzes, statuettes, and porcelain, where the lizard-eyed Emperor and his dainty Empress, the former Miss Howard, gazed from twin portraits in oil. And then through a morning-room hung with proof-engravings. A graceful curve of stairway mounted from an octagonal anteroom.
   Some two hours later, having bathed in a marble-rimmed tub of gratifying solidity, having taken strong French coffee and lunched upon cutlets a la Maintenon, and wearing borrowed linen with far more starch than he cared for, he was ushered into the study of Monsieur Arslau.
   "Mr. Oliphant, sir," Arslau said, in his excellent English, "it is a great pleasure. I regret not having been able to see you earlier, but… " He gestured toward a broad mahogany desk littered with files and papers. From behind a closed door came the steady clatter of a telegraph. On one wall hung a framed engraving of the Great Napoleon, its mighty gear-towers rising behind a grid-work of plate-glass and iron.
   "Not at all, Lucien. I'm grateful to have had the time to take advantage of your hospitality. Your chef has an extraordinary way with mutton; a sublimated meat that could scarcely have grown on any mundane sheep."
   Arslau smiled. Nearly Oliphant's height, broader in the shoulders, he was some forty years of age and wore his greying beard in the Imperial fashion. His cravat was embroidered with small golden bees. "I've had your letter, of course." He returned to his desk and settled himself in a high-backed chair upholstered in dark-green leather. Oliphant took a seat in an armchair opposite.
   "I must admit my curiosity, Laurence, as to what it is you are currently about." Arslau made a steeple of his fingers and peered over them, raising his eyebrows. "The nature of your request would hardly seem to warrant the precautions you deem necessary… "
   "On the contrary, Lucien, you must know that I would not presume in this way upon our acquaintance for any but the most pressing of reasons."
   "But no, my friend," Arslau said, with a dismissive little wave of his hands, "you have asked the merest of favors. Among colleagues, men such as ourselves, it is nothing. I am simply curious; it is one of my many vices. You convey to me a letter by Imperial diplomatic pouch—no mean feat in itself, for an Englishman, though I know that you are familiar with our friend Bayard. Your letter requires my help in locating a certain English adventuress, no more. You believe she may be resident in France. Yet you stress the need for very great secrecy; you warn me particularly against communicating with you either by telegraph or by the regular post. You instruct me to await your arrival. What am I to make of this? Have you succumbed at last to the wiles of some woman?"
   "Alas, I have not."
   "Given the current model of English womanhood, my friend, I find that entirely understandable. Far too many of your gentlewomen aspire to be elevated to the level of masculine intellectuality—superior to crinoline, superior to pearl-powder, above taking the pains to be pretty, above making themselves agreeable in any way! What a dreary, utilitarian, entirely ugly life an Englishman shall eventually lead, if this trend continues! So why then, I ask, have you crossed the Channel to find an English adventuress? Not that we haven't our share of them. They're rather thick upon the ground, actually, not to mention the origin"—Arslau smiled—"of our own Empress."
   "You yourself have never married, Lucien," Oliphant remarked, attempting to deflect Arslau from his purpose.
   "But look at matrimony! Who is to say which shall be the one judicious selection out of the nine hundred and ninety-nine mistakes? Which is to be the one eel out of the barrel of snakes? The girl on the kerbstone may be the one woman out of every female creature in this universe capable of making me a happy man, my friend, yet I pass her by, and bespatter her with the mud from my wheels, in my utter ignorance!" Arslau laughed. "No, I have not married, and your mission is a political one."
   "Of course."
   "Things are not well with Britain. I don't need my British sources to tell me that, Oliphant. The papers suffice. The death of Byron…"
   "Great Britain's political direction, Lucien—indeed, her ultimate stability as a nation—may even now be at stake. I need not remind you of the paramount importance of our two nations' continued mutual recognition and support."
   "And the matter of this Miss Gerard, Oliphant? Shall I take it you suggest she is somehow pivotal in the situation?"
   Oliphant took out his cigar-case and selected one of Beadon's habanas. His fingers brushed the folded text of Sybil Gerard's telegram. He closed the case. "Do you mind if I smoke?"
   "Please do."
   "Thank you. The matters which hinge upon Sybil Gerard are entirely British, entirely domestic. They may stand, ultimately, to affect France, but in a most indirect way." Oliphant clipped and pierced his cigar.
   "Are you entirely sure of that?"
   "I am."
   "I am not." Arslau rose to bring Oliphant a copper ashtray atop a walnut stand. He returned to his desk but remained standing. "What do you know of the Jacquardine Society?"
   "They are the approximate equivalent of our Steam Intellect Society, are they not?"
   "Yes and no. There is another, a secret society, within the Jacquardines. They style themselves Les Fils de Vaucanson. Certain of them are anarchists, others in league with the Marianne, others with the Universal Fraternity, others with any sort of rabble. Class-war conspirators, you understand? Others are simply criminals. But you know this, Laurence."
   Oliphant took a lucifer from a box emblazoned with a stippled image of the Bessemer, and struck it. He lit his cigar.
   "You tell me that the woman you know as Sybil Gerard is of no concern to France," Arslau said.
   "You think otherwise?"
   "Perhaps. Tell me what you know of our difficulties with the Great Napoleon."
   "Very little. Wakefield of Central Statistics mentioned it to me. The Engine is no longer functioning accurately?"
   "Ordinateurs, thank the good God, are not my specialty. The Napoleon performs with its accustomed speed and accuracy in most instances, I am informed, but an outre element of inconstancy presently haunts the machine's higher functions… " Arslau sighed. "Those higher functions being deemed a matter of considerable national pride, I have myself been forced to peruse reams of the most abstruse technical prose in the Empire. To no ultimate avail, it now seems, as we've had the culprit in hand."
   "The culprit?"
   "An avowed member of Les Fils de Vaucanson. His name is of no importance. He was arrested in Lyons in connection with an ordinary case of civil fraud involving a municipal ordinateur. Elements of his subsequent confession brought him to the attention of the Commission of Special Services, and hence to ours. During interrogation, he revealed his responsibility for the current lamentable state of our Great Napoleon."
   "He confessed to le sabotage, then?"
   "No. He would not confess to that. He refused, until the end. With regard to the Napoleon, he would admit only to having run a certain sequence of punch-cards, a mathematical formula."
   Oliphant watched the smoke from his cigar spiral toward the high ceiling's ornate plaster rosette.
   "The formula came from London," Arslau continued. "He obtained it from an Englishwoman. Her name was Sybil Gerard."
   "Have you attempted analysis of this formula?"
   "No. It was stolen, our Jacquardine claimed, spirited away by a woman he knew as Flora Bartelle, apparently an American."
   "I see."
   "Then tell me what you see, my friend, for I myself am very much in the dark."
   The Eye. All-seeing, the sublime weight of its perception pressing in upon him from every direction.
   Oliphant hesitated. Ash from his cigar fell unnoticed to Arslau's rich carpet. "I have yet to meet Sybil Gerard," he said, "but I may be able to offer you information regarding this formula you've mentioned. It may even be possible to obtain a copy. I can promise nothing, however, until I myself am allowed to interview the lady in question, privately and at some length."
   Arslau fell silent. He seemed to look through Oliphant. At last he nodded. "We can arrange that."
   "She is not, I take it, in custody?"
   "Let us say that we are aware of her movements."
   "You allow her apparent freedom, yet observe her closely?"
   "Precisely that. If we take her now, and she reveals nothing, the trail goes cold."
   "As ever, Arslau, your technique is impeccable. And when might it be arranged for me to meet with her?"
   The Eye, the pressure, the pounding of his heart.
   "This evening, if you so desire," said Monsieur Arslau of the Police des Chateaux, adjusting his gold-embroidered cravat.

   The walls of the Cafe de l'Univers were hung with paintings, etched mirrors, and enamel plaques advertising the ubiquitous product of Pernod Fils. The pictures, if one could call them that, were either grotesque daubs, seemingly executed in a messy imitation of Engine-stippling, or queer geometric formulations suggesting the restless motion of kinotrope-bits. In some cases, Oliphant supposed, the painters themselves were present—or such he took them to be, these long-haired fellows in velvet caps, their corduroy trousers smeared with pigment and tobacco-ash. But the majority of the clientele—according to his companion, one Jean Beraud—consisted of kinotropistes. These gentlemen of the Latin Quarter sat and drank with their black-clad grisettes at the round marble tables, or held forth on theoretical matters before small groups of their peers.
   Beraud, in an unseasonable boater and a brown suit of intensely Gallic cut, was one of Arslau's mouchards, a professional informer who referred to the kinotropists as members of "le milieu." He was fresh and rosy as a young pig, he drank Vittel and peppermint, and Oliphant had taken an immediate dislike to him. The kinotropists seemed to favor the absinthe of Pernod Fils; Oliphant, sipping a glass of red wine, watched the ritual of glass and water-decanter, of sugar-lump and trowel-shaped spoon.
   "Absinthe is the bed of tuberculosis," Beraud said.
   "Why do you suppose that Madame Tournachon would choose to appear tonight in this cafe, Beraud?"
   The mouchard shrugged. "She is a familiar of le milieu, monsieur. She goes to Madelon's, also to Batiffol's, but it is here, in l'Univers, that she most nearly finds companionship."
   "And why is that, do you think?"
   "Because she was Gautier's mistress, of course. He was a kind of prince here, monsieur, it must be understood. Her relationship with Gautier has necessarily limited her contacts with ordinary society. He taught her French, or such French as she has."
   "What sort of woman, exactly, do you take her to be?"
   Beraud smirked. "She is perhaps attractive, but cold. Unsympathetic. In the manner of Englishwomen, you understand."
   "When she arrives, Beraud—if she arrives, I should say—you are to take your leave immediately."
   Beraud raised his eyebrows. "On the contrary, monsieur—"
   "You are to go, Beraud. Take your leave." A measured pause. "Vanish."
   The sharply padded shoulders of Beraud's brown suit rose at the word.
   "You will instruct the cab to wait, and the stenographer as well. The stenographer, Beraud—his English is adequate? My friend—my very good friend. Monsieur Arslau—has assured me that this is the case… "
   "Entirely adequate, yes! And monsieur"—getting up so quickly that he nearly overturned his bentwood chair—"it is she… "
   The woman now entering l'Univers might easily have been mistaken for a modish Parisienne of more than common means. Slender and blond, she wore a somber merino crinoline with matching cloak and bonnet, narrowly trimmed in mink.
   As Beraud continued his hasty retreat into the depths of the cafe, Oliphant rose. Her eyes, very alert, very blue, met his. He approached her, hat in hand, and bowed. "Forgive me," he said in English. "We have not been introduced, but I must speak with you regarding a matter of great urgency."
   Recognition dawned in the wide blue eyes, and fear.
   "Sir, you mistake me for another."
   "You are Sybil Gerard."
   Her lower-lip was trembling now, and Oliphant experienced an abrupt, powerful, and entirely unexpected sympathy. "I am Laurence Oliphant, Miss Gerard. You are presently in terrible danger. I wish to help you."
   "That is not my name, sir. Pray let me pass. My friends are waiting."
   "I know that Egremont betrayed you. I understand the nature of his betrayal."
   She started at the name, Oliphant in terror of her swooning on the spot, but then she gave a little shudder and seemed to study him quietly for a moment. "I saw you in Grand's, that night," she said. "You were in the smoker with Houston and… Mick. You had a gammy arm, up in a sling."
   "Please," he said, "join me."
   Seated opposite her at his table, Oliphant listened as she ordered absinthe de vidangeur in quite passable French.
   "Do you know Lamartine, the singer?" she asked.
   "I'm sorry, no."
   "He invented it, 'scavenger's absinthe.' I can't drink it otherwise."
   The waiter arrived with the drink, a mixture of absinthe and red wine.
   "Theo taught me to order it," she said, "before he… went away." She drank, the wine red against her painted lips. "I know you've come to take me back. Don't gull me otherwise. I know a copper when I meet one."
   "I have no desire to see you return to England, Miss Gerard—"
   "Tournachon. I'm Sybil Tournachon. French by marriage."
   "Your husband is here in Paris?"
   "No," she said, lifting an oval locket of cut-steel on its black ribbon. She snapped it open, displaying a daguerreotyped miniature of a handsome young man. "Aristide. He fell at Philadelphia, in the great inferno. He volunteered, to fight on the Union side. He was real, you know; I mean, he actually existed, and wasn't just one of them the clackers make up… " She gazed at the little image with a look of mingled longing and sadness, though Oliphant understood that she had never in her life set eyes upon Aristide Tournachon.
   "It was a marriage of convenience, I take it."
   "Yes. And you've come to take me back."
   "Not at all, Miss… Tournachon."
   "I don't believe you."
   "You must. A great deal depends upon it, not least your own safety. Since you departed London, Charles Egremont has become a very powerful, a very dangerous man. As dangerous to the well-being of Great Britain as he is no doubt dangerous to you."
   "Charles? Dangerous?" She seemed suddenly on the verge of laughter. "You're gulling me."
   "I need your help. Desperately. As desperately as you need mine."
   "Do I, then?"
   "Egremont has powerful resources at his command, branches of Government easily capable of reaching you here."
   "You mean the Specials, and that lot?"
   "More to the point, I must inform you that your activities are even now monitored by at least one secret agency of Imperial France… "
   "Because Theophile chose to help me?"
   "Indeed, that seems to be the case… "
   She drank off the last of the vile-looking concoction in her glass. "Dear Theophile. What a lovely, silly sort of cove he was. Always in his scarlet waistcoat, and madly clever at clacking. I gave him Mick's set of fancy cards, and he was terribly kind to me then. Spun me up a marriage-license and a French citizen-number rat-tat-tat. Then, one afternoon, I was to meet him here…"
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   "He never came." She lowered her eyes. "He used to boast of having a 'gambling modus.' They all do, but he talked as if he meant it. Someone might have believed him. It was foolish of him… "
   "Did he ever speak with you about his interest in the Engine known as the Great Napoleon?"
   "Their monster, you mean? Your Paris clacker speaks of little else, sir! They're mad for the thing!"
   "The French authorities believe that Theophile Gautier damaged the Great Napoleon with Radley's cards."
   "Is he dead, then, Theo?"
   Oliphant hesitated. "Alas, I believe so, yes."
   "That's so vicious bloody cruel," she said, "to spirit a man away like a rabbit in a conjuring trick, and leave his loved-ones ever to wonder, and worry, and never rest! It's vile."
   Oliphant found that he could not meet her eyes.
   "There's a deal of that about in this Paris, there is," she said. "The things I've heard their clackers jest about… And London, they say, is no better, really, to them as know. Do you know they say the Rads murdered Wellington? They say the sappers, the sand-hogs, hand-in-glove with the Rads, cut a tunnel beneath that restaurant, and the master sapper himself tamped the powder and set the fuses… Then the Rads lay the blame on men like…"
   "Your father. Yes. I know."
   "And knowing that, you'd ask me to trust you?" There was defiance in her eyes, and perhaps a pride long-buried.
   "Knowing that Charles Egremont betrayed your father, Walter Gerard, unto his destruction; that he betrayed you as well, bringing about your ruin in the eyes of society; yes, I must ask that you trust me. In exchange, I offer you the complete, utter, and virtually instantaneous negation of your betrayer's political career."
   She lowered her eyes again, and seemed to consider. "Could you do that, really?" she asked.
   "Your testament alone will serve. I shall be merely the instrument of its delivery."
   "No," she said at last, "if I were to denounce him publicly, then I would expose myself as well. Charles isn't the only one I need to fear, as you yourself have said. Remember, I was there that night, in Grand's; I know how long an arm revenge can have."
   "I've not suggested denouncing him publicly. Blackmail will suffice."
   Now her eyes were far away, as if she walked the distant pavements of memory. "They were so close, Charles and my father, or so it seemed… Perhaps if things had taken a different turn…"
   "Egremont lives daily with that betrayal. It is the crucial grain of constant irritation around which his depraved politics have been allowed to form. Your telegram galvanized his guilt—his terror of those early Luddite sympathies being revealed. Now he would tame the beast, make political terror his constant ally. But you and I stand in his way."
   The blue eyes were strangely calm. "I find I wish to believe you, Mr. Oliphant."
   "I will keep you safe," Oliphant said, quite startled by his own intensity. "So long as you choose to remain in France, you shall do so under the protection of powerful friends, colleagues of mine, agents of the Imperial court. A cab awaits us, and a stenographer, to take down the details of your testimony."
   With a tortured, flatulent wheeze of compressed air, a small panmelodium was activated at the rear of the cafe. Oliphant, turning, caught the eye of the mouchard Beraud, who was smoking a Dutch clay pipe amid a cluster of chattering kinotropistes.
   "Madame Tournachon," Oliphant said, rising, "may I offer you my arm?"
   "It's healed, has it?" She rose in a rustle of crinoline.
   "Entirely," Oliphant said, remembering the lightning-stroke of the samurai's sword, in Edo, amid the shadows. He had been attempting to hold the fellow off with a riding-crop.
   As the Engine-driven music of the grand panmelodium brought the grisettes from their chairs, she took his arm.
   A girl burst in, then, from the street, her naked breasts daubed with green. About her waist were strung angular constructs of copper-foil, like the leaves of a date-palm approximated by a kinotrope. She was followed by two boys in a similar lack of attire, and Oliphant felt utterly lost.
   "Come then," Sybil said, "don't you know they're art students, and been to a bal? It's Montmartre, you know, and the art students, they've such a mad and lovely time."

   Oliphant had entertained the gallant notion of personally delivering to Charles Egremont a transcript of Sybil Gerard's testimony. But upon his return to England, those symptoms of advanced syphilis which Dr. McNeile had incorrectly diagnosed as railway-spine temporarily overcame him. Disguised as a commercial traveler from M. Arslau's native Alsace, Oliphant went to ground in Brighton's hydropathic spa, to take the waters and dispatch a number of telegrams.

   Mr. Mori Arinori arrives in Belgravia at a quarter past four, driving a new-model Zephyr gurney leased from a commercial garage in Camden Town, just as Charles Egremont is departing for Parliament and a most important speech.
   Egremont's body-guard, on assignment from the Central Statistics Bureau's Department of Criminal Anthropometry, a machine-carbine slung beneath his coat, watches as Mori descends from the Zephyr, a diminutive figure in evening-clothes.
   Mori marches straight across the new-fallen snow, his boots leaving perfect prints upon the black macadam.
   "For you, sir," Mori says and bows, handing Egremont the stout manila envelope. "Very good day to you, sir." Donning round goggles with an elasticated band, Mori returns to his Zephyr.
   "What an extraordinary little personage," Egremont says, looking down at the envelope. "One hasn't seen a Chinaman, got up like that…"

   Rise above these black patterns of wheel-tracks,
   These snow-swept streets,
   Into the great map of London,
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The Language of Signs
   The circular arrangement of the axes of the Difference Engine 'round large central wheels led to the most extended prospects. The whole of arithmetic now appeared within the grasp of mechanism. A vague glimpse even of an Analytical Engine opened out, and I pursued with enthusiasm the shadowy vision.
   The drawings and the experiments were of the most costly kind. Draftsmen of the highest order were engaged, to economize the labor of my own head; whilst skilled workmen executed the experimental machinery.
   In order to carry out my pursuits successfully, I had purchased a house with about a quarter of an acre of ground, in a very quiet locality in London. My coach-house was converted into a forge and foundry, whilst my stables were transformed into a workshop. I built other extensive workshops myself, and had a fire-proof building for my drawings and draftsmen.
   The complicated relations amongst the various parts of the machinery would have baffled the most tenacious memory. I overcame that difficulty by improving and extending a language of signs, the Mechanical Notation, which in 1826 I had explained in a paper printed in the Philosophic Transactions of the Royal Society. By such means I succeeded in mastering a train of investigation so vast in extent that no length of years could otherwise have enabled me to control it. By the aid of the language of signs, the Engine became a reality.
   –LORD CHARLES BABBAGE, Passages in the Life of a Philosopher, 1864.

Letters from Our Readers
   [From The Mechanics Magazine, 1830.]
   To judge by readers' letters we receive, certain among our public would doubt that political matters come within the province of this journal. But the interests of science and manufacturing are inextricably mixed with a nation's political philosophy. How then can we be silent?
   We look with delight for a grand new age for Science, as well as to every other PRODUCTIVE interest of this country, from the election to Parliament of a man of Mr. Babbage's eminence in the scientific world, his tried independence of spirit, his very searching and business-like habits.
   Therefore we say forthrightly to every elector of Finsbury who is a reader of this journal—go and vote for Mr. Babbage. If you are an inventor, whom the ubiquitous and oppressive TAX ON PATENTS shuts out from the field of fair competition, and desire to see that TAX replaced by a wise and deliberate system of PUBLIC SUBSIDIES—go and vote for Mr. Babbage. If you are a manufacturer, harassed and obstructed in your operations by the fiscal stupidities of the present Government—if you would see British industry become as free as the air you breathe—go and vote for Mr. Babbage. If you are a mechanic, and depend for your daily bread on a constant and steady demand for the products of your skill, and are aware of the influence of free trade on your fortunes—go and vote for Mr. Babbage. If you are a devotee of Science and Progress—principle and practice united as bone and sinew—then meet us today on Islington Green, and VOTE FOR MR. BABBAGE!

In the Time of Troubles
   The results of the general election of 1830 made public feeling obvious. Byron and his Radicals had captured the tone of the day, and the Whig Party were an utter shambles. Lord Wellington's Tones, however, resenting the threat to aristocratic privilege posed by Radical proposals of "merit-lordship," took a hard line. The Commons procrastinated on the Radical Reform Bill, and on 8 October the Lords threw it out. The King refused to create new Radical peers who might force the Bill through; on the contrary, the Fitzelarences were ennobled instead, leading Byron to comment bitterly: "How much better it is to be a Royal bastard than a philosopher in England at present. But a mighty change is at hand."
   Popular pressure mounted swiftly. In Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester, the working-class, inspired by Babbage's ideals of union ownership and mutual co-operatives, took to the streets in massive torchlight parades. The Industrial Radical Party, disdaining violence, called for moral suasion and a peaceful mass-campaign for redress of legitimate grievances. But the Government remained stubborn, and events took an ugly turn. In a rising crescendo of random outrage, violent rural "Swing bands" and proletarian Luddites attacked aristocratic homes and capitalist factories alike. Mobs in London shattered the windows in the house of the Duke of Wellington and other Tory peers, and, cobblestones in hand, lay sullenly in wait for the passing carriages of the elite. The Anglican bishops, who had voted against Reform in the Lords, were burned in effigy. Ultra-radical conspirators, fired to frenzy by the furious polemics of the atheist R B. Shelley, attacked and looted Establishment churches.
   On 12 December Lord Byron introduced a new Reform Bill, more radical yet, proposing outright disfranchisement of the hereditary British aristocracy, including himself. This was more than the lories could bear, and Wellington involved himself in covert planning for a military coup.
   The crisis had polarized the nation. At this juncture, the middle-classes, terrified of the prospect of anarchy, made their own move and came down on the side of the Radicals. A tax-strike was declared, to force Wellington from office; there was a deliberate run on the banks, in which merchants demanded and hoarded gold specie, bringing the national economy to a grinding halt.
   In Bristol, after three days of major riots, Wellington ordered the Army to put down "Jacobinism" by any means necessary. In the resulting massacre three hundred people, including three prominent Radical M.P.'s, lost their lives. When the news of the massacre reached him, a furious Byron, now calling himself "Citizen Byron," and appearing without coat or necktie at a London rally, called for a general strike. This rally was also attacked by Tory cavalry, with bloody results, but Byron eluded capture. Two days later the nation was under martial-law.
   In future, the Duke of Wellington would turn his considerable military genius against his own countrymen. The first uprisings against the Tory Regime—as it must now be called—were swiftly and efficiently put down, while garrison troops ruled all major cities. The Army remained loyal to the victor of Waterloo, and the aristocracy, to their discredit, also threw in their lot with the Duke.
   But the Radical Party elite had escaped apprehension, abetted by a well-organized covert network of Party faithful. By the spring of '31, any hope of a swift military solution was over. Mass hangings and deportations were answered by sullen resistance and vicious guerrilla reprisals. The Regime had destroyed any vestige of popular support, and England was in the throes of class-war.
   –The Time of Troubles: A Popular History, 1912, BY W. E. PRATCHETT, Ph.D., F.R.S.

Somber Melodies of the Automatic Organs
   [This private letter of July 1855 conveys Benjamin Disraeli's eye-witness impressions of the funeral of Lord Byron. The text derives from a tape-spool emitted by a Colt & Maxwell Typing Engine. The addressee is unknown.]
   Lady Annabella Byron entered on the arm of her daughter, looking very frail. She seemed a little dazed. Both mother and daughter were very worn and white, at the end of their forces. Then a funeral march was played—very fine—the panmelodium sounding splendid amid the somber melodies of the automatic organs.
   Then the processions arrived. The Speaker first, proceeded by heralds with white staves but in mourning-dress. The Speaker was quite splendid. He walked slowly and firmly, very impassive and dignified; an almost Egyptianate face. The mace was carried before him, and he wore a gold-laced gown, very fine. Then the Ministers; Colonial Secretary, very dapper indeed. Viceroy of India looks quite recovered from his malaria. Chairman of the Commission on Free Trade looked the wickedest of the human race, as if writhing under a load of disreputable guilt.
   Then the House of Lords. The Lord Chancellor absolutely grotesque, and made more so by the tremendous figure of the Sergeant-at-Arms with a silver chain and large, white silk bows on his shoulders for mourning. Lord Babbage, pale and upright, most dignified. Young Lord Huxley, lean, light on his feet, very splendid. Lord Scowcroft, the shiftiest person I ever saw, in threadbare clothes like a sexton.
   The coffin came solemnly along, the bearers holding feebly onto it. The Prince Consort Albert foremost among them, with the oddest gnawing look—duty, dignity, and fear. He was kept waiting, I hear, just in the doorway, and muttered in German about the Stink.
   When the coffin entered, the widowed Iron Lady looked a thousand years old.

The Widowed Iron Lady
   So now the world falls into the hands of the little men, the hypocrites and clerks.
   Look at them. They have not the mettle for the great work. They will botch it.
   Oh, even now I could set it all to rights, if only the fools would listen to sense, but I could never speak as you did, and they do not listen to women. You were their Great Orator, a puffed and painted mountebank, without one real idea in your head—no gift for logic, nothing but your posturing wickedness, and yet they listened to you; oh, how they did listen. You wrote your silly books of verse, you praised Satan and Cain and adultery, and every kind of wicked foolishness, and the fools could not get enough of it. They knocked down the bookshop doors. And women threw themselves at your feet, armies of them. I never did. But then, you married me.
   I was innocent then. From the days of our courtship, some moral instinct in me revolted at your sly teasing, your hateful double-entendres and insinuations, but I did see qualities of promise in you, and ignored my doubts. How swiftly you revived them, as my husband.
   You cruelly used my innocence; you made me a party to sodomy before I even knew the nature of that sin; before I learned the hidden words for the unspeakable. Pederastia, manustupration, fellatio—you were so steeped in unnatural vice that you could spare not even the marriage-bed. You polluted me, even as you had polluted your own hare-brained fool of a sister.
   If society had learned the tenth of what I knew, you would have been driven from England like a leper. Back to Greece, back to Turkey and your catamites.
   How easily, then, might I have ruined you, and very nearly did, to spite you, for it vexed me sorely that you did not know, or care to know, the depth of my conviction. I sought refuge in my mathematics, then, and kept to silence, wishing still to be a good wife in the eyes of society, for I had uses to which to put you, and great work to do, and no means with which to do it, save through my husband. For I had glimpsed the true path toward the greatest good for the greatest number, a good so great it made a trifle of my own humble wishes.
   Charles taught it me. Decent, brilliant, unworldly Charles, your opposite in every way; so full of great plans, and the pure light of mathematical science, but so utterly impolitic, so entirely unable to suffer fools gladly. He had the gifts of a Newton, but he could not persuade.
   I brought you together. At first you hated him, and mocked him behind his back, and me as well, for showing you a truth beyond your comprehension. I persisted; begged you to think of honor, of service, of your own glory, of the future of the child in my womb, Ada, that strange child. (Poor Ada, she does not look well, she has too much of you in her.)
   But you cursed me for a cold-hearted shrew and retired in a drunken temper. For the sake of that greater good, I painted a smile on my face and descended open-eyed into the very Pit. How it pained me, that vile greasy probing and animal nastiness; but I let you do as you liked, and forgave you for it, and petted and kissed you for it, as if I liked it. And you wept like a child, and were grateful, and talked of love undying and united souls, until you tired of that sort of talk. And then, to hurt me, you told me dreadful, shocking things, to disgust me and frighten me away, but I would no longer allow you to frighten me; I was steeled to anything, that night. So I forgave you, forgave and forgave, until at last you could find no further confession even in the foulest dregs of your soul, and at last you had no pretense left, nothing left to say.
   I imagine that after that night you became frightened of me, perhaps, a little frightened, and that did you a great deal of good, I think. It never hurt me so again, after that night. I taught myself to play all your "pretty little games," and to win them. That was the price I paid, to put your beast in harness.
   If there is a Judge of Men in another world, though I no longer believe that, no, not in my heart, and yet at times, evil times, times like these—I fancy I sense a never-closing, all-embracing Eye, and feel the awful pressure of its dreadful comprehension. And if there be a Judge, milord husband, then do not think to gull him. No, do not boast of your magnificent sins and demand damnation—for how little you knew, over the years. You, the greatest Minister of the greatest Empire in history—you flinched, you were feeble, you dodged every consequence—
   Are these tears?
   We should not have killed so many…
   We, I say, but it was I, I who sacrificed my virtue, my faith, my salvation, all burnt to black ashes on the altar of your ambition. For all your bold trumpery talk of Corsairs and Bonaparte, you had no iron in you; you wept even at the thought of hanging miserable Luddites, and could not bear to chain away vicious mad Shelley, until I forced your hand. And when reports came from our bureaux, hinting, requesting, then demanding the right to eliminate the enemies of England, it was I who read them, I who covertly weighed lives in the balance, and I who signed your name, while you ate and drank and joked with those men you called your friends.
   And now these fools who bury you will brush me aside as if I were nothing, had accomplished nothing, simply because you are gone. You, their sounding-brass, their idol of paint and dyed hair. The truth, the dreadful slime-entangled roots of history, vanish now without trace. The truth is buried with your gilt sarcophagus.
   I must stop thinking in this manner. I am weeping. They think me old and foolish. Was not every civil evil we committed repaid, repaid ten-fold for the public good?
   Oh Judge, hear me. Oh Eye, search the depths of my soul. If I am guilty, then you must forgive me. I took no pleasure in what I had to do. I swear unto you: I took no pleasure in it.

The Master Emeritus Recalls Wellington
   The reddish glow of enfeebled gas-light. The rhythmic, echoing clank and screech of the Brunel Tunneling Torpedo. Thirty-six cork-screw teeth of best Birmingham steel gnaw with relentless vigor into a reeking seam of ancient London clay.
   Master Sapper Joseph Pearson, at his ease at the mid-day meal, feeds himself a congealed wedge of gravy-thick meat-pie from a hinged tin box. "Aye, I met the great Mallory," he says, voice echoing from arching whale-ribs of riveted cast-iron. "We warn't exactly introduced, like, but he was Leviathan Mallory, right-enough, for I seen his phiz in the penny-papers. He stood as close to me as I am to you now, lad. 'Lord Jefferies?' the Leviathan says to me, all surprised and angry, 'I know Jefferies! The fookin' bastard should be censured for fraud!' "
   Master Pearson grins in triumph, red light glinting from a gold earring, a gold tooth. "And damme if that savant Jefferies didn't catch every kind of hell, once the Stink had passed. Leviathan Mallory took a proper hand in that chastisement, sure enough. He's one of Nature's noblemen. Leviathan Mallory is."
   "I seen that brontosaur," says 'Prentice David Waller, nodding, eyes bright. "That's a fine thing!"
   "I myself was workin' the shaft in '54, when they dug up them elephant teeth." Master Pearson, rubber-booted feet dangling from the second-story platform of the excavation-shaft, shifts on his damp-proofed mat of coir and burlap, and yanks a split of champagne from a pocket of his excavation-gear. "French fizz, Davey-lad. Your first time down; ye got to have a taste of this."
   "That ain't proper, is it, sir? 'Gainst the book."
   Pearson wrenches the cork loose, no pop, no gush of foam. He winks. "Hell, lad, it's your first time down; won't never be another first time." Pearson tosses sugary dregs of strong tea from his tin cup, fills it to the brim with champagne.
   "It's gone flat," 'Prentice Waller mourns.
   Pearson laughs, rubbing a burst vein in his fleshy nose. "It's the pressure, lad. Wait till ye get topside. It goes off right inside yer. You'll fart like an ox."
   'Prentice Waller sips, with some caution. An iron bell rings, above them. "Chamber coming down," Pearson says, hastily corking the bottle. He stuffs it back into a pocket, gulps the rest of the cup, wipes his mouth.
   A bullet-shaped cage descends, passing with cloacal slowness through a membrane of heavy waxed leather. There are hisses, creaks, as the cage touches bottom.
   Two men emerge. The Chief Foreman wears a helmet, digging-gear, and leather apron. With him, carrying a brass dark-lantern, is a tall, white-haired man in a black tailcoat and black satin cravat, a kerchief of black silk crepe about his polished top-hat. In the red light of the tunnel, a pigeon's-egg diamond, or perhaps a ruby, glints at the old man's throat. Like the Chief Foreman, his trousered legs are swathed in knee-high boots of india-rubber.
   "The Grand Master Miner Emeritus," Pearson gasps in a single breath, and scrambles at once to his feet. Waller leaps up as well.
   The two of them stand at attention as the Grand Master strolls beneath them, up the tunnel toward the Torpedo's massive digging-face. He does not glance up, takes no notice of them, but speaks with cool authority to the Foreman. He examines bolts, seams, and grouting with the stabbing beam of his bull's-eye lantern. The lantern has no handle, for the Grand Master carries the hot brass caught in a sleek iron hook which protrudes from an empty sleeve.
   "But that's a queer way to dress, ain't it?" whispers young Waller.
   "He's still in mourning," Pearson whispers.
   "Ah," says the 'prentice. He watches the Grand Master walk on a bit. "Still?"
   "He knew Lord Byron dead-familiar like, the Grand Master did. Knew Lord Babbage too! In the Time o' Troubles—when they was running from Wellington's Tory police! They warn't no Lordships then—not proper Rad Lords, anyway, just rebels and agitators, like, with a price on their heads. The Grand Master hid 'em out down a digging once—a reg'lar Party headquarters, it was. The Rad Lords never forgot the great favors he done for 'em. That's why we're the greatest of Radical unions."
   "That's a great man, Davey! Master of iron, a great master of blasting-powder… They don't make 'em like him, today."
   "So—he must be nigh eighty now, eh?"
   "Still hale and hearty."
   "Could we get down, sir, d'ye think—could I see him up close, like? Maybe shake his famous hook!"
   "All right, lad—but on your dignity now. No bad words."
   They climb down to the bare planks at the base of the tunnel.
   As they follow the Grand Master, the gnawing rumble of the Torpedo changes abruptly. The Torpedo's crew leaps up, for such a change means trouble—quicksand, a vein of water, or worse. Pearson and his 'prentice break into a shuffling run toward the digging-face.
   Shavings of soft black filth begin to pour from the sharp iron spirals of the thirty-six twisting teeth, falling in greasy clods to the flat-carts of the carriage-ramp. From within the black soil of the digging-face come little muffled pops of old embedded gas-pockets, weak as Pearson's enfeebled champagne-cork. No deadly rush of water, though; no slurry of quicksand. They inch forward warily, gazing after the sharp white beam of the Grand Master's lantern.
   Knobs of hardened yellow show amid greenish-black muck. "Bones, is it?" says a workman, wiping his nose at a smell of soured dust. "Fossils, like…"
   Bones pour forth in a broken torrent as the Torpedo's hydraulics lurch in reaction, pressing it forward into the softening mass. Human bones.
   "A cemetery!" Pearson cries. "We've hit a churchyard!"
   But the tunnel is too deep for that, and there are too many bones, bones tangled thick as the branches of a fallen forest, in a deep promiscuous mass, and mixed of a sudden with a thin and deadly reek, of long-buried lime and sulphur.
   "Plague pit!" the Chief Foreman cries in terror, and the men fall back, stumbling. There is a lurch, and a hiss of steam as the Foreman shuts down the Torpedo.
   The Grand Master has not moved.
   He stands quietly, regarding the work of the teeth.
   He puts his lamp aside, and reaches into the heap of spoil. He dabbles in it with his shining hook, and has something up by one eyehole. A skull.
   "Ah, then," he says, his deep voice ringing in the sudden utter silence, "ye poor damn' bastard."
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The Gaming Lady Is Bad Luck
   "The Gaming Lady is bad luck to those that know her. When a poor night at the wagering-machines has emptied her purse, her jewels are carried privately into Lombard Street, and Fortune is tempted yet again with a sum from my lady's pawnbroker! Then she sells off her wardrobe as well, to the grief of her maids; stretches her credit amongst those she deals with, pawns her honor to her intimates, in vain hope to recover her losses!
   "The passions suffer no less by this gaming-fever than the understanding and the imagination. What vivid, unnatural hope and fear, joy and anger, sorrow and discontent, burst out all at once upon a roll of the dice, a turn of the card, a run of the shining gurneys! Who can consider without indignation that all those womanly affections, which should have been consecrated to children and husband, are thus vilely prostituted and thrown away. I cannot but be grieved when I see the Gaming Lady fretting and bleeding inwardly from such evil and unworthy obsessions; when I behold the face of an angel agitated by the heart of a fury!
   "It is divinely ordered that almost everything which corrupts the soul, must also decay the body. Hollow eyes, haggard looks, and pale complexion are the natural indications of a female gamester. Her morning sleeps cannot repair her sordid midnight watchings. I have looked long and hard upon the face of the Gaming Lady. Yes, I have watched her well. I have seen her earned off half-dead from Crockford's gambling-hell, at two o'clock in the morning, looking like a specter amid a flare of wicked gas-lamps—
   "Pray resume your seat, sir. You are in the House of God. Is that remark to be taken as a threat, sir? How dare you. These are dark times, grave times indeed! I tell you, sir, as I tell this congregation, as I will tell all the world, that I have seen her, I have witnessed your Queen of Engines at her vile dissipations—
   "Help me! Stop him! Stop him! Oh dear Jesus, I am shot! I am undone! Murder! Can none of you stop him?"

Gentlemen, The Choice Is Yours
   [At the height of the Parliamentary crisis of 1855, Lord Brunel assembled and addressed the members of his Cabinet. His remarks were recorded by his private secretary, using the Babbage shorthand notation.]
   "Gentlemen, I cannot call to mind a single instance in which any individual in the Party or the Ministry has spoken, even casually, in my defense within the walls of Parliament. I have waited patiently, and I hope uncomplainingly, doing what little I could to protect and extend the wise legacy of the late Lord Byron, and to heal the reckless wounds inflicted on our Party by over-zealous juniors.
   "But there has been no change in the contempt in which you honorable gentlemen seem to hold me. On the contrary, the last two nights have been taken up with a debate on a vote of want-of-confidence, directed, obviously and especially, against the head of the Government. The discussion has been marked with more than usual violence against my office, and there has been no defense from any of you—the members of my own Cabinet.
   "How, under these circumstances, are we to successfully resolve the matter of the murder of the Reverend Alistair Roseberry? This shameful, atavistic crime, brutally perpetrated within a Christian church, has blackened the reputation of Party and Government, and cast the gravest doubts on our intentions and integrity. And how are we to root out the murderous dark-lantern societies whose power, and provocative daring, grows daily?
   "God knows, gentlemen, that I never sought my present office. Indeed, I would have done anything, consistent with honor, to avoid assuming it. But I must be master in this House, or else resign my office—abandoning this nation to the purported leadership of men whose intentions are increasingly stark in their clarity. Gentlemen, the choice is yours."

Death of the Marquess of Hastings
   Yes, sir, two-fifteen to be quite exact, sir—and no other way to be, as we're on the Colt & Maxwell system of patent punch-clocks.
   Just a sort of dripping sound, sir.
   For a moment I took it to be a leakage, forgetting the night was clear. Rain, I thought, and that was all my anxiety, sir, thinking the Land Leviathan would be damaged by damp, so I flung my lantern's beam up quick, and there the poor rascal hung, and blood all down the Leviathan's neck-bones, sir, and all on the—what d'ye call 'em?—the armatures, what hold the beast upright. And his head a bloody min, sir—no longer as you'd call a head at all. Dangling there by his ankles from this manner of harness, and I saw the ropes and pulleys going straight up, taut, into the dark of the great dome, and the sight struck me so, sir, that it wasn't till I'd sounded the alarm that I saw the Leviathan's head was missing too.
   Yes, sir, I do believe that to be the case—the manner in which it was done. He was lowered down from the dome and did the job up there, in the dark, and paused when he'd hear my footsteps, and then continue his work. The work of some hours, for they'd had to rig their lines and pulleys. Likely I passed beneath them several times, on my watch. And when he'd got it free, the head, sir, someone else winched it up, and took it away through that panel they'd unbolted. But something must have given, sir, or slipped, for down he came, square into the floor, best Florentine marble that is. We found where his brains had been dashed, sir, though I'd as soon forget it. And I did then recall a sound, sir, likely of him striking, but no outcry.
   If I may say, sir, what strikes me as vilest, in the whole business, must be the cool way they hauled him back up, quiet as spiders, and left him slung there, like a coney in a butcher's window, and stole away across the roof-top with their booty. There's a deal of meanness in that, isn't there?
   –KENNETH REYNOLDS, night watchman, the Museum of Practical Geology, in deposition before Magistrate G. H. S. Peters, Bow Street, Nov. 1855.

Believe Me Always
   I write to you to express my profound regret that the circumstances of the moment should deprive me of the opportunity and hope of enlisting your great capacity in the further service of Party and Government.
   You will well understand that my recognition of your difficult personal circumstances is absolutely separate from any want of confidence in you as a statesman; this is the last idea I should wish to convey.
   How can I close without fervently expressing to you my desire that there may be reserved for you a place of permanent public distinction?
   Believe me always,
   Yours sincerely,

   –Ministerial letter to Charles Egremont, M.P., Dec. 1855.

Memorandum to the Foreign Office
   On this occasion, our distinguished guest, the ex-President of the American Union, Mr. Clement L. Vallandigham, got as drunk as a fiddle. The eminent Democrat showed that he could be as profligate as any English Lord. He fumbled Mrs. A., kissed the shrieking Miss B., pinched the plump Mrs. C. black and blue, and ran at Miss D. with flagrant intent to ravish her!
   Finally, after throwing our female guests into hysterics by behaving like an elephant in must, the noble beast was captured by main force, and carried upstairs, all four feet in the air, by our household staff. Within his room, Mrs. Vallandigham was awaiting him, in shift and mobcap. There and then, to our considerable amazement, this remarkable man satiated his baffled lust on the unresisting body of his legitimate spouse, and copiously vomited during the operation. Those who have seen Mrs. Vallandigham would not think this latter incredible.
   News has now reached me that the former President of Texas, Samuel Houston, has died in Veracruz, in his Mexican exile. He was, I believe, awaiting any call to arms that might have brought him back to eminence; but the French alcaldes were likely too wily for him. Houston had his faults, I know, but he was easily worth ten of Clement Vallandigham, who made a shrinking peace with the Confederacy, and has allowed the vultures of Red Manhattan Communism to gnaw the carcass of his dishonored country.
   –LORD LISTON, 1870.

Before the Rads
   [The following testament is a sound-recording inscribed on wax. One of the earliest such recordings, it preserves the spoken reminiscences of Thomas Towler (b. 1790), grandfather of Edward Towler, inventor of the Towler Audiograph. Despite the experimental nature of the apparatus employed, the recording is of exceptional clarity. 1875.]
   I remember one winter and it was a very long cold winter, and there was dire poverty in England then, before the Rads. Me brother Albert, he used to get some bricks and cover them with bird-lime, and set 'em by the stables to catch sparrows. And he'd pluck them, clean them, him and me together, I helped him. Our Albert would make a fire and get the oven hot and we used to cook those little sparrows in Mother's roasting-tin, with a big lump of dripping in it. And me mother'd make a big jug of tea for us and we'd have what we'd call a tea-party, eating those sparrows.
   Me father… he went to all the shopkeepers on Chatwin Road and got scrap-meat. Bones, you know, lamb-bones, all sorts of things, dried peas, beans, and left-over carrots and turnips and… he got some oatmeal promised him and a baker gave him stale bread… Me father had a big iron boiler… that he used to make gruel for the horses and he cleaned it all out and they made soup in this big horse-boiler. I can remember seeing the poor people come. They came twice a week, that winter. They had to bring their own jugs. They was that hungry, before the Rads.
   And Eddie, did you ever hear tell of the Irish Famine, in the forties? I thought not. But the 'later crop failed then, two, three years in a row, and it looked mighty dire for the Irish. But the Rads, they wouldn't stand for that, and declared an emergency, and mobilized the nation. Lord Byron made a fine speech, in all the papers… I signed aboard one of the relief-boats, out of Bristol. All day, all night, we'd load big gantry-crates, with bills-of-lading from the London Engines; trains come day and night from all over England, with every kind of food. "God Bless Lord Babbage," the poor Irish would cry to us, with tears in their eyes, "Three cheers for England and the Rad Lords." They have long memories, our own loyal Irish… they don't never forget a kindness.
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John Keats in Half-Moon Street
   I was ushered by a man-servant into Mr. Oliphant's study. Mr. Oliphant greeted me cordially, and noted that my telegram had mentioned my association with Dr. Mallory. I told Mr. Oliphant that it had been my pleasure to accompany Dr. Mallory's triumphant lecture on the Brontosaurus with a highly advanced kinotropic program. The Monthly Review of the Steam Intellect Society had run a most gratifying review of my efforts, and I offered Mr. Oliphant a copy of the magazine. He glanced within it, but it seemed that his grasp of the intricacies of clacking was amateurish at best, for his reaction was one of polite puzzlement.
   I then informed him that Dr. Mallory had led me to his door. In one of our private conversations, the great savant had seen fit to tell me of Mr. Oliphant's daring proposal—to employ the Engines of the police in the scientific exploration of previously hidden patterns underlying the movements and occupations of the metropolitan population. My admiration for this bold scheme had brought me directly to Mr. Oliphant, and I stated my willingness to assist in the implementation of that vision.
   He interrupted me, then, in a markedly distracted manner. We are numbered, he declared, each of us, by an all-seeing eye; our minutes, too, are numbered, and each hair upon our heads. And surely it was God's will, that the computational powers of the Engine be brought to bear upon the great commonality, upon the flows of traffic, of commerce, the tidal actions of crowds—upon the infinitely divisible texture of His work.
   I waited for a conclusion to this extraordinary outburst, but Mr. Oliphant seemed quite lost in thought, of a sudden.
   I then explained to him, as nearly as possible in layman's terms, how the nature of the human eye necessitates, in kinotropy, both remarkable speed and remarkable complexity. For this reason, I concluded, we kinotropists must be numbered among Britain's most adept programmers of Enginery of any sort, and virtually all advances in the compression of data have originated as kinotropic applications.
   At this point, he interrupted again, asking if I had indeed said "the compression of data," and was I familiar with the term "algorithmic compression"? I assured him that I was.
   He rose, then, and going to a bureau near at hand, he brought out what I took to be a wooden box of the sort used to transport scientific instruments, though this was partially covered, it seemed, with remnants of white plaster. And would I be so kind, he requested, as to examine the cards within, copy them for safekeeping, and privately report to him upon the nature of their content?
   He had no idea of their astonishing import, you see, no idea whatever.
   –JOHN KEATS, quoted in an interview conducted by H. S. Lywood, for The Monthly Review of the Steam Intellect Society, May 1857.

The Grand Panmelodium Polka

Oh! Sure the world is all run mad,
The lean, the fat, the old, the Rad,
All swear such pleasure they ne'er had,
As the Grand Panmelodium Polka.

First cock up your right leg so,
Balance on your left great toe,
Stamp your heels and off you go,
The Grand Panmelodium Polka.

Quadrilles and waltzes all give way,
Machine-made music bears the sway.
The chimney-sweeps on the first of May,
In London dance the Polka.

If a pretty girl you meet,
With sparkling eyes and rosy cheek,
She'll say, young man we'll have a treat,
If you can dance the Polka.

Professors swarm in every street,
To hear the Panmelodium sweet,
And every friend you chance to meet,
Asks if you dance the Polka.

And so the row-de-dow we dance,
And in short skirts and brass-heels prance,
Ladies won't you spare a glance,
For the boys what spin the Polka.

The Tatler
   We learn with mingled regret and amazement of the recent departure, aboard the Great Eastern, of the well-liked and many-talented Mr. Laurence Oliphant—author, journalist, diplomat, geographer, and friend of the Royal Family—for America, with the stated intention of residing in the so-called Susquehanna Phalanstery established by Messrs. Coleridge and Wordsworth, thereby to pursue the Utopian doctrines espoused by these worthy expatriates!
   –" 'ROUND TOWN," a column, September 12, 1860.

A London Playbill, 1866
   THE GARRICK THEATRE, Whitechapel, Newly Rebuilt and Refurbished, Under the Management of J. J. TOBIAS, Esq., presents The First Nights of a New Kinotropic Drama Monday, Nov. 13 and During the Week
   The performance will commence with (FIRST TIME!) an entirely new national, local, characteristic, metropolitan, melodramatic, kinotropic drama of the day, in five acts, correctly exhibiting modern life and manners in innumerable novel and interesting phases, called the


   The Groundwork of the drama founded on the celebrated play, "Les Fils de Vaucanson," now attracting the attention of all France, and applied to the circumstances and realities of the present moment.

   With kinotropic scenery by MR. JJ TOBIAS and Assistants
   The New Flash Medley Orchestra, led by MR. MONTGOMERY
   The Action of the Piece arranged by MR. CJ SMITH
   The Dresses by MRS. HAMPTON and MISS BAILEY
   The Whole Produced Under the Direction of MR. JJ TOBIAS

   Dramatis Personae

   Mark Riddley, alias Fox Skinner, (a swell cove, and King of the London Clackers)… MR. H.L. MARSTON.
   Mr. Dorrington (a wealthy Liverpool Merchant, on a visit to London)… MR. J. ROMER.
   Frank Danvers (a British Naval Officer, just arrived from the Indies)… MR. WM. BIRD.
   Robert Danvers (his younger brother, a ruined roue, pigeoned by the clackers)… MR. L. MELVIN.
   Mr. Hawksworth Shabner (Principal Proprietor of a West-End Clacking-Hall, Bill-Discounter, and Anythingarian where there is Anything to be Got)… MR. P. WILLIAMS.
   Bob Yorkner (a Duffer, tired of the Lay)… MR. W. JONES.
   Ned Brindle (the Magsman, a half-and-half cove)… MR C. AUBREY.
   Tom Fogg, alias Old Deady, alias The Animal, (a laudanum fiend suffering under delirium-tremens)… MR. A. CORENO.
   Joe Onion, alias The Crocodile, (a bully-rock, and creature of Shabner's)… MR. G. VELASCO.
   Dickey Smith (the Wakeful Bird, a young Engine-clerk in no ways particklar, pecking out a living as best he can)… MR. G. MASKELL.
   Ikey Bates (Landlord of Rat's Castle, proprietor of two-penny dabs and a scandalous bagatelle board, having cut the bumblepuppy as too low!)… MR. GOTOBED.
   Waiter at the Cat-and-Bagpipes Tavern… MR. SMITHSON.
   The Bow Street Special Inspector… MR. FRANKS.
   Louisa Truehait (the Victim of an ill-requited attachment)… MISS CAROLINE BARNETT.
   Charlotte Willers (a young lady with her cat from the country)… MISS MARTHA WELLS

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Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
 Yujo, a samurai and classical scholar of Satsuma Province, wrote the following ceremonial poem upon his son's departure for England, in 1854. it is translated from Sinicized Japanese.]

My child rides the unfathomable deep,
In pursuit of noble ambition;
Far must he sail—ten thousand leagues—
Outpacing the breezes of spring.
Some say that East and West
Have naught in common;
But I say the same heaven
Overarches both.
His own life he risks, on command of his han.
Braving great danger to learn from far places;
For family's sake, he spares no effort,
Seeking for wisdom in face of great hardship.
He travels far beyond
The fabled rivers of China;
His scholarly labors shall someday
Bear fruit in splendid achievement.

A Letter Home
   As always, I searched that day for land, in all four directions, but could still find none. How melancholy it was! Then by chance, with the Captain's permission, I climbed up one of the masts. From the great height, with sails and smokestack far below me, I was amazed to make out the coast of Europe—a mere hair's-breadth of green, above the watery horizon. I shouted down to Matsumura: "Come up! Come up!" And up he came, very swiftly and bravely.
   Together atop the mast, we gazed upon Europe. "Look!" I told him. "Here is our first proof that the world is really round! While we were standing down there on deck we could not see a thing; but up here, land is distinctly visible. This is proof that the surface of the sea is curved! And if the sea is curved, why, then, so is the whole earth!"
   Matsumura exclaimed, "It's fantastic—it's just the way you say! The Earth indeed is round! Our first real proof!"
   –MORI ARINORI, 1854.


   It seemed that Her Ladyship had been ill-served by the Paris publicists, for the lecture-hall, modest as it was, was less than half-filled.
   Dark folding-seats, in neat columnar rows, were precisely dotted by the shiny pates of balding mathematicians. Here and there among the savants sat shifty-eyed French clackers in middle-age, the summer linen of their too-elegant finery looking rather past the mode. The last three rows were filled by a Parisian women's club, fanning themselves in the summer heat and chattering quite audibly, for they had long since lost the thread of Her Ladyship's discourse.
   Lady Ada Byron turned a page, touched a gloved finger to her bifocal pince-nez. For some minutes, a large green bottle-fly had been circling her podium. Now it broke the intricacy of its looping flight to alight on the bulging archipelago of Her Ladyship's padded, lace-trimmed shoulder. Lady Ada took no apparent notice of the attentions of this energetic vermin, but continued on gamely, in her accented French.
   The Mother said:
   "Our lives would be greatly clarified if human discourse could be interpreted as the exfoliation of a deeper formal system. One would no longer need ponder the grave ambiguities of human speech, but could judge the validity of any sentence by reference to a fixed and finitely describable set of rules and axioms. It was the dream of Leibniz to find such a system, the Characteristica Universalis…
   "And yet the execution of the so-called Modus Program demonstrated that any formal system must be both incomplete and unable to establish its own consistency. There is no finite mathematical way to express the property of 'truth.' The transfinite nature of the Byron Conjectures were the ruination of the Grand Napoleon; the Modus Program initiated a series of nested loops, which, though difficult to establish, were yet more difficult to extinguish. The program ran, yet rendered its Engine useless! It was indeed a painful lesson in the halting abilities of even our finest ordinateurs.
   "Yet I do believe, and must assert most strongly, that the Modus technique of self-referentiality will someday form the bedrock of a genuinely transcendent meta-system of calculatory mathematics. The Modus has proven my Conjectures, but their practical exfoliation awaits an Engine of vast capacity, one capable of iterations of untold sophistication and complexity.
   "Is it not strange that we mere mortals can talk about a concept—truth—that is infinitely complicated? And yet—is not a closed system the essence of the mechanical, the unthinking? And is not an open system the very definition of the organic, of life and thought?
   "If we envision the entire System of Mathematics as a great Engine for proving theorems, then we must say, through the agency of the Modus, that such an Engine lives, and could indeed prove its own life, should it develop the capacity to look upon itself. The Lens for such a self-examination is of a nature not yet known to us; yet we know that it exists, for we ourselves possess it.
   "As thinking beings, we may envision the universe, though we have no finite way to sum it up. The term, 'universe,' is not in fact a rational concept, though it is something of such utter immediacy that no thinking creature can escape a pressing knowledge of it, and indeed, an urge to know its workings, and the nature of one's own origin within it.
   "In his final years, the great Lord Babbage, impatient of the limits of steam-power, sought to harness the lightning in the cause of calculation. His elaborate system of 'resistors' and 'capacitors,' while demonstrative of the most brilliant genius, remains fragmentary, and is yet to be constructed. Indeed, it is often mocked by the undiscerning as an old man's hobby-horse. But history shall prove its judge, and then, I profoundly hope, my own Conjectures will transcend the limits of abstract concept and enter the living world."
   Applause was thin and scattered. Ebenezer Fraser, watching from the shelter of the wings, in the shadow of ropes and sandbags, felt his heart sink. But at least it was over. She was leaving the podium to join him.
   Fraser opened the nickeled catches of Her Ladyship's traveling-bag. Lady Ada dropped her manuscript within it, followed it with her kid gloves and her tiny ribboned hat.
   "I think they understood me!" she said brightly. "It sounds quite elegant in French, Mr. Fraser, does it not? A very rational language, French."
   "What next, milady? The hotel?"
   "My dressing-room," she said. "This heat is rather fatiguing… Will you hail the gurney for me? I'll join you presently."
   "Certainly, milady." Fraser, the bag in one hand, his sword-cane in another, led Lady Ada to the cramped little dressing-room, opened the door, bowed her within, set her bag at her neatly slippered feet, and closed the door firmly. Within the room, he knew. Her Ladyship would seek the consolation of the silvered brandy-flask she had hidden in the left-hand lower drawer of her dressing-table—wrapped, with pathetic duplicity, in a shroud of tissue-paper.
   Fraser had taken the liberty of providing seltzer-water in a bucket of ice. He hoped she would water the liquor a bit.
   He left the lecture-hall by a rear door, then circled the building warily, from old habit. His bad eye ached below the patch, and he made some use of the stag-handled sword-cane. As he had fully expected, he saw nothing resembling trouble.
   There was also no sign of the chauffeur for Her Ladyship's hired gurney. Doubtless the frog rascal was nursing a bottle somewhere, or chatting-up a soubrette. Or he might, perhaps, have mistaken his instructions, for Fraser's French was none of the best. He rubbed his good eye, examining the traffic. He would give the fellow twenty minutes, then hail a cab.
   He saw Her Ladyship standing, rather uncertainly, at the lecture-hall's rear door. She had put on a day-bonnet, it seemed—and forgotten her traveling-bag, which was very like her. He hurried, limping, to her side. "This way, milady—the gurney will meet us at the corner…"
   He paused. It was not Lady Ada.
   "I believe you mistake me, sir," the woman said in English, and lowered her eyes, and smiled. "I am not your Queen of Engines. I am merely an admirer."
   "I beg your pardon, madame," Fraser said.
   The woman glanced down shyly at the intricate Jacquard patterning of her white-on-white skirt of fine muslin. She wore a jutting French bustle, and a stiff high-shouldered walking-jacket, trimmed with lace. "Her Ladyship and I are dressed quite alike," she said, with a wry half-smile. "Her Ladyship must shop at Monsieur Worth's! That's quite a tribute to my own taste, sir, n'est-ce pas?"
   Fraser said nothing. A light tingle of suspicion touched him. The woman—a trim little blonde, in her forties perhaps—wore the dress of respectability. Yet there were three gold-banded brilliants on her gloved fingers, and showy little stems of filigreed jade dangled at her delicate earlobes. There was a killing beauty-patch—or a black sticking-plaster—at the corner of her mouth, and her wide blue eyes, for all their look of seasoned innocence, held the gleam of the demi-mondaine—a look that somehow said, I know you, copper.
   "Sir, may I wait for Her Ladyship with you? I hope I will not intrude if I request her autograph."
   "At the corner," Fraser nodded. "The gurney." He offered her his left arm, tucked the sword-cane in the pit of his right, his hand resting easy on the handle. It would not hurt to get a bit of distance down the pavement, before Lady Ada approached; he wanted to watch this woman.
   They stopped at the corner, beneath an angular French gas-lamp. "It's so good to hear a London voice," said the woman, coaxingly. "I have lived so long in France that my English has grown quite rusty."
   "Not at all," Fraser said. Her voice was lovely.
   "I am Madame Tournachon," she said, "Sybil Tournachon."
   "My name is Fraser." He bowed.
   Sybil Tournachon fidgeted with her kid-skin gloves, as though her palms were perspiring. The day was very hot. "Are you one of her paladins, Mr. Fraser?"
   "I'm afraid I fail to take your meaning, madame," Fraser said politely. "Do you live in Paris, Mrs. Tournachon?"
   "In Cherbourg," she said, "but I came all that way, by the morning express, simply to see her speak." She paused. "I scarcely understood a word she said."
   "No harm in that, madame," Fraser said, "neither do I." He had begun to like her.
   The gurney arrived. The chauffeur, with a bold wink at Fraser, hopped from behind the wheel and whipped a dirty chamois from his pocket. He applied it to the tarnished trim of a scalloped fender, whistling.
   Her Ladyship emerged from the lecture-hall. She had remembered her hand-bag. As she approached, Mrs. Tournachon went a bit pale with excitement, and took a lecture-program from her jacket.
   She was quite harmless.
   "Your Ladyship, may I present Mrs. Sybil Tournachon," Fraser said.
   "How do you do?" Lady Ada said.
   Mrs. Tournachon curtsied. "Will you sign my program? Please."
   Lady Ada blinked. Fraser, adroitly, handed her the pen from his notebook. "Of course," Lady Ada said, taking the paper. "I'm sorry—what was the name?"
   " 'To Sybil Tournachon.' Shall I spell it?"
   "No need," said Her Ladyship, smiling. "There's a famous French aeronaut named Tournachon, isn't there?" Fraser offered his back to the flourish of Her Ladyship's pen. "A relation of yours, perhaps?"
   "No, Your Highness."
   "I beg your pardon?" Lady Ada said.
   "They call you Queen of Engines…" Mrs. Tournachon, smiling triumphantly, plucked the inscribed program from Her Ladyship's unresisting fingers. "The Queen of Engines! And you're just a funny little grey-haired blue-stocking!" She laughed. "This lecture-gull you're running, dearie—does it pay at all well? I do hope it pays!"
   Lady Ada regarded her with unfeigned astonishment.
   Fraser's grip tightened on the cane. He stepped to the curb, swiftly opened the gurney door.
   "One moment!" The woman tugged with sudden energy at one gloved finger, came up with a gaudy ring. "Your Ladyship—please—I want you to have this!"
   Fraser stepped between them, lowering the cane. "Leave her alone."
   "No," Mrs. Tournachon cried, "I've heard the tales, I know she needs it…" She pressed against him, stretching out her arm. "Your Ladyship, please take this! I shouldn't have wounded your feelings, it was low of me. Please take my gift! Please, I do admire you, I sat through that whole lecture. Please take it, I brought it just for you!" She fell back then, her hand empty, and smiled. "Thank you. Your Ladyship! Good luck to you. I shan't trouble you again. Au revoir! Bonne chance!"
   Fraser followed Her Ladyship into the gurney, shut the door, rapped the partition. The chauffeur took his post.
   The gurney pulled away.
   "What a queer little personage," Her Ladyship said. She opened her hand. A fat little diamond gleamed in its filigreed setting. "Who was she, Mr. Fraser?"
   "I should guess an exile, ma'am," Fraser said. "Very forward of her."
   "Was it wrong of me to take this?" Her breath smelled of brandy and seltzer. "Not really proper, I suppose. But she would have made a scene, otherwise." She held the gem up, in a sheet of dusty sunlight through the window. "Look at the size of it! It must be very dear."
   "Paste, Your Ladyship."
   Swift as thought. Lady Ada pinched the ring in her fingers like a bit of chalk, and ran the stone along the gurney's window. There was a thin grating shriek, almost inaudible, and a shining groove appeared across the glass.
   They sat in companionable silence, then, on their way to the hotel.
   Fraser watched Paris through the window and recalled his instructions. "You may let the old girl drink as she likes," the Hierarch had told him, with his inimitable air of mincing irony, "talk as she likes, flirt as she likes, saving open scandal, of course… You may take your mission as fulfilled if you can keep our little Ada from the wagering-machines." There had been small chance of that disaster, for her purse held nothing but tickets and small-change, but the diamond had rather changed matters. He would have to keep a closer eye, now.
   Their rooms in the Richelieu were quite modest, with a connecting-door he had not touched. The locks were sound enough, and he had found and plugged the inevitable spyholes. He kept the keys.
   "Is there anything left of the advance?" Lady Ada asked.
   "Enough to tip the chauffeur," Fraser said.
   "Oh dear. That little?"
   Fraser nodded. The French savants had paid little enough for the pleasure of her learned company, and her debts had swiftly eaten that. The meager takings at the ticket-booth would scarcely have paid their passage from London.
   Lady Ada opened the curtains, frowned at summer daylight, closed them again. "Then I suppose I shall have to take on that tour in America."
   Fraser sighed, inaudibly. "They say that continent boasts many natural wonders, milady."
   "Which tour, though? Boston and New Philadelphia? Or Charleston and Richmond?"
   Fraser said nothing. The names of the alien cities struck him with a leaden gloom.
   "I shall toss a coin for it!" Her Ladyship decided brightly. "Have you a coin, Mr. Fraser?"
   "No, milady," Fraser lied, searching his pockets with a muted jingle, "I'm sorry."
   "Don't they pay you at all?" Her Ladyship inquired, with a hint of temper.
   "I have my police pension, milady. Quite generous, promptly paid." The promptness part was true, at least.
   She was concerned now, hurt. "But doesn't the Society pay you a proper salary? Oh dear, and I've put you to so much trouble, Mr. Fraser! I had no idea."
   "They recompense me in their own way, ma'am. I am well rewarded."
   He was her paladin. It was more than enough.
   She stepped to her bureau, searching among papers and receipts. Her fingers touched the tortoise-shell handle of her traveling-mirror.
   She turned then, and caught him with a woman's look. Under its pressure, he lifted his hand, quite without volition, and touched his bumpy cheek below the eye-patch. His white side-whiskers did not hide the scars. A shotgun had caught him there. It still ached sometimes, when it rained.
   She did not see his gesture, though, or did not choose to see it. She beckoned him nearer. "Mr. Fraser. My friend. Tell me something, won't you? Tell me the truth." She sighed. "Am I nothing but a funny little grey-haired blue-stocking?"
   "Madame," Fraser said gently, "you are la Reine des Ordinateurs."
   "Am I?" She lifted the mirror, gazed within it.
   In the minor, a City.
   It is 1991. It is London. Ten thousand towers, the cyclonic hum of a trillion twisting gears, all air gone earthquake-dark in a mist of oil, in the frictioned heat of intermeshing wheels. Black seamless pavements, uncounted tributary rivulets for the frantic travels of the punched-out lace of data, the ghosts of history loosed in this hot shining necropolis. Paper-thin faces billow like sails, twisting, yawning, tumbling through the empty streets, human faces that are borrowed masks, and lenses for a peering Eye. And when a given face has served its purpose, it crumbles, frail as ash, bursting into a dry foam of data, its constituent bits and motes. But new fabrics of conjecture are knitted in the City's shining cores, swift tireless spindles flinging off invisible loops in their millions, while in the hot unhuman dark, data melts and mingles, churned by gear-work to a skeletal bubbling pumice, dipped in a dreaming wax that forms a simulated flesh, perfect as thought—
   It is not London—but mirrored plazas of sheerest crystal, the avenues atomic lightning, the sky a super-cooled gas, as the Eye chases its own gaze through the labyrinth, leaping quantum gaps that are causation, contingency, chance. Electric phantoms are flung into being, examined, dissected, infinitely iterated.
   In this City's center, a thing grows, an auto-catalytic tree, in almost-life, feeding through the roots of thought on the rich decay of its own shed images, and ramifying, through myriad lightning-branches, up, up, toward the hidden light of vision,
   Dying to be born.
   The light is strong,
   The light is clear;
   The Eye at last must see itself
   I see:
   I see,
   I see
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
Virtual Light

William Gibson

The Bridge

1. The luminous flesh of giants
2. Cruising with gunhead
3. Not a nice party
4. Career opportunities
5. Hay problemas
6. The bridge
7. See you do okay
8. Morning after
9. When diplomacy fails
10. The modern dance
11. Pulling tags
12. Eye movement
13. Tweaking
14. Loveless
15. In 1015
16. Sunflower
17. The trap
18. Capacitor
19. Superball
20. The big empty
21. Cognitive Dissidents
22. Rub-a-dub
23. Gone and done it
24. Song of the central pier
25. Without a paddle
26. Colored people
27. After the storm
28. RV
29. Dead mall
30. Carnival of souls
31. Driver side
32. Fallonville
33. Notebook
34. Punching out of paradise
35. The republic of desire
36. Notebook (z)
37. Century city
38. Miracle mile
39. Celebration on a gray day
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Zodijak Gemini
Pol Muškarac
Poruke Odustao od brojanja
Zastava 44°49′N - 20°29′E
Apple iPhone 6s
Virtual Light

1. The luminous flesh of giants

   The courier presses his forehead against layers of glass, argon, high-impact plastic. He watches a gunship traverse the city’s middle distance like a hunting wasp, death slung beneath its thorax in a smooth black pod.
   Hours earlier, missiles have fallen in a northern suburb; seventy-three dead, the kill as yet unclaimed. But here the mirrored ziggurats down L C flow with the luminous flesh of giants, shunting out the night’s barrage of dreams to the waiting avenidas-business as usual, world without end.
   The air beyond the window touches each source of light with a faint hepatic corona, a tint of jaundice edging imperceptibly into brownish translucence. Fine dry flakes of fecal snow, billowing in from the sewage flats, have lodged in the lens of night.
   Closing his eyes, he centers himself in the background hiss of climate-control. He imagines himself in Tokyo, this room in some new wing of the old Imperial. He sees himself in the streets of Chiyoda-ku, beneath the sighing trains. Red paper lanterns line a narrow lane.
   He opens his eyes.
   Mexico City is still there.
   The eight empty bottles, plastic miniatures, are carefully aligned with the edge of the coffee table: a Japanese vodka, Come Back Salmon, its name more irritating than its lingering aftertaste.
   On the screen above the console, the ptichka await him, all in a creamy frieze. When he takes up the remote, their high sharp cheekbones twist in the space behind his eyes. Their young men, invariably entering from behind, wear black leather gloves. Slavic faces, calling up unwanted fragments of a childhood: the reek of a black canal, steel racketing steel beneath a swaying train, the high old ceilings of an apartment overlooking a frozen park.
   Twenty-eight peripheral images frame the Russians in their earnest coupling; he glimpses figures carried from the smoke-blackened car-deck of an Asian ferry.
   He opens another of the little bottles.
   Now the ptichka, their heads bobbing like well-oiled machines, swallow their arrogant, self-absorbed boyfriends. The camera angles recall the ardor of Soviet industrial cinema.
   His gaze strays to NHK Weather. A low-pressure front is crossing Kansas. Next to it, an eerily calm Islamic downlink ceaselessly reiterates the name of God in a fractal-based calligraphy.
   He drinks the vodka.
   He watches television.
   After midnight, at the intersection of Liverpool and Florencia, he stares out at the Zona Rosa from the back of a white Lada, a nanopore Swiss respirator chafing his freshly shaven chin.
   And every passing face is masked, mouths and nostrils concealed behind filters. Some, honoring the Day of the Dead, resemble the silver-beaded jaws of grinning sugar-skulls. Whatever form they take, their manufacturers all make the same dubious, obliquely comforting claims about viroids.
   He’s thought to escape the sameness, perhaps discover something of beauty or passing interest, but here there are only masked faces, his fear, the lights.
   An ancient American car comes creeping through the turn, out of Avenida Chapultepec, gouts of carbon puising from beneath a dangling bumper. A dusty rind of cola-colored resin and shattered mirror seals its every surface; only the windshield is exposed, and this is black and glossy, opaque as a blob of ink, reminding him of the gunship’s lethal pod. He feels the fear begin to accrete, seamlessly, senselessly, with absolute conviction, around this carnival ghost, the Cadillac, this oil-burning relic in its spectral robe of smudged mosaic silver. Why is it allowed to add its filth to the already impossible air? Who sits inside, behind the black windshield?
   Trembling, he watches the thing pass.
   “That car…” He finds himself leaning forward, compulsively addressing the broad brown neck of the driver, whose massive ear lobes somehow recall reproduction pottery offered on the hotel’s shopping channel.
   “El coche” says the driver, who wears no mask, and turning, now seems to notice the courier for the first time. The courier sees the mirrored Cadillac flare, once, and briefly, with the reflected ruby of a nightclub’s laser, then gone.
   The driver is staring at him.
   He tells the driver to return to the hotel.
   He comes awake from a dream of metal voices, down the vaulted concourses of some European airport, distant figures glimpsed in mute rituals of departure.
   Darkness. The hiss of climate-control.
   The touch of cotton sheets. His telephone beneath the pillow. Sounds of traffic, muted by the gas-filled windows. All tension, his panic, are gone. He remembers the atrium bar. Music. Faces.
   He becomes aware of an inner balance, a rare equilibrium. It is all he knows of peace.
   And, yes, the glasses are here, tucked beside his telephone. He draws them out, opening the ear pieces with a guilty pleasure that has somehow endured since Prague.
   Very nearly a decade he has loved her, though he doesn’t think of it in those terms. But he has never bought another piece of software and the black plastic frames have started to lose their sheen. The label on the cassette is unreadable now, sueded white with his touch in the night. So many rooms like this one.
   He has long since come to prefer her in silence. He no longer inserts the yellowing audio beads. He has learned to provide his own, whispering to her as he fast-forwards through the clumsy titles and up the moonlit ragged hillscape of a place that is neither Hollywood nor Rio, but some soft-focus digital approximation of both.
   She is waiting for him, always, in the white house up the canyon road. The candles. The wine. The jet-beaded dress against the matte perfection of her skin, such whiteness, the black beads drawn smooth and cool as a snake’s belly up her tensed thigh.
   Far away, beneath cotton sheets, his hands move.
   Later, drifting toward sleep of a different texture, the phone beneath his pillow chimes softly and only once.
   “Confirming your reservation to San Francisco” someone says, either a woman or a machine. He touches a key, recording the flight number, says goodnight, and closes his eyes on the tenuous light sifting from the dark borders of the drapes.
   Her white arms enfold him. Her blondness eternal.
   He sleeps.
   IntenSecure had their wagons detailed every three shifts. They used this big specialty car wash off Colby; twenty coats of hand-rubbed Wet Honey Sienna and you didn’t let it get too shabby.
   That one November evening the Republic of Desire put an end to his career in armed response, Berry Rydell had arrived there a little early.
   He liked the way it smelled inside. They had this pink stuff they put through the power-washers to get the road film off, and the smell reminded him of a summer job he’d had in Knoxville, his last year in school. They’d been putting condos into the shell of this big old Safeway out on Jefferson Davis. The architects wanted the cinder block walls stripped just this one certain way, mostly gray showing through but some old pink Safeway paint left in the little dips and crannies. They were from Memphis and they wore black suits and white cotton shirts. The shirts had obviously cost more than the suits, or at least as much, and they never wore ties or undid the top button. Rydell had figured that that was a way for architects to dress; now he lived in L.A., he knew it was true. He’d overheard one of them explaining to the foreman that what they were doing was exposing the integrity of the material’s passage through time. He thought that was probably bullshit, but he sort of liked the sound of it anyway; like what happened to old people on television.
   But what it really amounted to was getting most of this shitty old paint off thousands and thousands of square feet of equally shitty cinder block, and you did it with an oscillating spray-head on the end of a long stainless handle. If you thought the foreman wasn’t looking, you could aim it at another kid, twist out a thirty-foot rooster tail of stinging rainbow, and wash all his sunblock off. Rydell and his friends all wore this Australian stuff that came in serious colors, so you could see where you had and hadn’t put it. Had to get your right distance on it, though, ’cause up close those heads could take the chrome off a bumper. Rydell and Buddy Crigger both got fired for doing that, finally, and then they walked across Jeff Davis to a beer joint and Rydell wound up spending the night with this girl from Key West, the first time he’d ever slept beside a woman.
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2. Cruising with gunhead

   Now here he was in Los Angeles, driving a six-wheeled Hotspur Hussar with twenty coats of hand-rubbed lacquer. The Hussar was an armored Land Rover that could do a hundred and forty on a straightaway, assuming you could find one open and had the time to accelerate. Hernandez, his shift super, said you couldn’t trust an Englishman to build anything much bigger than a hat, not if you wanted it to work when you needed it; he said IntenSecure should’ve bought Israeli or at least Brazilian, and who needed Ralph Lauren to design a tank anyway?
   Rydell didn’t know about that, but that paint job was definitely trying too hard. He thought they probably wanted people to think of those big brown United Parcel trucks, and at the same time they maybe hoped it would look sort of like something you’d see in an Episcopal church. Not too much gilt on the logo. Sort of restrained.
   The people who worked in the car wash were mostly Mongolian immigrants, recent ones who had trouble getting better jobs. They did this crazy throat-singing thing while they worked, and he liked to hear that. He couldn’t figure out how they did it; sounded like tree-frogs, but like it was two sounds at once.
   Now they were buffing the rows of chromed nubs down the sides. Those had been meant to support electric crowd-control grids and were just chromed for looks. The riot-wagons in Knoxville had been electrified, but with this drip-system that kept them wet, which was a lot nastier.
   “Sign here” said the crew boss, this quiet black kid named Anderson. He was a medical student, days, and he always looked like he was about two nights short of sleep.
   Rydell took the pad and the light-pen and signed the signature-plate. Anderson handed Rydell the keys.
   “You ought to get you some rest” Rydell said. Anderson grinned, wanly. Rydell walked over to Gunhead, deactivating the door alarm.
   Somebody had written that inside, “GUNHEAD” in green marker on the panel above the windshield. The name stuck, but mostly because Sublett liked it. Sublett was Texan, a refugee from some weird trailer-camp video-sect. He said his mother had been getting ready to deed his ass to the church, whatever that meant.
   Sublett wasn’t too anxious to talk about it, but Rydell had gotten the idea that these people figured video was the Lord’s preferred means of communicating, the screen itself a kind of perpetually burning bush. “He’s in the de-tails” Sublett had said once. “You gotta watch for Him close.” Whatever form this worship had taken, it was evident that Sublett had absorbed more television than anyone Rydell had ever met, mostly old movies on channels that never ran anything but. Sublett said Gunhead was the name of a robot tank in a Japanese monster movie. Hernandez thought Sublett had written the name on there himself. Sublett denied it. Hernandez said take it off. Sublett ignored him. It was still there, but Rydell knew Sublett was too law-abiding to commit any vandalism, and anyway the ink in the marker might’ve killed him.
   Sublett had had allergies. He went into shock from various kinds of cleaners and solvents, so you couldn’t get him to come into the car wash at all, ever. The allergies made him light sensitive, too, so he had to wear these mirrored contacts. What with the black IntenSecure uniform and his dry blond hair, the contacts made him look like some kind of Klan-assed Nazi robot. Which could get kind of complicated in the wrong store on Sunset, say three in the morning and all you really wanted was some mineral water and a Coke. But Rydell was always glad to have him on shift, because he was as determinedly nonviolent a rentacop as you were likely to find. And he probably wasn’t even crazy. Both of which were definite pluses for Rydell. As Hernandez was fond of pointing out, SoCal had stricter regulations for who could or couldn’t be a hairdresser.
   Like Rydell, a lot of IntenSecure’s response people were former police officers of some kind, some were even ex-LAPD, and if the company’s rules about not carrying personal weapons on duty were any indication, his co-workers were expected to turn up packing all manner of hardware. There were metal detectors on the staff-room doors and Hernandez usually had a drawer full of push-daggers, nunchuks, stunguns, knucks, boot-knives, and whatever else the detectors had picked up. Like Friday morning at a South Miami high school. Hernandez gave it all back after the shift, but when they went calling, they were supposed to make do with their Glocks and the chunkers.
   The Glocks were standard police issue, at least twenty years old, that IntenSecure bought by the truckload from PDs that could afford to upgrade to caseless ammunition. If you did it by the book, you kept the Glocks in their plastic holsters, and kept the holsters Velcroed to the wagon’s central console. When you answered a call, you pulled a holstered pistol off the console and stuck it on the patch provided on your uniform. That was the only time you were supposed to be out of the wagon with a gun on, when you were actually responding.
   The chunkers weren’t even guns, not legally anyway, but a ten-second burst at close range would chew somebody’s face off. They were Israeli riot-control devices, air-powered, that fired one-inch cubes of recycled rubber. They looked like the result of a forced union between a bullpup assault rifle and an industrial staple gun, except they were made out of this bright yellow plastic. When you pulled the trigger, those chunks came out in a solid stream. If you got really good with one, you could shoot around corners; just kind of bounce them off a convenient surface. Up close, they’d eventually cut a sheet of plywood in half, if you kept on shooting, and they left major bruises out to about thirty yards. The theory was, you didn’t always encounter that many armed intruders, and a chunker was a lot less likely to injure the client or the client’s property. If you did encounter an armed intruder, you had the Glock. Although the intruder was probably running caseless through a floating breech—not part of the theory. Nor was it part of the theory that seriously tooled-up intruders tended to be tightened on dancer, and were thereby both inhumanly fast and clinically psychotic.
   There had been a lot of dancer in Knoxville, and some of it had gotten Rydell suspended. He’d crawled into an apartment where a machinist named Kenneth Turvey was holding his girlfriend, two little kids, and demanding to speak to the president. Turvey was white, skinny, hadn’t bathed in a month, and had the Last Supper tattooed on his chest. It was a very fresh tattoo; it hadn’t even scabbed over. Through a film of drying blood, Rydell could see that Jesus didn’t have any face. Neither did any of the Apostles.
   “Damn it” Turvey said, when he saw Rydell. “I just wanna speak to the president.” He was sitting cross-legged, naked, on his girlfriend’s couch. He had something like a piece of pipe across his lap, all wrapped with tape.
   “We’re trying to get her for you” Rydell said. “We’re sorry it’s taking so long, but we have to go through channels.”
   “God damn it” Turvey said wearily, “doesn’t nobody understand I’m on a mission from God?” He didn’t sound particularly angry, just tired and put out. Rydell could see the girlfriend through the open door of the apartment’s single bedroom. She was on her back, on the floor, and one of her legs looked broken. He couldn’t see her face. She wasn’t moving at all. Where were the kids?
   “What is that thing you got there?” Rydell asked, indicating the object across Turvey’s lap.
   “It’s a gun” Turvey said, “and it’s why I gotta talk to the president.”
   “Never seen a gun like that” Rydell allowed. “What’s it shoot?”
   “Grapefruit cans” Turvey said. “Fulla concrete.”
   “No shit?”
   “Watch” Turvey said, and brought the thing to his shoulder. It had a sort of breech, very intricately machined, a trigger-thing like part of a pair of vise-grip pliers, and a couple of flexible tubes. These latter ran down, Rydell saw, to a great big canister of gas, the kind you’d need a hand truck to move, which lay on the floor beside the couch.
   There on his knees, on the girlfriend’s dusty polyester carpet, he’d watched that muzzle swing past. It was big enough to put your fist down. He watched as Turvey took aim, back through the open bedroom door, at the closet.
   “Turvey” he heard himself say, “where’s the goddamn kids?”
   Turvey moved the vise-grip handle and punched a hole the size of a fruit-juice can through the closet door. The kids were in there. They must’ve screamed, though Rydell couldn’t remember hearing it. Rydell’s lawyer later argued that he was not only deaf at this point, but in a state of sonically induced catalepsy. Turvey’s invention was only a few decibels short of what you got with a SWAT stun-grenade. But Rydell couldn’t remember. He couldn’t rememher shooting Kenneth Turvey in the head, either, or anything else at all until he woke up in the hospital. There was a woman there from Cops in Trouble, which had been Rydell’s father’s favorite show, but she said she couldn’t actually talk to him until she’d spoken with his agent. Rydell said he didn’t have one. She said she knew that, but one was going to call him.
   Rydell lay there thinking about all the times he and his father had watched Cops in Trouble. “What kind of trouble we talking here?” he finally asked.
   The woman just smiled. “Whatever, Berry, it’ll probably be adequate.”
   He squinted up at her. She was sort of good-looking. “What’s your name?”
   “Karen Mendelsohn.” She didn’t look like she was from Knoxville, or even Memphis.
   “You from Cops in Trouble?”
   “What you do for ’em?”
   “I’m a lawyer” she said. Rydell couldn’t recall ever actually having met one before, but after that he wound up meeting lots more.
   Gunhead’s displays were featureless slabs of liquid crystal; they woke when Rydell inserted the key, typed the security code, and ran a basic systems check. The cameras under the rear bumper were his favorites; they made parking really easy; you could see exactly where you were backing up. The downlink from the Death Star wouldn’t work while he was still in the car wash, too much steel in the building, but it was Sublett’s job to keep track of all that with an ear-bead.
   There was a notice posted in the staff room at IntenSecure, telling you it was company policy not to call it that, the Death Star, but everybody did anyway. The LAPD called it that themselves. Officially it was the Southern California Dosynclinical Law Enforcement Satellite.
   Watching the dashboard screens, Rydell backed carefully out of the building. Gunhead’s twin ceramic engines were new enough to still be relatively quiet; Rydell could hear the tires squish over the wet concrete floor.
   Sublett was waiting outside, his silver eyes reflecting the red of passing taillights. Behind him, the sun was setting, the sky’s colors bespeaking more than the usual cocktail of additives. He stepped back as Rydell reversed past him, anxious to avoid the least droplet of spray from the tires. Rydell was anxious too; he didn’t want to have to haul the Texan to Cedars again if his allergies kicked up.
   Rydell waited as Sublett pulled on a pair of disposable surgical gloves.
   “Howdy” Sublett said, climbing into his seat. He closed his door and began to remove the gloves, gingerly peeling them into a Ziploc Baggie.
   “Don’t get any on you” Rydell said, watching the care with which Sublett treated the gloves.
   “Go ahead, laugh” Sublett said mildly. He took out a pack of hypo-allergenic gum and popped a piece from its bubble. “How’s ol’ Gunhead?”
   Rydell scanned the displays, satisfied. “Not too shabby.”
   “Hope we don’t have to respond to any damn’ stealth houses tonight” Sublett said, chewing.
   Stealth houses, so-called, were on Sublett’s personal list of bad calls. He said the air in them was toxic. Rydell didn’t think it made any sense, but he was tired of arguing about it. Stealth houses were bigger than most regular houses, cost more, and Rydell figured the owners would pay plenty to keep the air clean. Sublett maintained that anybody who built a stealth house was paranoid to begin with, would always keep the place locked up too tight, no air circulation, and you’d get that bad toxic buildup.
   If there’d been any stealth houses in Knoxville, Rydell hadn’t known about them. He thought it was an L.A. thing.
   Sublett, who’d worked for IntenSecure for almost two years, mostly on day patrol in Venice, had been the first person to even mention them to Rydell. When Rydell finally got to answer a call to one, he couldn’t believe the place; it just went down and down, dug in beneath something that looked almost, but not quite, like a bombed-out drycleaning plant. And it was all peeled logs inside, white plaster, Turkish carpets, big paintings, slate floors, furniture like he’d never seen before. But it was some kind of tricky call; domestic violence, Rydell figured. Like the husband hit the wife, the wife hit the button, now they were making out it was all just a glitch. But it couldn’t really be a glitch, because someone had had to hit the button, and there hadn’t been any response to the password call that came back to them three-point-eight seconds later. She must’ve messed with the phones, Rydell thought, then hit the button. He’d been been riding with ‘Big George’ Kechakmadze that night, and the Georgian (Tbilisi, not Atlanta) hadn’t liked it either. “You see these people, they’re subscribers, man; nobody bleeding, you get your ass out, okay?” Big George had said, after. But Rydell kept remembering a tension around the woman’s eyes, how she held the collar of the big white robe folded against her throat. Her husband in a matching robe but with thick hairy legs and expensive glasses. There’d been something wrong there but he’d never know what. Not any more than he’d ever understand how their lives really worked, lives that looked like what you saw on tv but weren’t.
   L.A. was full of mysteries, when you looked at it that way. No bottom to it.
   He’d come to like driving through it, though. Not when he had to get anywhere in particular, but just cruising with Gunhead was okay. Now he was turning onto La Cienega and the little green cursor on the clash was doing the same.
   “Forbidden Zone” Sublett said. “Herve Villechaize, Susan Rydell, Marie-Pascal Elfman, Viva.”
   “Viva?” Rydell asked. “Viva what?”
   “Viva. Actress.”
   “When’d they make that?”
   “I wasn’t born yet.”
   “Time on tv’s all the same time, Rydell.”
   “Man, I thought you were trying to get over your upbringing and all.” Rydell de-mirrored the door-window to better watch a redheaded girl pass him in a pink Daihatsu Sneaker with the top off. “Anyway, I never saw that one.” It was just that hour of evening when women in cars looked about as good, in Los Angeles, as anything ever did. The surgeon general was trying to outlaw convertibles; said they contributed to the skin-cancer rate.
   “End game. Al Cliver, Moira Chen, George Eastman, Gordon Mitchell. 1985.”
   “Well, I was two” Rydell said, “but I didn’t see that one either.”
   Sublett fell silent. Rydell felt sorry for him; the Texan really didn’t know any other way to start a conversation, and his folks back home in the trailer-camp would’ve seen all those films and more.
   “Well” Rydell said, trying to pick up his end, “I was watching this one old movie last night—”
   Sublett perked up. “Which one?”
   “Dunno” Rydell said. “This guy’s in L.A. and he’s just met this girl. Then he picks up a pay phone, ’cause it’s ringing. Late at night. It’s some guy in a missile silo somewhere who knows they’ve just launched theirs at the Russians. He’s trying to phone his dad, or his brother, or something. Says the world’s gonna end in short order. Then the guy who answered the phone hears these soldiers come in and shoot the guy. The guy on the phone, I mean.“
   Sublett closed his eyes, scanning his inner trivia-banks. “Yeah? How’s it end?”
   “Dunno” Rydell said. “I went to sleep.”
   Sublett opened his eyes. “Who was in it?”
   “Got me.”
   Sublett’s blank silver eyes widened in disbelief. “Jesus, Berry, you shouldn’t oughta watch tv, not unless you’re gonna pay it attention.”
   He wasn’t in the hospital very long, after he shot Kenneth Turvey; barely two days. His lawyer, Aaron Pursley himself, made the case that they should’ve kept him in there longer, the better to assess the extent of his post-traumatic shock. But Rydell hated hospitals and anyway he didn’t feel too bad; he just couldn’t recall exactly what had happened. And he had Karen Mendelsohn to help him out with things, and his new agent, Wellington Ma, to deal with the other people from Cops in Trouble, not one of them as nice as Karen, who had long brown hair. Wellington Ma was Chinese, lived in Los Angeles, and Karen said his father had been in the Big Circle gang—though she advised Rydell not to bring it up.
   Wellington Ma’s business card was a rectangular slice of pink synthetic quartz, laser-engraved with his name, “The Ma-Mariano Agency” an address on Beverly Boulevard, and all kinds of numbers and e-mail addresses. It arrived by GlobEx in its own little gray suede envelope while Rydell was still in the hospital.
   “Looks like you could cut yourself on it” Rydell said.
   “You could, many no doubt have” said Karen Mendelsohn, “and if you put it in your wallet and sit down, it shatters.”
   “Then what’s the point of it?”
   “You’re supposed to take very good care of it. You won’t get another.”
   Rydell never actually did meet Wellington Ma, at least not ’til quite a while later, but Karen would bring in a little briefcase with a pair of eyephones on a wire and Rydell could talk with him in his office in LA. It was the sharpest telepresence rig Rydell had ever used, and it really did look just like he was right there. He could see out the window to where there was this lopsided pyramid the color of a Noxzema jar. He asked Wellington Ma what that was and Ma said it was the old Design Center, but currently it was a discount mall, and Rydell could go there when he came to L.A., which was going to be soon.
   Turvey’s girlfriend, Jenni-Rae Cline, was bringing an intricately interlocking set of separate actions against Rydell, the Department, the City of Knoxville, and the company in Singapore that owned her apartment building. About twenty million in total.
   Rydell, having become a cop in trouble, was glad to find that Cops in Trouble was right there for him. They’d hired Aaron Pursley, for starters, and of course Rydell knew who he was from the show. He had that gray hair, those blue eyes, that nose you could split kindling with, and wore jeans, Tony Lama boots, and plain white oxford-cloth pima cotton cowboy business shirts with Navajo-silver bob-ties. He was famous and he defended cops like Rydell from people like Turvey’s girlfriend and her lawyer.
   Jenni-Rae Cline’s lawyer maintained that Rydell shouldn’t have been in her apartment at all, that he’d endangered her life and her children’s by so doing, and that he’d killed Kenneth Turvey in the process, Mr. Turvey being described as a skilled craftsman, a steady worker, a loving father-figure for little Rambo and Kelly, a born-again Christian, a recovering addict to 4-Thiobuscaline, and the family’s sole means of support.
   “Recovering?” Rydell asked Karen Mendelsohn in his room in the airport Executive Suites. She’d just shown him the fax from Jenni-Rae’s lawyer.
   “Apparently he’d been to a meeting that very day” Karen said.
   “What did he do there?” Rydell asked, remembering the Last Supper in drying blood.
   “According to our witnesses, he openly horned a tablespoon of his substance of choice, took the podium by force, and delivered a thirty-minute rant on President Milibank’s pantyhose and the assumed current state of her genitalia. He then exposed himself, masturbated but did not ejaculate, and left the basement of the First Baptist Church.”
   “Jesus” Rydell said. “And this was at one of those drug meetings, like A.A.?”
   “It was” Karen Mendelsohn said, “though apparently Turvey’s performance has triggered an unfortunate sequence of relapses. We’ll send in a team of counselors, of course, to work with those who were at the meeting.”
   “That’s nice” Rydell said.
   “Look good in court” she said, “in the unlikely event we ever get there.”
   “He wasn’t ‘recovering’” Rydell said. “Hadn’t even recovered from the last bunch he jammed up his nose.”
   “Apparently true” she said. “But he was also a member of Adult Survivors of Satanism, and they are starting to take an interest in this case. Therefore, both Mr. Pursley and Mr. Ma feel it best we coast it but soon, Berry. You and me.”
   “But what about the court stuff?”
   “You’re on suspension from the Department, you haven’t been charged with anything yet, and your lawyer’s name is Aaron-with-two-a’s Pursley. You’re out of here, Berry.”
   “To L.A.?”
   “None other.”
   Rydell looked at her. He thought about Los Angeles on television. “Will I like it?”
   “At first” she said. “At first, it’ll probably like you. I know I do.”
   Which was how he wound up going to bed with a lawyer– one who smelled like a million dollars, talked dirty, slid all around, and wore underwear from Milan, which was in Italy.
   “The Kill-Fix. Cyrinda Burdette, Gudrun Weaver, Dean Mitchell, Shinobu Sakamaki. 1997.”
   “Never saw it” Rydebb said, sucking the last of his grande decaf cold capp-with-an-extra-shot from the milky ice at the bottom of his plastic thermos cup.
   “Mama saw Cyrinda Burdette. In this mall over by Waco. Got her autograph, too. Kept it up on the set with the prayer-hankies and her hologram of the Reverend Wayne Falbon. She had a prayer-hanky for every damn thing. One for the rent, one to keep the AIDS off, the TB…”
   “Yeah? How’d she use ’em?”
   “Kept ’em on top of the set” Sublett explained, and finished the inch of quadruple-distilled water left in the skinny translucent bottle. There was only one place along this part of Sunset sold the stuff, but Rydell didn’t mind; it was next to a take-out coffee-bar, and they could park in the lot on the corner. Fellow who ran the lot always seemed kind of glad to see them.
   “Prayer-hanky won’t keep any AIDS off” Rydell said. “Get yourself vaccinated, like anybody else. Get your momma vaccinated, too.” Through the de-mirrored window, Rydell could see a street-shrine to J.D. Shapely, up against the concrete wall that was all that was left of the building that had stood there once. You saw a lot of them in West Hollywood. Somebody had sprayed SHAPELY WAS A COCK-SUCKING FAGGOT in bright pink paint, the letters three feet high, and then a big pink heart. Below that, stuck to the wall, were postcards of Shapely and photographs of people who must’ve died. God only knew how many millions had. On the pavement at the base of the wall were dead flowers, stubs of candles, other stuff. Something about the postcards gave Rydell the creeps; they made the guy look like a cross between Elvis and some kind of Catholic saint, skinny and with his eyes too big.
   He turned to Sublett. “Man, you still haven’t got your ass vaccinated yet, you got nothin’ but stone white-trash ignorance to thank for it.”
   Sublett cringed. “That’s worse than a live vaccine, man; that’s a whole ’nother disease right there!”
   “Sure is” Rydell said, “but it doesn’t do anything to you. And there’s still plenty of the old kind walking around here. They oughta make it compulsory, you ask me.”
   Sublett shuddered. “Reverend Fallon always said—”
   “Screw Reverend Fallon” Rydell said, hitting the ignition. “Son of a bitch just makes money selling prayer-hankies to people like your momma. You knew that was all bullshit anyway, didn’t you, otherwise why’d you come out here?” He put Gunhead into gear and eased over into the Sunset traffic. One thing about driving a Hotspur Hussar, people almost always let you cut in.
   Sublett’s head seemed to draw down between his high shoulders, giving him the look of a worried, steel-eyed buzzard. “Ain’t all that simple” he said. “It’s everything I been brought up to be. Can’t all be bullshit, can it?”
   Rydell, glancing over at him, took pity. “Naw” he said, “I guess it wouldn’t have to be, necessarily, all of it, but it’s just—”
   “What they bring you all up to be, Berry?”
   Rydell had to think about it. “Republican” he said, finally.
   Karen Mendelsohn had seemed like the best of a whole string of things Rydell felt he could get used to just fine. Like flying business-class or having a SoCal MexAmeriBank card from Cops in Trouble.
   That first time with her, in the Executive Suites in Knoxville, not having anything with him, he’d tried to show her his certificates of vaccination (required by the Department, else they couldn’t get you insured). She’d just laughed and said German nanotech would take care of all of that. Then she showed Rydell this thing through the transparent top of a gadget like a little battery-powered pressure-cooker. Rydell had heard about them, but he hadn’t ever seen one; he’d also heard they cost about as much as a small car. He’d read somewhere how they always had to be kept at body temperature.
   It looked like it might be moving a little in there. Pale, sort of jellyfish thing. He asked her if it was true they were alive. She told him it wasn’t, exactly, but it was almost, and the rest of it was Bucky balls and subcellular automata. And he wouldn’t even know it was there, but no way was she going to put it in in front of him.
   She’d gone into the bathroom to do that. When she came back out in that underwear, he got to learn where Milan was. And while it was true he wouldn’t have known the thing was there, he did know it was there, but pretty soon he forgot about it, almost.
   They chartered a tilt-rotor to Memphis the next morning and got on Air Magellan to LAX. Business-class mostly meant better gizmos in the seatback in front of you, and Rydell’s immediate favorite was a telepresence set you could tune to servo-mounted mollies on the outside of the plane. Karen hated to use the little VirtuFax she carried around in her purse, so she’d gotten on to her office in L.A. and had them download her morning’s mail into her seatback display. She got down to that fast, talking on the phone, sending faxes, and leaving Rydell to ooh and ah at the views from the mollies.
   The seats were bigger than when he used to fly down to Florida to see his father, the food was better, and the drinks were free. Rydell had three or four of those, fell asleep, and didn’t wake up until somewhere over Arizona.
   The air was funny, at LAX, and the light was different. California was a lot more crowded than he’d expected, and louder. There was a man there from Cops in Trouble, holding up a piece of wrinkled white cardboard that said MENDELSOHN in red marker, only the S was backward. Rydell smiled, introduced himself, and shook hands with him. He seemed to like that; said his name was Sergei. When Karen asked him where the fucking car was, he turned bright red and said it would just take him a minute to get it. Karen said no thanks, they’d walk to the lot with him as soon as their bags turned up, no way was she waiting around in a zoo like this. Sergei nodded. He kept trying to fold up the sign and put it into his jacket pocket, but it was too big. Rydell wondered why she’d suddenly gotten bitchy like that. Tired from the trip, maybe. He winked at Sergei, but that just seemed to make the guy more nervous.
   After their bags came, Karen’s two black leather ones and the softside blue Samsonite Rydell had bought with his new debit-card, he and Sergei carried them out and across a kind of trafficloop. The air outside was about the same, but hotter. This recording kept saying that the white spaces were for loading and unloading only. There were all kinds of cars jockeying around, babies crying, people leaning on piles of luggage, but Sergei knew where they were going—over to this garage across the way.
   Sergei’s car was long, black, German, and looked like somebody had just cleaned it all over with warm spit and Q-Tips. When Rydell offered to ride shotgun, Sergei got rattled again and hustled him into the back seat with Karen. Which made her laugh, so Rydell felt better.
   As they were pulling out of the garage, Rydell spotted two cops over by these big stainless-steel letters that said METRO. They wore air-conditioned helmets with clear plastic visors. They were poking at an old man with their sticks, though it didn’t look like they had them turned on. The old man’s jeans were out at the knees and he had big patches of tape on both cheekbones, which almost always means cancer. He was so burned, it was hard to tell if he was white or what. A crowd of people was streaming up the stairs behind the old man and the cops, under the METRO sign, and stepping around them.
   “Welcome to Los Angeles” she said. “Be glad you aren’t taking the subway.”
   They had dinner that night in what Karen said was Hollywood, with Aaron Pursley himself, in a Tex-Mex restaurant on North Flores Street. It was the best Tex-Mex food Rydell had ever had. About a month later, he tried to take Sublett there for his birthday, maybe cheer him up with a down-home meal, but the man out front just wouldn’t let them in.
   “Full up” he said.
   Rydell could see plenty of empty tables through the window. It was early and there was hardly anybody in there. “How ’bout those” Rydell said, pointing at all the empty tables.
   “Reserved” the man said.
   Sublett said spicy foods weren’t really such a good idea for him anyway.
   What he’d come to like best, cruising with Gunhead, was getting back up in the hills and canyons, particularly on a night with a good moon.
   Sometimes you saw things up there and couldn’t quite be sure you’d seen them or not. One full-moon night Rydell had slung Gunhead around a curve and frozen a naked woman in the headlights, the way a deer’ll stop, trembling, on a country road. Just a second she was there, long enough for Rydell to think he’d seen that she either wore silver horns or some kind of hat with an upturned crescent, and that she might’ve been Japanese, which struck him right then as the weirdest thing about any of it. Then she saw him—he saw her see him—and smiled. Then she was gone.
   Sublett had seen her, too, but it only kicked him into some kind of motormouthed ecstasy of religious dread, every horrormovie he’d ever seen tumbling over into Reverend Fallon’s rants about witches, devil-worshippers, and the living power of Satan. He’d gone through his week’s supply of gum, talking nonstop, until Rydell had finally told him to shut the fuck up.
   Because now she was gone, he wanted to think about her. How she’d looked, what she might have been doing there, and how it was she’d vanished. With Sublett sulking in the shotgun seat, Rydell had tried to remember just exactly how it was she’d managed to so perfectly and suddenly not be there. And the funny thing was, he sort of remembered it two ways, which was nothing at all like the way he still didn’t really remember shooting Kenneth Turvey, even though he’d heard production assistants and network lawyers go over it so many times he felt like he’d seen it, or at least the Cops in Trouble version (which never aired). One way he remembered it, she’d just sort of gone down the slope beside the road, though whether she was running or floating, he couldn’t say. The other way he remembered, she’d jumped—though that was such a poor word for it—up the slope above the other side of the road, somehow clearing all that dust-silvered moonlit vegetation, and just flat-out impossible gone, forty feet if it was five.
   And did Japanese women ever have that kind of long curly hair? And hadn’t it looked like the shadowed darkness of her bush had been shaved into something like an exclamation point?
   He’d wound up buying Sublett four packs of the special gum at an all-night Russian pharmacy on Wilshire, amazed at what the stuff cost him.
   He’d seen other things, too, up the canyons, particularly when he’d drawn a shift on deep graveyard. Mostly fires, small ones, where fires couldn’t be. And lights in the sky, sometimes, but Sublett was so full of trailer-camp contactee shit that if Rydell saw a light now, driving, he knew better than to mention it.
   But sometimes, when he was up there, he’d think about her. He knew he didn’t know what she was, and in some funny way he didn’t even care if she’d been human or not. But he hadn’t ever felt like she was bad, just different.
   So now he just drove, shooting the shit with Sublett, on the night that would turn out to be his very last night on patrol with IntenSecure. No moon, but a rare clear sky with a few stars showing. Five minutes to their first house check, then they’d be swinging back toward Beverly Hills.
   They were talking about this chain of Japanese gyms called Body Hammer. Body Hammer didn’t offer much in the way of traditional gym culture; in fact they went as far as possible in the opposite direction, catering mostly to kids who liked the idea of being injected with Brazilian fetal tissue and having their skeletons reinforced with what the ads called ‘performance materials.’
   Sublett said it was the Devil’s work.
   Rydell said it was a Tokyo franchise operation.
   Gunhead said: “Multiple homicide, hostage-taking in progress, may involve subscriber’s minor children. Benedict Canyon. You have IntenSecure authorization to employ deadly, repeat, deadly force.”
   And the dash lit up like an old-time video arcade.
   The way it had worked out, Rydell hadn’t actually had time to get used to Karen Mendelsohn, business-class seats, or any of that stuff.
   Karen lived, umpteen floors up, in Century City II, aka the Blob, which looked sort of like a streamlined, semi-transparent green tit and was the third-tallest structure in the L.A. Basin. When the light was right, you could see almost clear through it, and make out the three giant struts that held it up, each one so big around you could stuff an ordinary skyscraper up it with room to spare. There were elevators up through these tripod-things, and they ran at an angle; Rydell hadn’t had time to get used to that either.
   The tit had a carefully corroded copper nipple, like one of those Chinese hats, that could’ve covered a couple of football fields. That was where Karen’s apartment was, under there, along with an equally pricey hundred others, a tennis club, bars and restaurants, and a mall you had to pay to join before you could shop there. She was right out on the edge, with big curved windows set into the green wall.
   Everything in there was different shades of white, except for her clothes, which were always black, her suitcases, which were black, too, and the big terry robes she liked to wear, which were the color of dry oatmeal.
   Karen said it was Aggressive Retro Seventies and she was getting a little tired of it. Rydell saw how she could be, but figured it might not be polite to say so.
   The network had gotten him a room in a West Hollywood hotel that looked more like a regular condo-building, but he never did spend much time there. Until the Pooky Bear thing broke in Ohio, he’d mostly been up at Karen’s.
   The discovery of the first thirty-five Pooky Bear victims pretty much put paid to Rydell’s career as a cop in trouble. It hadn’t helped that the officers who’d first reached the scene, Sgt. China Valdez and Cpl. Norma Pierce, were easily the two best-looking women on the whole Cincinnati force ( ‘balls-out telegenic,’ one of the production assistants had said, though Rydell thought it sounded weird under the circumstances). Then the count began to rise, ultimately going right off any known or established serial-killing scale. Then it was revealed that all the victims were children. Then Sgt. Valdez went post-traumatic in stone bugfuck fashion, walking into a downtown tavern and clipping both kneecaps off a known pedophile– this amazingly repulsive character, nickname of Jellybeans, who had absolutely no connection with the Pooky Bear murders.
   Aaron Pursley was already Learing it back to Cincinnati in a plane that had no metal in it whatsoever, Karen had locked the goggles across her eyes and was talking nonstop to at least six people at once, and Rydell was sitting on the edge of her big white bed, starting to get the idea that something had changed.
   When she finally took the goggles off, she just sat there, staring at a white painting on a white wall.
   “They got suspects?” Rydell asked.
   Karen looked over at him like she’d never seen him before.
   “Suspects? They’ve got confessions already…” It struck Rydell how old she looked right then, and he wondered how old she actually was. She got up and walked out of the room.
   She came back five minutes later in a fresh black outfit. “Pack. I can’t have you here now.” Then she was gone, no kiss, no goodbye, and that was that.
   He got up, put a television on, and saw the Pooky Bear killers for the first time. All three of them. They looked, he thought, pretty much like everybody else, which is how people who do that kind of shit usually do look on television.
   He was sitting there in one of her oatmeal robes when a pair of rentacops let themselves in without knocking. Their uniforms were black and they were wearing the same kind of black high-top SWAT-trainers that Rydell had worn on patrol in Knoxville, the ones with the Kevlar insoles in case somebody snuck up and tried to shoot you in the bottom of the foot.
   One of them was eating an apple. The other one had a stun-stick in his hand.
   “Hey, pal” the first one said, around a mouthful of apple, “we gotta show you out.”
   “I had a pair of shoes like that” Rydell said. “Made in Portland, Oregon. Two hundred ninety-nine dollars out at CostCo.”
   The one with the stick grinned. “You gonna get packing now?”
   So Rydell did, picking up anything that wasn’t black, white, or oatmeal and tossing it into his blue Samsonite.
   The rentacop with the stick watched him, while the other one wandered around, finishing his apple.
   “Who you guys with?” Rydell asked.
   “lntenSecure” said the one with the stick.
   “Good outfit?” Rydell was zipping up his bag.
   The man shrugged.
   “Outa Singapore” the other one said, wrapping the core of his apple in a crumpled Kleenex he’d taken from his pants pocket. “We got all the big buildings, gated communities, like that.” He carefully tucked the apple-core into the breast-pocket of his crisp black uniform shirt, behind the bronze badge.
   “You got money for the Metro?” Mr. Stick asked Rydell.
   “Sure” Rydell said, thinking of his debit-card.
   “Then you’re better off than the majority of assholes we get to escort out of here” the man said.
   A day later, the network pulled the plug on his MexAmeriBank card.
   Hernandez might be wrong about English SWAT-wagons, Rydell found himself thinking, punching the Hotspur Hussar into six-wheel overdrive and feeling Gunhead suck down on pavement like a twin-engined, three-ton leech. He’d never really stomped on that thing before.
   Sublett yelped as the crash-harnesses tightened automatically, yanking him up out of his usual slouch.
   Rydell slung Gunhead up onto a verge covered in dusty ice-plant, doing seventy past a museum-grade Bentley, and on the wrong side at that. Eyeblink of a woman passenger’s horrified face, then Sublett must have managed to slap the red plastic plate that activated the strobes and the siren.
   Straight stretch now. No cars at all. Rydell straddled the centerline and floored it. Sublett was making a weird keening sound that synched eerily with the rising ceramic whine of the twin Kyoceras, and it came to Rydell that the Texan had snapped completely under the pressure of the thing, and was Singing in Some trailer-camp tongue known only to the benighted followers of the Rev. Fallon.
   But, no, when he glanced that way, he saw Sublett, lips moving, frantically scanning the client-data as it seethed on the dash-screens, his eyes bugging like the silver contacts might pop right out. But while he read, Rydell saw, he was actually loading his worn-out, secondhand Glock, his long white fingers moving in the most matter-of-fact way imaginable, as though he were making a sandwich or folding a newspaper.
   And that was scary.
   “Death Star!” Rydell yelled. It was Sublett’s job to keep the bead in his ear at all times, listening for the satellite-relayed, instantly overriding Word of the Real Cops.
   Sublett turned, snapping the magazine into his Glock, his face so pale that it seemed to reflect the colors of the dash-display as readily as did the blank steel rounds of his eyes.
   “The help’s all dead” he said, “an’ they got the three kids in the nursery.” He sounded like he was talking about something mildly baffling he was seeing on television, say a badly altered version of some old, favorite film, drastically recast for some obscure ethnic market-niche. “Say they’re gonna kill ’em, Berry.”
   “What do the fucking cops say about it?” Rydell shouted, pounding on the padded figure-eight steering wheel in the purest rage of frustration he’d ever felt.
   Sublett touched a finger to his right ear. He looked like he was about to scream. “Down” he said.
   Gunhead’s right front fender clipped off somebody’s circa-1943 fully-galvanized Sears rural-route mailbox, no doubt acquired at great cost on Melrose Avenue.
   “They can’t be fucking down” Rydell said, “they’re the police.”
   Sublett tugged the bead from his ear and offered it to Rydell. “Static’s all…
   Rydell looked down at his dash-display. Gunhead’s cursor was a green spear of destiny, whipping along a paler-green canyon road toward a chaste white circle the size of a wedding ring. In the window immediately to the right, he could read the vital-signs data on the subscriber’s three kids. Their pulse rates were up. In the window below, there was a ridiculously peaceful-looking infrared frame of the subscriber’s front gate. It looked solid. The read-out said it was locked and armed.
   Right then, probably, was when he decided just to go for it.
   A week or so later, when it had all been sorted out, Hernandez was basically sympathetic about the whole thing. Not happy, mind you, because it had happened over his shift, but he did say he couldn’t much blame Rydell under the circumstances.
   IntenSecure had brought in a whole planeload of people from the head office in Singapore, Rydell had heard, to keep it all out of the media and work out some kind of settlement with the subscribers, the Schonbrunns. He had no idea what that settlement might have finally amounted to, but he was just as happy not to know; there was no such program as RentaCops in Trouble, and the Schonbrunns’ front gate alone had probably been worth a couple of dozen of his paychecks.
   IntenSecure could replace that gate, sure, because they’d installed it in the first place. It had been quite a gate, too, some kind of Japanese fiber-reinforced sheeting, thermoset to concrete, and it sure as hell had managed to get most of that Wet Honey Sienna off Gunhead’s front end.
   Then there was the damage to the house itself, mostly to the living-room windows (which he’d driven through) and the furniture (which he’d driven over).
   But there had to be something for the Schonbrunns on top of that, Hernandez explained. Something for emotional pain, he said, pumping Rydell a cup of old nasty coffee from the big stainless thermos behind his desk. There was a fridge-magnet on the thermos that said I’M NOT OKAY, YOU’RE NOT OKAY—BUT, HEY, THAT’S OKAY.
   It was two weeks since the night in question, ten in the morning, and Rydell was wearing a five-day beard, a fine-weave panama Stetson, a pair of baggy, faded orange trunks, a KNOXVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT t-shirt that was starting to disintegrate at the shoulder-seams, the black SWAT-trainers from his IntenSecure uniform, and an inflated transparent cast on his left arm. “Emotional pain” Rydell said.
   Hernandez, who was very nearly as wide as his desk, passed Rydell the coffee. “You way lucky, all I can say.”
   “I’m out a job, arm in a cast, I’m ‘way lucky’?”
   “Seriously, man” Hernandez said, “you coulda killed yourself. LAPD, they coulda greased your ass down dead. Mr. and Mrs. Schonbrunn, they been very nice about this, considering Mrs. Schonbrunn’s embarrassment and everything. Your arm got hassled, hey, I’m sorry…” Hernandez shrugged, enormously. “Anyway, you not fired, man. We just can’t let you drive now. You want us put you on gated residential, no problem.”
   “No thanks.”
   “Retail properties? You wanna work evenings, Encino Fashion Mall?”
   Hernandez narrowed his eyes. “You seen the pussy over there?”
   Hernandez sighed. “Man, what happen with all that shit coming down on you in Nashville?”
   “Knoxville. Department came down for permanent suspension. Going in without authorization or proper back-up.”
   “And that bitch, one’s suing your ass?”
   “She and her son got caught sticking up a muffler shop in Johnson City, last I heard…” Now it was Rydell’s turn to shrug, except it made his shoulder hurt.
   “See” Hernandez said, beaming, “you lucky.”
   In the instant of putting Gunhead through the Schonbrunns locked-and-armed Benedict Canyon gate, Rydell had experienced a fleeting awareness of something very high, very pure and quite clinically empty; the doing of the thing, the not-thinking; that weird adrenal exultation and the losing of every more troublesome aspect of self.
   And that—he later recalled remembering, as he’d fought the wheel, slashing through a Japanese garden, across a patio, and through a membrane of armored glass that gave way like something in a dream—had been a lot like what he’d felt as he’d drawn his gun and pulled the trigger, emptying Kenneth Turvey’s brain-pan, and most copiously, across a seemingly infinite expanse of white-primered wallboard that nobody had ever bothered to paint.
   Rydell went over to Cedars to see Sublett.
   IntenSecure had sprung for a private cubicle, the better to keep Sublett away from any cruising minions of the media. The Texan was sitting up in bed, chewing gum, and watching a little liquid-crystal disk-player propped on his chest.
   “Warlords of the 21st Century” he said, when Rydell edged in, “James Wainwright, Annie McEnroe, Michael Beck.”
   Rydell grinned. “When’d they make it?”
   “1982..” Sublett muted the audio and looked up. “But I’ve seen it a couple times already.”
   “I been over at the shop seem’ Hernandez, man. He says you don’t have to worry any about your job.”
   Sublett looked at Rydell with his blank silver eyes. “How ’bout yours, Berry?”
   Rydell’s arm started to itch, inside the inflated cast. He bent over and fished a plastic drinking-straw from the little white wastebasket beside the bed. He poked the straw down inside the cast and wiggled it around. It helped some. “I’m history, over there. They won’t let me drive anymore.”
   Sublett was looking at the straw. “You shouldn’t ought to touch used stuff, not in a hospital.”
   “You don’t have nothin’ contagious, Sublett. You’re one of the cleanest motherfuckers ever lived.”
   “But what you gonna do, Berry? You gotta make a living, man.”
   Rydell dropped the straw back into the basket. “Well, I don’t know. But I know I don’t wanna do gated residential and I know I don’t wanna do any malls.”
   “What about those hackers, Berry? You figure they’ll get the ones set us up?”
   “Nope. Too many of ’em. Republic of Desire’s been around a while. The Feds have a list of maybe three hundred ‘affiliates,’ but there’s no way to haul ’em all in and figure out who actually did it. Not unless one of ’em rats on somebody, which they do tend to do on a pretty regular basis.”
   “But how come they’d want to do that to us anyway?”
   “Hell, Sublett, how should I know?”
   “Just mean” Sublett said.
   “Well, that, for sure, and Hernandez says the LAPD told him they figured somebody wanted Mrs. Schonbrunn caught more or less with her pants down.” Neither Sublett nor Rydell had actually seen Mrs. Schonbrunn, because she was, as it turned out, in the nursery. Although her kids weren’t, having gone up to Washington State with their daddy to fly over the three newest volcanoes.
   Nothing that Gunhead had logged that night, since leaving the car wash, had been real. Someone had gotten into the Hotspur Hussar’s on-board computer and plugged a bunch of intricately crafted and utterly spurious data into the communications bundle, cutting Rydell and Sublett off from IntenSecure and the Death Star (which hadn’t, of course, been down). Rydell figured a few of those good ol’ Mongol boys over at the car wash might know a little bit about that.
   And maybe, in that instant of weird clarity, with Gunhead’s crumpled front end still trying to climb the shredded remains of a pair of big leather sofas, and with the memory of Kenneth Turvey’s death finally real before him, Rydell had come to the conclusion that that high crazy thing, that rush of Going For It, was maybe something that wasn’t always quite entirely to be trusted.
   “But, man” Sublett had said, as if to himself, “they gonna kill those little babies.” And, with that, he’d snapped his harness open and was out of there, Glock in hand, before Rydell could do anything at all. Rydell had had him shut the siren and the strobes off a block away, but surely anybody in the house was now aware that IntenSecure had arrived.
   “Responding” Rydell heard himself say, slapping a holstered Glock onto his uniform and grabbing his chunker, which aside from its rate of fire was probably the best thing for a shoot-out in a nursery full of kids. He kicked the door open and jumped out, his trainers going straight through the inch-thick glass top of a coffee-table. (Needed twelve stitches, but it wasn’t deep.) He couldn’t see Sublett. He stumbled forward, cradling the yellow bulk of the chunker, vaguely aware that there was something wrong with his arm.
   “Freeze, cocksucker!” said the biggest voice in the world, “LAPD! Drop that shit or we blow your ass away!” Rydell found himself the focus of an abrupt and extraordinarily painful radiance, a light so bright that it fell into his uncomprehending eyes like hot metal. “You hear me, cocksucker?” Wincing, fingers across his eyes, Rydell turned and saw the bulbous armored nacelles of the descending gunship. The downdraft was flattening everything in the Japanese garden that Gunhead hadn’t already taken care of.
   Rydell dropped the chunker.
   “The pistol, too, asshole!”
   Rydell grasped the Glock’s handle between thumb and forefinger. It came away, in its plastic holster, with a tiny but distinct skritch of Velcro, somehow audible through the drumming of the helicopter’s combat-muffled engine.
   He dropped the Glock and raised his arms. Or tried to. The left one was broken.
   They found Sublett fifteen feet from Gunhead. His face and hands were swelling like bright pink toy balloons and he seemed to be suffocating, Schonbrunn’s Bosnian housekeeper having employed a product that contained xylene and chlorinated hydrocarbons to clean some crayon-marks off a bleached-oak end table.
   “What the fuck’s wrong with him?” asked one of the cops.
   “He’s got allergies” Rydell said through gritted teeth; they’d cuffed his hands behind his back and it hurt like hell. “You gotta get him to Emergency.”
   Sublett opened his eyes, or tried to.
   Rydell remembered the name of the movie he’d seen on television. “Miracle Mile” he said.
   Sublett squinted up at him. “Never seen it” Sublett said, and fainted.
   Mrs. Schonbrunn had been entertaining her Polish landscape gardener that evening. The cops found her in the nursery. Angered beyond speech, she was cinched quite interestingly up in a couple of thousand dollars worth of English latex, North Beach leather, and a pair of vintage Smith & Wesson handcuffs that someone had paid to have lovingly buffed and redone in black chrome—the gardener evidently having headed for the hills when he heard Rydell parking Gunhead in the living room.
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3. Not a nice party

   Chevette never stole things, or anyway not from other people, and definitely not when she was pulling tags. Except this one bad Monday when she took this total asshole’s sunglasses, but that was because she just didn’t like him.
   How it was, she was standing up there by this ninth-floor window, just looking out at the bridge, past the gray shells of the big stores, when he’d come up behind her. She’d almost managed to make out Skinner’s room, there, high up in the old cables, when the tip of a finger found her bare back. Under Skinner’s jacket, under her t-shirt, touching her.
   She wore that jacket everywhere, like some kind of armor. She knew that nanopore was the only thing to wear, riding this time of year, but she wore Skinner’s old horsehide anyway, with her bar-coded Allied badges on the lapels. The little ball-chains on the zippers swinging as she spun to knock that finger aside.
   Bloodshot eyes. A face that looked as though it were about to melt. He had a short little greenish cigar in his mouth but it wasn’t lit. He took it out, swirled its wet end in a small glass of clear liquor, then took a long suck on it. Grinning at her around it. Like he knew she didn’t belong here, not at a party like this and not in any old but seriously expensive hotel up Over Geary.
   But it had been the last tag of the day, a package for a lawyer, with Tenderloin’s trash-fires burning so close by, and around them, huddled, all those so terminally luckless, utterly and chemically lost. Faces aglow in the fairy illumination of the tiny glass pipes. Eyes canceled in that terrible and fleeting satisfaction. Shivers, that gave her, always.
   Locking and arming her bike in the hollow sound of the Morrisey’s underground lot, she’d taken a service elevator to the lobby, where the security grunts tried to brace her for the package, but there was no way. She wouldn’t deliver to anyone at all except this one very specific Mr. Garreau in 808, as stated right here on the tag. They ran a scanner across the bar-code on her Allied badge, x-rayed the package, put her through a metal-detector, and waved her into an elevator lined with pink mirrors and trimmed in bank-vault bronze.
   So up she’d gone, to eight, to a corridor quiet as the floor of some forest in a dream. She found Mr. Garreau there, his shirt-sleeves white and his tie the color of freshly poured lead. He signed the tab without making eye-contact; package in hand, he’d closed the door’s three brass digits in her face. She’d checked her hair in the mirror-polished italic zero. Her tail was sticking up okay, in back, but she wasn’t sure they’d got the front right. The spikes were still too long. Wispy, sort of. She headed back down the hall, the hardware jingling on Skinner’s jacket, her new SWAT-trainers sinking into freshly vacuumed pile the color of rain-wet terracotta.
   But when the elevator doors opened, this Japanese girl fell out. Or near enough, Chevette grabbing her beneath both arms and propping her against the edge of the door.
   “Where party?”
   “What folks gonna ask you” Chevette said.
   “Floor nine! Big party!”
   The girl’s eyes were all pupil, her bangs glossy as plastic.
   So Chevette, with a real glass wine-glass full of real French wine in one hand, and the smallest sandwich she’d ever seen in the other, came to find herself wondering how long she still had before the hotel’s computer noticed she hadn’t yet left the premises. Not that they were likely to come looking for her here, because someone had obviously put down good money to have this kind of party.
   Some really private kind, because she could see these people in a darkened bathroom, smoking ice through a blown-glass dolphin, its smooth curves illuminated by the fluttering bluish tongue of an industrial-strength lighter.
   Not just one room, either, but lots of them, all connected up. And lots of people, too, the men mostly gotten up in those suits with the four-button jackets, stiff shirts with those choker collars, and no tie but a little jeweled stud. The women wore clothes Chevette had only seen in magazines. Rich people, had to be, and foreign, too. Though maybe rich was foreign enough.
   She’d managed to get the Japanese girl horizontal on a long green couch, where she was snoring now, and safe enough unless somebody sat on her.
   Looking around, Chevette had seen that she wasn’t the only underdressed local to have somehow scammed entry. The guy in the bathroom working the big yellow Bic, for starters, but he was an extreme case. Then there were a couple of pretty obvious Tenderloin working-girls, too, but maybe that was no more than the accepted amount of local color for whatever this was supposed to be.
   But then this asshole’s right in her face, grinning his mean-ass drunken grin, and she’s got her hand on a little folding-knife, something else she’s borrowed from Skinner. It has a hole in the blade that you can press the tip of your thumb into and snap it open, one-handed. That blade’s under three inches, broad as a soupspoon, wickedly serrated, and ceramic. Skinner says it’s a fractal knife, its actual edge more than twice as long as the blade itself.
   “You’re not enjoying yourself, I think” he says. European, but she’s not sure which flavor. Not French or German. His jacket’s leather, too, but nothing like Skinner’s. Some thin-skinned animal whose hide drapes like heavy silk, the color of tobacco. She thinks of the smell of the yellow-spined magazines up in Skinner’s room, some so old the pictures are only shades of gray, the way the city looks, sometimes, from the bridge.
   “Doing fine ’til you showed up” Chevette says, thinking it’s probably time to go, this guy’s bad news.
   “Tell me” he says, looking appraisingly at the jacket and the t-shirt and the bike-pants, “what services you offer.”
   “The fuck’s that supposed to mean?”
   “Clearly” he says, pointing at the Tenderloin girls across the room, “you offer something more interesting” and he rolls his tongue wetly around the word, “than these two.”
   “Fuck that” Chevette says, “I’m a messenger.”
   And a funny pause crosses his face, like something’s gotten past his drunk, nudged him. Then he throws back his head and laughs like it’s the biggest joke in the world. She gets a look at a lot of very white, very expensive-looking teeth. Rich people never have any metal in their teeth, Skinner’s told her.
   “I say something funny?”
   The asshole wipes his eyes. “But we have something in common, you and I.”
   “I doubt it.”
   “I am a messenger” he says, though he looks to Chevette like a moderate hill would put him in line for a pig-valve.
   “A courier” he says, like he’s reminding himself.
   “So proj on” she says, and steps around him, but just then the lights go out, the music starts, and it’s the intro to Chrome Koran’s ‘She God’s Girlfriend.’ Chevette, who has kind of a major thing for Chrome Koran, and cranks them on her bike whenever she needs a boost to proj on, just moves with it now, everybody dancing, even the icers from the bathroom.
   With the asshole gone, or anyway forgotten she notices how much better these people look dancing. She finds herself opposite this girl in a leather skirt, little black boots with jingling silver spurs. Chevette grins; the girl grins back.
   “You’re from the city?” the girl asks, “as ‘She God’s Girlfriend’ eh” and for a second Chevette thinks she’s being asked if she’s a municipal messenger. The girl—woman—is older than she’d thought; late twenties maybe, but definitely older than Chevette. Good-looking without looking like it came out of a kit; dark eyes, dark hair cut short. “San Francisco?”
   Chevette nods.
   The next tune’s older than she is; that black guy who turned white, and then his face fell in, she guesses. She looks down for her drink but they all look alike. Her Japanese doll dances past, bangs swinging, no recognition in her eyes as she sees Chevette.
   “Cody can usually find all he needs, in San Francisco” the woman says, a tiredness behind her voice but at the same time you can tell she thinks it’s all pretty funny. German, Chevette thinks by her accent.
   The woman raises her eyebrows. “Our host.” But she’s still got her wide easy grin.
   “Just sort of walked in …”
   “Could I only say the same!” The woman laughs.
   “Then I could walk out again.”
   “You don’t like it?” Up close, she smells expensive. Chevette’s suddenly worried about how she must smell herself, after a day on the bike and no shower. But the woman takes her elbow and leads her aside.
   “You don’t know Cody?”
   “No.” Chevette sees the drunk, the asshole, through the doorway into the next room, where the lights are still on. He’s looking right at her. “And I think maybe I should leave now, okay?”
   “You won’t have to. Please. I only envy you the option.”
   “You German?”
   Chevette knows that’s part of what used to be Italy. The northern part, she thinks. “Who’s this Cody?”
   “Cody likes a party. Cody likes this party. This party’s been going on for several years now. When it isn’t here, it’s in London, Prague, Macau…” A boy is moving through the crowd with a tray of drinks. He doesn’t look to Chevette like he works for the hotel. His stiff white shirt’s not so stiff anymore; it’s open all the way, wrinkled tails hanging loose, and she sees he has one of those things like a little steel barbell through one nipple. His stiff collar’s popped off at the front and sticks up behind his neck like a slipped halo. The woman takes a glass of white wine when he offers the tray. Chevette shakes her head. There’s a white saucer on the tray, with pills and what look like twists of dancer.
   The boy winks at Chevette and moves on.
   “You find this strange?” The woman drinks her wine off and tosses the empty glass over her shoulder. Chevette hears it break.
   “Cody’s party.”
   “Yeah. I guess. I mean, I just walked in…”
   “Where do you live?”
   “The bridge.” Watching for the reaction.
   The grin widens. “Really? It looks so… mysterious. I’d like to go there, but there are no tours, and they say it’s dangerous…”
   “It’s not” Chevette says, then hesitates. “Just don’t dress up so much, right? But it’s not dangerous, not even as much as the neighborhood around here.” Thinking of the ones around the trash-fires. “Just don’t go out on Treasure Island. Don’t try to go all the way to Oakland. Stay over on the suspension side.”
   “You like it, living there?”
   “Shit, yes. 1 wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
   The woman smiles. “You’re very lucky then, I think.”
   “Well” Chevette says, feeling clumsy, “I gotta go.”
   “My name is Maria…”
   “Chevette” offering her hand. Almost like her own other name. Chevette-Marie.
   They shake.
   “Goodbye, Chevette.”
   “You have a nice party, okay?”
   “This is not a nice party.”
   Settling the wide shoulders of Skinner’s jacket, Chevette nods to the woman Maria and begins to work her way through the crowd. Which is tighter now by several degrees, like maybe this Cody’s friends are still arriving. More Japanese here now, she notices, all of them serious suits; their wives or secretaries or whatever are all wearing pearls. But evidently this doesn’t prevent them getting into the spirit of the thing. It’s gotten noisier, too, as people have gotten more whacked. There’s that loud constant burr of party-noise you get when the drinks kick in, and now she wants to be out of there all that much faster.
   She finds herself stuck near the door to the bathroom where she’d seen the icers, but it’s closed now. A bunch of French people are talking French and laughing and waving their hands around, but Chevette can hear somebody vomiting in there. “Coming through” she says to a man with a bowtie and a gray crewcut, and just pushes past him, spilling part of his drink. He says something after her in French.
   She feels really claustro now, like she does up in offices sometimes when a receptionist makes her wait to pick something up, and she sees the office people walking back and forth, and wonders whether it all means anything or if they’re just walking back and forth. Or maybe the wine’s gotten to her, a little, because drinking isn’t something she does much, and now she doesn’t like the taste of it in the back of her throat.
   And suddenly there’s her drunk, her Euro with his unlit cigar, sweaty brow too close to the dull-eyed, vaguely worried face of one of the Tenderloin girls. He’s got her backed into a corner. And everyone’s jammed so tight, this close to the door and the corridor and freedom, that Chevette finds herself pressed up against his back for a second, not that that interrupts whatever infinitely dreary shit he’s laying down for the girl, no, though he does jam his elbow, hard, back into Chevette’s ribs to get himself more space.
   And Chevette, glancing down, sees something sticking out of a pocket in the tobacco-colored leather.
   Then it’s in her hand, down the front of her bike-pants, she’s out the door, and the asshole hasn’t even noticed.
   In the sudden quiet of the corridor, party sounds receding as she heads for the elevator, she wants to run. She wants to laugh, too, but now she’s starting to feel scared.
   Past the party’s build-up of trays, dirty glasses, plates.
   Remembering the security grunts in the lobby.
   The thing stuck down her pants.
   Down a corridor that opens off this one, she sees the doors of a service elevator spread wide now and welcoming. A Central Asian kid with a paint-splattered steel cart stacked up with flat rectangles that are television screens. He gives her a careful look as she edges in beside him. His face is all cheekbones, bright hooded eyes, his hair shaved up high in one of those near-vertical dos all these guys favor. He has a security badge clipped to the front of his clean gray workshirt and a VirtuFax slung around his neck on a red nylon cord.
   “Basement” Chevette says.
   His fax buzzes. He raises it, pushes the button, peers into the eyepiece. The thing in her bike-pants starts to feel huge. Then he drops the fax back to his chest, blinks at her, and pushes a button marked B-6. The doors rumble shut and Chevette closes her eyes.
   She leans back against the big quilted pads hung on the walls and wishes she were up in Skinner’s room, listening to the cables creak. The floor there’s a layer of two-by-fours laid on edge; the very top of the hump of the cable, riding its steel saddle, sticks up through the middle, and Skinner says there are 17,464 strands of wire in that cable. Each one is about as thick as a pencil. You can press your ear against it and hear the whole bridge sing, when the wind’s just right.
   The elevator stops at four for no reason at all. Nobody there when the door opens. Chevette wants to press B-6 again but she makes herself wait for the kid with the fax to do it. He does.
   And B-6 is not the garage she so thoroughly wants now, but this maze of hundred-year-old concrete tunnels, floored in cracked asphalt tile, with big old pipes slung in iron brackets along the ceiling. She slips out while he’s fiddling with one of the wheels on his cart.
   A century’s-worth of padlocked walk-in freezers, fifty vacuum cleaners charging themselves at a row of numbered stations, rolls of broadloom stacked like logs. More people in work clothes, some in kitchen whites, but she’s trying for tag-pulling attitude and looks, she hopes, like she’s making a delivery.
   She finds a narrow stairway and climbs. The air is hot and dead. Motion-sensors click the lights for her at the start of each flight. She feels the whole weight of this old building pressing down on her.
   But her bike is there, on B-1, behind a column of nicked concrete.
   “Back off” it says when she’s five feet away. Not loud, like a car, but it sounds like it means it.
   Under its coat of spray-on imitation rust and an artful bandaging of silver duct-tape, the geometry of the paper-cored, carbonwrapped frame makes Chevette’s thighs tremble. She slips her left hand through the recognition-loop behind the seat. There’s a little double zik as the particle-brakes let go, then she’s up and off it.
   It’s never felt better, as she pumps up the oil-stained ramp and out of there.
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