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      William Gibson. Neuromancer -
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, meedng the pale stare. "Soon," Armitage said. "Get going, Case." "Mon, you doin' jus' fine," Maelcum said, helping Case out of the red Sanyo vacuum suit. "Aerol say you doin' jus' fine." Aerol had been waiting at one of the sporting docks at the end of the spindle, near the weightless axis. To reach it Case had taken an elevator down to the hull and ridden a miniature induction train. As the diameter of the spindle nar- rowed, gravity decreased; somewhere above him, he'd decided, would be the mountains Molly climbed, the bicycle loop, launching gear for the hang gliders and miniature microlights. Aerol had ferried him out to Marcus Garvey in a skeletal scooter frame with a chemical engine. "Two hour ago," Maelcum said, "I take delivery of Babylon goods for you; nice lapan-boy inna yacht, mos' pretty yacht." Free of the suit, Case pulled himself gingerly over the Ho- saka and fumbled into the straps of the web. "Well," he said, "let's see it." Maelcum produced a white lump of foam slightly smaller than Case's head, fished a pearl-handled switchblade on a green nylon lanyard out of the hip pocket of his tattered shorts, and carefully slit the plasdc. He extracted a rectangular object and passed it to Case. "Thas part some gun, mon?" "No," Case said, turning it over, "but it's a weapon. It's virus." "Not on this boy tug, mon," Maelcum said firmly, reaching for the steel cassette. "A program. Virus program. Can't get into you, can't even get into your software. I've got to interface it through the deck, before it can work on anything." "Well, Japan-mon, he says Hosaka here'll tell you every what an' wherefore, you wanna know." "Okay. Well, you leave me to it, okay?" Maelcum kicked off and drifted past the pilot console, bus- ying himself with a caulk gun. Case hastily looked away from the waving fronds of transparent caulk. He wasn't sure why, but something about them brought back the nausea of SAS. "What is this thing?" he asked the Hosaka. "Parcel for me." "Data transfer from Bockris Systems GmbH, Frankfurt, ad- vises, under coded transmission, that content of shipment is Kuang Grade Mark Eleven penetration program. Bockris fur- ther advises that interface with Ono-Sendai Cyberspace 7 is entirely compatdble and yields optimal penetradon capabilities, particularly with regard to existing military systems...." "How about an AI?" "Existing military systems and artificial intelligences." "Jesus Christ. What did you call it?" "Kuang Grade Mark Eleven." "It's Chinese?" "Yes." "Off." Case fastened the virus cassette to the side of the Hosaka with a length of silver tape, remembering Molly's story of her day in Macao. Armitage had crossed the border into Zhongshan. "On," he said, changing his mind. "Questdon. Who owns Bockris, the people in Frankfurt?" "Delay for interorbital transmission," said the Hosaka. "Code it. Standard commerical code." "Done." He drummed his hands on the Ono-Sendai. "einhold Scientdfic A.G., Berne." "Do it again. Who owns einhold?" It took three more jumps up the ladder before he reached Tessier-Ashpool. "Dixie," he said, jacking in, "what do you know about Chinese virus programs?" "Not a whole hell of a lot." "Ever hear of a grading system like Kuang, Mark Eleven?" "No." Case sighed. "Well, I got a user-friendly Chinese icebreaker here, a one shot cassette. Some people in Frankfurt say it'll cut an Al." "Possible. Sure. If it's military." "Looks like it. Listen, Dix, and gimme the benefit of your background, okay? Arrnitage seems to be setdng up a run on an Al that belongs to Tessier-Ashpool. The mainframe's in Berne, but it's linked with another one in io. The one in io is the one that flatlined you, that first time. So it looks like they link via Straylight, the T-A home base, down the end of the spindle, and we're supposed to cut our way in with the Chinese icebreaker. So if Wintermute's backing the whole show it's paying us to burn it. It's burning itself. And something that calls itself Wintermute is trying to get on my good side, get me to maybe shaft Annitage. What goes?" "Motive," the construct said. "eal motive problem, with an Al. Not human, see?" "Well, yeah, obviously." "Nope. I mean, it's not human. And you can't get a handle on it. Me, I'm not human either, but I respond like one. See?" "Wait a sec," Case said. "Are you sentient, or not?" "Well, it feels like I am, kid, but I'm really just a bunch of OM. It's one of them, ah, philosophical questions, I guess...." The ugly laughter sensation rattled down Case's spine. "But I ain't likely to write you no poem, if you follow me. Your AI, it just might. But it ain't no way human." "So you figure we can't get on to its motive?" "It own itself?" "Swiss citizen, but T-A own the basic software and the mainframe." "That's a good one," the construct said. "Like, I own your brain and what you know, but your thoughts have Swiss citi- zenship. Sure. Lotsa luck, AI." "So it's getting ready to burn itself?" Case began to punch the deck nervously, at random. The matrix blurred, resolved, and he saw the complex of pink spheres representing a sikkim steel combine. "Autonomy, that's the bugaboo, where your AI's are con- cerned. My guess, Case, you're going in there to cut the hard- wired shackles that keep this baby from getting any smarter. And I can't see how you'd distinguish, say, between a move the parent company makes, and some move the AI makes on its own, so that's maybe where the confusion comes in." Again the nonlaugh. "See, those things, they can work real hard, buy themselves time to write cookbooks or whatever, but the min- ute, I mean the nanosecond, that one starts figuring out ways to make itself smarter, Turing'll wipe it. Nobody trusts those fuckers, you know that. Every Al ever built has an electro- magnetic shotgun wired to its forehead." Case glared at the pink spheres of Sikkim. "Okay," he said, finally, "I'm slotting this virus. I want you to scan its instruction face and tell me what you think." The half sense of someone reading over his shoulder was gone for a few seconds, then returned. "Hot shit, Case. It's a slow virus. Take six hours, estimated, to crack a military target." "Or an AI." He sighed. "Can we run it?" "Sure," the construct said, "unless you got a morbid fear of dying." "Sometimes you repeat yourself, man." "It's my nature." Molly was sleeping when he returned to the Intercontinental. He sat on the balcony and watched a microlight with rainbow polymer wings as it soared up the curve of Freeside, its tri- angular shadow tracking across meadows and rooftops, until it vanished behind the band of the Lado-Acheson system. "I wanna buzz," he said to the blue artifice of the sky. "I truly do wanna get high, you know? Trick pancreas, plugs in my liver, little bags of shit melting, fuck it all. I wanna buzz." He left without waking Molly, he thought. He was never sure, with the glasses. He shrugged tension from his shoulders and got into the elevator. He rode up with an Italian girl in spotless whites, cheekbones and nose daubed with something black and nonreflective. Her white nylon shoes had steel cleats; the expensive-looking thing in her hand resembled a cross be- tween a miniature oar and an orthopedic brace. She was off for a fast game of something, but Case had no idea what. On the roof meadow, he made his way through the grove of trees and umbrellas, until he found a pool, naked bodies gleaming against turquoise tiles. He edged into the shadow of an awning and pressed his chip against a dark glass plate. "Sushi," he said, "whatever you got." Ten minutes later, an enthusiastic Chinese waiter arrived with his food. He munched raw tuna and rice and watched people tan. "Christ," he said, to his tuna, "I'd go nuts." "Don't tell me," someone said, "I know it already. You're a gangster, right?" He squinted up at her, against the band of sun. A long young body and a melanin-boosted tan, but not one of the Paris jobs. She squatted beside his chair, dripping water on the tiles. "Cath," she said. "Lupus," after a pause. "What kind of name is that?" "Greek," he said. "Are you really a gangster?" The melanin boost hadn't pre- vented the formation of freckles. "I'm a drug addict, Cath." "What kind?" "Stimulants. Central nervous system stimulants. Extremely powerful central nervous system stimulants." "Well, do you have any?" She leaned closer. Drops of chlorinated water fell on the leg of his pants. "No. That's my problem, Cath. Do you know where we can get some?" Cath rocked back on her tanned heels and licked at a strand of brownish hair that had pasted itself beside her mouth. "What's your taste?" "No coke, no amphetamines, but up, gotta be up." And so much for that, he thought glumly, holding his smile for her. "Betaphenethylamine," she said. "No sweat,but it's on your chip." "You're kidding," said Cath's partner and roommate, when Case explained the peculiar properties of his Chiba pancreas. "I mean, can't you sue them or something? Malpractice?" His name was Bruce. He looked like a gender switch version of Cath, right down to the freckles. "Well," Case said, "it's just one of those things, you know? Like tissue matching and all that." But Bruce's eyes had already gone numb with boredom. Got the attention span of a gnat, Case thought, watching the boy's brown eyes. Their room was smaller than the one Case shared with Molly, and on another level, closer to the surface. Five huge Ciba- chromes of Tally Isham were taped across the glass of the balcony, suggesting an extended residency. "They're def triff, huh?" Cath asked, seeing him eye the transparencies. "Mine. Shot 'em at the S/N Pyramid, last time we went down the well. She was that close, and she just smiled, so natural. And it was bad there, Lupus, day after these Christ the King terrs put angel in the water, you know?" "Yeah," Case said, suddenly uneasy, ' terrible thing." "Well," Bruce cut in, "about this beta you want to buy...." "Thing is, can I metabolize it?" Case raised his eyebrows. "Tell you what," the boy said. "You do a taste. If your pancreas passes on it, it's on the house. First time's free." "I heard that one before," Case said, taking the bright blue derm that Bruce passed across the black bedspread. "Case?" Molly sat up in bed and shook the hair away from her lenses. "Who else, honey? "What's got into you?" The mirrors followed him across the room. "I forget how to pronounce it," he said, taking a tightly rolled strip of bubble-packed blue derms from his shirt pocket. "Christ," she said, "just what we needed." "Truer words were never spoken." "I let you out of my sight for two hours and you score." She shook her head. "I hope you're gonna be ready for our big dinner date with Armitage tonight. This Twentieth Century place. We get to watch iviera strut his stuff, too." "Yeah," Case said, arching his back, his smile locked into a rictus of delight, "beautiful." "Man," she said, "if whatever that is can get in past what those surgeons did to you in Chiba, you are gonna be in sad- ass shape when it wears off." "Bitch, bitch, bitch," he said, unbuckling his belt. "Doom. Gloom. All I ever hear." He took his pants off, his shirt, his underwear. "I think you oughta have sense enough to take advantage of my unnatural state." He looked down. "I mean, look at this unnatural state." She laughed. "It won't last." "But it will," he said, climbing into the sand-colored tem- perfoam, "that's what's so unnatural about it." "Case, what's wrong with you?" Armitage said, as the waiter was seating them at his table in the Vingtieme Siecle. It was the smallest and most expensive of several floating restaurants on a small lake near the Intercontinental. Case shuddered. Bruce hadn't said anything about after ef- fects. He tried to pick up a glass of ice water, but his hands were shaking. "Something I ate, maybe." "I want you checked out by a medic," Armitage said. "Just this hystamine reaction," Case lied. "Get it when I travel, eat different stuff, sometimes." Armitage wore a dark suit, too formal for the place, and a white silk shirt. His gold bracelet rattled as he raised his wine and sipped. "I've ordered for you," he said. Molly and Armitage ate in silence, while Case sawed shakily at his steak, reducing it to uneaten bite-sized fragments, which he pushed around in the rich sauce, finally abandoning the whole thing. "Jesus," Molly said, her own plate empty, "gimme that. You know what this costs?" She took his plate. 'They gotta raise a whole animal for years and then they kill it. This isn't vat stuff." She forked a mouthful up and chewed. "Not hungry," Case managed. His brain was deep-fried. No, he decided, it had been thrown into hot fat and left there and the fat had cooled, a thick dull grease congealing on the wrinkled lobes, shot through with greenish-purple flashes of pain. "You look fucking awful," Molly said cheerfully. Case tried the wine. The aftermath of the betaphenethylam- ine made it taste like iodine. The lights dimmed. "Le estaurant Vingtieme Siecle," said a disembodied voice with a pronounced Sprawl accent, "proudly presents the hol- ographic cabaret of Mr. Peter iviera. " Scattered applause from the other tables. A waiter lit a single candle and placed it in the center of their table, then began to remove the dishes. Soon a candle flickered at each of the restaurant's dozen tables, and drinks were being poured. "What's happening?" Case asked Armitage, who said noth- ing. Molly picked her teeth with a burgundy nail. "Good evening," iviera said, stepping forward on a small stage at the far end of the room. Case blinked. In his discomfort, he hadn't noticed the stage. He hadn't seen where iviera had come from. His uneasiness increased. At first he assumed the man was illuminated by a spotlight. iviera glowed. The light clung around him like a skin, lit the dark hangings behind the stage. He was projecting. iviera smiled. He wore a white dinner jacket. On his lapel, blue coals burned in the depths of a black carnation. His fin- gernails flashed as he raised his hands in a gesture of greeting, an embrace for his audience. Case heard the shallow water lap against the side of the restaurant. "Tonight," iviera said, his long eyes shining, "I would like to perform an extended piece for you. A new work." A cool ruby of light formed in the palm of his upraised right hand. He dropped it. A gray dove fluttered up from the point of impact and vanished into the shadows. Someone whistled. More applause. "The title of the work is 'The Doll.'" iviera lowered his hands. "I wish to dedicate its premiere here, tonight, to Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool." A wave of polite ap- plause. As it died, iviera's eyes seemed to find their table. "And to another lady." The restaurant's lights died entirely, for a few seconds, leaving only the glow of candles. iviera's holographic aura had faded with the lights, but Case could still see him, standing with his head bowed. Lines of faint light began to form, verticals and horizontals, sketching an open cube around the stage. The restaurant's lights had come back up slightly, but the framework surrounding the stage might have been constructed of frozen moonbeams. Head bowed, eyes closed, arms rigid at his sides, iviera seemed to quiver with concentration. Suddenly the ghostly cube was filled, had become a room, a room lacking its fourth wall, allowing the audience to view its contents. iviera seemed to relax slightly. He raised his head, but kept his eyes closed. "I'd always lived in the room," he said. "I couldn't remember ever having lived in any other room." The room's walls were yellowed white plaster. It contained two pieces of furniture. One was a plain wooden chair, the other an iron bedstead painted white. The paint had chipped and flaked, revealing the black iron. The mattress on the bed was bare. Stained ticking with faded brown stripes. A single bulb dangled above the bed on a twisted length of black wire. Case could see the thick coating of dust on the bulb's upper curve. iviera opened his eyes. "I'd been alone in the room, always." He sat on the chair, facing the bed. The blue coals still burned in the black flower on his lapel. "I don't know when I first began to dream of her," he said, "but I do remember that at first she was only a haze, a shadow." There was something on the bed. Case blinked. Gone. "I couldn't quite hold her, hold her in my mind. But I wanted to hold her, hold her and more...." His voice carried perfectly in the hush of the restaurant. Ice clicked against the side of a glass. Someone giggled. Someone else asked a whispered ques- tion in Japanese. "I decided that if I could visualize some part of her, only a small part, if I could see that part perfectly, in the most perfect detail...." A woman's hand lay on the mattress now, palm up, the white fingers pale. iviera leaned forward, picked up the hand, and began to stroke it gently. The fingers moved. iviera raised the hand to his mouth and began to lick the tips of the fingers. The nails were coated with a burgundy lacquer. A hand, Case saw, but not a severed hand; the skin swept back smoothly, unbroken and unscarred. He remembered a tattooed lozenge of vatgrown flesh in the window of a Ninsei surgical boutique. iviera was holding the hand to his lips, licking its palm. The fingers tentatively caressed his face. But now a second hand lay on the bed. When iviera reached for it, the fingers of the first were locked around his wrist, a bracelet of flesh and bone. The act progressed with a surreal internal logic of its own. The arms were next. Feet. Legs. The legs were very beautiful. Case's head throbbed. His throat was dry. He drank the last of the wine. iviera was in the bed now, naked. His clothing had been a part of the projection, but Case couldn't remember seeing it fade away. The black flower lay at the foot of the bed, still seething with its blue inner flame. Then the torso formed, as iviera caressed it into being, white, headless, and perfect, sheened with the faintest gloss of sweat. Molly's body. Case stared, his mouth open. But it wasn't Molly; it was Molly as iviera imagined her. The breasts were wrong, the nipples larger, too dark. iviera and the limbless torso writhed together on the bed, crawled over by the hands with their bright nails. The bed was thick now with folds of yellowed, rotting lace that crumbled at a touch. Motes of dust boiled around iviera and the twitching limbs, the scurrying, pinching, caressing hands. Case glanced at Molly. Her face was blank; the colors of iviera's projection heaved and turned in her mirrors. Armitage was leaning forward, his hands round the stem of a wineglass, his pale eyes fixed on the stage, the glowing room. Now limbs and torso had merged, and iviera shuddered. The head was there, the image complete. Molly's face, with smooth quicksilver drowning the eyes. iviera and the Molly- image began to couple with a renewed intensity. Then the image slowly extended a clawed hand and extruded its five blades. With a languorous, dreamlike deliberation, it raked iviera's bare back. Case caught a glimpse of exposed spine, but he was already up and stumbling for the door. He vomited over a rosewood railing into the quiet waters of the lake. Something that had seemed to close around his head like a vise had released him now. Kneeling, his cheek against the cool wood, he stared across the shallow lake at the bright aura of the ue Jules Verne. Case had seen the medium before; when he'd been a t

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