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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
"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."
"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."
He drummed his hands on the Ono-Sendai.
"ъeinhold Scientdfic A.G., Berne."
"Do it again. Who owns ъeinhold?"
It took three more jumps up the ladder before he reached
"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?"
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 ъio. The one in ъio
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. "ъeal 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
ъOM. 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
"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
"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
"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."
"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
"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
"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
"Who else, honey?
"What's got into you?" The mirrors followed him across
"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 ъiviera 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
"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
"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 ъestaurant Vingtieme Siecle," said a disembodied voice
with a pronounced Sprawl accent, "proudly presents the hol-
ographic cabaret of Mr. Peter ъiviera. " 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-
Molly picked her teeth with a burgundy nail.
"Good evening," ъiviera 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 ъiviera had
come from. His uneasiness increased.
At first he assumed the man was illuminated by a spotlight.
ъiviera glowed. The light clung around him like a skin, lit
the dark hangings behind the stage. He was projecting.
ъiviera 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," ъiviera 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
"The title of the work is 'The Doll.'" ъiviera 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, ъiviera'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. ъiviera'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, ъiviera 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.
ъiviera 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. ъiviera 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.
ъiviera leaned forward, picked up the hand, and began to
stroke it gently. The fingers moved. ъiviera 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. ъiviera 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 ъiviera 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.
ъiviera 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
ъiviera 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 ъiviera imagined her. The breasts were
wrong, the nipples larger, too dark. ъiviera 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 ъiviera and the twitching limbs, the scurrying,
pinching, caressing hands.
Case glanced at Molly. Her face was blank; the colors of
ъiviera'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 ъiviera shuddered.
The head was there, the image complete. Molly's face, with
smooth quicksilver drowning the eyes. ъiviera 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 ъiviera'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 ъue Jules Verne.
Case had seen the medium before; when he'd been a t