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ers rose in Case's mind
as they came in sight of Marcus Garvey. The little tug was
snug against the gray thorax of a sleek, insectile ship five times
her length. The arms of grapples stood out against Garvey's
patched hull with the strange clarity of vacuum and raw sun-
light. A pale corrugated gangway curved out of the yacht,
snaked sideways to avoid the tug's engines, and covered the
aft hatch. There was something obscene about the arrangement,
but it had more to do with ideas of feeding than of sex.
"What's happening with Maelcum?"
"Maelcum fine. Nobody come down the tube. Yacht pilot
talk to him, say relax."
As they swung past the gray ship, Case saw the name HAN-
IWA in crisp white capitals beneath an oblong cluster of Jap-
"I don't like this, man. I was thinking maybe it's time we
got our ass out of here anyway."
"Maelcum thinkin' that precise thing, mon, but Garvey not
be goin' far like that."
Maelcum was purring a speeded-up patois to his radio when
Case came through the forward lock and removed his helmet.
"Aerol's gone back to the ъocker," Case said.
Maelcum nodded, still whispering to the microphone.
Case pulled himself over the pilot's drifting tangle of dread-
locks and began to remove his suit. Maelcum's eyes were
closed now; he nodded as he listened to some reply over a pair
of phones with bright orange pads, his brow creased with con-
centration. He wore ragged jeans and an old green nylon jacket
with the sleeves ripped out. Case snapped the red Sanyo suit
to a storage hammock and pulled himself down to the g-web.
"See what th' ghost say, mon," Maelcum said. "Computer
keeps askin' for you."
"So who's up there in that thing?"
"Same Japan-boy came before. An' now he joined by you
Mister Armitage, come out Freeside...."
Case put the trodes on and jacked in.
x x x
The matrix showed him the pink spheres of the steel combine
"What you gettin' up to, boy? I been hearin' lurid stories.
Hosaka's patched into a twin bank on your boss's boat now.
ъeally hoppin'. You pull some Turing heat?"
"Yeah, but Wintermute killed 'em."
"Well, that won't hold 'em long. Plenty more where those
came from. Be up here in force. Bet their decks are all over
this grid sector like flies on shit. And your boss, Case, he says
go. He says run it and run it now."
Case punched for the Freeside coordinates.
"Lemme take that a sec, Case...." The matrix blurred and
phased as the Flatline executed an intricate series of jumps with
a speed and accuracy that made Case wince with envy.
"Hey, boy, I was that good when I was alive. You ain't
seen nothin'. No hands!"
"That's it, huh? Big green rectangle off left?"
"You got it. Corporate core data for Tessier-Ashpool S.A.,
and that ice is generated by their two friendly Al's. On par
with anything in the military sector, looks to me. That's king
hell ice, Case, black as the grave and slick as glass. Fry your
brain soon as look at you. We get any closer now, it'll have
tracers up our ass and out both ears, be tellin' the boys in the
T-A boardroom the size of your shoes and how long your dick
"This isn't looking so hot, is it? I mean, the Turings are on
it. I was thinking maybe we should try to bail out. I can take
"Yeah? No shit? You don't wanna see what that Chinese
program can do?"
"Well, I . . ." Case stared at the green walls of the T-A ice.
"Well, screw it. Yeah. We run."
"Hey, Maelcum," Case said, jacking out, "I'm probably
gonna be under the trodes for maybe eight hours straight."
Maelcum was smoking again. The cabin was swimming in
smoke. "So I can't get to the head...."
"No problem, mon." The Zionite executed a high forward
somersault and rummaged through the contents of a zippered
mesh bag, coming up with a coil of transparent tubing and
something else, something sealed in a sterile bubble pack.
He called it a Texas catheter, and Case didn't like it at all.
He slotted the Chinese virus, paused, then drove it home.
"Okay," he said, "we're on. Listen, Maelcum, if it gets
really funny, you can grab my left wrist. I'll feel it. Otherwise,
I guess you do what the Hosaka tells you, okay?"
"Sure, mon." Maelcum lit a fresh joint.
"And turn the scrubber up. I don't want that shit tangling
with my neurotransmitters. I got a bad hangover as it is."
Case jacked back in.
"Christ on a crutch," the Flatline said, "take a look at this."
The Chinese virus was unfolding around them. Polychrome
shadow, countless translucent layers shifting and recombining.
Protean, enormous, it towered above them, blotting out the
"Big mother," the Flatline said.
"I'm gonna check Molly," Case said, tapping the simstim
Freefall. The sensation was like diving through perfectly
clear water. She was falling-rising through a wide tube of fluted
lunar concrete, lit at two-meter intervals by rings of white neon.
The link was one way. He couldn't talk to her.
"Boy, that is one mean piece of software. Hottest thing
since sliced bread. That goddam thing's invisible. I just now
rented twenty seconds on that little pink box, four jumps left
of the T-A ice; had a look at what we look like. We don't.
We're not there."
Case searched the matrix around the Tessier-Ashpool ice
until he found the pink structure, a standard commercial unit,
and punched in closer to it. "Maybe it's defective."
"Maybe, but I doubt it. Our baby's military, though. And
new. It just doesn't register. If it did, we'd read as some kind
of Chinese sneak attack, but nobody's twigged to us at all.
Maybe not even the folks in Straylight."
Case watched the blank wall that screened Straylight. "Well,"
he said, "that's an advantage, right?"
"Maybe." The construct approximated laughter. Case winced
at the sensation. "I checked ol' Kuang Eleven out again for
you, boy. It's real friendly, long as you're on the trigger end,
jus' polite an' helpful as can be. Speaks good English, too.
You ever hear of slow virus before?"
"I did, once. Just an idea, back then. But that's what ol'
Kuang's all about. This ain't bore and inject, it's more like we
interface with the ice so slow, the ice doesn't feel it. The face
of the Kuang logics kinda sleazes up to the target and mutates,
so it gets to be exactly like the ice fabric. Then we lock on
and the main programs cut in, start talking circles 'round the
logics in the ice. We go Siamese twin on 'em before they even
get restless." The Flatline laughed.
"Wish you weren't so damn jolly today, man. That laugh
of yours sort of gets me in the spine."
"Too bad," the Flatline said. "Ol' dead man needs his laughs."
Case slapped the simstim switch.
And crashed through tangled metal and the smell of dust,
the heels of his hands skidding as they struck slick paper.
Something behind him collapsed noisily.
"C'mon," said the Finn, "ease up a little."
Case lay sprawled across a pile of yellowing magazines,
the girls shining up at him in the dimness of Metro Holografix,
a wistful galaxy of sweet white teeth. He lay there until his
heart had slowed, breathing the smell of old magazines.
"Wintermute," he said.
"Yeah," said the Finn, somewhere behind him, "you got
"Fuck off." Case sat up, rubbing his wrists.
"Come on," said the Finn, stepping out of a sort of alcove
in the wall of junk. "This way's better for you, man." He took
his Partagas from a coat pocket and lit one. The smell of Cuban
tobacco filled the shop. "You want I should come to you in
the matrix like a burning bush? You aren't missing anything,
back there. An hour here'll only take you a couple of seconds."
"You ever think maybe it gets on my nerves, you coming
on like people I know?" He stood, swatting pale dust from the
front of his black jeans. He turned, glaring back at-the dusty
shop windows, the closed door to the street. "What's out there?
New York? Or does it just stop?"
"Well," said the Finn, "it's like that tree, you know? Falls
in the woods but maybe there's nobody to hear it." He showed
Case his huge front teeth, and puffed his cigarette. "You can
go for a walk, you wanna. It's all there. Or anyway all the
parts of it you ever saw. This is memory, right? I tap you, sort
it out, and feed it back in."
"I don't have this good a memory," Case said, looking
around. He looked down at his hands, turning them over. He
tried to remember what the lines on his palms were like, but
"Everybody does," the Finn said, dropping his cigarette and
grinding it out under his heel, "but not many of you can access
it. Artists can, mostly, if they're any good. If you could lay
this construct over the reality, the Finn's place in lower Man-
hattan, you'd see a difference, but maybe not as much as you'd
think. Memory's holographic, for you." The Finn tugged at
one of his small ears. "I'm different."
"How do you mean, holographic?" The word made him
think of ъiviera.
"The holographic paradigm is the closest thing you've worked
out to a representation of human memory, is all. But you've
never done anything about it. People, I mean." The Finn stepped
forward and canted his streamlined skull to peer up at Case.
"Maybe if you had, I wouldn't be happening."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
The Finn shrugged. His tattered tweed was too wide across
the shoulders, and didn't quite settle back into position. "I'm
trying to help you, Case."
"Because I need you." The large yellow teeth appeared
again. "And because you need me."
"Bullshit. Can you read my mind, Finn?" He grimaced.
"Wintermute, I mean."
"Minds aren't read. See, you've still got the paradigms
print gave you, and you're barely print-literate. I can access
your memory, but that's not the same as your mind." He
reached into the exposed chassis of an ancient television and
withdrew a silver-black vacuum tube. "See this? Part of my
DNA, sort of...." He tossed the thing into the shadows and
Case heard it pop and tinkle. "You're always building models.
Stone circles. Cathedrals. Pipe-organs. Adding machines. I
got no idea why I'm here now, you know that? But if the
run goes off tonight, you'll have finally managed the real
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"That's 'you' in the collective. Your species."
"You killed those Turings."
The Finn shrugged. "Hadda. Hadda. You should give a shit;
they woulda offed you and never thought twice. Anyway, why
I got you here, we gotta talk more. ъemember this?" And his
right hand held the charred wasps' nest from Case's dream,
reek of fuel in the closeness of the darkshop. Case stumbled
back against a wall of junk. "Yeah. That was me. Did it with
the holo rig in the window. Another memory I tapped out of
you when I flatlined you that first time. Know why it's im-
Case shook his head.
"Because"--and the nest, somehow, was gone--"it's the
closest thing you got to what Tessier-Ashpool would like to
be . The human equivalent . Straylight' s like that nest, or anyway
it was supposed to work out that way. l figure it'll make you
"To know what they're like. You were starting to hate my
guts for a while there. That's good. But hate them instead.
"Listen," Case said, stepping forward, "they never did shit
to me. You, it's different...." But he couldn't feel the anger.
"So T-A, they made me. The French girl, she said you were
selling out the species. Demon, she said I was." The Finn
grinned. "It doesn't much matter. You gotta hate somebody
before this is over." He turned and headed for the back of the
shop. "Well, come on, I'll show you a little bit of Straylight
while I got you here." He lifted the corner of the blanket. White
light poured out. "Shit, man, don't just stand there."
Case followed, rubbing his face.
"Okay," said the Finn, and grabbed his elbow.
They were drawn past the stale wool in a puff of dust, into
freefall and a cylindrical corridor of fluted lunar concrete, ringed
with white neon at two-meter intervals.
"Jesus," Case said, tumbling.
"This is the front entrance," the Finn said, his tweed flap-
ping. "If this weren't a construct of mine, where the shop is
would be the main gate, up by the Freeside axis. This'll all be
a little low on detail, though, because you don't have the
memories. Except for this bit here, you got off Molly...."
Case managed to straighten out, but began to corkscrew in
a long spiral.
"Hold on," the Finn said, "I'll fast-forward us."
The walls blurred. Dizzying sensation of headlong move-
ment, colors, whipping around corners and through narrow
corridors. They seemed at one point to pass through several
meters of solid wall, a flash of pitch darkness.
"Here," the Finn said. "This is it."
They floated in the center of a perfectly square room, walls
and ceiling paneled in rectangular sections of dark wood. The
floor was covered by a single square of brilliant carpet patterned
after a microchip, circuits traced in blue and scarlet wool. In
the exact center of the room, aligned precisely with the carpet
pattern, stood a square pedestal of frosted white glass.
"The Villa Straylight," said a jeweled thing on the pedestal,
in a voice like music, "is a body grown in upon itself, a Gothic
folly. Each space in Straylight is in some way secret, this
endless series of chambers linked by passages, by stairwells
vaulted like intestines, where the eye is trapped in narrow
curves, carried past ornate screens, empty alcoves...."
"Essay of 3Jane's," the Finn said, producing his Partagas.
"Wrote that when she was twelve. Semiotics course."
"The architects of Freeside went to great pains to conceal
the fact that the interior of the spindle is arranged with the
banal precision of furniture in a hotel room. In Straylight, the
hull's inner surface is overgrown with a desperate proliferation
of structures, forms flowing, interlocking, rising toward a solid
core of microcircuitry, our clan's corporate heart, a cylinder
of silicon wormholed with narrow maintenance tunnels, some
no wider than a man's hand. The bright crabs burrow there,
the drones, alert for micromechanical decay or sabotage."
"That was her you saw in the restaurant," the Finn said.
"By the standards of the archipelago," the head continued,
"ours is an old family, the convolutions of our home reflecting
that age. But reflecting something else as well. The semiotics
of the Villa bespeak a turning in, a denial of the bright void
beyond the hull.
"Tessier and Ashpool climbed the well of gravity to discover
that they loathed space. They built Freeside to tap the wealth
of the new islands, grew rich and eccentric, and began the
construction of an extended body in Straylight. We have sealed
ourselves away behind our money, growing inward, generating
a seamless universe of self.
"The Villa Straylight knows no sky, recorded or otherwise.
"At the Villa's silicon core is a small room, the only rec-
tilinear chamber in the complex. Here, on a plain pedestal of
glass, rests an ornate bust, platinum and cloisonne, studded
with lapis and pearl. The bright marbles of its eyes were cut
from the synthetic ruby viewport of the ship that brought the
first Tessier up the well, and returned for the first Ashpool...."
The head fell silent.
"Well?" Case asked, finally, almost expecting the thing to
"That's all she wrote," the Finn said. "Didn't finish it. Just
a kid then. This thing's a ceremonial terminal, sort of. I need
Molly in here with the right word at the right time. That's the
catch. Doesn't mean shit, how deep you and the Flatline ride
that Chinese virus, if this thing doesn't hear the magic word."
"So what's the word?"
"I don't know. You might say what I am is basically defined
by the fact that I don't know, because I can't know. I am that
which knoweth not the word. If you knew, man, and told me,
I couldn't know. It's hardwired in. Someone else has to learn
it and bring it here, just when you and the Flatline punch
through that ice and scramble the cores."
"What happens then?"
"I don't exist, after that. I cease."
"Okay by me," Case said.
"Sure. But you watch your ass, Case. My, ah, other lobe
is on to us, it looks like. One burning bush looks pretty much
like another. And Armitage is starting to go."
"What's that mean?"
But the paneled room folded itself through a dozen impos-
sible angles, tumbling away into cyberspace like an origami
"You tryin' to break my record, son?" the Flatline asked.
"You were braindead again, five seconds."
"Sit tight," Case said, and hit the simstim switch.
She crouched in darkness, her palms against rough concrete.
CASE CASE CASE CASE. The digital display pulsed his
name in alphanumerics, Wintermute informing her of the link.
"Cute," she said. She rocked back on her heels and rubbed
her palms together, cracked her knuckles. "What kept you?"
TIME MOLLY TIME NOW.
She pressed her tongue hard against her lower front teeth.
One moved slightly, activating her microchannel amps; the
random bounce of photons through the darkness was converted
to a pulse of electrons, the concrete around her coming up
ghost-pale and grainy. "Okay, honey. Now we go out to play."
Her hiding place proved to be a service tunnel of some kind.
She crawled out through a hinged, ornate grill of tarnished
brass. He saw enough of her arms and hands to know that she
wore the polycarbon suit again. Under the plastic, he felt the
familiar tension of thin tight leather. There was something slung
under her arm in a harness or holster. She stood up, unzipped
the suit and touched the checkered plastic of a pistolgrip.
"Hey, Case," she said, barely voicing the words, "you lis-
tening? Tell you a story.... Had me this boy once. You kinda
remind me . . ." She turned and surveyed the corridor. "Johnny,
his name was."
The low, vaulted hallway was lined with dozens of museum
cases, archaic-looking glass-fronted boxes made of brown wood.
They looked awkward there, against the organic curves of the
hallway's walls, as though they'd been brought in and set up
in a line for some forgotten purpose. Dull brass fixtures held
globes of white light at ten-meter intervals. The floor was
uneven, and as she set off along the corridor, Case realized
that hundreds of small rugs and carpets had been put down at
random. In some places, they were six deep, the floor a soft
patchwork of handwoven wool.
Molly paid little attention to the cabinets and their contents,
which irritated him. He had to satisfy himself with her disin-
terested glances, which gave him fragments of pottery, antique
weapons, a thing so densely studded with rusted nails that it
was unrecognizable, frayed sections of tapestry....
"My Johnny, see, he was smart, real flash boy. Started out
as a stash on Memory Lane, chips in his head and people paid
to hide data there. Had the Yak after him, night I met him,
and I did for their assassin. More luck than anything else, but
I did for him. And after that, it was tight and sweet, Case."
Her lips barely moved. He felt her form the words; he didn't
need to hear them spoken aloud. "We had a set-up with a squid,
so we could read the traces of everything he'd ever stored. ъan
it all out on tape and started twisting selected clients, ex-clients.
I was bagman, muscle, watchdog. I was real happy. You ever
been happy, Case? He was my boy. We worked together.
Partners. I was maybe eight weeks out of the puppet house
when I met him...." She paused, edged around a sharp turn
and continued. More of the glossy wooden cases, their sides
a color that reminded him of cockroach wings.
"Tight, sweet, just ticking along, we were. Like nobody
could ever touch us. I wasn't going to let them