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. Yakuza, I
guess, they still wanted Johnny's ass. 'Cause I'd killed their
man. 'Cause Johnny'd burned them. And the Yak, they can
afford to move so fucking slow, man, they'll wait years and
years. Give you a whole life, just so you'll have more to lose
when they come and take it away. Patient like a spider. Zen
"I didn't know that, then. Or if I did, I figured it didn't
apply to us. Like when you're young, you figure you're
unique. I was young. Then they came, when we were thinking
we maybe had enough to be able to quit, pack it in, go to
Europe maybe. Not that either of us knew what we'd do there,
with nothing to do. But we were living fat, Swiss orbital ac-
counts and a crib full of toys and furniture. Takes the edge off
"So that first one they'd sent, he'd been hot. ъeflexes like
you never saw, implants, enough style for ten ordinary hoods.
But the second one, he was, I dunno, like a monk. Cloned.
Stone killer from the cells on up. Had it in him, death, this
silence, he gave it off in a cloud...." Her voice trailed off as
the corridor split, identical stairwells descending. She took the
"One time, I was a little kid, we were squatting. It was
down by the Hudson, and those rats, man, they were big. It's
the chemicals get into them. Big as I was, and all night one
had been scrabbling under the floor of the squat. ъound dawn
somebody brought this old man in, seams down his cheeks and
his eyes all red. Had a roll of greasy leather like you'd keep
steel tools in, to keep the rust off. Spread it out, had this old
revolver and three shells. Old man, he puts one bullet in there,
then he starts walking up and down the squat, we're hanging
back by the walls.
"Back and forth. Got his arms crossed, head down, like
he's forgotten the gun. Listening for the rat. We got real quiet.
Old man takes a step. ъat moves. ъat moves, he takes another
step. An hour of that, then he seems to remember his gun.
Points it at the floor, grins, and pulls the trigger. ъolled it back
up and left.
"I crawled under there later. ъat had a hole between its
eyes." She was watching the sealed doorways that opened at
intervals along the corridor. "The second one, the one who
came for Johnny, he was like that old man. Not old, but he
was like that. He killed that way." The corridor widened. The
sea of rich carpets undulated gently beneath an enormous can-
delabrum whose lowest crystal pendant reached nearly to the
floor. Crystal tinkled as Molly entered the hall. THIъD DOOъ
LEFT, blinked the readout.
She turned left, avoiding the inverted tree of crystal. "I just
saw him once. On my way into our place. He was coming out.
We lived in a converted factory space, lots of young comers
from Sense/Net, like that. Pretty good security to start with,
and I'd put in some really heavy stuff to make it really tight.
I knew Johnny was up there. But this little guy, he caught my
eye, as he was coming out. Didn't say a word. We just looked
at each other and I knew. Plain little guy, plain clothes, no
pride in him, humble. He looked at me and got into a pedicab.
I knew. Went upstairs and Johnny was sitting in a chair by the
window, with his mouth a little open, like he'd just thought of
something to say."
The door in front of her was old, a carved slab of Thai teak
that seemed to have been sawn in half to fit the low doorway.
A primitive mechanical lock with a stainless face had been
inset beneath a swirling dragon. She knelt, drew a tight little
roll of black chamois from an inside pocket, and selected a
needle-thin pick. "Never much found anybody I gave a damn
about, after that."
She inserted the pick and worked in silence, nibbling at her
lower lip. She seemed to rely on touch alone; her eyes unfo-
cused and the door was a blur of blond wood. Case listened
to the silence of the hall, punctuated by the soft clink of the
candelabrum. Candles? Straylight was all wrong. He remem-
bered Cath's story of a castle with pools and lilies, and 3Jane's
mannered words recited musically by the head. A place grown
in upon itself. Straylight smelled faintly musty, faintly per-
fumed, like a church. Where were the Tessier-Ashpools? He'd
expected some clean hive of disciplined activity, but Molly
had seen no one. Her monologue made him uneasy; she'd never
told him that much about herself before. Aside from her story
in the cubicle, she'd seldom said anything that had even in-
dicated that she had a past.
She closed her eyes and there was a click that Case felt
rather than heard. It made him remember the magnetic locks
on the door of her cubicle in the puppet place. The door had
opened for him, even though he'd had the wrong chip. That
was Wintermute, manipulating the lock the way it had manip-
ulated the drone micro and the robot gardener. The lock system
in the puppet place had been a subunit of Freeside's security
system. The simple mechanical lock here would pose a real
problem for the AI, requiring either a drone of some kind or
a human agent.
She opened her eyes, put the pick back into the chamois,
carefully rerolled it, and tucked it back into its pocket. "Guess
you're kinda like he was," she said. "Think you're born to run.
Figure what you were into back in Chiba, that was a stripped
down version of what you'd be doing anywhere. Bad luck, it'll
do that sometimes, get you down to basics." She stood, stretched,
shook herself. "You know, I figure the one Tessier-Ashpool
sent after that Jimmy, the boy who stole the head, he must be
pretty much the same as the one the Yak sent to kill Johnny."
She drew the fletcher from its holster and dialed the barrel to
The ugliness of the door struck Case as she reached for it.
Not the door itself, which was beautiful, or had once been part
of some more beautiful whole, but the way it had been sawn
down to fit a particular entrance. Even the shape was wrong,
a rectangle amid smooth curves of polished concrete. They'd
imported these things, he thought, and then forced it all to fit.
But none of it fit. The door was like the awkward cabinets,
the huge crystal tree. Then he remembered 3Jane's essay, and
imagined that the fittings had been hauled up the well to flesh
out some master plan, a dream long lost in the compulsive
effort to fill space, to replicate some family image of self. He
remembered the shattered nest, the eyeless things writhing....
Molly grasped one of the carved dragon's forelegs and the
door swung open easily.
The room behind was small, cramped, little more than a
closet. Gray steel tool cabinets were backed against a curving
wall. A light fixture had come on automatically. She closed
the door behind her and went to the ranged lockers.
THIъD LEFT, pulsed the optic chip, Wintermute overriding
her time display. FIVE DOWN. But she opened the top drawer
first. It was no more than a shallow tray. Empty. The second
was empty as well. The third, which was deeper, contained
dull beads of solder and a small brown thing that looked like
a human fingerbone. The fourth drawer held a damp-swollen
copy of an obsolete technical manual in French and Japanese.
In the fifth, behind the armored gauntlet of a heavy vacuum
suit, she found the key. It was like a dull brass coin with a
short hollow tube braised against one edge. She turned it slowly
in her hand and Case saw that the interior of the tube was lined
with studs and flanges. The letters CHUBB were molded across
one face of the coin. The other was blank.
"He told me," she whispered. "Wintermute. How he played
a waiting game for years. Didn't have any real power, then,
but he could use the Villa's security and custodial systems to
keep track of where everything was, how things moved, where
they went. He saw somebody lose this key twenty years ago,
and he managed to get somebody else to leave it here. Then
he killed him, the boy who'd brought it here. Kid was eight."
She closed her white fingers over the key. "So nobody would
find it." She took a length of black nylon cord from the suit's
kangaroo pocket and threaded it through the round hole above
CHUBB. Knotting it, she hung it around her neck. "They were
always fucking him over with how old-fashioned they were,
he said, all their nineteenth-century stuff. He looked just like
the Finn, on the screen in that meat puppet hole. Almost thought
he was the Finn, if I wasn't careful." Her readout flared the
time, alphanumerics superimposed over the gray steel chests.
"He said if they'd turned into what they'd wanted to, he
could've gotten out a long time ago. But they didn't. Screwed
up. Freaks like 3Jane. That's what he called her, but he talked
like he liked her."
She turned, opened the door, and stepped out, her hand
brushing the checkered grip of the holstered fletcher.
Kuang Grade Mark Eleven was growing.
"Dixie, you think this thing'll work?"
"Does a bear shit in the woods?" The Flatline punched them
up through shifting rainbow strata.
Something dark was forming at the core of the Chinese
program. The density of information overwhelmed the fabric
of the matrix, triggering hypnagogic images. Faint kaleidoscop-
ic angles centered in to a silver-black focal point. Case watched
childhood symbols of evil and bad luck tumble out along trans-
lucent planes: swastikas, skulls and crossbones dice flashing
snake eyes. If he looked directly at that null point, no outline
would form. It took a dozen quick, peripheral takes before he
had it, a shark thing, gleaming like obsidian, the black mirrors
of its flanks reflecting faint distant lights that bore no relation-
ship to the matrix around it.
"That's the sting," the construct said. "When Kuang's good
and bellytight with the Tessier-Ashpool core, we're ridin' that
"You were right, Dix. There's some kind of manual override
on the hardwiring that keeps Wintermute under control. How-
ever much he is under control," he added.
"He," the construct said. "He. Watch that. It. I keep telling
you . "
"It's a code. A word, he said. Somebody has to speak it
into a fancy terminal in a certain room, while we take care of
whatever's waiting for us behind that ice."
"Well, you got time to kill, kid," the Flatline said. "Ol'
Kuang's slow but steady."
Case jacked out..
Into Maelcum's stare.
"You dead awhile there mon."
"It happens," he said. "i'm getting used to it."
"You dealin' wi' th' darkness, mon."
"Only game in town, it looks like."
"Jah love, Case," Maelcum said, and turned back to his
radio module. Case stared at the matted dreadlocks, the ropes
of muscle around the man's dark arms.
He jacked back in.
Molly was trotting along a length of corridor that might
have been the one she'd traveled before. The glass-fronted cases
were gone now, and Case decided they were moving toward
the tip of the spindle; gravity was growing weaker. Soon she
was bounding smoothly over rolling hillocks of carpets. Faint
twinges in her leg....
The corridor narrowed suddenly, curved, split.
She turned right and started up a freakishly steep flight of
stairs, her leg beginning to ache. Overhead, strapped and bun-
dled cables hugged the stairwell's ceiling like colorcoded gan-
glia. The walls were splotched with damp.
She arrived at a triangular landing and stood rubbing her
leg. More corridors, narrow, their walls hung with rugs. They
branched away in three directions.
She shrugged. "Lemme look around, okay?"
"ъelax. There's time." She started down the corridor that
led off to her right.
She hesitated. From the half-open oak door at the far end
of the passage came a voice, loud and slurred, like the voice
of a drunk. Case thought the language might be French, but it
was too indistinct. Molly took a step, another, her hand sliding
into the suit to touch the butt of her fletcher. When she stepped
into the neural disruptor's field, her ears rang, a tiny rising
tone that made Case think of the sound of her fletcher. She
pitched forward, her striated muscles slack, and struck the door
with her forehead. She twisted and lay on her back, her eyes
unfocused, breath gone.
"What's this," said the slurred voice, "fancy dress?" A trem-
bling hand entered the front of her suit and found the fletcher,
tugging it out. "Come visit, child. Now."
She got up slowly, her eyes fixed on the muzzle of a black
automatic pistol. The man's hand was steady enough, now; the
gun's barrel seemed to be attached to her throat with a taut,
He was old, very tall, and his features reminded Case of
the girl he had glimpsed in the Vingtieme Siecle. He wore a
heavy robe of maroon silk, quilted around the long cuffs and
shawl collar. One foot was bare, the other in a black velvet
slipper with an embroidered gold foxhead over the instep. He
motioned her into the room. "Slow, darling." The room was
very large, cluttered with an assortment of things that made no
sense to Case. He saw a gray steel rack of old-fashioned Sony
monitors, a wide brass bed heaped with sheepskins, with pil-
lows that seemed to have been made from the kind of rug used
to pave the corridors. Molly's eyes darted from a huge Tele-
funken entertainment console to shelves of antique disk re-
cordings, their crumbling spines cased in clear plastic, to a
wide worktable littered with slabs of silicon. Case registered
the cyberspace deck and the trodes, but her glance slid over it
"It would be customary," the old man said, "for me to kill
you now." Case felt her tense, ready for a move. "But tonight
I indulge myself. What is your name?"
"Molly. Mine is Ashpool." He sank back into the creased
softness of a huge leather armchair with square chrome legs,
but the gun never wavered. He put her fletcher on a brass table
beside the chair, knocking over a plastic vial of red pills. The
table was thick with vials, bottles of liquor, soft plastic en-
velopes spilling white powders. Case noticed an old-fashioned
glass hypodermic and a plain steel spoon.
"How do you cry, Molly? I see your eyes are walled away.
I'm curious." His eyes were red-rimmed, his forehead gleaming
with sweat. He was very pale. Sick, Case decided. Or drugs.
"I don't cry, much."
"But how would you cry, if someone made you cry?"
"I spit," she said. "The ducts are routed back into my mouth."
"Then you've already learned an important lesson, for one
so young." He rested the hand with the pistol on his knee and
took a bottle from the table beside him, without bothering to
choose from the half-dozen different liquors. He drank. Brandy.
A trickle of the stuff ran from the corner of his mouth. "That
is the way to handle tears." He drank again. "I'm busy tonight,
Molly. I built all this, and now I'm busy. Dying."
"I could go out the way I came," she said.
He laughed, a harsh high sound. "You intrude on my suicide
and then ask to simply walk out? ъeally, you amaze me. A
"It's my ass, boss, and it's all I got. I just wanna get it out
of here in one piece."
"You are a very rude girl. Suicides here are conducted with
a degree of decorum. That's what I'm doing, you understand.
But perhaps I'll take you with me tonight, down to hell.... It
would be very Egyptian of me." He drank again. "Come here
then." He held out the bottle, his hand shaking. "Drink."
She shook her head.
"It isn't poisoned," he said, but returned the brandy to the
table. "Sit. Sit on the floor. We'll talk."
"What about?" She sat. Case felt the blades move, very
slightly, beneath her nails.
"Whatever comes to mind. My mind. It's my party. The
cores woke me. Twenty hours ago. Something was afoot, they
said, and l was needed. Were you the something, Molly? Surely
they didn't need me to handle you, no. Something else . . . but
I'd been dreaming, you see. For thirty years. You weren't born,
when last I lay me down to sleep. They told us we wouldn't
dream, in that cold. They told us we'd never feel cold, either.
Madness, Molly. Lies. Of course I dreamed. The cold let the
outside in, that was it. The outside. All the night I built this
to hide us from. Just a drop, at first, one grain of night seeping
in, drawn by the cold . . . Others following it, filling my head
the way rain fills an empty pool. Calla lilies. I remember. The
pools were terracotta, nursemaids all of chrome, how the limbs
went winking through the gardens at sunset.... I'm old, Molly.
Over two hundred years, if you count the cold. The cold." The
barrel of the pistol snapped up suddenly, quivering. The ten-
dons in her thighs were drawn tight as wires now.
"You can get freezerburn," she said carefully.
"Nothing burns there," he said impatiently, lowering the
gun. His few movements were increasingly sclerotic. His head
nodded. It cost him an effort to stop it. "Nothing burns. I
remember now. The cores told me our intelligences are mad.
And all the billions we paid, so long ago. When artificial
intelligences were rather a racy concept. I told the cores I'd
deal with it. Bad timing, really, with 8Jean down in Melbourne
and only our sweet 3Jane minding the store. Or very good
timing, perhaps. Would you know, Molly?" The gun rose again.
"There are some odd things afoot now, in the Villa Straylight."
"Boss," she asked him, "you know Wintermute?"
"A name. Yes. To conjure with, perhaps. A lord of hell,
surely. In my time, dear Molly, I have known many lords.
And not a few ladies. Why, a queen of Spain, once, in that
very bed.... But I wander." He coughed wetly, the muzzle of
the pistol jerking as he convulsed. He spat on the carpet near
his one bare foot. "How I do wander. Through the cold. But
soon no more. I'd ordered a Jane thawed, when I woke. Strange,
to lie every few decades with what legally amounts to one's
own daughter." His gaze swept past her, to the rack of blank
monitors. He seemed to shiver. "Marie-France's eyes," he said,
faintly, and smiled. "We cause the brain to become allergic to
certain of its own neurotransmitters, resulting in a peculiarly
pliable imitation of autism." His head swayed sideways, re-
covered. "I understand that the effect is now more easily ob-
tained with an embedded microchip."
The pistol slid from his fingers, bounced on the carpet.
"The dreams grow like slow ice," he said. His face was
tinged with blue. His head sank back into the waiting leather
and he began to snore.
Up, she snatched the gun. She stalked the room, Ashpool's
automatic in her hand.
A vast quilt or comforter was heaped beside the bed, in a
broad puddle of congealed blood, thick and shiny on the pat-
terned rugs. Twitching a corner of the quilt back, she found
the body of a girl, white shoulder blades slick with blood. Her
throat had been slit. The triangular blade of some sort of scraper
glinted in the dark pool beside her. Molly knelt, careful to
avoid the blood, and turned the dead girl's face to the light.
The face Case had seen in the restaurant.
There was a click, deep at the very center of things, and
the world was frozen. Molly's simstim broadcast had become
a still frame, her fingers on the girl's cheek. The freeze held
for three seconds, and then the dead face was altered, became
the face of Linda Lee.
Another click, and the room blurred. Molly was standing,
looking down at a golden laser disk beside a small console on
the marble top of a bedside table. A length of fiberoptic ribbon
ran like a leash from the console to a socket at the base of the
"I got your number, fucker," Case said, feeling his own lips
moving, somewhere, far away. He knew that Wintermute had
altered the broadcast. Molly hadn't seen the dead girl's face
swirl like smoke, to take on the outline of Linda's de