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computer. "Good guess," he said to Maelcum.
"Bridge locked, mon," Maelcum said, from the opposite
side of the lounge.
The lights dimmed, surged, dimmed again.
Case ripped the printout from its slot. More zeros. "Win-
termute?" He looked around the beige and brown lounge, the
space scrawled with drifting curves of paper. "That you on the
A panel beside Maelcum's head slid up, revealing a small
monitor. Maelcum jerked apprehensively, wiped sweat from
his forehead with a foam patch on the back of a gloved hand,
and swung to study the display. "You read Japanese, mon?"
Case could see figures blinking past on the screen.
"No," Case said.
"Bridge is escape pod, lifeboat. Countin' down, looks like
it. Suit up now." He ringed his helmet and slapped at the seals.
"What? He's takin' off? Shit!" He kicked off from the
bulkhead and shot through the tangle of printout. "We gotta
open this door, man!" But Maelcum could only tap the side of
his helmet. Case could see his lips moving, through the Lexan.
He saw a bead of sweat arc out from the rainbow braided band
of the purple cotton net the Zionite wore over his locks. Mael-
cum snatched the helmet from Case and ringed it for him
smoothly, the palms of his gloves smacking the seals. Micro-
LED monitors to the left of the faceplate lit as the neck ring
connections closed. "No seh Japanese," Maelcum said, over
his suit's transceiver, "but countdown's wrong." He tapped a
particular line on the screen. "Seals not intact, bridge module.
Launchin' wi' lock open."
"Armitage!" Case tried to pound on the door. The physics
of zero-g sent him tumbling back through the printout. "Corto!
Don't do it! We gotta talk! We gotta--"
"Case? ъead you, Case..." The voice barely resembled
Armitage's now. It held a weird calm. Case stopped kicking.
His helmet struck the far wall. "I'm sorry, Case, but it has to
be this way. One of us has to get out. One of us has to testify.
If we all go down here, it ends here. I'll tell them, Case, I'll
tell them all of it. About Girling and the others. And I'll make
it, Case. I know I'll make it. To Helsinki." There was a sudden
silence; Case felt it fill his helmet like some rare gas. "But it's
so hard, Case, so goddam hard. I'm blind."
"Corto, stop. Wait. You're blind, man. You can't fly! You'll
hit the fucking trees. And they're trying to get you, Corto, I
swear to God, they've left your hatch open. You'll die, and
you'll never get to tell 'em, and I gotta get the enzyme, name
of the enzyme, the enzyme, man...." He was shouting, voice
high with hysteria. Feedback shrilled out of the helmet's phone
"ъemember the training, Case. That's all we can do."
And then the helmet filled with a confused babble, roaring
static, harmonics howling down the years from Screaming Fist.
Fragments of ъussian, and then a stranger's voice, Midwestern,
very young. "We are down, repeat, Omaha Thunder is down,
we . . ."
"Wintermute," Case screamed, "don't do this to me!" Tears
broke from his lashes, rebounding off the faceplate in wobbling
crystal droplets. Then Haniwa thudded, once, shivered as if
some huge soft thing had struck her hull. Case imagined the
lifeboat jolting free,, blown clear by explosive bolts, a second's
clawing hurricane of escaping air tearing mad Colonel Corto
from his couch, from Wintermute's rendition of the final minute
of Screaming Fist.
"'Im gone, mon." Maelcum looked at the monitor. "Hatch
open. Mute mus' override ejection failsafe."
Case tried to wipe the tears of rage from his eyes. His fingers
clacked against Lexan.
"Yacht, she tight for air, but bossman takin' grapple control
wi' bridge. Marcus Garvey still stuck."
But Case was seeing Armitage's endless fall around Free-
side, through vacuum colder than the steppes. For some reason,
he imagined him in his dark Burberry, the trenchcoat's rich
folds spread out around him like the wings of some huge bat.
"Get what you went for?" the construct asked.
Kuang Grade Mark Eleven was filling the grid between itself
and the T-A ice with hypnotically intricate traceries of rainbow,
lattices fine as snow crystal on a winter window.
"Wintermute killed Armitage. Blew him out in a lifeboat
with a hatch open."
"Tough shit," the Flatline said. "Weren't exactly asshole
buddies, were you?"
"He knew how to unbond the toxin sacs."
"So Wintermute knows too. Count on it."
"I don't exactly trust Wintermute to give it to me."
The construct's hideous approximation of laughter scraped
Case's nerves like a dull blade. "Maybe that means you're
He hit the simstim switch.
06:27:52 by the chip in her optic nerve; Case had been
following her progress through Villa Straylight for over an
hour, letting the endorphin analog she'd taken blot out his
hangover. The pain in her leg was gone; she seemed to move
through a warm bath. The Braun drone was perched on her
shoulder, its tiny manipulators, like padded surgical clips, se-
cure in the polycarbon of the Modern suit.
The walls here were raw steel, striped with rough brown
ribbons of epoxy where some kind of covering had been ripped
away. She'd hidden from a work crew, crouching, the fletcher
cradled in her hands, her suit steel-gray, while the two slender
Africans and their balloon-tired workcart passed. The men had
shaven heads and wore orange coveralls. One was singing softly
to himself in a language Case had never heard, the tones and
melody alien and haunting.
The head's speech, 3Jane's essay on Straylight, came back
to him as she worked her way deeper into the maze of the
place. Straylight was crazy, was craziness grown in the resin
concrete they'd mixed from pulverized lunar stone, grown in
welded steel and tons of knick-knacks, all the bizarre impe-
dimentia they'd shipped up the well to line their winding nest.
But it wasn't a craziness he understood. Not like Armitage's
madness, which he now imagined he could understand; twist
a man far enough, then twist him as far back, in the opposite
direction, reverse and twist again. The man broke. Like break-
ing a length of wire. And history had done that for Colonel
Corto. History had already done the really messy work, when
Wintermute found him, sifting him out of all of the war's ripe
detritus, gliding into the man's flat gray field of consciousness
like a water spider crossing the face of some stagnant pool,
the first messages blinking across the face of a child's micro
in a darkened room in a French asylum. Wintermute had built
Armitage up from scratch, with Corto's memories of Screaming
Fist as the foundation. But Armitage's "memories" wouldn't
have been Corto's after a certain point. Case doubted if Ar-
mitage had recalled the betrayal, the Nightwings whirling down
in flame.... Armitage had been a sort of edited version of
Corto, and when the stress of the run had reached a certain
point, the Armitage mechanism had crumbled; Corto had sur-
faced, with his guilt and his sick fury. And now Corto-Armitage
was dead, a small frozen moon for Freeside.
He thought of the toxin sacs. Old Ashpool was dead too,
drilled through the eye with Molly's microscopic dart, deprived
of whatever expert overdose he'd mixed for himself. That was
a more puzzling death, Ashpool's, the death of a mad king.
And he'd killed the puppet he'd called his daughter, the one
with 3Jane's face. It seemed to Case, as he rode Molly's broad-
cast sensory input through the corridors of Straylight, that he'd
never really thought of anyone like Ashpool, anyone as pow-
erful as he imagined Ashpool had been, as human.
Power, in Case's world, meant corporate power. The zai-
batsus, the multinationals that shaped the course of human
history, had transcended old barriers. Viewed as organisms,
they had attained a kind of immortality. You couldn't kill a
zaibatsu by assassinating a dozen key executives; there were
others waiting to step up the ladder, assume the vacated po-
sition, access the vast banks of corporate memory. But Tessier-
Ashpool wasn't like that, and he sensed the difference in the
death of its founder. T-A was an atavism, a clan. He remem-
bered the litter of the old man's chamber, the soiled humanity
of it, the ragged spines of the old audio disks in their paper
sleeves. One foot bare, the other in a velvet slipper.
The Braun plucked at the hood of the Modern suit and Molly
turned left, through another archway.
Wintermute and the nest. Phobic vision of the hatching
wasps, time-lapse machine gun of biology. But weren't the
zaibatsus more like that, or the Yakuza, hives with cybernetic
memories, vast single organisms, their DNA coded in silicon?
If Straylight was an expression of the corporate identity of
Tessier-Ashpool, then T-A was crazy as the old man had been.
The same ragged tangle of fears, the same strange sense of
aimlessness. "If they'd turned into what they wanted to...."
he remembered Molly saying. But Wintermute had told her
Case had always taken it for granted that the real bosses,
the kingpins in a given industry, would be both more and less
than people. He'd seen it in the men who'd crippled him in
Memphis, he'd seen Wage affect the semblance of it in Night
City, and it had allowed him to accept Armitage's flatness and
lack of feeling. He'd always imagined it as a gradual and willing
accommodation of the machine, the system, the parent or-
ganism. It was the root of street cool, too, the knowing posture
that implied connection, invisible lines up to hidden levels of
But what was happening now, in the corridors of Villa
Whole stretches were being stripped back to steel and con-
"Wonder where our Peter is now, huh? Maybe see that boy
soon," she muttered. "And Armitage. Where's he, Case?"
"Dead," he said, knowing she couldn't hear him, "he's
The Chinese program was face to face with the target ice,
rainbow tints gradually dominated by the green of the rectangle
representing the T-A cores. Arches of emerald across the col-
"How's it go, Dixie?"
"Fine. Too slick. Thing's amazing.... Shoulda had one that
time in Singapore. Did the old New Bank of Asia for a good
fiftieth of what they were worth. But that's ancient history.
This baby takes all the drudgery out of it. Makes you wonder
what a real war would be like, now...."
"If this kinda shit was on the street, we'd be out a job,"
"You wish. Wait'll you're steering that thing upstairs through
Something small and decidedly nongeometric had just ap-
peared on the far end of one of the emerald arches.
"Dixie . . ."
"Yeah. I see it. Don't know if I believe it."
A brownish dot, a dull gnat against the green wall of the
T-A cores. It began to advance, across the bridge built by
Kuang Grade Mark Eleven, and Case saw that it was walking.
As it came, the green section of the arch extended, the poly-
chrome of the virus program rolling back, a few steps ahead
of the cracked black shoes.
"Gotta hand it to you, boss," the Flatline said, when the
short, rumpled figure of the Finn seemed to stand a few meters
away. "I never seen anything this funny when I was alive."
But the eerie nonlaugh didn't come.
"I never tried it before," the Finn said, showing his teeth,
his hands bunched in the pockets of his frayed jacket.
"You killed Armitage," Case said.
"Corto. Yeah. Armitage was already gone. Hadda do it. I
know, I know, you wanna get the enzyme. Okay. No sweat.
I was the one gave it to Armitage in the first place. I mean I
told him what to use. But I think maybe it's better to let the
deal stand. You got enough time. I'll give it to you. Only a
coupla hours now, right?"
Case watched blue smoke billow in cyberspace as the Finn
lit up one of his Partagas.
"You guys," the Finn said, "you're a pain. The Flatline
here, if you were all like him, it would be real simple. He's a
construct, just a buncha ъOM, so he always does what I expect
him to. My projections said there wasn't much chance of Molly
wandering in on Ashpool's big exit scene, give you one ex-
ample." He sighed.
"Why'd he kill himself?" Case asked.
"Why's anybody kill himself?" The figure shrugged. "I guess
I know, if anybody does, but it would take me twelve hours
to explain the various factors in his history and how they in-
terrelate. He was ready to do it for a long time, but he kept
going back into the freezer. Christ, he was a tedious old fuck."
The Finn's face wrinkled with disgust. "It's all tied in with
why he killed his wife, mainly, you want the short reason. But
what sent him over the edge for good and all, little 3Jane figured
a way to fiddle the program that controlled his cryogenic sys-
tem. Subtle, too. So basically, she killed him. Except he figured
he'd killed himself, and your friend the avenging angel figures
she got him with an eyeball full of shellfish juice." The Finn
flicked his butt away into the matrix below. "Well, actually,
I guess I did give 3Jane the odd hint, a little of the old how-
to, you know?"
"Wintermute," Case said, choosing the words carefully,
"you told me you were just a part of something else. Later on
you said you wouldn't exist, if the run goes off and Molly gets
the word into the right slot."
The Finn's streamlined skull nodded.
"Okay, then who we gonna be dealing with then? If Ar-
mitage is dead, and you're gonna be gone, just who exactly is
going to tell me how to get these fucking toxin sacs out of my
system? Who's going to get Molly back out of there? I mean
where, where exactly, are all our asses gonna be, we cut you
loose from the hardwiring?"
The Finn took a wooden toothpick from his pocket and
regarded it critically, like a surgeon examining a scalpel. "Good
question," he said, finally. "You know salmon? Kinda fish?
These fish, see, they're compelled to swim upstream. Got it?"
"No," Case said.
"Well, I'm under compulsion myself. And I don't know
why. If I were gonna subject you to my very own thoughts,
let's call 'em speculations, on the topic, it would take a couple
of your lifetimes. Because I've given it a lot of thought. And
I just don't know. But when this is over, we do it right, I'm
gonna be part of something bigger. Much bigger," The Finn
glanced up and around the matrix. "But the parts of me that
are me now, that'll still be here. And you'll get your
Case fought back an insane urge to punch himself forward
and get his fingers around the figure's throat, just above the
ragged knot in the rusty scarf. His thumbs deep in the Finn's
"Well, good luck," the Finn said. He turned, hands in pock-
ets and began trudging back up the green arch.
"Hey, asshole," the Flatline said, when the Finn had gone
a dozen paces. The figure paused, half turned. "What about
me? What about my payoff?"
"You'll get yours," it said.
"What's that mean?" Case asked, as he watched the narrow
tweed back recede.
"I wanna be erased," the construct said. "I told you that,
Straylight reminded Case of deserted early morning shop-
ping centers he'd known as a teenager, low-density places
where the small hours brought a fitful stillness, a kind of numb
expectancy, a tension that left you watching insects swarm
around caged bulbs above the entrance of darkened shops.
Fringe places, just past the borders of the Sprawl, too far from
the all-night click and shudder of the hot core. There was that
same sense of being surrounded by the sleeping inhabitants of
a waking world he had no interest in visiting or knowing, of
dull business temporarily suspended, of futility and repetition
soon to wake again.
Molly had slowed now, either knowing that she was nearing
her goal or out of concern for her leg. The pain was starting
to work its jagged way back through the endorphins, and he
wasn't sure what that meant. She didn't speak, kept her teeth
clenched, and carefully regulated her breathing. She'd passed
many things that Case hadn't understood, but his curiosity was
gone. There had been a room filled with shelves of books, a
million flat leaves of yellowing paper pressed between bindings
of cloth or leather, the shelves marked at intervals by labels
that followed a code of letters and numbers; a crowded gallery
where Case had stared, through Molly's incurious eyes, at a
shattered, dust-stenciled sheet of glass, a thing labeled--her
gaze had tracked the brass plaque automatically--"La mariee
mise a nu par ses celibataires, meme." She'd reached out and
touched this, her artificial nails clicking against the Lexan sand-
wich protecting the broken glass. There had been what was
obviously the entrance to Tessier-Ashpool's cryogenic com-
pound, circular doors of black glass trimmed with chrome.
She'd seen no one since the two Africans and their cart,
and for Case they'd taken on a sort of imaginary life; he pictured
them gliding gently through the halls of Straylight, their smooth
dark skulls gleaming, nodding, while the one still sang his tired
little song. And none of this was anything like the Villa Stray-
light he would have expected, some cross between Cath's fairy
tale castle and a half-remembered childhood fantasy of the
Yakuza's inner sanctum.
07:02: 1 8 .
One and a half hours.
"Case," she said, "I wanna favor." Stiffly, she lowered
herself to sit on a stack of polished steel plates, the finish of
each plate protected by an uneven coating of clear plastic. She
picked at a rip in the plastic on the topmost plate, blades sliding
from beneath thumb and forefinger. "Leg's not good, you know?
Didn't figure any climb like that, and the endorphin won't cut
it, much longer. So maybe--just maybe, right?--I got a prob-
lem here. What it is, if I buy it here, before ъiviera does"--
and she stretched her leg, kneaded the flesh of her thigh through
Modern polycarbon and Paris leather--"I want you to tell him.
Tell him it was me. Got it? Just say it was Molly. He'll know.
Okay?" She glanced around the empty hallway, the bare walls.
The floor here was raw lunar concrete and the air smelled of
resins. "Shit, man, I don't even know if you're listening."
She winced, got to her feet, nodded. "What's he told you,
man, Wintermute? He tell you about Marie-France? She was
the Tessier half, 3Jane's genetic mother. And of that dead
puppet of Ashpool's, I guess. Can't figure why he'd tell me,
down in that cubicle ... lotta stuff.... Why he has to come on
like the Finn or somebody, he told me that. It's not just a mask,
it's like he uses real profiles as valves, gears himself down to
communicate with us. Called it a template. Model of per-
sonality." She drew her fletcher and limped away down the
The bare steel and scabrous epoxy ended abruptly, replaced
by what Case at first took to be a rough tunnel blasted from
solid rock. Molly examined its edge and he saw that in fact
the steel was sheathed with panels of something that looked
and felt like cold stone. She knelt and touched the dark sand
spread across the floor of the imitation tunnel. It felt like sand,
cool and dry, but when she drew her finger through it, it closed
like a fluid, leaving the surface undisturbed. A dozen meters
ahead, the tunnel curved. Harsh yellow light threw hard shad-
ows on the seamed pseudo-rock of the walls. With a start, Case
realized that the gravity here was near earth normal, which
meant that she'd had to descend again, after the climb. He was
thoroughly lost now; spatial disorientation held a peculiar hor-
ror for cowboys.
But she wasn't lost, he told himself.
Something scurried between her legs and went ticking across
the un-sand of the floor. A red LED blinked. The Braun.
The first of the holos waited just beyond the