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curve, a sort
of triptych. She lowered the fletcher before Case had had time
to realize that the thing was a recording. The figures were
caricatures in light, lifesize cartoons: Molly, Armitage, and
Case . Molly' s breasts were too large, visible through tight black
mesh beneath a heavy leather jacket. Her waist was impossibly
narrow. Silvered lenses covered half her face. She held an
absurdly elaborate weapon of some kind, a pistol shape nearly
lost beneath a flanged overlay of scope sights, silencers, flash
hiders. Her legs were spread, pelvis canted forward, her mouth
fixed in a leer of idiotic cruelty. Beside her, Armitage stood
rigidly at attention in a threadbare khaki uniform. His eyes,
Case saw, as Molly stepped carefully forward, were tiny mon-
itor screens, each one displaying the blue-gray image of a
howling waste of snow, the stripped black trunks of evergreens
bending in silent winds.
She passed the tips of her fingers through Armitage's tele-
vision eyes, then turned to the figure of Case. Here, it was as
if ъiviera--and Case had known instantly that ъiviera was
responsible--had been unable to find anything worthy of par-
ody. The figure that slouched there was a fair approximation
of the one he glimpsed daily in mirrors. Thin, high-shouldered,
a forgettable face beneath short dark hair. He needed a shave,
but then he usually did.
Molly stepped back. She looked from one figure to another.
rt was a static display, the only movement the silent gusting
of the black trees in Armitage's frozen Siberian eyes.
"Tryin' to tell us something, Peter?" she asked softly. Then
she stepped forward and kicked at something between the feet
of the holo-Molly. Metal clinked against the wall and the figures
were gone. She bent and picked up a small display unit. "Guess
he can Jack into these and program them direct," she said,
tossing it away.
She passed the source of yellow light, an archaic incandes-
cent globe set into the wall, protected by a rusty curve of
expansion grating. The style of the improvised fixture sug-
gested childhood, somehow. He remembered fortresses he'd
built with other children on rooftops and in flooded sub-base-
ments. A rich kid's hideout, he thought. This kind of roughness
was expensive. What they called atmosphere.
She passed a dozen more holograms before she reached the
entrance to 3Jane's apartments. One depicted the eyeless thing
in the alley behind the Spice Bazaar, as it tore itself free of
ъiviera's shattered body. Several others were scenes of torture,
the inquisitors always military officers and the victims invari-
ably young women. These had the awful intensity of ъiviera's
show at the Vingtieme Siecle, as though they had been frozen
in the blue flash of orgasm. Molly looked away as she passed
The last was small and dim, as if it were an image ъiviera
had had to drag across some private distance of memory and
time. She had to kneel to examine it; it had been projected
from the vantage point of a small child. None of the others
had had backgrounds; the figures, uniforms, instruments of
torture, all had been freestanding displays. But this was a view.
A dark wave of rubble rose against a colorless sky, beyond
its crest the bleached, half-melted skeletons of city towers. The
rubble wave was textured like a net, rusting steel rods twisted
gracefully as fine string, vast slabs of concrete still clinging
there. The foreground might once have been a city square;
there was a sort of stump, something that suggested a fountain.
At its base, the children and the soldier were frozen. The tableau
was confusing at first. Molly must have read it correctly before
Case had quite assimilated it, because he felt her tense. She
spat, then stood.
Children. Feral, in rags. Teeth glittering like knives. Sores
on their contorted faces. The soldier on his back, mouth and
throat open to the sky. They were feeding.
"Bonn," she said, something like gentleness in her voice.
"Quite the product, aren't you, Peter? But you had to be. Our
3Jane, she's too jaded now to open the back door for just any
petty thief. So Wintermute dug you up. The ultimate taste, if
your taste runs that way. Demon lover. Peter." She shivered.
"But you talked her into letting me in. Thanks. Now we're
And then she was walking--strolling, really, in spite of the
pain--away from ъiviera's childhood. She drew the fletcher
from its holster, snapped the plastic magazine out, pocketed
that, and replaced it with another. She hooked her thumb in
the neck of the Modern suit and ripped it open to the crotch
with a single gesture, her thumb blade parting the tough po-
lycarbon like rotten silk. She freed herself from the arms and
legs, the shredded remnants disguising themselves as they fell
to the dark false sand.
Case noticed the music then. A music he didn't know, all
horns and piano.
The entrance to 3Jane's world had no door. It was a ragged
five-meter gash in the tunnel wall, uneven stairs leading down
in a broad shallow curve. Faint blue light, moving shadows,
"Case," she said, and paused, the fletcher in her right hand.
Then she raised her left, smiled, touched her open palm with
a wet tongue tip, kissing him through the simstim link. "Gotta
Then there was something small and heavy in her left hand,
her thumb against a tiny stud, and she was descending.
She missed it by a fraction. She nearly cut it, but not quite.
She went in just right, Case thought. The right attitude; it was
something he could sense, something he could have seen in
the posture of another cowboy leaning into a deck, fingers
flying across the board. She had it: the thing, the moves. And
she'd pulled it all together for her entrance. Pulled it together
around the pain in her leg and marched down 3Jane's stairs
like she owned the place, elbow of her gun arm at her hip,
forearm up, wrist relaxed, swaying the muzzle of the fletcher
with the studied nonchalance of a ъegency duelist.
It was a performance. It was like the culmination of a life-
time's observation of martial arts tapes, cheap ones, the kind
Case had grown up on For a few seconds, he knew, she was
every bad-ass hero, Sony Mao in the old Shaw videos, Mickey
Chiba, the whole lineage back to Lee and Eastwood. She was
walking it the way she talked it.
Lady 3Jane Marie-France Tessier-Ashpool had carved her-
self a low country flush with the inner surface of Straylight's
hull, chopping away the maze of walls that was her legacy.
She lived in a single room so broad and deep that its far reaches
were lost to an inverse horizon, the floor hidden by the cur-
vature of the spindle. The ceiling was low and irregular, done
in the same imitation stone that walled the corridor. Here and
there across the floor were jagged sections of wall, waist-high
reminders of the labyrinth. There was a rectangular turquoise
pool centered ten meters from the foot of the stairway, its
underwater floods the apartment's only source of light--or it
seemed that way, to Case, as Molly took her final step. The
pool threw shifting blobs of light across the ceiling above it.
They were waiting by the pool.
He'd known that her reflexes were souped up, jazzed by
the neurosurgeons for combat, but he hadn't experienced them
on the simstim link. The effect was like tape run at half speed,
a slow, deliberate dance choreographed to the killer instinct
and years of training. She seemed to take the three of them in
at a glance: the boy poised on the pool's high board, the girl
grinning ove her wineglass, and the corpse of Ashpool, his
left socket gaping black and corrupt above his welcoming smile.
He wore his maroon robe. His teeth were very white.
The boy dove. Slender, brown, his form perfect. The gre-
nade left her hand before his hands could cut the water. Case
knew the thing for what it was as it broke the surface: a core
of high explosive wrapped with ten meters of fine, brittle steel
Her fletcher whined as she sent a storm of explosive darts
into Ashpool's face and chest, and he was gone, smoke curling
from the pocked back of the empty, white-enameled pool chair.
The muzzle swung for 3Jane as the grenade detonated, a
symmetrical wedding cake of water rising, breaking, falling
back, but the mistake had been made.
Hideo didn't even touch her, then. Her leg collapsed.
In Garvey, Case screamed.
"It took you long enough," ъiviera said, as he searched her
pockets. Her hands vanished at the wrists in a matte black
sphere the size of a bowling ball. "I saw a multiple assassination
in Ankara," he said, his fingers plucking things from her jacket,
"a grenade job. In a pool. It seemed a very weak explosion,
but they all died instantly of hydrostatic shock." Case felt her
move her fingers experimentally. The material of the ball seemed
to offer no more resistance than temperfoam. The pain in her
leg was excruciating, impossible. A red moire shifted in her
vision. "I wouldn't move them, if I were you." The interior
of the ball seemed to tighten slightly. "It' s a sex toy Jane bought
in Berlin. Wiggle them long enough and it crushes them to a
pulp. Variant of the material they make this flooring from.
Something to do with the molecules, I suppose. Are you in
"You seem to have injured your leg." His fingers found the
flat packet of drugs in the left back pocket of her jeans. "Well.
My last taste from Ali, and just in time."
The shifting mesh of blood began to whirl.
"Hideo," said another voice, a woman's, "she's losing con-
sciousness. Give her something. For that and for the pain. She's
very striking, don't you think, Peter? These glasses, are they
a fashion where she comes from?"
Cool hands, unhurried, with a surgeon's certainty. The sting
of a needle.
"I wouldn't know," ъiviera was saying. "I've never seen
her native habitat. They came and took me from Turkey."
"The Sprawl, yes. We have interests there. And once we
sent Hideo. My fault, really. I'd let someone in, a burglar. He
took the family terminal." She laughed. "I made it easy for
him. To annoy the others. He was a pretty boy, my burglar.
Is she waking, Hideo? Shouldn't she have more?"
"More and she would die," said a third voice.
The blood mesh slid into black.
The music returned, horns and piano. Dance music.
C A S E : : : : :
: : : : : J A C K
O U T : : : : : :
Afterimages of the flashed words danced across Maelcum's
eyes and creased forehead as Case removed the trodes.
"You scream, mon, while ago."
"Molly," he said, his throat dry. "Got hurt." He took a white
plastic squeeze bottle from the edge of the g-web and sucked
out a mouthful of flat water. "I don't like how any of this shit
The little Cray monitor lit. The Finn, against a background
of twisted, impacted junk. "Neither do 1. We gotta problem."
Maelcum pulled himself up, over Case's head, twisted, and
peered over his shoulder. "Now who is that mon, Case?"
"That's just a picture, Maelcum," Case said wearily. "Guy
I know in the Sprawl. It's Wintermute talking. Picture's sup-
posed to make us feel at home."
"Bullshit," the Finn said. "Like I told Molly, these aren't
masks. I need 'em to talk to you. 'Cause I don't have what
you'd think of as a personality, much. But all that's just pissing
in the wind, Case, 'cause, like I just said, we gotta problem."
"So express thyself, Mute," Maelcum said.
"Molly's leg's falling off, for starts. Can't walk. How it
was supposed to go down, she'd walk in, get Peter out of the
way, talk the magic word outa 3Jane, get up to the head, and
say it. Now she's blown it. So I want you two to go in after
Case stared at the face on the screen. "Us?"
"So who else?"
"Aerol," Case said, "the guy on Babylon ъocker, Mael-
"No. Gotta be you. Gotta be somebody who understands
Molly, who understands ъiviera. Maelcum for muscle."
"You maybe forget that I'm in the middle of a little run,
here. ъemember? What you hauled my ass out here for...."
"Case, listen up. Time's tight. Very tight. Listen. The real
link between your deck and Straylight is a sideband broadcast
over Garvey's navigation system. You'll take Garvey into a
very private dock I'll show you. The Chinese virus has com-
pletely penetrated the fabric of the Hosaka. There's nothing in
the Hosaka but virus now. When you dock, the virus will be
interfaced with the Straylight custodial system and we'll cut
the sideband. You'll take your deck, the Flatline, and Maelcum .
You'll find 3Jane, get the word out of her, kill ъiviera, get
the key from Molly. You can keep track of the program by
jacking your deck into the Straylight system. I'll handle it for
you. There's a standard jack in the back of the head, behind
a panel with five zircons."
Case blinked at the representation of the Finn. He felt Mael-
cum put his hand on his shoulder. "Hey. You forget some-
thing." He felt the rage rising, and a kind of glee. "You fucked
up. You blew the controls on the grapples when you blew
Armitage. Haniwa's got us good and tight. Armitage fried the
other Hosaka and the mainframes went with the bridge, right?"
The Finn nodded.
"So we're stuck out here. And that means you're fucked
man." He wanted to laugh, but it caught in his throat.
"Case, mon," Maelcum said softly, "Garvey a tug."
"That's right," said the Finn, and smiled.
"You havin' fun in the big world outside?" the construct
asked, when Case jacked back in. "Figured that was Winter-
mute requestin' the pleasure...."
"Yeah. You bet. Kuang okay?"
"Bang on. Killer virus."
"Okay. Got some snags, but we're working on it."
"You wanna tell me, maybe?"
"Don't have time."
"Well, boy, never mind me, I'm just dead anyway."
"Fuck off," Case said, and flipped, cutting off the torn-
fingernail edge of the Flatline's laughter.
"She dreamed of a state involving very little in the way of
individual consciousness," 3Jane was saying. She cupped a
large cameo in her hand, extending it toward Molly. The carved
profile was very much like her own. "Animal bliss. I think she
viewed the evolution of the forebrain as a sort of sidestep."
She withdrew the brooch and studied it, tilting it to catch the
light at different angles. "Only in certain heightened modes
would an individual--a clan member--suffer the more pain-
ful aspects of self-awareness. . ."
Molly nodded. Case remembered the injection. What had
they given her? The pain was still there, but it came through
as a tight focus of scrambled impressions. Neon worms writhing
in her thigh, the touch of burlap, smell of frying krill--his
mind recoiled from it. If he avoided focusing on it, the impres-
sions overlapped, became a sensory equivalent of white noise.
If it could do that to her nervous system, what would her frame
of mind be?
Her vision was abnormally clear and bright, even sharper
than usual. Things seemed to vibrate, each person or object
tuned to a minutely different frequency. Her hands, still locked
in the black ball, were on her lap. She sat in one of the pool
chairs, her broken leg propped straight in front of her on a
camelskin hassock. 3Jane sat opposite, on another hassock,
huddled in an oversized djellaba of unbleached wool. She was
"Where'd he go?" Molly asked. "To take his shot?"
3Jane shrugged beneath the folds of the pale heavy robe and
tossed a strand of dark hair away from her eyes. "He told me
when to let you in," she said. "He wouldn't tell me why.
Everything has to be a mystery. Would you have hurt us?"
Case felt Molly hesitate. "I would've killed him. I'd've tried
to kill the ninja. Then I was supposed to talk with you."
"Why?" 3Jane asked, tucking the cameo back into one of
the djellaba's inner pockets. "And why? And what about?"
Molly seemed to be studying the high, delicate bones, the
wide mouth, the narrow hawk nose. 3Jane's eyes were dark,
curiously opaque. "Because I hate him," she said at last, "and
the why of that's just the way I'm wired, what he is and what
"And the show," 3Jane said. "I saw the show."
"Because they're the best. Because one of them killed a
partner of mine, once."
3Jane became very grave. She raised her eyebrows.
"Because I had to see," Molly said.
"And then we would have talked, you and I? Like this?"
Her dark hair was very straight, center-parted, drawn back into
a knot of dull sterling. "Shall we talk now?"
"Take this off," Molly said, raising her captive hands.
"You killed my father," 3Jane said, no change whatever in
her tone. "I was watching on the monitors. My mother's eyes,
he called them."
"He killed the puppet. It looked like you."
"He was fond of broad gestures," she said, and then ъiviera
was beside her, radiant with drugs, in the seersucker convict
outfit he'd worn in the roof garden of their hotel.
"Getting acquainted? She's an interesting girl, isn't she? I
thought so when I first saw her." He stepped past 3Jane. "It
isn't going to work, you know."
"Isn't it, Peter?" Molly managed a grin.
"Wintermute won't be the first to have made the same mis-
take. Underestimating me." He crossed the tiled pool border
to a white enamel table and splashed mineral water into a heavy
crystal highball glass. "He talked with me, Molly. I suppose
he talked to all of us. You, and Case, whatever there is of
Armitage to talk to. He can't really understand us, you know.
He has his profiles, but those are only statistics. You may be
the statistical animal, darling, and Case is nothing but, but I
possess a quality unquantifiable by its very nature." He drank.
"And what exactly is that, Peter?" Molly asked, her voice
ъiviera beamed. "Perversity." He walked back to the two
women, swirling the water that remained in the dense, deeply
carved cylinder of rock crystal, as though he enjoyed the weight
of the thing. "An enjoyment of the gratuitous act. And I have
made a decision, Molly, a wholly gratuitous decision."
She waited, looking up at him.
"Oh, Peter," 3Jane said, with the sort of gentle exasperation
ordinarily reserved for children.
"No word for you, Molly. He told me about that you see.
3Jane knows the code, of course, but you won't have it. Neither
will Wintermute. My Jane's an ambitious girl, in her perverse
way." He smiled again. "She has designs on the family empire,
and a pair of insane artificial intelligences, kinky as the concept
may be, would only get in our way. So. Comes her ъiviera to
help her out, you see. And Peter says, sit tight. Play Daddy's
favorite swing records and let Peter call you up a band to match,
a floor of dancers, a wake for dead King Ashpool." He drank
off the last of the mineral water. "No, you wouldn't do, Daddy,
you would not do. Now that Peter's come home." And then,
his face pink with the pleasure of cocaine and meperidine, he
swung the glass hard into her left lens implant, smashing vision
into blood and light.
Maelcum was prone against the cabin ceiling when Case
removed the trodes. A nylon sling around his waist was fastened
to the panels on either side with shock cords and gray rubber
suction pads. He had his shirt off and was working on a central
panel with a clumsy-looking zero-g wrench, the thing's fat
countersprings twanging as he removed another hexhead. Mar-
cus Garvey was groaning and ticking with g-stress.
"The Mute takin' I an' I dock," the Zionite said, popping
the hexhead into a mesh pouch at his waist. "Maelcum pilot
th' landin', meantime need we tool f' th' job."
"You keep tools back there?" Case craned his neck and
watched cords of muscle bunching in the brown back.
"This one," Maelcum said, sliding a long bundle wrapped
in black poly from the space behind the panel.