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silk and a simple bracelet of platinum on either wrist. He was
flanked by his Joe boys, nearly identical young men, their arms
and shoulders bulging with grafted muscle.
"How you doing, Case?"
"Gentlemen," said ъatz, picking up the table's heaped ashtray
in his pink plastic claw, "I want no trouble here." The
ashtray was made of thick, shatterproof plastic, and advertised
Tsingtao beer. ъatz crushed it smoothly, butts and shards of
green plastic cascading onto the table top. "You understand?"
"Hey, sweetheart," said one of the Joe boys, "you wanna try
that thing on me?"
"Don't bother aiming for the legs, Kurt," ъatz said, his tone
conversational. Case glanced across the room and saw the Brazilian
standing on the bar, aiming a Smith & Wesson riot gun
at the trio. The thing's barrel, made of paper-thin alloy wrapped
with a kilometer of glass filament, was wide enough to swallow
a fist. The skeletal magazine revealed five fat orange cartridges,
subsonic sandbag jellies.
"Technically nonlethal," said ъatz.
"Hey, ъatz," Case said, "I owe you one."
The bartender shrugged. "Nothing, you owe me. These,"
and he glowered at Wage and the Joe boys, "should know better.
You don't take anybody off in the Chatsubo."
Wage coughed. "So who's talking about taking anybody
off? We just wanna talk business. Case and me, we work
Case pulled the .22 out of his pocket and level led it at
Wage's crotch. "I hear you wanna do me." ъatz's pink claw
closed around the pistol and Case let his hand go limp.
"Look, Case, you tell me what the fuck is going on with
you, you wig or something? What's this shit I'm trying to kill
you?" Wage turned to the boy on his left. "You two go back
to the Namban. Wait for me."
Case watched as they crossed the bar, which was now entirely
deserted except for Kurt and a drunken sailor in khakis,
who was curled at the foot of a barstool. The barrel of the
Smith & Wesson tracked the two to the door, then swung back
to cover Wage. The magazine of Case's pistol clattered on the
table. ъatz held the gun in his claw and pumped the round out
of the chamber.
"Who told you I was going to hit you, Case?" Wage asked.
"Who told you, man? Somebody trying to set you up?"
The sailor moaned and vomited explosively.
"Get him out of here," ъatz called to Kurt, who was sitting
on the edge of the bar now, the Smith & Wesson across his
lap, lighting a cigarette.
Case felt the weight of the night come down on him like a
bag of wet sand settling behind his eyes. He took the flask out
of his pocket and handed it to Wage. "All I got. Pituitaries.
Get you five hundred if you move it fast. Had the rest of my
roll in some ъAM, but that's gone by now."
"You okay, Case?" The flask had already vanished behind
a gunmetal lapel. "I mean, fine, this'll square us, but you look
bad. Like hammered shit. You better go somewhere and sleep."
"Yeah." He stood up and felt the Chat sway around him.
"Well, I had this fifty, but I gave it to somebody." He giggled.
He picked up the .22's magazine and the one loose cartridge
and dropped them into one pocket, then put the pistol in the
other. "I gotta see Shin, get my deposit back."
"Go home," said ъatz, shifting on the creaking chair with
something like embarrassment. "Artiste. Go home."
He felt them watching as he crossed the room and shouldered
his way past the plastic doors.
"Bitch," he said to the rose tint over Shiga. Down on Ninsei
the holograms were vanishing like ghosts, and most of the neon
was already cold and dead. He sipped thick black coffee from
a street vendor's foam thimble and watched the sun come up.
"You fly away, honey. Towns like this are for people who like
the way down." But that wasn't it, really, and he was finding
it increasingly hard to maintain the sense of betrayal. She just
wanted a ticket home, and the ъAM in his Hitachi would buy
it for her, if she could find the right fence. And that business
with the fifty; she'd almost turned it down, knowing she was
about to rip him for the rest of what he had.
When he climbed out of the elevator, the same boy was on
the desk. Different textbook. "Good buddy," Case called across
the plastic turf, "you don't need to tell me. I know already.
Pretty lady came to visit, said she had my key. Nice little tip
for you, say fifty New ones?" The boy put down his book.
"Woman," Case said, and drew a line across his forehead with
his thumb. "Silk." He smiled broadly. The boy smiled back,
nodded. "Thanks, ass hole," Case said.
On the catwalk, he had trouble with the lock. She'd messed
it up somehow when she'd fiddled it, he thought. Beginner.
He knew where to rent a black box that would open anything
in Cheap Hotel. Fluorescents came on as he crawled in.
"Close the hatch real slow, friend. You still got that Saturday
night special you rented from the waiter?"
She sat with her back to the wall, at the far end of the coffin.
She had her knees up, resting her wrists on them, the pepper box
muzzle of a flechette pistol emerged from her hands.
"That you in the arcade?" He pulled the hatch down.
"Hit that latch switch."
"That your girl? Linda?"
"She's gone. Took your Hitachi. ъeal nervous kid. What
about the gun, man?" She wore mirrored glasses. Her clothes
were black, the heels of black boots deep in the temper foam.
"I took it back to Shin, got my deposit. Sold his bullets
back to him for half what I paid. You want the money?"
"Want some dry ice? All I got, right now."
"What got into you tonight? Why'd you pull that scene at
the arcade? I had to mess up this rentacop came after me with
nun chucks. "
"Linda said you were gonna kill me."
"Linda said? I never saw her before I came up here."
"You aren't with Wage?"
She shook her head. He realized that the glasses were surgically
inset, sealing her sockets. The silver lenses seemed to
grow from smooth pale skin above her cheekbones, framed by
dark hair cut in a rough shag. The fingers curled around the
fletcher were slender, white, tipped with polished burgundy.
The nails looked artificial. "I think you screwed up, Case. I
showed up and you just fit me right into your reality picture."
"So what do you want, lady?" He sagged back against the
"You. One live body, brains still somewhat intact. Molly,
Case. My name's Molly. I'm collecting you for the man I work
for. Just wants to talk, is all. Nobody wants to hurt you "
"'Cept I do hurt people sometimes, Case. I guess it's just
the way I'm wired." She wore tight black glove leather jeans
and a bulky black jacket cut from some matte fabric that seemed
to absorb light. "If I put this dart gun away, will you be easy,
Case? You look like you like to take stupid chances."
"Hey, I'm very easy. I'm a pushover, no problem."
"That's fine, man." The fletcher vanished into the black
jacket. "Because you try to fuck around with me, you'll be
taking one of the stupidest chances of your whole life."
She held out her hands, palms up, the white fingers slightly
spread, and with a barely audible click, ten double-edged, four
centimeter scalpel blades slid from their housings beneath the
She smiled. The blades slowly withdrew.
After a year of coffins, the room on the twenty-fifth floor
of the Chiba Hilton seemed enormous. It was ten meters by
eight, half of a suite. A white Braun coffee maker steamed on
a low table by the sliding glass panels that opened onto a narrow
"Get some coffee in you. Look like you need it." She took
off her black jacket, the fletcher hung beneath her arm in a
black nylon shoulder rig. She wore a sleeveless gray pullover
with plain steel zips across each shoulder. Bulletproof, Case
decided, slopping coffee into a bright red mug. His arms and
legs felt like they were made out of wood.
"Case." He looked up, seeing the man for the first time.
"My name is Armitage." The dark robe was open to the waist,
the broad chest hairless and muscular, the stomach flat and
hard. Blue eyes so pale they made Case think of bleach. "Sun's
up, Case. This is your lucky day, boy."
Case whipped his arm sideways and the man easily ducked
the scalding coffee. Brown stain running down the imitation
rice paper wall. He saw the angular gold ring through the left
lobe. Special Forces. The man smiled.
"Get your coffee, Case," Molly said. "You're okay, but
you're not going anywhere 'til Armitage has his say." She sat
cross legged on a silk futon and began to fieldstrip the fletcher
without bothering to look at it. Twin mirrors tracking as he
crossed to the table and refilled his cup.
"Too young to remember the war, aren't you, Case?" Armitage
ran a large hand back through his cropped brown hair.
A heavy gold bracelet flashed on his wrist. "Leningrad, Kiev,
Siberia. We invented you in Siberia, Case."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Screaming Fist, Case. You've heard the name."
"Some kind of run, wasn't it? Tried to burn this ъussian
nexus with virus programs. Yeah, I heard about it. And nobody
He sensed abrupt tension. Armitage walked to the window
and looked out over Tokyo Bay. "That isn't true. One unit
made it back to Helsinki, Case."
Case shrugged, sipped coffee.
"You're a console cowboy. The prototypes of the programs
you use to crack industrial banks were developed for Screaming
Fist. For the assault on the Kirensk computer nexus. Basic
module was a Nightwing micro light, a pilot, a matrix deck, a
jockey. We were running a virus called Mole. The Mole series
was the first generation of real intrusion programs."
"Icebreakers," Case said, over the rim of the red mug.
"Ice from ICE, intrusion countermeasures electronics."
"Problem is, mister, I'm no jockey now, so I think I'll just
"I was there, Case; I was there when they invented your
"You got zip to do with me and my kind, buddy. You're
rich enough to hire expensive razor girls to haul my ass up here,
is all. I'm never gonna punch any deck again, not for you or
anybody else." He crossed to the window and looked down.
"That's where I live now."
"Our profile says you're trying to con the street into killing
you when you're not looking."
"We've built up a detailed model. Bought a go-to for each
of your aliases and ran the skim through some military software.
You're suicidal, Case. The model gives you a month on the
outside. And our medical projection says you'll need a new
pancreas inside a year."
"We." He met the faded blue eyes. "We who?"
"What would you say if I told you we could correct your
neural damage, Case'?" Armitage suddenly looked to Case as
if he were carved from a block of metal; inert, enormously
heavy. A statue. He knew now that this was a dream, and that
soon he'd wake. Armitage wouldn't speak again. Case's dreams
always ended in these freeze frames, and now this one was
"What would you say, Case?"
Case looked out over the Bay and shivered.
"I'd say you were full of shit."
"Then I'd ask what your terms were."
"Not very different than what you're used to, Case."
"Let the man get some sleep, Armitage," Molly said from
her futon, the components of the fletcher spread on the silk
like some expensive puzzle. "He's coming apart at the seams."
"Terms," Case said, "and now. ъight now."
He was still shivering. He couldn't stop shivering.
The clinic was nameless, expensively appointed, a cluster
of sleek pavilions separated by small formal gardens. He remembered
the place from the round he'd made his first month
"Scared, Case. You're real scared." It was Sunday afternoon
and he stood with Molly in a sort of courtyard. White boulders,
a stand of green bamboo, black gravel raked into smooth waves.
A gardener, a thing like a large metal crab, was tending the
"It'll work, Case. You got no idea, the kind of stuff Armitage
has. Like he's gonna pay these nerve boys for fixing
you with the program he's giving them to tell them how to do
it. He'll put them three years ahead of the competition. You
got any idea what that's worth?" She hooked thumbs in the
belt loops of her leather jeans and rocked backward on the
lacquered heels of cherry red cowboy boots. The narrow toes
were sheathed in bright Mexican silver. The lenses were empty
quicksilver, regarding him with an insect calm.
"You're street samurai," he said. "How long you work for
"Couple of months."
"What about before that?"
"For somebody else. Working girl, you know?"
"It's like I know you. That profile he's got. I know how
"You don't know me, sister."
"You're okay, Case. What got you, it's just called bad luck."
"How about him? He okay, Molly?" The robot crab moved
toward them, picking its way over the waves of gravel. Its
bronze carapace might have been a thousand years old. When
it was within a meter of her boots, it fired a burst of light, then
froze for an instant, analyzing data obtained.
"What I always think about first, Case, is my own sweet
ass." The crab had altered course to avoid her, but she kicked
it with a smooth precision, the silver boot-tip clanging on the
carapace. The thing fell on its back, but the bronze limbs soon
Case sat on one of the boulders, scuffing at the symmetry
of the gravel waves with the toes of his shoes. He began to
search his pockets for cigarettes. "In your shirt," she said.
"You want to answer my question?" He fished a wrinkled
Yeheyuan from the pack and she lit it for him with a thin slab
of German steel that looked as though it belonged on an operating
"Well, I'll tell you, the man's definitely on to something.
He's got big money now, and he's never had it before, and he
gets more all the time." Case noticed a certain tension around
her mouth. "Or maybe, maybe something's on to him...."
"What's that mean?"
"I don't know, exactly. I know I don't know who or what
we're really working for."
He stared at the twin mirrors. Leaving the Hilton, Saturday
morning, he'd gone back to Cheap Hotel and slept for ten hours .
Then he'd taken a long and pointless walk along the port's
security perimeter, watching the gulls turn circles beyond the
chain link. If she'd followed him, she'd done a good job of it.
He'd avoided Night City. He'd waited in the coffin for Armitage's
call. Now this quiet courtyard, Sunday afternoon, this
girl with a gymnast's body and conjurer's hands.
"If you'll come in now, sir, the anesthetist is waiting to
meet you." The technician bowed, turned, and reentered the
clinic without waiting to see if Case would follow.
Cold steel odor. Ice caressed his spine.
Lost, so small amid that dark, hands grown cold, body image
fading down corridors of television sky.
Then black fire found the branching tributaries of the nerves,
pain beyond anything to which the name of pain is given....
Hold still. Don't move.
And ъatz was there, and Linda Lee, Wage and Lonny Zone,
a hundred faces from the neon forest, sailors and hustlers and
whores, where the sky is poisoned silver, beyond chain link
and the prison of the skull.
Goddamn don't you move.
Where the sky faded from hissing static to the non color of
the matrix, and he glimpsed the shuriken, his stars.
"Stop it, Case, I gotta find your vein!"
She was straddling his chest, a blue plastic syrette in one
hand. "You don't lie still, I'll slit your fucking throat. You're
still full of endorphin inhibitors."
He woke and found her stretched beside him in the dark.
His neck was brittle, made of twigs. There was a steady
pulse of pain midway down his spine. Images formed and
reformed: a flickering montage of the Sprawl's towers and
ragged Fuller domes, dim figures moving toward him in the
shade beneath a bridge or overpass....
"Case? It's Wednesday, Case." She moved, rolling over,
reaching across him. A breast brushed his upper arm. He heard
her tear the foil seal from a bottle of water and drink. "Here."
She put the bottle in his hand. "I can see in the dark, Case.
Micro channel image-amps in my glasses."
"My back hurts."
"That's where they replaced your fluid. Changed your blood
too. Blood 'cause you got a new pancreas thrown into the deal.
And some new tissue patched into your liver. The nerve stuff
I dunno. Lot of injections. They didn't have to open anything
up for the main show." She settled back beside him. "It's
2:43:12 AM, Case. Got a readout chipped into my optic nerve."
He sat up and tried to sip from the bottle. Gagged, coughed,
lukewarm water spraying his chest and thighs.
"I gotta punch deck, ' he heard himself say. He was groping
for his clothes. "I gotta know...."
She laughed. Small strong hands gripped his upper arms.
"Sorry, hotshot. Eight day wait. Your nervous system would
fall out on the floor if you jacked in now. Doctor's orders.
Besides, they figure it worked. Check you in a day or so." He
lay down again.
"Where are we?"
"Home. Cheap Hotel."
"Hilton, selling beads to the natives or something. We're
out of here soon, man. Amsterdam, Paris, then back to the
Sprawl." She touched his shoulder. "ъoll over. I give a good
He lay on his stomach, arms stretched forward, tips of his
fingers against the walls of the coffin. She settled over the
small of his back, kneeling on the temper foam, the leather
jeans cool against his skin. Her fingers brushed his neck.
"How come you're not at the Hilton?"
She answered him by reaching back, between his thighs
and gently encircling his scrotum with thumb and forefinger.
She rocked there for a minute in the dark, erect above him,
her other hand on his neck. The leather of her jeans creaked
softly with the movement. Case shifted, feeling himself harden
against the temper foam.
His head throbbed, but the brittleness in his neck seemed
to retreat. He raised himself on one elbow, rolled, sank back
against the foam, pulling her down, licking her breasts, small
hard nipples sliding wet across his cheek. He found the zip on
the leather jeans and tugged it down.
"It's okay," she said, "I can see." Sound of the jeans peeling
down. She struggled beside him until she could kick them away.
She threw a leg across him and he touched her face. Unexpected
hardness of the implanted lenses. "Don't," she said, "fingerprints."
Now she straddled him again, took his hand, and closed it
over her, his thumb along the cleft of her buttocks, his fingers
spread across the labia. As she began to lower herself, the
images came pulsing back, the faces, fragments of neon arriving
and receding. She slid down around him and his back arched
convulsively. She rode him that way, impaling herself, slipping
down on him again and again, until they both had come, his
orgasm flaring blue in a timeless space, a vastness like the
matrix, where the faces were shredded and blown away down
hurricane corridors, and her inner thighs were strong and wet
against his hips.
On Nisei, a thinner, weekday version of the crowd went
through the motions of the dance. Waves of sound rolled from
the arcades and pachinko parlors. Case glanced into the Chat
and saw Zone watching over his girls in the warm, beer-smelling
twilight. ъatz was tending bar.
"You seen Wage, ъatz?"
"Not tonight." ъatz made a point of raising an eyebrow at
"You see him, tell him I got his money."
"Luck changing, my artiste?"
"Too soon to tell."
"Well, I gotta see this guy," Case said, watching his reflection
in her glasses. "I got biz to cancel out of."
"Armitage won't like it, I let you out of my sight." She
stood beneath Deane's melting clock, hands on her hips.
"The guy won't talk to me if you're there. Deane I