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way, mon?" Maelcum eyed the door and snapped
the shotgun's safety.
"Hey," Case said, more to himself than to Maelcum, "you
think I know?" The Braun rotated its spherical body and the
"It wan' you open door," Maelcum said, nodding.
Case stepped forward and tried the ornate brass knob. There
was a brass plate mounted on the door at eye level, so old that
the lettering that had once been engraved there had been re-
duced to a spidery, unreadable code, the name of some long
dead function or functionary, polished into oblivion. He won-
dered vaguely if Tessier-Ashpool had selected each piece of
Straylight individually, or if they'd purchased it in bulk from
some vast European equivalent of Metro Holografix. The door's
hinges creaked plaintively as he edged it open, Maelcum step-
ping past him with the ъemington thrust forward from his hip.
"Books," Maelcum said.
The library, the white steel shelves with their labels.
"I know where we are," Case said. He looked back at the
service cart. A curl of smoke was rising from the carpet. "So
come on," he said. "Cart. Cart?" It remained stationary. The
Braun was plucking at the leg of his jeans, nipping at his ankle.
He resisted a strong urge to kick it. "Yeah?"
It ticked its way around the door. He followed it.
The monitor in the library was another Sony, as old as the
first one. The Braun paused beneath it and executed a sort of
The familiar features filled the screen. The Finn smiled.
"Time to check in, Case," the Finn said, his eyes screwed
up against the smoke of a cigarette. "C'mon, jack."
The Braun threw itself against his ankle and began to climb
his leg, its manipulators pinching his flesh through the thin
black cloth. "Shit!" He slapped it aside and it struck the wall.
Two of its limbs began to piston repeatedly, uselessly, pumping
the air. "What's wrong with the goddam thing?"
"Burned out," the Finn said. "Forget it. No problem. lack
There were four sockets beneath the screen, but only one
would accept the Hitachi adaptor.
He jacked in.
Nothing. Gray void.
No matrix, no grid. No cyberspace.
The deck was gone. His fingers were. . .
And on the far rim of consciousness, a scurrying, a fleeting
impression of something rushing toward him, across leagues
of black mirror.
He tried to scream.
There seemed to be a city, beyond the curve of beach, but
it was far away.
He crouched on his haunches on the damp sand, his arms
wrapped tight across his knees, and shook.
He stayed that way for what seemed a very long time, even
after the shaking stopped. The city, if it was a city, was low
and gray. At times it was obscured by banks of mist that came
rolling in over the lapping surf. At one point he decided that
it wasn't a city at all, but some single building, perhaps a ruin;
he had no way of judging its distance. The sand was the shade
of tarnished silver that hadn't gone entirely black. The beach
was made of sand, the beach was very long, the sand was
damp, the bottoms of his jeans were wet from the sand.... He
held himself and rocked, singing a song without words or tune.
The sky was a different silver. Chiba. Like the Chiba sky.
Tokyo Bay? He turned his head and stared out to sea, longing
for the hologram logo of Fuji Electric, for the drone of a
helicopter, anything at all.
Behind him, a gull cried. He shivered.
A wind was rising. Sand stung his cheek. He put his face
against his knees and wept, the sound of his sobbing as distant
and alien as the cry of the searching gull. Hot urine soaked his
jeans, dribbled on the sand, and quickly cooled in the wind off
the water. When his tears were gone, his throat ached.
"Wintermute," he mumbled to his knees, "Wintermute. . ."
It was growing dark, now, and when he shivered, it was
with a cold that finally forced him to stand.
His knees and elbows ached. His nose was running; he wiped
it on the cuff of his jacket, then searched one empty pocket
after another. "Jesus," he said, shoulders hunched, tucking his
fingers beneath his arms for warmth. "Jesus." His teeth began
The tide had left the beach combed with patterns more subtle
than any a Tokyo gardener produced. When he'd taken a dozen
steps in the direction of the now invisible city, he turned and
looked back through the gathering dark. His footprints stretched
to the point of his arrival. There were no other marks to disturb
the tarnished sand.
He estimated that he'd covered at least a kilometer before
he noticed the light. He was talking with ъatz, and it was ъatz
who first pointed it out, an orange-red glow to his right, away
from the surf. He knew that ъatz wasn't there, that the bartender
was a figment of his own imagination, not of the thing he was
trapped in, but that didn't matter. He'd called the man up for
comfort of some kind, but ъatz had had his own ideas about
Case and his predicament.
"ъeally, my artiste, you amaze me. The lengths you will
go to in order to accomplish your own destruction. The re-
dundancy of it! In Night City, you had it, in the palm of your
hand! The speed to eat your sense away, drink to keep it all
so fluid, Linda for a sweeter sorrow, and the street to hold the
axe. How far you've come, to do it now, and what grotesque
props.... Playgrounds hung in space, castles hermetically sealed,
the rarest rots of old Europa, dead men sealed in little boxes
magic out of China...." ъatz laughed, trudging along beside
him, his pink manipulator swinging jauntily at his side. In spite
of the dark, Case could see the baroque steel that laced the
bartender's blackened teeth. "But I suppose that is the way of
an artiste, no? You needed this world built for you, this beach,
this place. To die."
Case halted, swayed, turned toward the sound of surf and
the sting of blown sand. "Yeah," he said. "Shit. I guess. . ."
He walked toward the sound.
"Artiste," he heard ъatz call. "The light. You saw a light.
Here. This way. . ."
He stopped again, staggered, fell to his knees in a few
millimeters of icy seawater. "ъatz? Light? ъatz. . ."
But the dark was total, now, and there was only the sound
of the surf. He struggled to his feet and tried to retrace his
Time passed. He walked on.
And then it was there, a glow, defining itself with his every
step. A rectangle. A door.
"Fire in there," he said, his words torn away by the wind.
It was a bunker, stone or concrete, buried in drifts of the
dark sand. The doorway was low, narrow, doorless, and deep,
set into a wall at least a meter thick. "Hey," Case said, softly,
"hey. . ." His fingers brushed the cold wall. There was a fire,
in there, shifting shadows on the sides of the entrance.
He ducked low and was through, inside, in three steps.
A girl was crouched beside rusted steel, a sort of fireplace,
where driftwood burned, the wind sucking smoke up a dented
chimney. The fire was the only light, and as his gaze met the
wide, startled eyes, he recognized her headband, a rolled scarf,
printed with a pattern like magnified circuitry.
He refused her arms, that night, refused the food she offered
him, the place beside her in the nest of blankets and shredded
foam. He crouched beside the door, finally, and watched her
sleep, listening to the wind scour the structure's walls. Every
hour or so, he rose and crossed to the makeshift stove, adding
fresh driftwood from the pile beside it. None of this was real,
but cold was cold.
She wasn't real, curled there on her side in the firelight. He
watched her mouth, the lips parted slightly. She was the girl
he remembered from their trip across the Bay, and that was
"Mean, motherfucker," he whispered to the wind. "Don't
take a chance, do you? Wouldn't give me any junkie, huh? I
know what this is...." He tried to keep the desperation from
his voice. "I know, see? I know who you are. You're the other
one. 3Jane told Molly. Burning bush. That wasn't Wintermute,
it was you. He tried to warn me off with the Braun. Now you
got me flatlined, you got me here. Nowhere. With a ghost.
Like I remember her before...."
She stirred in her sleep, called something out, drawing a
scrap of blanket across her shoulder and cheek.
"You aren't anything," he said to the sleeping girl. "You're
dead and you meant fuck-all to me anyway. Hear that, buddy?
I know what you're doing. I'm flatlined. This has all taken
about twenty seconds, right? I'm out on my ass in that library
and my brain's dead. And pretty soon it'll be dead, if you got
any sense. You don't want Wintermute to pull his scam off,
is all, so you can just hang me up here. Dixie'll run Kuang,
but his ass is dead and you can second guess his moves, sure.
This Linda shit, yeah, that's all been you, hasn't it? Wintermute
tried to use her when he sucked me into the Chiba construct,
but he couldn't. Said it was too tricky. That was you moved
the stars around in Freeside, wasn't it? That was you put her
face on the dead puppet in Ashpool's room. Molly never saw
that. You just edited her simstim signal. 'Cause you think you
can hurt me. 'Cause you think I gave a shit. Well, fuck you,
whatever you're called. You won. You win. But none of it
means anything to me now, right? Think I care? So why'd you
do it to me this way?" He was shaking again, his voice shrill.
"Honey," she said, twisting up from the rags of blankets,
"you come here and sleep. I'll sit up, you want. You gotta
sleep, okay?" Her soft accent was exaggerated with sleep. "You
just sleep, okay?"
When he woke, she was gone. The fire was dead, but it
was warm in the bunker, sunlight slanting through the doorway
to throw a crooked rectangle of gold on the ripped side of a
fat fiber canister. The thing was a shipping container; he
remembered them from the Chiba docks. Through the rent in
its side, he could see half a dozen bright yellow packets. In
the sunlight, they looked like giant pats of butter. His stomach
tightened with hunger. ъolling out of the nest, he went to the
canister and fished one of the things out, blinking at small print
in a dozen languages. The English was on the bottom. EMEъG.
ъATION, HI-PъO, "BEEF", TYPE AG-8. A listing of nutri-
tive content. He fumbled a second one out. "EGGS". "If you're
making this shit up," he said, "you could lay on some real
food, okay?" With a packet in either hand, he made his way
through the structure's four rooms. Two were empty, aside
from drifts of sand, and the fourth held three more of the ration
canisters. "Sure," he said touching the seals. "Stay here a long
time. I get the idea. Sure. . ."
He searched the room with the fireplace, finding a plastic
canister filled with what he assumed was rainwater. Beside the
nest of blankets, against the wall, lay a cheap red lighter, a
seaman's knife with a cracked green handle, and her scarf. It
was still knotted, and stiff with sweat and dirt. He used the
knife to open the yellow packets, dumping their contents into
a rusted can that he found beside the stove. He dipped water
from the canister, mixed the resulting mush with his fingers,
and ate. It tasted vaguely like beef. When it was gone, he
tossed the can into the fireplace and went out.
Late afternoon, by the feel of the sun, its angle. He kicked
off his damp nylon shoes and was startled by the warmth of
the sand. In daylight, the beach was silver-gray. The sky was
cloudless, blue. He rounded the comer of the bunker and walked
toward the surf, dropping his jacket on the sand. "Dunno whose
memories you're using for this one," he said when he reached
the water. He peeled off his jeans and kicked them into the
shallow surf, following them with t-shirt and underwear.
"What you doin', Case?"
He turned and found her ten meters down the beach, the
white foam sliding past her ankles.
"I pissed myself last night," he said.
"Well, you don't wanna wear those. Saltwater. Give you
sores. I'll show you this pool back in the rocks." She gestured
vaguely behind her. "It's fresh." The faded French fatigues
had been hacked away above the knee; the skin below was
smooth and brown. A breeze caught at her hair.
"Listen," he said, scooping his clothes up and walking to-
ward her, "I got a question for you. I won't ask you what
you're doing here. But what exactly do you think I'm doing
here?" He stopped, a wet black jeans-leg slapping against his
"You came last night," she said. She smiled at him.
"And that's enough for you? I just came?"
"He said you would," she said, wrinkling her nose. She
shrugged. "He knows stuff like that, I guess." She lifted her
left foot and rubbed salt from the other ankle, awkward, child-
like. She smiled at him again, more tentatively. "Now you
answer me one, okay?"
"How come you're painted brown like that, all except your
"And that's the last thing you remember?" He watched her
scrape the last of the freeze-dried hash from the rectangular
steel box cover that was their only plate.
She nodded, her eyes huge in the firelight. "I'm sorry, Case,
honest to God. It was just the shit, I guess, an' it was . . ." She
hunched forward, forearms across her knees, her face twisted
for a few seconds with pain or its memory. "I just needed the
money. To get home, I guess, or...hell," she said, "you
wouldn't hardly talk to me."
"There's no cigarettes?"
"Goddam, Case, you asked me that ten times today! What's
wrong with you?" She twisted a strand of hair into her mouth
and chewed at it.
"But the food was here? It was already here?"
"I told you, man, it was washed up on the damn beach."
"Okay. Sure. It's seamless."
She started to cry again, a dry sobbing. "Well, damn you
anyway, Case," she managed, finally, "I was doin' just fine
here by myself."
He got up, taking his jacket, and ducked through the door-
way, scraping his wrist on rough concrete. There was no moon,
no wind, sea sound all around him in the darkness. His jeans
were tight and clammy. "Okay," he said to the night, "I buy
it. I guess I buy it. But tomorrow some cigarettes better wash
up." His own laughter startled him. "A case of beer wouldn't
hurt, while you're at it." He turned and re-entered the bunker.
She was stirring the embers with a length of silvered wood.
"Who was that, Case, up in your coffin in Cheap Hotel? Flash
samurai with those silver shades, black leather. Scared me,
and after, I figured maybe she was your new girl, 'cept she
looked like more money than you had...." She glanced back
at him. "I'm real sorry I stole your ъAM."
"Never mind," he said. "Doesn't mean anything. So you
just took it over to this guy and had him access it for you?"
"Tony," she said. "I'd been seein' him, kinda. He had a
habit an' we . . . anyway, yeah, I remember him running it by
on this monitor, and it was this real amazing graphics stuff,
and I remember wonderin' how you--"
"There wasn't any graphics in there," he interrupted.
"Sure was. I just couldn't figure how you'd have all those
pictures of when I was little, Case. How my daddy looked,
before he left. Gimme this duck one time, painted wood, and
you had a picture of that...."
"Tony see it?"
"I don't remember. Next thing, I was on the beach, real
early, sunrise, those birds all yellin' so lonely. Scared 'cause
I didn't have a shot on me, nothin', an' I knew I'd be gettin'
sick.... An' I walked an' walked, 'til it was dark, an' found
this place, an' next day the food washed in, all tangled in the
green sea stuff like leaves of hard jelly." She slid her stick into
the embers and left it there. "Never did get sick," she said, as
embers crawled. "Missed cigarettes more. How 'bout you,
Case? You still wired?" Firelight dancing under her cheek-
bones, remembered flash of Wizard's Castle and Tank War
"No," he said, and then it no longer mattered, what he knew,
tasting the salt of her mouth where tears had dried. There was
a strength that ran in her, something he'd known in Night City
and held there, been held by it, held for a while away from
time and death, from the relentless Street that hunted them all.
It was a place he'd known before; not everyone could take him
there, and somehow he always managed to forget it. Something
he'd found and lost so many times. It belonged, he knew--
he remembered--as she pulled him down, to the meat, the
flesh the cowboys mocked. It was a vast thing, beyond know-
ing, a sea of information coded in spiral and pheromone, infinite
intricacy that only the body, in its strong blind way, could ever
The zipper hung, caught, as he opened the French fatigues,
the coils of toothed nylon clotted with salt. He broke it, some
tiny metal part shooting off against the wall as salt-rotten cloth
gave, and then he was in her, effecting the transmission of the
old message. Here, even here, in a place he knew for what it
was, a coded model of some stranger's memory, the drive held.
She shuddered against him as the stick caught fire, a leaping
flare that threw their locked shadows across the bunker wall.
Later, as they lay together, his hand between her thighs, he
remembered her on the beach, the white foam pulling at her
ankles, and he remembered what she had said.
"He told you I was coming," he said.
But she only rolled against him, buttocks against his thighs,
and put her hand over his, and muttered something out of
The music woke him, and at first it might have been the
beat of his own heart. He sat up beside her, pulling his jacket
over his shoulders in the predawn chill, gray light from the
doorway and the fire long dead.
His vision crawled with ghost hieroglyphs, translucent lines
of symbols arranging themselves against the neutral backdrop
of the bunker wall. He looked at the backs of his hands, saw
faint neon molecules crawling beneath the skin, ordered by the
unknowable code. He raised his right hand and moved it ex-
perimentally. It left a faint, fading trail of strobed afterimages.
The hair stood up along his arms and at the back of his
neck. He crouched there with his teeth bared and felt for the
music. The pulse faded, returned, faded....
"What's wrong?" She sat up, clawing hair from her eyes.
"Baby . . ."
"I feel ... like a drug.... You get that here?"
She shook her head, reached for him, her hands on his upper
"Linda, who told you? Who told you I'd come? Who?"
"On the beach," she said, something forcing her to look
away. "A boy. I see him on the beach. Maybe thirteen. He
"And what did he say?"
"He said you'd come. He said you wouldn't hate me. He
said we'd be okay here, and he told me where the rain pool
was. He looks Mexican."
"Brazilian," Case said, as a new wave of symbols washed
down the wall. "I think he's from ъio." He got to his feet and
began to struggle into his jeans.
"Case," she said, her voice shaking, "Case, where you
goin ' ?"
"I think I'll find that boy," he said, as the music came
surging back, still only a beat, steady and familiar, although
he couldn't place it in memory.
"I thought I saw something, when I got here. A city down
the beach. But yesterday it wasn't there. You ever seen that?"
He yanked his zipper up and tore at the impossible knot in his
shoelaces, finally tossing the shoes into the corner.
She nodded, eyes lowered. "Yeah. I see it sometimes."
"You ever go there, Linda?" He put his jacket on.
"No," she said, "but I tried. After I first came, an' I was
bored. Anyway, I figured it's a city, maybe I could find some
shit." She grimaced. "I wasn't even sick, I just wanted it. So
I took food in a can, mixed it real wet, because I didn't have
another can for water. An' I walked all day, an' I could see
it, sometimes, city, an' it didn't seem too far. But it never got
any closer. An' then it