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her fingers moved again: wait. "And you don't
care that much anyway. I saw you stroking that Sendai; man,
it was pornographic." She laughed.
"So what's he got on you? How's he got the working girl
"-Professional pride, baby, that's all." And again the sign
for silence. "We're gonna get some breakfast, okay? Eggs, real
bacon. Probably kill you, you been eating that rebuilt Chiba
krill for so long. Yeah, come on, we'll tube in to Manhattan
and get us a real breakfast."
Lifeless neon spelled out METъO HOLOGъAFIX in dusty
capitals of glass tubing. Case picked at a shred of bacon that
had lodged between his front teeth. He'd given up asking her
where they were going and why; jabs in the ribs and the sign
for silence were all he'd gotten in reply. She talked about the
season's fashions, about sports, about a political scandal in
California he'd never heard of.
He looked around the deserted dead end street. A sheet of
newsprint went cart wheeling past the intersection. Freak winds
in the East side; something to do with convection, and an
overlap in the domes. Case peered through the window at the
dead sign. Her Sprawl wasn't his Sprawl? he decided. She'd
led him through a dozen bars and clubs he'd never seen before,
taking care of business, usually with no more than a nod.
Something was moving in the shadows behind METъO
The door was a sheet of corrugated roofing. In front of it,
Molly's hands flowed through an intricate sequence of jive that
he couldn't follow. He caught the sign for cash, a thumb brushing
the tip of the forefinger. The door swung inward and sheled
him into the smell of dust. They stood in a clearing, dense
tangles of junk rising on either side to walls lined with shelves
of crumbling paperbacks. The junk looked like something that
had grown there, a fungus of twisted metal and plastic. He
could pick out individual objects, but then they seemed to blur
back into the mass: the guts of a television so old it was studded
with the glass stumps of vacuum tubes, a crumpled dish antenna,
a brown fiber canister stuffed with corroded lengths of
alloy tubing. An enormous pile of old magazines had cascaded
into the open area, flesh of lost summers staring blindly up as
he followed her back through a narrow canyon of impacted
scrap. He heard the door close behind them. He didn't look
The tunnel ended with an ancient Army blanket tacked across
a doorway. White light flooded out as Molly ducked past it.
Four square walls of blank white plastic, ceiling to match,
floored with white hospital tile molded in a non slip pattern of
small raised disks. In the center stood a square, white-painted
wooden table and four white folding chairs.
The man who stood blinking now in the doorway behind
them, the blanket draping one shoulder like a cape, seemed to
have been designed in a wind tunnel. His ears were very small,
plastered flat against his narrow skull, and his large front teeth,
revealed in something that wasn't quite a smile, were canted
sharply backward. He wore an ancient tweed jacket and held
a handgun of some kind in his left hand. He peered at them,
blinked, and dropped the gun into a jacket pocket. He gestured
to Case, pointed at a slab of white plastic that leaned near the
doorway. Case crossed to it and saw that it was a solid sandwich
of circuitry, nearly a centimeter thick. He helped the man lift
it and position it in the doorway. Quick, nicotine-stained fingers
secured it with a white velcro border. A hidden exhaust fan
began to purr.
"Time," the man said, straightening up, "and counting. You
know the rate, Moll."
"We need a scan, Finn. For implants."
"So get over there between the pylons. Stand on the tape.
Straighten up, yeah. Now turn around, gimme a full threesixty."
Case watched her rotate between two fragile-looking
stands studded with sensors. The man took a small monitor
from his pocket and squinted at it. "Something new in your
head, yeah. Silicon. coat of pyrolitic carbons. A clock, right?
Your glasses gimme the read they always have, low-temp isotropic
carbons. Better biocompatibility with pyrolitics, but
that's your business, right? Same with your claws."
"Get over here, Case." He saw a scuffed X in black on the
white floor. "Turn around. Slow."
"Guy's a virgin." The man shrugged. "Some cheap dental
work, is all."
"You read for biologicals?" Molly unzipped her green vest
and took off the dark glasses.
"You think this is the Mayo? Climb on the table, kid, we'll
run a little biopsy." He laughed, showing more of his yellow
teeth. "Nah. Finn's word, sweetmeat, you got no little bugs,
no cortex bombs. You want me to shut the screen down?"
"Just for as long as it takes you to leave, Finn. Then we'll
want full screen for as long as we want it."
"Hey, that's fine by the Finn, Moll. You're only paying by
They sealed the door behind him and Molly turned one of
the white chairs around and sat on it, chin resting on crossed
forearms. "We talk now. This is as private as I can afford."
"What we're doing."
"What are we doing?"
"Working for Armitage."
"And you're saying this isn't for his benefit?"
"Yeah. I saw your profile, Case. And I've seen the rest of
our shopping list, once. You ever work with the dead?"
"No." He watched his reflection in her glasses. "I could, I
guess. I'm good at what I do." The present tense made him
"You know that the Dixie Flatline's dead?"
He nodded. "Heart, I heard."
"You'll be working with his construct." She smiled. "Taught
you the ropes, huh? Him and Quine. I know Quine, by the
way. ъeal asshole."
"Somebody's got a recording of McCoy Pauley? Who?"
Now Case sat, and rested his elbows on the table. "I can't see
it. He'd never have sat still for it."
"Sense/Net. Paid him mega, you bet your ass."
"Quine dead too?"
"No such luck. He's in Europe. He doesn't come into this."
"Well, if we can get the Flatline, we're home free. He was
the best. You know he died brain death three times?"
"Flat lined on his EEG. Showed me tapes. 'Boy, I was daid.' "
"Look, Case, I been trying to suss out who it is is backing
Armitage since I signed on. But it doesn't feel like a zaibatsu,
a government, or some Yakuza subsidiary. Armitage gets orders.
Like something tells him to go off to Chiba, pick up a
pillhead who's making one last wobble throught the burnout
belt, and trade a program for the operation that'll fix him up.
We could a bought twenty world class cowboys for what the
market was ready to pay for that surgical program. You were
good, but not that good...." She scratched the side of her
"Obviously makes sense to somebody," he said. "Somebody
"Don't let me hurt your feelings." She grinned. "We're
gonna be pulling one hardcore run, Case, just to get the Flatline's
construct. Sense/Net has it locked in a library vault uptown.
Tighter than an eel's ass, Case. Now, Sense/Net, they
got all their new material for the fall season locked in there
too. Steal that and we'd be richer than shit. But no, we gotta
get us the Flatline and nothing else. Weird."
"Yeah, it's all weird. You're weird, this hole's weird, and
who's the weird little gopher outside in the hall?"
"Finn's an old connection of mine. Fence, mostly. Software.
This privacy biz is a sideline. But I got Armitage to let him
be our tech here, so when he shows up later, you never saw
him. Got it?"
"So what's Armitage got dissolving inside you?"
"I'm an easy make." She smiled. "Anybody any good at
what they do, that's what they are, right? You gotta jack, I
He stared at her. "So tell me what you know about Armitage."
"For starters, nobody named Armitage took part in any
Screaming Fist. I checked. But that doesn't mean much. He
doesn't look like any of the pics of the guys who got out." She
shrugged. "Big deal. And starters is all I got." She drummed
her nails on the back of the chair. "But you are a cowboy,
aren't you? I mean, maybe you could have a little look around."
"He'd kill me."
"Maybe. Maybe not. I think he needs you, Case, and real
bad. Besides, you're a clever john, no? You can winkle him,
"What else is on that list you mentioned?"
"Toys. Mostly for you. And one certified psychopath name
of Peter ъiviera. ъeal ugly customer."
"Dunno. But he's one sick fuck, no lie. I saw his profile."
She made a face. "God awful." She stood up and stretched,
catlike. "So we got an axis going, boy? We're together in this?
Case looked at her. "I gotta lotta choice, huh?"
She laughed. "You got it, cowboy."
"The matrix has its roots in primitive arcade games," said
the voice-over, "in early graphics programs and military experimentation
with cranial jacks." On the Sony, a two-dimensional
space war faded behind a forest of mathematically
generated ferns, demonstrating the spacial possibilities of logarithmic
spirals- cold blue military footage burned through, lab
animals wired into test systems, helmets feeding into fire con.
trot circuits of tanks and war planes. "Cyberspace. A consensual
hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate
operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical
concepts . . . A graphic representation of data abstracted
from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable
complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non space of
the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights,
"What's that?" Molly asked, as he flipped the channel selector.
"Kid's show." A discontinuous flood of images as the selector
cycled. "Off," he said to the Hosaka.
"You want to try now, Case?"
Wednesday. Eight days from waking in Cheap Hotel with
Molly beside him. "You want me to go out, Case? Maybe
easier for you, alone...." He shook his head.
"No. Stay, doesn't matter." He settled the black terry sweatband
across his forehead, careful not to disturb the flat Sendai
dermatrodes. He stared at the deck on his lap, not really seeing
it, seeing instead the shop window on Ninsei, the chromed
shuriken burning with reflected neon. He glanced up; on the
wall, just above the Sony, he'd hung her gift, tacking it there
with a yellow-headed drawing pin through the hole at its center.
closed his eyes.
Found the ridged face of the power stud.
And in the bloodlit dark behind his eyes, silver phosphenes
boiling in from the edge of space, hypnagogic images jerking
past like film compiled from random frames. Symbols, figures,
faces, a blurred, fragmented mandala of visual information.
Please, he prayed, now--
A gray disk, the color of Chiba sky.
Disk beginning to rotate, faster, becoming a sphere of palergray.
Expanding-- And flowed, flowered for him, fluid neon origami trick,
the unfolding of his distance less home, his country, transparent
3D chessboard extending to infinity. Inner eye opening to the
stepped scarlet pyramid of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority
burning beyond the green cubes of Mitsubishi Bank of
America, and high and very far away he saw the spiral arms
of military systems, forever beyond his reach.
And somewhere he was laughing, in a white-painted loft,
distant fingers caressing the deck, tears of release streaking his
Molly was gone when he took the trodes off, and the loft
was dark. He checked the time. He'd been in cyberspace for
five hours. He carried the Ono-Sendai to one of the new worktables
and collapsed across the bedslab, pulling Molly's black
silk sleeping bag over his head.
The security package taped to the steel fire door bleeped
twice. "Entry requested," it said. "Subject is cleared per my
"So open it." Case pulled the silk from his face and sat up
as the door opened, expecting to see Molly or Armitage.
"Christ," said a hoarse voice, "I know that bitch can see in
the dark...." A squat figure stepped in and closed the door.
"Turn the lights on, okay?" Case scrambled off the slab and
found the old-fashioned switch.
"I'm the Finn," said the Finn, and made a warning face at
"Pleased to meecha, I'm sure. I'm doing some hardware
for your boss, it looks like." The Finn fished a pack of Partagas
from a pocket and lit one. The smell of Cuban tobacco filled
the room. He crossed to the worktable and glanced at the Ono-Sendai.
"Looks stock. Soon fix that. But here is your problem,
kid." He took a filthy manila envelope from inside his jacket,
flicked ash on the floor, and extracted a featureless black rectangle
from the envelope. "Goddamn factory prototypes," he
said, tossing the thing down on the table. "Cast 'em into a
block of polycarbon, can't get in with a laser without frying
the works. Booby-trapped for x-ray, ultrascan, God knows
what else. We'll get in, but there's no rest for the wicked,
right?" He folded the envelope with great care and tucked it
away in an inside pocket.
"What is it?"
"It's a flip flop switch, basically. Wire it into your Sendai
here, you can access live or recorded Sims Tim without having
to jack out of the matrix."
"I haven't got a clue. Know I'm fitting Moll for a broadcast
rig, though, so it's probably her sensorium you'll access." The
Finn scratched his chin. "So now you get to find out just how
tight those jeans really are, huh?"
Case sat in the loft with the dermatrodes strapped across his
forehead, watching motes dance in the diluted sunlight that
filtered through the grid overhead. A countdown was in progress
in one corner of the monitor screen.
Cowboys didn't get into Simstim, he thought, because it
was basically a meat toy. He knew that the trodes he used and
the little plastic tiara dangling from a Simstim deck were basically
the same, and that the cyberspace matrix was actually a
drastic simplification of the human sensorium, at least in terms
of presentation, but Simstim itself struck him as a gratuitous
multiplication of flesh input. The commercial stuff was edited,
of course, so that if Tally Isham got a headache in the course
of a segment, you didn't feel it.
The screen bleeped a two-second warning.
The new switch was patched into his Sendai with a thin
ribbon of fiber optics.
And one and two and--
Cyberspace slid into existence from the cardinal points.
Smooth, he thought, but not smooth enough. Have to work on it.
Then he keyed the new switch.
The abrupt jolt into other flesh. Matrix gone, a wave of
sound and color.... She was moving through a crowded street,
past stalls vending discount software, prices felt penned on sheets
of plastic, fragments of music from countless speakers. Smells
of urine, free monomers, perfume, patties of frying krill. For
a few frightened seconds he fought helplessly to control her
body. Then he willed himself into passivity, became the passenger
behind her eyes.
The glasses didn't seem to cut down the sunlight at all. He
wondered if the built-in amps compensated automatically. Blue
alphanumerics winked the time, low in her left peripheral field.
Showing off, he thought.
Her body language was disorienting, her style foreign. She
seemed continually on the verge of colliding with someone,
but people melted out of her way, stepped sideways, made
"How you doing, Case?" He heard the words and felt her
form them. She slid a hand into her jacket, a fingertip circling
a nipple under warm silk. The sensation made him catch his
breath. She laughed. But the link was one-way. He had no way
Two blocks later, she was threading the outskirts of Memory
Lane. Case kept trying to jerk her eyes toward landmarks he
would have used to find his way. He began to find the passivity
of the situation irritating.
The transition to cyberspace, when he hit the switch, was
instantaneous. He punched himself down a wall of primitive
ice belonging to the New York Public Library, automatically
counting potential windows. Keying back into her sensorium,
into the sinuous flow of muscle, senses sharp and bright.
He found himself wondering about the mind he shared these
sensations with. What did he know about her? That she was
another professional; that she said her being, like his, was the
thing she did to make a living. He knew the way she'd moved
against him, earlier, when she woke, their mutual grunt of
unity when he'd entered her, and that she liked her coffee black,
Her destination was one of the dubious software rental complexes
that lined Memory Lane. There was a stillness, a hush.
Booths lined a central hall. The clientele were young, few of
them out of their teens. They all seemed to have carbon sockets
planted behind the left ear, but she didn't focus on them. The
counters that fronted the booths displayed hundreds of slivers
of microsoft, angular fragments of colored silicon mounted
under oblong transparent bubbles on squares of white cardboard.
Molly went to the seventh booth along the south wall.
Behind the counter a boy with a shaven head stared vacantly
into space, a dozen spikes of microsoft protruding from the
socket behind his ear.
"Larry, you in, man?" She positioned herself in front of
him. The boy's eyes focused. He sat up in his chair and pried
a bright magenta splinter from his socket with a dirty thumbnail .
"Molly." He nodded.
"I have some work for some of your friends, Larry."
Larry took a flat plastic case from the pocket of his red
sport shirt and flicked it open, slotting the microsoft beside a
dozen others. His hand hovered, selected a glossy black chip
that was slightly longer than the rest, and inserted it smoothly
into his head. His eyes narrowed.
"Molly's got a rider," he said, "and Larry doesn't like that."
"Hey," she said, "I didn't know you were so . . . sensitive.
I'm impressed. Costs a lot, to get that sensitive."
"I know you, lady?" The blank look returned. "You looking
to buy some softs?"
"I'm looking for the Moderns."
"You got a rider, Molly. This says." He tapped the black
splinter. "Somebody else using your eyes."
"Tell your partner to go."
"Got something for the Panther Moderns, Larry."
"What are you talking about, lady?"
"Case, you take off," she said, and he hit the switch, instantly
back in the matrix. Ghost impressions of the software
complex hung for a few seconds in the buzzing calm of cyberspace.
"Panther Moderns," he said to the Hosaka, removing the
trodes. "Five minute precis."
"ъeady," the computer said.
It wasn't a name he knew. Something new, something that
had come in since he'd been in Chiba. Fads swept the youth
of the Spraw] at the speed of light; entire subcultures could rise
overnight, thrive for a dozen weeks, and then vanish utterly.
"Go," he said. The Hosaka had accessed its array of libraries,
journals, and news services.
The precis began with a long hold on a color still that Case
at first assumed was a collage of some kind, a boy's face
snipped from another image and glued to a photograph of a
paint-scrawled wall. Dark eyes, epicanthic folds obviously the
result of surgery, an angry dusting of acne across pale narrow
cheeks. The Hosaka released the freeze; the boy moved, flowing
with the sinister grace of a mime pretending to be a jungle
predator. His body was nearly invisible, an abstract pattern
approximating the scribbled brickwork sliding smoothly across
his tight one piece. Mimetic polycarbon.
Cut to Dr. Virginia ъambali, Sociology, NYU, her name,
faculty, and school pulsing across the screen in pink alphanumerics.
"Given their penchant for these random acts of surreal violence,"
someone said, "it may be difficult for our viewers to
understand why you continue to insist that this phenomenon
isn't a form of terr