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Dr. ъamBali smiled. "There is always a point at which the
terrorist ceases to manipulate the media gestalt. A point at
which the violence may well escalate, but beyond which the
terrorist has become symptomatic of the media gestalt itself.
Terrorism as we ordinarily understand it is inately media-related.
The Panther Moderns differ from other terrorists precisely
in their degree of self-consciousness, in their awareness
of the extent to which media divorce the act of terrorism from
the original sociopolitical intent...."
"Skip it," Case said.
Case met his first Modern two days after he'd screened the
Hosaka's precis. The Moderns, he'd decided, were a contemporary
version of the Big Scientists of his own late teens. There
was a kind of ghostly teenage DNA at work in the Sprawl,
something that carried the coded precepts of various short-lived
sub cults and replicated them at odd intervals. The Panther Moderns
were a soft head variant on the Scientists. If the technology
had been available the Big Scientists would all have had sockets
stuffed with microsofts. It was the style that mattered and
the style was the same. The Moderns were mercenaries, practical
jokers, nihilistic technofetishists.
The one who showed up at the loft door with a box of
diskettes from the Finn was a soft-voiced boy called Angelo.
His face was a simple graft grown on collagen and shark-
cartilage polysaccharides, smooth and hideous. It was one of
the nastiest pieces of elective surgery Case had ever seen. When
Angelo smiled, revealing the razor-sharp canines of some large
animal, Case was actually relieved. Tooth bud transplants. He'd
seen that before.
"You can't let the little pricks generation-gap you," Molly
said. Case nodded, absorbed in the patterns of the Sense/Net
This was it. This was what he was, who he was, his being.
He forgot to eat. Molly left cartons of rice and foam trays of
sushi on the corner of the long table. Sometimes he resented
having to leave the deck to use the chemical toilet they'd set
up in a corner of the loft. Ice patterns formed and reformed on
the screen as he probed for gaps, skirted the most obvious
traps, and mapped the route he'd take through Sense/Net's ice.
It was good ice. Wonderful ice. Its patterns burned there while
he lay with his arm under Molly's shoulders, watching the red
dawn through the steel grid of the skylight. Its rainbow pixel
maze was the first thing he saw when he woke. He'd go straight
to the deck, not bothering to dress, and jack in. He was cutting
it. He was working. He lost track of days.
And sometimes, falling asleep, particularly when Molly was
off on one of her reconnaissance trips with her rented cadre of
Moderns, images of Chiba came flooding back. Faces and
Ninsei neon. Once he woke from a confused dream of Linda
Lee, unable to recall who she was or what she'd ever meant
to him. When he did remember, he jacked in and worked for
nine straight hours.
The cutting of Sense/Net's ice took a total of nine days.
"I said a week," Armitage said, unable to conceal his satisfaction
when Case showed him his plan for the run. "You
took your own good time."
"Balls," Case said, smiling at the screen. "That's good work,
"Yes," Armitage admitted, "but don't let it go to your head.
Compared to what you'll eventually be up against, this is an
"Love you, Cat Mother," whispered the Panther Modern's
link man. His voice was modulated static in Case's headset.
"Atlanta, Brood. Looks go. Go, got it?" Molly's voice was
"To hear is to obey." The Moderns were using some kind
of chicken wire dish in New Jersey to bounce the link man's
scrambled signal off a Sons of Christ the King satellite in
geosynchronous orbit above Manhattan. They chose to regard
the entire operation as an elaborate private joke, and their
choice of comsats seemed to have been deliberate. Molly's
signals were being beamed up from a one-meter umbrella dish
epoxy-ed to the roof of a black glass bank tower nearly as tall
as the Sense/Net building.
Atlanta. The recognition code was simple. Atlanta to Boston
to Chicago to Denver, five minutes for each city. If anyone
managed to intercept Molly's signal, unscramble it, synth her
voice, the code would tip the Moderns. If she remained in the
building for more than twenty minutes, it was highly unlikely
she'd be coming out at all.
Case gulped the last of his coffee, settled the trodes in place,
and scratched his chest beneath his black t-shirt. He had only
a vague idea of what the Panther Moderns planned as a diversion
for the Sense/Net security people. His job was to make
sure the intrusion program he'd written would link with the
Sense/Net systems when Molly needed it to. He watched the
countdown in the corner of the screen. Two. One.
He jacked in and triggered his program. "Mainline," breathed
the link man, his voice the only sound as Case plunged through
the glowing strata of Sense/Net ice. Good. Check Molly. He
hit the Simstim and flipped into her sensorium.
The scrambler blurred the visual input slightly. She stood
before a wall of gold-flecked mirror in the building's vast white
lobby, chewing gum, apparently fascinated by her own reflection.
Aside from the huge pair of sunglasses concealing her
mirrored insets, she managed to look remarkably like she
belonged there, another tourist girl hoping for a glimpse of
Tally Isham. She wore a pink plastic raincoat, a white mesh
top, loose white pants cut in a style that had been fashionable
in Tokyo the previous year. She grinned vacantly and popped
her gum. Case felt like laughing. He could feel the micro pore
tape across her ribcage, feel the flat little units under it: the
radio, the Simstim unit, and the scrambler. The throat mike,
glued to her neck, looked as much as possible like an analgesic
dermadisk. Her hands, in the pockets of the pink coat, were
flexing systematically through a series of tension-release exercises.
It took him a few seconds to realize that the peculiar
sensation at the tips of her fingers was caused by the blades as
they were partially extruded, then retracted.
He flipped back. His program had reached the fifth gate.
He watched as his icebreaker strobed and shifted in front of
him, only faintly aware of his hands playing across the deck,
making minor adjustments. Translucent planes of color shuffled
like a trick deck. Take a card, he thought, any card.
The gate blurred past. He laughed. The Sense/Net ice had
accepted his entry as a routine transfer from the consortium's
Los Angeles complex. He was inside. Behind him, viral subprograms
peeled off, meshing with the gate' s code fabric, ready
to deflect the real Los Angeles data when it arrived.
He flipped again. Molly was strolling past the enormous
circular reception desk at the rear of the lobby.
12:01:20 as the readout flared in her optic nerve.
At midnight, synch Ed with the chip behind Molly's eye, the
link man in Jersey had given his command. "Mainline." Nine
Moderns, scattered along two hundred miles of the Sprawl,
had simultaneously dialed MAX EMEъG from pay phones.
Each Modern delivered a short set speech, hung up, and drifted
out into the night, peeling off surgical gloves. Nine different
police departments and public security agencies were absorbing
the information that an obscure sub sect of militant Christian
fundamentalists had just taken credit for having introduced
clinical levels of an outlawed psychoactive agent known as
Blue Nine into the ventilation system of the Sense/Net Pyramid.
Blue Nine, known in California as Grievous Angel, had been
shown to produce acute paranoia and homicidal psychosis in
eighty-five percent of experimental subjects.
Case hit the switch as his program surged through the gates
of the subsystem that controlled security for the Sense/Net
research library. He found himself stepping into an elevator.
"Excuse me, but are you an employee?" The guard raised
his eyebrows. Molly popped her gum. "No," she said, driving
the first two knuckles of her right hand into the man's solar
plexus. As he doubled over, clawing for the beeper on his belt
she slammed his head sideways, against the wall of the elevator.
Chewing a little more rapidly now, she touched CLOSE
DOOъ and STOP on the illuminated panel. She took a black box
from her coat pocket and inserted a lead in the keyhole of the
lock that secured the panel's circuitry.
The Panther Moderns allowed four minutes for their first
move to take effect, then injected a second carefully prepared
dose of misinformation. This time, they shot it directly into
the Sense/Net building's internal video system.
At 12:04:03, every screen in the building strobed for eighteen
seconds in a frequency that produced seizures in a susceptible
segment of Sense/Net employees. Then something only
vaguely like a human face filled the screens, its features stretched
across asymmetrical expanses of bone like some obscene Mercator
projection. Blue lips parted wetly as the twisted, elongated
jaw moved. Something, perhaps a hand, a thing like a reddish
clump of gnarled roots, fumbled toward the camera, blurred,
and vanished. Subliminally rapid images of contamination:
graphics of the building's water supply system, gloved hands
manipulating laboratory glassware, something tumbling down
into darkness, a pale splash.... The audio track, its pitch adjusted
to run at just less than twice the standard playback speed,
was part of a month-old newscast detailing potential military
uses of a substance known as HsG, a biochemical governing
the human skeletal growth factor. Overdoses of HsG threw
certain bone cells into overdrive, accelerating growth by factors
as high as one thousand percent.
At 12:05:00, the mirror-sheathed nexus of the Sense/Net
consortium held just over three thousand employees. At five
minutes after midnight, as the Moderns' message ended in a
flare of white screen, the Sense/Net Pyramid screamed.
Half a dozen NYPD Tactical hovercraft, responding to the
possibility of Blue Nine in the building's ventilation system,
were converging on the Sense/Net Pyramid. They were running
full riot lights. A BAMA ъapid Deployment helicopter was
lifting off from its pad on ъiker's.
Case triggered his second program. A carefully engineered
virus attacked the code fabric screening primary custodial commands
for the sub-basement that housed the Sense/Net research
materials. "Boston," Molly's voice came across the link, "I'm
downstairs." Case switched and saw the blank wall of the
elevator. She was unzipping the white pants. A bulky packet,
exactly the shade of her pale ankle, was secured there with
micro pore. She knelt and peeled the tape away. Streaks of
burgundy flickered across the mimetic polycarbon as she unfolded
the Modern suit. She removed the pink raincoat, threw
it down beside the white pants, and began to pull the suit on
over the white mesh top.
Case's virus had bored a window through the library's command
ice. He punched himself through and found an infinite
blue space ranged with color-coded spheres strung on a tight
grid of pale blue neon. In the non space of the matrix, the interior
of a given data construct possessed unlimited subjective dimension;
a child's toy calculator, accessed through Case's Sen:j
dai, would have presented limitless gulfs of nothingness hung
with a few basic commands. Case began to key the sequence
the Finn had purchased from a mid-eschelon sarariman with
severe drug problems. He began to glide through the spheres
as if he were on invisible tracks.
Here. This one.
Punching his way into the sphere, chill blue neon vault above
him starless and smooth as frosted glass, he triggered a sub-
program that effected certain alterations in the core custodial
Out now. ъeversing smoothly, the virus reknitting the fabric
of the window.
x x x
In the Sense/Net lobby, two Panther Moderns sat alertly
behind a low rectangular planter, taping the riot with a video
camera. They both wore chameleon suits. "Tacticals are spray-
ing foam barricades now," one noted, speaking for the benefit
of his throat mike. "ъapids are still trying to land their copter."
Case hit the Sim-Stim switch. And flipped into the agony of
broken bone. Molly was braced against the blank gray wall of
a long corridor, her breath coming ragged and uneven. Case
was back in the matrix instantly, a white-hot line of pain fading
in his left thigh.
"What's happening, Brood?" he asked the link man.
"I dunno, Cutter. Mother's not talking. Wait."
Case's program was cycling. A single hair-fine thread of
crimson neon extended from the center of the restored window
to the shifting outline of his icebreaker. He didn't have time
to wait. Taking a deep breath, he flipped again.
Molly took a single step, trying to support her weight on
the corridor wall. In the loft, Case groaned. The second step
took her over an outstretched arm. Uniform sleeve bright with
fresh blood. Glimpse of a shattered fiberglass shock stave. Her
vision seemed to have narrowed to a tunnel. With the third
step, Case screamed and found himself back in the matrix.
"Brood? Boston, baby. . ." Her voice tight with pain. She
coughed. "Little problem with the natives. Think one of them
broke my leg."
"What you need now, Cat Mother?" The link man's voice
was indistinct, nearly lost behind static.
Case forced himself to flip back. She was leaning against
the wall, taking all of her weight on her right leg. She fumbled
through the contents of the suit's kangaroo pocket and withdrew
a sheet of plastic studded with a rainbow of dermadisks. She
selected three and thumbed them hard against her left wrist,
over the veins. Six thousand micrograms of endorphin analog
came down on the pain like a hammer, shattering it. Her back
arched convulsively. Pink waves of warmth lapped up her thighs.
She sighed and slowly relaxed.
"Okay, Brood. Okay now. But I'll need a medical team
when l come out. Tell my people. Cutter, I'm two minutes
from target. Can you hold?"
"Tell her I'm in and holding," Case said.
Molly began to limp down the corridor. When she glanced
back, once, Case saw the crumpled bodies of three Sense/Net
security guards. One of them seemed to have no eyes.
"Tacticals and ъapids have sealed the ground floor, Cat
Mother. Foam barricades. Lobby's getting juicy."
"Pretty juicy down here," she said, swinging herself through
a pair of gray steel doors. "Almost there, Cutter."
Case flipped into the matrix and pulled the trodes from his
forehead. He was drenched with sweat. He wiped his forehead
with a towel, took a quick sip of water from the bicycle bottle
beside the Hosaka, and checked the map of the library displayed
on the screen. A pulsing red cursor crept through the outline
of a doorway. Only millimeters from the green dot that indicated
the location of the Dixie Flat line's construct. He wondered
what it was doing to her leg, to walk on it that way.
With enough endorphin analog, she could walk on a pair of
bloody stumps. He tightened the nylon harness that held him
in the chair and replaced the trodes.
ъoutine now: trodes, jack, and flip.
The Sense/Net research library was a dead storage area; the
materials stored here had to be physically removed before they
could be interfaced. Molly hobbled between rows of identical
"Tell her five more and ten to her left, Brood," Case said.
"Five more and ten left, Cat Mother," the link man said.
She took the left. A white-faced librarian cowered between
two lockers, her cheeks wet, eyes blank. Molly ignored her.
Case wondered what the Moderns had done to provoke that
level of terror. He knew it had something to do with a hoaxed
threat, but he' d been too involved with his ice to follow Molly ' s
"That's it," Case said, but she'd already stopped in front of
the cabinet that held the construct. Its lines reminded Case of
the Neo-Aztec bookcases in Julie Deane's anteroom in Chiba.
"Do it, Cutter," Molly said.
Case flipped to cyberspace and sent a command pulsing
down the crimson thread that pierced the library ice. Five separate
alarm systems were convinced that they were still operative.
The three elaborate locks deactivated, but considered
themselves to have remained locked. The library's central bank
suffered a minute shift in its permanent memory: the construct
had been removed, per executive order, a month before. Checking
for the authorization to remove the construct, a librarian
would find the records erased.
The door swung open on silent hinges.
"0467839," Case said, and Molly drew a black storage unit
from the rack. It resembled the magazine of a large assault
rifle, its surfaces covered with warning decals and security
Molly closed the locker door; Case flipped.
He withdrew the line through the library ice. It whipped
back into his program, automatically triggering a full system
reversal. The Sense/Net gates snapped past him as he backed
out, subprograms whirling back into the core of the icebreaker
as he passed the gates where they had been stationed.
"Out, Brood," he said, and slumped in his chair. After the
concentration of an actual run, he could remain jacked in and
still retain awareness of his body. It might take Sense/Net days
to discover the theft of the construct. The key would be the
deflection of the Los Angeles transfer, which coincided too
neatly with the Modern's terror run. He doubted that the three
security men Molly had encountered in the corridor would live
to talk about it. He flipped.
The elevator, with Molly's black box taped beside the control
panel, remained where she'd left it. The guard still lay curled
on the floor. Case noticed the term on his neck for the first
time. Something of Molly's, to keep him under. She stepped
over him and removed the black box before punching LOBBY.
As the elevator door hissed open, a woman hurtled backward
out of the crowd, into the elevator, and struck the rear wall
with her head. Molly ignored her, bending over to peel the
derm from the guard's neck. Then she kicked the white pants
and the pink raincoat out the door, tossing the dark glasses
after them, and drew the hood of her suit down across her
forehead. The construct, in the suit's kangaroo pocket, dug
into her sternum when she moved. She stepped out.
Case had seen panic before, but never in an enclosed area.
The Sense/Net employees, spilling out of the elevators, had
surged for the street doors, only to meet the foam barricades
of the Tacticals and the sandbag-guns of the BAMA ъapids.
The two agencies, convinced that they were containing a horde
of potential killers, were cooperating with an uncharacteristic
degree of efficiency. Beyond the shattered wreckage of the
main street doors, bodies were piled three deep on the barricades.
The hollow thumping of the riot guns provided a constant
background for the sound the crowd made as it surged back
and forth across the lobby's marble floor. Case had never heard
anything like that sound.
Neither, apparently, had Molly. "Jesus," she said, and hesitated.
It was a sort of keening, rising into a bubbling wail of
MW and total fear. The lobby floor was covered with bodies,
clothing, blood, and long trampled scrolls of yellow printout.
"C'mon, sister. We're for out. " The eyes of the two Moderns
stared out of madly swirling shades of polycarbon, their suits
unable to keep up with the confusion of shape and color that
raged behind them. "You hurt? C'mon. Tommy'll walk you."
Tommy handed something to the one who spoke, a video camera
wrapped in polycarbon.
"Chicago," she said, "I'm on my way." And th