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en she was
falling, not to the marble floor, slick with blood and vomit,
but down some blood warm well, into silence and the dark.
The Panther Modern leader, who introduced himself as Lupus
Yonderboy, wore a polycarbon suit with a recording feature
that allowed him to replay backgrounds at will. Perched on the
edge of Case's worktable like some kind of state of the art
gargoyle, he regarded Case and Armitage with hooded eyes.
He smiled. His hair was pink. A rainbow forest of microsofts
bristled behind his left ear; the ear was pointed, tufted with
more pink hair. His pupils had been modified to catch the light
like a cat's. Case watched the suit crawl with color and texture.
"You let it getout of control," Armitage said. He stood in
the center of the loft like a statue, wrapped in the dark glossy
folds of an expensive-looking trench coat.
"Chaos, Mr. Who," Lupus Yonderboy said. "That is our
mode and modus. That is our central kick. Your woman knows.
We deal with her. Not with you, Mr. Who." His suit had taken
on a weird angular pattern of beige and pale avocado. "She
needed her medical team. She's with them. We'll watch out
for her. Everything's fine." He smiled again.
"Pay him," Case said.
Armitage glared at him. "We don't have the goods."
"Your woman has it," Yonderboy said.
Armitage crossed stiffly to the table and took three fat bundles
of New Yen from the pockets of his trench coat. "You
want to count it?" he asked Yonder boy.
"No," the Panther Modern said. "You'll pay. You're a Mr.
Who. You pay to stay one. Not a Mr. Name."
"I hope that isn't a threat," Armitage said.
"That's business," said Yonderboy, stuffing the money into
the single pocket on the front of his suit.
The phone rang. Case answered.
"Molly," he told Armitage, handing him the phone.
The Sprawl's geodesics were lightening into predawn gray
as Case left the building. His limbs felt cold and disconnected.
He couldn't sleep. He was sick of the loft. Lupus had gone,
then Armitage, and Molly was in surgery somewhere. Vibration
beneath his feet as a train hissed past. Sirens Doppler Ed in the
He took corners at random, his collar up, hunched in a new
leather jacket, flicking the first of a chain of Yeheyuans into
the gutter and lighting another. He tried to imagine Armitage's
toxin sacs dissolving in his bloodstream, microscopic membranes
wearing thinner as he walked. It didn't seem real. Neither
did the fear and agony he'd seen through Molly's eyes in
the lobby of Sense/Net. He found himself trying to remember
the faces of the three people he'd killed in Chiba. The men
were blanks; the woman reminded him of Linda Lee. A battered
tricycle-truck with mirrored windows bounced past him, empty
plastic cylinders rattling in its bed.
He darted sideways, instinctively getting a wall behind his
"Message for you, Case." Lupus Yonder boy's suit cycled
through pure primaries. "Pardon. Not to startle you."
Case straightened up, hands in jacket pockets. He was a
head taller than the Modern. "You ought a be careful, Yonder
"This is the message. Winter mute." He spelled it out.
"From you?" Case took a step forward.
"No," Yonderboy said. "For you."
"Winter mute," Yonderboy repeated, nodding, bobbing his
crest of pink hair. His suit went matte black, a carbon shadow
against old concrete. He executed a strange little dance, his
thin black arms whirling, and then he was gone. No. There.
Hood up to hide the pink, the suit exactly the right shade of
gray, mottled and stained as the sidewalk he stood on. The
eyes winked back the red of a stoplight. And then he was really
Case closed his eyes, massaged them with numb fingers,
leaning back against peeling brickwork.
Ninsei had been a lot simpler.
The medical team Molly employed occupied two floors of
an anonymous condo-rack near the old hub of Baltimore. The
building was modular, like some giant version of Cheap Hotel
each coffin forty meters long. Case met Molly as she emerged
from one that wore the elaborately worked logo of one GEъALD
CHIN, DENTIST. She was limping.
"He says if I kick anything, it'll fall off."
"I ran into one of your pals," he said, "a Modern."
"Yeah? Which one?"
"Lupus Yonderboy. Had a message." He passed her a paper
napkin with W I N T E ъ M U T E printed in red feltpen in
his neat, laborious capitals. "He said--" But her hand came
up in the jive for silence.
"Get us some crab," she said.
After lunch in Baltimore, Molly dissecting her crab with
alarming ease, they tubed in to New York. Case had learned
not to ask questions; they only brought the sign for silence.
Her leg seemed to be bothering her, and she seldom spoke.
A thin black child with wooden beads and antique resistors
woven tightly into her hair opened the Finn's door and led them
along the tunnel of refuse. Case felt the stuff had grown somehow
during their absence . Or else it seemed that it was changing
subtly, cooking itself down under the pressure of time, silent
invisible flakes settling to form a mulch, a crystalline essence
of discarded technology, flowering secretly in the Sprawl's
Beyond the army blanket, the Finn waited at the white table.
Molly began to sign rapidly, produced a scrap of paper,
wrote something on it, and passed it to the Finn. He took it
between thumb and forefinger, holding it away from his body
as though it might explode. He made a sign Case didn't know,
one that conveyed a mixture of impatience and glum resignation.
He stood up, brushing crumbs from the front of his battered
tweed jacket. A glass jar of pickled herring stood on the
table beside a torn plastic package of flatbread and a tin ashtray
piled with the butts of Partagas.
"Wait," the Finn said, and left the room.
Molly took his place, extruded the blade from her index
finger, and speared a grayish slab of herring. Case wandered
aimlessly around the room, fingering the scanning gear on the
pylons as he passed.
Ten minutes and the Finn came bustling back, showing his
teeth in a wide yellow smile. He nodded, gave Molly a thumbs-up
salute, and gestured to Case to help him with the door panel.
While Case smoothed the velcro border into place, the Finn
took a flat little console from his pocket and punched out an
"Honey," he said to Molly, tucking the console away, "you
have got it. No shit, I can smell it. You wanna tell me where
you got it?"
"Yonderboy," Molly said, shoving the herring and crackers
aside. "I did a deal with Larry, on the side."
"Smart," the Finn said. "It's an AI."
"Slow it down a little," Case said.
"Berne," the Finn said, ignoring him. "Berne. It's got limited
Swiss citizenship under their equivalent of the Act of '53.
Built for Tessier-Ashpool S.A. They own the mainframe and
the original software."
"What's in Beme, okay?" Case deliberately stepped between
"Wintermute is the recognition code for an AI. I've got the
Turing ъegistry numbers. Artificial intelligence."
"That's all just fine," Molly said, "but where's it get us?"
"If Yonderboy's right," the Finn said, "this Al is backing
"I paid Larry to have the Moderns nose around Ammitage a
little," Molly explained, turning to Case. "They have some
very weird lines of communication. Deal was, they'd get my
money if they answered one question: who's running Armitage?"
"And you think it's this AI? Those things aren't allowed
any autonomy. It'll be the parent corporation, this Tessle. . ."
"Tessier-Ashpool S.A.," said the Finn. "And I got a little
story for you about them. Wanna hear?" He sat down and
"Finn," Molly said. "He loves a story."
"Haven't ever told anybody this one," the Finn began.
The Finn was a fence, a trafficker in stolen goods, primarily
in software. In the course of his business, he sometimes came
into contact with other fences, some of whom dealt in the more
traditional articles of the trade. In precious metals, stamps, rare
coins, gems, jewelry, furs, and paintings and other works of
art. The story he told Case and Molly began with another man's
story, a man he called Smith.
Smith was also a fence, but in balmier seasons he surfaced
as an art dealer. He was the first person the Finn had known
who'd "gone silicon"--the phrase had an old-fashioned ring
for Case--and the microsofts he purchased were art history
programs and tables of gallery sales. With half a dozen chips
in his new socket, Smith's knowledge of the art business was
formidable, at least by the standards of his colleagues. But
Smith had come to the Finn with a request for help, a fraternal
request, one businessman to another. He wanted a go-to on the
Tessier-Ashpool clan, he said, and it had to be executed in a
way that would guarantee the impossibility of the subject ever
tracing the inquiry to its source. It might be possible, the Finn
had opined, but an explanation was definitely required. "It
smelled," the Finn said to Case, "smelled of money. And Smith
was being very careful. Almost too careful."
Smith, it developed, had had a supplier known as Jimmy.
Jimmy was a burglar and other things as well, and just back
from a year in high orbit, having carried certain things back
down the gravity well. The most unusual thing Jimmy had
managed to score on his swing through the archipelago was a
head, an intricately worked bust, cloisonne over platinum, studded
with seedpearls and lapis. Smith, sighing, had put down
his pocket microscope and advised Jimmy to melt the thing
down. It was contemporary, not an antique, and had no value
to the collector. Jimmy laughed. The thing was a computer
terminal, he said. It could talk. And not in a synth-voice, but
with a beautiful arrangement of gears and miniature organ pipes.
It was a baroque thing for anyone to have constructed, a perverse
thing, because synth-voice chips cost next to nothing. It
was a curiosity. Smith jacked the head into his computer and
listened as the melodious, inhuman voice piped the figures of
last year's tax return.
Smith' s clientele included a Tokyo billionaire whose passion
for clockwork automata approached fetishism. Smith shrugged,
showing Jimmy his upturned palms in a gesture old as pawn
shops. He could try, he said, but he doubted he could get much
When Jimmy had gone, leaving the head, Smith went over
it carefully, discovering certain hallmarks. Eventually he'd been
able to trace it to an unlikely collaboration between two Zurich
artisans, an enamel specialist in Paris, a Dutch jeweler, and a
California chip designer. It had been commissioned, he discovered,
by Tessier-Ashpool S.A.
Smith began to make preliminary passes at the Tokyo collector,
hinting that he was on the track of something noteworthy.
And then he had a visitor, a visitor unannounced, one who
walked in through the elaborate maze of Smith's security as
though it didn't exist. A small man, Japanese, enormously
polite, who bore all the marks of a vatgrown ninja assassin.
Smith sat very still, staring into the calm brown eyes of death
across a polished table of Vietnamese rosewood. Gently, almost
apologetically, the cloned killer explained that it was his duty
to find and return a certain artwork, a mechanism of great
beauty, which had been taken from the house of his master. It
had come to his attention, the ninja said, that Smith might
know of the whereabouts of this object.
Smith told the man that he had no wish to die, and produced
the head. And how much, his visitor asked did you expect to
obtain through the sale of this object? Smith named a figure
far lower than the price he'd intended to set. The ninja produced
a credit chip and keyed Smith that amount out of a numbered
Swiss account. And who, the man asked, brought you this
piece? Smith told him. Within days, Smith learned of Jimmy's
"So that was where I came in," the Finn continued. "Smith
knew I dealt a lot with the Memory Lane crowd, and that's
where you go for a quiet go-to that'll never be traced. I hired
a cowboy. I was the cut-out, so I took a percentage. Smith,
he was careful. He'd just had a very weird business experience
and he'd come out on top, but it didn't add up. Who'd paid,
out of that Swiss stash? Yakuza? No way. They got a very
rigid code covers situations like that, and they kill the receiver
too, always. Was it spook stuff? Smith didn't think so. Spook
biz has a vibe, you get so you can smell it. Well, I had my
cowboy buzz the news morgues until we found Tessier-Ashpool
in litigation. The case wasn't anything, but we got the law
firm. Then he did the lawyer's ice and we got the family
address. Lotta good it did us."
Case raised his eyebrows.
"Freeside," the Finn said. "The spindle. Turns out they own
damn near the whole thing. The interesting stuff was the picture
we got when the cowboy ran a regular go-to on the news
morgues and compiled a precis. Family organization. Corporate
structure. Supposedly you can buy into an S.A., but there hasn't
been a share of Tessier-Ashpool traded on the open market in
over a hundred years. On any market, as far as I know. You're
looking at a very quiet, very eccentric first-generation high-
orbit family, run like a corporation. Big money, very shy of
media. Lot of cloning. Orbital law's a lot softer on genetic
engineering, right? And it's hard to keep track of which gen-
eration, or combination of generations, is running the show at
a given time."
"How's that?" Molly asked.
"Got their own cryogenic setup. Even under orbital law,
you're legally dead for the duration of a freeze. Looks like
they trade off, though nobody's seen the founding father in
about thirty years. Founding momma, she died in some lab
"So what happened with your fence?"
"Nothing." The Finn frowned. "Dropped it. We had a look
at this fantastic tangle of powers of attorney the T-A's have,
and that was it. Jimmy must've gotten into Straylight, lifted
the head, and Tessier-Ashpool sent their ninja after it. Smith
decided to forget about it. Maybe he was smart." He looked
at Molly. "The Villa Straylight. Tip of the spindle. Strictly
"You figure they own that ninja, Finn?" Molly asked.
"Smith thought so."
"Expensive," she said. "Wonder whatever happened to that
little ninja, Finn?"
"Probably got him on ice. Thaw when needed."
"Okay," Case said, "we got Armitage getting his goodies
off an AI named Wintermute. Where's that get us?"
"Nowhere yet," Molly said, "but you got a little side gig
now." She drew a folded scrap of paper from her pocket and
handed it to him. He opened it. Grid coordinates and entry
"Armitage. Some data base of his. Bought it from the Mod-
erns. Separate deal. Where is it?"
"London," Case said.
"Crack it." She laughed. "Earn your keep for a change."
Case waited for a trans-BAMA local on the crowded plat-
form. Molly had gone back to the loft hours ago, the Flatline's
construct in her green bag, and Case had been drinking steadily
It was disturbing to think of the Flatline as a construct, a
hardwired ъOM cassette replicating a dead man's skills, obsessions,
kneejerk responses.... The local came booming in
along the black induction strip, fine grit sifting from cracks in
the tunnel's ceiling. Case shuffled into the nearest door and
watched the other passengers as he rode. A pair of predatory-
looking Christian Scientists were edging toward a trio of young
office techs who wore idealized holographic vaginas on their
wrists, wet pink glittering under the harsh lighting. The techs
licked their perfect lips nervously and eyed the Christian Scientists
from beneath lowered metallic lids. The girls looked
like tall, exotic grazing animals, swaying gracefully and unconsciously
with the movement of the train, their high heels
like polished hooves against the gray metal of the car's floor.
Before they could stampede, take flight from the missionaries,
the train reached Case's station.
He stepped out and caught sight of a white holographic cigar
suspended against the wall of the station, FъEESIDE pulsing
beneath it in contorted capitals that mimicked printed Japanese.
He walked through the crowd and stood beneath it, studying
the thing. WHY WAIT? pulsed the sign. A blunt white spindle,
flanged and studded with grids and radiators, docks, domes.
He'd seen the ad, or others like it, thousands of times. It had
never appealed to him. With his deck, he could reach the
Freeside banks as easily as he could reach Atlanta. Travel was
a meat thing. But now he noticed the little sigil, the size of a
small coin, woven into the lower left corner of the ad's fabric
of light: T-A.
He walked back to the loft, lost in memories of the Flatline.
He'd spent most of his nineteenth summer in the Gentleman
Loser, nursing expensive beers and watching the cowboys.
He'd never touched a deck, then, but he knew what he wanted.
There were at least twenty other hopefuls ghosting the Loser,
that summer, each one bent on working joeboy for some cowboy.
No other way to learn.
They'd all heard of Pauley, the redneck jockey from the
'Lanta fringes, who'd survived braindeath behind black ice.
The grapevine--slender, street level, and the only one going--
had little to say about Pauley, other than that he'd done the
impossible. "It was big," another would-be told Case, for the
price of a beer, "but who knows what? I hear maybe a Brazilian
payroll net. Anyway, the man was dead, flat down braindeath."
Case stared across the crowded bar at a thickset man in shirtsleeves,
something leaden about the shade of his skin.
"Boy," the Flatline would tell him, months later in Miami,
"I'm like them huge fuckin' lizards, you know? Had themself
two goddam brains, one in the head an' one by the tailbone,
kept the hind legs movin'. Hit that black stuff and ol' tailbrain
jus' kept right on keepin' on."
The cowboy elite in the Loser shunned Pauley out of some
strange group anxiety, almost a superstition. McCoy Pauley,
Lazarus of cyberspace....
And his heart had done for him in the end. His surplus
ъussian heart, implanted in a POW camp during the war. He'd
refused to replace the thing, saying he needed its particular
beat to maintain his sense of timing. Case fingered the slip of
paper Molly had given him and made his way up the stairs.
Molly was snoring on the temperfoam. A transparent cast
ran from her knee to a few millimeters below her crotch, the
skin beneath the rigid micropore mottled with bruises, the black
shading into ugly yellow. Eight derms, each a different size
and color, ran in a neat line down her left wrist. An Akai
transdermal unit lay beside her, its fine red leads connected to
input trodes under the cast.
He turned on the tensor beside the Hosaka. The crisp circle
of light fell directly on the Flatline's construct. He slotted some
ice, connected the construct, and jacked in.
It was exactly the sensation of someone reading over his
He coughed. "Dix? McCoy? That you man?" His throat was
"Hey, bro," said a directionless voice.
"It's Case, man. ъemember?"
"Miami, joeboy, quick study."
"What's the last thing you remember before I spoke to you,
"Hang on." He disconnected the construct. The presence
was gone. He reconnected it. "Dix? Who am I?"
"You got me hung, Jack. Who the fuck are you?"
"Ca--your buddy. Partner. What's happening, man?"
"ъemember being here, a second ago?"
"Know how a ъOM personality matrix works?"
"Sure, bro, it's a firmware construct."
"So I jack it into the bank I'm using, I can give it sequential,
real time memory?"
"Guess so," said the construct.
"Okay, Dix. You are a ъOM construct. Got