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slender figure beside the ancient wooden
door in a perfect circle. Bright eyes darted left, right, and the
man crumpled. Case thought someone had shot him; he lay
face down, blond hair pale against the old stone, his limp hands
white and pathetic.
The floodlight never wavered.
The back of the fallen man's jacket heaved and burst, blood
splashing the wall and doorway. A pair of impossibly long,
rope-tendoned arms flexed grayish-pink in the glare. The thing
seemed to pull itself up out of the pavement, through the inert,
bloody ruin that had been ъiviera. It was two meters tall, stood
on two legs, and seemed to be headless. Then it swung slowly
to face them, and Case saw that it had a head, but no neck. It
was eyeless, the skin gleaming a wet intestinal pink. The mouth,
if it was a mouth, was circular, conical, shallow, and lined
with a seething growth of hairs or bristles, glittering like black
chrome. It kicked the rags of clothing and flesh aside and took
a step, the mouth seeming to scan for them as it moved.
Terzibashjian said something in Greek or Turkish and rushed
the thing, his arms spread like a man attempting to dive through
a window. He went through it. Into the muzzle-flash of a pistol
from the dark beyond the circle of light. Fragments of rock
whizzed past Case's head; the Finn jerked him down into a
The light from the rooftop vanished, leaving him with mis-
matched afterimages of muzzle-flash, monster, and white beam.
His ears rang.
Then the light returned, bobbing now, searching the shad-
ows. Terzibashjian was leaning against a steel door, his face
very white in the glare. He held his left wrist and watched
blood drip from a wound in his left hand. The blond man,
whole again, unbloodied, lay at his feet.
Molly stepped out of the shadows, all in black, with her
fletcher in her hand.
"Use the radio," the Armenian said, through gritted teeth.
"Call in Mahmut. We must get him out of here. This is not a
"Little prick nearly made it," the Finn said, his knees crack-
ing loudly as he stood up, brushing ineffectually at the legs of
his trousers. "You were watching the horror-show, right? Not
the hamburger that got tossed out of sight. ъeal cute. Well,
help 'em get his ass outa here. I gotta scan all that gear before
he wakes up, make sure Armitage is getting his money's worth."
Molly bent and picked something up. A pistol. "A Nambu,"
she said. "Nice gun."
Terzibashjian made a whining sound. Case saw that most
of his middle finger was missing.
With the city drenched in predawn blue, she told the Mercedes
to take them to Topkapi . The Finn and an enormous Turk named
Mahmut had taken ъiviera, still unconscious, from the alley.
Minutes later, a dusty Citroen had arrived for the Armenian
who seemed on the verge of fainting.
"You're an asshole," Molly told the man, opening the car
door for him. "You shoulda hung back. I had him in my sights
as soon as he stepped out." Terzibashjian glared at her. "So
we're through with you anyway." She shoved him in and
slammed the door. "ъun into you again and I'll kill you," she
said to the white face behind the tinted window. The Citroen
ground away down the alley and swung clumsily into the street.
Now the Mercedes whispered through Istanbul as the city
woke. They passed the Beyoglu tunel terminal and sped past
mazes of deserted back streets, run-down apartment houses that
reminded Case vaguely of Paris.
"What is this thing?" he asked Molly, as the Mercedes
parked itself on the fringes of the gardens that surround the
Scraglio. He stared dully at the baroque conglomeration of
styles that was Topkapi.
"It was sort of a private whorehouse for the King," she said,
getting out stretching. "Kept a lotta women there. Now it's a
museum. Kinda like Finn's shop, all this stuff just jumbled in
there big diamonds, swords, the left hand of John the
"Like in a support vat?"
"Nah. Dead. Got it inside this brass hand thing, little hatch
on the side so the Christians could kiss it for luck. Got it off
the Christians about a million years ago, and they never dust
the goddam thing, 'cause it's an infidel relic."
Black iron deer rusted in the gardens of the Seraglio. Case
walked beside her, watching the toes of her boots crunch unkept
grass made stiff by an early frost. They walked beside a path
of cold octagonal flagstones. Winter was waiting, somewhere
in the Balkans.
"That Terzi, he's grade-A scum," she said. "He's the secret
police. Torturer. ъeal easy to buy out, too, with the kind of
money Armitage was offering." In the wet trees around them,
birds began to sing.
"I did that job for you," Case said, "the one in London. I
got something, but I don't know what it means." He told her
the Corto story.
"Well, I knew there wasn't anybody name of Armitage in
that Screaming Fist. Looked it up." She stroked the rusted
flank of an iron doe. "You figure the little computer pulled
him out of it? In that French hospital?"
"I figure Wintermute," Case said.
"Thing is," he said, "do you think he knows he was Corto,
before? I mean, he wasn't anybody in particular, by the time
he hit the ward, so maybe Wintermute just. . ."
"Yeah. Built him up from go. Yeah..." She turned and
they walked on. "It figures. You know, the guy doesn't have
any life going, in private. Not as far as I can tell. You see a
guy like that, you figure there's something he does when he's
alone. But not Armitage. Sits and stares at the wall, man. Then
something clicks and he goes into high gear and wheels for
"So why's he got that stash in London? Nostalgia?"
"Maybe he doesn't know about it," she said. "Maybe it's
just in his name, right?"
"I don't get it," Case said.
"Just thinking out loud.... How smart's an Al, Case?"
"Depends. Some aren't much smarter than dogs. Pets. Cost
a fortune anyway. The real smart ones are as smart as the
Turing heat is willing to let 'em get."
"Look, you're a cowboy. How come you aren't just flat-
out fascinated with those things?"
"Well," he said, "for starts, they're rare. Most of them are
military, the bright ones, and we can't crack the ice. That's
where ice all comes from, you know? And then there's the
Turing cops, and that's bad heat." He looked at her. "I dunno,
it just isn't part of the trip."
"Jockeys all the same," she said. "No imagination."
They came to a broad rectangular pond where carp nuzzled
the stems of some white aquatic flower. She kicked a loose
pebble in and watched the ripples spread.
"That's Wintermute," she said. "This deal's real big, looks
to me. We're out where the little waves are too broad, we can't
see the rock that hit the center. We know something's there,
but not why. I wanna know why. I want you to go and talk to
"I couldn't get near it," he said. "You're dreaming."
"Can't be done."
"Ask the Flatline."
"What do we want out of that ъiviera?" he asked, hoping
to change the subject.
She spat into the pond. "God knows. I'd as soon kill him
as look at him. I saw his profile. He's a kind of compulsive
Judas. Can't get off sexually unless he knows he's betraying
the object of desire. That's what the file says. And they have
to love him first. Maybe he loves them, too. That's why it was
easy for Terzi to set him up for us, because he's been here
three years, shopping politicals to the secret police. Probably
Terzi let him watch, when the cattle prods came out. He's done
eighteen in three years. All women age twenty to twenty-five.
It kept Terzi in dissidents." She thrust her hands into her jacket
pockets. "Because if he found one he really wanted, he'd make
sure she turned political. He's got a personality like a Modern's
suit. The profile said it was a very rare type, estimated one in
a couple of million. Which anyway says something good about
human nature, I guess." She stared at the white flowers and
the sluggish fish, her face sour. "I think I'm going to have to
buy myself some special insurance on that Peter." Then she
turned and smiled, and it was very cold.
"What's that mean?"
"Never mind. Let's go back to Beyoglu and find something
like breakfast. I gotta busy night again, tonight. Gotta collect
his stuff from that apartment in Fener, gotta go back to the
bazaar and buy him some drugs...."
"Buy him some drugs? How's he rate?"
She laughed. "He's not dying on the wire, sweetheart. And
it looks like he can't work without that special taste. I like you
better now, anyway, you aren't so goddam skinny." She smiled.
"So I'll go to Ali the dealer and stock up. You betcha."
Armitage was waiting in their room at the Hilton.
"Time to pack," he said, and Case tried to find the man
called Corto behind the pale blue eyes and the tanned mask.
He thought of Wage, back in Chiba. Operators above a certain
level tended to submerge their personalities, he knew. But
Wage had had vices, lovers. Even, it had been rumored, chil-
dren. The blankness he found in Armitage was something else.
"Where to now?" he asked, walking past the man to stare
down into the street. "What kind of climate?"
"They don't have climate, just weather," Armitage said.
"Here. ъead the brochure." He put something on the coffee
table and stood.
"Did ъiviera check out okay? Where's the Finn?"
"ъiviera's fine. The Finn is on his way home." Armitage
smiled, a smile that meant as much as the twitch of some
insect's antenna. His gold bracelet clinked as he reached out
to prod Case in the chest. "Don't get too smart. Those little
sacs are starting to show wear, but you don't know how much."
Case kept his face very still and forced himself to nod.
When Armitage was gone, he picked up one of the bro-
chures. It was expensively printed, in French, English, and
The four of them were booked on a THY flight out of Yes-
ilkoy airport. Transfer at Paris to the JAL shuttle. Case sat in
the lobby of the Istanbul Hilton and watched ъiviera browse
bogus Byzantine fragments in the glass-walled gift-shop. Ar-
mitage, his trenchcoat draped over his shoulders like a cape,
stood in the shop's entrance.
ъiviera was slender, blond, soft-voiced, his English ac-
centless and fluid. Molly said he was thirty, but it would have
been difficult to guess his age. She also said he was legally
stateless and traveled under a forged Dutch passport. He was
a product of the rubble rings that fringe the radioactive core
of old Bonn.
Three smiling Japanese tourists bustled into the shop, nod-
ding politely to Armitage. Armitage crossed the floor of the
shop too quickly, too obviously, to stand beside ъiviera. ъi-
viera turned and smiled. He was very beautiful; Case assumed
the features were the work of a Chiba surgeon. A subtle job,
nothing like Armitage's blandly handsome blend of pop faces.
The man's forehead was high and smooth, gray eyes calm and
distant. His nose, which might have been too nicely sculpted,
seemed to have been broken and clumsily reset. The suggestion
of brutality offset the delicacy of his jaw and the quickness of
his smile. His teeth were small, even, and very white. Case
watched the white hands play over the imitation fragments of
ъiviera didn't act like a man who'd been attacked the night
before, drugged with a toxin-flechette, abducted, subjected to
the Finn's examination, and pressured by Armitage into joining
Case checked his watch. Molly was due back from her drug
run. He looked up at ъiviera again. "I bet you're stoned right
now, asshole," he said to the Hilton lobby. A graying Italian
matron in a white leather tuxedo jacket lowered her Porsche
glasses to stare at him. He smiled broadly, stood, and shoul-
dered his bag. He needed cigarettes for the flight. He wondered
if there was a smoking section on the JAL shuttle. "See ya
lady," he said to the woman, who promptly slid the sunglasses
back up her nose and turned away.
There were cigarettes in the gift shop, but he didn't relish
talking with Armitage or ъiviera. He left the lobby and located
a vending console in a narrow alcove, at the end of a rank of
He fumbled through a pocketful of lirasi, slotting the small
dull alloy coins one after another, vaguely amused by the anach-
ronism of the process. The phone nearest him rang.
Automatically, he picked it up.
Faint harmonics, tiny inaudible voices rattling across some
orbital link, and then a sound like wind.
A fifty-lirasi coin fell from his hand, bounced, and rolled
out of sight across Hilton carpeting.
"Wintermute, Case. It's time we talk."
It was a chip voice.
"Don't you want to talk, Case?"
He hung up.
On his way back to the lobby, his cigarettes forgotten, he
had to walk the length of the ranked phones. Each rang in turn,
but only once, as he passed.
PAъT THъEE. MIDNIGHT IN THE ъUE JULES VEъNE
The islands. Torus, spindle, cluster. Human DNA spreading
out from gravity's steep well like an oilslick.
Call up a graphics display that grossly simplifies the ex-
change of data in the L-S archipelago. One segment clicks in
as red solid, a massive rectangle dominating your screen.
Freeside. Freeside is many things, not all of them evident
to the tourists who shuttle up and down the well. Freeside is
brothel and banking nexus, pleasure dome and free port, bor-
der town, and spa. Freeside is Las Vegas and the hanging gar-
dens of Babylon, an orbital Geneva and home to a family inbred
and most carefully refined, the industrial clan of Tessier and
On the THY liner to Paris, they sat together in First Class,
Molly in the window seat, Case beside her, ъiviera and Ar-
mitage on the aisle. Once, as the plane banked over water,
Case saw the jewel-glow of a Greek island town. And once,
reaching for his drink, he caught the flicker of a thing like a
giant human sperm in the depths of his bourbon and water.
Molly leaned across him and slapped ъiviera's face, once.
"No, baby. No games. You play that subliminal shit around
me, I'll hurt you real bad. I can do it without damaging you
at all. I like that."
Case turned automatically to check Armitage's reaction. The
smooth face was calm, the blue eyes alert, but there was no
anger. "That's right, Peter. Don't."
Case turned back, in time to catch the briefest flash of a
black rose, its petals sheened like leather, the black stem thorned
with bright chrome.
Peter ъiviera smiled sweetly, closed his eyes, and fell in-
Molly turned away, her lenses reflected in the dark window.
"You been up, haven't you?" Molly asked, as he squirmed
his way back into the deep temperfoam couch on the JAL
"Nah. Never travel much, just for biz." The steward was
attaching readout trodes to his wrist and left ear.
"Hope you don't get SAS," she said.
"Airsick? No way."
"It's not the same. Your heartbeat'll speed up in zero-g, and
your inner ear'll go nuts for a while. Kicks in your flight reflex,
like you'll be getting signals to run like hell, and a lot of
adrenaline." The steward moved on to ъiviera, taking a new
set of trodes from his red plastic apron.
Case turned his head and tried to make out the outline of
the old Orly terminals, but the shuttle pad was screened by
graceful blast-deflectors of wet concrete. The one nearest the
window bore an Arabic slogan in red spraybomb.
He closed his eyes and told himself the shuttle was only a
big airplane, one that flew very high. It smelled like an airplane,
like new clothes and chewing gum and exhaustion. He listened
to the piped koto music and waited.
Twenty minutes, then gravity came down on him like a
great soft hand with bones of ancient stone.
x x x
Space adaptation syndrome was worse than Molly's de-
scription, but it passed quickly enough and he was able to
sleep. The steward woke him as they were preparing to dock
at JAL's terminal cluster.
We transfer to Freeside now?" he asked, eyeing a shred
of Yeheyuan tobacco that had drifted gracefully up out of his
shirt pocket to dance ten centimeters from his nose. There was
no smoking on shuttle flights.
"No, we got the boss's usual little kink in the plans, you
know? We're getting this taxi out to Zion, Zion cluster." She
touched the release plate on her harness and began to free
herself from the embrace of the foam. "Funny choice of venue,
you ask me."
"Dreads. ъastas. Colony's about thirty years old now."
"What's that mean?"
"You'll see. It's an okay place by me. Anyway, they'll let
you smoke your cigarettes there."
Zion had been founded by five workers who'd refused to
return, who'd turned their backs on the well and started build-
ing. They'd suffered calcium loss and heart shrinkage before
rotational gravity was established in the colony's central torus.
Seen from the bubble of the taxi, Zion's makeshift hull re-
minded Case of the patchwork tenements of Istanbul, the ir-
regular, discolored plates laser-scrawled with ъastafarian
symbols and the initials of welders.
Molly and a skinny Zionite called Aerol helped Case ne-
gotiate a freefall corridor into the core of a smaller torus. He'd
lost track of Armitage and ъiviera in the wake of a second
wave of SAS vertigo. "Here," Molly said, shoving his legs
into a narrow hatchway overhead. "Grab the rungs. Make like
you're climbing backward, right? You're going toward the hull,
that's like you're climbing down into gravity. Got it?"
Case's stomach churned.
"You be fine, mon," Aerol said, his grin bracketed with
Somehow, the end of the tunnel had become its bottom.
Case embraced the weak gravity like a drowning man finding
a pocket of air.
"Up," Molly said, "you gonna kiss it next?" Case lay flat
on the deck, on his stomach, arms spread. Something struck
him on the shoulder. He rolled over and saw a fat bundle of
elastic cable. "Gotta play house," she said. "You help me string
this up." He looked around the wide, featureless space and
noticed steel rings welded on every surface, seemingly at ran-
When they'd strung the cables, according to some complex
scheme of Molly's, they hung them with battered sheets of
yellow plastic. As they worked, Case gradually became aware
of the music that pulsed constantly through the cluster. It was
called dub, a sensuous mosaic cooked from vast libraries of
digitalized pop; it was worship, Molly said, and a sense of
community. Case heaved at one of the yellow sheets; the thing
was light but still awkward. Zion smelled of cooked vegetables,
humanity, and ganja.
"Good," Armitage said, gliding loose-kneed through the
hatch and nodding at the maze of sheets. ъiviera followed, less
certain in the partial gravity.
"Where were you when it needed doing?" Case asked ъi-
The man opened his mouth to speak. A small trout swam
out, trailing impossible bubbles. It glided past Case's cheek.
"In the head," ъiviera said, and smiled.
"Good," ъiviera said, "you can laugh. I would have tried
to help you, but I'm no good with my hands." He held up his
palms, which suddenly doubled. Four arms, four hands.
"Just the harmless clown, right, ъiviera?" Molly stepped
"Yo," Aerol said, from the hatch, "you wan' come wi' me,
"It's your deck," Armitage said, "and the other gear. Help
him get it in from the cargo bay."
"You ver' pale, mon," Aerol said, as they were guiding the
foam-bundled Hosaka terminal along the central corridor.
"Maybe you wan' eat somethin'."
Case's mouth flooded with saliva; he shook his head.
x x x
Armitage announced an eighty-hour stay in Zion. Molly and
Case would practice in zero gravity, he said, and acclimatize
themselves to working in it.