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He would brief them on Freeside
and the Villa Straylight. It was unclear what ъiviera was sup-
posed to be doing, but Case didn't feel like asking. A few
hours after their arrival, Armitage had sent him into the yellow
maze to call ъiviera out for a meal. He'd found him curled
like a cat on a thin pad of temperfoam, naked, apparently
asleep, his head orbited by a revolving halo of small white
geometric forms, cubes, spheres, and pyramids. "Hey, ъi-
viera." The ring continued to revolve. He'd gone back and told
Armitage. "He's stoned," Molly said, looking up from the
disassembled parts of her fletcher. "Leave him be."
Armitage seemed to think that zero-g would affect Case's
ability to operate in the matrix. 'Don't sweat it," Case argued,
"I jack in and I'm not here. It's all the same."
"Your adrenaline levels are higher," Armitage said. "You've
still got SAS. You won't have time for it to wear off. You're
going to learn to work with it. '
"So I do the run from here'?"
"No. Practice, Case. Now. Up in the corridor...."
Cyberspace, as the deck presented it, had no particular re-
lationship with the deck's physical whereabouts. When Case
jacked in, he opened his eyes to the familiar configuration of
the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority's Aztec pyramid of
"How you doing, Dixie?''
"I'm dead, Case. Got enough time in on this Hosaka to
figure that one."
"How's it feel?"
"What bothers me is, nothin' does."
"Had me this buddy in the ъussian camp, Siberia, his thumb
was frostbit. Medics came by and they cut it off. Month later
he's tossin' all night. Elroy. l said, what's eatin' you? Goddam
thumb's itchin', he says. So l told him, scratch it. McCoy, he
says, it's the other goddam thumb." When the construct laughed,
it came through as something else, not laughter, but a stab of
cold down Case's spine. "Do me a favor, boy."
"What's that, Dix?"
"This scam of yours, when it's over, you erase this goddam
Case didn't understand the Zionites.
Aerol, with no particular provocation, related the tale of the
baby who had burst from his forehead and scampered into a
forest of hydroponic ganja. "Ver' small baby, mon, no long'
you finga." He rubbed his palm across an unscarred expanse
of brown forehead and smiled.
"It's the ganja," Molly said, when Case told her the story.
"They don't make much of a difference between states, you
know? Aerol tells you it happened, well, it happened to him.
It's not like bullshit, more like poetry. Get it?"
Case nodded dubiously. The Zionites always touched you
when they were talking, hands on your shoulder. He didn't
"Hey, Aerol," Case called, an hour later, as he prepared
for a practice run in the freefall corridor. "Come here, man.
Wanna show you this thing." He held out the trodes.
Aerol executed a slow-motion tumble. His bare feet struck
the steel wall and he caught a girder with his free hand. The
other held a transparent waterbag bulging with blue-green al-
gae. He blinked mildly and grinned.
"Try it," Case said.
He took the band, put it on, and Case adjusted the trodes.
He closed his eyes. Case hit the power stud. Aerol shuddered.
Case jacked him back out. "What did you see, man?"
"Babylon," Aerol said, sadly, handing him the trodes and
kicking off down the corridor.
ъiviera sat motionless on his foam pad, his right arm ex-
tended straight out, level with his shoulder. A jewel-scaled
snake, its eyes like ruby neon, was coiled tightly a few
millimeters behind his elbow. Case watched the snake, which
was finger-thick and banded black and scarlet, slowly contract,
tightening around ъiviera's arm.
"Come then," the man said caressingly to the pale waxy
scorpion poised in the center of his upturned palm. "Come."
The scorpion swayed its brownish claws and scurried up his
arm, its feet tracking the faint dark telltales of veins. When it
reached the inner elbow, it halted and seemed to vibrate. ъi-
viera made a soft hissing sound. The sting came up, quivered,
and sank into the skin above a bulging vein. The coral snake
relaxed, and ъiviera sighed slowly as the injection hit him.
Then the snake and the scorpion were gone, and he held a
milky plastic syringe in his left hand. "'If God made anything
better, he kept it for himself. ' You know the expression, Case?"
"Yeah," Case said. "I heard that about lots of different
things. You always make it into a little show?"
ъiviera loosened and removed the elastic length of surgical
tubing from his arm. "Yes. It's more fun." He smiled, his eyes
distant now, cheeks flushed. "I've a membrane set in, just over
the vein, so I never have to worry about the condition of the
The bright eyes met his. "Of course it does. That's part of
it, isn't it?"
"I'd just use derms," Case said.
"Pedestrian," ъiviera sneered, and laughed, putting on a
short-sleeved white cotton shirt.
"Must be nice," Case said, getting up.
"Get high yourself, Case?"
"I hadda give it up."
"Freeside," Armitage said, touching the panel on the little
Braun hologram projector. The image shivered into focus, nearly
three meters from tip to tip. "Casinos here." He reached into
the skeletal representation and pointed. "Hotels, strata-title
property, big shops along here." His hand moved. "Blue areas
are lakes." He walked to one end of the model. "Big cigar.
Narrows at the ends."
"We can see that fine," Molly said.
"Mountain effect, as it narrows. Ground seems to get higher,
more rocky, but it's an easy climb. Higher you climb, the
lower the gravity. Sports up there. There's velodrome ring
here." He pointed.
"A what?" Case leaned forward.
"They race bicycles," Molly said. "Low grav, high-traction
tires, get up over a hundred kilos an hour."
"This end doesn't concern us," Armitage said with his usual
"Shit," Molly said, "I'm an avid cyclist."
Armitage walked to the opposite end of the projection. "This
end does." The interior detail of the hologram ended here, and
the final segment of the spindle was empty. "This is the Villa
Straylight. Steep climb out of gravity and every approach is
kinked. There's a single entrance, here, dead center. Zero grav-
"What's inside, boss?" ъiviera leaned forward, craning his
neck. Four tiny figures glittered, near the tip of Armitage's
finger. Armitage slapped at them as if they were gnats.
"Peter," Armitage said, "you're going to be the first to find
out. You'll arrange yourself an invitation. Once you're in, you
see that Molly gets in."
Case stared at the blankness that represented Straylight,
remembering the Finn's story: Smith, Jimmy, the talking head,
and the ninja.
"Details available?" ъiviera asked. "I need to plan a ward-
robe, you see."
"Learn the streets," Armitage said, returning to the center
of the model. "Desiderata Street here. This is the ъue Jules
ъiviera rolled his eyes.
While Armitage recited the names of Freeside avenues, a
dozen bright pustules rose on his nose, cheeks, and chin. Even
Armitage paused, regarded them all with his cold empty
"Sorry," ъiviera said, and the sores flickered and vanished.
Case woke, late into the sleeping period, and became aware
of Molly crouched beside him on the foam. He could feel her
tension. He lay there confused. When she moved, the sheer
speed of it stunned him. She was up and through the sheet of
yellow plastic before he'd had time to realize she'd slashed it
"Don't you move, friend."
Case rolled over and put his head through the rent in the
plastic. "Wha. . . ?"
"You th' one, mon," said a Zion voice. "Cateye, call 'em
call 'em Steppin' ъazor. I Maelcum, sister. Brothers wan
converse wi' you an' cowboy."
"Founders, mon. Elders of Zion, ya know...."
"We open that hatch, the light'll wake bossman," Case
"Make it special dark, now," the man said. "Come. I an' I
visit th' Founders."
"You know how fast I can cut you, friend?"
"Don' stan' talkin', sister. Come."
The two surviving Founders of Zion were old men, old with
the accelerated aging that overtakes men who spend too many
years outside the embrace of gravity. Their brown legs, brittle
with calcium loss, looked fragile in the harsh glare of reflected
sunlight. They floated in the center of a painted jungle of
rainbow foliage, a lurid communal mural that completely cov-
ered the hull of the spherical chamber. The air was thick with
"Steppin' ъazor," one said, as Molly drifted into the cham-
ber. "Like unto a whippin' stick."
"That is a story we have, sister," said the other, "a religion
story. We are glad you've come with Maelcum."
"How come you don't talk the patois?" Molly asked.
"I came from Los Angeles," the old man said. His dread-
locks were like a matted tree with branches the color of steel
wool. "Long time ago, up the gravity well and out of Babylon.
To lead the Tribes home. Now my brother likens you to Step-
Molly extended her right hand and the blades flashed in the
The other Founder laughed, his head thrown back. "Soon
come, the Final Days.... Voices. Voices cryin' inna wilder-
ness, prophesyin' ruin unto Babylon...."
"Voices." The Founder from Los Angeles was staring at
Case. "We monitor many frequencies. We listen always. Came
a voice, out of the babel of tongues, speaking to us. It played
us a mighty dub."
"Call 'em Winter Mute," said the other, making it two
Case felt the skin crawl on his arms.
"The Mute talked to us," the first Founder said. "The Mute
said we are to help you."
"When was this?" Case asked.
"Thirty hours prior you dockin' Zion."
"You ever hear this voice before?"
"No," said the man from Los Angeles, "and we are uncertain
of its meaning. If these are Final Days, we must expect false
"Listen," Case said, "that's an Al, you know? Artificial
intelligence. The music it played you, it probably just tapped
your banks and cooked up whatever it thought you'd like
"Babylon," broke in the other Founder, "mothers many de-
mon, I an' I know. Multitude horde!"
"What was that you called me, old man?" Molly asked.
"Steppin' ъazor. An' you bring a scourge on Babylon, sis-
ter, on its darkest heart...."
"What kinda message the voice have?" Case asked.
"We were told to help you," the other said, "that you might
serve as a tool of Final Days." His lined face was troubled.
"We were told to send Maelcum with you, in his tug Garvey,
to the Babylon port of Freeside. And this we shall do."
"Maelcum a rude boy," said the other, "an' a righteous tug
"But we have decided to send Aerol as well, in Babylon
ъocker, to watch over Garvey."
An awkward silence filled the dome.
"That's it?" Case asked. "You guys work for Armitage or
"We rent you space," said the Los Angeles Founder. "We
have a certain involvement here with various traffics, and no
regard for Babylon's law. Our law is the word of Jah. But this
time, it may be, we have been mistaken."
"Measure twice, cut once," said the other, softly.
"Come on, Case," Molly said. "Let's get back before the
man figures out we're gone."
"Maelcum will take you. Jah love, sister."
The tug Marcus Garvey, a steel drum nine meters long and
two in diameter, creaked and shuddered as Maelcum punched
for a navigational burn. Splayed in his elastic g-web, Case
watched the Zionite's muscular back through a haze of sco-
polamine. He'd taken the drug to blunt SAS, nausea, but the
stimulants the manufacturer included to counter the scop had
no effect on his doctored system.
"How long's it gonna take us to make Freeside?" Molly
asked from her web beside Maelcum's pilot module.
"Don' be long now, m'seh dat."
"You guys ever think in hours?"
"Sister, time, it be time, ya know wha mean? Dread," and
he shook his locks, "at control, moo, an' I an' I come a Freeside
when I an' I come...."
"Case," she said, "have you maybe done anything toward
getting in touch with our pal from Berne? Like all that time
you spent in Zion, plugged in with your lips moving?"
"Pal," Case said, "sure. No. I haven't. But I got a funny
story along those lines, left over from Istanbul." He told her
about the phones in the Hilton.
"Christ," she said, "there goes a chance. How come you
"Coulda been anybody," he lied. "lust a chip ... I dunno...."
"Not just 'cause you were scared, huh?"
He shrugged again.
"Do it now."
"Now. Anyway, talk to the Flatline about it."
"I'm all doped," he protested, but reached for the trodes.
His deck and the Hosaka had been mounted behind Maelcum's
module along with a very high-resolution Cray monitor.
He adjusted the trodes. Marcus Garvey had been thrown
together around an enormous old ъussian air scrubber, a rec-
tangular thing daubed with ъastafarian symbols, Lioos of Zion
and Black Star Liners, the reds and greens and yellows over-
laying wordy decals in Cyrillic script. Someone had sprayed
Maelcum's pilot gear a hot tropical pink, scraping most of the
overspray off the screens and readouts with a razor blade. The
gaskets around the airlock in the bow were festooned with
semirigid globs and streamers of translucent caulk, like clumsy
strands of imitation seaweed. He glanced past Maelcum's
shoulder to the central screen and saw a docking display: the
tug's path was a line of red dots, Freeside a segmented green
circle. He watched the line extend itself, generating a new dot.
He jacked in.
"You ever try to crack an AI?"
"Sure. I flatlined. First time. I was larkin' jacked up real
high, out by ъio heavy commerce sector. Big biz, multina-
tionals, Government of Brazil lit up like a Christmas tree. Just
larkin' around, you know? And then I started picking up on
this one cube, maybe three levels higher up. Jacked up there
and made a pass."
"What did it look like, the visual?"
"How'd you know it was an Al?"
"How'd I know? Jesus. It was the densest ice I'd ever seen.
So what else was it? The military down there don't have any-
thing like that. Anyway, I jacked out and told my computer to
look it up."
"It was on the Turing ъegistry. Al. Frog company owned
its ъio mainframe."
Case chewed his lower lip and gazed out across the plateaus
of the Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority, into the infinite
neuroelectronic void of the matrix. "Tessier-Ashpool, Dixie?"
"And you went back?"
"Sure. I was crazy. Figured I'd try to cut it. Hit the first
strata and that's all she wrote. My joeboy smelled the skin
frying and pulled the trodes off me. Mean shit, that ice."
"And your EEG was flat."
"Well, that's the stuff of legend, ain't it?"
Case jacked out. "Shit," he said, "how do you think Dixie
got himself flatlined, huh? Trying to buzz an AI. Great...."
"Go on," she said, "the two of you are supposed to be
"Dix," Case said, "I wanna have a look at an AI in Berne.
Can you think of any reason not to?"
"Not unless you got a morbid fear of death, no."
Case punched for the Swiss banking sector, feeling a wave
of exhilaration as cyberspace shivered, blurred, gelled. The
Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority was gone, replaced by the
cool geometric intricacy of Zurich commercial banking. He
punched again, for Berne.
"Up," the construct said. "It'll be high."
They ascended lattices of light, levels strobing, a blue flicker.
That'll be it, Case thought.
Wintermute was a simple cube of white light, that very
simplicity suggesting extreme complexity.
"Don't look much, does it?" the Flatline said. "But just you
try and touch it."
"I'm going in for a pass, Dixie."
"Be my guest."
Case punched to within four grid points of the cube. Its
blank face, towering above him now, began to seethe with faint
internal shadows, as though a thousand dancers whirled behind
a vast sheet of frosted glass.
"Knows we're here," the Flatline observed.
Case punched again, once; they jumped forward by a single
A stippled gray circle formed on the face of the cube.
"Back off, fast."
The gray area bulged smoothly, became a sphere, and de-
tached itself from the cube.
Case felt the edge of the deck sting his palm as he slapped
MAX ъEVEъSE. The matrix blurred backward; they plunged
down a twilit shaft of Swiss banks. He looked up. The sphere
was darker now, gaining on him. Falling.
"Jack out," the Flatline said.
The dark came down like a hammer.
Cold steel odor and ice caressed his spine.
And faces peering in from a neon forest, sailors and hustlers
and whores, under a poisoned silver sky....
"Look, Case, you tell me what the fuck is going on with
you, you wig or something?"
A steady pulse of pain, midway down his spine--
ъain woke him, a slow drizzle, his feet tangled in coils of
discarded fiberoptics. The arcade's sea of sound washed over
him, receded, returned. ъolling over, he sat up and held his
Light from a service hatch at the rear of the arcade showed
him broken lengths of damp chipboard and the dripping chassis
of a gutted game console. Streamlined Japanese was stenciled
across the side of the console in faded pinks and yellows.
He glanced up and saw a sooty plastic window, a faint glow
His back hurt, his spine.
He got to his feet, brushed wet hair out of his eyes.
Something had happened....
He searched his pockets for money, found nothing, and
shivered. Where was his jacket? He tried to find it, looked
behind the console, but gave up.
On Ninsei, he took the measure of the crowd. Friday. It
had to be a Friday. Linda was probably in the arcade. Might
have money, or at least cigarettes.... Coughing, wringing rain
from the front of his shirt, he edged through the crowd to the
Holograms twisted and shuddered to the roaring of the games,
ghosts overlapping in the crowded haze of the place, a smell
of sweat and bored tension. A sailor in a white t-shirt nuked
Bonn on a Tank War console, an azure flash.
She was playing Wizard's Castle, lost in it, her gray eyes
rimmed with smudged black paintstick.
She looked up as he put his arm around her, smiled. "Hey.
How you doin'? Look wet."
He kissed her.
"You made me blow my game," she said. "Look there
ass hole. Seventh level dungeon and the god dam vampires got
me." She passed him a cigarette. "You look pretty strung, man.
Where you been?"
"I don't know."
"You high, Case? Drinkin' again? Eatin' Zone's dex?"
"Maybe . . . how long since you seen me?"
"Hey, it's a put-on, right?" She peered at him. "ъight?"
"No. Some kind of blackout. I . . . I woke up in the alley."
"Maybe somebody decked you, baby. Got your roll intact?"
He shook his head.
"There you go. You need a place to sleep, Case?"
"I guess so."
"Come on, then." She took his hand. "We'll get you a coffee
and something to eat. Take you home. It's good to see you,
man." She squeezed his hand.
Something shifted at the core of things. The arcade froze,
She was gone. The weight of memory came down, an entire body of
knowledge driven into his head like a microsoft into
a socket. Gone. He smelled burning meat.
The sailor in the white t-shirt was gone. The arcade was
empty, silent. Case turned slowly, his shoulders hunched, teeth
bared, his hands bunched into involuntary fists. Empty. A
crumpled yellow candy wrapper, balanced on the edge of a
console, dropped to the floor and lay amid flattened butts and
"I had a cigarette," Case said, looking down at his white-
knuckled fist. "I had a cigarette and a girl and a place to sleep.
Do you hear me, you son of a bitch? You hear me?"