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      William Gibson. Neuromancer -
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He would brief them on Freeside and the Villa Straylight. It was unclear what iviera 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 iviera 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, i- 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 data. "How you doing, Dixie?'' "I'm dead, Case. Got enough time in on this Hosaka to figure that one." "How's it feel?" "It doesn't." "Bother you?" "What bothers me is, nothin' does." "How's that?" "Had me this buddy in the ussian 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 thing." 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 like that. "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. iviera 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 iviera'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. i- 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 iviera 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?" iviera 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 needle." "Doesn't hurt?" 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," iviera 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 utter seriousness. "Shit," Molly said, "I'm an avid cyclist." iviera giggled. 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- ity." "What's inside, boss?" iviera 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?" iviera 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 ue Jules Verne." iviera rolled his eyes. While Armitage recited the names of Freeside avenues, a dozen bright pustules rose on his nose, cheeks, and chin. Even Molly laughed. Armitage paused, regarded them all with his cold empty eyes. "Sorry," iviera 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 open. "Don't you move, friend." Case rolled over and put his head through the rent in the plastic. "Wha. . . ?" "Shut up." "You th' one, mon," said a Zion voice. "Cateye, call 'em call 'em Steppin' azor. I Maelcum, sister. Brothers wan converse wi' you an' cowboy." "What brothers?" "Founders, mon. Elders of Zion, ya know...." "We open that hatch, the light'll wake bossman," Case whispered. "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 resinous smoke. "Steppin' azor," 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- pin' azor." Molly extended her right hand and the blades flashed in the smoky air. 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 words. 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 prophets ...." "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 to--" "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' azor. 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 pilot." "But we have decided to send Aerol as well, in Babylon ocker, to watch over Garvey." An awkward silence filled the dome. "That's it?" Case asked. "You guys work for Armitage or what?" "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 hung up?" "Coulda been anybody," he lied. "lust a chip ... I dunno...." He shrugged. "Not just 'cause you were scared, huh?" He shrugged again. "Do it now." "What?" "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 ussian air scrubber, a rec- tangular thing daubed with astafarian 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. "Dixie?" "Yeah." "You ever try to crack an AI?" "Sure. I flatlined. First time. I was larkin' jacked up real high, out by io 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?" "White cube." "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." "Yeah?" "It was on the Turing egistry. Al. Frog company owned its io 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?" "Tessier, yeah." "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 dynamite, right?" "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 grid point. A stippled gray circle formed on the face of the cube. "Dixie...." "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 EVESE. 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-- ain woke him, a slow drizzle, his feet tangled in coils of discarded fiberoptics. The arcade's sea of sound washed over him, receded, returned. olling over, he sat up and held his head. 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 of fluorescents. 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 arcade's entrance. 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. "ight?" "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. He smiled. Something cracked. Something shifted at the core of things. The arcade froze, vibrated-- 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 styrofoam cups. "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?" Echoes

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