William Gibson

The Gernsback Continuum

Mercifully, the whole thing is starting to fade, to become an episode. When I do still catch the odd glimpse, it's peripheral; mere fragments of mad-doctor chrome, confining themselves to the corner of the eye. There was that flying-wing liner over San Francisco last week, but it was almost translucent. And the shark-fin roadsters have gotten scarcer, and freeways discreetly avoid unfolding themselves into the gleaming eighty lane monsters I was forced to drive last month in my rented Toyota. And I know that none of it will follow me to New York; my vision is narrowing to a single wavelength of probability. I've worked hard for that. Television helped a lot.

I suppose it started in London, in that bogus Greek taverna in Battersea Park Road, with lunch on Cohen's corporate tab. Dead steam-table food and it took them thirty minutes to find an ice bucket for the retsina. Cohen works for Barris-Watford, who publish big, trendy "trade" paperbacks: illustrated histories of the neon sign, the pinball machine, the windup toys of Occupied Japan. I'd gone over to shoot a series of shoe ads; California girls with tanned legs and frisky Day-Glow jogging shoes had capered for me down the escalators of St. John's Wood and across the platforms of Tooting Bec. A lean and hungry young agency had decided that the mystery of London Transport would sell waffle-tread nylon runners. They decide; I shoot. And Cohen, whom I knew vaguely from the old days in New York, had invited me to lunch the day before I was
due out of Heathrow. He brought along a very fashionably dressed young woman named Dialta Downes, who was virtually chinless and evidently a noted pop-art historian. In retrospect, I see her walking in beside Cohen under a floating neon sign that flashes THIS WAY LIES MADNESS in huge sans-serif capitals.

Cohen introduced us and explained that Dialta was the prime mover behind the latest Barris-Watford project, an illustrated history of what she called "American Streamlined Moderne." Cohen called it "Raygun Gothic." Their working title was The Airstream Futuropolis:    The Tomorrow That Never Was.

There's a British obsession with the more baroque elements of American pop culture, something like the weird cowboys-and-Indians fetish of the West Germans or the aberrant French hunger for old Jerry Lewis films. In Dialta Downes this manifested itself in a mania for a uniquely American form of architecture that most Americans are scarcely aware of. At first I wasn't sure what she was talking about, but gradually it began to dawn on me. I found myself remembering Sunday
morning television in the Fifties.     Sometimes they'd run old eroded newsreels as filler on the local station. You'd sit there with a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk, and a static-ridden Hollywood baritone would tell you that there was A Flying Car in Your Future. And three Detroit engineers would putter around with this big old Nash with wings,
and you'd see it rumbling furiously down some deserted Michigan runway. You never actually saw it take off, but it flew away to Dialta Downes's never-never land, true home of a generation of completely uninhibited technophiles. She was talking about those odds and ends of "futuristic" Thirties and Forties architecture you pass daily in American cities without noticing; the movie marquees ribbed to radiate some mysterious energy, the dime stores faced with fluted aluminum, the
chrome-tube chairs gathering dust in the lobbies of transient hotels. She saw these things as segments of a dreamworld, abandoned in the uncaring present; she wanted me to photograph them for her.

The Thirties had seen the first generation of American industrial designers; until the Thirties, all pencil sharpeners had looked like pencil sharpeners your basic Victorian mechanism, perhaps with a curlicue of decorative trim. After the advent of the designers, some pencil sharpeners looked as though they'd been put together in wind tunnels. For the most part, the change was only skin-deep; under the streamlined chrome shell, you'd find the same Victorian mechanism. Which made a certain kind of sense, because the most successful American designers had been recruited from the ranks of Broadway theater designers. It was all a stage set, a series of elaborate props for playing at living in the future.

Over coffee, Cohen produced a fat manila envelope full of glossies. I saw the winged statues that guard the Hoover Dam, forty-foot concrete hood ornaments leaning steadfastly into an imaginary hurricane. I saw a dozen shots of Frank Lloyd Wright's Johnson's Wax Building, juxtaposed with the covers of old Amazing Stories pulps, by an artist named Frank R. Paul; the employees of Johnson's Wax must have felt as though they were walking into one of Paul's spray-paint pulp utopias. Wright's building looked as though it had been designed for people who wore white togas and Lucite sandals. I hesitated over one sketch of a particularly grandiose prop-driven airliner, all wing, like a fat symmetrical boomerang with windows in unlikely places. Labeled arrows indicated the locations of the grand ballroom and two squash courts. It was dated 1936.

"This thing couldn't have flown. . . ?" I looked at Dialta Downes.
"Oh, no, quite impossible, even with those twelve giant props; but they loved the look, don't you see? New York to London in less than two days, first-class dining rooms, private cabins, sun decks, dancing to jazz in the evening... The designers were populists, you see; they were trying to give the public what it wanted. What the public wanted was the future."

I'd been in Burbank for three days, trying to suffuse a really dull-looking rocker with charisma, when I got the package from Cohen. It is possible to photograph what isn't there; it's damned hard to do, and consequently a very marketable talent. While I'm not bad at it, I'm not exactly the best, either, and this poor guy strained my Nikon's credibility. I got out, depressed because I do like to do a good job, but not totally depressed, because I did make sure I'd gotten the check for the job, and I decided to restore myself with the sublime artiness of the Barris-Watford assignment. Cohen had sent me
some books on Thirties design, more photos of streamlined buildings, and a list of Dialta Downes's fifty favorite examples of the style in California.

Architectural photography can involve a lot of waiting; the building becomes a kind of sundial, while you wait for a shadow to crawl away from a detail you want, or for the mass and balance of the structure to reveal itself in a certain way. While I was waiting, I thought myself in Dialta Downes's America. When I isolated a few of the factory buildings on the ground glass of the Hasselblad, they came across with a kind of sinister totalitarian dignity, like the stadiums Albert Speer built for Hitler. But the rest of it was relentlessly tacky: ephemeral stuff extruded by the collective American subconscious of the Thirties, tending mostly to survive along depressing strips lined with dusty motels, mattress wholesalers, and small used-car lots. I went for the gas stations in a big way.

During the high point of the Downes Age, they put Ming the Merciless in charge of designing California gas stations. Favoring the architecture of his native Mongo, he cruised up and down the coast erecting raygun emplacements in white stucco. Lots of them featured superfluous central towers ringed with those strange radiator flanges that were a signature motif of the style, and made them look as though they might generate potent bursts of raw technological enthusiasm, if you
could only find the switch that turned them on. I shot one in San Jose an hour before the bulldozers arrived and drove right through the structural truth of plaster and lathing and cheap concrete.

"Think of it," Dialta Downes had said, "as a kind of alternate America: a 1980 that never happened. An architecture of broken dreams."

And that was my frame of mind as I made the stations of her convoluted socioarchitectural cross in my red Toyota as I gradually tuned in to her image of a shadowy America-that-wasn't, of Coca-Cola plants like beached submarines, and fifth-run movie houses like the temples of some lost sect that had worshiped blue mirrors and geometry. And as I moved among these secret ruins, I found myself wondering what the inhabitants of that lost future would think of the world I
lived in. The Thirties dreamed white marble and slipstream chrome, immortal crystal and burnished bronze, but the rockets on the covers of the Gernsback pulps had fallen on London in the dead of night, screaming. After the war, everyone had a car no wings for it and the promised superhighway to drive it down, so that the sky itself darkened, and the fumes ate the marble and pitted the miracle crystal. . .

And one day, on the outskirts of Bolinas, when I was setting up to shoot a particularly lavish example of Ming's martial architecture, I penetrated a fine membrane, a membrane of probability... Every so gently, I went over the Edge and looked up to see a twelve-engined thing like a bloated boomerang, all wing, thrumming its way east with an elephantine grace, so low that I could count the rivets in its dull silver skin, and hear maybe the echo of jazz.

I took it to Kihn.

Merv Kihn, free-lance journalist with an extensive line in Texas pterodactyls, redneck UFO contactees, bush-league Loch Ness monsters, and the Top Ten conspiracy theories in the loonier reaches of the American mass mind.

"It's good," said Kihn, polishing his yellow Polaroid shooting glasses on the hem of his Hawaiian shirt, "but it's not mental; lacks the true quill."

But I saw it, Mervyn." We were seated poolside in brilliant Arizona sunlight. He was in Tucson waiting for a group of retired Las Vegas civil servants whose leader received messages from Them on her microwave oven. I'd driven all night and was feeling it.

"Of course you did. Of course you saw it. You've read my stuff; haven't you grasped my blanket solution to the UFO problem? It's simple, plain and country simple: people" he settled the glasses carefully on his long hawk nose and fixed me with his best basilisk glare  "see . . . things. People see these things. Nothing's there, but people see them anyway. Because they need to, probably. You've read Jung. you should know the score... .In your case, it's so obvious: You admit you were thinking about this crackpot architecture, having fantasies. .. .Look, I'm sure you've taken your share of drugs, right? How many people survived the Sixties in California without having the odd hallucination? All those nights when you  discovered that whole armies of Disney technicians had been employed to weave animated holograms of Egyptian hieroglyphs into the fabric of your jeans, say, or the times when "

"But it wasn't like that."

"Of course not. It wasn't like that at all; it was `in a setting of clear reality,' right? Everything normal, and then there's the monster, the mandala, the neon cigar. In your case, a giant Tom Swift airplane. It happens all the time. You aren't even crazy. You know that, don't you?" He fished a beer out of the battered foam cooler beside his deck chair.

"Last week I was in Virginia. Grayson County. I interviewed a sixteen-year-old girl who'd been assaulted bya bar hade."

``A what?"
"A bear head. The severed head of a bear. This bar hade, see, was floating around on its own little flying saucer, looked kind of like the hubcaps on cousin Wayne's vintage Caddy. Had red, glowing eyes like two cigar stubs and telescoping chrome antennas poking up behind its ears." He burped. -

"It assaulted her? How?"
"You don't want to know; you're obviously impressionable. `It was cold' " he lapsed into his bad southern accent " `and metallic.' It made electronic noises. Now that is the real thing, the straight goods from the mass unconscious, friend; that little girl is a witch. There's just no place for her to function in this society. She'd have seen the devil, if she hadn't been brought up on `The Bionic Man' and all those `Star Trek' reruns. She is clued into the main vein. And she knows that it happened to her. I got out ten minutes before the heavy UFO boys showed up with the polygraph."

I must have looked pained, because he set his beer down carefully beside the cooler and sat up.

"If you want a classier explanation, I'd say you saw a semiotic ghost. All these contactee stories, for instance, are framed in a kind of sci-fi imagery that permeates our culture. I could buy aliens, but not aliens that look like Fifties' comic art. They're semiotic phantoms, bits of deep cultural imagery that have split off and taken on a life of their own, like the Jules Verne airships that those old Kansas farmers were always seeing. But you saw a different kind of ghost, that's all. That plane was part of the mass unconscious, once. You picked up on that, somehow. The important thing is not
to worry about it."

I did worry about it, though.
Kihn combed his thinning blond hair and went off to hear what They had had to say over the radar range lately, and I drew the curtains in my room and lay down in air-conditioned darkness to worry about it. I was still worrying about it when I woke up. Kihn had left a note on my door; he was flying up north in a chartered plane to check out a cattle-mutilation rumor ("muties," he called them; another of his journalistic specialties).

I had a meal, showered, took a crumbling diet pill that had been kicking around in the bottom of my shaving kit for three years, and headed back to Los Angeles.

The speed limited my vision to the tunnel of the Toyota's headlights. The body could drive, I told myself, while the mind maintained. Maintained and stayed away from the weird peripheral window dressing of amphetamine and exhaustion, the spectral, luminous vegetation that grows out of the corners of the mind's eye along late-night highways. But the mind had its own ideas, and Kihn's opinion of what I was already thinking of as my "sighting" rattled endlessly through my head in a tight, lopsided orbit. Semiotic ghosts. Fragments of the Mass Dream, whirling past in the wind of my passage. Somehow this feedback-loop aggravated the diet pill, and the speed-vegetation along the road began to assume the colors of infrared satellite images, glowing shreds blown apart in the Toyota's slipstream.

I pulled over, then, and a half-dozen aluminum beer cans winked goodnight as I killed the headlights. I wondered what time it was in London, and tried to imagine Dialta Downes having breakfast in her Hampstead flat, surrounded by streamlined chrome figurines and books on American culture.

Desert nights in that country are enormous; the moon is closer. I watched the moon for a long time and decided that Kihn was right. The main thing was not to worry. All across the continent, daily, people who were more normal than I'd ever aspired to be saw giant birds, Bigfeet, flying oil refineries; they kept Kihn busy and solvent. Why should I be upset by a glimpse of the 1930s pop imagination loose over Bolinas? I decided to go to sleep, with nothing worse to worry about than rattlesnakes and cannibal hippies, safe amid the friendly roadside garbage of my own familiar continuum. In the morning I'd drive down to Nogales and photograph the old brothels, something I'd intended to do for years. The diet pill had given up.

The light woke me, and then the voices.

The light came from somewhere behind me and threw shifting shadows inside the car. The voices were calm, indistinct, male and female, engaged in conversation.

My neck was stiff and my eyeballs felt gritty in their sockets. My leg had gone to sleep, pressed against the steering wheel. I fumbled for my glasses in the pocket of my work shirt and finally got them on.

Then I looked behind me and saw the city.
The books on Thirties design were in the trunk; one of them contained sketches of an idealized city that drew on Metropolis and Things to Come, but squared everything, soaring up through an architect's perfect clouds to zeppelin docks and mad neon spires. That city was a scale model of the one that rose behind me. Spire stood on spire in gleaming ziggurat steps that climbed to a central golden temple tower ringed with the crazy radiator flanges of the Mongo gas stations. You could hide the Empire State Building in the smallest of those towers. Roads of crystal soared between the spires, crossed and recrossed by smooth silver shapes like beads of running mercury. The air was thick with ships: giant wing-liners, little darting silver things (sometimes one of the quicksilver shapes from the sky bridges rose gracefully into the air and flew up to join the dance), mile-long blimps, hovering dragonfly things that were gyrocopters...

I closed my eyes tight and swung around in the seat. When I opened them, I willed myself to see the mileage meter, the pale road dust on the black plastic dashboard, the overflowing ashtray.

"Amphetamine psychosis," I said. I opened my eyes. The dash was still there, the dust, the crushed filtertips. Very  carefully, without moving my head, I turned the headlights on.

And saw them.

They were blond. They were standing beside their car, an aluminum avocado with a central shark-fin rudder jutting up from its spine and smooth black tires like a child's toy. He had his arm around her waist and was gesturing toward the city. They were both in white: loose clothing, bare legs, spotless white sun shoes. Neither of them seemed aware of the beams of my headlights. He was saying something wise and strong, and she was nodding, and suddenly I was frightened, frightened in an entirely different way. Sanity had ceased to be an issue; I knew, somehow, that the city behind me was Tucson a dream Tucson thrown up out of the collective yearning of an era. That it was real, entirely real. But the couple in front of me lived in it, and they frightened me.

They were the children of Dialta Downes's `30-that-wasn't; they were Heirs to the Dream. They were white, blond, and they probably had blue eyes. They were American. Dialta had said that the Future had come to America first, but had finally passed it by. But not here, in the heart of the Dream. Here, we'd gone on and on, in a dream logic that knew nothing of pollution, the finite bounds of fossil fuel, or foreign wars it was possible to lose. They were smug, happy, and utterly
content with themselves and their world. And in the Dream, it was their world.

Behind me, the illuminated city: Searchlights swept the sky for the sheer joy of it. I imagined them throng-
ing the plazas of white marble, orderly and alert, their
bright eyes shining with enthusiasm for their floodlit
avenues and silver cars.
    It had all the sinister fruitiness of Hitler Youth prop-
    I put the car in gear and drove forward slowly, until
the bumper was within three feet of them. They still
hadn't seen me. I rolled the window down and listened
to what the man was saying. His words were bright and
hollow as the pitch in some Chamber of Commerce
brochure, and I knew that he believed in them abso-
    "John," I heard the woman say, "we've forgotten
to take our food pills." She clicked two bright wafers
from a thing on her belt and passed one to him. I backed
onto the highway and headed for Los Angeles, wincing
and shaking my head.

I phoned Kihn from a gas station. A new one, in bad
Spanish Modern. He was back from his expedition and
didn't seem to mind the call.
    "Yeah, that is a weird one. Did you try to get any
pictures? Not that they ever come out, but it adds an in-
teresting frisson to your story, not having the pictures
    But what should I do?
    "Watch lots of television, particularly game shows
and soaps. Go to porn movies. Ever see Nazi Love
Motel? They've got it on cable, here. Really awful. Just
what you need."

What was he talking about?
"Quit yelling and listen to me. I'm letting you in on a trade secret: Really bad media can exorcise your semiotic ghosts. If it keeps the saucer people off my back, it can keep these Art Deco futuroids off yours. Try it. What have you got to lose?"

Then he begged off, pleading an early-morning date with the Elect.

"The who?"

"These oldsters from Vegas; the ones with the microwaves.

I considered putting a collect call through to London, getting Cohen at Barris-Watford and telling him his photographer was checked out for a protracted season in the Twilight Zone. In the end, I let a machine mix me a really impossible cup of black coffee and climbed back into the Toyota for the haul to Los Angeles.

Los Angeles was a bad idea, and I spent two weeks there. It was prime Downes country; too much of the Dream there, and too many fragments of the Dream waiting to snare me. I nearly wrecked the car on a stretch of overpass near Disneyland, when the road fanned out like an origami trick and left me swerving through a dozen minilanes of whizzing chrome teardrops with shark fins. Even worse, Hollywood was full of people who looked too much like the couple I'd seen in Arizona. I hired an Italian director who was making ends meet doing darkroom work and installing patio decks around swimming pools until his ship came in; he made prints of all the negatives I'd accumulated on the Downes job. I didn't want to look at the stuff myself. It didn't seem to bother Leonardo, though, and when he was finished I checked the prints, riffling through them
like a deck of cards, sealed them up, and sent them air freight to London. Then I took a taxi to a theater that was showing Nazi Love Motel, and kept my eyes shut all the way.

Cohen's congratulatory wire was forwarded to me in San Francisco a week later. Dialta had loved the pictures. He admired the way I'd ``really gotten into it,''and looked forward to working with me again. That afternoon I spotted a flying wing over Castro Street, but there was something tenuous about it, as though it were only half there. I rushed into the nearest newsstand and gathered up as much as I could find on the petroleum crisis and the nuclear energy hazard. I'd just decided to buy a plane ticket for New York.

"Hell of a world we live in, huh?" The proprietor was a thin black man with bad teeth and an obvious wig. I nodded, fishing in my jeans for change, anxious to find a park bench where I could submerge myself in hard evidence of the human near-dystopia we live in. "But it could be worse, huh?"

"That's right," I said, "or even worse, it could be perfect."

He watched me as I headed down the street with my little bundle of condensed catasttophe.

Fragments of a Hologram Rose    

That summer Parker had trouble sleeping.
    There were power droughts; sudden failures of the
delta-inducer brought painfully abrupt returns to con-
    To avoid these, he used patch cords, miniature
alligator clips, and black tape to wire the inducer to a
battery-operated ASP deck. Power loss in the inducer
would trigger the deck's playback circuit.
    He bought an ASP cassette that began with the sub-
ject asleep on a quiet beach. It had been recorded by a
young blonde yogi with 20-20 vision and an abnormally
acute color sense. The boy had been flown to Barbados
for the sole purpose of taking a nap and his morning's
exercise on a brilliant stretch of private beach. The
microfiche laminate in the cassette's transparent case
explained that the yogi could will himself through alpha
to delta without an inducer. Parker, who hadn't been
able to sleep without an inducer for two years, won-
dered if this was possible.
    He had been able to sit through the whole thing
only once, though by now he knew every sensation of
the first five subjective minutes. He thought the most in-
teresting part of the sequence was a slight editing slip at
the start of the elaborate breathing routine: a swift
glance down the white beach that picked out the figure
of a guard patrolling a chain link fence, a black machine
pistol slung over his arm.
    While Parker slept, power drained from the city's
    The transition from delta to delta-ASP was a dark
implosion into other flesh. Familiarity cushioned the
shock. He felt the cool sand under his shoulders. The
cuffs of his tattered jeans flapped against his bare
ankles in the morning breeze. Soon the boy would wake
fully and begin his Ardha-Matsyendra~something; with
other hands Parker groped in darkness for the ASP
Three in the morning.

   Making yourself a cup of coffee in the dark, using a
flashlight when you pour the boiling water.
   Morning's recorded dream, fading: through other
eyes, dark plume of a Cuban freighter fading with the
horizon it navigates across the mind's gray screen.
   Three in the morning.
   Let yesterday arrange itself around you in flat
schematic images. What you said what she said
watching her pack dialing the cab. However you
shuffle them they form the same printed circuit, hiero-
glyphs converging on a central component; you, stand-
ing in the rain, screaming at the cabby.
   The rain was sour and acid, nearly the color of piss.
The cabby called you an asshole; you still had to pay
twice the fare. She had three pieces of luggage. In his
respirator and goggles, the man looked like an ant. He
pedaled away in the rain. She didn't look back.
   The last you saw of her was a giant ant, giving you
the finger.

Parker saw his first ASP unit in a Texas shantytown
called Judy's Jungle. It was a massive console cased in
cheap plastic chrome. A ten-dollar bill fed into the slot
bought you five minutes of free-fall gymnastics in a
Swiss orbital spa, trampolining through twenty-meter
perihelions with a sixteen-year-old Vogue model
 heady stuff for the Jungle, where it was simpler to
buy a gun than a hot bath.
    He was in New York with forged papers a year
later, when two leading firms had the first portable
decks in major department stores in time for Christmas.
The ASP porn theaters that had boomed briefly in
California never recovered.
    Holography went too, and the block-wide Fuller
domes that had been the holo temples of Parker's
childhood became multilevel supermarkets, or housed
dusty amusement arcades where you still might find the
old consoles, under faded neon pulsing APPARENT SEN-
SORY PERCEPTION through a blue haze of cigarette
    Now Parker is thirty and writes continuity for
broadcast ASP, programming the eye movements of the
industry's human cameras.

The brown-out continues.
    In the bedroom, Parker prods the bru~hed-alu-
minum face of his Sendai Sleep-Master. Its pilot light
flickers, then lapses into darkness. Coffee in hand, he
crosses the carpet to the closet she emptied the day
before. The flashlight's beam probes the bare shelves
for evidence of love, finding a broken leather sandal
strap, an ASP cassette, and a postcard. The postcard is
a white light reflection holo&ram of a rose.
    At the kitchen sink, he feeds the sandal strap to the
disposal unit. Sluggish in the brown-out, it complains,
but swallows and digests. Holding it carefully between
thumb and forefinger, he lowers the hologram toward
the hidden rotating jaws. The unit emits a thin scream as
steel teeth slash laminated plastic and the rose is shred-
ded into a thousand fragments.
    Later he sits on the unmade bed, smoking. Her cas-
sette is in the deck ready for playback. Some women's
tapes disorient him, but he doubts this is the reason he
now hesitates to start the machine.
    Roughly a quarter of all ASP users are unable to
comfortably assimilate the subjective body picture of
the opposite sex. Over the years some broadcast ASP
stars have become increasingly androgynous in an at-
tempt to capture this segment of the audience.
    But Angela's own tapes have never intimidated him
before. (But what if she has recorded a lover?) No, that
can't be it it's simply that the cassette is an entirely
unknown quantity.

When Parker was fifteen, his parents indentured him to
the American subsidiary of a Japanese plastics combine.
At the time, he felt fortunate; the ratio of applicants to
indentured trainees was enormous. For three years he
lived with his cadre in a dormitory, singing the company
hymns in formation each morning and usually manag-
ing to go over the compound fence at least once a month
for girls or the holodrome.
   The indenture would have terminated on his twen-
tieth birthday, leaving him eligible for full employee
status. A week before his nineteenth birthday, with two
stolen credit cards and a change of clothes, he went over
the fence for the last time. He arrived in California three
days before the chaotic New Secessionist regime col-
lapsed. In San Francisco, warring splinter groups hit
and ran in the streets. One or another of four different
"provisional" city governments had done such an effi-
cient job of stockpiling food that almost none was
available at street level.
    Parker spent the last night of the revolution in a
burned-out Tucson suburb, making love to a thin
teenager from New Jersey who explained the finer
points of her horoscope between bouts of almost silent
weeping that seemed to have nothing at all to do with
anything he did or said.
    Years later he realized that he no longer had any
idea of his original motive in breaking his indenture.
    *    *    *
The first three quarters of the cassette have been erased;
you punch yourself fast-forward through a static haze
of wiped tape, where taste and scent blur into a single
channel. The audio input is white sound the no-sound
of the first dark sea. . . .(Prolonged input from wiped
tape can induce hypnagogic hallucination.)

Parker crouched in the roadside New Mexico brush at
midnight, watching a tank burn on the highway. Flame
lit the broken white line he had followed from Tucson.
The explosion had been visible two miles away, a white
sheet of heat lightning that had turned the pale branches
of a bare tree against the night sky into a photographic
negative of themselves: carbon branches against mag-
nesium sky.
    Many of the refugees were armed.
    Texas owed the shantytowns that steamed in the
warm Gulf rains to the uneasy neutrality she had main-
tained in the face of the Coast's attempted secession.
    The towns were built of plywood, cardboard,
plastic sheets that billowed in the wind, and the bodies
of dead vehicles. They had names like Jump City and
Sugaree, and loosely defined governments and ter-
ritories that shifted constantly in the covert winds of a
black-market economy.
    Federal and state troops sent in to sweep the outlaw
towns seldom found anything. But after each search, a
few men would fail to report back. Some had sold their
weapons and burned their uniforms, and others had
come too close to the contraband they had been sent to
    After three months, Parker wanted out, but goods
were the only safe passage through the army cordons.
His chance came only by accident: Late one afternoon,
skirting the pall of greasy cooking smoke that hung low
over the Jungle, he stumbled and nearly fell on the body
of a woman in a dry creek bed. Flies rose up in an angry
cloud, then settled again, ignoring him. She had a
leather jacket, and at night Parker was usually cold. He
began to search the creek bed for a length of brush-
    In the jacket's back, lust below her left shoulder
blade, was a round hole that would have admitted the
shaft of a pencil. The jacket's lining had been red once,
but now it was black, stiff and shining with dried blood.
With the jacket swaying on the end of his stick, he went
looking for water.
    j-Ie never washed the jacket; in its left pocket he
found nearly an ounce of cocaine, carefully wrapped in
plastic and transparent surgical tape. The right pocket
held fifteen ampules of Megacillin-D and a ten-inch
horn-handled switchblade. The antibiotic was worth
twice its weight in cocaine.
    He drove the knife hilt-deep into a rotten stump
passed over by the Jungle's wood-gatherers and hung
the jacket there, the flies circling it as he walked away.
    That night, in a bar with a corrugated iron roof,
waiting for one of the "lawyers" who worked passages
through the cordon, he tried his first ASP machine. It
was huge, all chrome and neon, and the owner was very
proud of it; he had helped hijack the truck himself.

If the chaos of the nineties reflects a radical shift
in the paradigms of visual literacy, the final shift
away from the Lascaux/Gutenberg tradition of a
pre-holographic society, what should we expect
from this newer technology, with his promise of
discrete encoding and subsequent reconstruction
of the full range of sensory perception?
 Roebuck and Pierhal, Recent
American History: A Systems

Fast-forward through the humming no-time of wiped
tape into her body. European sunlight. Streets of a
strange city.
    Athens. Greek-letter signs and the smell of dust...
 and the smell of dust.

    Look through her eyes (thinking, this woman
hasn't met you yet; you're hardly out of Texas) at the
gray monument, horses there in stone, where pigeons
whirl up and circle
     and static takes love's body, wipes it clean and
gray. Waves of white sound break along a beach that
isn't there. And the tape ends.

The inducer's light is burning now.
     Parker lies in darkness, recalling the thousand
fragments of the hologram rose. A hologram has this
quality: Recovered and illuminated, each fragment will
reveal the whole image of the rose. Falling toward delta,
he sees himself the rose, each of his scattered fragments
revealing a whole he'll never know stolen credit
cards a burned- out suburb planetary conjunctions
of a stranger a tank burning on a highway a flat
packet of drugs a switchblade honed on concrete, thin
as pain.
Thinking:    We're each other's fragments, and was it
always this way? That instant of a European trip,
deserted in the gray sea of wiped tape is she closer
now, or more real, for his having been there?
    She had helped him get his papers, found him his
first job in ASP. Was that their history? No, history was
the black face of the delta-inducer, the empty closet,
and the unmade bed. History was his loathing for the
perfect body he woke in if the juice dropped, his fury at
the pedal-cab driver, and her refusal to look back
through the contaminated rain.

    But each fragment reveals the rose from a different
angle, he remembered, but delta swept over him before
he could ask himself what that might mean.

The Belonging Kind

by John Shirley and William Gibson

It might have been in Club Justine, or Jimbo's, or Sad
Jack's, or the Rafters; Coretti could never be sure where
he'd first seen her. At any time, she might have been in
any one of those bars. She swam through the submarine
half-life of bottles and glassware and the slow swirl of
cigarette smoke . . . she moved through her natural ele-
ment, one bar after another.
    Now, Coretti remembered their first meeting as if
he saw it through the wrong end of a powerful tele-
scope, small and clear and very far away.
    He had noticed her first in the Backdoor Lounge. It
was called the Backdoor because you entered through a
narrow back alley. The alley's walls crawled with graf-
fiti, its caged lights ticked with moths. Flakes from its
white-painted bricks crunched underfoot. And then you
pushed through into a dim space inhabited by a faintly
confusing sense of the half-dozen other bars that had
tried and failed in the same room under different
managements. Coretti sometimes went there because he
liked the weary smile of the black bartender, and
because the few customers rarely tried to get chummy.
    He wasn't very good at conversation with stran-
gers, not at parties and not in bars.
He was fine at the community college where he
lectured in introductory linguistics; he could talk with
the head of his department about sequencing and op-
tions in conversational openings. But he could never
talk to strangers in bars or at parties. He didn't go to
many parties. He went to a lot of bars.
    Coretti didn't know how to dress. Clothing was a
language and Coretti a kind of sartorial stutterer,
unable to make the kind of basic coherent fashion state-
ment that would put strangers at their ease. His ex-wife
told him he dressed like a Martian; that he didn't look
as though he belonged anywhere in the city. He hadn't
liked her saying that, because it was true.
    He hadn't ever had a girl like the one who sat with
her back arched slightly in the undersea light that
splashed along the bar in the Backdoor. The same light
was screwed into the lenses of the bartender's glasses,
wound into the necks of the rows of bottles, splashed
dully across the mirror. In that light her dress was the
green of young corn, like a husk half stripped away,
showing back and cleavage and lots of thigh through the
slits up the side. Her hair was coppery that night. And,
that night, her eyes were green.
    He pushed resolutely between the empty chrome-
and-Formica tables until he reached the bar, where he
ordered a straight bourbon. He took off his duffle coat,
and wound up holding it on his lap when he sat down
one stool away from her. Great, he screamed to himself,
she'll think you're hiding an erection. And he was
startled to realize that he had one to hide. He studied
himself in the mirror behind the bar, a thirtyish man
with thinning dark hair and a pale, narrow face on a
long neck, too long for the open collar of the nylon shirt
printed with engravings of 1910 automobiles in three
vivid colors. He wore a tie with broad maroon and black
diagonals, too narrow, he supposed, for what he now
saw as the grotesquely long points of his collar. Or it
was the wrong color. Something.
    Beside him, in the dark clarity of the mirror, the
green-eyed woman looked like Irma La Douce. But
looking closer, studying her face, he shivered. A face
like an animal's. A beautiful face, but simple, cunning,
two-dimensional. When she senses you're looking at
her, Coretti thought, she'll give you the smile, disdain-
ful amusement or whatever you'd expect.
    Coretti blurted, "May I, um, buy you a drink?"
    At moments like these, Coretti was possessed by an
agonizingly stiff, schoolmasterish linguistic tic. Um. He
winced. Um.
    "You would, um, like to buy me a drink? Why,
how kind of you," she said, astonishing him. "That
would be very nice." Distantly, he noticed that her reply
was as stilted and insecure as his own. She added, "A
Tom Collins, on this occasion, would be lovely."
    On this occasion? Lovely? Rattled, Coretti ordered
two drinks and paid.
    A big woman in jeans and an embroidered cowboy
shirt bellied up to the bar beside him and asked the
bartender for change. "Well, hey," she said. Then she
strutted to the jukebox and punched for Conway and
Loretta's "You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly."
Coretti turned to the woman in green, and murmured
    "Do you enjoy country-and-western music?" Do
you enjoy... ? He groaned secretly at his phrasing, and
tried to smile.
    "Yes indeed," she answered, the faintest twang
edging her voice, "I sure do."
    The cowgirl sat down beside him and asked her,
winking, "This li'l terror here givin' you a hard time?"
    And the animal-eyed lady in green replied, "Oh,
hell no, honey, I got my eye on `im." And laughed. Just
the right amount of laugh. The part of Coretti that was
dialectologist stirred uneasily; too perfect a shift in
phrasing and inflection. An actress? A talented mimic?
The word mimetic rose suddenly in his mind, but he
pushed it aside to study her reflection in the mirror; the
rows of bottles occluded her breasts like a gown of
    "The name's Coretti," he said, his verbal
poltergeist shifting abruptly to a totally unconvincing
tough-guy mode, "Michael Coretti."
    "A pleasure," she said, too softly for the other
woman to hear, and again she had slipped into the lame
parody of Emily Post.
    "Conway and Loretta," said the cowgirl, to no one
in particular.
    "Antoinette," said the woman in green, and in-
clined her head. She finished her drink, pretended to
glance at a watch, said thank-you-for-the-drink too
damn politely, and left.
    Ten minutes later Coretti was following her down
Third Avenue. He had never followed anyone in his life
and it both frightened and excited him. Forty feet
seemed a discreet distance, but what should he do if she
happened to glance over her shoulder?
    Third Avenue isn't a dark street, and it was there,
in the light of a streetlamp, like a stage light, that she
began to change. The street was deserted.
    She was crossing the street. She stepped off the
curb and it began. It began with tints in her hair at
first he thought they were reflections. But there was no
neon there to cast the blobs of color that appeared,
color sliding and merging like oil slicks. Then the colors
bled away and in three seconds she was white-blond. He
was sure it was a trick of the light until her dress began
to writhe, twisting across her body like shrink-wrap
plastic. Part of it fell away entirely and lay in curling
shreds on the pavement, shed like the skin of some fabu-
lous animal. When Coretti passed, it was green foam,
fizzing, dissolving, gone. He looked back up at her and
the dress was another dress, green satin, shifting with
reflections. Her shoes had changed too. Her shoulders
were bare except for thin straps that crossed at the small
of her back. Her hair had become short, spiky.
    He found that he was leaning against a jeweler's
plate-glass window, his breath coming ragged and harsh
with the damp of the autumn evening. He heard the
disco's heartbeat from two blocks away. As she neared
it, her movements began subtly to take on a new
rhythm a shift in emphasis in the sway of her hips, in
the way she put her heels down on the sidewalk. The
doorman let her pass with a vague nod. He stopped Cor-
etti and stared at his driver's license and frowned at his
duffle coat. Coretti anxiously scanned the wash of lights
at the top of a milky plastic stairway beyond the door-
man. She had vanished there, into robotic flashing and
redundant thunder.
    Grudgingly the man let him pass, and he pounded
up the stairs, his haste disturbing the lights beneath the
translucent plastic steps.
    Coretti had never been in a disco before; he found
himself in an environment designed for complete satis-
faction-in-distraction. He waded nervously through the
motion and the fashions and the mechanical urban
chants booming from the huge speakers. He sought her
almost blindly on the pose-clotted dance floot, amid
strobe lights.
    And found her at the bar, drinking a tall, lurid
cooler and listening to a young man who wore a loose
shirt of pale silk and very tight black pants. She nodded
at what Coretti took to be appropriate intervals. Coretti
ordered by pointing at a bottle of bourbon. She drank
five of the tall drinks and then followed the young man
to the dance floor.
    She moved in perfect accord with the music, strik-
ing a series of poses; she went through the entire
prescribed sequence, gracefully but not artfully, fitting
in perfectly. Always, always fitting in perfectly. Her
companion danced mechanically, moving through the
ritual with effort.
    When the dance ended, she turned abruptly and
dived into the thick of the crowd. The shifting throng
closed about her like something molten.
    Coretti plunged in after her, his eyes never leaving
her and he was the only one to follow her change. By
the time she reached the stair, she was auburn-haired
and wore a long blue dress. A white flower blossomed in
her hair, behind her right ear; her hair was longer and
straighter now. Her breasts had become slightly larger,
and her hips a shade heavier. She took the stairs two at a
time, and he was afraid for her then. All those drinks.
    But the alcohol seemed to have had no effect on her
at all.
    Never taking his eyes from her, Coretti followed,
his heartbeat outspeeding the disco-throb at his back,
sure that at any moment she would turn, glare at him,
call for help.
    Two blocks down Third she turned in at Lotha-
rio's. There was something different in her step now.
Lothario's was a quiet complex of rooms hung with
ferns and Art Deco mirrors. There were fake Tiffany
lamps hanging from the ceiling, alternating with
wooden-bladed fans that rotated too slowly to stir the
wisps of smoke drifting through the consciously mellow
drone of conversation. After the disco, Lothario's was
familiar and comforting. A jazz pianist in pinstriped
shirt sleeves and loosely knotted tie competed softly
with talk and laughter from a dozen tables.
    She was at the bar; the stools were only half taken,
but Coretti chose a wall table, in the shadow of a
miniature palm, and ordered bourbon.
    He drank the bourbon and ordered another. He
couldn't feel the alcohol much tonight.
    She sat beside a young man, yet another young man
with the usual set of bland, regular features. He wore a
yellow golf shirt and pressed jeans. Her hip was touch-
ing his, just a little. They didn't seem to be speaking,
but Coretti felt they were somehow communing. They
were leaning toward one another slightly, silent. Coretti
felt odd. He went to the rest room and splashed his face
with water. Coining back, he managed to pass within
three feet of them. Their lips didn't move till he was
within earshot.
    They took turns murmuring realistic palaver:
saw l~is earlier films, but "
    "But he's rather self-indulgent, don't you think?"
    "Sure, but in the sense that..
    And for the first time, Coretti knew what they
were, what they must be. They were the kind you see in
bars who seem to have grown there, who seem genuinely
at home there. Not drunks, but human fixtures. Func-
tions of the bar. The belonging kind.
    Something in him yearned for a confrontation. He
reached his table, but found himself unable to sit down.
He turned, took a deep breath, and walked woodenly
toward the bar. He wanted to tap her on her smooth
shoulder and ask who she was, and exactly what she
was, and point out the cold irony of the fact that it was
he, Coretti, the Martian dresser, ~he eavesdropper, the
outsider, the one whose clothes and conversation never
fit, who had at last guessed their secret.
    But his nerve broke and he merely took a seat
beside her and ordered bourbon.
    "But don't you think," she asked her companion,
"that it's all relative?"
    The two seats beyond her companion were quickly
taken by a couple who were talking politics. Antoinette
and Golf Shirt took up the political theme seamlessly.
recycling, speaking just loudly enough to be overheard.
Her face, as she spoke, was expressionless. A bird trill-
ing on a limb.
    She sat so easily on her stool, as if it were a nest.
Golf Shirt paid for the drinks. He always had the exact
change, unless he wanted to leave a tip. Coretti watched
them work their way methodically through six cocktails
each, like insects feeding on nectar. But their voices
never grew louder, their cheeks didn't redden, and when
at last they stood, they moved without a trace of
drunkenness a weakness, thought Coretti, a gap in
their camouflage.
    They paid him absolutely no attention while he
followed them through three successive bars.

    As they entered Waylon's, they metamorphosed so
quickly that Coretti had trouble following the stages of
the change. It was one of those places with toilet doors
marked Pointers and Setters, and a little imitation pine
plaque over the jars of beef jerky and pickled sausages:
We've got a deal with the bank. They don't serve beer
and we don't cash checks.
    She was plump in Waylon's, and there were dark
hollows under her eyes. There were coffee stains on her
polyester pantsuit. Her companion wore jeans, a T-
shirt, and a red baseball cap with a red-and-white Peter-
bilt patch. Coretti risked losing them when he spent a
frantic minute in "Pointers," blinking in confusion at a
hand-lettered cardboard sign that said, We aim to
please  You aim too, please.
    Third Avenue lost itself near the waterfront in a
petrified snarl of brickwork. In the last block, bright
vomit marked the pavement at intervals, and old men
dozed in front of black-and-white TVs, sealed forever
behind the fogged plate glass of faded hotels.
    The bar they found there had no name. An ace of
diamonds was gradually flaking away on the unwashed
window, and the bartender had a face like a closed fist.
An FM transistor in ivory plastic keened easy-listening
rock to the uneven ranks of deserted tables. They drank
beer and shots. They were old now, two ciphers who
drank and smoked in the light of bare bulbs, coughing
over a pack of crumpled Camels she produced from the
pocket of a dirty tan raincoat.
    At 2:25 they were in the rooftop lounge of the new
hotel complex that rose above the waterfront. She wore
an evening dress and he wore a dark suit. They drank
cognac and pretended to admire the city lights. They
each had three cognacs while Coretti watched them over
two ounces of Wild Turkey in a Waterford crystal
highball glass.
    They drank until last call. Coretti followed them
into the elevator. They smiled politely but otherwise ig-
nored him. There were two cabs in front of the hotel;
they took one, Coretti the other.
    "Follow that cab," said Coretti huskily, thrusting
his last twenty at the aging hippie driver.
    "Sure, man, sure. . . ." The driver dogged the
other cab for six blocks, to another, more modest hotel.
They got out and went in. Coretti slowly climbed out of
his cab, breathing hard.
    He ached with jealousy: for the personification of
conformity, this woman who was not a woman, this
human wallpaper. Coretti gazed at the hotel and lost
his nerve. He turned away.
    He walked home. Sixteen blocks. At some point he
realized that he wasn't drunk. Not drunk at all.

In the morning he phoned in to cancel his early class.
But his hangover never quite came. His mouth wasn't
desiccated, and staring at himself in the bathroom mir-
ror he saw that his eyes weren't bloodshot.
    In the afternoon he slept, and dreamed of sheep-
faced people reflected in mirrors behind rows of bottles.

That night he went out to dinner, alone and ate
nothing. The food looked back at him, somehow. He
stirred it about to make it look as if he'd eaten a little,
paid, and went to a bar. And another. And another bar,
looking for her. He was using his credit card now,
though he was already badly in the hole under Visa. If
he saw her, he didn't recognize her.
    Sometimes he watched the hotel he'd seen her go
into. He looked carefully at each of the couples who
came and went. Not that he'd be able to spot her from
her looks alone but there should be a feeling, some
kind of intuitive recognition. He watched the couples
and he was never sure.
    In the following weeks he systematically visited
every boozy watering hole in the city. Armed at first
with a city map and five torn Yellow Pages, he gradually
progressed to the more obscure establishments, places
with unlisted numbers. Some had no phone at all. He
joined dubious private clubs, discovered unlicensed
after-hours retreats where you brought your own, and
sat nervously in dark rooms devoted to areas of fringe
sexuality he had not known existed.
    But he continued on what became his nightly cir-
cuit. He always began at the Backdoor. She was never
there, or in the next place, or the next. The bartenders
knew him and they liked to see him come in, because he
brought drinks continuously, and never seemed to get
drunk. So he stared at the other customers a bit so
    Coretti lost his job.
    He'd missed classes too many times. He'd taken to
watching the hotel when he could, even in the daytime.
He'd been seen in too many bars. He never seemed to
change his clothes. He refused night classes. He would
let a lecture trail off in the middle as he turned to gaze
vacantly out the window.
    He was secretly pleased at being fired. They had
looked at him oddly at faculty lunches when he couldn't
eat his food. And now he had more time for the search.
    Coretti found her at 2:15 on a Wednesday morn-
ing, in a gay bar called the Barn. Paneled in rough wood
and hung with halters and rusting farm equipment, the
place was shrill with perfume and laughter and beer. She
was everyone's giggling sister, in a blue-sequined dress,
a green feather in her coiffed brown hair. Through a
sweeping sense of almost cellular relief, Coretti was
aware of a kind of admiration, a strange pride he now
felt in her and her kind. Here, too, she belonged. She
was a representative type, a fag-hag who posed no
threat to the queens or their butchboys. Her companion
had become an ageless man with carefully silvered
temples, an angora sweater, and a trench coat.
    They drank and drank, and went laughing
 laughing just the right sort of laughter out into the
rain. A cab was waiting, its wipers duplicating the beat
of Coretti's heart.
    Jockeying clumsily across the wet sidewalk, Coretti
scurried into the cab, dreading their reaction.
    Coretti was in the back seat, beside her.
    The man with silver temples spoke to the driver.
The driver muttered into his hand mike, changed gears,
and they flowed away into the rain and the darkened
streets. The cityscape made no impression on Coretti,
who, looking inwardly, was seeing the cab stop, the gray
man and the laughing woman pushing him out and
pointing, smiling, to the gate of a mental hospital. Or:
the cab stopping, the couple turning, sadly shaking their
heads. And a dozen times he seemed to see the cab stop-
ping in an empty side street where they methodically
throttled him. Coretti left dead in the rain. Because he
was an outsider.
    But they arrived at Coretti's hotel.
    In the dim glow of the cab's dome light he watched
closely as the man reached into his coat for the fare.
Coretti could see the coat's lining clearly and it was one
piece with the angora sweater. No wallet bulged there,
and no pocket. But a kind of slit widened. It opened as
the man's fingers poised over it, and it disgorged
money. Three bills, folded, were extruded smoothly
from the slit. The money was slightly damp. It dried, as
the man unfolded it, like the wings of a moth just
emerging from the chrysalis.
    "Keep the change," said the belonging man, climb-
ing out of the cab. Antoinette slid out and Coretti
followed, his mind seeing only the slit. The slit wet,
edged with red, like a gill.
    The lobby was deserted and the desk clerk bent
over a crossword. The couple drifted silently across the
lobby and into the elevator, Coretti close behind. Once
he tried to catch her eye, but she ignored him. And
once, as the elevator rose seven floors above Coretti's
own, she bent over and sniffed at the chrome wall
ashtray, like a dog snuffling at the ground.
    Hotels, late at night, are never still. The corridors
are never entirely silent. There are countless barely audi-
ble sighs, the rustling of sheets, and muffled voices
speaking fragments out of sleep. But in the ninth-floor
corridor, Coretti seemed to move through a perfect
vacuum, soundless, his shoes making no sound at all on
the colorless carpet and even the beating of his out-
sider's heart sucked away into the vague pattern that
decorated the wallpaper.
    He tried to count the small plastic ovals screwed on
the doors, each with its own three figures, but the cor-
ridor seemed to go on forever. At last the man halted
before a door, a door veneered like all the rest with im-
itation rosewood, and put his hand over the lock, his
palm flat against the metal. Something scraped softly
and then the mechanism clicked and the door swung
open. As the man withdrew his hand, Coretti saw a
grayish-pink, key-shaped sliver of bone retract wetly
into the pale flesh.
    No light burned in that room, but the city's dim
neon aura filtered in through venetian blinds and al-
lowed him to see the faces of the dozen or more people
who sat perched on the bed and the couch and the arm-
chairs and the stools in the kitchenette. At first he
thought that their eyes were open, but then he realized
that the dull pupils were sealed beneath nictitating mem-
branes, third eyelids that reflected the faint shades of
neon from the window. They wore whatever the last bar
had called for; shapeless Salvation Army overcoats sat
beside bright suburban leisurewear, evening gowns
beside dusty factory clothes, biker's leather by brushed
Harris tweed. With sleep, all spurious humanity had
They were roosting.
    His couple seated themselves on the edge of the
Formica countertop in the kitchenette, and Coretti
hesitated in the middle of the empty carpet. Light-years
of that carpet seemed to separate him from the others,
but something called to him across the distance, promis-
ing rest and peace and belonging. And still he hesitated,
shaking with an indecision that seemed to rise from the
genetic core of his body's every cell.
    Until they opened their eyes, all of them simul-
taneously, the membranes sliding sideways to reveal the
alien calm of dwellers in the ocean's darkest trench.
    Coretti screamed, and ran away, and fled along
corridors and down echoing concrete stairwells to cool
rain and the nearly empty streets.
    Coretti never returned to his room on the third
floor of that hotel. A bored house detective collected the
linguistics texts, the single suitcase of clothing, and they
were eventually sold at auction. Coretti took a room in a
boardinghouse run by a grim Baptist teetotaler who led
her roomers in prayer at the start of every overcooked
evening meal. She didn't mind that Coretti never joined
them for those meals; he explained that he was given
free meals at work. He lied freely and skillfully. He
never drank at the boardinghouse, and he never came
home drunk. Mr. Coretti was a little odd, but always
paid his rent on time. And he was very quiet.
    Coretti stopped looking for her. He stopped going
to bars. He drank out of a paper bag while going to and
from his job at a publisher's warehouse, in an area
whose industrial zoning permitted few bars.
    He worked nights.
    Sometimes, at dawn, perched on the edge of his un-
made bed, drifting into sleep he never slept lying
down, now he thought about her. Antoinette. And
them. The belonging kind. Sometimes he speculated
dreamily. . . . Perhaps they were like house mice, the
sort of small animal evolved to live only in the walls of
man-made structures.
    A kind of animal that lives only on alcoholic bev-
erages. With peculiar metabolisms they convert the
alcohol and the various proteins from mixed drinks and
wine and beers into everything they need. And they can
change outwardly, like a chameleon or a rockfish, for
protection. So they can live among us. And maybe, Cor-
etti thought, they grow in stages. In the early stages
seeming like humans, eating the food humans eat, sens-
ing their difference only in a vague disquiet of being an
    A kind of animal with its own cunning, its own
special set of urban instincts. And the ability to know its
own kind when they're near. Maybe.
    And maybe not.
    Coretti drifted into sleep.
    On a Wednesday three weeks into his new job, his
landlady opened the door she never knocked and
told him that he was wanted on the phone. Her voice
was tight with habitual suspicion, and Coretti followed
her along the dark hallway to the second-floor sitting
room and the telephone.
    Lifting the old-fashioned black instrument to his
ear, he heard only music at first, and then a wall of
sound resolving into a fragmented amalgam of conver-
sations. Laughter. No one spoke to him over the sound
of the bar, but the song in the background was "You're
the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly."
    And then the dial tone, when the caller hung up.

Later, alone in his room, listening to the landlady's firm
tread in the room below, Coretti realized that there was
no need to remain where he was. The summons had
come. But the landlady demanded three weeks' notice if
anyone wanted to leave. That meant that Coretti owed
her money. Instinct told him to leave it for her.
    A Christian workingman in the next room coughed
in his sleep as Coretti got up and went down the hall to
the telephone. Coretti told the evening-shift foreman
that he was quitting his job. He hung up and went back
to his room, locked the door behind him, and slowly
removed his clothing until he stood naked before the
garish framed lithograph of Jesus above the brown steel
    And then he counted out nine tens. He placed them
carefully beside the praying-hands plaque decorating
the bureau top.
    It was nice-looking money. It was perfectly good
money. He made it himself.

This time, he didn't feel like making small talk. She'd
been drinking a margarita, and he ordered the same.
She paid, producing the money with a deft movement of
her hand between the breasts bobbling in her low-cut
dress. He glimpsed the gill closing there. An excitement
rose in him but somehow, this time, it didn't center in
an erection.
    After the third margarita their hips were touching,
and something was spreading through him in slow
orgasmic waves. It was sticky where they were touching;
an area the size of the heel of his thumb where the cloth
had parted. He was two men: the one inside fusing with
her in total cellular communion, and the shell who sat
casually on a stool at the bar, elbows on either side of
his drink, fingers toying with a swizzle stick. Smiling
benignly into space. Calm in the cool dimness.
    And once, but only once, some distant worrisome
part of him made Coretti glance down to where soft-
ruby tubes pulsed, tendrils tipped with sharp lips
worked in the shadows between them. Like the joining
tentacles of two strange anemones.
They were mating, and no one knew.
    And the bartender, when he brought the next
drink, offered his tired smile and said, "Rainin' out
now, innit? Just won't let up."
"Been like that all goddamn week," Coretti
answered. "Rainin' to beat the band."
And he said it right. Like a real human being.


When Hiro hit the switch, I was dreaming of Paris,
dreaming of wet, dark streets in winter. The pain came
oscillating up from the floor of my skull, exploding
behind my eyes in a wall of blue neon; I jackknifed up
out of the mesh hammock, screaming. I always scream;
I make a point of it. Feedback raged in my skull. The
pain switch is an auxiliary circuit in the bonephone im-
plant, patched directly into the pain centers, just the
thing for cutting through a surrogate's barbiturate fog.
It took a few seconds for my life to fall together,
icebergs of biography looming through the fog: who I
was, where I was, what I was doing there, who was wak-
ing me.
    Hiro's voice came crackling into my head through
the bone-conduction implant.- "Damn, Toby. Know
what it does to my ears, you scream like that?"
    "Know how much I care about your ears, Dr.
Nagashima? I care about them as much as "
    "No time for the litany of love, boy. We've got
business. But what is it with these fifty-millivolt spike
waves off your temporals, hey? Mixing something with
the downers to give it a little color?"
    "Your EEG's screwed, Hiro. You're crazy. I just
want my sleep. . . ." I collapsed into the hammock and
tried to pull the darkness over me, but his voice was still

    "Sorry, my man, but you're working today. We
got a ship back, an hour ago. Air-lock gang are out
there right now, sawing the reaction engine off so she'll
just about fit through the door."
    "Who is it?"
    "Leni Hofmannstahl, Toby, physical chemist, citi-
zen of the Federal Republic of Germany." He waited
until I quit groaning. "It's a confirmed meatshot."
    Lovely workaday terminology we've developed out
here. He meant a returning ship with active medical
telemetry, contents one (1) body, warm, psychological
status as yet unconfirmed. I shut my eyes and swung
there in the dark.
    "Looks like you're her surrogate, Toby. Her pro-
file syncs with Taylor's, but he's on leave."
    I knew all about Taylor's "leave." He was out in
the agricultural canisters, ripped on amitriptyline, doing
aerobic exercises to counter his latest bout with clinical
depression. One of the occupational hazards of being a
surrogate. Taylor and I don't get along. Funny how you
usually don't, if the guy's psychosexual profile is too
much like your own.
    "Hey, Toby, where are you getting all that dope?"
The question was ritual. "From Charmian?"
    "From your mom, Hiro." He knows it's Charmian
as well as I do.
    "Thanks, Toby. Get up here to the Heavenside
elevator in five minutes or I'll send those Russian nurses
down to help you. The male ones."
    I just swung there in my hammock and played the
game called Toby Halpert's Place in the Universe. No
egotist, I put the sun in the center, the lumiary, the orb
of day. Around it I swung tidy planets, our cozy home
system. But just here, at a fixed point about an eighth of
the way out toward the orbit of Mars, I hung a fat alloy
cylinder, like a quarter-scale model of Tsiolkovsky 1,
the Worker's Paradise back at L-5. Tsiolkovsky 1 is
fixed at the liberation point between Earth's gravity and
the moon's, but we need a lightsail to hold us here,
twenty tons of aluminum spun into a hexagon, ten kilo-
meters from side to side. That sail towed us out from
Earth orbit, and now it's our anchor. We use it to tack
against the photon stream, hanging here beside the
thing the point, the singularity we call the Highway.
    The French call it le metro, the subway, and the
Russians call it the river, but subway won't carry the
distance, and river, for Americans, can't carry quite the
same loneliness. Call it the Tovyevski Anomaly Coor-
dinates if you don't mind bringing Olga into it. Olga
Tovyevski, Our Lady of Singularities, Patron Saint of
the Highway.
    Hiro didn't trust me to get up on my own. Just
before the Russian orderlies came in, he turned the
lights on in my cubicle, by remote control, and let them
strobe and stutter for a few seconds before they fell as a
steady glare across the pictures of Saint Olga that Char-
mian had taped up on the bulkhead. Dozens of them,
her face repeated in newsprint, in magazine glossy. Our
Lady of the Highway.

Lieutenant Colonel Olga Tovyevski, youngest woman
of her rank in the Soviet space effort, was en route to
Mars, solo, in a modified Alyut 6. The modifications
allowed her to carry the prototype of a new airscrubber
that was to be tested in the USSR's four-man Martian
orbital lab. They could just as easily have handled the
Alyut by remote, from Tsiolkovsky, but Olga wanted to
log mission time. They made sure she kept busy,
though; they stuck her with a series of routine hydro-
gen-band radio-flare experiments, the tail end of a low-
priority Soviet-Australian scientific exchange. Olga
knew that her role in the experiments could have been
handled by a standard household timer. But she was a
diligent officer; she'd press the buttons at precisely the
correct intervals.
    With her brown hair drawn back and caught in a
net, she must have looked like some idealized Pravda
cameo of the Worker in Space, easily the most photo-
genic cosmonaut of either gender. She checked the
Alyut's chronometer again and poised her hand above
the buttons that would trigger the first of her flares.
Colonel Tovyevski had no way of knowing that she was
nearing the point in space that would eventually be
known as the Highway.
    As she punched the six-button triggering sequence,
the Alyut crossed those final kilometers and emitted the
flare, a sustained burst of radio energy at 1420 mega-
hertz, broadcast frequency of the hydrogen atom.
Tsiolkovsky's radio telescope was tracking, relaying the
signal to geosynchronous comsats that bounced it down
to stations in the southern Urals and New South Wales.
For 3.8 seconds the Alyut's radio~image was obscured
by the afterimage of the flare.
    When the afterimage faded from Earth's monitor
screens, the Alyut was gone.
    In the Urals a middle-aged Georgian technician bit
through the stem of his favorite meerschaum. In New
South Wales a young physicist began to slam the side of
his monitor, like an enraged pinball finalist protesting

The elevator that waited to take me up to Heaven
looked like Hollywood's best shot at a Bauhaus mummy
case a narrow, upright sarcophagus with a clear
acrylic lid. Behind it, rows of identical consoles receded
like a textbook illustration of vanishing perspective. The
usual crowd of technicians in yellow paper clown suits
were milling purposefully around. I spotted Hiro in blue
denim, his pearl-buttoned cowboy shirt open over a
faded UCLA sweat shirt. Engrossed in the figures cas-
cading down the face of a monitor screen, he didn't
notice me. Neither did anyone else.
    So I just stood there and stared up at the ceiling, at
the bottom of the floor of Heaven. It didn't look like
much. Our fat cylinder is actually two cylinders, one in-
side the other. Down here in the outer one we make
our own "down" with axial rotation are all the more
mundane aspects of our operation: dormitories, cafe-
terias, the air-lock deck, where we haul in returning -
boats, Communications and Wards, where I'm care-
ful never to go.
    Heaven, the inner cylinder, the unlikely green heart
of this place, is the ripe Disney dream of homecoming,
the ravenous ear of an information-hungry global
economy. A constant stream of raw data goes pulsing
home to Earth, a flood of rumors, whispers, hints of
transgalactic traffic. I used to lie rigid in my hammock
and feel the pressure of all those data, feel them snaking
through the lines I imagined behind the bulkhead, lines
like sinews, strapped and bulging, ready to spasm, ready
to crush me. Then Charmian moved in with me, and
after I told her about the fear, she made magic against it
and put up her icons of Saint Olga. And the pressure
receded, fell away.
    "Patching you in with a translator, Toby. You may
need German this morning." His voice was sand in my
skull, a dry modulation of static. "Hillary "
    "On line, Dr. Nagashima," said a BBC voice, clear
as ice crystal. "You do have French, do you, Toby?
Hofmannstahl has French and English."
    "You stay the hell out of my hair, Hillary. Speak
when you're bloody spoken to, got it?" Her silence
became another layer in the complex, continual sizzle of
static. Hiro shot me a dirty look across two dozen con-
soles. I grinned.
    It was starting to happen: the elation, the
adrenaline rush. I could feel it through the last wisps of
barbiturate. A kid with a surfer's smooth, blond face
was helping me into a jump suit. It smelled; it was new-
old, carefully battered, soaked with synthetic sweat and
customized pheromones. Both sleeves were plastered
from wrist to shoulder with embroidered patches,
mostly corporate logos, subsidiary backers of an im-
aginary Highway expedition, with the main backer's
much larger trademark stitched across my shoulders
 the firm that was supposed to have sent HALPERT,
TOBY out to his rendezvous with the stars. At least my
name was real, embroidered in scarlet nylon capitals
just above my heart.
    The surfer boy had the kind of standard-issue good
looks I associate with junior partners in the CIA, but his
name tape said NEVSKY and repeated itself in Cyrillic.
KGB, then. He was no tsiolnik; he didn't have that
loose-jointed style conferred by twenty years in the L-5
habitat. The kid was pure Moscow, a polite clipboard
ticker who probably knew eight ways to kill with a
rolled newspaper. Now we began the ritual of drugs and
pockets; he tucked a microsyringe; loaded with one of
the new euphorohallucinogens, into the pocket on my
left wrist, took a step back, then ticked it off on his clip-
board. The printed outline of a jump-suited surrogate
on his special pad looked like a handgun target. He took
a five-gram vial of opium from the case he wore chained
to his waist and found the pocket for that. Tick. Four-
teen pockets. The cocaine was last.
    Hiro came over just as the Russian was finishing.
"Maybe she has some hard data, Toby; she's a physical
chemist, remember." It was strange to hear him acous-
tically, not as bone vibration from the implant.
    "Everything's hard up there, Hiro."
    "Don't I know it?" He was feeling it, too, that
special buzz. We couldn't quite seem to make eye con-
tact. Before the awkwardness could deepen, he turned
and gave one of the yellow clowns the thumbs up.
    Two of them helped me into the Bauhaus coffin
and stepped back as the lid hissed down like a giant's
faceplate. I began my ascent to Heaven and the home-
coming of a stranger named Leni Hofmannstahl. A
short trip, but it seems to take forever.
    *    *    *

Olga, who was our first hitchhiker, the first one to stick
out her thumb on the wavelength of hydrogen, made it
home in two years. At Tyuratam, in Kazakhstan, one
gray winter morning, they recorded her return on eigh-
teen centimeters of magnetic tape.
    If a religious man one with a background in film
technology had been watching the point in space
where her Alyut had vanished two years before, it might
have seemed to him that God had butt-spliced footage
of empty space with footage of Olga's ship. She blipped
back into our space-time like some amateur's atrocious
special effect. A week later and they might never have
reached her in time; Earth would have spun on its way
and left her drifting toward the sun. Fifty-three hours
after her return, a nervous volunteer named Kurtz,
wearing an armored work suit, climbed through the
Alyut's hatch. He was an East German specialist in
space medicine, and American cigarettes were his secret
vice; he wanted one very badly as he negotiated the air
lock, wedged his way past a rectangular mass of
airscrubber core, and chinned his helmet lights. The
Alyut, even after two years, seemed to be full of
breathable air. In the twin beams from the massive
helmet, he saw tiny globules of blood and vomit
swinging slowly past, swirling in his wake, as he edged
the bulky suit out of the crawlway and entered the com-
mand module. Then he found her.
    She was drifting above the navigational display,
naked, cramped in a rigid fetal knot. Her eyes were
open, but fixed on something Kurtz would never see.
Her fists were bloody, clenched like stone, and her
brown hair, loose now, drifted around her face like
seaweed. Very slowly, very carefully, he swung himself
across the white keyboards of the command console and
secured his suit to the navigational display. She'd gone
after the ship's communications ~gear with her bare
hands, he decided. He deactivated the work suit's right
claw; it unfolded automatically, like two pairs of vice-
grip pliers pretending they were a flower. He extended
his hand, still sealed in a pressurized gray surgical glove.
    Then, as gently as he could, he pried open the
fingers of her left hand. Nothing.
    But when he opened her right fist, something spun
free and tumbled in slow motion a few centimeters from
the synthetic quartz of his faceplate. It looked like a
    Olga came home, but she never came back to life
behind those blue eyes. They tried, of course, but the
more they tried, the more tenuous she became, and, in
their hunger to know, they spread her thinner and thin-
ner until she came, in her martyrdom, to fill whole
libraries with frozen aisles of precious relics. No saint
was ever pared so fine; at the Plesetsk laboratories
alone, she was represented by more than two million
tissue slides, racked and numbered in the subbasement
of a bomb-proof biological complex.
    They had better luck with the seashell. Exobiology
suddenly found itself standing on unnervingly solid
ground: one and seven-tenths grams of highly organized
biological information, definitely extraterrestrial. Ol-
ga's seashell generated an entire subbranch of the
science, devoted exclusively to the study of . . . Olga's
    The initial findings on the shell made two things
clear. It was the product of no known terrestrial
biosphere, and as there were no other known biospheres
in the solar system, it had come from another star. Olga
had either visited the place of its origin or come into
contact, however distantly, with something that was, or
had once been, capable of making the trip.
    They sent a Major Grosz out to the Tovyevski
Coordinates in a specially fitted Alyut 9. Another ship
followed him. He was on the last of his twenty hydrogen
flares when his ship vanished. They recorded his depar-
ture and waited. Two hundred thirty-four days later he
returned. In the meantime they had probed the area
constantly, desperate for anything that might become
the specific anomaly, the irritant around which a theory
might grow. There was nothing: only Grosz's ship, tum-
bling out of control. He committed suicide before they
could reach him, the Highway's second victim.
    When the towed the Alyut back to Tsiolkovsky,
they found that the elaborate recording gear was blank.
All of it was in perfect working order; none of it had
functioned. Grosz was flash-frozen and put on the first
shuttle down to Plesetsk, where bulldozers were already
excavating for a new subbasement.
    Three years later, the morning after they lost their
seventh cosmonaut, a telephone rang in Moscow. The
caller introduced himself. He was the director of the
Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of
America. He was authorized, he said, to make a certain
offer. Under certain very specific conditions, the Soviet
Union might avail itself of the best minds in Western
psychiatry. It was the understanding of his agency, he
continued, that such help might currently be very wel-
    His Russian was excellent.

The bonephone static was a subliminal sandstorm. The
elevator slid up into its narrow shaft through the floor
of Heaven. I counted blue lights at two-meter intervals.
After the fifth light, darkness and cessation.
    Hidden in the hollow command console of the
dummy Highway boat, I waited in the elevator like the
secret behind the gimmicked bookcase in a children's
mystery story. The boat was a prop, a set piece, like the
Bavarian cottage glued to the plaster alp in some amuse-
ment park a nice touch, but one that wasn't quite
necessary. If the returnees accept us at all, they take us
for granted; our cover stories and props don't seem to
make much difference.
    "All clear," Hiro said. "No customers hanging
around." I reflexively massaged the scar behind my left
ear, where they'd gone in to plant the bonephone. The
side of the dummy console swung open and let in the
gray dawn light of Heaven. The fake boat's interior was
familiar and strange at the same time, like your own
apartment when you haven't seen it for a week. One of
those new Brazilian vines had snaked its way across the
left vlewport since my last time up, but that seemed to
be the only change in the whole scene.
    Big fights over those vines at the biotecture
meetings, American ecologists screaming about possible
nitrogen shortfalls. The Russians have been touchy
about biodesign ever since they had to borrow
Americans to help them with the biotic program back at
Tslolkovsky 1. Nasty problem with the rot eating the
hydroponic wheat; all that superfine Soviet engineering
and they still couldn't establish a functional ecosystem.
Doesn't help that that initial debacle paved the way for
us to be out here with them now. It irritates them; so
they insist on the Brazilian vines, whatever anything
that gives them a chance to argue. But I like those vines:
The leaves are heart-shaped, and if you rub one between
your hands, it smells like cinnamon.
    I stood at the port and watched the clearing take
shape, as reflected sunlight entered Heaven. Heaven
runs Ofl Greenwich Standard; big Mylar mirrors were
swiveling somewhere, out in bright vacuum, on schedule
of a Greenwich Standard dawn. The recorded birdsongs
began back in the trees. Birds have a very hard time in
the absence of true gravity. We can't have real ones,
because they go crazy trying to make do with centrifugal
    The first time you see it, Heaven lives up to its
name, lush and cool and bright, the long grass dappled
with wildflowers. It helps if you don't know that most
of the trees are artificial, or the amount of care required
to maintain something like the optimal balance between
blue-green algae and diatom algae in the ponds. Char-
mian says she expects Bambi to come gamboling out of
the woods, and Hiro claims he knows exactly how many
Disney engineers were sworn to secrecy under the Na-
tional Security Act.
    "We're getting fragments from Hofmannstahl,"
Hiro said. He might almost have been talking to him-
self; the handler-surrogate gestalt was going into effect,
and soon we'd cease to be aware of each other. The
adrenaline edge was tapering off. "Nothing very coher-
ent. `Schone Maschine,' something . . . `Beautiful
machine' ... Hillary thinks she sounds pretty calm, but
right out of it."
    "Don't tell me about it. No expectations, right?
Let's go in loose." I opened the hatch and took a breath
of Heaven's air; it was like cool white wine. "Where's
    He sighed, a soft gust of static. "Charmian should
be in Clearing Five, taking care of a Chilean who's three
days home, but she's not, because she heard you were
coming. So she's waiting for you by the carp pond.
Stubborn bitch," he added.

Charmian was flicking pebbles at the Chinese bighead
carp. She had a cluster of white flowers tucked behind
one ear, a wilted Marlboro behind the other. Her feet
were bare and muddy, and she'd hacked the legs off her
jump suit at midthigh. Her black hair was drawn back
in a ponytail.
    We'd met for the first time at a party out in one of
the welding shops, drunken voices clanging in the hol-
low of the alloy sphere, homemade vodka in zero grav-
ity. Someone had a bag of water for a chaser, squeezed
out a double handful, and flipped it expertly into a roll-
ing, floppy ball of surface tension. Old jokes about
passing water. But I'm graceless in zero g. I put my
hand through it when it came my way. Shook a thou-
sand silvery little balls from my hair, batting at them,
tumbling, and the woman beside me was laughing, turn-
ing slow somersaults, long, thin girl with black hair. She
wore those baggy drawstring pants that tourists take
home from Tsiolkovsky and a faded NASA T-shirt
three sizes too big. A minute later she was telling me
about hang-gliding with the teen tsiolniki and about
how proud they'd been of the weak pot they grew in one
of the corn canisters. I didn't realize she was another
surrogate until Hiro clicked in to tell us the party was
over. She moved in with me a week later.
    "A minute, okay?" Hiro gritted his teeth, a hor-
rible sound. "One. Uno." Then he was gone, off the
circuit entirely, maybe not even listening.
    "How's tricks in Clearing Five?" I squatted beside
her and found some pebbles of my own.
    "Not so hot. I had to get away from him for a
while, shot him up with hypnotics. My translator told
me you were on your way up."~ She has the kind of
Texas accent that makes ice sound like ass.
    "Thought you spoke Spanish. Guy's Chilean, isn't
he?" I tossed one of my pebbles into the pond.
    "I speak Mexican. The culture vultures said he
wouldn t like my accent. Good thing, too. I can't follow
him when he talks fast." One of her pebbles followed
mine, rings spreading on the surface as it sank. "Which
is constantly," she added. A bighead swam over to see
whether her pebble was good to eat. "He isn't going to
make it." She wasn't looking at me. Her tone was
perfectly neutral. "Little Jorge is definitely not making
    I chose the flattest of my pebbles and tried to skip it
across the pond, but it sank. The less I knew about
Chilean Jorge, the better. I knew he was a live one, one
of the ten percent. Our DOA count runs at twenty per-
cent. Suicide. Seventy percent of the meatshots are
automatic candidates for Wards: the diaper cases,
mumblers, totally gone. Charmian and I are surrogates
for that final ten percent.
    If the first ones to come back had only returned
with seashells, I doubt that Heaven would be out here.

Heaven was built after a dead Frenchman returned with
a twelve-centimeter ring of magnetically coded steel
locked in his cold hand, black parody of the lucky kid
who wins the free ride on the merry-go-round. We may
never find out where or how he got it, but that ring was
the Rosetta stone for cancer. So now it's cargo cult time
for the human race. We can pick things up out there
that we might not stumble across in research in a thou-
sand years. Charmian says we're like those poor suckers
on thier island, who spend all thier time building land-
ing strips to make the big silver birds come back.
Charmian says that contact with "superior" civiliza-
tions is something you don't wish on your worst enemy.
    "Ever wonder how they thought this scam up,
Toby?" She was squinting into the sunlight, east, down
the length of our cylindrical country, horizonless and
green. "They must've had all the heavies in, the shrink
elite, scattered down a long slab of genuine imitation
rosewood, standard Pentagon issue. Each one got a
clean notepad and a brand-new pencil, specially sharp-
ened for the occasion. Everybody was there: Freudians,
Jungians, Adlerians, Skinner rat men, you name it. And
every one of those bastards knew in his heart that it was
time to play his best hand. As a profession, not just as
representatives of a given faction. There they are, West-
ern psychiatry incarnate. And nothing's happening!
People are popping back off the Highway dead, or else
they come back drooling, singing nursery rhymes. The
live ones last about three days, won't say a goddamned
thing, then shoot themselves or go catatonic." She took
a small flashlight from her belt and casually cracked its
plastic shell, extracting the parabolic reflector. "Krem-
lin's screaming. CIA's going nuts. And worst of all, the
multinationals who want to back the show are getting
cold feet. `Dead spacemen? No data? No deal, friends.'
So they're getting nervous, all those supershrinks, until
some flake, some grinning weirdo from Berkeley
maybe, he says," and her drawl sank to parody stoned
mellowness, " `Like, hey, why don't we just put these
people into a real nice place with a lotta good dope and
somebody they can really relate to, hey?' " She
laughed, shook her head. She was using the reflector to
light her cigarette, concentrating the sunlight. They
don't give us matchs; fires screw up the oxygen
carbon dioxide balance. A tiny curl of gray smoke
twisted away from the white-hot focal point.
    "Okay," Hiro said, "that's your minute." I
checked my watch; it was more like three minutes.
    "Good luck, baby," she said softly, pretending to
be intent on her cigarette. "Godspeed."

The promise of pain. It's there each time. You know
what will happen, but you don't know when, or exactly
how. You try to hold on to them; you rock them in the
dark. But if you brace for the pain, you can't function.
That poem Hiro quotes, Teach us to care and not to
    We're like intelligent houseflies wandering through
an international airport; some of us actually manage to
blunder onto flights to London or Rio, maybe even sur-
vive the trip and make it back. "Hey," say the other
flies, "what's happening on the other side of that door?
What do they know that we don't?" At the edge of the
Highway every human language unravels in your
hands except, perhaps, the language of the shaman, of
the cabalist, the language of the mystic intent on map-
ping hierarchies of demons, angels, saints.
    But the Highway is governed by rules, and we've
learned a few of them. That gives us something to cling

Rule One: One entity per ride; no teams, no

Rule Two: No artificial intelligences; whatever's
Out there won't stop for~a smart machine, at least
not the kind we know how to build.

Rule Three: Recording instruments are a waste of
space; they always come back blank.

    Dozens of new schools of physics have sprung up in
Saint Olga's wake, ever more bizarre and more elegant
heresies, each one hoping to shoulder its way to the in-
side track. One by one, they all fall down. In the whis-
pering quiet of Heaven's nights, you imagine you can
hear the paradigms shatter, shards of theory tinkling
into brilliant dust as the lifework of some corporate
think tank is reduced to the tersest historical footnote,
and all in the time it takes your damaged traveler to
mutter some fragment in the dark.
not    Flies in an airport, hitching rides. Flies are advised
to ask too many questions; flies are advised not to
try for the Big Picture. Repeated attempts in that direc-
tion invariably lead to the slow, relentless flowering of
paranoia, your mind projecting huge, dark patterns on
the walls of night, patterns that have a way of solidify-
ing, becoming madness, becoming religion. Smart flies
stick with Black Box theory; Black Box is the sanctioned
metaphor, the Highway remaining x in every sane equa-
tion. We aren't supposed to worry about what the High-
way is, or who put it there. Instead, we concentrate on
what we put into the Box and what we get back out of it.
There are things we send down the Highway (a woman
named Olga, her ship, so many more who've followed)
and things that come to us (a madwoman, a seashell,
artifacts, fragments of alien technologies). The Black
Box theorists assure us that our primary concern is to
optimize this exchange. We're out here to see that our
species gets its money's worth. Still, certain things
become increasingly evident; one of them is that we
aren't the only flies who've found their way into an air-
port. We've collected artifacts from at least half a dozen
wildly divergent cultures. "More hicks," Charmian
calls them. We're like pack rats in the hold of a
freighter, trading little pretties with rats from other
ports. Dreaming of the bright lights, the big city.
    Keep it simple, a matter of In and Out. Leni Hof-
mannstahl: Out.

We staged the homecoming of Leni Hofmannstahl in
Clearing Three, also known as Elysium. I crouched in a
stand of meticulous reproductions of young vine maples
and studied her ship. It had originally looked like a
wingless dragonfly, a slender, ten-meter abdomen hous-
ing the reaction engine. Now, with the engine removed,
it looked like a matte-white pupa, larval eye bulges stuf-
fed with the traditional useless array of sensors and
probes. It lay on a gentle rise in the center of the clear-
ing, a specially designed hillock sc~slpted to support a
variety of vessel formats. The newer boats are smaller,
like Grand Prix washing machines, minimalist pods
with no pretense to being exploratory vessels. Modules
for meatshots.
    "I don't like it," Hiro said. "I don't like this one.
It doesn't feel right. . . ." He might have been taiking to
himself; he might almost have been me talking to
myself, which meant the handler-surrogate gestalt was
almost operational. Locked into my role, I'm no longer
the point man for Heaven's hungry ear, a specialized
probe radio-linked with an even more specialized psy-
chiatrist; when the gestalt clicks, Hiro and I meld into
something else, something we can never admit to each
other, not when it isn't happening. Our relationship
would give a classical Freudian nightmares. But I knew
that he was right; something felt terribly wrong this
    The clearing was roughly circular. It had to be; it
was actually a fifteen-meter round cut through the floor
of Heaven, a circular elevator disguised as an Alpine
minimeadow. They'd sawed Leni's engine off, hauled
her boat into the outer cylinder, lowered the clearing to
the air-lock deck, then lifted her to Heaven on a giant
pie plate landscaped with grass and wildflowers. They'd
blanked her sensors with broadcast overrides and sealed
her ports and hatch; Heaven is supposed to be a surprise
to the newly arrived.
    I found myself wondering whether Charmian was
back with Jorge yet. Maybe she'd be cooking something
for him, one of the fish we "catch" as they're released
into our hands from cages on the pool bottoms. I imag-
ined the smell of frying fish, closed my eyes, and imag-
ined Charmian wading in the shallow water, bright
drops beading on her thighs, long-legged girl in a fish-
pond in Heaven.
    "Move, Toby! In now!"
    My skull rang with the volume; training and the
gestalt reflex already had me halfway across the clear-
ing. "Goddamn, goddamn, goddamn. . . ." Hiro's
mantra, and I knew it had managed to go all wrong,
then. Hillary the translator was a shrill undertone, BBC
ice cracking as she rattled something out at top speed,
something about anatomical charts. Hiro must have
used the remotes to unseal the hatch, but he didn't wait
for it to unscrew itself. He triggered six explosive bolts
built into the hull and blew the whole hatch mechanism
out intact. It barely missed me. I had instinctively
swerved out of its way. Then I was scrambling up the
boat's smooth side, grabbing for the honeycomb struts
just inside the entranceway; the hatch mechanism had
taken the alloy ladder with it.
    And I froze there, crouching in the smell of
plastique from the bolts, because that was when the
Fear found me, really found me, for the first time.
    I'd felt it before, the Fear, but only the fringes, the
least edge. Now it was vast, the very hollow of night, an
emptiness cold and implacable. It was last words, deep
space, every long goodbye in the history of our species.
It made me cringe, whining. I was shaking, groveling,
crying. They lecture us on it, warn us, try to explain it
away as a kind of temporary agoraphobia endemic to
our work. But we know what it is; surrogates know and
handlers can't. No explanation has ever even come
    It's the Fear. It's the long finger of Big Night, the
darkness that feeds the muttering damned to the gentle
white maw of Wards. Olga knew it first, Saint Olga. She
tried to hide us from it, clawing at her radio gear,
bloodying her hands to destroy her ship's broadcast
capacity, praying Earth would lose her, let her die....
    Hiro was frantic, but he must have understood,
and he knew what to do.
    He hit me with the pain switch. Hard. Over and
over, like a cattle prod. He drove me into the boat. He
drove me through the Fear.
    Beyond the Fear, there was ~ room. Silence, and a
stranger's smell, a woman's.
    The cramped module was worn, almost homelike,
the tired plastic of the acceleration couch patched with
peeling strips of silver tape. But it all seemed to mold
itself around an absence. She wasn't there. Then I saw
the insane frieze of ballpoint scratchings, crabbed sym-
bols, thousands of tiny, crooked oblongs locking and
overlapping. Thumb-smudged, pathetic, it covered
most of the rear bulkhead.
Hiro was static, whispering, pleading. Find her,
Toby, now, please, Toby, find her, find her, find
I found her in the surgical bay, a narrow alcove off
the crawlway. Above her, the Schone Maschine, the
surgical manipulator, glittering, its bright, thin arms
neatly folded, chromed limbs of a spider crab, tipped
with hemostats, forceps, laser scalpel. Hiliary was
hysterical, half-lost on some faint channel, something
about the anatomy of the human arm, the tendons, the
arteries, basic taxonomy. Hillary was screaming.
    There was no blood at all. The manipulator is a
clean machine, able to do a no-mess job in zero g,
vacuuming the blood away. She'd died just before Hiro
had blown the hatch, her right arm spread out across the
white plastic work surface like a medieval drawing,
flayed, muscles and other tissues tacked out in a neat
symmetrical display, held with a dozen stainless-steel
dissecting pins. She bled to death. A surgical manipula-
tor is carefully programmed against suicides, but it can
double as a robot dissector, preparing biologicals for
    She'd found a way to fool it. You usually can, with
machines, given time. She'd had eight years.
    She lay there in a collapsible framework, a thing
like the fossil skeleton of a dentist's chair; through it, I
could see the faded embroidery across the back of her
jump suit, the trademark of a West German electronics
conglomerate. I tried to tell her. I said, "Please, you're
dead. Forgive us, we came to try to help, Hiro and I.
Understand? He knows you, see, Hiro, he's here in my
head. He's read your dossier, your sexual profile, your
favorite colors; he knows your childhood fears, first
lover, name of a teacher you liked. And I've got just the
right pheromOne5~ and I'm a walking arsenal of drugs,
something here you're bound to like. And we can lie,
Hiro and I; we're ace liars. Please. You've got to see.
Perfect strangers, but Hiro and I, for you, we make up
the perfect stranger, Leni."
    She was a small woman, blond, her smooth,
straight hair streaked with premature gray. I touched
her hair, once, and went out into the clearing. As I
stood there, the long grass shuddered, the wildflowers
began to shake, and we began our descent, the boat
centered on its landscaped round of elevator. The clear-
ing slid down out of Heaven, and the sunlight was lost
in the glare of huge vapor arcs that threw hard shadows
across the broad deck of the air lock. Figures in red
suits, running. A red Dinky Toy did a U-turn on fat rub-
ber wheels, getting out of our way.
Nevsky, the KGB surfer, was waiting at the foot of
the gangway that they wheeled to the edge of the clear-
ing. I didn't see him until I reached the bottom.
    "I must take the drugs now, Mr. Halpert."
    I stood there, swaying, blinking tears from my
eyes. He reached out to steady me. I wondered whether
he even knew why he was down here in the lock deck, a
yellow suit in red territory. But he probably didn't
mind; he didn't seem to mind anything very much; he
had his clipboard ready.
    "I must take them, Mr. Halpert."
    I stripped out of the suit, bundled it, and handed it
to him. He stuffed it into a plastic Ziploc, put the Ziploc
in a case manacled to his left wrist, and spun the com-
    "Don't take them all at once, kid," I said. Then I

Late that night Charmian brought a special kind of
darkness down to my cubicle, individual doses sealed
in heavy foil. It was nothing like the darkness of Big
Night, that sentient, hunting dark that waits to drag the
hitchhikers down to Wards, that dark that incubates
the Fear. It was a darkness like the shadows moving in
the back seat of your parents' car, on a rainy night when
you'.re five years old, warm and secure. Charmian's a
lot slicker that I am when it comes to getting past the
clipboard tickers, the ones like Nevsky.
I didn't ask her why she was back from Heaven, or
what had happened to Jorge. She didn't ask me any-
thing about Leni.
    Hiro was gone, off the air entirely. I'd seen him at
the debriefing that afternoon; as usual, our eyes didn't
meet. It didn't matter. I knew he'd be back. It had been
business as usual, really. A bad day in Heaven, but it's
never easy. It's hard when you feel the Fear for the first
time, but I've always known it was there, waiting. They
talked about Leni's diagrams and about her ballpoint
sketches of molecular chains that shift on command.
Molecules that can function as switches, logic elements,
even a kind of wiring, built up in layers into a single very
large molecule, a very small computer. We'll probably
never know what she met out there; we'll probably
never know the details of the transaction. We might be
sorry if we ever found out. We aren't the only hinter-
land tribe, the only ones looking for scraps.
    Damn Leni, damn that Frenchman, damn all the
ones who bring things home, who bring cancer cures,
seashells, things without names who keep us here wait-
ing, who fill Wards, who bring us the Fear. But cling to
this dark, warm and close, to Charmian's slow breath-
ing, to the rhythm of the sea. You get high enough out
here; you'll hear the sea, deep down behind the constant
conch-shell static of the bonephone. It's something we
carry with us, no matter how far from home.
    Charmian stirred beside me, muttered a stranger's
name, the name of some broken traveler long gone
down to Wards. She holds the current record; she kept a
man alive for two weeks, until he put his eyes out with
his thumbs. She screamed all the way down, broke her
nails on the elevator's plastic lid. Then they sedated her.
    We both have the drive, though, that special need,
that freak dynamic that lets us keep going back to
Heaven. We both got it the same way, lay out there in
our little boats for weeks, waiting for the Highway to
take us. And when our last flare was gone, we were
hauled back here by tugs. Some people just aren't
taken, and nobody knows why. And you'll never get a
second chance. They say it's too expensive, but what
they really mean, as they eye the bandages on your
wrists, is that now you're too valuable, too much use to
them as a potential surrogate. Don't worry about the
suicide attempt, they'll tell you; happens all the time.
Perfectly understandable: feeling of profound rejection.
But I'd wanted to go, wanted it so bad. Charmian, too.
She tried with pills. But they worked on us, twisted us a
little, aligned our drives, planted the bonephones,
paired us with handlers.
    Olga must have known, must have seen it all,
somehow~ she was trying to keep us from finding our
way out there, where she'd been. She knew that if we
found her, we'd have to go. Even now, knowing what I
know, I still want to go. I never will. But we can swing
here in this dark that towers way above us, Charmian's
hand in mind. Between our palms the drug's torn foil
wrapper. And Saint Olga smiles out at us from the
walls; you can feel her, all those prints from the same
publicity shot, torn and taped across the walls of night,
her white smile, forever.

Red Star, Winter Orbit
by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson

Colonel Korolev twisted slowly in his harness, dreaming
of winter and gravity. Young again, a cadet, he whipped
his horse across the late November steppes of Kazakh-
stan into dry red vistas of Martian sunset.
That's wrong, he thought
And woke in the Museum of the Soviet Triumph
in Space to the sounds of Romanenko and the KGB
man's wife. They were going at it again behind the
screen at the aft end of the Salyut, restraining straps
and padded hull creaking and thudding rhythmically.
Hooves in the snow.
    Freeing himself from the harness, Korolev executed
a practiced kick that propelled him into the toilet stall.
Shrugging out of his threadbare coverall, he clamped
the commode around his loins and wiped condensed
steam from the steel mirror. His arthritic hand had
swollen again during sleep; the wrist was bird-bone thin
from calcium loss. Twenty years had passed since he'd
last known gravity; he'd grown old in orbit.
    He shaved with a suction razor. A patchwork of
broken veins blotched his left cheek and temple, another
legacy from the blowout that had crippled him.
    When he emerged, he found that the adulterers had
finished. Romanenko was adjusting his clothing. The
political officer's wife, Valentina, had ripped the sleeves
from her brown coverall; her white arms were sheened
with the sweat of their exertion. Her ash-blond hair
rippled in the breeze from a ventilator. Her eyes were
purest cornflower blue, set a little too closely together,
and they held a look half-apologetic, half-conspirator-
ial. "See what we've brought you, Colonel
    She handed him a tiny airline bottle of cognac.
    Stunned, Korolev blinked at the Air France logo
embossed on the plastic cap.
    "It came in the last Soyuz. In a cucumber, my hus-
band said." She giggled. "He gave it to me."
    "We decided you should have it, Colonel," Ro-
manenko said, grinning broadly. "After all, we can be
furloughed at any time." Korolev ignored the sidelong,
embarrassed glance at his shriveled legs and pale,
dangling feet.
    He opened the bottle, and the ~rich aroma brought a
sudden tingling rush of blood to his cheeks. He raised it
carefully and sucked out a few milliliters of brandy. It
burned like acid. "Christ," he gasped, "it's been years.
I'll get plastered!" he said, laughing, tears blurring his
    "My father tells me you drank like a hero, Colonel,
in the old days.~~
    "Yes," Korolev said, and sipped again, "I did."
The cognac spread through him like liquid gold. He
disliked Romanenko. He'd never liked the boy's father,
either an easygoing Party man, long since settled into
lecture tours, a dacha on the Black Sea, American li-
quor, French suits, Italian shoes. . . . The boy had the
father's looks, the same clear gray eyes utterly untrou-
bled by doubt.
    The alcohol surged through Korolev's thin blood.
"You are too generous," he said. He kicked once,
gently, and arrived at his console. "You must take some
sam isdata, American cable broadcasts, freshly inter-
cepted. Racy stuff! Wasted on an old man like me." He
slotted a blank cassette and punched for the material.
    "I'll give it to the gun crew," Romanenko said,
grinning. "They can run it on the tracking consoles in
the gun room." The particle-beam station had always
been known as the gun room. The soldiers who manned
it were particularly hungry for this sort of tape. Korolev
ran off a second copy for Valentina.
    "It's dirty?" She looked alarmed and intrigued.
"May we come again, Colonel? Thursday at 2400?"
    Korolev smiled at her. She had been a factory
worker before she'd been singled out for space. Her
beauty made her useful as a propaganda tool, a role
model for the proletariat. He pitied her now, with the
cognac coursing through his veins, and found it im-
possible to deny her a little happiness. "A midnight
rendezvous in the museum, Valentina? Romantic!"
    She kissed his cheek, wobbling in free fall. "Thank
you, my Colonel."
    "You're a prince, Colonel," Romanenko said,
slapping Korolev's matchstick shoulder as gently as he
could. After countless hours on an exerciser, the boy's
arms bulged like a blacksmith's.
    Korolev watched the lovers carefully make their
way out into the central docking sphere, the junction of
three aging Salyuts and two corridors. Romanenko took
the "north" corridor to the gun room; Valentina went
in the opposite direction to the next junction sphere and
the Salyut where her husband slept.
    There were five docking spheres in Kosmograd,
each with its three linked Salyuts. At opposite ends of
the complex were the military installation ~nd the
satellite launchers. Popping, humming, and wheezing,
the station had the feel of a subway and the dank
metallic reek of a tramp steamer.
    Korolev had another pull at the bottle. Now it was
half-empty. He hid it in one of the museum's exhibits, a
NASA Hasselblad recovered from the site of the Apollo
landing. He hadn't had a drink since his last furlough,
before the blowout. His head swam in a pleasant, pain-
ful current of drunken nostalgia.
    Drifting back to his console, he accessed a section
of memory where the collected speeches of Alexci Kosy-
gin had been covertly erased and replaced with his per-
sonal collection of samisdata, digitized pop music, his
boyhood favorites from the Eighties. He had British
groups taped from West German radio, Warsaw Pact
heavy metal, American imports from the black market.
Putting on his headphones, he punched for the
Czestochowa reggae of Brygada Cryzis.
After all the years, he no longer really heard the
music, but images came rushing back with an aching
poignancy. In the Eighties he'd been a long-haired child
of the Soviet elite, his father's Position placing him ef-
fectively beyond the reach of the Moscow police. He
remembered feedback howling through the speakers in
the hot darkness of a cellar club, th'e crowd a shadowy
checkerboard of denim and bleached hair. He'd smoked
Marlboros laced with powdered Afghani hash. He re-
membered the mouth of an American diplomat's
daughter in the back seat of her father's black Lincoln.
Names and faces came flooding in on a warm haze of
cognac. Nina, the East German who'd shown him her
mimeographed translations of dissident Polish news-
Until the night she didn't turn up at the coffee bar.
Whispers of parasitism, of anti-Soviet activity, of the
waiting chemical horrors of the psikuska
Korolev started to tremble. He wiped his face and
found it bathed in sweat. He took off the headphones.
    It had been fifty years, yet he was suddenly and
very intensely afraid. He couldn't remember ever having
been this frightened, not even during the blowout that
had crushed his hip. He shook violently. The lights. The
lights in the Salyut were too bright, but he didn't want
to go to the switches. A simple action, one he performed
regularly, yet. . . The switches and their insulated cables
were somehow threatening. He stared, confused. The
little clockwork model of a Lunokhod moon rover, its
Velcro wheels gripping the curved wall, seemed to
crouch there like something sentient, poised, waiting.
The eyes of the Soviet space pioneers in the official por-
traits were fixed on him with contempt.
    The cognac. His years in free fall had warped his
metabolism. He wasn't the man he'd once been. But he
would remain calm and try to ride it out. If he threw up,
everyone would laugh.
    Someone knocked at the entrance to the museum,
and Nikita the Plumber, Kosmograd's premier han-
dyman, executed a perfect slow-motion dive through the
open hatch. The young civilian engineer looked angry.
Korolev felt cowed. "You're up early, Plumber," he
said, anxious for some facade of normality.
    "Pinhead leakage in Delta Three." He frowned.
"Do you understand Japanese?" The Plumber tugged a
cassette from one of the dozen pockets that bulged on
his stained work vest and waved it in Korolev's face. He
wore carefully laundered Levi's and dilapidated Adidas
running shoes. "We accessed this last night."
Korolev cowered as though the cassette were a
weapon. "No, no Japanese." The meekness of his own
voice startled him. "Only English and Polish." He felt
himself blush. The Plumber was his friend; he knew and
trusted the Plumber, but
"Are you well, Colonel?" The Plumber loaded the
tape and punched up a lexicon program with deft,
callused fingers. "You look as though you just ate a
bug. I want you to hear this."
    Korolev watched uneasily as the tape flickered into
an ad for baseball gloves. The lexicon's Cyrillic subtitles
raced across the monitor as a Japanese voice-over rat-
tIed maniacally.
    "The newscast's coming up," said the Plumber,
gnawing at a cuticle.
    Korolev squinted anxiously as the translation slid
across the face of the Japanese announcer:
    "Cosmic," the Plumber muttered. "Glitch in the
    "Smug bastards." The Plumber snorted. "I tell
you, it's that goddamned KGB man Yefremov. He's
had a hand in this!"
    "They're shutting us down!" The Plumber's face
contorted with rage.
    Korolev twisted away from the screen, shaking un-
controllably. Sudden tears peeled from his lashes in
free-fall droplets. "Leave me alone! I can do nothing!"
"What's wrong, Colonel?" The Plumber grabbed
his shoulders. "Look me in the face. Someone's dosed
you with the Fear!"
    "Go away~" Korolev begged.
    "That little spook bastard! What has he given you?
Pills? An injection?"
    Korolev shuddered. "I had a drink "
    "He gave you the Fear! You~ a sick old man! I'll
break his face!" The Plumber jerked his knees up,
somersaulted backward, kicked off from a handhold
overhead, and catapulted out of the room.
    "Wait! Plumber!" But the Plumber had zipped
through the docking sphere like a squirrel, vanishing
down the corridor, and now Korolev felt that he
couldn't bear to be alone. In the distance he could hear
metallic echoes of distorted, angry shouts.
    Trembling, he closed his eyes and waited for some-
one to help him.

He'd asked Psychiatric Officer Bychkov to help him
dress in his old uniform, the one with the Star of the
Tsiolkovsky Order sewn above the left breast pocket.
The black dress boots of heavy quilted nylon, with their
Velcro soles, would no longer fit his twisted feet; so his
feet remained bare.
    Bychkov's injection had straightened him out
within an hour, leaving him alternately depressed and
furiously angry. Now he waited in the museum for
Yefremov to answer his summons.
    They called his home the Museum of the Soviet
Triumph in Space, and as his rage subsided, to be
replaced with an ancient bleakness, he felt very much as
if he were simply another one of the exhibits. He stared
gloomily at the gold-framed portraits of the great vi-
sionaries of space, at the faces of Tsiolkovsky, Rynin,
Tupolev. Below these, in slightly smaller frames, were
portraits of Verne, Goddard, and O'Neill.
    In moments of extreme depression he had some-
times imagined that he could detect a common strange-
ness in their eyes, particularly in the eyes of the two
Americans. Was it simply craziness, as he sometimes
thought in his most cynical moods? Or was he able to
glimpse a subtle manifestation of some weird, unbal-
anced force that he had often suspected of being human
evolution in action?
    Once, and only once, Korolev had seen that look in
his own eyes on the day he'd stepped onto the soil of
the Coprates Basin. The Martian sunlight, glinting
within his helmet visor, had shown him the reflection of
two steady, alien eyes fearless, yet driven and the
quiet, secret shock of it, he now realized, had been his
life's most memorable, most transcendental moment.
    Above the portraits, oily and inert, was a painting
that depicted the landing in colors that reminded him of
borscht and gravy, the Martian landscape reduced to the
idealistic kitsch of Soviet Socialist realism. The artist
had posed the suited figure beside the lander with all of
the official style's deeply sincere vulgarity.
    Feeling tainted, he awaited the arrival of Yefre-
mov, the KGB man, Kosmograd's political officer.
    When Yefremov finally entered the Salyut, Korolev
noted the split lip and the fresh bruises on the man's
throat. He wore a blue Kansai jump suit of Japanese
silk and stylish Italian deck shoes. He coughed politely.
"Good morning, Comrade Colonel."
    Korolev stared. He allowed the silence to lengthen.
"Yefremov," he said heavily, "I am not happy with
    Yefremov reddened, but he held .his gaze. "Let us
speak frankly to each other, Colonel, as Russian to Rus-
sian. It was not, of course, intended for you."
    "The Fear, Yefremov?"
    "The beta-carboline, yes. If you hadn't pandered
to their antisocial actions, if you hadn't accepted their
bribe, it would not have happened."
    "So I am a pimp, Yefremov? A pimp and a drunk-
ard? You are a cuckold, a smuggler, and an informer. I
say this," he added, "as one Russian to another."
    Now the KGB man's face assumed the official
mask of bland and untroubled righteousness.
    "But tell me, Yefremov, what it is that you are really
about. What have you been doing since you came to
Kosmograd? We know that the complex will be
stripped. What is in store for the civilian crew when they
return to Baikonur? Corruption hearings?"
    `There will be interrogation, certainly. In certain
cases there may be hospitalization. Would you care to
suggest, Colonel Korolev, that the Soviet Union is
somehow at fault for Kosmograd's failures?"
    Korolev was silent.
    "Kosmograd was a dream, Colonel. A dream that
failed. Like space. We have no need to be here. We have
an entire world to put in order. Moscow is the greatest
power in history. We must not allow ourselves to lose
the global perspective."
    "Do you think we can be brushed aside that easily?
We are an elite, a highly trained technical elite."
    "A minority, Colonel, an obsolete minority. What
do you contribute, aside from reams of poisonous
American trash? The crew here were intended to be
workers, not bloated black marketeers trafficking in
jazz and pornography." Yefremov's face was smooth
and calm. "The crew will return to Baikonur. The
weapons are capable of being directed from the ground.
You, of course, will remain, and there will be guest
cosmonauts: Africans, South Americans. Space still re-
tains a degree of its former prestige for these people."
    Korolev gritted his teeth. "What have you done
with the boy?"
    "Your Plumber?" The political officer frowned.
"He has assaulted an officer of the Committee for State
Security. He will remain under guard until he can be
taken to Baikonur."
    Korolev attempted an unpleasant laugh. "Let him
go. You'll be in too much trouble yourself to press
charges. I'll speak with Marshal Gubarev personally.
My rank may be entirely honorary, Yefremov, but I do
retain a certain influence."
    The KGB man shrugged. "The gun crew are under
orders from Baikonur to keep the communications
module under lock and key. Their careers depend on
    "Martial law, then?"
    "This isn't Kabul, Colonel. These are difficult
times. You have the moral authority here; you should
try to set an example."
    "We shall see," Korolev said.

Kosmograd swung out of Earth's shadow into raw
sunlight. The walls of Korolev's Salyut popped and
creaked like a nest of glass bottles. A Salyut's view-
ports, Korolev thought absently, fingering the broken
veins at his temple, were always the first things to go.
    Young Grishkin seemed to have the same thought.
He drew a tube of caulk from an ankle pocket and
began to inspect the seal around the viewport. He was
the Plumber's assistant and closest friend.
    "We must now vote," Korolev said wearily. Eleven
of Kosmograd's twenty-four civilian crew members had
agreed to attend the meeting, twelve if he counted
himself. That left thirteen who were either unwilling to
risk involvement or else actively hostile to the idea of a
strike. Yefremov and the six-man gun crew brought the
total number of those not present to twenty. "We've
discussed our demands. All those in favor of the list as it
stands " He raised his good hand. `three others raised
theirs. Grishkin, busy at the viewport stuck out his foot.
    Korolev sighed. "There are few enough as it is.
We'd best have unanimity. Let us hear your objec-
    "The term military custody," said a biological
technician named Korovkin, "might be construed as im-
plying that the military, and not the criminal Yefremov,
is responsible for the situation." The man looked acutely
uncomfortable. "We are in sympathy otherwise but will
not sign. We are Party members." He seemed about to
add something but fell silent. "My mother," his wife
said quietly, "was Jewish."
    Korolev nodded, but he said nothing.
    "This is all criminal foolishness," said Glushko,
the botanist. Neither he nor his wife had voted.
"Madness. Kosmograd is finished, we all know it, and
the sooner home the better. What has this place ever
been but a prison?" Free fall disagreed with the man's
metabolism; in the absence of gravity, blood tended to
congest in his face and neck, making him resemble one
of his experimental pumpkins.
    "You are a botanist, Vasili," his wife said stiffly,
"while I, you will recall, am a Soyuz pilot. Your career
is not at stake."
    "I will not support this idiocy!" Glushko gave the
bulkhead a savage kick that propelled him from the
room. His wife followed, complaining bitterly in
the grating undertone crew members learned to employ
for private arguments.
    "Five are willing to sign," Korolev said, "out of a
civilian crew of twenty-four."
    "Six," said Tatiana, the other Soyuz pilot, her
dark hair drawn back and held with a braided band of
green nylon webbing. "You forget the Plumber."
    "The sun balloons!" cried Grishkin, pointing
toward the earth. "Look!"
    Kosmograd was above the coast of California now,
clean shorelines, intensely green fields, vast decaying
cities whose names rang with a strange magic. High
above a fleece of stratocumulus floated five solar bal-
loons, mirrored geodesic spheres tethered by power
lines; they had been a cheaper substitute for a grandiose
American plan to build solar-powered satellites. The
things worked, Korolev supposed, because for the last
decade he'd watched them multiply.
    "And they say that people live in those things?"
Systems Officer Stoiko had joined Grishkin at the view-
    Korolev remembered the pathetic flurry of strange
American energy schemes in the wake of the Treaty of
Vienna. With the Soviet Union firmly in control of the
world's oil flow, the Americans had seemed willing to
try anything. Then the Kansas meltdown had perman-
ently soured them on reactors. For more than three
decades they'd been gradually sliding into isolationism
and industrial decline. Space, he thought ruefully, they
should have gone into space. He'd never understood the
strange paralysis of will that had seemed to grip their
brilliant early efforts. Or perhaps it was simply a failure
of imagination, of vision. You see, Americans, he said
silently, you really should have tried to join us here in
our glorious future, here in Kosmograd.
    "Who would want to live in something like that?"
Stoiko asked, punching Grishkin's shoulder and laugh-
ing with the quiet energy of desperation.

"You're joking," said Yefremov. "Surely we're all in
enough trouble as it is."
    "We're not joking, Political Officer Yefremov,
and these are our demands." The five dissidents had
crowded into the Salyut the man shared with Valentina,
backing him against the aft screen. The screen was deco-
rated with a meticulously airbrushed photograph of the
premier, who was waving from the back of a tractor.
Valentina, Korolev knew, would be in the museum now
with Romanenko, making the straps. creak. The colonel
wondered how Romanenko so regularly managed to
avoid his duty shifts in the gun room.
    Yefremov shrugged. He glanced down the list of
demands. "The Plumber must remain in custody. I have
direct orders. As for the rest of this document "
    `-`You are guilty of unauthorized use of psychiatric
drugs!" Grishkin shouted.
    "That was entirely a private matter," said Yefre-
may calmly.
    "A criminal act," said Tatiana.
    "Pilot Tatjana, we both know that Grishkin here is
the station's most active samisdata pirate! We are all
criminals, don't you see? That's the beauty of our
system, isn't it?" His sudden, twisted smile was shock-
ingly cynical. "Kosmograd is not the Potemkin, and
you are not revolutionaries. And you demand to com-
municate with Marshal Gubarev? He is in custody at
Baikonur. And you demand to communicate with the
minister of technology? The minister is leading the
purge." With a decisive gesture he ripped the printout
to pieces, scraps of yellow flimsy scattering in free fall
like slow-motion butterflies.

On the ninth day of the strike, Korolev met with
Grishkin and Stoiko in the Salyut that Grishkin would
ordinarily have shared with the Plumber.
    For forty years the inhabitants of Kosmograd had
fought an antiseptic war against mold and mildew.
Dust, grease, and vapor wouldn't settle in free fall, and
spores lurked everywhere in padding, in clothing, in
the ventilation ducts. In the warm, moist petri-dish at-
mosphere, they spread like oil slicks. Now there was a
reek of dry rot in the air, overlaid with ominous whiffs
of burning insulation.
    Korolev's sleep had been broken by the hollow
thud of a departing Soyuz lander. Glushko and his wife,
he supposed. During the past forty-eight hours, Yefre-
mov had supervised the evacuation of the crew members
who had refused to join the strike. The gun crew kept to
the gun room and their barracks ring, where they still
held Nikita the Plumber.
    Grishkin's Salyut had become strike headquarters.
None of the male strikers had shaved, and Stoiko had
contracted a staph infection that spread across his
forearms in angry welts. Surrounded by lurid pinups
from American television, they resembled some degen-
erate trio of pornographers. The lights were dim; Kos-
mograd ran on half-power. "With the others gone,"
Stoiko said, "our hand is strengthened."
    Grishkin groaned. His nostrils were festooned with
white streamers of surgical cotton. He was convinced
that Yefremov would try to break the strike with beta-
carboline aerosols. The cotton plugs were just one
symptom of the general level of strain and paranoia.
Before the evacuation order had come from Baikonur,
one of the technicians had taken to playing Tchaikov-
sky's 1812 Overture at shattering volume for hours on
end. And Glushko had chased his wife, naked, bruised,
and screaming, up and down the length of Kosmograd.
Stoiko had accessed the KGB man's files and Bychkov's
psychiatric records; meters of yellow printout curled
through the corridors in flabby spirals, rippling in the
current from the ventilators.
    "Think what their testimony will be doing to us
groundside," muttered Grishkin. "We won't even get a
trial. Straight to the psikuska." The sinister nickname
for the political hospitals seemed to galvanize the boy
with dread. Korolev picked apathetically at a viscous
pudding of chiorella.
    Stoiko snatched a drifting scroll of printout and
read aloud. "Paranoia with a tendency to overesteem
ideas! Revisionist fantasies hostile to the social sys-
tem!" He crumpled the paper. "If we could seize the
communications module, we could tie into an American
comsat and dump the whole thing in their laps. Perhaps
that would show Moscow something about our hostil-
    Korolev dug a stranded fruit fly from his algae pud-
ding. Its two pairs of wings and bifurcated thorax were
mute testimony to Kosmograd's high radiation levels.
The insects had escaped from some forgotten experi-
ment; generations of them had infested the station for
decades. "The Americans have no interest in us,"
Korolev said. "Muscow can no longer be embarrassed
by such revelations."
    "Except when the grain shipments are due," Grish-
    "America needs to sell as badly as we need to
buy." Korolev grimly spooned more chlorella into his
mouth, chewed mechanically, and swallowed. "The
Americans couldn't reach us even if they desired to.
Canaveral is in ruins.
    "We're low on fuel," Stoiko said.
    "We can take it from the remaining landers," Kor-
olev said.
    "Then how in hell would we get back down?"
Grishkin's fists trembled. "Even in Siberia, there are
trees, trees; the sky! To hell with it! Let it fall to pieces!
Let it fall and burn!"
    Korolev's pudding spattered across the bulkhead.
    "Oh, Christ," Grishkin said, "I'm sorry, Colonel.
I know you can't go back."
    *    *    *

When he entered the museum, he found Pilot Tatjana
suspended before that hateful painting of the Mars
landing, her cheeks slick with tears.
    "Do you know, Colonel, they have a bust of you at
Baikonur? In bronze. I used to pass it on my way to lec-
tures." Her eyes were red-rimmed with sleeplessness.
    "There are always busts. Academies need them."
He smiled and took her hand.
    "What was it like that day?" She still stared at the
    "I hardly remember. I've seen the tapes so often,
now I remember them instead. My memories of Mars
are any schoolchild's." He smiled for her again. "But it
was not like this bad painting. In spite of everything,
I'm still certain of that."
    "Why has it all gone this way, Colonel? Why is it
ending now? When I was small I saw all this on televi-
sian. Our future in space was forever "
    "Perhaps the Americans were right. The Japanese
sent machines instead, robots to build their orbital fac-
tories. Lunar mining failed for us, but we thought there
would at least be a permanent research facility of some
kind. It all had to do with purse strings, I suppose. With
men who sit at desks and make decisions."
    "Here is their final decision with regard to Kosmo-
grad." She passed him a folded scrap of flimsy. "I
found this in the printout of Yefremov's orders from
Moscow. They'll allow the station's orbit to decay over
the next three months."
    He found that now he too was staring fixedly at the
painting he loathed. "It hardly matters anymore," he
heard himself say.
    And then she was weeping bitterly, her face pressed
hard against Korolev's crippled shoulder.
    "But I have a plan, Tatjana," he said, stroking her
hair. "You must listen."

He glanced at his old Rolex. They were over eastern
Siberia. He remembered how the Swiss ambassador had
presented him with the watch in an enormous vaulted
room in the Grand Kremlin Palace.
    It was time to begin.
    He drifted out of his Salyut into the docking
sphere, batting at a length of printout that tried to coil
around his head.
    He could still work quickly and efficiently with his
good hand. He was smiling as he freed a large oxygen
bottle from its webbing straps. Bracing himself against a
handhold, he flung the bottle across the sphere with all
his strength. It rebounded harmlessly with a harsh
clang. He went after it, caught it, and hurled it again.
    Then he hit the decompression alarm.
    Dust spurted from speakers as a Klaxon began to
wail. Triggered by the alarm, the d~cking bays slammed
shut with a wheeze of hydraulics. Korolev's ears
popped. He sneezed, then went after the bottle again.
    The lights flared to maximum brilliance, then
flickered out. He smiled in the darkness, groping for the
steel bottle. Stoiko had provoked a general systems
crash. It hadn't been difficult. The memory banks were
already riddled to the point of collapse with bootlegged
television broadcasts. "The real bare-knuckle stuff," he
muttered, banging the bottle against the wall. The lights
flickered on weakly as emergency cells came on line.
    His shoulder began to ache. Stoically he continued
pounding, remembering the din a real blowout caused.
It had to be good. It had to fool Yefremov and the gun
    With a squeal, the manual wheel of one of the
hatches began to rotate. It thumped open, finally, and
Tatjana looked in, grinning shyly.
    "Is the Plumber free?" he asked, releasing the bot-
    "Stoiko and Umansky are reasoning with the
guard." She drove a fist into her open palm. "Grishkin
is preparing the landers."
    He followed her up to the next docking sphere.
Stoiko was helping the Plumber through the hatch that
led from the barracks ring. The Plumber was barefoot,
his face greenish under a scraggly growth of beard.
Meteorologist Umansky followed them, dragging the
limp body of a soldier.
    "How are you, Plumber?" Korolev asked.
    "Shaky. They've kept me on the Fear. Not big
doses, but and I thought that that was a real blow-
    Grishkin slid out of the Soyuz lander nearest
Korolev, trailing a bundle of tools and meters of a
nylon lanyard. "They all check out. The crash left them
under their own automatics. I've been at their remotes
with a screwdriver so they can't be overridden by
ground control. How are you doing, my Nikita?" he
asked the Plumber. "You'll be going in steep to central
    The Plumber winced, shook himself, and shivered.
"I don't speak Chinese."
    Stoiko handed him a printout. "This is in phonetic
    The Plumber grinned and ran his fingers through his
thatch of sweat-stiffened hair. "What about the rest of
you?" he asked.
    "You think we're doing this for your benefit
alone?" Tatjana made a face at him. "Make sure the
Chinese news services get the rest of that scroll,
Plumber. Each of us has a copy. We'll see that the
world knows what the Soviet Union intends to do to
Colonel Yuri Vasilevich Korolev, first man on Mars!"
She blew the Plumber a kiss.
    "How about Filipchenko here?" Umansky asked.
A few dark spheres of congealed blood swung crookedly
past the unconscious soldier's cheek.
    "Why don't you take the poor bastard with you,"
Korolev said.
    "Come along then, shithead," the Plumber said,
grabbing Filipchenko's belt and towing him toward the
Soyuz hatch. "I, Nikita the Plumber, will do you the
favor of your miserable lifetime."
    Korolev watched as Stoiko and Grishkin sealed the
hatch behind them.
    "Where are Romanenko and Valentina?" Korolev
asked, checking his watch again.
    "Here, my colonel," Valentina said, her blond hair
floating around her face in the hatch of another Soyuz.
"We have been checking this one out." She giggled.
    "Time enough for that in Tokyo," Korolev
snapped. "They'll be scrambling jets in Vladivostok
and Hanoi within minutes."
    Romanenko's bare, brawny arm emerged and
yanked her back into the lander. Stoiko and Grishkin
sealed the hatch.
    "Peasants in space." Tatjana made a spitting
    Kosmograd boomed hollowly as the Plumber, with
the unconscious Filipchenko, cast off. Another boom
and the lovers were off as well.
    "Come along, friend Umansky," said Stoiko.
"And farewell, Colonel!" The two men headed down
the corridor.
    "I'll go with you," Grishkin said to Tatiana. He
grinned. "After all, you're a pilot."
    "No," she said. "Alone. We'll split the odds.
You'll be fine with the automatics. Just don't touch
anything on the board."
    Korolev watched her help him into the sphere's last
    "I'll take you dancing, Tatjana," Grishkin said,
"in Tokyo." She sealed the hatch. Another boom, and
Stoiko and Umansky had cast off from the next docking
    "Go now, Tatiana," Korolev said. "Hurry. I don't
want them shooting you down over international
    "That leaves you here alone, Colonel, alone with
our enemies."
    "When you've gone, they'll go as well," he said.
"And I depend on your publicity to embarrass the
Kremlin into keeping me alive here."
    "And what shall I tell them in Tokyo, Colonel?
Have you a message for the world?"
    "Tell them . . ." and every cliche came rushing to
him with an absolute rightness that made him want to
laugh hysterically: One small step... We came in peace
    Workers of the world.... "You must tell them that
I need it," he said, pinching his shrunken wrist, "in my
very bones."
    She embraced him and slipped away.

He waited alone in the docking sphere. The silence
scratched away at his nerves; the systems crash had
deactivated the ventilation system, whose hum he'd liv-
ed with for twenty years. At last he heard Tatjana's
Soyuz disengage.
    Someone was coming down the corridor. It was
Yefremov, moving clumsily in a vacuum suit. Korolev
    Yefremov wore his bland, official mask behind the
Lexan faceplate, but he avoided meeting Korolev's eyes
as he passed. He was heading for the gun room.
    "No!" Korolev shouted.
    The Klaxon blared the station's call to full battle
    The gun-room hatch was open when he reached it.
Inside, the soldiers were moving jerkily in the galvan-
ized reflex of constant drill, yanking the broad straps of
their console seats across the chests of their bulky suits.
    "Don't do it!" He clawed at the stiff accordion
fabric of Yefremov's suit. One of the accelerators
powered up with a staccato whine. On a tracking screen,
green cross hairs closed in on a red dot.
    Yefremov removed his helmet. Calmly, with no
change in his expression, he backhanded Korolev with
the helmet.
    "Make them stop!" Korolev sobbed. The walls
shook as a beam cut loose with the sound of a cracking
whip. "Your wife, Yefremov! She's out there!"
    "Outside, Colonel." Yefremov grabbed Korolev's
arthritic hand and squeezed. Korolev screamed. "Out-
side." A gloved fist struck him in the chest.
    Korolev pounded helplessly on the vacuum suit as
he was shoved out into the corridor. "Even I, Colonel,
dare not come between the Red Army and its orders."
Yefremov looked sick now; the mask had crumbled.
"Fine sport," he said. "Wait here until it's over."
    Then Tatjana's Soyuz struck the beam installation
and the barracks ring. In a split-second daguerreotype
of raw sunlight, Korolev saw the gun room wrinkle and
collapse like a beer can crushed under a boot; he saw the
decapitated torso of a soldier spinning away from a con-
sole; he saw Yefremov try to speak, his hair streaming
upright as vacuum tore the air in his suit out through his
open helmet ring. Fine twin streams of blood arced
from Korolev's nostrils, the roar of escaping air re-
placed by a deeper roaring in his head.
    The last thing Korolev remembered hearing was the
hatch door slamming shut.
    When he woke, he woke to darkness, to pulsing
agony behind his eyes, remembering old lectures. This
was as great a danger as the blowout itself, nitrogen
bubbling through the blood to strike with white-hot,
crippling pain...
But it was all so remote, so academic, really. He
turned the wheels of the hatches out of some strange
sense of noblesse oblige, nothing more. The labor was
quite onerous, and he wished very much to return to the
museum and sleep.

He could repair the leaks with caulk, but the systems
crash was beyond him. He had Glushko's garden. With
the vegetables and algae, he wouldn't starve or smother.
The communications module had gone with the gun
room and the barracks ring, sheared from the station by
the impact of Tatjana's suicidal Soyuz. He assumed that
the collision had perturbed Kosmograd's orbit, but he
had no way of predicting the hour of the station's final
incandescent meeting with the upper atmosphere. He
was often ill now, and he often thought that he might
die before burnout, which disturbed him.
    He spent uncounted hours screening the museum's
library of tapes. A fitting pursuit for the Last Man in
Space who had once been the First Man on Mars.
    He became obsessed with the icon of Gagarin,
endlessly rerunning the grainy television images of the
Sixties, the newsreels that led so unalterably to the
cosmonaut's death. The stale air of Kosmograd swam
with the spirits of martyrs. Gagarin, the first Salyut
crew, the Americans roasted alive in their squat Apollo...
    Often he dreamed of Tatjana, the look in her eyes
like the look he'd imagined in the eyes of the museum's
portraits. And once he woke, or dreamed he woke, in
the Salyut where she had slept, to find himself in his old
uniform, with a battery-powered work light strapped
across his forehead. From a great distance, as though he
watched a newsreel on the museum's monitor, he saw
himself rip the Star of the Tsiolkovsky Order from his
pocket and staple it to her pilot's certificate.
    When the knocking came, he knew that it must be a
dream as well.
    The hatch wheeled open.
    In the bluish, flickering light from the old film, he
saw that the woman was black. Long corkscrews of
matted hair rose like cobras around her head. She wore
goggles, a silk aviator's scarf twisting behind her in free
fall. "Andy," she said in English, "you better come see
    A small, muscular man, nearly bald, and wearing
only a jockstrap and a jangling toolbelt, floated up
behind her and peered in. "Is he alive?"
    "Of course I am alive," said Korolev in slightly ac-
cented English.
    The man called Andy sailed in over her head. "You
okay, Jack?" His right bicep was tattooed with a
geodesic balloon above crossed lightning bolts and bore
the legend SUNSPARK 15, UTAH. "We weren't expecting
    "Neither was I," said Korolev, blinking.
    "We've come to live here," said the woman, drift-
ing closer.
    "We're from the balloons. Squatters, I guess you
could say. Heard the place was empty. You know the
orbit's decaying on this thing?" The man executed a
clumsy midair somersault, the tools clattering on his
belt. "This free fall's outrageous."
    "God," said the woman, "I just can't get used to
it! It's wonderful. It's like skydiving, but there's no
    Korolev stared at the man, who had the blundering,
careless look of someone drunk on freedom since birth.
"But you don't even have a launchpad," he said.
    "Launchpad?" the man said, laughing. "What we
do, we haul these surplus booster engines up the cables
to the balloons, drop `em, and fire `em in midair."
    "That's insane," Korolev said.
    "Got us here, didn't it?"
    Korolev nodded. If this was all a dream, it was a
very peculiar one. "I am Colonel Yuri Vasilevich Koro-
    "Mars!" The woman clapped her hands. "Wait'll
the kids hear that." She plucked the little Lunokhod
moon-rover model from the bulkhead and began to
wind it.
    "Hey," the man said, "I gotta work. We got a
bunch of boosters outside. We gotta lift this thing
before it starts burning."
    Something clanged against the hull. Kosmograd
rang with the impact. "That'll be Tulsa," Andy said,
consulting a wristwatch. "Right on time."
    "But why?" Korolev shook his head, deeply con-
fused. "Why have you come?"
    "We told you. To live here. We can enlarge this
thing, maybe build more. They said we'd never make it
living in the balloons, but we were the only ones who
could make them work. It was our one chance to get out
here on our own. Who'd want to live out here for the
sake of some government, some army brass, a bunch of
pen pushers? You have to want a frontier want it in
your bones, right?"
    Korolev smiled. Andy grinned back. "We grabbed
those power cables and just pulled ourselves straight up.
And when you get to the top, well, man, you either
make that big jump or else you rot there." His voice
rose. "And you don't look back, no sir! We've made
that jump, and we're here to stay!"
    The woman placed the model's Velcro wheels
against the curved wall and released it. It went scooting
along above their heads, whirring merrily. "Isn't that
cute? The kids are just going to love it."
    Korolev stared into Andy's eyes. Kosmograd rang
again, jarring the little Lunokhod model onto a new
    "East Los Angeles," the woman said. "That's the
one with the kids in it." She took off her goggles, and
Korolev saw her eyes brimming over with a wonderful
    "Well," said Andy, rattling his toolbelt, "you feel
like showing us around?"

New Rose Hotel

Seven rented nights in this coffin, Sandii. New Rose
Hotel. How I want you now. Sometimes I hit you.
Replay it so slow and sweet and mean, I can almost feel
it. Sometimes I take your little automatic out of my bag,
run my thumb down smooth, cheap chrome. Chinese
.22, its bore no wider than the dilated pupils of your
vanished eyes.
    Fox is dead now, Sandii.
    Fox told me to forget you.

I remember Fox leaning against the padded bar in the
dark lounge of some Singapore hotel, Bencoolen Street,
his hands describing different spheres of influence, in-
ternal rivalries, the arc of a particular career, a point of
weakness he had discovered in the armor of some think
tank. Fox was point man in the skull wars, a middleman
for corporate crossovers. He was a soldier in the secret
skirmishes of the zaibatsus, the multinational corpora-
tions that control entire economies.
    I see Fox grinning, talking fast, dismissing my ven-
tures into intercorporate espionage with a shake of his
head. The Edge, he said, have to find that Edge. He
made you hear the capital E. The Edge was Fox's grail,
that essential fraction of sheer human talent, non-
transferable, locked in the skulls of the world's hottest
research scientists.

    You can't put Edge down on paper, Fox said, can't
punch Edge into a diskette.
    The money was in corporate defectors.
    Fox was smooth, the severity of his dark French
suits offset by a boyish forelock that wouldn't stay in
place. I never liked the way the effect was ruined when
he stepped back from the bar, his left shoulder skewed
at an angle no Paris tailor could conceal. Someone had
run him over with a taxi in Berne, and nobody quite
knew how to put him together again.
    I guess I went with him because he said he was after
that Edge.
    And somewhere out there, on our way to find the
Edge, I found you, Sandii.
    The New Rose Hotel is a coffin rack on the ragged
fringes of Narita International. Plastic capsules a meter
high and three long, stacked like surplus Godzilla teeth
in a concrete lot off the main road to the airport. Each
capsule has a television mounted flush with the ceiling. I
spend whole days watching Japanese game shows and
old movies. Sometimes I have your gun in my hand.
    Sometimes I can hear the jets, laced into holding
patterns over Narita. I close my eyes and imagine the
sharp, white contrails fading, losing definition.
    You walked into a bar in Yokohama, the first time
I saw you. Eurasian, half gaijin, long-hipped and fluid
in a Chinese knock-off of some Tokyo designer's origi-
nal. Dark European eyes, Asian cheekbones. I remem-
ber you dumping your purse out on the bed, later, in
some hotel room, pawing through your makeup. A
crumpled wad of new yen, dilapidated address book
held together with rubber bands, a Mitsubishi bank
chip, Japanese passport with a gold chrysanthemum
stamped on the cover, and the Chinese .22.
    You told me your story. Your father had been an
executive in Tokyo, but now he was disgraced, dis-
owned, cast down by Hosaka, the biggest zaibatsu of
all. That night your mother was Dutch, and I listened as
you spun out those summers in Amsterdam for me, the
pigeons in Dam Square like a soft, brown carpet.
    I never asked what your father might have done to
earn his disgrace. I watched you dress; watched the
swing of your dark, straight hair, how it cut the air.
    Now Hosaka hunts me.
    The coffins of New Rose are racked in recycled
scaffolding, steel pipes under bright enamel. Paint
flakes away when I climb the ladder, falls with each step
as I follow the catwalk. My left hand counts off the cof-
fin hatches, their multilingual decals warning of fines
levied for the loss of a key.
    I look up as the jets rise out of Narita, passage
home, distant now as any moon.
    Fox was quick to see how we could use you, but not
sharp enough to credit you with ambition. But then he
never lay all night with you on the beach at Kamakura,
never listened to your nightmares, never heard an entire
imagined childhood shift under those stars, shift and
roll over, your child's mouth opening to reveal some
fresh past, and always the one, you swore, that was
really and finally the truth.
    I didn't care, holding your hips while the sand
cooled against your skin.
    Once you left me, ran back to that beach saying
you'd forgotten our key. I found it in the door and went
after you, to find you ankle-deep in surf, your smooth
back rigid, trembling; your eyes far away. You couldn't
talk. Shivering. Gone. Shaking for different futures and
better pasts.
    Sandii, you left me here.
    You left me all your things.
    This gun. Your makeup, all the shadows and
blushes capped in plastic. Your Cray microcomputer, a
gift from Fox, with a shopping list you entered. Some-
times I play that back, watching each item cross the little
silver screen.
    A freezer. A fermenter. An incubator. An electro-
phoresis system with integrated agarose cell and transil-
luminator. A tissue embedder. A high-performance
liquid chromatograph. A flow cytometer. A spectro-
photometer. Four gross of borosilicate scintillation
vials. A microcentrifuge. And one .DNA synthesizer,
with in-built computer. Plus software.
    Expensive, Sandii, but then Hosaka was footing
our bills. Later you made them pay even more, but you
were already gone.
    Hiroshi drew up that list for you. In bed, probably.
Hiroshi Yomiuri. Maas Biolabs GmbH had him. Ho-
saka wanted him.
    He was hot. Edge and lots of it. Fox followed ge-
netic engineers the way a fan follows players in a
favorite game. Fox wanted Hiroshi so bad he could taste
    He'd sent me up to Frankfurt three times before
you turned up, just to have a look-see at Hiroshi. Not to
make a pass or even to give him a wink and a nod. Just
to watch.
    Hiroshi showed all the signs of having settled in.
He'd found a German girl with a taste for conservative
loden and riding boots polished the shade of a fresh
chestnut. He'd bought a renovated town house on just
the right square. He'd taken up fencing and given up
    And everywhere the Maas security teams, smooth
and heavy, a rich, clear syrup of surveillance. I came
back and told Fox we'd never touch him.
    You touched him for us, Sandii. You touched him
just right.
    Our Hosaka contacts were like specialized cells pro-
tecting the parent organism. We were mutagens, Fox
and I, dubious agents adrift on the dark side of the in-
tercorporate sea.
    When we had you in place in Vienna, we offered
them Hiroshi. They didn't even blink. Dead calm in an
L.A. hotel room. They said they had to think about it.
    Fox spoke the name of Hosaka's primary com-
petitor in the gene game, let it fall out naked, broke the
protocol forbidding the use of proper names.
    They had to think about it, they said.
    Fox gave them three days.
    I took you to Barcelona a week before I took you to
Vienna. I remember you with your hair tucked back into
a gray beret, your high Mongol cheekbones reflected in
the windows of ancient shops. Strolling down the Ram-
blas to the Phoenician harbor, past the glass-roofed
Mercado selling oranges out of Africa.
    The old Ritz, warm in our room, dark, with all the
soft weight of Europe pulled over us like a quilt. I could
enter you in your sleep. You were always ready. Seeing
your lips in a soft, round 0 of surprise, your face about
to sink into the thick, white pillow archaic linen of the
Ritz. Inside you I imagined all that neon, the crowds
surging around Shinjuku Station, wired electric night.
You moved that way, rhythm of a new age, dreamy and
far from any nation's soil.
    When we flew to Vienna, I installed you in Hiro-
shi's wife's favorite hotel. Quiet, solid, the lobby tiled
like a marble chessboard, with brass elevators smelling
of lemon oil and small cigars. It was easy to imagine her
there, the highlights on her riding boots reflected in
polished marble, but we knew she wouldn't be coming
along, not this trip.
    She was off to some Rhineland spa, and Hiroshi
was in Vienna for a conference. When Maas security
flowed in to scan the hotel, you were out of sight.
Hiroshi arrived an hour later, alone.
    Imagine an alien, Fox once said, who's come here
to identify the planet's dominant form of intelligence.
The alien has a look, then chooses. What do you think
he picks? I probably shrugged.
    The zaibatsus, Fox said, the multinationals. The
blood of a zaibatsu is information, not people. The
structure is independent of the individual lives that com-
prise it. Corporation as life form.
    Not the Edge lecture again, I said.
    Maas isn't like that, he said, ignoring me.
    Maas was small, fast, ruthless. An atavism. Maas
was all Edge.
    I remember Fox talking about the nature of
Hiroshi's Edge. Radioactive nucleases, monoclonal
antibodies, something to do with the linkage of pro-
teins, nucleotides . . . Hot, Fox called them, hot pro-
teins. High-speed links. He said Hiroshi was a freak, the
kind who shatters paradigms, inverts a whole field of
science, brings on the violent revision of an entire body
of knowledge. Basic patents, he said, his throat tight
with the sheer wealth of it, with the high, thin smell of
tax-free millions that clung to those two words.
    Hosaka wanted Hiroshi, but his Edge was radical
enough to worry them. They wanted him to work in
    I went to Marrakech, to the old city, the Medina. I
found a heroin lab that had been converted to the ex-
traction of pheromones. I bought it, with Hosaka's
    I walked the marketplace at Djemaa-el-Fna with a
sweating Portuguese businessman, discussing fluores-
cent lighting and the installation of ventilated specimen
cages. Beyond the city walls, the high Atlas. Djemaa-el-
Fna was thick with jugglers, dancers, storytellers, small
boys turning lathes with their feet, legless beggars with
wooden bowls under animated holograms advertising
French software.
    We strolled past bales of raw wool and plastic tubs
of Chinese microchips. I hinted that my employers
planned to manufacture synthetic beta-endorphin.
Always try to give them something they understand.
    Sandii, I remember you in Harajuku, sometimes.
Close my eyes in this coffin and I can see you there all
the glitter, crystal maze of the boutiques, the smell of
new clothes. I see your cheekbones ride past chrome
racks of Paris leathers. Sometimes I hold your hand.
    We thought we'd found you, Sandii, but really
you'd found us. Now I know you were looking for us,
or for someone like us. Fox was delighted, grinning over
our find: such a pretty new tool, bright as any scalpel.
Just the thing to help us sever a stubborn Edge, like
Hiroshi's, from the jealous parent-body of Maas
    You must have been searching a long time, looking
for a way out, all those nights down Shinjuku. Nights
you carefully cut from the scattered deck of your past.
    My own past had gone down years before, lost with
all hands, no trace. I understood Fox's late-night habit
of emptying his wallet, shuffling through his identifica-
tion. He'd lay the pieces out in different patterns, rear-
range them, wait for a picture to form. I knew what he
was looking for. You did the same thing with your
    In New Rose, tonight, I chocfse from your deck of
    I choose the original version, the famous Yoko-
hama hotel-room text, recited to me that first night in
bed. I choose the disgraced father, Hosaka executive.
Hosaka. How perfect. And the Dutch mother, the sum-
mers in Amsterdam, the soft blanket of pigeons in the
Dam Square afternoon.
    I came in out of the heat of Marrakech into Hilton
air conditioning. Wet shirt clinging cold to the small of
my back while I read the message you'd relayed through
Fox. You were in all the way; Hiroshi would leave his
wife. It wasn't difficult for you to communicate with us,
even through the clear, tight film of Maas security;
you'd shown Hiroshi the perfect little place for coffee
and kipferl. Your favorite waiter was white-haired,
kindly, walked with a limp, and worked for us. You left
your messages under the linen napkin.
    All day today I watched a small helicopter cut a
tight grid above this country of mine, the land of my ex-
ile, the New Rose Hotel. Watched from my hatch as its
patient shadow crossed the grease-stained concrete.
Close. Very close.
    I left Marrakech for Berlin. I met with a Welshman
in a bar and began to arrange for Hiroshi's disap-
    It would be a complicated business, intricate as the
brass gears and sliding mirrors of Victorian stage magic,
but the desired effect was simple enough. Hiroshi would
step behind a hydrogen-cell Mercedes and vanish. The
dozen Maas agents who followed him constantly would
swarm around the van like ants; the Maas security ap-
paratus would harden around his point of departure like
    They know how to do business promptly in Berlin.
I was even able to arrange a last night with you. I kept it
secret from Fox; he might not have approved. Now I've
forgotten the town's name. I knew it for an hour on the
autobahn, under a gray Rhenish sky, and forgot it in
your arms.
    The rain began, sometime toward morning. Our
room had a single window, high and narrow, where I
stood and watched the rain fur the river with silver
needles. Sound of your breathing. The river flowed
beneath low, stone arches. The street was empty.
Europe was a dead museum.
    I'd already booked your flight to Marrakech, out
of Orly, under your newest name. You'd be on your
way when I pulled the final string and dropped Hiroshi
out of sight.
    You'd left your purse on the dark old bureau.
While you slept I went through your things, removing
anything that might clash with the new cover I'd bought
for you in Berlin. I took the Chinese .22, your micro-
computer, and your bank chip. I took a new passport,
Dutch, from my bag, a Swiss bank chip in the same
name, and tucked them into your purse.
    My hand brushed something flat. I drew it out,
held the thing, a diskette. No labels.
    It lay there in the palm of my hand, all that death.
Latent, coded, waiting.
    I stood there and watched you breathe, watched
your breasts rise and fall. Saw your lips slightly parted,
and in the jut and fullness of your lower lip, the faintest
suggestion of bruising.
    I put the diskette back into your purse. When I lay
down beside you, you rolled against me, waking, on
your breath all the electric night of a new Asia, the
future rising in you like a bright fluid, washing me of
everything but the moment. That was your magic, that
you lived outside of history, all now.
    And you knew how to take me there.
    For the very last time, you took me.
    While I was shaving, I heard you empty your make-
up into my bag. I'm Dutch now, you said, I'll want a
new look.
    Dr. Hiroshi Yomiuri went missing in Vienna, in a
quiet street off Singerstrasse, two blocks from his wife's
favorite hotel. On a clear afternoon in October, in the
presence of a dozen expert witnesses, Dr. Yomiuri
    He stepped through a looking glass. Somewhere,
offstage, the oiled play of Victorian clockwork.
    I sat in a hotel room in Geneva and took the Welsh-
man's call. It was done, Hiroshi down my rabbit hole
and headed for Marrakech. I poured myself a drink and
thought about your legs.
    Fox and I met in Narita a day later, in a sushi bar in
the JAL terminal. He'd just stepped off an Air Maroc
jet, exhausted and triumphant.
    Loves it there, he said, meaning Hiroshi. Loves
her, he said, meaning you.
    I smiled. You'd promised to meet me in Shinjuku
in a month.
    Your cheap little gun in the New Rose Hotel. The
chrome is starting to peel. The machining is clumsy,
blurry Chinese stamped into rough steel. The grips are
red plastic, molded with a dragon on either side. Like a
child's toy.
    Fox ate sushi in the JAL terminal, high on what
we'd done. The shoulder had been giving him trouble,
but he said he didn't care. Money now for better doc-
tors. Money now for everything.
    Somehow it didn't seem very important to me, the
money we'd gotten from Hosaka. Not that I doubted
our new wealth, but that last night with you had left me
convinced that it all came to us naturally, in the new
order of things, as a function of who and what we were.
    Poor Fox. With his blue oxford shirts crisper than
ever, his Paris suits darker and richer. Sitting there in
JAL, dabbing sushi into a little rectangular tray of green
horseradish, he had less than a week to live.
    Dark now, and the coffin racks of New Rose are lit
all night by floodlights, high on painted metal masts.
Nothing here seems to serve its original purpose.
Everything is surplus, recycled, even the coffins. Forty
years ago these plastic capsules were stacked in Tokyo
or Yokohama, a modern convenience for traveling
businessmen. Maybe your father slept in one. When the
scaffolding was new, it rose around the shell of some
mirrored tower on the Ginza, swarmed over by crews of
    The breeze tonight brings the rattle of a pachinko
parlor, the smell of stewed vegetables from the push-
carts across the road.
    I spread crab-flavored krill paste on orange rice
crackers. I can hear the planes.
    Those last few days in Tokyo, Fox and I had ad-
joining suites on the fifty-third floor of the Hyatt. No
contact with Hosaka. They paid us, then erased us from
official corporate memory.
    But Fox couldn't let go. Hiroshi was his baby, his
pet project. He'd developed a proprietary, almost
fatherly, interest in Hiroshi. He loved him for his Edge.
So Fox had me keep in touch with my Portuguese busi-
nessman in the Medina, who was willing to keep a very
partial eye on Hiroshi's lab for us.
    When he phoned, he'd phone from a stall in
Djemaa-el-Fna, with a background of wailing vendors
and Atlas panpipes. Someone was moving security into
Marrakech, he told us. Fox nodded. Hosaka.
    After less than a dozen calls, I saw the change in
Fox, a tension, a look of abstraction. I'd find him at the
window, staring down fifty-three floors into the Im-
perial gardens, lost in something he wouldn't talk
    Ask him for a more detailed description, he said,
after one particular call. He thought a man our contact
had seen entering Hiroshi's lab might be Moenner,
Hosaka's leading gene man.
    That was Moenner, he said, after the next call.
Another call and he thought he'd identified Chedanne,
who headed Hosaka's protein team. Neither had been
seen outside the corporate arcology in over two years.
    By then it was obvious that Hosaka's leading re-
searchers were pooling quietly in the Medina, the black
executive Lears whispering into.the Marrakech airport
on carbon-fiber wings. Fox shook his head. He was a
professional, a specialist, and he saw the sudden ac-
cumulation of all that prime Hosaka Edge in the
Medina as a drastic failure in the zaibatsu's tradecraft.
    Christ, he said, pouring himself a Black Label,
they've got their whole bio section in there right now.
One bomb. He shook his head. One grenade in the right
place at the right time...
    I reminded him of the saturation techniques Ho-
saka security was obviously employing. Hosaka had
lines to the heart of the Diet, and their massive infiltra-
tion of agents into Marrakech could only be taking
place with the knowledge and cooperation of the Mor-
occan government.
    Hang it up, I said. It's over. You've sold them
Hiroshi. Now forget him.
    I know what it is, he said. I know. I saw it once
    He said that there was a certain wild factor in lab
work. The edge of Edge, he called it. When a researcher
develops a breakthrough, others sometimes find it im-
possible to duplicate the first researcher's results. This
was even more likely with Hiroshi, whose work went
against the conceptual grain of his field. The answer,
often, was to fly the breakthrough boy from lab to cor-
porate lab for a ritual laying on of hands. A few
pointless adjustments in the equipment, and the process
would work. Crazy thing, he said, nobody knows why it
works that way, but it does. He grinned.
    But they're taking a chance, he said. Bastards told
us they wanted to isolate Hiroshi, keep him away from
their central research thrust. Balls. Bet your ass there's
some kind of power struggle going on in Hosaka
research. Somebody big's flying his favorites in and
rubbing them all over Hiroshi for luck. When Hiroshi
shoots the legs out from under genetic engineering, the
Medina crowd's going to be ready.
    He drank his scotch and shrugged.
    Go to bed, he said. You're right, it's over.
    I did go to bed, but the phone woke me. Marrakech
again, the white static of a satellite link, a rush of
frightened Portuguese.
    Hosaka didn't freeze our credit, they caused it to
evaporate. Fairy gold. One minute we were millionaires
in the world's hardest currency, and the next we were
paupers. I woke Fox.
    Sandii, he said. She sold out. Maas security turned
her in Vienna. Sweet Jesus.
    I watched him slit his battered suitcase apart with a
Swiss Army knife. He had three gold bars glued in there
with contact cement. Soft plates, each one proofed and
stamped by the treasury of some extinct African govern-
    I should've seen it, he said, his voice flat.
    I said no. I think I said your name.
    Forget her, he said. Hosaka wants us dead. They'll
assume we crossed them. Get on the phone and check
our credit.
    Our credit was gone. They denied that either of us
had ever had an account.
    Haul ass, Fox said.
    We ran. Out a service door, into Tokyo traffic, and
down into Shinjuku. That was when I understood for
the first time the real extent of Hosaka's reach.
    Every door was closed. People we'd done business
with for two years saw us coming, and I'd see steel shut-
ters slam behind their eyes. We'd get out before they
had a chance to reach for the phone. The surface ten-
sion of the underworld had been tripled, and every-
where we'd meet that same taut membrane and be
thrown back. No chance to sink, to get out of sight.
    Hosaka let us run for most of that first day. Then
they sent someone to break Fox's back a second time.
    I didn't see them do it, but I saw him fall. We were
in a Ginza department store an hour before closing, and
I saw his arc off that polished mezzanine, down into all
the wares of the new Asia.
    They missed me somehow,~and I just kept running.
Fox took the gold with him, but I had a hundred new
yen in my pocket. I ran. All the way to the New Rose
    Now it's time.
    Come with me, Sandii. Hear the neon humming on
the road to Narita International. A few late moths trace
stop-motion circles around the floodlights that shine on
New Rose.
    And the funny thing, Sandii, is how sometimes you
just don't seem real to me. Fox once said you were cc-
toplasm, a ghost called up by the extremes of econom-
ics. Ghost of the new century, congealing on a thousand
beds in the world's Hyatts, the world's Hiltons.
    Now I've got your gun in my hand, jacket pocket,
and my hand seems so far away. Disconnected.
    I remember my Portuguese business friend forget-
ting his English, trying to get it across in four languages
I barely understood, and I thought he was telling me
that the Medina was burning. Not the Medina. The
brains of Hosaka's best research people. Plague, he was
whispering, my businessman, plague and fever and
    Smart Fox, he put it together on the run. I didn't
even have to mention finding the diskette in your bag in
    Someone had reprogrammed the DNA synthesizer,
he said. The thing was there for the overnight construc-
tion of just the right macromolecule. With its in-built
computer and its custom software. Expensive, Sandii.
But not as expensive as you turned out to be for
    I hope you got a good price from Maas.
    The diskette in my hand. Rain on the river. I knew,
but I couldn't face it. I put the code for that meningial
    virus back into your purse and lay down beside you.
    So Moenner died, along with other Hosaka re-
searchers. Including Hiroshi. Chedanne suffered per-
manent brain damage.
    Hiroshi hadn't worried about contamination. The
proteins he punched for were harmless. So the syn-
thesizer hummed to itself all night long, building a virus
to the specifications of Maas Biolabs GmbH.
    Maas. Small, fast, ruthless. All Edge.
    The airport road is a long, straight shot. Keep to
the shadows.
    And I was shouting at that Portuguese voice, I
made him tell me what happened to the girl, to Hiroshi's
woman. Vanished, he said. The whir of Victorian
    So Fox had to fall, fall with his three pathetic plates
of gold, and snap his spine for the last time. On the
floor of a Ginza department store, every shopper staring
in the instant before they screamed.
    I just can't hate you, baby.
    And Hosaka's helicopter is back, no lights at all,
hunting on infrared, feeling for body heat. A muffled
whine as it turns, a kilometer away, swinging back
toward us, toward New Rose. Too fast a shadow,
against the glow of Narita.
    It's all right, baby. Only please come here. Hold
my hand.

The Winter Market

It rains a lot, up here; there are winter days when it
doesn't really get light at all, only a bright, indeter-
inmate gray. But then there are days when it's like they
whip aside a curtain to flash you three minutes of sun-
lit, suspended mountain, the trademark at the start of
God's own movie. It was like that the day her agents
phoned, from deep in the heart of their mirrored pyra-
mid on Beverly Boulevard, to tell me she'd merged with
the net, crossed over for good, that Kings of Sleep was
going triple-platinum. I'd edited most of Kings, done
the brain-map work and gone over it all with the fast-
wipe module, so I was in line for a share of royalties.
    No, I said, no. Then yes, yes, and hung up on them.
Got my jacket and took the stairs three at a time,
straight out to the nearest bar and an eight-hour black-
out that ended on a concrete ledge two meters above
midnight. False Creek water. City lights, that same gray
bowl of sky smaller now, illuminated by neon and mer-
cury-vapor arcs. And it was snowing, big flakes but not
many, and when they touched black water, they were
gone, no trace at all. I looked down at my feet and saw
my toes clear of the edge of concrete, the water between
them. I was wearing Japanese shoes, new and expensive,
glove-leather Ginza monkey boots with rubber-capped
toes. I stood there for a long time before I took that first
step back.
my hand.
    Because she was dead, and I'd let her go. Because,
now, she was immortal, and I'd helped her get that way.
And because I knew she'd phone me, in the morning.

My father was an audio engineer, a mastering engineer.
He went way back, in the business, even before digi-
tal. The processes he was concerned with were partly
mechanical, with that clunky quasi-Victorian quality
you see in twentieth-century technology. He was a lathe
operator, basically. People brought him audio record-
ings and he burned their sounds into grooves on a disk
of lacquer. Then the disk was electroplated and used in
the construction of a press that would stamp out
records, the black things you see in antique stores. And
I remember him telling me, once, a few months before
he died, that certain frequencies transients, I think he
called them could easily burn out the head, the cutting
head, on a master lathe. These heads were incredibly ex-
pensive, so you prevented burnouts with something
called an accelerometer. And that was what I was
thinking of, as I stood there, my toes out over the
water: that head, burning out.
    Because that was what they did to her.
    And that was what she wanted.
    No accelerometer for Lise.

I disconnected my phone on my way to bed. I did it with
the business end of a West German studio tripod that
was going to cost a week's wages to repair.
    Woke some strange time later and took a cab back
to Granville Island and Rubin's place.
    Rubin, in some way that no one quite understands,
is a master, a teacher, what the Japanese call a sensei.
What he's the master of, really, is garbage, kipple,
refuse, the sea of cast-off goods our century floats on.
Gomi no sensei. Master of junk.
    I found him, this time, squatting between two
vicious-looking drum machines I hadn't seen before,
rusty spider arms folded at t~1e hearts of dented con-
stellations of steel cans fished out of Richmond dump-
sters. He never calls the place a studio, never refers to
himself as an artist. "Messing around," he calls what
he does there, and seems to view it as some extension of
boyhood's perfectly bored backyard afternodns. He
wanders through his jammed, littered space, a kind of
minihangar cobbled to the water side of the Market,
followed by the smarter and more agile of his creations,
like some vaguely benign Satan bent on the elaboration
of still stranger processes in his ongoing Inferno of
gomi. I've seen Rubin program his constructions to
identify and verbally abuse pedestrians wearing gar-
ments by a given season's hot designer; others attend to
more obscure missions, and a few seem constructed
solely to deconstruct themselves ~vith as much attendant
noise as possible. He's like a child, Rubin; he's also
worth a lot of money in galleries in Tokyo and Paris.
    So I told him about Lise. He let me do it, get it out,
then nodded. "I know," he said. "Some CBC creep
phoned eight times." He sipped something out of a
dented cup. "You wanna Wild Turkey sour?"
    "Why'd they call you?"
    `Cause my name's on the back of Kings of Sleep.
    "I didn't see it yet."
    "She try to call you yet?"

    "She will."
    "Rubin, she's dead. They cremated her already."
    "I know," he said. "And she'd going to call you."

    Where does the gomi stop and the world begin? The
Japanese, a century ago, had already run out of gomi
space around Tokyo, so they came up with a plan for
creating space out of gomi. By the year 1969 they had
built themselves a little island in Tokyo Bay, out of
gomi, and christened it Dream Island. But the city was
still pouring out its nine thousand tons per day, so they
went on to build New Dream Island, and today they
coordinate the whole process, and new Nippons rise out
of the Pacific. Rubin watches this on the news and says
nothing at all.
    He has nothing to say about gomi. It's his medium,
the air he breathes, something he's swum in all his life.
He cruises Greater Van in a spavined truck-thing
chop j,ed down from an ancient Mercedes airporter, its
roof lost under a wallowing rubber bag half-filled with
natural gas. He looks for things that fit some strange
design scrawled on the inside of his forehead by
whatever serves him as Muse. He brings home more
gomi. Some of it still operative. Some of it, like Lise,
    I met Lise at one of Rubin's parties. Rubin had a
lot of parties. He never seemed particularly to enjoy
them, himself, but they were excellent parties. I lost
track, that fall, of the number of times I woke on a slab
of foam to the roar of Rubin's antique espresso mach-
ine, a tarnished behemoth topped with a big chrome
eagle, the sound outrageous off the corrugated steel
walls of the place, but massively comforting, too: There
was coffee. Life would go on.
    First time I saw her: in the Kitchen Zone. You
wouldn't call it a kitchen, exactly, just three fridges and
a hot plate and a broken convection oven that had come
in with the gomi. First time I saw her: She had the all-
beer fridge open, light spilling out, and I caught the
cheekbones and the determined set of that mouth, but I
also caught the black glint of polycarbon at her wrist,
and the bright slick sore the exoskeleton had rubbed
there. Too drunk to process, to know what it was, but I
did know it wasn't party time. So I did what people
usually did, to Lise, and clicked myself into a different
movie. Went for the wine instead, on the counter beside
the convection oven. Never looked back.
    But she found me again. Came after me two hours
later, weaving through the bodies and junk with that
terrible grace programmed into the exoskeleton. I knew
what it was, then, as I watched her homing in, too em-
barrassed now to duck it, to run, to mumble some ex-
cuse and get out. Pinned there, my arm around the
waist of a girl I didn't know, while Lise advanced  was
advanced, with that mocking grace straight at me
now, her eyes burning with wizz, and the girl had
wriggled out and away in a quiet social panic, was gone,
and Lise stood there in front of me, propped up in her
pencil-thin polycarbon prosthetic. Looked into those
eyes and it was like you could hear her synapses whin-
ing, some impossibly high-pitched scream as the wizz
opened every circuit in her brain.
    "Take me home," she said, and the words hit me
like a whip. I think I shook my head. "Take me home."
There were levels of pain there, and subtlety, and an
amazing cruelty. And I knew then that I'd never been
hated, ever, as deeply or thoroughly as this wasted little
girl hated me now, hated me for the way I'd looked,
then looked away, beside Rubin's all-beer refrigerator.
    So if that's the word I did one of those things
you do and never find out why, even though something
in you knows you could never have done anything else.
    I took her home.

I have two rooms in an old condo rack at the corner of
Fourth and MacDonald, tenth floor. The elevators
usually work, and if you sit on the balcony railing and
lean out backward, holding on to the corner of the
building next door, you can see a little upright slit of sea
and mountain.
    She hadn't said a word, all the way back from
Rubin's, and I was getting sober enough to feel very
uneasy as I unlocked the door and let her in.
    The first thing she saw was the portable fast-wipe
I'd brought home from the Pilot the night before. The
exoskeleton carried her across the dusty broadloom with
that same walk, like a model down a runway. Away
from the crash of the party, I could hear it click softly as
it moved her. She stood there, looking down at the fast-
wipe. I could see the thing's ribs when she stood like
that, make them out across her back through the
scuffed black leather of her jacket. One of those dis-
eases. Either one of the old ones they've never quite
figured out or one of the new ones the all too obvi-
ously environmental kind that they've barely even
named yet. She couldn't move, not without that extra
skeleton, and it was jacked straight into her brain,
myoclectric interface. The fragile-looking polycarbon
braces moved her arms and legs, but a more subtle sys-
tem handled her thin hands, galvanic inlays. I thought
of frog legs twitching in a high-school lab tape, then
hated myself for it.
    "This is a fast-wipe module," she said, in a voice I
hadn't heard before, distant, and I thought then that the
wizz might be wearing off. "What's it doing here?"
    "I edit," I said, closing the door behind me.
    "Well, now," and she laughed. "You do.
    "On the Island. Place called the Autonomic Pi-
    She turned; then, hand on thrust hip, she swung it
swung her and the wizz and the hate and some terrible
parody of lust stabbed out at me from those washed-out
gray eyes. "You wanna make it, editor?"
    And I felt the whip come down again, but I wasn't
going to take it, not again. So I cold-eyed her from
somewhere down in the beer-numb core of my walking,
talking, live-limbed, and entirely ordinary body and the
words came out of me like spit: "Could you feel it, if I
    Beat. Maybe she blinked, but her face never regis-
tered. "No," she said, "but sometimes I like to watch."
    *    *
Rubin stands at the window, two days after her death in
Los Angeles, watching snow fall into False Creek. "So
you never went to bed with her?"
    One of his push-me-pull-you's, little roller-bearing
Escher lizards, scoots across the table in front of me, in
curl-up mode.
    "No." I say, and it's true. Then I laugh. "But we
jacked straight across. That first night."
    "You were crazy," he said, a certain approval in
his voice. "It might have killed you. Your heart might
have stopped, you might have stopped breathing...."
He turns back to the window. "Has she called you

We jacked, straight across.
    I'd never done it before. If you'd asked me why, I
would have told you that I was an editor and that it
wasn't professional.
    The truth would be something more like this.
    In the trade, the legitimate trade I've never done
porno we call the raw product dry dreams. Dry
dreams are neural output from levels of consciousness
that most people can only access in sleep. But artists, the
kind I work with at the Autonomic Pilot, are able to
break the surface tension, dive down deep, down and
out, out into Jung's sea, and bring back well, dreams.
Keep it simple. I guess some artists have always done
that, in whatever medium, but neuroelectronics lets us
access the experience, and the net gets it all out on the
wire, so we can package it, sell it, watch how it moves in
the market. Well, the more things change . . . That's
something my father liked to say.
    Ordinarily I get the raw material in a studio situa-
tion, filtered through several million dollars' worth of
baffles, and I don't even have to see the artist. The stuff
we get out to the consumer, you see, has been struc-
tured, balanced, turned into art. There are still people
naive enough to assume that they'll actually enjoy jack-
ing straight across with someone they love. I think most
teenagers try it, once. Certainly it's easy enough to do;
Radio Shack will sell you the box and the trodes and the
cables. But me, I'd never done it. And now that I think
about it, I'm not so sure I can explain why. Or that I
even want to try.
    I do know why I did it with Lise, sat down beside
her on my Mexican futon and snapped the optic lead
into the socket on the spine, the smooth dorsal ridge, of
the exoskeleton. It was high up, at the base of her neck,
hidden by her dark hair.
    Because she claimed she was an artist, and because
I knew that we were engaged, somehow, in total com-
bat, and I was not going to lose. That may not make
sense to you, but then you never knew her, or know her
through Kings of Sleep, which isn't the same at all. You
never felt that hunger she had, which was pared down to
a dry need, hideous in its singleness of purpose. People
who know exactly what they want have always fright-
ened me, and Lise had known what she wanted for a
long time, and wanted nothing else at all. And I was
scared, then, of admitting to myself that I was scared,
and I'd seen enough strangers' dreams, in the mixing
room at the Autonomic Pilot, to know that most peo-
ple's inner monsters are foolish things, ludicrous in the
calm light of one's own consciousness. And I was still
    I put the trodes on and reached for the stud on the
fast-wipe. I'd shut down its studio functions, tempo-
rarily converting eighty thousand dollars' worth of
Japanese electronics to the equivalent of one of those
little Radio Shack boxes. "Hit it," I said, and touched
the switch.
    Words. Words cannot. Or, maybe, just barely, if I
even knew how to begin to describe it, what came up out
of her, what she did...
    There's a segment on Kings of Sleep; it's like you're
on a motorcycle at midnight, no lights but somehow you
don't need them, blasting out along a cliff-high stretch
of coast highway, so fast that you hang there in a cone
of silence, the bike's thunder lost behind you.
Everything, lost behind you. . . . It's just a blink, on
Kings, but it's one of the thousand things you
remember, go back to, incorporate into your own
vocabulary of feelings. Amazing. Freedom and death,
right there, right there, razor's edge, forever.
    What I got was the big-daddy version of that, raw
rush, the king hell killer uncut real thing, exploding
eight ways from Sunday into a void that stank of pov-
erty and lovelessness and obscurity.
    And that was Lise's ambition, that rush, seen from
the inside.
    It probably took all of four seconds.
    And, course, she'd won.
    I took the trodes off and stared at the wall, eyes
wet, the framed posters swimming.
    I couldn't look at her. I heard her disconnect the
optic lead. I heard the exoskeleton creak as it hoisted
her up from the futon. Heard it tick demurely as it
hauled her into the kitchen for a glass of water.
    Then I started to cry.

Rubin inserts a skinny probe in the roller-bearing belly
of a sluggish push-me-pull-you and peers at the circuitry
through magnifying glasses with miniature headlights
mounted at the temples.
    "So? You got hooked." He shrugs, looks up. It's
dark now and the twin tensor beams stab at my face,
chill damp in his steel barn and the lonesome hoot of a
foghorn from somewhere across the water. "So?"
    My turn to shrug. "I just did. . . . There didn't
seem to be anything else to do."
    The beams duck back to the silicon heart of his
defective toy. "Then you're okay. It was a true choice.
What I mean is, she was set to be what she is. You had
about as much to do with where she's at today as that
fast-wipe module did. She'd have found somebody else
if she hadn't found you...."

I made a deal with Barry, the senior editor, got twenty
minutes at five on a cold September morning. Lise came
in and hit me with that same shot, but this time I was
ready, with my baffles and brain maps, and I didn't
have to feel it. It took me two weeks, piecing out the
minutes in the editing room, to cut what she'd done
down into something I could play for Max Bell, who
owns the Pilot.
    Bell hadn't been happy, not happy at all, as I ex-
plained what I'd done. Maverick editors can be a prob-
1cm, and eventually most editors decide that they've
found someone who'll be it, the next monster, and then
they start wasting time and money. He'd nodded when
I'd finished my pitch, then scratched his nose with the
cap of his red feltpen. "Uh-huh. Got it. Hottest thing
since fish grew legs, right?"
    But he'd jacked it, the demo soft I'd put together,
and when it clicked out of its slot in his Braun desk unit,
he was staring at the wall, his face blank.
    "What do you think?"
    "Think? I . . . What did you say her name was?"
He blinked. "Lisa? Who you say she's signed with?"
    "Lise. Nobody, Max. She hasn't signed with any-
body yet."
    "Jesus Christ." He still looked blank.

"You know how I found her?" Rubin asks, wading
through ragged cardboard boxes to find the light switch.
The boxes are filled with carefully sorted gomi: lithium
batteries, tantalum capacitors, RF connectors, bread-
boards, barrier strips, ferroresonant transformers,
spools of bus bar wire. . . . One box is filled with the
severed heads of hundreds of Barbie dolls, another with
armored industrial safety gauntlets that look like space-
suit gloves. Light floods the room and a sort of Kan-
dinski mantis in snipped and painted tin swings its
golfball-size head toward the bright bulb. "I was down
Granville on a gomi run, back in an alley, and I found
her just sitting there. Caught the skeleton and she didn't
look so good, so I asked her if she was okay. Nothin'.
Just closed her eyes. Not my lookout, I think. But I hap-
pen back by there about four hours later and she hasn't
moved. `Look, honey,' I tell her, `maybe your hard-
ware's buggered up. I can help you, okay?' Nothin'.
`How long you been back here?' Nothin'. So I take
off." He crosses to his workbench and strokes the thin
metal limbs of the mantis thing with a pale forefinger.
Behind the bench, hung on damp-swollen sheets of an-
cient pegboard, are pliers, screwcfrivers, tie-wrap guns,
a rusted Daisy BB rifle, coax strippers, crimpers, logic
probes, heat guns, a pocket oscilloscope, seemingly
every tool in human history, with no attempt ever made
to order them at all, though I've yet to see Rubin's hand
    "So I went back," he says. "Gave it an hour. She
was out by then, unconscious, so I brought her back
here and ran a check on the exoskeleton. Batteries were
dead. She'd crawled back there when the juice ran out
and settled down to starve to death, I guess."
    "When was that?"
    "About a week before you took her home."
    "But what if she'd died? If you hadn't found her?"
    "Somebody was going to find her. She couldn't ask
for anything, you know? Just take. Couldn't stand a

Max found the agents for her, and a trio of awesomely
slick junior partners Leared into YVR a day later. Lise
wouldn't come down to the Pilot to meet them, insisted
we bring them up to Rubin's, where she still slept.
    "Welcome to Couverville," Rubin said as they
edged in the door. His long face was smeared with
grease, the fly of his ragged fatigue pants held more or
less shut with a twisted paper clip. The boys grinned
automatically, but there was something marginally
more authentic about the girl's smile. "Mr. Stark," she
said, "I was in London last week. I saw your installa-
tion at the Tate."
    "Marcello `s Battery Factory," Rubin said. "They
say it's scatological, the Brits. . . ." He shrugged.
"Brits. I mean, who knows?"
    "They're right. It's also very funny."
    The boys were beaming like tabled-tanned light-
houses, standing there in their suits. The demo had
reached Los Angeles. They knew.
    "And you're Lise," she said, negotiating the path
between Rubin's heaped gomi. "You're going to be a
very famous person soon, Lise. We have a lot to dis-
cuss. .
    And Lise just stood there, propped in polycarbon,
and the look on her face was the one I'd seen that first
night, in my condo, when she'd asked me if I wanted to
go to bed. But if the junior agent lady saw it, she didn't
show it. She was a pro.
    I told myself that I was a pro, too.
    I told myself to relax.

Trash fires gutter in steel canisters around the Market.
The snow still falls and kids huddle over the flames like
arthritic crows, hopping from foot to foot, wind whip-
ping their dark coats. Up in Fairview's arty slum-
tumble, someone's laundry has frozen solid on the line,
pink squares of bedsheet standing out against the back-
ground dinge and the confusion of satellite dishes and
solar panels. Some ecologist's eggbeater windmill goes
round and round, round and round, giving a whirling
finger to the Hydro rates.
    Rubin clumps along in paint-spattered L. L. Bean
gumshoes, his big head pulled down into an oversize
fatigue jacket. Sometimes one of the hunched teens will
point him out as we pass, the guy who builds all the
crazy stuff, the robots and shit.
    "You know what your trouble is?" he says when
we're under the bridge, headed up to Fourth. "You're
the kind who always reads the handbook. Anything
people build, any kind of technology, it's going to have
some specific purpose. It's for doing something that
somebody already understands. But if it's new tech-
nology, it'll open areas nobody's ever thought of
before. You read the manual, man, and you won't play
around with it, not the same way. And you get all funny
when somebody else uses it to do something you never
thought of. Like Lise."
    "She wasn't the first." Traffic drums past over-
    "No, but she's sure as hell the first person you ever
met who went and translated themself into a hardwired
program. You lose any sleep when whatsisname did it,
three-four years ago, the French kid, the writer?"
    "I didn't really think about it, much. A gimmick.
    "He's still writing. The weird thing is, he's going to
be writing, unless somebody blows up his main-
frame.. .
    I wince, shake my head. "But it's not him, is it? It's
just a program."
    "Interesting point. Hard to say. With Lise, though,
we find out. She's not a writer."

She had it all in there, Kings, locked up in her head the
way her body was locked in that exoskeleton.
    The agents signed her with a label and brought in a
production team from Tokyo. She told them she wanted
me to edit. I said no; Max dragged me into his office
and threatened to fire me on the spot. If I wasn't in-
volved, there was no reason to do the studio work at the
Pilot. Vancouver was hardly the center of the world,
and the agents wanted her in Los Angeles. It meant a lot
of money to him, and it might put the Autonomic Pilot
on the map. I couldn't explain to him why I'd refused.
It was too crazy, too personal; she was getting a final
dig in. Or that's what I thought then. But Max was
serious. He really didn't give me any choice. We both
knew another job wasn't going to crawl into my hand. I
went back out with him and we told the agents that we'd
worked it out: I was on.
    The agents showed us lots of teeth.
    Lise pulled out an inhaler full of wizz and took a
huge hit. I thought I saw the agent lady raise one perfect
eyebrow, but that was the extent of censure. After the
papers were signed, Lise more or less did what she
    And Lise always knew what she wanted.
    We did Kings in three weeks, the basic recording. I
found any number of reasons to avoid Rubin's place,
even believed some of them myself. She was still staying
there, although the agents weren't too happy with what
they saw as a total lack of security. Rubin told me later
that he'd had to have his agent call them up and raise
hell, but after that they seemed to quit worrying. I
hadn't known that Rubin had an agent. It was always
easy to forget that Rubin Stark was more famous, then,
than anyone else I knew, certainly more famous than I
thought Lise was ever likely to become. I knew we were
working on something strong, but you never know how
big anything's liable to be.
    But the time I spent in the Pilot, I was on. Lise was
    It was like she was born to the form, even though
the technology that made that form possible hadn't even
existed when she was born. You see something like that
and you wonder how many thousands, maybe millions,
of phenomenal artists have died mute, down the cen-
tunes, people who could never have been poets or
painters or saxophone players, but who had this stuff
inside, these psychic waveforms waiting for the cir-
cuitry required to tap in....
    I learned a few things about her, incidentals, from
our time in the studio. That she was born in Windsor.
That her father was American and served in Peru and
came home crazy and half-blind. That whatever was
wrong with her body was congenital. That she had those
sores because she refused to remove the exoskeleton,
ever, because she'd start to choke and die at the thought
of that utter helplessness. That she was addicted to wizz
and doing enough of it daily to wire a football team.
    Her agents brought in medics, who padded the
polycarbon with foam and sealed the sores over with
micropore dressings. They pumped her up with vitamins
and tried to work on her diet, but nobody ever tried to
take that inhaler away.
    They brought in hairdressers and makeup artists,
too, and wardrobe people and image builders and ar-
ticulate little PR hamsters, and she endured it with
something that might almost have been a smile.
    And, right through those three weeks, we didn't
talk. Just studio talk, artist-editor stuff, very much a
restricted code. Her imagery was so strong, so extreme,
that she never really needed to explain a given effect to
me. I took what she put out and worked with it, and
jacked it back to her. She'd either say yes or no, and
usually it was yes. The agents noted this and approved,
and clapped Max Bell on the back and took him out to
dinner, and my salary went up.
    And I was pro, all the way. Helpful and thorough
and polite. I was determined not to crack again, and
never thought about the night I cried, and I was also
doing the best work I'd ever done, and knew it, and
that's a high in itself.
    And then, one morning, about six, after a long,
long session when she'd first gotten that eerie cotillion
sequence out, the one the kids call the Ghost Dance
she spoke to me. One of the two agent boys had been
there, showing teeth, but he was gone now and the Pilot
was dead quiet, just the hum of a blower somewhere
down by Max's office.
    "Casey," she said, her voice hoarse with the wizz,
"sorry I hit on you so hard."
    I thought for a minute she was telling me something
about the recording we'd just made. I looked up and
saw her there, and it struck me that we were alone, and
hadn't been alone since we'd made the demo.
    I had no idea at all what to say. Didn't even know
what I felt.
    Propped up in the exoskeleton, she was looking
worse than she had that first night, at Rubin's. The wizz
was eating her, under the stuff the makeup team kept
smoothing on, and sometimes it was like seeing a
death's-head surface beneath the face of a not very
handsome teenager. I had no idea of' her real age. Not
old, not young.
    "The ramp effect," I said, coiling a length of
    "What's that?"
    "Nature's way of telling you to clean up your act.
Sort of mathematical law, says you can only get off real
good on a stimulant x number of times, even if you in-
crease the doses. But you can't ever get off as nice as
you did the first few times. Or you shouldn't be able to,
anyway. That's the trouble with designer drugs; they're
too clever. That stuff you're doing has some tricky tail
on one of its molecules, keeps you from turning the
decomposed adrenaline into adrenochrome. If it didn't,
you'd be schizophrenic by now. You got any little prob-
lems, Lise? Like apneia? Sometimes maybe you stop
breathing if you go to sleep?"
    But I wasn't even sure I felt the anger that I heard
in my own voice.
    She stared at me with those pale gray eyes. The
wardrobe people had replaced her thrift-shop jacket
with a butter-tanned matte black blouson that did a bet-
ter job of hiding the polycarbon ribs. She kept it zipped
to the neck, always, even though it was too warm in the
studio. The hairdressers had tried something new the
day before, and it hadn't worked out, her rough dark
hair a lopsided explosion above that drawn, triangular
face. She stared at me and I felt it again, her singleness
of purpose.
    "I don't sleep, Casey."
    It wasn't until later, much later, that I remembered
she'd told me she was sorry. She never did again, and it
was the only time I ever heard her say anything that
seemed to be out of character.

Rubin's diet consists of vending-machine sandwiches,
Pakistani takeout food, and espresso. I've never seen
him eat anything else. We eat samosas in a narrow shop
on Fourth that has a single plastic table wedged between
the counter and the door to the can. Rubin eats his
dozen samosas, six meat and six veggie, with total con-
centration, one after another, and doesn't bother to
wipe his chin. He's devoted to the place. He loathes the
Greek counterman; it's mutual, a real relationship. If
the counterman ~ft, Rubin might not come back. The
Greek glares at the crumbs on Rubin's chin and jacket.
Between samosas, he shoots daggers right back, his eyes
narrowed behind the smudged lenses of his steel-rimmed
    The samosas are dinner. Breakfast will be egg salad
on dead white bread, packed in one of those triangles of
milky plastic, on top of six little cups of poisonously
strong espresso.
    "You didn't see it coming, Casey." He peers at me
out of the thumbprinted depths of his glasses." `Cause
you're no good at lateral thinking. You read the hand-
book. What else did you think she was after? Sex? More
win? A world tour? She was past all that. That's what
made her so strong. She was past it. That's why Kings of
Sleep's as big as it is, and why the kids buy it, why they
believe it. They know. Those kids back down the
Market, warming their butts around the fires and
wondering if they'll find someplace to sleep tonight,
they believe it. It's the hottest soft in eight years. Guy at
a shop on Granville told me he gets more of the damned
things lifted than he sells of anything else. Says it's a
hassle to even stock it. . . . She's big because she was
what they are, only more so. She knew, man. No
dreams, no hope. You can't see the cages on those kids,
Casey, but more and more they're twigging to it, that
they aren't going anywhere." He brushes a greasy
crumb of meat from his chin, missing three more. "So
she sang it for them, said it that way they can't, painted
them a picture. And she used the money to buy herself a
way out, that's all."
    I watch the steam bead roll down the window in big
drops, streaks in the condensation. Beyond the window
I can make out a partially stripped Lada, wheels scav-
enged, axles down on the pavement.
    "How many people have done it, Rubin? Have any
    "Not too many. Hard to say, anyway, because a lot
of them are probably politicans we think of as being
comfortably and reliably dead." He gives me a funny
look. "Not a nice thought. Anyway, they had first shot
at the technology. It still costs too much for any or-
dinary dozen millionaires, but I've heard of at least
seven. They say Mitsubishi did it to Weinberg before his
immune system finally went tits up. He was head of
their hybridoma lab in Okayama. Well, their stock's
still pretty high, in monoclonals, so maybe it's true.
And Langlais, the French kid, the novelist . . ." He
shrugs. "Lise didn't have the money for it. Wouldn't
now, even. But she put herself in the right place at the
right time. She was about to croak, she was in
Hollywood, and they could already see what Kings was
going to do."
shuttle out of London, four skinny kids who operated
like a well-oiled machine and displayed a hypertrophied
fashion sense and a total lack of affect. I set them up in
a row at the Pilot, in identical white Ikea office chairs,
smeared saline paste on their temples, taped the trodes
on, and ran the rough version of what was going to
become Kings of Sleep. When they came out of it, they
all started talking at once, ignoring me totally, in the
British version of that secret language all studio musi-
cians speak, four sets of pale hands zooming and chop-
ping the air.
    I could catch enough of it to decide that they were
excited. That they thought it was good. So I got my
jacket and left. They could wipe their own saline paste
off, thanks.
    And that night I saw Lise for the last time, though I
didn't plan to.

Walking back down to the Market, Rubin noisily
digesting his meal, red taillights reflected on wet cob-
bles, the city beyond the Market a clean sculpture of
light, a lie, where the broken and the lost burrow into
the gomi that grows like humus at the bases of the
towers of glass .
    "I gotta go to Frankfurt tomorrow, do an installa-
tion. You wanna come? I could write you off as a
technician." He shrugs his way deeper into the fatigue
jacket. "Can't pay you, but you can have airfare, you
    Funny offer, from Rubin, and I know it's because
he's worried about me, thinks I'm too strange about
Lise, and it's the only thing he can think of, getting me
out of town.
    "It's colder in Frankfurt now than it is here."
"You maybe need a change, Casey. I dunno..
    "Thanks, but Max has a lot of work lined up. Pi-
lot's a big deal now, people flying in from all over. .
The day we finished up, the band stepped off a JAL
    *    *

When I left the band at the Pilot, I went home. Walked
up to Fourth and took the trolley home, past the win-
dows of the shops I see every day, each one lit up jazzy
and slick, clothes and shoes and software, Japanese
motorcycles crouched like clean enamel scorpions,
Italian furniture. The windows change with the seasons,
the shops come and go. We were into the preholiday
mode now, and there were more people on the street, a
lot of couples, walking quickly and purposefully past
the bright windows, on their way to score that perfect
little whatever for whomever, half the girls in those pad-
ded thigh-high nylon boot things that came out of New
York the winter before, the ones that Rubin said made
them look like they had elephantiasis. I grinned, think-
ing about that, and suddenly it hit me that it really was
over, that I was done with Lise, and that now she'd be
sucked off to Hollywood as inexorably as if she'd poked
her toe into a black hole, drawn by the unthinkable
gravitic tug of Big Money. Believing that, that she was
gone probably was gone, by then I let down some
kind of guard in myself and felt the edges of my pity.
But just the edges, because I didn't want my evening
screwed up by anything. I wanted partytime. It had been
a while.
    Got off at my corner and the elevator worked on
the first try. Good sign, I told myself. Upstairs, I un-
dressed and showered, found a clean shirt, microwaved
burritos. Feel normal, I advised my reflection while I
shaved. You have been working too hard. Your credit
cards have gotten fat. Time to remedy that.
    The burritos tasted like cardboard, but I decided I
liked them because they were so aggressively normal.
My car was in Burnaby, having its leaky hydrogen cell
repacked, so I wasn't going to have to worry about driv-
ing. I could go out, find partytime, and phone in. sick in
the morning. Max wasn't going to kick; I was his star
boy. He owed me.
    You owe me, Max, I said to the subzero bottle of
Moskovskaya I fished out of the freezer. Do you ever
owe me. I have just spent three weeks editing the dreams
and nightmares of one very screwed up person, Max.
On your behalf. So that you can grow and prosper,
Max. I poured three fingers of vodka into a plastic glass
left over from a party I'd thrown the year before and
went back into the living room.
    Sometimes it looks to me like nobody in particular
lives there. Not that it's that messy; I'm a good if
somewhat robotic housekeeper, and even remember to
dust the tops of framed posters and things, but I have
these times when the place abruptly gives me a kind of
low-grade chill, with its basic accumulation of basic
consumer goods. I mean, it's not like I want to fill it up
with cats or houseplants or anything, but there are
moments when I see that anyone could be living there,
could own those things, and it all seems sort of inter-
changeable, my life and yours, my life and any-
body's. ...
    I think Rubin sees things that way, too, all the time,
but for him it's a source of strength. He lives in other
people's garbage, and everything he drags home must
have been new and shiny once, must have meant some-
thing, however briefly, to someone. So he sweeps it all
up into his crazy-looking truck and hauls it back to his
place and lets it compost there until he thinks of some-
thing new to do with it. Once he was showing me a book
of twentieth-century art he liked, and there was a pic-
ture of an automated sculpture called Dead Birds Fly
Again, a thing that whirled real dead birds around and
around on a string, and he smiled and nodded, and I
could see he felt the artist was a spiritual ancestor of
some kind. But what could Rubin do with my framed
posters and my Mexican futon from the Bay and my
temperfoam bed from Ikea? Well, I thought, taking a
first chilly sip, he'd be able to think of something, which
was why he was a famous artist and I wasn't.
    I went and pressed my forehead against the plate-
glass window, as cold as the glass in my hand. Time to
go, I said to myself. You are exhibiting symptoms of
urban singles angst. There are cures-for this. Drink up.
    I didn't attain a state of partytime that night.
Neither did I exhibit adult common sense and give up,
go home, watch some ancient movie, and fall asleep on
my futon. The tension those three weeks had built up in
me drove me like the mainspring of a mechanical watch,
and I went ticking off through nighttown, lubricating
my more or less random progress with more drinks. It
was one of those nights, I quickly decided, when you
slip into an alternate continuum, a city that looks exactly
like the one where you live, except for the peculiar dif-
ference that it contains not one person you love or know
or have even spoken to before. Nights like that, you can
go into a familiar bar and find that the staff has just
been replaced; then you understand that your real
motive in going there was simply to see a familiar face,
on a waitress or a bartender, whoever. . . . This sort of
thing has been known to mediate against partytime.
    I kept it rolling, though, through six or eight
places, and eventually it rolled me into a West End club
that looked as if it hadn't been redecorated since the
Nineties. A lot of peeling chrome over plastic, blurry
holograms that gave you a headache if you tried to
make them out. I think Barry had told me about the
place, but I can't imagine why. I looked around and
grinned. If I was looking to be depressed, I'd come to
the right place. Yes, I told myself as I took a corner
stool at the bar, this was genuinely sad, really the pits.
Dreadful enough to halt the momentum of my shitty
evening, which was undoubtedly a good thing. I'd have
one more for the road, admire the grot, and then cab it
on home.
    And then I saw Lise.
    She hadn't seen me, not yet, and I still had my coat
on, tweed collar up against the weather. She was down
the bar and around the corner with a couple of empty
drinks in front of her, big ones, the kind that come with
little Hong Kong parasols or plastic mermaids in them,
and as she looked up at the boy beside her, I saw the
wizz flash in her eyes and knew that those drinks had
never contained alcohol, because the levels of drug she
was running couldn't tolerate the mix. The kid, though,
was gone, numb grinning drunk and about ready to
slide off his stool, and running on about something as
he made repeated attempts to focus his eyes and get a
better look at Lise, who sat there with her wardrobe
team's black leather blouson zipped to her chin and her
skull about to burn through her white face like a
thousand-watt bulb. And seeing that, seeing her there, I
knew a whole lot of things at once.
    That she really was dying, either from the wizz or
her disease or the combination of the two. That she
damned well knew it. That the boy beside her was too
drunk to have picked up on the exoskeleton, but not too
drunk to register the expensive jacket and the money she
had for drinks. And that what I was seeing was exactly
what it looked like.
    But I couldn't add it up, right away, couldn't com-
pute. Something in me cringed.
    And she was smiling, or anyway doing a thing she
must have thought was like a smile, the expression she
knew was appropriate to the situation, and nodding in
time to the kid's slurred inanities, and that awful line of
hers came back to me, the one about liking to watch.
    And I know something now. I know that if I hadn't
happened in there, hadn't seen them, I'd have been able
to accept all that came later. Might even have found a
way to rejoice on her behalf, or found a way to trust in
whatever it is that she's since become, or had built in her
image~ a program that pretends to be Lise to the extent
that it believes it's her. I could have believed what Rubin
believes, that she was so truly past it, our hi-tech Saint
Joan burning for union with that hardwired godhead in
Hollywood, that nothing mattered to her except the
hour of her departure. That she threw away that poor
sad body with a cry of release, free of the bonds of
polycarbon and hated flesh. Well, maybe, after all, she
did. Maybe it was that way. I'm sure that's the way she
expected it to be.
    But seeing her there, that drunken kid's hand in
hers, that hand she couldn't even feel, I knew, once and
for all, that no human motive is ever entirely pure. Even
Lise, with that corrosive, crazy drive to stardom and
cybernetic immortality, had weaknesses. Was human in
a way I hated myself for admitting.
    She'd gone out that night, I knew, to kiss herself
goodbye. To find someone drunk enough to do it for
her. Because, I knew then, it was true: She did like to
    I think she saw me, as I left. I was practically run-
ning. If she did, I suppose she hated me worse than ever,
for the horror and the pity in my face.
    I never saw her again.

Someday I'll ask Rubin why Wild Turkey sours are the
only drink he knows how to make. Industrial-strength,
Rubin's sours. He passes me the dented aluminum cup,
while his place ticks and stirs around us with the furtive
activity of his smaller creations.
    "You ought to come to Frankfurt," he says again.
    "Why, Rubin?"
    "Because pretty soon she's going to call you up.
And I think maybe you aren't ready for it. You're still
screwed up about this, and it'll sound like her and think
like her, and you'll get too weird behind it. Come over
to Frankfurt with me and you can get a little breathing
space. She won't know you're there.. .
    "I told you," I say, remembering her at the bar in
that club, "lots of work. Max "
    "Stuff Max. Max you just made rich. Max can sit
on his hands. You're rich yourself, from your royalty
cut on Kings, if you weren't too stubborn to dial up
your bank account. You can afford a vacation."
    I look at him and wonder when I'll tell him the
story of that final glimpse. "Rubin, I appreciate it,
man, but I just . .
    He sighs, drinks. "But what?"
    "Rubin, if she calls me, is it her?"
    He looks at me a long time. "God only knows."
His cup clicks on the table. "I mean, Casey, the
technology is there, so who, man, really who, is to
    "And you think I should come with you to
    He takes off his steel-rimmed glasses and polishes
them inefficiently on the front of his plaid flannel shirt.
"Yeah, I do. You need the rest. Maybe you don't need
it now, but you're going to later."
    "How's that?"
    "When you have to edit her next release. Which
will almost certainly be soon, because she needs money
bad. She's taking up a lot of ROM on some corporate
mainframe, and her share of Kings won't come close to
paying for what they had to do to put her there. And
you're her editor, Casey. I mean, who else?"
    And I just stare at him as he puts the glasses back
on, like I can't move at all.
    "Who else, man?"
    And one of his constructs clicks right then, just a
clear and tiny sound, and it comes to me, he's right.


by Michael Swanwick and William Gibson

He meant to keep on going, right down to Florida.
Work passage on a gunrunner, maybe wind up con-
scripted into some ratass rebel army down in the war
zone. Or maybe, with that ticket good as long as he
didn't stop riding, he'd just never get off Greyhound's
Flying Dutchman. He grinned at his faint reflection in
cold, greasy glass while the downtown lights of Norfolk
slid past, the bus swaying on tired shocks as the driver
slung it around a final corner. They shuddered to a halt
in the terminal lot, concrete lit gray and harsh like a
prison exercise yard. But Deke was watching himself
starve, maybe in some snowstorm out of Oswego, with
his cheek pressed up against that same bus window, and
seeing his remains swept out at the next stop by a mut-
tering old man in faded coveralls. One way or the other,
he decided, it didn't mean shit to him. Except his legs
seemed to have died already. And the driver called a
twenty-minute stopover Tidewater Station, Virginia.
It was an old cinder-block building with two entrances
to each rest room, holdover from the previous century.
    Legs like wood, he made a halfhearted attempt at
ghosting the notions counter, but the black girl behind it
was alert, guarding the sparse contents of the old glass
case as though her ass depended on it. Probably does,
Deke thought, turning away. Opposite the washrooms,
an open doorway offered GAMES, the word flickering
feebly in biofluorescent plastic. He could see a crowd of
the local kickers clustered around a pool table. Aimless,
his boredom following him like a cloud, he stuck his
head in. And saw a biplane, wings no longer than his
thumb, blossom bright orange flame. Corkscrewing,
trailing smoke, it vanished the instant it struck the
green-felt field of the table.
    "Tha's right, Tiny," a kicker bellowed, "you take
that sumbitch!"
    "Hey," Deke said. "What's going on?"
    The nearest kicker was a bean pole with a black
mesh Peterbilt cap. "Tiny's defending the Max," he
said, not taking his eyes from the table.
    "Oh, yeah? What's that?" But even as he asked, he
saw it: a blue enamel medal shaped like a Maltese cross,
the slogan Pour le Merite divided among its arms.
    The Blue Max rested on the edge of the table,
directly before a vast and perfectly immobile bulk
wedged into a fragile-looking chrome-tube chair. The
man's khaki work shirt would have hung on Deke like
the folds of a sail, but it bulged across that bloated torso
so tautly that the buttons threatened to tear away at any
instant. Deke thought of southern troopers he'd seen on
his way down; of that weird, gut-heavy endotype
balanced on gangly legs that looked like they'd been
borrowed from some other body. Tiny might look like
that if he stood, but on a larger scale a forty-inch jeans
inseam that would need a woven-steel waistband to sup-
port all those pounds of swollen gut. If Tiny were ever
to stand at all for now Deke saw that that shiny frame
was actually a wheelchair. There was something disturb-
ingly childlike about the man's face, an appalling sug-
gestion of youth and even beauty in features almost
buried in fold and jowl. Embarrassed, Deke looked away.
The other man, the one standing across the table from
Tiny, had bushy sideburns and a thin mouth. He seemed
to be trying to push something with his eyes, wrinkles of
concentration spreading from the corners....
    "You dumbshit or what?" The man with the Peter-
bilt cap turned, catching Deke's Indo proleboy denims,
the brass chains at his wrists, for the first time. "Why
don't you get your ass lost, fucker. Nobody wants your
kind in here." He turned back to the dogfight.
    Bets were being made, being covered. The kickers
were producing the hard stuff, the old stuff, liberty-
headed dollars and Roosevelt dimes from the stamp-
and-coin stores, while more cautious bettors slapped
down antique paper dollars laminated in clear plastic.
Through the haze came a trio of red planes, flying in
formation. Fokker D Vhs. The room fell silent. The
Fokkers banked majestically under the solar orb of a
two-hundred-watt bulb.
    The blue Spad dove out of nowhere. Two more
plunged from the shadowy ceiling, following closely.
The kickers swore, and one chuckled. The formation
broke wildly. One Fokker dove almost to the felt,
without losing the Spad on its tail. Furiously, it zigged
and zagged across the green flatlands but to no avail. At
last it pulled up, the enemy hard after it, too steeply
 and stalled, too low to pull out in time.
    A stack of silver dimes was scooped up.
    The Fokkers were outnumbered now. One had two
Spads on its tail. A needle-spray of tracers tore past its
cockpit. The Fokker slip-turned right, banked into an
Immelmann, and was behind one of its pursuers. It
fired, and the biplane fell, tumbling.
    "Way to go, Tiny!" The kickers closed in around
the table.
    Deke was frozen with wonder. It felt like being
born all over again.

Frank's Truck Stop was two miles out of town on the
Commercial Vehicles Only route. Deke had tagged it,
out of idle habit, from the bus on the way in. Now he
walked back between the traffic and the concrete crash
guards. Articulated trucks went slamming past, big
eight-segmented jobs, the wash of air each time threat-
ening to blast him over. CVO stops were easy makes.
When he sauntered into Frank's, there was nobody to
doubt that he'd come in off a big rig, and he was able to
browse the gift shop as slowly as he liked. The wire rack
with the projective wetware wafers was located bet~*en
a stack of Korean cowboy shirts and a display for Fuzz
Buster mudguards. A pair of Oriental dragons twisted
in the air over the rack, either fighting or fucking, he
couldn't tell which. The game he wanted was there: a
wafer labeled SPADS&FOKKERS. It took him three
seconds to boost it and less time to slide the
magnet which the cops in D.C. hadn't eveii bothered
to confiscate across the universal security strip.
On the way out, he lifted two programming units
and a little Batang facilitator-remote that looked like an
antique hearing aid.

He chose a highstack at random and fed the rental agent
the line he'd used since his welfare rights were yanked.
Nobody ever checked up; the state just counted oc-
cupied rooms and paid.
    The cubicle smelled faintly of urine, and someone
had scrawled Hard Anarchy Liberation Front slogans
across the walls. Deke kicked trash out of a corner, sat
down, back to the wall, and ripped open the wafer pack.
    There was a folded instruction sheet with diagrams
of loops, rolls, and Immelmanns, a tube of saline paste,
aDd a computer list of operational specs. And the wafer
itself, white plastic with a blue biplane and logo on one
side, red on the other. He turned it over and over in his
`He fitted the Batang behind his ear after coating the in-
ductor surface with paste, jacked its fiberoptic ribbon
into the programmer, and plugged the programmer into
the wall current. Then he slid the wafer into the pro-
grammer. It was a cheap set, Indonesian, and the base
of his skull buzzed uncomfortably as the program ran.
But when it was done, a sky-blue Spad darted restlessly
through the air a few inches from his face. It almost
glowed, it was so real. It had the strange inner life that
fanatically detailed museum-grade models often have,
but it took all of his concentration to keep it in ex-
istence. If his attention wavered at all, it lost focus, fuz-
zing into a pathetic blur.
    He practiced until the battery in the earset died,
then slumped against the wall and fell asleep. He
dreamed of flying, in a universe that consisted entirely
of white clouds and blue sky, with no up and down, and
never a green field to crash into.

He woke to a rancid smell of frying krillcakes and
winced with hunger. No cash, either. Well, there were
plenty of student types in the stack. Bound to be one
who'd like to score a programming unit. He hit the hall
with the boosted spare. Not far down was a door with a
DOOR. Under that was a starscape with a cluster of
multicolored pills, torn from an ad for some phar-
maceutical company, pasted over an inspirational shot
of the "space colony" that had been under construction
since before he was born. LET'S GO, the poster said,
beneath the collaged hypnotics.
    He knocked. The door opened, security slides stop-
ping it at a two-inch slice of girlface. "Yeah?"
    "You're going to think this is stolen." He passed
the programmer from hand to hand. "I mean because
it's new, virtual cherry, and the bar code's still on it. But
listen, I'm not gonna argue the point. No. I'm gonna let
you have it for only like half what you'd pay anywhere
    "Hey, wow, really, no kidding?" The visible frac-
tion of mouth twisted into a strange smile. She extended
her hand, palm up, a loose fist. Level with his chin.
    There was a hole in her hand, a black tunnel that
ran right up her arm. Two small red lights. Rat's eyes.
They scurried toward him growing, gleaming. Some-
thing gray streaked forward and leaped for his face.
    He screamed, throwing hands up to ward it off.
Legs twisting, he fell, the programmer shattering under
    Silicate shards skittered as he thrashed, clutching
his head. Where it hurt, it hurt it hurt very badly in-
    "Oh, my God!" Slides unsnapped, and the girl was
hovering over him. "Here, listen, come on." She dan-
gled a blue hand towel. "Grab on to this and I'll pull
you up."
    He looked at her through a wash of tears. Student.
That fed look, the oversize sweatshirt, teeth so straight
and white they could be used as a credit reference. A
thin gold chain around one ankle (fuzzed, he saw, with
baby-fine hair). Choppy Japanese haircut. Money.
"That sucker was gonna be my dinner," he said rue-
fully. He took hold of the towel and let her pull him up.
    She smiled but skittishly backed away from him.
"Let me make it up to you," she said. "You want some
food? It was only a projection, okay?"
    He followed her in, wary as an animal entering a

"Holy shit," Deke said, "this is real cheese. . .
He was sitting on a gutsprung sofa, wedged between a
four-foot teddy bear and a loose stack of floppies. The
room was ankle-deep in books and clothes and papers.
But the food she magicked up Gouda cheese and tinned
beef and honest-to-God greenhouse wheat wafers was
straight out of the Arabian Nights.
    "Hey," she said. "We know how to treat a prole-
boy right, huh?" Her name was Nance Bettendorf. She
was seventeen. Both her parents had jobs greedy bug-
gers and she was an engineering major at William and
Mary. She got top marks except in English. "I guess you
must really have a thing about rats. You got some kind
of phobia about rats?"
    He glanced sidelong at her bed. You couldn't see it,
really; it was just a swell in the ground cover. "It's not
like that. It just reminded me of something else, is all."
    "Like what?" She squatted in front of him, the big
shirt riding high up one smooth thigh.
    "Well . . . did you ever see the " his voice invol-
untarily rose and rushed past the words  "Washington
Monument? Like at night? It's got these two little
red lights on top, aviation markers or something, and I,
and I..." He started to shake.
    "You're afraid of the Washington Monument?"
Nance whooped and rolled over with laughter, long
tanned legs kicking. She was wearing crimson bikini
    "I would die rather than look at it again," he said
    She stopped laughing then, sat up, studied his face.
White, even teeth worried at her lower lip, like she was
dragging up sommething she didn't want to think
about. At last she ventured, "Brainlock?"
    "Yeah," he said bitterly. "They told me I'd never
go back to D.C. And then the fuckers laughed."
    "What did they get you for?"
    "I'm a thief." He wasn't about to tell her that the
actual charge was career shoplifting.

"Lotta old computer hacks spent their lives program-
ming machines. And you know what? The human brain
is not a goddamn bit like a machine, no way. They just
don't program the same." Deke knew this shrill,
desperate rap, this long, circular jive that the lonely
string out to the rare listener; knew it from a hundred
cold and empty nights spent in the company of
strangers. Nance was lost in it, and Deke, nodding and
yawning, wondered if he'd even be able to stay awake
when they finally hit that bed of hers.
    "I built that projection I hit you with myself," she
said, hugging her knees up beneath her chin. "It's for
muggers, you know? I just happened to have it on me,
and I threw it at you `cause I thought it was so funny,
you trying to sell me that shit little Indojavanese pro-
grammer." She hunched forward and held out her hand
again. "Look here." Deke cringed. "No, no, it's okay,
I swear it, this is different." She opened her hand.
    A single blue flame danced there, perfect and ever-
changing. "Look at that," she marveled. "Just look. I
programmed that. It's not some diddly little seven-
image job either. It's a continuous two-hour loop, seven
thousand, two hundred seconds, never the same twice,
each instant as individual as a fucking snowflake!"
    The flame's core was glacial crystal, shards and
     facets flashing up, twisting and gone, leaving behind
near-subliminal images so bright and sharp that they cut
     the eye. Deke winced. People mostly. Pretty little naked
people, fucking. "How the hell did you do that?"
     She rose, bare feet slipping on slick magazines, and
melodramatically swept folds of loose printout from a
raw plywood shelf. He saw a neat row of small consoles,
austere and expensive-looking. Custom work. "This is
the real stuff I got here. Image facilitator. Here's my
     fast-wipe module. This is a brainmap one-to-one func-
tion analyzer." She sang off the names like a litany.
"Quantum flicker stabilizer. Program splicer. An image
    "You need all that to make one iittle flame?"
    "You betcha. This is all state of the art, profes-
sional projective wetware gear. It's years ahead of any-
thing you've seen."
    "Hey," he said, "you know anything about SPADS
    She laughed. And then, because he sensed the time
was right, he reached out to take her hand.
    "Don't you touch me, motherfuck, don't you ever
touch me!" Nance screamed, and her head slammed
against the wall as she recoiled, white and shaking with
    "Okay!" He threw up his hands. "Okay! I'm
nowhere near you. Okay?"
    She cowered from him. Her eyes were round and
unblinking; tears built up at the corners, rolled down
ashen cheeks. Finally, she shook her head. "Hey. Deke.
Sorry. I should've told you."
    "Told me what?" But he had a creepy feeling.
already knew. The way she clutched her head. The
weakly spasmodic way her hands opened and closed.
"You got a brainlock, too."
    "Yeah." She closed her eyes. "It's a chastity lock.
My asshole parents paid for it. So I can't stand to have
anybody touch me or even stand too close." Eyes
opened in blind hate. "I didn't even do anything. Not a
fucking thing. But they've both got jobs and they're so
horny for me to have a career that they can't piss
straight. They're afraid I'd neglect my studies if I got,
you know, involved in sex and stuff. The day the brain-
lock comes off I am going to fuck the vilest, greasiest,
hairiest . .
    She was clutching her head again. Deke jumped up
and rummaged through the medicine cabinet. He found
a jar of B-complex vitamins, pocketed a few against
need, and brought two to Nance, with a glass of water.
"Here." He was careful to keep his distance. "This'lI
take the edge off."
    "Yeah, yeah," she said. Then, almost to herself,
"You must really think I'm a jerk."

The games room in the Greyhound station was almost
empty. A lone, long-jawed fourteen-year-old was bent
over a console, maneuvering rainbow fleets of sub-
marines in the murky grid of the North Atlantic.
    Deke sauntered in, wearing his new kicker drag,
and leaned against a cinder-block wall made smooth by
countless coats of green enamel. He'd washed the dye
from his proleboy butch, boosted jeans and T-shirt
from the Goodwill, and found a pair of stompers in the
sauna locker of a highstack with cutrate security.
    "Seen Tiny around, friend?"
    The subs darted like neon guppies. "Depends on
who's asking."
    Deke touched the remote behind his left ear. The
Spad snap-rolled over the console, swift and delicate as
a dragonfly. It was beautiful; so perfect, so true it made
the room seem an illusion. He buzzed the grid,
millimeters from the glass, taking advantage of the pro-
grammed ground effect.
    The kid didn't even bother to look up. "Jack-
man's," he said. "Down Richmond Road, over by the
    Deke let the Spad fade in midclimb.
    Jackman's took up most of the third floor of an old
brick building. Deke found Best Buy War Surplus first,
then a broken neon sign over an unlit lobby. The
sidewalk out front was littered with another kind of
surplus damaged vets, some of them dating back to
Indochina. Old men who'd left their eyes under Asian
suns squatted beside twitching boys who'd inhaled
mycotoxins in Chile. Deke was glad to have the battered
elevator doors sigh shut behind him.
    A dusty Dr. Pepper clock at the far side of the long,
spectral room told him it was a quarter to eight. Jack-
man's had been embalmed twenty years before he was
born, sealed away behind a yellowish film of nicotine,
of polish and hair oil. Directly beneath the clock, the
flat eyes of somebody's grandpappy's prize buck
regarded Deke from a framed, blown-up snapshot gone
the slick sepia of cockroach wings. There was the click
and whisper of pool, the squeak of a work boot twisting
on linoleum as a player leaned in for a shot. Somewhere
high above the green-shaded lamps hung a string of
crepe-paper Christmas bells faded to dead rose. Deke
looked from one cluttered wall to the next. No
    "Bring one in, should we need it," someone said.
He turned, meeting the mild eyes of a bald man with
steel-rimmed glasses. "My name's Cline. Bobby Earl.
You don't look like you shoot pool, mister." But there
was nothing threatening in Bobby Earl's voice or stance.
He pinched the steel frames from his nose and polished
the thick lenses with a fold of tissue. He reminded Deke
of a shop instructor who'd patiently tried to teach him
retrograde biochip installation. "I'm a gambler," he
said, smiling. His teeth were white plastic. "I know I
don't much look it."
    "I'm looking for Tiny," Deke said.
    "Well," replacing the glasses, "you're not going to
find him. He's gone up to Bethesda to let the V.A. clean
his plumbing for him. He wouldn't fly against you any
"Why not?"
    "Well, because you're not on the circuit or I'd
know your face. You any good?" When Deke nodded,
Bobby Earl called down the length of Jackman's, "Yo,
Clarence! You bring out that facilitator. We got us a
    Twenty minutes later, having lost his remote and
what cash he had left, Deke was striding past the bi
soldiers of Best Buy.
    "Now you let me tell you, boy," Bobby Earl had
said in a fatherly tone as, hand on shoulder, he led Deke
back to the elevator, "You're not going to win against a
combat vet you listening to me? I'm not even espe-
cially good, just an old grunt who was on hype fifteen.
maybe twenty times. 01' Tiny, he was a pilot. Spent
entire enlistment hyped to the gills. He's got memb
attenuation real bad . . . you ain't never going to
    It was a cool night. But Deke burned with anger
and humiliation.

"Jesus, that's crude," Nance said as the Spad str
mounds of pink underwear. Deke, hunched up on
couch, yanked her flashy little Braun remote from
behind his ear.
    "Now don't you get on my case too, Miss rich-
bitch gonna-have-a-job "
    "Hey, lighten up! It's nothing to do with you it's
just tech. That's a really primitive wafer you got there. I
mean, on the street maybe it's fine. But compared to the
work I do at school, it's hey. You ought to let me re-
write it for you.''
    "Say what?"
    "Lemme beef it up. These suckers are all written in
hexadecimal, see, `cause the industry programmers are
all washed-out computer hacks. That's how they think.
But let me take it to the reader-analyzer at the depart-
ment, run a few changes on it, translate it into a modern
wetlanguage. Edit out all the redundant intermediaries.
That'll goose up your reaction time, cut the feedback
loop in half. So you'll fly faster and better. Turn you
into a real pro, Ace!" She took a hit off her bong, then
doubled over laughing and choking.
    "Is that legit?" Deke asked dubiously.
    "Hey, why do you think people buy gold-wire re-
motes? For the prestige? Shit. Conductivity's better,
cuts a few nanoseconds off the reaction time. And reac-
tion time is the name of the game, kiddo."
    "No," Deke said. "If it were that easy, people'd
already have it. Tiny Montgomery would have it. He'd
have the best."
    "Don't you ever listen?" Nance set down the bong;
brown water slopped onto the floor. "The stuff I'm
working with is three years ahead of anything you'll
find on the street."
    "No shit," Deke said after a long pause. "I mean,
you can do that?"

It was like graduating from a Model T to a ninety-three
Lotus. The Spad handled like a dream, responsive to
Deke's slightest thought. For weeks he played the ar-
cades, with not a nibble. He flew against the local teens
and by ones and threes shot down their planes. He took
chances, played flash. And the planes tumbled....
    Until one day Deke was tucking his seed money
away, and a lanky black straightened up from the wall.
He eyed the laminateds in Deke's hand and grinned. A
ruby tooth gleamed. "You know," the man said, "I
heard there was a casper who could fly, going up against
the kiddies."

"Jesus," Deke said, spreading Danish butter on a kelp
stick. "I wiped the floor with those spades. They were
good, too."
    "That's nice, honey," Nance mumbled. She was
working on her finals project, sweating data into a
    "You know, I think what's happening is I got real
talent for this kind of shit. You know? I mean, the pro-
gram gives me an edge, but I got the stuff to take ad-
vantage of it. I'm really getting a rep out there, you
know?" Impulsively, he snapped on the radio. Scratchy
Dixieland brass blared.
    "Hey," Nance said. "Do you mind?"
    "No, I'm just " He fiddled with the knobs, came
up with some slow, romantic bullshit. "There. Come
on, stand up. Let's dance."
    "Hey, you know I can't "
    "Sure you can, sugarcakes." He threw her the huge
teddy bear and snatched up a patchwork cotton dress
from the floor. He held it by the waist and sleeve, tuck-
ing the collar under his chin. It smelled of patchouli,
more faintly of sweat. "See, I stand over here, you
stand over there. We dance. Get it?"
    Blinking softly, Nance stood and clutched the bear
tightly. They danced then, slowly, staring into each
other's eyes. After a while, she began to cry. But still,
she was smiling.
    *    *
Deke was daydreaming, imagining he was Tiny Mont-
gomery wired into his jumpjet. Imagined the machine
responding to his slightest neural twitch, reflexes
cranked way up, hype flowing steadily into his veins.
    Nance's floor became jungle, her bed a plateau in
the Andean foothills, and Deke flew his Spad at forced
speed, as if it were a full-wired interactive combat
machine. Computerized hypos fed a slow trickle of
high-performance enhancement melange into his
bloodstream. Sensors were wired directly into his skull
 pulling a supersonic snapturn in the green-blue bowl
of sky over Bolivian rain forest. Tiny would have felt
the airflow over control surfaces.
    Below, grunts hacked through the jungle with
hype-pumps strapped above elbows to give them that
little extra death-dance fury in combat, a shot of liquid
hell in a blue plastic vial. Maybe they got ten minutes'
worth in a week. But coming in at treetop level, reflexes
cranked to the max, flying so low the ground troops
never spotted you until you were on them, phosgene
agents released, away and gone before they could draw
a bead . . . it took a constant trickle of hype just to
maintain. And the direct neuron interface with the
jumpjet was a two-way street. The onboard computers
monitored biochemistry and decided when to open the
sluice gates and give the human component a killer jolt
of combat edge.
    Dosages like that ate you up. Ate you good and
slow and constant, etching the brain surfaces, eroding
away the brain-cell membranes. If you weren't yanked
from the air promptly enough, you ended up with brain-
cell attenuation with reflexes too fast for your body to
handle and your fight-or-flight reflexes fucked real
    "I aced it, proleboy!"
    "Hah?" Deke looked up, startled, as Nance
slammed in, tossing books and bag onto the nearest

    "My finals project I got exempted from exams.
The prof said he'd never seen anything like it. Uh, hey,
dim the lights, wouldja? The colors are weird on my
    He obliged. "So show me. Show me this wunnerful
    "Yeah, okay." She snatched up his remote, kicked
clear standing space atop the bed, and struck a pose. A
spark flared into flame in her hand. It spread in a
quicksilver line up her arm, around her neck, and it was
a snake, with triangular head and flickering tongue.
Molten colors, oranges and reds. It slithered between
her breasts. "I call it a firesnake," she said proudly.
    Deke leaned close, and she jerked back.
    "Sorry. It's like your flame, huh? I mean, I can see
these tiny little fuckers in it."
    "Sort of." The firesnake flowed down her stom-
ach. "Next month I'm going to splice two hundred
separate flame programs together with meld justifica-
tion in between to get the visuals. Then I'll tap the
mind's body image to make it self-orienting. So it can
crawl all over your body without your having to mind it.
You could wear it dancing."
    "Maybe I'm dumb. But if you haven't done the
work yet, how come I can see it?"
    Nance giggled. "That's the best part half the
work isn't done yet. Didn't have the time to assemble
the pieces into a unified program. Turn on that radio,
huh? I want to dance." She kicked off her shoes. Deke
tuned in something gutsy. Then, at Nance's urging,
turned it down, almost to a whisper.
    "I scored two hits of hype, see." She was bouncing
on the bed, weaving her hands like a Balinese dancer.
"Ever try the stuff? In-credible. Gives you like absolute
concentration. Look here." She stood en pointe.
"Never done that before."
    "Hype," Deke said. "Last person I heard of got
caught with that shit got three years in the infantry.
How'd you score it?"
    "Cut a deal with a vet who was in grad school. She
bombed out last month. Stuff gives me perfect
visualization. I can hold the projection with my eyes
shut. It was a snap assembling the program in my
    "On just two hits, huh?"
    "One hit. I'm saving the other. Teach was so im-
pressed he's sponsoring me for a job interview. A
recruiter from I. G. Feuchtwaren hits campus in two
weeks. That cap is gonna sell him the program and me.
I'm gonna cut out of school two years early, straight in-
to industry, do not pass jail, do not pay two hundred
    The snake curled into a flaming tiara. It gave Deke
a funny-creepy feeling to think of. Nance walking out of
his life.
    "I'm a witch," Nance sang, "a wetware witch."
She shucked her shirt over her head and sent it flying.
Her fine, high breasts moved freely, gracefully, as she
danced. "I'm gonna make it" now she was singing a
current pop hit "to the . . . top!" Her nipples were
small and pink and aroused. The firesnake licked at
them and whipped away.
    "Hey, Nance," Deke said uncomfortably. "Calm
down a little, huh?"
    "I'm celebrating!" She hooked a thumb into her
shiny gold panties. Fire swirled around hand and
crotch. "I'm the virgin goddess, baby, and I have the
pow-er!" Singing again.
    Deke looked away. "Gotta go now," he mumbled.
Gotta go home and jerk off. He wondered where she'd
hidden that second hit. Could be anywhere.

There was a protocol to the circuit, a tacit order of
deference and precedence as elaborate as that of a Man-
darin court. It didn't matter that Deke was hot, that his
rep was spreading like wildfire. Even a name flyboy
couldn't just challenge whom he wished. He had to
climb the ranks. But if you flew every night. If you were
always available to anybody's challenge. And if you
were good. . . well, it was possible to climb fast.
    Deke was one plane up. It was tournament fight-
ing, three planes against three. Not many spectators, a
dozen maybe, but it was a good fight, and they were
noisy. Deke was immersed in the manic calm of combat
when he realized suddenly that they had fallen silent.
Saw the kickers stir and exchange glances. Eyes flicked
past him. He heard the elevator doors close. Coolly, he
disposed of the second of his opponent's planes, then
risked a quick glance over his shoulder.
    Tiny Montgomery had just entered Jackman's. The
wheelchair whispered across browning linoleum, guided
by tiny twitches of one imperfectly paralyzed hand. His
expression was stern, blank, calm.
    In that instant, Deke lost two planes. One to de-
resolution gone to blur and canceled out by the
facilitator and the other because his opponent was a
real fighter. Guy did a barrel roll, killing speed and slip-
ping to the side, and strafed Deke's biplane as it shot
past. It went down in flames. Their last two planes
shared altitude and speed, and as they turned, trying for
position, they naturally fell into a circling pattern.
    The kickers made room as Tiny wheeled up against
the table. Bobby Earl Cline trailed after him, lanky and
casual. Deke and his opponent traded glances and
pulled their machines back from the pool table so they
could hear the man out. Tiny smiled. His features were
small, clustered in the center of his pale, doughy face.
One finger twitched slightly on the chrome handrest. "I
heard about you." He looked straight at Deke. His
voice was soft and shockingly sweet, a baby-girl little
voice. "I heard you're good."
    Deke nodded slowly. The smile left Tiny's face. His
soft, fleshy lips relaxed into a natural pout, as if he were
waiting for a kiss. His small, bright eyes studied Deke
without malice. "Let's see what you can do, then."
    Deke lost himself in the cool game of war. And
when the enemy went down in smoke and flame, to ex-
plode and vanish against the table, Tiny wordlessly
turned his chair, wheeled it into the elevator, and was
    As Deke was gathering up his winnings, Bobby Earl
eased up to him and said, "The man wants to play
    "Yeah?" Deke was nowhere near high enough on
the circuit to challenge Tiny. "What's the scam?"
    "Man who was coming up from Atlanta tomorrow
canceled. 01' Tiny, he was spoiling to go up against
somebody new. So it looks like you get your shot at the
    "Tomorrow? Wednesday? Doesn't give me much
prep time."
    Bobby Earl smiled gently. "I don't think that
makes no nevermind."
    "How's that, Mr. Cline?"
    "Boy, you just ain't got the moves, you follow me?
Ain't got no surprises. You fly just like some kinda
beginner, only faster and slicker. You follow what I'm
trying to say?"
    "I'm not sure I do. You want to put a little action
on that?"
    "Tell you truthful," Cline said, "I been hoping on
that." He drew a small black notebook from his pocket
and licked a pencil stub. "Give you five to one. They's
nobody gonna give no fairer odds than that."
    He looked at Deke almost sadly. "But Tiny, he's
just naturally better'n you, and that's all she wrote,
boy. He lives for that goddamned game, ain't got
nothing else. Can't get out of that goddamned chair.
You think you can best a man who's fighting for his life,
you are just lying to yourself."

Norman Rockwell's portrait of the colonel regarded
Deke dispassionately from the Kentucky Fried across
Richmond Road from the coffee bar. Deke held his cup
with hands that were cold and trembling. His skull
hummed with fatigue. Cline was right, he told the col-
onel. I can go up against Tiny, but I can't win. The
colonel stared back, gaze calm and level and not par-
ticularly kindly, taking in the coffee bar and Best Buy
and all his drag-ass kingdom of Richmond Road. Wait-
ing for Deke to admit to the terrible thing he had to do.
    "The bitch is planning to leave me anyway," Deke
said aloud. Which made the black countergirl look at
him funny, then quickly away.

"Daddy called!" Nance danced into the apartment,
slamming the door behind her. "And you know what?
He says if I can get this job and hold it for six months,
he'll have the brainlock reversed. Can you believe it?
Deke?" She hesitated. "You okay?"
    Deke stood. Now that the moment was on him, he
felt unreal, like he was in a movie or something. "How
come you never came home last night?" Nance asked.
    The skin on his face was unnaturally taut, a parch-
ment mask. "Where'd you stash the hype, Nance? I
need it."
    "Deke," she said, trying a tentative smile that in-
stantly vanished. "Deke, that's mine. My hit. I need it.
For my interview."
    He smiled scornfully. "You got money. You can
always score another cap."
    "Not by Friday! Listen, Deke, this is really impor-
tant. My whole life is riding on this interview. I need
that cap. It's all I got!"
    "Baby, you got the fucking world! Take a look
around you six ounces of blond Lebanese hash! Little
anchovy fish in tins. Unlimited medical coverage, if you
need it." She was backing away from him, stumbling
against the static waves of unwashed bedding and
wrinkled glossy magazines that crested at the foot of her
bed. "Me, I never had a glimmer of any of this. Never
had the kind of edge it takes to get along. Well, this one
time I am gonna. There is a match in two hours that I
am going to fucking well win. Do you hear me?" He
was working himself into a rage, and that was good. He
needed it for what he had to do.
    Nance flung up an arm, palm open, but he was
ready for that and slapped her hand aside, never even
catching a glimpse of the dark tunnel, let alone those
little red eyes. Then they were both falling, and he was
on top of her, her breath hot and rapid in his face.
"Deke! Deke! I need that shit, Deke, my interview, it's
the only. . . I gotta. . . gotta. . ." She twisted her face
away, crying into the wall. "Please, God, please
don't.. ."
    "Where did you stash it?"
    Pinned against the bed under his body, Nance
began to spasm, her entire body convulsing in pain and
    "Where is it?"
    Her face was bloodless, gray corpse flesh, and hor-
ror burned in her eyes. Her lips squirmed. It was too late
to stop now; he'd crossed over the line. Deke felt re-
volted and nauseated, all the more so because on some
unexpected and unwelcome level, he was enjoying this.
    "Where is it, Nance?" And slowly, very gently, he
began to stroke her face.

Deke summoned Jackman's elevator with a finger that
moved as fast and straight as a hornet and landed daint-
ily as a butterfly on the call button. He was full of boun-
cy energy, and it was all under control. On the way up,
he whipped off his shades and chuckled at his reflection
in the finger-smudged chrome. The blacks of his eyes
were like pinpricks, all but invisible, and still the world
was neon bright.
    Tiny was waiting. The cripple's mouth turned up at
the corners into a sweet smile as he took in Deke's irises,
the exaggerated calm of his motions, the unsuccessful
attempt to mime an undrugged clumsiness. "Well," he
said in that girlish voice, "looks like I have a treat in
store for me."
    The Max was draped over one tube of the wheel-
chair. Deke took up position and bowed, not quite
mockingly. "Let's fly." As challenger, he flew defense.
He materialized his planes at a conservative altitude,
high enough to dive, low enough to have warning when
Tiny attacked. He waited.
    The crowd tipped him. A fatboy with brilliantined
hair looked startled, a hollow-eyed cracker started to
smile. Murmurs rose. Eyes shifted slow-motion in heads
frozen by hyped-up reaction time. Took maybe three
nanoseconds to pinpoint the source of attack. Deke
whipped his head up, and
Sonofabitch, he was blind! The Fokkers were div-
ing straight from the two-hundred-watt bulb, and Tiny
had suckered him into staring right at it. His vision
whited out. Deke squeezed lids tight over welling tears
and frantically held visualization. He split his flight,
curving two biplanes right, one left. Immediately twist-
ing each a half-turn, then back again. He had to dodge
randomly he couldn't tell where the hostile warbirds
    Tiny chuckled. Deke could hear him through the
sounds of the crowd, the cheering and cursing and slap-
ping down of coins that seemed to syncopate independ-
ent of the ebb and flow of the duel.
    When his vision returned an instant later, a Spad
was in flames and falling. Fokkers tailed his surviving
planes, one on one and two on the other. Three seconds
into the game and he was down one.
    Dodging to keep Tiny from pinning tracers on him,
he looped the single-pursued plane about and drove the
other toward the blind spot between Tiny and the light
    Tiny's expression went very calm. The faintest
shadow of disappointment of contempt, even was
swallowed up by tranquility. He tracked the planes
blandly, waiting for Deke to make his turn.
    Then, just short of the blind spot, Deke shoved his
Spad into a drive, the Fokkers overshooting and bank-
ing wildly to either side, twisting around to regain posi-
    The Spad swooped down on the third Fokker,
pulled into position by Deke's other plane. Fire strafed
wings and crimson fuselage. For an instant nothing hap-
pened, and Deke thought he had a fluke miss. Then the
little red mother veered left and went down, trailing
black, oily smoke.
    Tiny frowned, small lines of displeasure marring
the perfection of his mouth. Deke smiled. One even,
and Tiny held position.
    Both Spads were tailed closely. Deke swung them
wide, and then pulled them together from opposite sides
of the table. He drove them straight for each other,
neutralizing Tiny's advantage . . . neither could fire
without endangering his own planes. Deke cranked his
machines up to top speed, slamming them at each
other's nose.
    An instant before they crashed, Deke sent the
planes over and under one another, opening fire on the
Fokkers and twisting away. Tiny was ready. Fire filled
the air. Then one blue and one red plane soared free,
heading in opposite directions. Behind them, two bi-
planes tangled in midair. Wings touched, slewed about,
and the planes crumpled. They fell together, almost
straight down, to the green felt below.
    Ten seconds in and four planes down. A black vet
pursed his lips and blew softly. Someone else shook his
head in disbelief.
    Tiny was sitting straight and a little forward in his
wheelchair, eyes intense and unblinking, soft hands
plucking feebly at the grips. None of that amused and
detached bullshit now; his attention was riveted on the
game. The kickers, the table, Jackman's itself, might
not exist at all for him. Bobby Earl Cline laid a hand on
his shoulder; Tiny didn't notice. The planes were at op-
posite ends of the room, laboriously gaining altitude.
Deke jammed his against the ceiling, dim through the
smoky haze. He spared Tiny a quick glance, and their
eyes locked. Cold against cold. "Let's see your best,"
Deke muttered through clenched teeth.
    They drove their planes together.
    The hype was peaking now, and Deke could see
Tiny's tracers crawling through the air between the
planes. He had to put his Spad into the line of fire to get
off a fair burst, then twist and bank so the Fokker's
bullets would slip by his undercarriage. Tiny was every
bit as hot, dodging Deke's fire and passing so close to
the Spad their landing gears almost tangled as they
    Deke was looping his Spad in a punishingly tight
turn when the hallucinations hit. The felt writhed and
twisted became the green hell of Bolivian rain forest
that Tiny had flown combat over. The walls receded to
gray infinity, and he felt the metal confinement of a
cybernetic jumpjet close in around him.
    But Deke had done his homework. He was expect-
ing the hallucinations and knew he could deal with
them. The military would never pass on a drug that
couldn't be fought through. Spad and Fokker looped
into another pass. He could read the tensions in Tiny
Montgomery's face, the echoes of combat in deep
jungle sky. They drove their planes together, feeling the
torqued tensions that fed straight from instrumentation
to hindbrain, the adrenaline pumps kicking in behind
the armpits, the cold, fast freedom of airflow over jet-
skin mingling with the smells of hot metal and fear
sweat. Tracers tore past his face, and he pulled back,
seeing the Spad zoom by the Fokker again, both un-
touched. The kickers were just going ape, waving hats
and stomping feet, acting like God's own fools. Deke
locked glances with Tiny again.
    Malice rose up in him, and though his every nerve
was taut as the carbon-crystal whiskers that kept the
jumpjets from falling apart in superman turns over the
Andes, he counterfeited a casual smile and winked,
jerking his head slightly to one side, as if to say "Looka-
    Tiny glanced to the side.
    It was only for a fraction of a second, but that was
enough. Deke pulled as fast and tight an Immelmann
right on the edge of theoretical tolerance as had ever
been seen on the circuit, and he was hanging on Tiny's
    Let's see you get out of this one, sucker.
    Tiny rammed his plane straight down at the green,
and Deke followed after. He held his fire. He had Tiny
where he wanted him.
    Running. Just like he'd been on his every combat
mission. High on exhilaration and hype, maybe, but
running scared. They were down to the felt now, flying
treetop-level. Break, Deke thought, and jacked up the
speed. Peripherally, he could see Bobby Earl Cline, and
there was a funny look on the man's face. A pleading
kind of look. Tiny's composure was shot; his face was
twisted and tormented.
    Now Tiny panicked and dove his plane in among
the crowd. The biplanes looped and twisted between the
kickers. Some jerked back involuntarily, and others
laughingly swatted at them with their hands. But there
was a hot glint of terror in Tiny's eyes that spoke of an
eternity of fear and confinement, two edges sawing
away at each other endlessly. .
    The fear was death in the air, the confinement a
locking away in metal, first of the aircraft, then of the
chair. Deke could read it all in his face: Combat was the
only out Tiny had had, and he'd taken it every chance
he got. Until some anonymous nationalista with an anti-
que SAM tore him out of that blue-green Bolivian sky
and slammed him straight down to Richmond Road and
Jackman's and the smiling killer boy he faced this one
last time across the faded cloth.
    Deke rocked up on his toes, face burning with that
million-dollar smile that was the trademark of the drug
that had already fried Tiny before anyone ever bothered
to blow him out of the sky in a hot tangle of metal and
mangled flesh. It all came together then. He saw that
flying was all that held Tiny together. That daily brush
of fingertips against death, and then rising up from the
metal coffin, alive again. He'd been holding back col-
lapse by sheer force of will. Break that willpower, and
mortality would come pouring out and drown him. Tiny
would lean over and throw up in his own lap.

And Deke drove it home....
There was a moment of stunned silence as Tiny's
last plane vanished in a flash of light. "I did it," Deke
whispered. Then, louder, "Son of a bitch, I did it!"
    Across the table from him, Tiny twisted in his
chair, arms jerking spastically; his head lolled over on
one shoulder. Behind him, Bobby Earl Cline stared
straight at Deke, his eyes hot coals.
    The gambler snatched up the Max and wrapped its
ribbon around a stack of laminateds. Without warning,
he flung the bundle at Deke's face. Effortlessly, cas-
ually, Deke plucked it from the air.
    For an instant, then, it looked like the gambler
would come at him, right across the pool table. He was
stopped by a tug on his sleeve. "Bobby Earl," Tiny
whispered, his voice choking with humiliation, "you
gotta get me... out of here. "
    Stiffly, angrily, Cline wheeled his friend around,
    and then away, into shadow.
    Deke threw back his head and laughed. By God, he
felt good! He stuffed the Max into a shirt pocket, where
it hung cold and heavy. The money he crammed into his
jeans. Man, he had to jump with it, his triumph leaping
up through him like a wild thing, fine and strong as the
flanks of a buck in the deep woods he'd seen from a
Greyhound once, and for this one moment it seemed
that everything was worth it somehow, all the pain and
misery he'd gone through to finally win.
    But Jackman's was silent. Nobody cheered. No-
body crowded around to congratulate him. He sobered,
and silent, hostile faces swam into focus. Not one of
these kickers was on his side. They radiated contempt,
even hatred. For an interminably drawn-out moment
the air trembled with potential violence . . . and then
someone turned to the side, hawked up phlegm, and
spat on the floor. The crowd broke up, muttering, one
by one drifting into the darkness.
    Deke didn't move. A muscle in one leg began to
twitch, harbinger of the coming hype crash. The top of
his head felt numb, and there was an awful taste in his
mouth. For a second he had to hang on to the table with
both hands to keep from falling down forever, into the
living shadow beneath him, as he hung impaled by the
prize buck's dead eyes in the photo under the Dr. Pep-
per clock.
    A little adrenaline would pull him out of this. He
needed to celebrate. To get drunk or stoned and talk it
up, going over the victory time and again, contradicting
himself, making up details, laughing and bragging. A
starry old night like this called for big talk.
    But standing there with all of Jackman's silent and
vast and empty around him, he realized suddenly that he
had nobody left to tell it to.
    Nobody at all.

Burning Chrome

It was hot, the night we burned Chrome. Out in the
malls and plazas, moths were batting themselves to
death against the neon, but in Bobby's loft the only light
came from a monitor screen and the green and red
LEDs on the face of the matrix simulator. I knew every
chip in Bobby's simulator by heart; it looked like your
workaday Ono-Sendai VII. the "Cyberspace Seven,"
but I'd rebuilt it so many time that you'd have had a
hard time finding a square millimeter of factory cir-
cuitry in all that silicon.
    We waited side by side in front of the simulator
console, watching the time display in the screen's lower
left corner.
    "Go for it," I said, when it was time, but Bobby
was already there, leaning forward to drive the Russian
program into its slot with the heel of his hand. He did it
with the tight grace of a kid slamming change into an ar-
cade game, sure of winning and ready to pull down a
string of free games.
A silver tide of phosphenes boiled across my field
of vision as the matrix began to unfold in my head, a
3-D chessboard, infinite and perfectly transparent. The
Russian program seemed to lurch as we entered the grid.
If anyone else had been jacked into that part of the
matrix, he might have seen a surf of flickering shadow
roll out of the little yellow pyramid that represented our
computer. The program was a mimetic weapon, de-
signed to absorb local color and present itself as a crash-
priority override in whatever context it encountered.
    "Congratulations," I heard Bobby say. "We just
became an Eastern Seaboard Fission Authority inspec-
tion probe. . . ." That meant we were clearing fiberoptic
lines with the cybernetic equivalent of a fire siren, but in
the simulation matrix we seemed to rush straight for
Chrome's data base. I couldn't see it yet, but I already
knew those walls were waiting. Walls of shadow, walls
of ice.
    Chrome: her pretty childface smooth as steel, with
eyes that would have been at home on the bottom of
some deep Atlantic trench, cold gray eyes that lived
under terrible pressure. They s~id she cooked her own
cancers for people who crossed her, rococo custom
variations that took years to kill you. They said a lot of
things about Chrome, none of them at all reassuring.
    So I blotted her out with a picture of Rikki. Rikki
kneeling in a shaft of dusty sunlight that slanted into the
loft through a grid of steel and glass: her faded
camouflage fatigues, her translucent rose sandals, the
good line of her bare back as she rummaged through a
nylon gear bag. She looks up, and a half-blond curl falls
to tickle her nose. Smiling, buttoning an old shirt of
Bobby's, frayed khaki cotton drawn across her breasts.
She smiles.
    "Son of a bitch," said Bobby, "we just told
Chrome we're an IRS audit and three Supreme Court
subpoenas. ... Hang on to your ass, Jack.~. .
    So long, Rikki. Maybe now I see you never.
    And dark, so dark, in the halls of Chromes s ice.

Bobby was a cowboy, and ice was the nature of his
game, ice from ICE, Intrusion Countermeasures Elec-
tronics. The matrix is an abstract representation of the
relationships between data systems. Legitimate pro-
grammers jack into their employers' sector of the matrix
and find themselves surrounded by bright geometries
representing the corporate data.

    Towers and fields of it ranged in the colorless non-
space of the simulation matrix, the electronic consen-
sus-hallucination that facilitates the handling and
exchange of massive quantities of data. Legitimate pro-
grammers never see the walls of ice they work behind,
the walls of shadow that screen their operations from
others, from industrial-espionage artists and hustlers
like Bobby Quine.
    Bobby was a cowboy. Bobby was a cracksman, a
burglar, casing mankind's extended electronic nervous
system, rustling data and credit in the crowded matrix,
monochrome nonspace where the only stars are dense
concentrations of information, and high above it all
burn corporate galaxies and the cold spiral arms of
military systems.
    Bobby was another one of those young-old faces
you see drinking in the Gentleman Loser, the chic bar
for computer cowboys, rustlers, cybernetic second-story
men. We were partners.
    Bobby Quine and Automatic Jack. Bobby's the
thin, pale dude with the dark glasses, and Jack's the
mean-looking guy with the myoelectric arm. Bobby's
software and Jack's hard; Bobby punches console and
Jack runs down all the little things that can give you an
edge. Or, anyway, that's what the scene watchers in the
Gentleman Loser would've told you, before Bobby de-
cided to burn Chrome. But they also might've told you
that Bobby was losing his edge, slowing down. He was
twenty-eight, Bobby, and that's old for a console
    Both of us were good at what we did, but somehow
that one big score just wouldn't come down for us. I
knew where to go for the right gear, and Bobby had all
his licks down pat. He'd sit back with a white terry
sweatband across his forehead and whip moves on those
keyboards faster than you could follow, punching his
way through some of the fanciest ice in the business, but
that was when something happened that managed to get
him totally wired, and that didn't happen often. Not
highly motivated, Bobby, and I was the kind of guy
who's happy to have the rent covered and a clean shirt
to wear.
    But Bobby had this thing for girls, like they were
his private tarot or something, the way he'd get himself
moving. We never talked about it, but when it started to
look like he was losing his touch that summer, he started
to spend more time in the Gentleman Loser. He'd sit at
a table by the open doors and watch the crowd slide
by, nights when the bugs were at the neon and the air
smelled of perfume and fast food. You could see his
sunglasses scanning those faces as they passed, and he
must have decided that Rikki's was the one he was
waiting for, the wild card and the luck changer. The new

I went to New York to check out the market, to see what
was available in hot software.
    The Finn's place has a defective hologram in the
window, METRO HOLOGRAFIX, over a display of dead
flies wearing fur coats of gray dust. The scrap's waist-
high, inside, drifts of it rising to meet walls that are
barely visible behind nameless junk, behind sagging
pressboard shelves stacked with old skin magazines and
yellow-spined years of National Geographic.
    "You need a gun," said the Finn. He looks like a
recombo DNA project aimed at tailoring people for
high-speed burrowing. "You're in luck. I got the new
Smith and Wesson, the four-oh-eight Tactical. Got this
xenon projector slung under the barrel, see, batteries in
the grip, throw you a twelve-inch high-noon circle in the
pitch dark at fifty yards. The light source is so narrow,
it's almost impossible to spot. It's just like voodoo in a
    I let my arm clunk down on the table and started
the fingers drumming; the servos in the hand began
whining like overworked mosquitoes. I knew that the
Finn really hated the sound.
    "You looking to pawn that?" He prodded the
Duralumin wrist joint with the chewed shaft of a felt-tip
pen. "Maybe get yourself something a little quieter?"
    I kept it up. "I don't need any guns, Finn."
    "Okay," he said, "okay," and I quit drumming.
"I only got this one item, and I don't even know what it
is. He looked unhappy. "I got it off these bridge-and..
tunnel kids from Jersey last week."
    "So when'd you ever buy anything you didn't
know what it was, Finn?"
    "Wise ass." And he passed me a transparent mailer
with something in it that looked like an audio cassette
through the bubble padding. "They had a passport," he
said. "They had credit cards and a watch. And that."
    "They had the contents of somebody's pockets,
you mean."
    He nodded. "The passport was Belgian. It was also
bogus, looked to me, so I put it in the furnace. Put the
cards in with it. The watch was okay, a Porsche, nice
    It was obviously some kind of plug-in military pro-
gram. Out of the mailer, it looked like the magazine of a
small assault rifle, coated with nonreflective black
plastic. The edges and corners showed bright metal; it
had been knocking around for a while.
"I'll give yo
sake."    u a bargain on it, Jack. For old times'
I had to smile at that. Getting a bargain from the
Finn was like God repealing the law of gravity when you
have to carry a heavy suitcase down ten blocks of air-
port corridor.
    "Looks Russian to me," I said. "Probably the
emergency sewage controls for some Leningrad suburb.
Just what I need."
    "You know," said the Finn. "I got a pair of shoes
older than you are. Sometimes I think you got about as
much class as those yahoos from Jersey. What do you
want me to tell you, it's the keys to the Kremlin? You
figure out what the goddamn thing is. Me, I just sell the
Ibought it.

Bodiless, we swerve into Chrome's castle of ice. And
we're fast, fast. It feels like we're surfing the crest of the
invading program, hanging ten above the seething glitch
systems as they mutate. We're sentient patches of oil
swept along down corridors of shadow.
    Somewhere we have bodies, very far away, in a
crowded loft roofed with steel and glass. Somewhere we
have microseconds, maybe time left to pull out.
    We've crashed her gates disguised as an audit and
three subpoenas, but her defenses are specifically geared
to cope with that kind of official intrusion. Her most
sophisticated ice is structured to fend off warrants,
writs, subpoenas. When we breached the first gate, the
bulk of her data vanished behind core-command ice,
these walls we see as leagues of corridor, mazes of
shadow. Five separate landlines spurted May Day sig-
nals to law firms, but the virus had already taken over
the parameter ice. The glitch systems gobble the distress
calls as our mimetic subprograms scan anything that
hasn't been blanked by core command.
    The Russian program lifts a Tokyo number from
the unscreened data, choosing it for frequency of calls,
average length of calls, the speed with which Chrome
returned those calls.
    "Okay," says Bobby, "we're an incoming scram-
bler call from a pal of hers in Japan. That should help."
    Ride `em, cowboy.

Bobby read his future in women; his girls were omens,
changes in the weather, and he'd sit all night in the
Gentleman Loser, waiting for the season to lay a new
face down in front of him like a card.
    I was working late in the loft one night, shaving
down a chip, my arm off and the little waldo jacked
straight into the stump.

    Bobby came in with a girl I hadn't seen before, and
usually I feel a little funny if a stranger sees me working
that way, with those leads clipped to the hard carbon
studs that stick out of my stump. She came right over
and looked at the magnified image on the screen, then
saw the waldo moving under its vacuum-sealed dust
cover. She didn't say anything, just watched. Right
away I had a good feeling about her; it's like that some-
    "Automatic Jack, Rikki. My associate."
    He laughed, put his arm around her waist, some-
thing in his tone letting me know that I'd be spending
the night in a dingy room in a hotel.
    "Hi," she said. Tall, nineteen or maybe twenty,
and she definitely had the goods. With just those few
freckles across the bridge of her nose, and eyes some-
where between dark amber and French coffee. Tight
black jeans rolled to midcalf and a narrow plastic belt
that matched the rose-colored sandals.
    But now when I see her sometimes when I'm trying
to sleep, I see her somewhere out on the edge of all this
sprawl of cities and smoke, and it's like she's a
hologram stuck behind my eyes, in a bright dress she
must've worn once, when I knew her, something that
doesn't quite reach her knees. Bare legs long and
straight. Brown hair, streaked with blond, hoods her
face, blown in a wind from somewhere, and I see her
wave goodbye.
    Bobby was making a show of rooting through a
stack of audio cassettes. "I'm on my way, cowboy," I
said, unclipping the waldo. She watched attentively as I
put my arm back on.
    "Can you fix things?" she asked.
    "Anything, anything you want, Automatic Jack'll
fix it." I snapped my Duralumin fingers for her.
    She took a little simstim deck from her belt and
showed me the broken hinge on the cassette cover.
    "Tomorrow," I said, "no problem."
    And my oh my, I said to myself, sleep pulling me
down the six flights to the street, what'll Bobby's luck
be like with a fortune cookie like that? If his system
worked, we'd be striking it rich any night now. In the
street I grinned and yawned and waved for a cab.

Chrome's castle is dissolving, sheets of ice shadow
flickering and fading, eaten by the glitch systems that
spin out from the Russian program, tumbling away
from our central logic thrust and infecting the fabric of
the ice itself. The glitch systems are cybernetic virus
analogs, self-replicating and voracious. They mutate
constantly, in unison, subverting and absorbing
Chrome's defenses.
    Have we already paralyzed her, or is a bell ringing
somewhere, a red light blinking?. Does she know?

Rikki Wildside, Bobby called her, and for those first
few weeks it must have seemed to her that she had it all,
the whole teeming show spread out for her, sharp and
bright under the neon. She was new to the scene, and
she had all the miles of malls and plazas to prowl, all
the shops and clubs, and Bobby to explain the wild side,
the tricky wiring on the dark underside of things, all the
players and their names and their games. He made her
feel at home.
    "What happened to your arm?" she asked me one
night in the Gentleman Loser, the three of us drinking at
a small table in a corner.
    "Hang-gliding," I said, "accident."
    "Hang-gliding over a wheatfield," said Bobby,
"place called Kiev. Our Jack's just hanging there in the
dark, under a Nightwing parafoil, with fifty kilos of
radar jammed between his legs, and some Russian
asshole accidentally burns his arm off with a laser."
    I don't remember how I changed the subject, but I
    I was still telling myself that it wasn't Rikki who
was getting to me, but what Bobby was doing with her.
I'd known him for a long time, since the end of the war,
and I knew he used women as counters in a game,
Bobby Quine versus fortune, versus time and the night
of cities. And Rikki had turned up just when he needed
something to get him going, something to aim for. So
he'd set her up as a symbol for everything he wanted
and couldn't have, everything he'd had and couldn't
    I didn't like having to listen to him tell me how
much he loved her, and knowing he believed it only
made it worse. He was a past master at the hard fall and
the rapid recovery, and I'd seen it happen a dozen times
before. He might as well have had NEXT printed across
his sunglasses in green Day-Gb capitals, ready to flash
out at the first interesting face that flowed past the
tables in the Gentleman Loser.
    I knew what he did to them. He turned them into
emblems, sigils on the map of his hustler's life, naviga-
tion beacons he could follow through a sea of bars and
neon. What else did he have to steer by? He didn't love
money, in and of itself, not enough to follow its lights.
He wouldn't work for power over other people; he
hated the responsibility it brings. He had some basic
pride in his skill, but that was never enough to keep him
    So he made do with women.
    When Rikki showed up, he needed one in the worst
way. He was fading fast, and smart money was already
whispering that the edge was off his game. He needed
that one big score, and soon, because he didn't know
any other kind of life, and all his clocks were set for
hustler's time, calibrated in risk and adrenaline and that
supernal dawn calm that comes when every move's
proved right and a sweet lump of someone else's credit
clicks into your own account.
    It was time for him to make his bundle and get out;
so Rikki got set up higher and farther away than any
of the others ever had, even though and I felt like
screaming it at him she was right there, alive, totally
real, human, hungry, resilient, bored, beautiful, ex-
cited, all the things she was. .
    Then he went out one afternoon, about a week
before I made the trip to New York to see Finn. Went
out and left us there in the loft, waiting for a thunder-
storm. Half the skylight was shadowed by a dome
they'd never finished, and the other half showed sky,
black and blue with clouds. I was s~andsng by the bench,
looking up at that sky, stupid with the hot afternoon,
the humidity, and she touched me, touched my
shoulder, the half-inch border of taut pink scar that the
arm doesn't cover. Anybody else ever touched me there,
they went on to the shoulder, the neck....
    But she didn't do that. Her nails were lacquered
black, not pointed, but tapered oblongs, the lacquer
only a shade darker than the carbon-fiber laminate that
sheathes my arm. And her hknd went down the arm,
black nails tracing a weld in the laminate, down to the
black anodized elbow joint, out to the wrist, her hand
soft-knuckled as a child's, fingers spreading to lock over
mine, her palm against the perforated Duralumin.
    Her other palm came up to brush across the feed-
back pads, and it rained all afternoon, raindrops drum-
ming on the steel and soot-stained glass above Bobby's

Ice walls flick away like supersonic butterflies made of
shade. Beyond them, the matrix's illusion of infinite
space. It's like watching a tape of a prefab building
going up; only the tape's reversed and run at high speed,
and these walls are torn wings.
    Trying to remind myself that this place and the
gulfs beyond are only representations, that we aren't
"in" Chrome's computer, but interfaced with it, while
the matrix simulator in Bobby's loft generates this illu-
sion . . . The core data begin to emerge, exposed,
vulnerable.... This is the far side of ice, the view of the
matrix I've never seen before, the view that fifteen
million legitimate console operators see daily and take
for granted.
    The core data tower around us like vertical freight
trains, color-coded for access. Bright primaries, im-
possibly bright in that transparent void, linked by
countless horizontals in nursery blues and pinks.
    But ice still shadows something at the center of it
all: the heart of all Chrome's expensive darkness, the
very heart..

It was late afternoon when I got back from my shopping
expedition to New York. Not much sun through the
skylight, but an ice pattern glowed on Bobby's monitor
screen, a 2-D graphic representation of someone's com-
puter defenses, lines of neon woven like an Art Deco
prayer rug. I turned the console off, and the screen went
completely dark.
    Rikki's things were spread across my workbench,
nylon bags spilling clothes and makeup, a pair of bright
red cowboy boots, audio cassettes, glossy Japanese
magazines about simstim stars. I stacked it all under the
bench and then took my arm off, forgetting that the
program I'd brought from the Finn was in the right-
hand pocket of my jacket, so that I had to fumble it out
left-handed and then get it into the padded jaws of the
jeweler's vise.
    The waldo looks like an old audio turntable, the
kind that played disc records, with the vise set up under
a transparent dust cover. The arm itself is just over a
centimeter long, swinging out on what would've been
the tone arm on one of those turntables. But I don't
look at that when I've clipped the leads to my stump; I
look at the scope, because that's my arm there in black
and white, magnification 40 x.
    I ran a tool check and picked up the laser. It felt a
little heavy; so I scaled my weight-sensor input down to
a quarter-kilo per gram and got to work. At 40 x the side
of the program looked like a trailer truck.
    It took eight hours to crack: three hours with the
waldo and the laser and four dozen taps, two hours on
the phone to a contact in Colorado, and three hours to
run down a lexicon disc that could translate eight-year.
old technical Russian.
    Then Cyrillic alphanumerics started reeling dowi
the monitor, twisting themselves into English halfwa
down. There were a lot of gaps, where the lexicon rai
up against specialized military acronyms in the readou
I'd bought from my man in Colorado, but it did give m
some idea of what I'd bought from the Finn.
    I felt like a punk who'd gone out to buy a switch.
blade and come home with a small neutron bomb.
    Screwed again, I thought. What good's a neutro~
bomb in a streetfight? The thing under the dust covei
was right out of my league. I didn't even know where to
unload it, where to look for a buyer. Someone had, but
he was dead, someone with a Porsche watch and a fake
Belgian passport, but I'd never tried to move in those
circles. The Finn's muggers from the `burbs had knocked
over someone who had some highly arcane connections.
    The program in the jeweler's vise was a Russian
military icebreaker, a killer-virus program.
    It was dawn when Bobby came in alone. I'd fallen
asleep with a bag of takeout sandwiches in my lap.
    "You want to eat?" I asked him, not really awake,
holding out my sandwiches. I'd been dreaming of the
program, of its waves of hungry glitch systems and
mimetic subprograms; in the dream it was an animal of
some kind, shapeless and flowing.
    He brushed the bag aside on his way to the console,
punched a function key. The screen lit with the intricate
pattern I'd seen there that afternoon. I rubbed sleep
from my eyes with my left hand, one thing I can't do
with my right. I'd fallen asleep trying to decide whether
to tell him about the program. Maybe I should try to sell
it alone, keep the money, go somewhere new, ask Rikki
to go with me.
    "Whose is it?" I asked.
    He stood there in a black cotton jump suit, an old
leather jacket thrown over his shoulders like a cape. He
hadn't shaved for a few days, and his face looked thin-
ner than usual.
    "It's Chrome's," he said.
    My arm convulsed, started clicking, fear translated
to the myoclectrics through the carbon studs. I spilled
the sandwiches; limp sprouts, and bright yellow dairy-
produce slices on the unswept wooden floor.
    "You're stone crazy," I said.
    "No," he said, "you think she rumbled it? No
way. We'd be dead already. I locked on to her through a
triple-blind rental system in Mombasa and an Algerian
comsat. She knew somebody was having a look-see, but
she couldn't trace it."
    If Chrome had traced the pass Bobby had made at
her ice, we were good as dead. But he was probably
right, or she'd have had me blown away on my way
back from New York. "Why her, Bobby? Just give me
one reason...
    Chrome: I'd seen her maybe half a dozen times in
the Gentleman Loser. Maybe she was slumming, or
checking out the human condition, a condition she
didn't exactly aspire to. A sweet little heart-shaped face
framing the nastiest pair of eyes you ever saw. She'd
looked fourteen for as long as anyone could remember,
hyped out of anything like a normal metabolism on
some massive program of serums and hormones. She
was as ugly a customer as the street ever produced, but
she didn't belong to the street anymore. She was one of
the Boys, Chrome, a member in good standing of the
local Mob subsidiary. Word was, she'd gotten started as
a dealer, back when synthetic pituitary hormones were
still proscribed. But she hadn't had to move hormones
for a long time. Now she owned the House of Blue
    "You're flat-out crazy, Quine. You give me one
sane reason for having that stuff on your screen. You
ought to dump it, and I mean now.
    "Talk in the Loser," he said, shrugging out of the
leather jacket. "Black Myron and Crow Jane. Jane,
she's up on all the sex lines, claims she knows where
the money goes. So she's arguing with Myron that
Chrome's the controlling interest in the Blue Lights, not
just some figurehead for the Boys."
    " `The Boys,' Bobby," I said. "That's the opera-
tive word there. You still capable of seeing that? We
don't mess with the Boys, remember? That's why we're
still walking around."
    "That's why we're still poor, partner." He settled
back into the swivel chair in front of the console, un-
zipped his jump suit, and scratched his skinny white
chest. "But maybe not for much longer."
    "I think maybe this partnership just got itself per-
manently dissolved."
    Then he grinned at me. Tjie grin was truly crazy,
feral and focused, and I knew that right then he really
didn't give a shit about dying.
    ``Look,'' I said, ``I've got some money left, you
know? Why don't you take it and get the tube to Miami,
catch a hopper to Montego Bay. You need a rest, man.
You've got to get your act together."
    "My act, Jack," he said, punching something on
the keyboard, "never has been this together before."
The neon prayer rug on the screen shivered and woke as
an animation program cut in, ice lines weaving with
hypnotic frequency, a living mandala. Bobby kept
punching, and the movement slowed; the pattern re-
solved itself, grew slightly less complex, became an
alternation between two distant configurations. A first-
class piece of work, and I hadn't thought he was still
that good. "Now," he said, "there, see it? Wait. There.
There again. And there. Easy to miss. That's it. Cuts in
every hour and twenty minutes with a squirt transmis-
sion to their comsat. We could live for a year on what
~he pays them weekly in negative interest."
    "Whose comsat?"
    "Zurich. Her bankers. That's her bankbook, Jack.
That's where the money goes. Crow Jane was right."
I stood there. My arm forgot to click.
    "So how'd you do in New York, partner? You get
anything that'll help me cut ice? We're going to need
whatever we can get.~~
    I kept my eyes on his, forced myself not to look in
the direction of the waldo, the jeweler's vise. The Rus-
sian program was there, under the dust cover.
    Wild cards, luck changers.
    "Where's Rikki?" I asked him, crossing to the con-
sole, pretending to study the alternating patterns on the
    "Friends of hers," he shrugged, "kids, they're all
into simstim." He smiled absently. "I'm going to do it
for her, man."
    "I'm going out to think about this, Bobby. You
want me to come back, you keep your hands off the
    "I'm doing it for her," he said as the door closed
behind me. "You know lam."

And down now, down, the program a roller coaster
through this fraying maze of shadow walls, gray
cathedral spaces between the bright towers. Headlong
    Black ice. Dont think about it. Black ice.
    Too many stories in the Gentleman Loser; black ice
is a part of the mythology. Ice that kills. Illegal, but
then aren't we all? Some kind of neural-feedback
weapon, and you connect with it only once. Like some
hideous Word that eats the mind from the inside out.
Like an epileptic spasm that goes on and on until there's
nothing left at all...
    And we're diving for the floor of Chrome's shadow
    Trying to brace myself for the sudden stopping of
breath, a sickness and final slackening of the nerves.
Fear of that cold Word waiting, down there in the dark.

I went out and looked for Rikki, found her in a cafe
with a boy with Sendai eyes, half-healed suture lines
radiating from his bruised sockets. She had a glossy
brochure spread open on the table, Tally Isham smiling
up from a dozen photographs, the Girl with the Zeiss
Ikon Eyes.
    Her little simstim deck was one of the things I'd
stacked under my bench the night before, the one I'd
fixed for her the day after I'd first seen her. She spent
hours jacked into that unit, the contact band across her
forehead like a gray plastic tiara. Tally Isham was her
favorite, and with the contact band on, she was gone,
off somewhere in the recorded sensorium of simstim s
biggest star. Simulated stimuli: the world all the in-
teresting parts, anyway as perceived by Tally Isham.
Tally raced a black Fokker ground-effect plane across
Arizona mesa tops. Tally dived the Truk Island pre-
serves. Tally partied with the superrich on private Greek
islands, heartbreaking purity of those tiny white
seaports at dawn.
    Actually she looked a lot like Tally, same coloring
and cheekbones. I thought Rikki's mouth was stronger.
More sass. She didn't want to be Tally Isham, but she
coveted the job. That was her ambition, to be in sim-
stim. Bobby just laughed it off. She talked to me about
it, though. "I-Iow'd I look with a pair of these?" she'd
ask, holding a full-page headshot, Tally Isham's blue
Zeiss Ikons lined up with her own amber-brown. She'd
had her corneas done twice, but she still wasn't 20-20; so
she wanted Ikons. Brand of the stars. Very expensive.
    "You still window-shopping for eyes?" I asked as I
sat down.
    "Tiger just got some," she said. She looked tired, I
    Tiger was so pleased with his Sendais that he
couldn't help smiling, but I doubted whether he'd have
smiled otherwise. He had the kind of uniform good
looks you get after your seventh trip to the surgical
boutique; he'd probably spend the rest of his life look-
ing vaguely like each new season's media front-runner;
not too obvious a copy, but nothing too original, either.
    "Sendai, right?" I smiled back.
    He nodded. I watched as he tried to take me in with
his idea of a professional simstim glance. He was pre-
tending that he was recording. I thought he spent too
long on my arm. "They'll be great on peripherals when
the muscles heal," he said, and I saw how carefully he
reached for his double espresso. Sendai eyes are
notorious for depth-perception defects and warranty
hassles, among other things.
    ``Tiger's leaving for Hollywood tomorrow.~~
    "Then maybe Chiba City, right?" I smiled at him.
He didn't smile back. "Got an offer, Tiger? Know an
    "Just checking it out," he said quietly. Then he got
up and left. He said a quick goodbye to Rikki, but not
to me.
    "That kid's optic nerves may start to deteriorate in-
side six months. You know that, Rikki? Those Sendais
are illegal in England, Denmark, lots of places. You
can't replace nerves."
    "Hey, Jack, no lectures." She stole one of my
croissants and nibbled at the top of one of its horns.
    "I thought I was your adviser, kid."
    "Yeah. Well, Tiger's not too swift, but everybody
knows about Sendais. They're all he can afford. So he's
taking a chance. If he gets work, he can replace them."
    "With these?" I tapped the Zeiss Ikon brochure.
"Lot of money, Rikki. You know better than to take a
gamble like that."
    She nodded. "I want Ikons."
    "If you're going up to Bobby's, tell him to sit tight
until he hears from ~
    "Sure. It's business?"
    "Business," I said. But it was craziness.
    I drank my coffee, and she ate both my croissants.
Then I walked her down to Bobby's. I made fifteen
calls, each one from a different pay phone.
    Business. Bad craziness.
    All in all, it took us six weeks to set the burn up, six
weeks of Bobby telling me how much he loved her. I
worked even harder, trying to get away from that.
    Most of it was phone calls. My fifteen initial and
very oblique inquiries each seemed to breed fifteen
more. I was looking for a certain service Bobby and I
both imagined as a requisite part of the world's clande-
stine economy, but which probably never had more than
five customers at a time. It would be one that never
    We were looking for the world's heaviest fence, for
a non-aligned money laundry capable of dry-cleaning a
megabuck online cash transfer and then forgetting
about it.
    All those calls were a wasted finally, because it was
the Finn who put me on to what we needed. I'd gone up
to New York to buy a new blackbox rig, because we
were going broke paying for all those calls.
    I put the problem to him as hypothetically as possi-
    "Macao," he said.
    "The Long Hum family. Stockbrokers."
    He even had the number. You want a fence, ask
another fence.
    The Long Hum people were so oblique that they
made my idea of a subtle approach look like a tactical
nuke-out. Bobby had to make two shuttle runs to Hong
Kong to get the deal straight. We were running out of
capital, and fast. I still don't know why I decided to go
along with it in the first place; I was scared of Chrome,
and I'd never been all that hot to get rich.
    I tried telling myself that it was a good idea to burn
the House of Blue Lights because the place was a creep
joint, but I just couldn't buy it. I didn't like the Blue
Lights, because I'd spent a supr'~mely depressing eve-
ning there once, but that was no excuse for going after
Chrome. Actually I halfway assumed we were going to
die in the attempt. Even with that killer program, the
odds weren't exactly in our favor.
    Bobby was lost in writing the set of commands we
were going to plug into the dead center of Chrome's
computer. That was going to be my job, because Bobby
was going to have his hands full trying to keep the Rus-
sian program from going straight for the kill. It was too
complex for us to rewrite, and so he was going to try to
hold it back for the two seconds I needed.
    I made a deal with a streetfighter named Miles. He
was going to follow Rikki the night of the burn, keep
her in sight, and phone me at a certain time. If I wasn't
there, or didn't answer in just a certain way, I'd told
him to grab her and put her on the first tube out. I gave
him an envelope to give her, money and a note.
    Bobby really hadn't thought about that, much,
how things would go for her if we blew it. He just kept
telling me he loved her, where they were going to go
together, how they'd spend the money.
    "Buy her a pair of Ikons first, man. That's what
she wants. She's serious about that simstim scene."
    "Hey," he said, looking up from the keyboard,
"she won't need to work. We're going to make it, Jack.
She's my luck. She won't ever have to work again."
    "Your luck," I said. I wasn't happy. I couldn't
remember when I had been happy. "You seen your luok
    around lately?"
    He hadn't, but neither had I. We'd both been too
    I missed her. Missing her reminded me of my one
night in the House of Blue Lights, because I'd gone
there out of missing someone else. I'd gotten drunk to
begin with, then I'd started hitting Vasopressin inhalers.
If your main squeeze has just decided to walk out on
you, booze and Vasopressin are the ultimate in
masochistic pharmacology; the juice makes you
maudlin and the Vasopressin makes you remember, I
mean really remember. Clinically they use the stuff to
counter senile amnesia, but the street finds its own uses
for things. So I'd bought myself an ultraintense replay
of a bad affair; trouble is, you get the bad with the
good. Go gunning for transports of animal ecstasy and
you get what you said, too, and what she said to that,
how she walked away and never looked back.
    I don't remember deciding to go to the Blue Lights,
or how I got there, hushed corridors and this really
tacky decorative waterfall trickling somewhere, or
maybe just a hologram of one. I had a lot of money that
night; somebody had given Bobby a big roll for opening
a three-second window in someone else's ice.
    I don't think the crew on the door liked my looks,
but I guess my money was okay.
    I had more to drink there when I'd done what I
went there for. Then I made some crack to the barman
about closet necrophiliacs, and that didn't go down too
well. Then this very large character insisted on calling
me War Hero, which I didn't like. I think I showed him
some tricks with the arm, before the lights went out, and
I woke up two days later in a basic sleeping module
somewhere else. A cheap place, not even room to hang
     yourself. And I sat there on that narrow foam slab and
     Some things are worse than being alone. But the
thing they sell in the House of Blue Lights is so popular
that it's almost legal.

At the heart of darkness, the still center, the glitch sys-
tems shred the dark with whirlwinds of light, translu-
cent razors spinning away from us; we hang in the
center of a silent slow-motion explosion, ice fragments
falling away forever, and Bobby's voice comes in across
light-years of electronic void illusion
"Burn the bitch down. I can't hold the thing
back "
    The Russian program, rising through towers of
data, blotting out the playroom colors. And I plug
Bobby's homemade command package into the center
of Chrome's cold heart. The squirt transmission cuts in,
a pulse of condensed information that shoots straight
up, past the thickening tower of darkness, the Russian

program, while Bobby struggles to control that crucial
second. An unformed arm of shadow twitches from the
towering dark, too late.
    We've done it.
    The matrix folds itself around me like an origami
    And the loft smells of sweat and burning circuitry.
    I thought I heard Chrome scream, a raw metal
sound, but I couldn't have.

Bobby was laughing, tears in his eyes. The elapsed-time
figure in the corner of the monitor read 07:24:05. The
burn had taken a little under eight minutes.
    And I saw that the Russian program had melted in
its slot.
    We'd given the bulk of Chrome's ZOrich account to
a dozen world charities. There was too much there to
move, and we knew we had to break her, burn her
straight down, or she might come after us. We took less
than ten percent for ourselves and shot it through the
Long Hum setup in Macao. They took sixty percent of
that for themselves and kicked what was left back to us
through the most convoluted sector of the Hong Kong
exchange. It took an hour before our money started to
reach the two accounts we'd opened in Zurich.
    I watched zeros pile up behind a meaningless figure
on the monitor. I was rich.
    Then the phone rang. It was Miles. I almost blew
the code phrase.
    "Hey, Jack, man, I dunno what's it all about,
with this girl of yours? Kinda funny thing here..."
    "What? Tell me."
    "I been on her, like you said, tight but out of sight.
She goes to the Loser, hangs out, then she gets a tube.
Goes to the House of Blue Lights "
    "She what?"
    "Side door. Employees only. No way I could get
past their security."
    "Is she there now?"

    "No, man, I just lost her. It's insane down here,
like the Blue Lights just shut down, looks like for good,
seven kinds of alarms going off, everybody running, the
heat out in riot gear. . . . Now there's all this stuff going
on, insurance guys, real-estate types, vans with munici-
pal plates....
    "Miles, where'd she go?"
    "Lost her, Jack."
    "Look, Miles, you keep the money in the envelope,
    "You serious? Hey, I'm real sorry. I "
Ihung up.
    "Wait'll we tell her," Bobby was saying, rubbing a
towel across his bare chest.
    "You tell her yourself, co,wboy. I'm going for a
    So I went out into the night and the neon and let the
crowd pull me along, walking blind, willing myself to be
just a segment of that mass organism, just one more
drifting chip of consciousness under the geodesics. I
didn't think, just put one foot in front of another, but
after a while I did think, and it all made sense. She'd
needed the money.
    I thought about Chrome, too. That we'd killed her,
murdered her, as surely as if we'd slit her throat. The
night that carried me along through the malls and plazas
would be hunting her now, and she had nowhere to go.
How many enemies would she have in this crowd alone?
How many would move, now they weren't held back by
fear of her money? We'd taken her for everything she
had. She was back on the street again. I doubted she'd
live till dawn.
    Finally I remembered the cafe, the one where I'd
met Tiger.
    Her sunglasses told the whole story, huge black
shades with a telltale smudge of fleshtone paintstick in
the corner of one lens. "Hi, Rikki," I said, and I was
ready when she took them off.
    Blue, Tally Isham blue. The clear trademark blue
they're famous for, ZEISS IKON ringing each iris in tiny
capitals, the letters suspended there like flecks of gold.
    "They're beautiful," I said. Paintstick covered the
bruising. No scars with work that good. "You made
some money."
    "Yeah, I did." Then she shivered. "But I won't
make any more, not that way."
    ``I think that place is out of business.~~
    "Oh." Nothing moved in her face then. The new
blue eyes were still and very deep.
    "It doesn't matter. Bobby's waiting for you. We
just pulled down a big score."
    "No. I've got to go. I guess he won't understand,
but I've got to go."
    I nodded, watching the arm swing up to take her
hand; it didn't seem to be part of me at all, but she held
on to it like it was.
    "I've got a one-way ticket to Hollywood. Tiger
knows some people I can stay with. Maybe I'll even get
to Chiba City."
    She was right about Bobby. I went back with her.
He didn't understand. But she'd already served her pur-
pose, for Bobby, and I wanted to tell her not to hurt for
him, because I could see that she did. He wouldn't even
come out into the hallway after she had packed her
bags. I put the bags down and kissed her and messed up
the paintstick, and something came up inside me the
way the killer program had risen above Chrome's data.
A sudden stopping of the breath, in a place where no
word is. But she had a plane to catch.
    Bobby was slumped in the swivel chair in front of
his monitor, looking at his string of zeros. He had his
shades on, and I knew he'd be in the Gentleman Loser
by nightfall, checking out the weather, anxious for a
sign, someone to tell him what his new life would be
like. I couldn't see it being very different. More com-
fortable, but he'd always be waiting for that next card
to fall.
    I tried not to imagine her in the House of Blue
Lights, working three-hour shifts in an approximation
of REM sleep, while her body and a bundle of condi-
tioned reflexes took care of business. The customers
never got to complain that she was faking it, because
those were real orgasms. But she felt them, if she felt
them at all, as faint silver flares somewhere out on the
edge of sleep. Yeah, it's so popular, it's almost legal.
The customers are torn between needing someone and
wanting to be alone at the same time, which has prob-
ably always been the name of that particular game, even
before we had the neuroelectronics to enable them to
have it both ways.
    I picked up the phone and punched the number for
her airline. I gave them her real name, her flight num-
ber. "She's changing that," I said, "to Chiba City.
Thatright. Japan." I thumbed' my credit card into the
slot and punched my ID code. "First class." Distant
hum as they scanned my credit records. "Make that a
return ticket."
    But I guess she cashed the return fare, or else
didn't need it, because she hasn't come back. And
sometimes late at night I'll pass a window with posters
of simstim stars, all those beautiful, identical eyes star-
ing back at me out of faces that are nearly as identical,
and sometimes the eyes are hers, but none of the faces
are, none of them ever are, and I see her far out on the
edge of all this sprawl of night and cities, and then she
waves goodbye.