William Gibson: Burning Chrome

The Gernsback Continuum

Mercifully, the whole thing is starting to fade, to be-

come 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 un-

folding 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 wave-

length of probability. I've worked hard for that. Tele-

vision 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 Oc-

cupied Japan. I'd gone over to shoot a series of shoe

ads; California girls with tanned legs and frisky Day-

Gb 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 fash-

ionably 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 pro-

ject, an illustrated history of what she called "Ameri-

can 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 en-

ergy, the dime stores faced with fluted aluminum, the

chrome-tube chairs gathering dust in the lobbies of tran-

sient 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 Ameri-

can 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 to-

gether 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


	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 lean-

ing 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 sym-

metrical 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 stream-

lined buildings, and a list of Dialta Downes's fifty

favorite examples of the style in California.

	Architectural photography can involve a lot of wait-

ing; 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 po-

tent 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 sta-

tions 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 in-

habitants of that lost future would think of the world I

lived in. The Thirties dreamed white marble and slip-

stream 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 mem-

brane, 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 con-

spiracy 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 sim-

ple: 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 im-

pressionable. `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


	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 in-

stance, 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 phan-

toms, bits of deep cultural imagery that have split off

and taken on a life of their own, like the Jules Verne air-

ships 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 shav-

ing 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 think-

ing 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 Hamp-

stead 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 rattle-

snakes 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 conversa-


	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


	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 rud-

der 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, en-

tirely real. But the couple in front of me lived in it, and

they frightened me.

	They were the children of Dialta Downes's `80-

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 Lon-

don, 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


	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 tear-

drops 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 pic-

tures. 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


	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.

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