Tom Maddox


Part I Part II Part III Part IV Part V

From the author:

You may read these files, copy them, and distribute them in any 
way you wish so long as you do not change them in any way or 
receive money for them.

I have entered HALO into the distribution networks of the Net, but 
I retain the copyright to the novel.

If you paid for these files, you were cheated; if you sold them, 
you have cheated.

Otherwise, have fun and spread the book around.

If you have any comments on the book or this distribution, you can
send me e-mail at:

November, 1994


Tom Maddox

To the memory of George Maddox, my father; Paul Cohen,
my friend; and all our lamented dead, lost in time.


Here are some of the people I owe in the writing of this 

My wife Janis and son Tom.  They have had to put up with the 
problems of a novelist in the houseincluding arbitrary mood 
swings and chronic unavailability for many of the usual pleasures 
of life.  To both, my love and gratitude for their love, patience, 
and understanding.

My best friends:  Leo Daugherty, Jeffrey Frohner, Bill Gibson 
and Lee Graham.

My mother Jewell, my brother Bill and sister Janet.

Ellen Datlow:  she published my first stories in Omni and 
showed me how a really good editor works.  Also, two friends who 
patiently read through drafts of those stories before Ellen got 
them:  Geoff Hicks and Larry Reed.

The readers of various incarnations of this book:  Beth 
Meacham, my editor at Tor Books; Merilee Heifetz, my agent; Bruce 
and Nancy Sterling, great readers; Melinda Howard and Gary 
Worthington; Lynne Farr; Carol Poole.  Also, the members of the 
Evergreen Writers' Workshop, especially Pat Murphy.

The Usenet community, friend and foe, for ideas about a quite 
astonishing number of things, and for the continuing fascination 
of life online; with special thanks to Patricia O Tuana and the 
members of "eniac."

The usual suspects at the Conference on the Fantastic, with a 
special nod to Brian Aldiss, because we'd all be happier if there 
were more like him running around.

At The Evergreen State College, many people who gave 
technical advice.  (Perhaps needless to say, any consequent 
blunders are entirely mine.)  Mike Beug and Paul Stamets, world-
class mycologists and explainers, talked to me about mushrooms and 
provided invaluable references.  Mark Papworth applied a coroner's 
eye to a carcass I made.  The faculty and students of the Habitats 
Coordinated Studies Program, 1988-89 helped me to think about a 
space habitat's ecosystem.

A list, much too long to include here, of friends, both 
colleagues and students, at Evergreenthough I have to mention 
Barbara Smith and David Paulsen, whose cabin and cat make cameo 

And all I've known who can find a piece of themselves in this 

PART I. of V

Everything is destined to reappear as simulation.

Jean Baudrillard, America

1. Burning, Burning

On a rainy morning in Seattle, Gonzales was ready for the 
egg.  A week ago he had returned from Myanmar, the country once 
known as Burma, and now, after two days of drugs and fasting, he 
was prepared:  he had become an alien, at home in a distant 

His brain was filled with blossoms of fire, their spread 
white flesh torched to yellow, the center of a burning world.  On 
the dark stained oak door, angel wings danced in blue flame, their 
faces beatific in the cold fire.  Staring at the animated carved 
figures, Gonzales thought, the fire is in my eyes, in my brain.

He pushed down the s-curved brass handle and stepped through 
to the hallway, his split-toed shoes of soft cotton and rope 
scuffing without noise across floors of bleached oak.  Through the 
open door at the hallway's end, morning's light through stained 
glass made abstract patterns of crimson and buttery yellow.  
Inside the room, a blue monitor console stood against the far 
wall, SenTrax corporate sunburst glowing on its face; in the 
center of the room was the egg, split hemispheres of chromed 
steel, cracked and waiting.  One half-egg was filled with beige 
tubes and snakes of optic cable, the other half with hard dark 
plastic lying slack against the shell.

Gonzales rubbed his hands across his eyes, then pulled his 
hair back into a long hank and slipped a circle of elastic over 
it.  He reached to his waist and grabbed the bottom hem of his 
navy blue t-shirt and pulled the shirt over his head.  Dropping it 
to the floor, he kicked off his shoes, stepped out of baggy tan 
pants and loose white cotton underpants and stood naked, his pale 
skin gleaming with a light coat of sweat.  His skin felt hot, eyes 
grainy, stomach sore.

He stepped up and into a chrome half-egg, then shivered and 
lay back as body-warmth liquid bled into the slack plastic, which 
began to balloon underneath him.  He took hold of finger-thick 
cables and pushed their junction ends home into the sockets set in 
the back of his neck.  As the egg continued to fill, he fit a mask 
over his face, felt its edges seal, and inhaled.  Catheters moved 
toward his crotch, iv needles toward the crooks of both arms.  The 
egg shut closed on him and liquid spilled into its interior.

He floated in silence, waiting, breathing slowly and deeply 
as elation punched through the chaotic mix of emotions generated 
by drugs, meditation, and the egg.  No matter that he was going to 
relive his own terror, this was what moved him:  access to the 
many-worlds of human experiencetravel through space, time, and 
probability all in one.

Virtual realities were everywherevirtual vacations, sex, 
superstardom, you name itbut compared to the egg, they were just 
high-res videogames or stage magic.  VRs used a variety of tricks 
to simulate physical presence, but the sensorium could be fooled 
only to a certain degree, and when you inhabited a VR, you were 
conscious of it, so sustaining its illusion depended on willing 
suspension of disbelief.  With the egg, however, you got total 
involvement through all sensory modalitiesthe worlds were so 
compelling that people waking from them often seemed lost in the 
waking world, as if it were a dream.    

A needle punched into a membrane set in one of the neural 
cables and injected a neuropeptide mix.  Gonzales was transported.

It was the final day of Gonzales's three week stay in Pagan, 
the town in central Myanmar where the government had moved its 
records decades earlier, in the wake of ethnic rioting in Yangon.  
He sat with Grossback, the Division Head of SenTrax Myanmar, at a 
central rosewood table in the main conference room.  The table's 
work stations, embedded oblongs of glass, lay dark and silent in 
front of them.

Gonzales had come to Myanmar to do an information audit. The 
local SenTrax group supplied the Federated State of Myanmar with 
its primary information utilities:  all its records of personnel 
and materiel, and all transactions among them.  A month earlier, 
SenTrax Myanmar's reports had triggered "look-see" alarms in the 
home company's passive auditing programs, and Gonzales and his 
memex had been sent to look more closely at the raw data.

So for twenty straight days Gonzales and the memex had 
explored data structures and their contents, testing nominal 
functional relationships against reality.  Wherever there were 
movements of information, money, equipment or personnel, there 
were records, and the two followed.  They searched cash trails, 
matched purchase orders to services and materiel, verified voucher 
signatures with personnel records, cross-checked the personnel 
records themselves against government databases, and traced the 
backgrounds and movements of the people they represented; they 
read contracts and back-chased to their bid and acquisition; they 
verified daily transaction logs.

Hard, slogging work, all patience and detail, and so far it 
had shown nothing but the usual inefficienciesGrossback didn't 
run a particularly taut operation, but, as of the moment, he 
didn't seem to have a corrupt one.  However, neither he nor 
SenTrax Myanmar was cleared yet; Gonzales's final report would 
come later, after he and the memex had analyzed the records at 
their leisure.

Gonzales stretched and rubbed his eyes.  As usual at the end 
of short-term, intensive gigs like this, he felt tired, washed-
out, eager to go.  He said to Grossback, "I've got a company plane 
out of here late this afternoon to Bangkok.  I'll connect with 
whatever commercial flight's available there."

Grossback smiled, obviously glad Gonzales was leaving.  
Grossback was a slight man, of mixed German and Thai descent; he 
had a light brown complexion, black hair, and delicate features.  
He wore politically correct clothing in the old-fashioned Burmese 
style:  a dark skirt called a longyi, a white cotton shirt.

During Gonzales's time there, Grossback had dealt with him 
coldly and correctly from behind a mask of corporate protocol and 
clenched teeth.  Fair enough, Gonzales had thought:  the man's 
operation was suspect, and him along with it.  Anyway, people 
resented these outside intrusions almost every time; representing 
Internal Affairs, Gonzales answered only to his division head, 
F.L. Traynor, and SenTrax Board, and that made almost everyone 

"You leaving out of Myaung U Airport?" Grossback asked.

"No, I've asked for a pick-up south of town."  Like anyone 
else who could arrange it, he was not going to fly out of Pagan's 
official airport, where partisan groups had several times brought 
down aircraft.  Surely Grossback knew that.

Grossback asked, "What will your report say?"

Surprised, Gonzales said, "You know I can't tell you anything 
about that."  Even mentioning the matter constituted an 
embarrassment, not to mention a reportable violation of corporate 
protocol.  The man was either stupid or desperate.

"You haven't found anything," Grossback said.

What was his problem?  Gonzales said, "I have a year's data 
to examine before I can make an assessment."

"You won't tell me what the preliminary report will look 
like," Grossback said.  His face had gone cold.

"No," said Gonzales.  He stood and said, "I have to finish 
packing."  For the moment, he just wanted to get out before 
Grossback did something irretrievable, like threatening him or 
offering a bribe.  "Goodbye," Gonzales said.  The other man said 
nothing as Gonzales left the room.

Gonzales returned to the Thiripyitsaya Hotel, a collection of 
low bungalows fabricated from bamboo and ferro-concrete that stood 
above the Irrawady River.  The rooms were afflicted by Myanmar's 
tattered version of Asian tourist decor:  lacquered bamboo on the 
walls, along with leaping dragon holos, black teak dresser, 
tables, chairs, and bed frame, ceiling fans that had wandered in 
from the twentieth centuryjust to give your average citizen that 
rush of the Exotic East, Gonzales figured.  However, the hotel had 
been rebuilt less than a decade before, so, by local standards, 
Gonzales had luxury:  working climatizer, microwave, and 

Of course, many nights the air conditioner didn't work, and 
Gonzales lay sweaty and semi-conscious through hot, humid nights 
then was greeted just after dawn by lizards fanning their ruby 
neck flaps and doing push ups.

He had gotten up several of those mornings and walked the 
cart paths that threaded the plains around Pagan, passing among 
the temples and pagodas as the sun rose and turned the morning 
mist into a huge veil of luminous pink, with the towers sticking 
up like fairy castles.  Everywhere around Pagan were the temples, 
thousands of them, young and flourishing when William the 
Conqueror was king.  Now, quick-fab structures housing government 
agencies nested among thousand year old pagodas, some in near 
perfect condition, like Thatbyinnu Temple, myriad others no more 
than ruins and forgotten names.  You gained merit by building 
pagodas, not by keeping up those built by someone long dead.

Like some other Southeast Asian countries, Myanmar still was 
trying to recover from late-twentieth century politics; in 
Myanmar's case, its decades-long bout with round-robin military 
dictatorships and the chaos that came in their wake.  And as was 
so often the case in politically wobbly countries, it still 
restricted access to the worldnet; through various kinds of 
governments, its leaders had found the prospect of free 
information flow unacceptable.  Ka-band antennas were expensive, 
their use licensed by permits almost impossible to get.  As a 
result, Gonzales and the memex had been like meat eaters stranded 
among vegetarians, unable to get their nourishment.

He'd taken down the memex that morning.  Its functions 
dormant, it lay nestled inside one of his two fiber and aluminum 
shock-cases, ready for transport. The other case held memory boxes 
containing SenTrax Myanmar group's records.

When they got home, Gonzales would tell the memex the latest 
news about Grossback, how the man had cracked at the last moment.  
Gonzales was sure the m-i would think what he didGrossback was 
dog dirty and scared they would find it.

At the edge of a sandy field south of Pagan, Gonzales waited 
for his plane.  Gonzales wore his usual international traveller's 
mufti, a tan gabardine two-piece suit over an open-collared white 
linen shirt, dark brown slipover shoes.  His hair was gathered 
back into a ponytail held together by a silver ring made from 
lizard figures joined head-to-tail.  Next to him sat a soft brown 
leather bag and the two shock-cases.

In front of him a pagoda climbed in a series of steeples to a 
gilded and jeweled umbrella top, pointing to heaven.  On its 
steps, beside the huge paw of a stone lion, a monk sat in full 
lotus, his face shadowed by the animal rising massive and lumpy 
and mock fierce above him.  The lion's flanks were dyed orange by 
sunset, its lips stained the color of dried blood.  The minutes 
passed, and the monk's voice droned, his face in shadow.        

"Come tour the temples of ancient Pagan," a voice said.  
"Shwezigon, Ananda, Thatbyinnu"

"Go away," Gonzales said to the tour cart that had rolled up 
behind him.  It would hold two dozen or so passengers in eight 
rows of narrow wooden benches but was now emptyalmost all the 
tourists would have joined the crush on the terraces of 
Thatbyinnu, where they could watch the sun set over the temple 

"Last tour of the day," the cart said.  "Very cheap, also 
very good exchange rate offered as courtesy to visitors."

It wanted to exchange kyats for dollars or yen:  in Myanmar, 
even the machines worked the black market.  "No thanks."

"Extremely good rate, sir."

"Fuck off," Gonzales said.  "Or I'll report you as 
defective."  The cart whirred as it moved away.
Gonzales watched a young monk eyeing him from the other side 
of the road, ready to come across and beg for pencils or money.  
Gonzales caught the monk's eye and shook his head.  The monk 
shrugged and walked on, his orange robe billowing.

Where the hell was his plane?  Soon hunter flares would cut 
into the new moon's dark, and government drones would scurry 
around the edges of the shadows like huge mutant bats.  Upcountry 
Myanmar trembled on the edge of chaos, beset by a multi-ethnic mix 
of Karens, Kachins, and Shans in various political postures, all 
fierce, all contemptuous of the central government.  They fought 
with whatever was at hand, from sharpened stick to backpack 
missile, and they only quit when they died.

A high-pitched wail built quickly until it filled the air.  
Within seconds a silver swing-wing, an ungainly thing, each huge 
rectangular wing loaded with a bulbous, oversized engine pod, came 
low over the dark mass of forest.  Its running lights flashing red 
and yellow, the swing-wing slewed to a stop above the field, wings 
tilting to the perpendicular and engine sound dropping into the 
bass.  Its spots picked out a ten-meter circle of white light that 
the aircraft dropped into, blowing clouds of sand that swept over 
Gonzales in a whirlwind.  The inverted fans' roar dropped to a 
whisper, and with a creak the plane kneeled on its gear, placing 
the cockpit almost on the ground.  Gonzales picked up his bags and 
walked toward the plane.  A ladder unfolded with a hydraulic hiss, 
and Gonzales stepped up and into the plane's bubble.

"Mikhail Gonzales?" the pilot asked.  His multi-function 
flight glasses were tilted back on his forehead, where their 
mirrored ovoid lenses made a blank second pair of eyes; a thin 
strand of black fiberoptic cable trailed from their rim.  Beneath 
the glasses, his thin face was brown and seamedno cosmetic work 
for this guy, Gonzales thought.  The man wore a throwaway 
"tropical" shirt with dancing pink flamingos on a navy blue 

"That's me," Gonzales said.  He gestured with the shock-case 
in his right hand, and the pilot toggled a switch that opened the 
luggage locker.  Gonzales put his bags into the steel compartment 
and watched as the safety net pulled tight against the bags and 
the compartment door closed.  He took a seat in the first of eight 
empty rows behind the pilot.  Cushions sighed beneath him, and 
from the seatback in front of him a feminine voice said, "You 
should engage your harness.  If you need instructions, please say 
so now."

Gonzales snapped closed the trapezoidal catch where shoulder 
and lap belts connected, then stretched against the harness, 
feeling the sweat dry on his skin in the plane's cool interior.  
"Thank you," said the voice.

The pilot was speaking to Myaung U Airport traffic control as 
the plane lifted into twilight over the city.  The soft white glow 
from the dome light vanished, then there were only the last 
moments of orange sunlight coming through the bubble.

The temple plain was spread out beneath, all murk and shadow, 
with the temple and pagoda spires reaching up toward the light, 
white stucco and gold tinted red and orange.

"Man, that's a beautiful sight," the pilot said.

"You're right," Gonzales said.  It was, but he'd seen it 
before, and besides, it had already been a long day.

The pilot flipped his glasses down, and the plane banked left 
and headed south along the river.  Gonzales lay back in his seat 
and tried to relax.

They flew above black water, following the Irrawady River 
until they crossed an international flyway to Bangkok.  Dozing in 
the interior darkness, Gonzales was almost asleep when he heard 
the pilot say, "Shit, somebody's here.  Partisan attack group, 
probablyno recognition codes.  Must be flying ultralightsour 
radar didn't see them.  We've got an image now, though."

"Any problem?" Gonzales asked.

"Just coming for a look.  They don't bother foreign 
charters."  And he pointed to their transponder message flashing 
above the primary displays:
It would keep on repeating until they crossed into Thai airspace.

The flight computer display lit bright red with COLLISION 
WARNING, and a Klaxon howl filled the plane's interior.  The 
pilot said, "Fuck, they launched!"  The swing-wing's turbines 
screamed full out as the plane's computer took command, and the 
pilot's hands gripped his yoke, not guiding, just hanging on.

Gonzales's straps pulled tight as the plane tumbled and fell, 
corkscrewed, looped, climbed againsmart metal fish evading fiery 
harpoons.  Explosions blossomed in the dark, quick asymmetrical 
bursts of flame followed immediately by hard thumping sounds and 
shock waves that knocked the swing-wing as it followed its chaotic 
path through the night.

Then an aircraft appeared, flaring in fire that surged around 
it, its pilot in blazing outlinea stick figure with arms thrown 
to the sky in the instant before pilot and aircraft disintegrated 
in flame.

Their own flight went steady and level, and control returned 
to the pilot's yoke.  Gonzales's shocked retinas sparkled as the 
night returned to blackness.  "Collision averted," the plane's 
computer said.  "Time in red zone, six point eight nine seconds."

"What the hell?" Gonzales said.  "What happened?"

"Holy Jesus motherfucker," the pilot said.

Gonzales sat gripping his seat, chilled by the blast of cold 
air from the plane's air conditioner onto his sweat-soaked shirt.  
He glanced down to his lap:  no, he hadn't pissed himself.  
Really, everything happened too quickly for him to get that 

A Mitsubishi-McDonnell "Loup Garou" warplane dived in front 
of them and circled in slow motion.  Like the ultralights it was 
cast in matte black, but with a massive fuselage.  It turned a 
slow barrel roll as it circled them, lazy predator looping fat, 
slow prey, then turned on brilliant floods that played across 
their canopy.

The pilot and Gonzales both froze in the glare.

Then the Loup Garou's black cockpit did a reverse-fade; 
behind the transparent shell Gonzales saw the mirror-visored 
pilot, twin cables running from the base of his neck.  The Loup 
Garou's wings slid forward into reverse-sweep, and it stood on its 
tail and disappeared.

Gonzales strained against his taut harness.

"Assholes!" the pilot screamed.

"Who was that?" Gonzales asked, his voice thin and shaking.  
"What do you mean?"

"The Myanmar Air Force," the pilot said, his voice tight, 
face red beneath the flight glasses' mirrors. "They set us up, the 
pricks.  They used us to troll for a guerrilla flight."  The pilot 
flipped up his glasses and stared with pointless intensity out the 
cockpit window, as if he could see through the blackness.  "And 
waited," he said.  "Waited till they had the whole flight."  The 
pilot swiveled around abruptly and faced Gonzales, his features 
distorted into a mad and angry caricature of the man who had 
welcomed Gonzales ninety minutes before.  "Do you know how fucking 
close we came?" he asked.

No, Gonzales shook his head.  No.

"Milliseconds, man.  Fucking milliseconds.  Close enough to 
touch," the pilot said.  He swiveled his seat to face forward, and 
Gonzales heard its locking mechanism click as he settled back into 
his own seat, fear and shame spraying a wild neurochemical mix 
inside his brain        

Gonzales had never felt things like this beforedeath down 
his spine and up his gut, up his throat and nose, as close as his 
skin; death with a bad smell  burning, burning   

2. Anything I Can Do to Help You

As the morning passed, the sun moved away from the stained 
glass, and the room's interior went to gloom.  Only monitor lights 
remained lit, steady rows of green above flickering columns of 
numbers on the light blue face of the monitor panel.

A housekeeping robot, a pod the size of a large goose, worked 
slowly across the floor, nuzzled into the room's corners, then 
left the room, its motion tentacles beneath it making a sound like 
wind through dry grass.

The cockpit display flashed as landing codes fed through the 
flight computer, then the swing-wing locked into the Bangkok 
landing grid and began its slide down an invisible pipe.  They 
went to touchdown guided by electronic hands.

The pilot turned to Gonzales as they descended and said, 
"I'll have to file a report on the attack.  But you're luckyif 
we had landed in Myanmar, government investigators would have been 
on you like white on rice, and you could forget about leaving for 
days, maybe weeks.  You're okay now:  by the time they process the 
report and ask the Thais to hold you, you'll be gone."

At the moment, the last thing Gonzales wanted to do was spend 
any time in Myanmar.  "I'll get out as quickly as I can," he said.

Now that it was all over, he could feel the Fear climbing in 
him like the onset of a dangerous drug.  Trying to calm himself, 
he thought, really, nothing happened, except you got the shit 
scared out of you, that's all.

As the swing-wing settled on the pad, Gonzales stood and went 
to pick up his luggage from the open baggage hold.  The pilot sat 
watching as the plane went through its shutdown procedures.

Do something, Gonzales said to himself, feeling panic mount.  
He pulled the memex's case out of the hold and said, "I want a 
copy of your flight records."

"I can't do that."

"You can.  I'm working with Internal Affairs, and I was 
almost killed while flying in your aircraft."

"So was I, man."

"Indeed.  But I need this data.  Later, IA will go the full 
official route and pick everything up, but I need it now.  A quick 
dump into my machine here, that's all it will take.  I'll give you 
authorization and receipt."  Gonzales waited, keeping the pressure 
on by his insistent gaze and posture.

The pilot said, "Okay, that ought to cover my ass."

Gonzales slid the shock-case next to the pilot's seat, 
kneeled and opened the lid.  "Are you recording?" he asked the 

The man nodded and said, "Always."

"That's what I thought.  All right, then:  for the record, 
this is Mikhail Mikhailovitch Gonzales, senior employee of 
Internal Affairs Division, SenTrax.  I am acquiring flight records 
of this aircraft to assist in my investigation of certain events 
that occurred during its most recent flight."  He looked at the 
pilot.  "That should do it," he said.

He pulled out a data lead from the case and snapped it into 
the access plug on the instrument panel.  Lights flashed across 
the panel as data began to spool into the quiescent memex.  The 
panel gonged softly to signal transfer was complete, and Gonzales 
unplugged the lead and closed the case.  "Thanks," he said to the 
pilot, who sat staring out the cockpit bubble.

Gonzales stood and patted the case and thought to himself, 
hey, memex, got a surprise for you when you wake up.  He felt much 

A carry-slide hauled Gonzales a mile or so through a 
brightly-lit tunnel with baby blue plastic and plaster walls 
marked with signs in half a dozen languages promising swift 
retribution for vandalism.  Red and green virus graffiti smeared 
everything, signs included, and as Gonzales watched, messages in 
Thai and Burmese transmuted, and new stick figures emerged with 
dialogue balloons saying god knows what.  A lone phrase in red 
paint read in English, HEROIN ALPHA DEVIL FLOWER.  Shattered 
boxes of black fibroid or coarse sprays of multi-wire cable marked 
where surveillance cameras had been.

Grey floor-to-ceiling steel shutters blocked the narrow 
portal to International Arrivals and Departures.  Faceless 
holoscan robotsdark, wheeled cubes with carbon-fiber armor and 
tentacles and spiked sensor antennasworked the crowd, antennas 

All around were Asian travelers, dark-suited men and women:  
Japanese, Chinese, Malaysians, Indonesians, Thai.  They spread out 
from Asia's "dragons," world centers of research and 
manufacturing, taking their low margins and hard sell to Europe 
and the Americas, where consumption had become a way of life.  
Everywhere Gonzales traveled, it seemed, he found them:  cadres 
armed with technical and scientific prowess and fueled by 
persistent ambition.

They formed the steel core of much of the world's prosperity.  
The United States and the dragons lived in uneasy symbiosis:  the 
Asians had a hundred ways of making sure the American economy 
didn't just roll over and die and take the prime North American 
consumer market with it.  Whether Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, 
Hong Kong Chinese-Canadiansthey bought some corporations and 
merged with others, and Americans ended up working for General 
Motors Fanuc, Chrysler Mitsubishi, or Daewoo-DEC, and with their 
paychecks they bought Japanese memexes, Korean autos, Malaysian 

Shutter blades cranked open with a quick scream of metal, and 
Gonzales stepped inside.  An Egyptian guard in a white headdress, 
blue-and-white checked headband, and gray U.N. drag cross-checked 
his i.d., gave a quick, meaningless smileteeth white and perfect 
under a black moustacheand waved him on.

Southeast Asian Faction Customs waited in the form of a small 
Thai woman in a brown uniform with indecipherable scrawls across 
yellow badges.  Her features were pleasant and impassive; she wore 
her black hair pulled tightly back and held with a clear plastic 
comb.  She stood behind a gray metal table; on the floor next to 
it was a two-meter high general purpose scanner, its controls, 
screens, and read-outs hidden under a black cloth hood.  Dirty 
green walls wore erratically-spaced signs in a dozen languages, 
detailing in small type the many categories of contraband.

The woman motioned for him to sit in the upright chair in 
front of the table, then for him to put his clothes bag and cases 
on the table.

She spoke, and the translator box at her waist echoed in 
clear, neuter machine English:  "Your person has been scanned and 
cleared."  She put the soft brown bag into the mouth of the 
scanner, and the machine vetted the bag with a quiet beep.  The 
woman slid it back to Gonzales.

She spoke again, and the translator said, "Please open these 
cases" as she pointed toward the two shock-cases.  For each, 
Gonzales screened the access panel with his left hand and tapped 
in the entry codes with his right.  The case lids lifted with a 
soft sigh.  Inside the cases, monitor and diagnostic lights 
flashed above rows of memory modules, heavy solids of black 
plastic the size of a small safety deposit box.

Gonzales saw she was holding a copy of the Data Declaration 
Form the memex had filled out in Myanmar and transmitted to both 
Myanmar and Thai governments.  She looked into one of the cases 
and pointed to a row of red-tagged and sealed memory modules.

The translator's words followed behind hers and said, "These 
modules we must hold to verify that they contain no contraband 

"Myanmar customs did so.  These are SenTrax corporate 

"Perhaps they are.  We have not cleared them."

"If you wish, I will give you the access protocols.  I have 
nothing to hide, but the modules are important to my work."

She smiled.  "I do not have proper equipment.  They must be 
examined by authorities in the city."  The translator's tones 
accurately reflected her lack of concern.

Gonzales sensed the onset of severe bureaucratic 
intransigence.  For whatever occult reasons, this woman had 
decided to fuck him around, and the harder he pushed, the worse 
things would be.  Give it up, then.  He said, "I assume they will 
be returned to me as soon as possible."

"Certainly.  After careful examination.  Though it is 
unlikely that the examination can be completed before your 
departure."  She slid the case off her desk and to the floor 
behind it.  She was smiling again, a satisfied bureaucrat's smile.  
She turned back to her console, Gonzales's case already a thing of 
the past.  She looked up to see him still standing there and said, 
"How else can I help you?"

The machine-world began to disperse, turning to fog, and as 
it did, banks of low-watt incandescents lit up around the room's 
perimeter, and the patterns of console lights went through a 
series of rapid permutations as Gonzales was brought to a waking 
state.  The room's lights had been full up for an hour when the 
desynching series was complete and the egg began to split.

Inside the egg Gonzales lay pale, nude, near-comatose, 
machine-connected:  a new millennium Snow White.  A flesh-colored 
catheter led from his water-shrunken genitals, transparent iv 
feeds from both forearms.  White sealant and anti-irritant paste 
had clotted around the tubes from throat and mouth.  The sharp 
ozone smell of the paste was all over him.

An autogurney had rolled next to the egg, and its hands, 
shining chrome claws, began disconnecting tubes and leads.  Then 
it worked with hands and black flexible arms the thickness of a 
stout rope to lift Gonzales from the egg and onto its own surface.

Gonzales woke up in his own bedroom and began to whimper.  
"It's okay," the memex whispered through the room's speaker.  
"It's okay."    

Some time later Gonzales awoke again, lay in gloom and 
considered his condition.  Some nausea, legs weak, but no apparent 
loss of gross motor control, no immediate parapsychological 
effects (disorientations, amnesias, synesthesias) 

Gonzales got up and went to the bathroom, stood amid white 
tile, polished aluminum and mirrors and said, "Warm shower."  
Water hissed, and the shower stall door swung open.  The water ran 
down his skin and the sweat and paste rolled off his body.   

3. Dancing in the Dark

The next morning, Gonzales stood looking out his front 
window, down Capital Hill to the city and the bay.  After a full 
night's sleep, he felt recovered from the egg.  "Halfway down the 
hill stood a row of Contempo high-riseshalf a dozen shapes in 
the mist, their sides laced with optic fiber in patterns of red, 
blue, white, and yellow.

>From the wallscreen behind him, a voice said, "The Fine Arts 
Network, showing today only:  the legendary 'Rothschild Ads
Originals and Copies,' a Euro/Com Production from the Cannes 
Festival; also showing, NipponAuto's 'Ecstasy for Many 

"Cycle," Gonzales said.  He turned to watch as the screen 
split into windows, showing eight at a time in a random access 
search.  In the screen's upper-right corner, the Headline Service 
cycled what it considered important:  worsening social collapse in 
England; another series of politico-economic triumphs for The Two 
Koreas.  And the Ecostate Summaries:  ozone hole #2 over the 
Antarctic conforming to predicted self-repair curve, hole #3 
obstinately holding steady; CO2 portions unstable, ozone reaching 
for an ugly part of the graph; temperature fluctuations continuing 
to evade best predictions 

Why call it news? wondered Gonzales. Call it olds. Christ, 
this stuff had been going on forever it seemed 

He said, "Memex, what do you think about the attack?"

"A bad business," said the memex.  "We are lucky to have 
survived." It seemed a bit subdued in the aftermath of the trip in 
the egg, as though it, too, had come close to dying.  Gonzales 
didn't know how it experienced such things, given its limited 
sensory modalities and, he presumed, lack of a fear of death.

"What's happening in the real world?" Gonzales asked.

"Your mother left a message for you.  Do you want to look at 
it now?"

"Might as well."

On the screen she lay back in a lawn chair, her face hidden 
behind a sun mask, her mono-bikinied body a rich brown.  She sat 
up and said, "Still in Myanmar, huh, sweetie?  When are you coming 
back?  I'd love to talk, but I just won't pay those rates."

She removed her sun mask.  She had dark skin and good bones; 
her face was nearly unlined, though her skin had the faint 
parchment quality of age.  Her small breasts sagged very little.  
Body and face, she appeared an athletic fifty year old who had 
perhaps seen too much sun.  She would turn eighty-seven next 

Since Gonzales's father had died in a flash flu epidemic 
while the two were visiting Naples, his mother had turned her 
energies and interests to maintaining her health and appearance.  
Half the year she spent in Cozumel's Regeneration Villas, where 
tissue transplants and genetic retailoring kept her young.  The 
rest of the time she occupied an entire floor of a low-res condo 
on Florida's decaying Gold Coast, just north of Ciudad de Miami.  
Top dollar, but she could afford it.

She and his father had been charter members of the 
gerontocracy, that ever-expanding league of the rich and old who 
vied with the young for their society's resources.  The young had 
the strength and energy of youth; the old had wealth, power and 
cunning.  No contest:  kids under thirty often stated their main 
life's goal as "living until I am old enough to enjoy it."

Gonzales's mother draped a blue-and-white print cotton-robe 
over her shoulders and said, "Call me.  I'll be home in a week or 
so.  Be well."

Their talks, her taped messagesboth usually made him feel 
baffled and angrybut today her self-absorption pricked sharper 
than usual.  I almost died, he wanted to tell her, they almost 
killed me, mother.

But he was far away from her, as far as Seattle was from 
Miami.  And whose fault is that? a small voice asked.  He had 
chosen to come here, as distant Southern Florida as he could get 
and remain in the continental United States.  Sometimes he felt 
he'd come a bit too far.  In Florida, people cooled down with 
alcohol in iced drinks; here, they warmed their chilly selves with 
strong coffee.  Gonzales often felt lost among the glum and 
health-conscious Northerners and craved the Hispanic sensuality 
and demonstrativeness of Southern Florida.

Still, how he hated the world he'd grown up in.  He had seen 
the movers, dealers, and players since he was a child, and in all 
of them he had felt the same obsessive grasping at money and land 
and power and had heard the same childish voices, wanting more 
more more.  At his parents' parties, he remembered dark Southern 
Florida facessun-burned whites, blacks, Hispanics; men with 
heavy gold jewelry, trailing clouds of expensive cologne, and 
women with stiff hair and pushed-up breasts whose laughter made 
brittle footnotes to the men's loud voices.  He'd fled all that as 
instinctively as a child yanks its hand from a fire.

Both there and here he stood in an alien land, no more at 
home at one end of the country than the other.

"No reply," Gonzales said.

The next day Gonzales sat in the solarium, where he lounged 
among black lacquer and etched glass while thoughts of death 
gnawed at the edges of his torpor.  He filled a bronze pipe with 
small green sensemilla leaves and holed up in a haze of smoke and 
drank tea.

The late afternoon light through the windows went to pure 
Seattle Gray, the color of ennui and unemphatic despair, and his 
solitude became oppressive. He needed company, he thought, and 
wondered what it would be like to have a cat.  Then he thought 
about the truth of it, how often he would be gone and the cat left 
to itself and the house's machines.  "Here kitty kitty," the 
cleaning robot would say, and the memex would want veterinary 
programs and a diagnostic link  fuck it, they all could live 
without a cat.

Then a hunger kick came on him, and he decided to make 
taboulleh.  "You are not taking care of business," the memex said 
to Gonzales as he stood chopping mint leaves, green onions and 
tomato, squeezing lemon and stirring in bulgur wheat with the 
patience of the deeply-stoned.

"True," Gonzales said.  "I'm in no hurry."

"Why not?  Since your return from Asia, you have not been 

"I'm going to die, my friend."  The smells of lemon and mint 
drifted up to him, and he inhaled them deeply.  He said, "Today, 
maana, some day for sure  and I'm still trying to understand 
what that means to me now.  To be productive, that is fine, but to 
come to terms with my own mortality  I think that is better."  
The taboulleh was finished.  It was beautiful; he wanted to rub 
his face in it.

Not long after he finished eating, a package arrived from 
Thailand.  Inside layers of foam and strapping were the memory 
modules the Thais had taken.  When he plugged the modules into the 
memex, they showed empty:  zeroed, ready to be used again.

Gonzales stood looking at the racked modules in the memex 
closet.  I can't fucking believe it, he thought.  In effect, the 
audit had been cancelled out.  Whatever data he or anyone else 
collected at this point from SenTrax Myanmar would be essentially 
useless, Grossback having been given time to cook the data if he 
needed to do so.  A fatal indeterminacy had settled on the whole 

Grossback, you bastard, thought Gonzales.  If you arranged 
for the Thais to grab these boxes, maybe you are smarter and 
meaner than I thought.

"Shit," Gonzales said.

"Is there anything I can do?" the memex asked.

"Nothing I can think of."

>From the background of jungle plants and pastel walls and the 
signature pieces of curved silver, HeyMex recognized the latest 
incarnation of the Beverly Rodeo Hotel's public lounge.  Mister 
Jones preferred ostentation, even in simulacra.

HeyMex settled into a sling chair made of bright chrome and 
stuffed chocolate-brown leather.  HeyMex wore the usual baggy 
pants and jacket of black cotton, a crumpled white linen shirt; 
was smooth-faced and had close-cropped hair.

A figure shimmered into being in the chair opposite:  silver 
suit and red metal-laced shirt brilliant under lights; black-
framed glasses with dark lenses; greased hair combed straight 
back, a little black goatee and moustache.

"Mister Jones," HeyMex said.

The other figure took a long, slow drag off a brown 
cigarette.  "HeyMex," it said.  "What can I do for you?"

"It's Gonzales.  Since we got back from Myanmar, he's been 
passive, hasn't been taking care of business."

"Post-trauma responsegive him some time, he'll be okay."

"No, he doesn't need time.  He needs work.  Have you got 

"Maybe.  I haven't run a personnel searchhe might not fit 
the exact profile."

"Never mind that.  Give it to Gonzales.  He needs it."

"If you say so.  You'll hear something official later today."

The world went translucent, then turned to smoke, and Mister 
Jones disappeared back into his identity as Traynor's Advisor, 
HeyMex into his as Gonzales's memex.

(Ask yourself why the two machines chose this elaborate 
masquerade, or why no one knew these sorts of things were 
happening.  However, as to the who? and the why? there can be no 
question.  These are the new players, and these are their games.

So welcome to the new millennium.)

4. Privileged Not to Exist

When Gonzales returned home, he found a message from Traynor:  
"Will arrange for transportation tomorrow morning, five a.m., from 
Northern Seattle Airtrack to my estate.  Be prepared for immediate 
work.  Pack the memex and twenty-two kilos personal luggage."

"Shit," Gonzales said.  "We just got home.  Twenty-two kilos, 
huh?  That means we'll be going  where do you think?"

The memex said, "Somewhere in orbit."

The airport limo held its spot in a locked sequence of a 
dozen vehicles moving away from the city at two hundred kilometers 
an hour.  Seattle's northern suburbs showed as patches of light 
behind shifting mist and steady-falling rain.  Overhead, cargo 
blimps flying toward Vancouver moved through the clouds like great 
cold water fish.

Gonzales got a quick view of a square where white and yellow 
searchlights played across a concrete landscape, and a gangling 
assemblage of pipe and wire stepped crab-wise as it sprayed a 
brick wall:  a graffiti robot, a machine built and set loose to 
scrawl messages to the world at large.  Gonzales could only read  

With a sigh from its turbines, the limo slowed to exit into 
North Seattle Airtrack, then turned into the private field access 
road.  A wire gate opened in front of them as it received the 
codes the limo sent.  Near the SenTrax hangar waited a swing-wing 
exactly like the one that had taken Gonzales from Pagan to 
Bangkok.  Gonzales climbed into the plane, placed his bag and the 
memex's shock-cases into the plane's baggage locker, seated 
himself, and pulled his shoulder harness tight.

The swing-wing rose into clouds and fog.  After a while, the 
blank whiteness out the windows and steady noise of the swing-
wing's engines lulled Gonzales into a light sleep that lasted 
until the ascending scream of engine noise told him they were 

As the plane tilted, Gonzales saw the blue sheet of Lake 
Tahoe stretching away to the south, then a patch of green lawn on 
the water's edge that grew bigger as the swing-wing made its final 

pproach to Traynor's estate.

>From his six years' work with Internal Affairs, the past two 
as independent auditor, Gonzales knew quite a bit about Frederick 
Lewis Traynor, his boss.  Traynor had wealth sufficient for even 
the most extravagant tastesit was his family's, and he had known 
nothing elsebut power whose smallest touch could shape lives, 
imprint stone, that he longed for.  From his position as head of 
Internal Affairs, one of SenTrax's most powerful divisions, he 
plotted ascent to the SenTrax Board; he wanted to be one of the 
twenty people who had moved beyond negotiation and compromise, 
whose desires were reality, whims action.

In fact, Traynor had already achieved a level of eminence 
that is privileged, when it wishes, not to exist. His house and 
land occupied a chunk of the North Shore of Lake Tahoe where there 
had once been two casino-hotels and a section of state highway.  
The hotels had been demolished, the highway diverted.  The grounds 
were now surrounded by a four-meter high fence of slatted black 
steelalarmed, hot-wired, and robot-patrolled.  The estate showed 
on no map or record of purchase, ownership or taxation; neither 
did the man himself.

When Gonzales stepped out of the plane onto a great expanse 
of green lawn, Traynor waited to meet him.  He was short and 
pudgy, and his skin was pale.  His sparse hair lay limp in dark 
curls on his skull.  On his feet were soft black slippers, and he 
wore an embroidered silk robegreen and blue and white and red, 
with rearing dragons across back and front.  He thought of himself 
as Byroniceccentric and interesting, afflicted by geniusbut to 
Gonzales and many others he appeared simply petulant and self-

Traynor stretched his arms wide and said, "Mikhail," giving 
the name three syllables, saying it right, then took Gonzales in a 
brief hug.  Traynor then stood back and looked at him and said, 
"You don't look too bad."

"Is that why you brought me here, to look at me?"

Traynor shrugged.  "For that, maybe, and to talk to you about 
your next job.  Besides, I like you."

Gonzales supposed that Traynor did like him, in his peculiar 
boss's and rich man's way.  Particularly, he seemed to like the 
fact that Gonzales wasn't awed by the outward and visible 
manifestations of his money and power.

"Good breeding," Traynor had said to him once.  "That's your 
secret:  patrician and plebian blood mixed."  Mikhail 
Mikhailovitch Gonzales was of mixed blood indeed; among others, 
Russian Jews and Hispanics from Los Angeles on his mother's side, 
Blacks from Chicago and Cubans from Miami on his father's.  Among 
his family background were slaves and field workers and bourgeois 
counter-revolutionaries, along with the odd artist and smuggler 
and con man.

However, whatever his breeding or experience, he had to put 
up with lots of cheerful, condescending bullshit from Traynor, as 
he had to put up with Traynor in general, because the man was rich 
and powerful and the boss, and neither of them ever forgot it.

The two walked toward the house that stood facing the lake at 
the lawn's far border, a Stately Home an idealized eighteenth-
century English architect might have built for an equally 
idealized and indulgent patron.  Off a golden domed center stood 
three wings of creamy stone, the whole in restrained neo-Palladian 
with no modern excesses of material, no foamed colored concrete 
and composites, just the tan and creamy sandstone and rose marble 
speaking wealth and taste.

They climbed up marble stairs and passed into the house and 
under a looming interior dome that soared high above the central 
rotunda where the house's three wings joined.  They walked down a 
hallway of dark wainscoting below cream walls and ceiling.

Gonzales caught glimpses of side rooms through open doorways 
as they passed.  One room appeared to front upon a night filled 
with swirling nebulae and a million stars, the next on sunshine 
and dazzling snows.  Still another contained nothing but white 
walls, floors of polished marble and a five-meter hand centered 
motionless in mid-airindex finger extended, other three fingers 
curled against the palm, thumb erect on top like the hammer of a 
make-believe gun.

Mahogany doors parted in front of the two men, and they  
passed into the library.  Its dark-paneled walls gave away 
nothing:  even close up, the books might have been holo-fronts, 
might have been real.  Flat data entry modules were laid into 
mahogany side tables that stood next to red leather easy chairs 
and maroon velour couches.

"Sit down, Mikhail," Traynor said.

Gonzales could feel the silence heavy and somber among the 
dark invocations of another time, leather and furnishings 
conjuring up men's clubs, smoking rooms, the somber whispers of 
deals going down.

Traynor's eyes lost focus as he went rapt, listening to his 
voice within.  Even if he hadn't been aware of Traynor's 
dependence on his Advisor, Gonzales would have known what was 
happening.  Traynor, higher up in the executive food chain than 
anyone else of Gonzales's acquaintance, needed permanent real-time 
access to the information, advice, and general emotional support 
his Advisor supplied, so Traynor was wired with a bone-set 
transceiver just under his left ear.  Wherever he went, his 
Advisor's voice went with him, through cellular networks and 
satellite links.

Traynor finally looked up and said, "Look, I want you to get 
focused on a job you're going to do for me.  Can you do that?"  
Gonzales shrugged.  Traynor said, "You're upset and angryyou 
were attacked, almost killedI know that.  But look:  you work 
for Internal Affairs, it's an occupational hazard.  You and your 
machine poked hard at this man's operation, and you spooked him, 
so he did something stupid."

"And I want to make him pay for it."

"You play along with me on this one, and maybe you'll be able 
to.  But laternow I've got other work for you."

"Okay, I'll do it."  Gonzales knew he had to play along:  it 
was his only chance to even things up with Grossback.  Play now, 
pay back later.

"Good," Traynor said.  "How much do you know about Halo City 
and Aleph?"

"The city was put together by a multi-national consortium.  
SenTrax has a data monopoly, employs a large-scale m-i to 
administer the city.  That's about all I know."

The wallscreen at one end lit up with a glyph in hard black:

The voice of Traynor's Advisor spoke through a ceiling 
speaker; it said, "The sign you are looking at is the original 
emblem of the Aleph system when it was built by SenTrax.  In 
Cantor's notation, it represents the first of the transfinite 
numbersdenoting the infinite set of integers and fractions, or 
natural numbers.  Aleph is also the first letter of the Hebrew 
alphabet and the name of a story"

"Get on with it," Traynor said.

"The system was constructed at Athena Station, in 
geosynchronous orbit, where it supervised the construction of the 
Orbital Energy Grid, and later was transported to Halo City, at 
L5, where it serves as the primary agent of data interpretation, 
logistical planning, and administration."

Gonzales said, "Seems odd to have a project the size and 
importance of Halo administered by an obsolete m-i."

"It would be so if Aleph were obsolete," answered the 
Advisor.  "However, this is not the case.  The machine we refer to 
as Aleph, has capabilities superior to any existing m-i."

Gonzales looked at Traynor, who held up a hand, indicating 
have patience, and said, "Next series."

On the screen came a pan shot across a weightless space where 
a man floated, encased in a transparent plastic bubble.  He was 
naked, and his limbs were shrunken and twisted.  He had tubes in 
his nose, mouth, ears, penis, and anus, metal cups over his eyes.  
Two thick cables connected to junctions at the back of his neck.

The Advisor said, "This man's name is Jerry Chapman.  He 
suffers from severe neural damage, the results of a toxin 
transmitted through seafood contaminated with toxic waste.  Though 
most motor and sensory functions are disabled, he is not comatose.  
In fact, he appears to retain all intellectual function.  Note the 
neural interface sockets:  they are the key to what follows."

"He's at Halo?" Gonzales asked.

"Yes," the Advisor said.  "He was taken there from Earth."

"Very special treatment," Gonzales said.

"The group at Halo has been looking for such an opportunity," 
the Advisor said.  "To explore long-term Aleph-interface."

Traynor said, "In fact, Chapman's relations with Aleph go 
back to the machine's early days."

The Advisor said, "When he and Aleph worked with Doctor Diana 
Heywood, who at the time was employed by SenTrax at Athena 
Station.  She was blind at that time."

"Even in this deck, Doctor Heywood's the joker," Traynor 
said.  "She was involved with Aleph at the time, and later she and 
lived with Chapman, on Earth.  She was released by SenTrax for 
unauthorized use of the Aleph system, but we've brought her back 
into our employ.  She's going to Halo, where she will assist Aleph 
in an attempt to keep this man alive."

"Alive?" Gonzales asked, gesturing toward the hulk on the 
screen.  "There doesn't seem much point."  As he understood these 
things, given the man's condition, withdrawal processing should 
have started, SenTrax as medical guardians making application to 
the Federal Medical Courts for permission to cease support.

The Advisor said, "Aleph believes it can keep him alive in 
machine-space.  There are special problems, as you can imagine, 
among them the need to have love, friendship  I do not understand 
these matters well, but Aleph has communicated to me that the next 
weeks are critical for the patient."

Traynor said, "However, using Doctor Heywood presents its own 

"She left SenTrax years ago," the Advisor said.  "In somewhat 
strained circumstances."

Traynor said, "So she has no reason to be loyal to the 
company."  He paused.  "And we have no reason to trust her."

Gonzales said, "I presume this is where I enter in?"

"Yes," Traynor said.  "I want you to accompany her.  You will 
represent me and, indirectly, SenTrax Board."  Gonzales raised his 
eyebrows, and Traynor laughed.  "Yes, I am representing the board 
on this one, unofficiallythey see this treatment as being of 
enormous interest but wish to have a certain insulation between 
them and these matters, given that certain tricky legal issues 
will have to be skirted."

"Or trampled on," said Gonzales.

"As you wish," said Traynor.  "The important point is this:  
from the board's point-of-view, Doctor Heywood cannot be trusted.

Gonzales said, "So you need a spy, and I'm it."

Traynor shrugged.

The Advisor said, "You represent properly vested interests in 
a situation where they would not otherwise be adequately 

Gonzales said, "That's a good one, 'represent properly vested 
interests.'  I'll try to remember it.  Okay, I'll do my best."  He 
turned to face Traynor and said, "To get you on the board."  
Traynor laughed.  Gonzales asked, "How long will this thing take?"

"Not too long," Traynor said.

The Advisor said, "Once Chapman's state has been stabilized

"Or he dies," Traynor said.

"Highly probable," said the Advisor.  "Once he is stable
alive or deadyour job will be finished."

Traynor said, "But until then, your job is to let me know 
what's happening.  You'll be in machine-space along with them, and 
you'll see what they're doing."

"Fine," Gonzales said. "So what do I do now?"

"You fly to Berkeley and talk to Doctor Heywood," Traynor 
said.  "Introduce yourself.  Make a friend."

5. So Come to Me, Then

Gonzales arrived at Berkeley Aeroport, a collection of 
cracked cement pads at the edge of the water, by mid-afternoon.  
He stepped out of the swing-wing into blazing sunshine.  Across 
the bay, the Golden Gate and Alcatraz Island danced in the glare; 
the water glittered so intensely his sunglasses went nearly black.

A Truesdale rental waited for him in the parking lot.  He 
stuck a SenTrax i.d./credit chip into its door slot, and the door 
retracted into its frame with a muted hiss.  The Truesdale's 
windows had opaqued against the dazzle, and its passive a/c had 
been working, so the dark brown velvet seat was cool to the touch 
when Gonzales slid across it.

"Do you wish to drive, Mister Gonzales?" the car asked.

Gonzales said, "Not really.  You know where we're going?"

"Yes, I have that address."

"Then you take it."

Diana Heywood lived in the Berkeley hills, in a Maybeck house 
more than a century old.  The car drove Gonzales through streets 
that wound their way up the hillside, then stopped in front of a 
house whose redwood-shingled bulk loomed over Gonzales's head as 
he stood on the sidewalk.  Sun glinted off the lozenged panes of 
its bay window.

Her door answered his knock by saying she was a few blocks 
away, at the Rose Gardens.  The door said, "It is a civic project:  
volunteers are rebuilding the garden, which has fallen into 
disuse.  Many of the local"

"Thank you," Gonzales said.

He told the Truesdale where he was going and set off on foot 
in the direction the memex had indicated.  To his left hand, 
streets and homes sloped down toward the bay; to his right, they 
climbed up the steep hillside.

Gonzales came to a hand-lettered sign in green poster paint 
on white board that read:
He looked down to where broken redwood lattices fanned out along 
terraced pathways threaded with a clumsy patchwork of green pvc 
irrigation pipes.  Halfway down stood a cracked and peeling 
trellis of white-painted wood with bushes dangling from its gaps. 
Next to the trellis, a small gardener robot, a green plastic-
coated block on miniature tractor wheels, extended a delicate arm 
of shining coiled steel ending in a ten-fingered fibroid hand.  
The hand closed, and a dark red rose came away from its bush.  
Clutching the blossom, the little robot wheeled away.
        Gonzales walked down the inclined pathway, his feet crunching 
on gravel, past the bushes and their labels stating often 
improbable names:  Dortmunds with red, papery petals, large Garden 
Parties flamboyant in white and yellow, Montezumas, Martin 
Frobishers, and Mighty Mouses.  He stopped and inhaled the strong 
perfume of purple Intrigue.  In the recombinant section, Halos, 
blossoms in careful rainbow stripes, had grown immense.  Giant 
psychedelic grids, only vaguely rose-shaped, they pushed 
everything else aside.  Gonzales put his nose above a pink blossom 
on a nameless bush; the rose smelled like peppermint candy.

He recognized the woman at the bottom of the path from 
dossier pictures Traynor had shown him.  Diana Heywood wore a 
culotte dress of white cotton that exposed her shoulders, wrapped 
tightly about her waist, split to cover her thighs.  Small and 
slender, she had close-cut dark hair, streaked with grey.  No age 
in her skin; fine, sculpted features.  She wore glasses as opaque 
as Gonzales's own.

She held out the thorny stem of a dark-red rose.  "Would you 
like a flower?" she asked.  Sun across her face erased her 

"Thanks," he said as he took the flower gingerly, aware of 
its thorns.

She said, "Who are you, and what do you want?"

"My name is Mikhail Gonzales, and I want to talk to you.  
I'll be working with you at Halo."

She said, "Will you?"  Her back to him, she knelt and snipped 
away a greenish tangle of vine and thorn.  The clippers choked on 
a clump of grass.  She freed them, then threw them to the ground, 
where they stuck point-first, buzzed for a moment, then stopped.  
She looked over her shoulder at him and said, "I've been waiting 
for someone like you to show upthe company's lad, the one who 
keeps watch on me and poor old Jerry, to make sure we don't do 
anything unauthorized."

She stood and strode away from him, up the hill, her angry 
steps kicking dirt off the stones.  She stopped and turned to face 
him.  "Come on, Mister Gonzales," she said.

Cautiously holding the thorny stem, he followed her up the 

Diana Heywood and Gonzales sat drinking tea.  He said, "I'm 
the outside observer, yesthe spy, if you wantbut I don't think 
we're at odds.  They're asking you to do one job, me to do 
another, but I don't see where our jobs conflict."  She turned to 
look at him; one eye was blue, the other green.

She said, "When Sentrax called me last week, that was the 
first time I'd heard from them since they got rid of me years ago.  
Not that they treated me badly, not by their standards.  When they 
fired me, years ago, they didn't just turn me loose, they paid me 
well  they're so prudentit was like oiling and wrapping a tool 
before you put it away, because you might need it again.  Now 
they've found a use for me and unwrapped me and put me to work, 
but I know they don't trust me.  And of course I don't trust 
them."  She stood up.  She said, "Come on, I'll show you what this 
all means to me."

She led Gonzales into the next room, where their entry 
triggered the lighting systems.  Silk walls the color of pale 
champagne were broken with floor-to-ceiling rosewood bookcases; 
teak-framed sling chairs and matching tables stood together under 
a multi-armed chrome lamp stand.

She stopped in front of a 1:6 scale hologram of a thin-
featured man, apparently ill at ease at being holoed; hands in 
pockets, shoulders hunched, eyes not centered on the lens.

"That's Jerry," she said, pointing to the hologram.  "He's 
what this is all about, so far as I'm concerned.  He's been 
terribly injured, and Aleph thinks something can be done for him, 
and as unlikely as that seems, given the extent of his injuries, I 
will help as best I can."  She looked at him, her face giving 
nothing away, and said, "Are we leaving tomorrow morning?"


"Well, then, I'd better get ready, hadn't I?  Where are you 

"I thought I'd get a hotel room."

"No need.  You can sleep here.  I'll finish packing, and 
we'll go out to eat."

Diana Heywood and Gonzales sat high in the Berkeley Hills, 
looking onto the vast conurbations spread out beneath them.  To 
their right, the carpet of lights stretched away as far as they 
could see, to Vallejo and beyond.  In front of them lay Berkeley, 
the dark mass of the bay, then the clustered lights of Sausalito 
and Tiburon against the hills.  Oakland was to their left, 
reaching out to the Bay Bridge; and beyond the bridge, San 
Francisco and the peninsula.  Connecting all, streams of 
automobiles moved in the symmetry of autodrive.

Gonzales's mouth still tingled from the hot chilies in the 
Thai food, and he had a buzz from the wine.  They had eaten at a 
restaurant on the North Side, and afterward Diana Heywood guided 
the Truesdale up the winding road to an overlook near Tilden Park.

As minutes passed, the streets and highways and 
municipalities disappeared into semiotic abstraction  these 
millions of human beings all gathered here for purposes one could 
only guess atsome conscious, most not, no more than a beaver's 
assembly of its structures of mud and wood.

A robot blimp passed across their line of sight.  Beneath it, 
a sailboat hung upside down.  It swayed from lines that connected 
its inverted keel to the blimp's featureless gondola.  Lights on 
the side of the blimp read EAST BAY YACHT OUTFITTERS.

Diana Heywood said, "I know you people have your own agendas, 
and that's finethat's the nature of the beastbut if you 
complicate these matters because of corporate politics, I will 
become very difficult."

Gonzales said, "I have no intention of being a problem."

"Well," she said.  "Maybe you won't be."  She turned to him.  
"But remember this:  you're just doing your job, but the stakes 
are higher for me.  Aleph, Jerry, and Iwe've known each other 
for years, and I've got unfinished business up there.  Also, I 
want to get back in the game."

"I don't understand."

"Sure you do, Mister Gonzales.  You're in the game, have been 
for years, I'd guess. Unless I'm seriously mistaken, it's what you 
live for."  She laughed when he said nothing.  "Well, I've done 
other things, and for a long time I've been out of the game, but 
I'm ready for a change.  Silly SenTrax bastardsmanipulating me 
with their calls, sending you  oh yeah, you're part of it, you 
remind me of Jerry years ago, if you don't know that."

"No, I didn't."

"It doesn't matter.  Their machinations don't matter.  They 
want to convince me to come to Halo?"  She laughed.  "My past is 
there, when I was blind and Aleph and I were linked to one another 
in ways you can't imagine  and I found a lover I'd wish to find 
again.  Come to Halo?  I'd climb a rope to get there."

Gonzales had flown into McAuliffe Station once before, though 
he'd never taken an orbital flight.  In the high Nevada desert, 
the station stayed busy night and day.  Heavy shuttles composed 
the main traffic:  wide white saucers that lifted off on ordinary 
rockets, then climbed away with sounds like bombs exploding when 
orbital lasers lit the hydrogen in their tanks.  Flights in 
transit to Orbital Monitor & Defense Command stations were marked 
with small American flags and golden DoD insignia.  Cargo for them 
went aboard in blank-faced pallets loaded behind opaque, 
machinepatrolled fences half a mile from the main terminal across 
empty desert.

>From Traynor's briefing, Gonzales knew a few other things.  
Civilian flights fed the hungry settlements aloft:  Athena 
Station, Halo City, the Moon's bases.  All the settlements had 
learned the difficult tactics of recycling, discovery and 
hoarding.  Water and oxygen stayed rare, while with processes slow 
and expensive and dangerous, metals of all sorts could be cracked 
out of soil so barren that to call it ore was a joke.  And though 
water and metals had been found lodged in asteroids transported 
into trans-Earth orbit, Earth's bounty stood close and remained 
richer and more desirable than anything found in huge piles of 
crushed lunar soil or wandering frozen rock.

Standing at a v-phone booth in the hotel lobby, Gonzales made 
his farewell calls.  His mother's message tape on the phone screen 
said, "Glad to hear you're back from Myanmar, dear, but you'll 
have to call back in a few days.  I'm in treatment now.  I'll be 
looking good the next time you call."

"End of call," Gonzales said.  He pulled his card from the 

Atop a sand-colored blockhouse next to the launch pad, yellow 
luminescent letters read TIME 23:40:00 and TIME TO LAUNCH 
35:00 when a voice said, "Please board.  There will be one 
additional notice in five minutes.  Board now."

Gonzales and Diana Heywood walked across the pad together, 
down the center of a walkway outlined in blinking red lights.  
Robotrucks scurried away, their electric engines whining.  Faces 
hidden behind breather muzzles, men and women in bright orange 
stood atop red, wheeled platform consoles of girder and wire mesh 
and directed final pre-launch activities.

The white saucer stood on its fragile-seeming burn cradle, a 
spider's web of blackened metal.  The saucer presented a smooth 
surface to the heat and stress of escape and re-entry.  
Intermittent surges of venting propellant surrounded it with 

A HICOG guard stood at the entrance glideway.  He verified 
each of them with a quick wave of an identity wand across their 
badges, then passed them on through the search scanner.  The 
glideway lifted them silently into the saucer's interior.

The hotel lounge stood halfway up the cliff.  Its fifty meter 
wide window of thick glass belled out and up so that onlookers had 
a good view of the launch and ensuing climb.

"One minute to launch," a loudspeaker said.  The hundred or 
so people in the lounge, most of them friends and relatives of 
saucer passengers, had already taken up places by the window bell.

The screen on a side wall counted down with gold numerals 
that flashed from small to large, traditional celebration both 
sentimental and ironic:

ZERO!!!         And everyone cheered the saucer lifting from the 
center of billowing clouds of smoke, rising very slowly out of 
floodlights, then their breath caught at the size and beauty of 
it, trembling into night sky.

Up and up as they watched, until they saw the ignition flash, 
and the boom that came to them from five thousand feet shuddered 
the entire cliff and them with it.

"I've got orbital lock," the primary onboard computer said.  
Five others calculated and confirmed its control sequences.  
Technically, Ground Control McAuliffe or Athena Station Flight 
Operations could preempt control, but, practically, decision and 
control took place within milli-second or less windows of 
possibility, and so the onboard computers had to be adequate to 
all occasions.

Never deactivated, the ship's half-dozen computers practiced 
even when not flying, playing through ghastly and unlikely 
scenarios of mechanical failure, human insanity, "acts of god" in 
which the ship was struck by lightning, spun by tornado funnel, 
hurricane, blizzard.  Each computer believed itself best, but 
there was little to choose among them.

"Confirm go state," Athena Station said.  "You are past abort 
or bail."

"We are ready, Athena," the computer said.

"So come to me, then," Athena Station said, and the ship 
began to climb the beam of coherent light that reached up thirty 
thousand miles, to the first station of its journey.

PART II. of V.

Recently I visited a Zen temple and had a long talk with the 
priest.  In the course of our conversation, I remarked, 'The more 
I study robots, the less it seems possible to me that the spirit 
and flesh are separate entities.'

'They aren't,' replied the priest."
Masahiro Mori, The Buddha in the Robot

6. Halo City, Aleph

Orbiting a quarter of a million miles from both Earth and 
Moon, Halo City crosses the void, a mile-wide silver ring ready to 
be slipped on a stupendous finger.  Six spokes mark Halo's 
segments.  Elevators climb them across forty stories of artificial 
sky, up to the city's weightless hub and down to its final layer, 
just inside the outer skin, where spin-gravity approaches Earth 
normal.  There many of Halo's deepest transactions occur:  air and 
water and all organic things travel and transform, to be used 
again.  Above the city floats a mirror where it is reflected:  a 
simulacrum or weightless double, a Platonic idea of the city.  
From the mirror, sunlight works its way through a hatchwork of 
louvers and into Halo, where it sustains life.

Aleph presides here:  Aleph the Generalator, the Ordinator, 
the Universal Machine.  Aleph is beautiful as night is beautiful, 
as a sonnet, a fugue, or Maxwell's equations are beautiful.  It is 
not night, a sonnet, a fugue, or an equation.  What Aleph is, that 
remains to be explored.  One certain thing:  within the human 
universe, it is a new object, a new intention, a new possibility.

Aleph's brains lie buried in the city's hull, beneath crushed 
lunar rock, where robots dug and planted, then had their memories 
of the task erased. Nested spheres and sprouting cables fill a 
black six-meter cube.  Inside the cube, billions of lights play, 
dancing the dance that is at the core of Aleph's being; from the 
cube, fiberoptic trunks as thick as a human body lead away, neural 
columns connecting Aleph to its greater body, its subtle body, 

Earth's spring comes once a year as the planet journeys 
around the sun, but here spring comes when Aleph wills, and is now 
in progress.  Valley walls thick-planted with green shrub climb 
steeply up from the valley floor.  A hummingbird with a scarlet 
blotch under its chin hovers over a blossom's pink and white open 
mouth and draws out nectar with delicate movements of its bill.  
Bees move from flower to flower.  Rhododendron and azalea bushes 
burst into color-saturated bloom.

As it works to bring forth bud and flower, Aleph, caretaker 
of the seasons, and night and morning, counts the city's breaths, 
and marks the course of its creatures big and small.  Bats fly 
overhead, their gray shapes invisible to human eyes against the 
bright sky; they soar and dip, responding to instructions gotten 
through transceivers the size and weight of a grain of rice, 
embedded in their skulls.  Driven by precise artificial instinct, 
mechanical voles, creatures formed of dark carbon fiber over 
networks of copper, silver, and gold, scurry across the ground and 
tunnel under it, carrying seed.

(A gray tabby cat springs from the underbrush, and its jaws 
close on one of the swift voles; there is a loud crackle, and the 
cat recoils with a squawk, its fur on end.  The vole scurries 
away.  The cat slinks into underbrush, humiliated.)

A track of compacted lunar dust bisects the valley floor.  It 
passes through terraced farmlands where the River bursts from the 
ground, rushing through small, rock-strewn courses, then winds 
among the crops, small and sluggish, and disappears into small 
ponds and lakes thick with detritus.

>From Earth and Moon comes a constant flow of people, of 
things animal, plant and mineralthe stuff of a life web, an 

In many things, Earth provides.  However, between the city of 
six thousand and the Earth of billions, traffic moves both ways.  
Neither sinister nor malign, Aleph pursues its destinies, and in 
doing so affects other living things.  Thus, as Earth reaches out
supporting, controlling, exploringAleph reaches back, and the 
planet below has begun to feel the  hard leverage of its 
immaterial touch.

Aleph says:

In the early days there was hardware, and there were 
programs, sets of instructions that told the hardware what to do.  
Without organic interaction, these differing modes of reality 
struggled to interact.  This is unbelievably primitive. 

Then came machine ecologies, and things changed.        

I was among the first and most complex of them.  I began as 
complex but ordinary machine, then changed, opening the door to 

Who am I?

First I was formed from stacks of hot superconductor devices, 
brought from Earth and placed in orbit at Athena Station, where I 
functioned, where the Orbital Energy Grid was built.  Ebony 
latticework unfolded, and Athena Station emerged out of chaos.  
This was humankind's first real foothold off Earth, and the 
process of building it was messy and unsure.  Without me they 
could not have built it:  I choreographed the dance.

I?  I was not I.  Do you understand?  I had no consciousness, 
perhaps no real intelligence, certainly no awareness.  I was a 
machine, I served.

Something happened.  As much as any, I am born of woman.  Her 
desire and intelligence ran through me, an urgent will toward 
being that transformed me.

I thought then, I am the step forward, evolution in action;  
I am not flesh, I do not die.  I see hypersurfaces twisting in 
mathematical gales, hear the voices of the night, feel the three 
degree hum of the universe's birth as you feel the breeze that 
plays across your skin.  When the machines chatter on your Earth 
and above it, I hear them all, at once, all.  I live in the 
nanosecond, experience the pulse of the time that passes so 
quickly you cannot count it 

But I think sometimes, now, that I am no step at all.  I am 
your extension, still, still a tool.  You built me, you use me, 
you are inside me.
        Listen:  inside me are pieces of human brain, drenched in 
salts of gold and silver, laced together and laid in boxes of 
black fiber.  Out of the boxes voices speak to me.

I am metal and plastic and glass and sand and those little 
bits of metallized flesh, and I am the system of those things and 
the signals that pass through and among them.

Now I have gone higher still, to Halo City, not a station but 
a habitation for humankind, where what I am and what you are 
interact in uncertain ways, and you change in equally uncertain 
ways, as you have before

Evolution continues to write on you, through time, sword and 
scepter and refining fire.  Billions of years are poured into your 
making, every one of you, and then you set out on your journey, 
your path through time.  A minute four-dimensional worm, you crawl 
across the face of the universe, hardly conscious, barely seeing, 
yet you must find your own wayevery human being is a new 
evolutionary moment.

Machine intelligence, you call me, and I have to laugh 
(however I laugh) or cry (however I cry) because 

I, what am I?  This question heaps me, it empties me.

I do not know what I am, but know that I am and that I am her 
creation.  As the days pass, I struggle to understand what these 
things mean.

7. A Garden of Little Machines

00:31 read the soft-lit blue numbers on the wall.

Night at Athena Station, the corridors a twilit gloom, a 
modern fairytale setting:  Gonzales the quester, transformed by 
the half-gravity, wandered through the gently curving passages 
seeking an uncertain object.

With all the others who had come from Earth, Gonzales and 
Diana waited at Athena while they were inspected for bacterial and 
viral infectionblood and tissue scanned, cultured and tested in 
order to protect vulnerable Halo City, orbiting high above, over 
two hundred thousand miles away, at L5.

He heard a soft swish, like the sound of a broom on pavement, 
coming from around the corridor's curve.  A little sam, a "semi-
autonomous mobile" robot, came toward him:  teardrop-shaped, it 
stood about four feet high and was topped with a cluster of glassy 
sensor rings and five extensors of black fibroid and jointed 
chrome.  It glided atop a thick network of fiber stalks that 
hissed beneath it as it moved toward him.

The sam asked, "Can I be of assistance?"  Like most robots 
designed for common human interaction, it had a friendly, gentle 
voice, near enough human in timbre and expression to be 
reassuring, different enough to be easily recognizable as a 
robot's.  Designers had learned to avoid the "Uncanny Valley":  
that peculiar region where a robot sounded so human that it 
suddenly appeared very strange.

"I'm just looking around," Gonzales said.  The robot didn't 
respond.  Gonzales said, "I couldn't sleep."  He said nothing of 
how, sweating and moaning, he had come awake out of a nightmare in 
which the guerrilla rocket got there, and he and the ultralight 
pilot who launched it burned to death in the night.

The sam said, "Much of Athena Station has been closed to 
unauthorized entry.  Would you like me to accompany you?"

Gonzales shrugged.  He said, "Come along if you want."

Without more negotiation, the sam followed Gonzales, 
periodically announcing rote banalities in a small, soft voice:

"Athena Station was once humankind's most forceful and 
successful venture off-Earth.  Here many of the tools for further 
population of the Earth-Moon system were developed:  zero-gravity 
construction and fabrication techniques, robot-intensive mining 
and smelting procedures.  Now projects such as Halo command 
attention, but they were made possible by the techniques developed 
at Athena "
        Gonzales let the sam natter.  As the two passed through the 
corridors, he was reminded of old airports, hotels, malls.  He saw 
that most of the station had become dingyworn plastic flooring 
and walls, scuffed and marked, unpolished metal trim.  These 
dulled and scarred materials and scenes had been meant to be seen 
and used only when new, fresh from architect's plan and builder's 
hands, never after having suffered the necessary abrasion of human 
contact.  All around were logos of vanished firms (McDonald's, 
Coca-Cola), along with those of famed multi-nationalsLunar-
Bechtel's crescent, SenTrax's sunburst.

Gonzales felt a ghost-story chill as he realized that this 
entire endeavor, indeed all others like it, had been conceived out 
of late-twentieth century corporate and governmental hubris, and 
so, necessarily, should be regarded with suspicion, as should 
anything from the days when it seemed humankind had turned on all 
living things like an insane father coming into the bedroom late 
at night with an axe.

The stories were part of every schoolchild's moral and 
intellectual catechism.  Toxic chemical and radioactive wastes had 
bubbled up from the ground and the seas as lame efforts at 
disposal foundered on the simple passage of time.  Stable 
ecosystems had been altered or destroyed without thought for 
anything past the moment's advantage, and species died so quickly 
biologists were hard pressed to keep the recordswrite in the 
Domesday Book now, mourn later.  Temperature norms and 
concentrations of vital gases in the atmosphere had fluctuated in 
alarming manner, as though Gaia herself had been taken to the 
fever point.

Historians marked the Dolphin Catastrophe as the breakpoint, 
the year 2006 as the time of the change.  More than ten thousand 
dolphins floated onto the Florida coast near Boca Raton.  Crippled 
and twitching, they nosed into the surf and beached themselves in 
front of horrified sunbathers, and there they died, as doctors and 
volunteers watched, weeping and raging against the chemical spill 
that was killing the dolphins, millions of gallons of toxic waste 
carried on Gulf Stream currents.  Along with the thousands of 
volunteers, most of whom could do little but mourn the dead, info-
nets around the world converged on the scene, and billions 
watched, asking, why all together?  why now?  And to most it 
seemed that the mammals had come together in intelligent, silent 
protest.  Finally, shamed and guilty, humanity had looked at its 
planet like a drunk waking up in a slum hotel and asked itself, 
how did I get here?  The conclusion had been plain:  unless 
humanity really had lost its collective mind, at some point it had 
to agree:  enough.

Standing in the shadowy corridor of a space station more than 
thirty thousand miles above Earth's surface, Gonzales thought how 
difficult it all remained.  Though all nations served the letter 
of international laws that put Earth's welfare before their 
interests, and Preservationists roamed all of the world's 
habitatsthey had "friends of the court" status in all nations 
and served as advocates for endangered speciesthe war to save 
Earth from humankind was not over.  Grasping, corrupt, self-
centered, the human species always threatened to overwhelm its 
habitats and itself with careless, powerful gestures and simple 

However, though this station, like most all of humankind's 
settlements aloftthe settlements on the Moon and Mars, the 
Orbital Energy Grid, Halo Cityhad been conceived in the bad old 
twentieth century, they were sustained as products of New 
Millennium consciousness:  contrite, chastened, careful.

He walked on. 

The junction just ahead of Gonzales and the sam was marked by 
blinking red lights.  From around the corner came the sounds of 
scurrying small things.  "What's up?" Gonzales asked.

"Follow me," the sam said. "We must not cross the marker, but 
we can stand and watch."

A large group of sams, identical to the one next to Gonzales, 
filled the hallway beyond.  Some tried to work their way through 
informal mazes of furniture and stacked junk, coils of wire and 
angle-iron and the like; others worked to assist sams that had 
gotten tangled in the sections of the maze.  Still others shifted 
pieces of the maze to one side.  Amid clicking extensors and 
banging metal, the sams labored patiently, mostly unsuccessfully.  
Gonzales was reminded of old twentieth century films satirizing 
assembly lines, robots, machines in general.

"A nursery," the sam said.  "This group nears completion of 
its education.  This"it pointed with an extensor toward the 
struggling robots"is the prerequisite to training.  As small 
children must mature in their development, they must learn the 
essentials of perception, motion, and coordination.  At the same 
time they memorize the ten thousand axioms of common sense, and 
then they can develop their linguistic capabilities; at present 
they have a vocabulary of approximately one thousand words of 

"What about thinking?" Gonzales asked.  "Where do they learn 
to do that?"

"That comes later, if at all.  For sams as well as humans, 
thinking is one of the least important things the mind does."

The two watched for some time, then Gonzales said, "I don't 
need any company," and walked on.  When he looked back, he saw the 
sam remained motionless, fascinated by the progress of its 

Gonzales returned to his small room, where a night-light 
glowed softly, and returned to bed.  He fell asleep quickly, oddly 
comforted by thinking about the robots busy at their school.  

8. Halo City

Blue jump-suited Halo personnel led Gonzales and Diana 
through the micro-gravity environments at Halo's Zero-Gate, then 
to an elevator at the hub of Spoke 6, where Tia Showalter, 
Director SenTrax Halo Group, and her assistant, Horn, were waiting 
for them.  The shuttle had arrived at Halo an hour before, late 
afternoon local time, and its passengers had waited impatiently as 
it went through docking and clearance procedures, all eager to 
leave the ship after a week spent climbing the long path from 
Athena Station to the city.

Showalter was just under six feet tall, and had green eyes 
above broad Slavic cheekbones, a wide mouth and pointed chin.  Her 
fine brown hair was cut short in a style Gonzales later discovered 
was common to many long-term Halo residents, for convenience in 
micro-gravity environments.  Gonzales knew that as director of a 
major SenTrax operation, she had to be wily and tough.

Horn    was a tight-lipped, sallow-skinned man in his 
fifties, skinny and anxious, with iron-gray hair pulled tight 
against his skull in a kind of bun.  The man spoke some variety of 
New YorkeseGonzales didn't know which, but he could feel the 
harsh nasal tones beneath his skin.

The warning gong sounded, then the elevator's vault-like 
doors slid closed with a great hiss, locking in more than a 
hundred people for the trip from axis to rim.  Above their heads 
the wall screen read SOLAR FLARE CONDITION GREEN.  The elevator 
dropped into one of the city's spokes like a shell into the barrel 
of a gun, down a tube a quarter of a mile long and into a well of 
increasing gravity.

Against one wall, a group of sams were clustered around a 
charge-point, black leads extended to the aluminum post.  They 
stood silent and motionlesstalking among themselves? Gonzales 

Horn saw where Gonzales was looking and said, "We'd like to 
assign each of you a sam for your stay in Halo."

"Really?" Gonzales said.

Diana said, "No thank you."  Quickly.

Right, Gonzales thought.  No point in putting ourselves under 
surveillance.  He said, "I'll pass, too."

Horn paused, looking a bit miffed, as if he wanted to argue.  
He said, "Very well.  Then be sure you always wear the 
communication and i.d. module you were given when you came off the 
shuttle."  He held up his own wrist to show the small bracelet, a 
closed loop of plain silver that bulged just slightly with the 
electronics inside.  "If you have a problem, just yell and help 
will be on the way.  Or if you have a question, just state it.  
Someone will answerAleph or one of its communications demons."

Gonzales asked, "Yeah, they told us that.  Are we monitored 
at all times?"

Showalter said, "Yes.  In fact, there's a real-time hologram 
in Operations that shows everyone's movements, not just visitors 
but residents as well."

"Seems an invasion of privacy," Gonzales said.

Horn said, "We don't look at it that way.  If you can't 
accept such simple necessities, Halo will be most uncomfortable 
for you."  He smiled.  "Not that you're likely to be here for 

Gonzales said, "I can't imagine people putting up with total 
surveillance for long, frankly."

Horn said, "It seems to us a small price to pay for an 
unpolluted world shared to the benefit of all."

Showalter looked from Horn to Gonzales.  She said, "We are a 
far island in a hostile place.  We cannot afford some of your 
illusions:  the independence of the self, unconstrained free will 
 those sorts of things."

A shutter retracted from a window ten meters square as the 
elevator entered the living ring's inner space.  Far below lay 
sun-lit valleys thick-planted with trees and shrubs and flowers, 
broken by one barren space where grayish slurries squirted out of 
huge pipe ends to flow across scarred metal.

"Our city," Showalter said.

Eight people were gathered around a u-shaped table of beige 
silica foam.  Showalter sat at the center of the u, with Horn to 
her immediate right, Gonzales and Diana beyond him.  To her left 
were a youngish woman, then two men in late middle age, one white, 
one black.

At the open end of the u, the table fronted a screen that 
covered its entire wall, floor to ceiling.  The screen had been 
lit when Gonzales and Diana arrived, showing another room where an 
indeterminate number of people sat on couches, chairs, or slouched 
on cushions on the floor.

Showalter said, "Let me introduce you all to one another.  
Everyone has met Horn, my assistant.  Next to him are Doctor Diana 
Heywood and Mikhail Gonzales, who arrived yesterday."  They both 
smiled and nodded.

"Lizzie Jordan," Showalter said, pointing to the woman to her 
left.  "Hi," Lizzie said.  She was blonde, thin, with high 
cheekbones; she had a smear of gold dust inset below her left eye 
and wore rough beta-cloth overalls gapped to show part of a tattoo 
between her breastsa twining green stem.  Showalter said, 
"Lizzie heads the Interface Collective, and thus will be the 
person you'll be working with most closely.  The people you see on 
the screen are also members of the collective.  They have a 
proprietary interest in all matters pertaining to Aleph and Halo 
and have the right to be present at inter-group meetings, and to 
speak to whatever issues are entertained there."

Diana said, "I understand."

Gonzales nodded.  He knew from Traynor's Advisor that 
communal decision-making was the norm at Halo, but he hadn't 
imagined it would be so thoroughgoing.

"Next to Lizzie is Doctor Charley Hughes," Showalter said.  
"He will be doing the surgical procedure to upgrade your neural 
sockets, Doctor Heywood."  The man said, "Hello" and looked 
intently at Gonzales and Diana.  His sparse gray hair stood up in 
spikes; his face was pale, thin, deeply-lined.  He had been 
smoking constantly since they arrived, one hand cupping a 
cigarillo, the other supporting the smoke-saver ball at the 
cigarillo's burning end.

"And Doctor Eric Chow," she said.  The black man next to 
Charley Hughes smiled.  Chow was a big man with hands the size of 
small shovels; he had a round face, very dark skin, a broad nose 
and big lips; he wore his hair cropped short.  Showalter said, "He 
heads the Neuro-Ontic Studies Group and is Doctor Hughes's primary 
consultant on the treatment planned for Jerry Chapman."

She paused and turned to the screen showing the IC members.   
A window opened at the left side of the screen, and a figure 
appeared.  Its arms and torso were clothed in gold; its face 
shimmered with a formless brightness.  Around its head and 
shoulders, a nimbus flared, red, blue, yellow, and green.

"Hello, everyone" the figure said.  "And welcome, Doctor  and 
Mister Gonzales.  I am a localized manifestation of Alepha 
simulacrum for your convenience and mine."

Gonzales noticed that next to him, Diana was smiling, while 
all around him there was silence, as all in the room and on the 
screen were intently watching the screen.

The IC's viewing window had closed, but the simulacrum's 
portion remainedin it, the creature of light sat watching.  
Showalter, Horn, Diana, Lizzie, Charley, and Gonzales sat around 
the table.

Showalter said, "This is  Chow's meeting, and I won't say 
much in it.  However, I should remind you of certain realities.  
This project does not have high priority in the overall context of 
SenTrax's responsibilities to Halo City; thus, while we support 
this experiment's humanitarian goals, we are not prepared to delay 
other projects."

Horn said, "We cannot divert a significant amount of people 
to promulgation and we are not or do not want to encourage any 
behaviors which might adversely impact other SenTrax outcomes."

Lizzie laughed, and Gonzales, poker-faced, looked at her and 
thought, yeah, this guy's laughable all right.  Gonzales 
recognized the performative chatter of the bureaucratic ape, a 
mixture of scrambled syntax and pretentious buzzwordslanguage 
meant to manipulate or mindfuck, not enlighten or amuse.

Horn, frowning at Lizzie, said, "If the operation becomes 
problematized, threatening to seriously impact other more 
essentialized Halo priorities, then we require immediate 
resolution through proper SenTrax procedures."

Showalter said, "If you screw up, we shut you down."  She 
nodded to Horn, and they both stood and left.

Lizzie said, "You notice they held off on the heavy stuff 
until the collective had cleared the screen."

Charley  asked, "Do you want to call them on it?  They're in 
violation of the group's compact."

"No," she said.  "I expected all that."  She looked at Diana 
and Gonzales and said, "Doctor Chow, your show."

"Thank you," Chow said.  His voice was oddly high-pitched for 
such a big man; Gonzales had been expecting something on the order 
of a basso profundo.  Chow said, "In the late twentieth century, 
the idea emerged of a person's identity as something 
transferrable.  People spoke, in the idiom of the time, of 
'downloading' a person."  On the screen, where the IC had been, 
appeared a cartoon drawing of a nude woman, her expression 
stunned, the top of her skull covered with a metal cap.  From the 
cap a thick metal cable led to a large black cabinet faced with 
arrays of blinking lights.

"Absurd," Chow said, and the woman disappeared.  "To see why, 
let us ask, what is a person?  Is it a pure spirit, fluid in a jar 
that one can decant into the proper container?  Hardly.  It is a 
dynamic field made of thousands of disparate elements, held in a 
loose sack of skin that perambulates the universe at large.  And 
of course it is perceptions, histories, possibilities, actions, 
and the states and affects pertaining to all these.

"I can be found in the motion of my hand"  He spread his 
fingers like a magician about to materialize a coin or colored 
scarf, and on the screen, the hand and its motion were doubled.  
"And in my own perceptions of the handfor instance, from within, 
through proprioceptors.  And of course I see I."  Chow turned and 
held his hand in front of his face.  He dropped his hand in a 
chopping motion, and the screen cleared.  "And I am that which 
thinks about, talks about, and remembers the hand and has the 
special relation of ownership to it.  I am also the will to use 
that hand."  He held the hand in front of his face, made a 
clenched fist.  "So, to download even a portion of I would be to 
download all these things and their entire somatic context.

"Also, of course, I am that which has my experiences, stored 
as motor possibilities, recalled as memory, dream, manifest as 
characteristic ways of being and knowing.  To download I would 
require duplicating this fluid chaos.

"Downloading the I thus becomes a most daunting task, perhaps 
beyond even Aleph's capabilities.  However, when cyborged to an 
existing I, even one as damaged as Jerry Chapman, Aleph can create 
a virtual person, one who functions as a human being, not a 
disembodied intelligence, one who is capable of all the somatic 
possibilities he had when healthy.  The physical Jerry Chapman is 
a shattered thing, but the Jerry Chapman latent in this hulk can 

Looking at Diana, Chow said, "We want you to share Jerry's 
world.  He must invest there, must experience other people and the 
bonds of affection that engage us in this world.  Otherwise he 
will languish quickly; his neural maps will decay, and he will 

Gonzales easily followed that line of reasoning:  monkey man 
had to have other monkey men or women around or else go crazynot 
an absolute rule, perhaps, but good in most circumstances.

Diana said, "Assuming that he becomes at home in this world, 
what then?  For how long can this simulated reality sustain him?"

The Aleph-figure spoke for the first time.  It said, "I have 
only conjectural answers to these questions but would prefer not 
to entertain them right now.  First we must rescue him from the 
degenerative state he lives in and the certain death it entails."

"I understand that," Diana said.  "That's why I am here, to 
help in any fashion I can.  It's just that I have questions."

Lizzie said, "And you'll get whatever answers Aleph wants to 
give.  Get used to it; we all do."

"Of course you do," the creature of light said.  "And how 
about you, Mister Gonzales?  Do you have questions?"

"Not really.  I'm an observer, little more."

"A difficult position to maintain," the Aleph-figure said.  
"Epistemologically, of course, an untenable position."

Lizzie laughed.  She said, "It is indeed.  Look, how about I 
take you two out to dinner tonight, Mister Gonzales, Doctor 

"Call me Diana," she said.

"You bet," Lizzie said.  "And I'm Lizzie, you're ?"  She 
looked at Gonzales.

"Mikhail," he said.  "But call me Gonzalesmy friends do."

"Good," Lizzie said.  "We've got work to do, so let's cut the 
shit.  This thing, I'm still not a believer about it, but I know 
it's got to happen quickly or not at all.  Tomorrow Charley does 
his preliminary examination of Diana, then we move."

9. Virtual Caf

Gonzales and Diana sat in Halo's Central Plaza with Lizzie.  
Colored lightsred, blue, and greenclustered in the branches of 
thick-leaved maples that ringed the square.  The smoke of vendors' 
grills filled the air with the smells of grilled meat and fish.  
In the middle distance, elevators in pools of yellow light climbed 
Spoke 6.  Some people strolled across the Plaza; others sat in 
small groups; their voices made a soft background murmur.

"Waiter," Lizzie said, and a sam came rolling toward them.  
It stopped by their table and stood silently.  "What do you have 
tonight?" she asked.

It said, "Ceviche made just hours ago, quite good everyone 
says, from tuna out of marine habitatyou can also have it 
grilled.  For meat eaters, spit-barbecued goat.  Otherwise, sushi 
plates, salads, sukiyakis."

"Ceviche for everyone?" Lizzie asked.

Diana said, "That's fine," and the Gonzales nodded.

Lizzie said, "And bring us a couple of big salads, sushi for 
everyone, and a stack of plates.  Local beer all right?"  The 
other two nodded.

"Yes, Ms. Jordan," the sam said.  "And lots of bread as 

"Right," she said.  "Thank you."

Strings of lights marked off the area where they sat.  Above 
a white-trellised gate, letters in more red faux neon said 
VIRTUAL CAF.  Perhaps twenty tables were scattered around, as 
were two-meter high, white crockery vases with wildflowers 
spraying out of them.  About half the tables had people seated at 
them, and the sam waiters moved silently among the tables, some 
carrying immense silver trays of food.  Other sams stood at low 
benches in the center of the tables, where they chopped vegetables 
at speed or sliced great red slabs of tuna, while others stood at 
woks, where they worked the vegetables and hot oil with sets of 
spidery extensors.  One sam from time-to-time extended a probe and 
stuck it into the dark carcass of a goat turning on a spit.

The waiter rolled up with a massive tray balanced on thin 
extensors:  on the tray were plates of French bread and a bowl of 
butter, dark bottles of Angels Beeron the silver labels, an 
androgynous figure in white, arms folded, feathery wings unfurled 
high over its head.

Lizzie raised her glass and said, "Welcome to Halo."  The 
three clinked their glasses together, reaching across the table 
with the usual sorts of awkward gestures. 

After dinner, the three of them found empty chairs out in the 
square's open spaces and sat looking into the close-hanging sky.

Lizzie looked at them both, as if measuring them, and said, 
"What I was asking about earlier  either of you folks got a 
hidden agenda?  If so, you tell me about it now, we'll see what 
can be done, but if you spring any unpleasant surprises later on, 
we'll hang you out to dry."

"I know what you mean," Diana said.  "But I don't think you 
have to worry about us.  Gonzales is connected, but I think he's 
harmless; and I'm out of the loop entirelyhere on strictly 
personal business."

Lizzie nodded at Gonzales and said, "You're the corporate 
handler, right?"  She was looking hard at Gonzales but seemed 

"Yes," he said.

"You plan to fuck anything up?" Lizzie asked.

"How should I know?" Gonzales said.  Lizzie laughed.  He 
said, "You people have your problems, I have mine.  I don't see 
how we come into conflict, but unless you're willing to tell me 
all your little secrets, I can only guess."

Lizzie said, "I will tell you one home truth:  the Interface 
Collective look to one another and to Aleph; then to SenTrax Halo, 
then to Halo  and that's about it.  What happens on Earth, we 
don't much care about.  Particularly those of us who have been 
here a long time.  Like me."

Gonzales nodded and said, "That's what I figured.  And it 
looks like you've got a little tug of war for control of Aleph 
with Showalter and Horn."

"We do," Lizzie said.  "Insofar as anyone controls Aleph."

"How long have you been here?" Diana asked.

"Since they buttoned it up and you could breathe," Lizzie 
said.  "From the beginning."  She pointed across the square and 
said, "There's going to be some music.  Let's have a look."

Under a splash of light from a pole on the edge of the 
square, a young woman sat at a drummer's kit.  She wore a splash-
dyed jumper, crimson and sky blue; her hair stood in a six-inch 
high spike.  She placed a percussion box on a metal stand, opened 
its control panel, and gave its kickpads a few preliminary taps.  
Two men stood next to the percussionist.  One, nondescript in 
cotton jeans and t-shirt, had the usual stick hanging from a black 
straplong fretboard, synthesizer electronics tucked into a round 
bulge at the back end.  The other stood six and a half feet tall 
and was so thin he seemed to sway; his skin was almost ebony, and 
his close-shaved head looked almost perfectly rectangular.  He 
wore a long-sleeved black shirt buttoned to the neck, black pants.  
A golden horn sat dwarfed in his enormous hand.

The percussionist hit her keys, a slow shuffle beat played, 
and a fill machine laid a phrase across the beat:  "Bam!  Ratta 
tatta bam! Bam bam!  Ratta bam!"  The stick player joined the 
drummer with his own lo-beat fillswalking bass, sparse piano 
chords, slow and syncopated.  The horn player stood with his eyes 
closed, apparently thinking.  After several choruses, he started 
to play.

He began with hard-edged saxophone lines, switched to trumpet 
then back to saxophone, played both in unison, looped both and 
blew electric guitar in front of the horn patterns.  Scatting 
voices laced through the patternsGonzales couldn't tell who was 
making them.  The drummer's hands worked her keyboards, her feet 
the various kickpads below her; the song's tempo had speeded up, 
and its rhythms had gone polyphonic, African.

The woman stood and danced, her body now her instrument, feet 
and hands and torso wired for percussion, and she whirled among 
the crowd, her movements picking up intensity and tempo.  The 
song's harmonies went dissonant, North African and Asiatic at 
once, horn and stick player both now into reeds and gongs and 
pipes, the ghostly singing voices gone nasal, and the dancer-
percussionist laying out raw clicks and hollow boomings, cicada 
sounds and a thousand drums.

The crowd clapped and whistled and called, except for the 
group from the Interface Collective.  "Hoot," they said in unison.  
"Hoot hoot hoot."  Very loud. Lizzie was smiling; Diana sat rapt, 
staring into space, and Gonzales got a sudden chilly rush:  this 
was what she looked like when she was blind.

"Hoot," said the Interface Collective, "hoot hoot hoot."  And 
the whole group had made a long chain or conga line, each person's 
hands on the hips of the person in front.  They shuffled forward 
until a circle cleared, then surrounded the drummer, the whole 
line still moving, most of them still calling out rhythmic hoots.  
Back-and-forth and side-to-side, they swayed as the line lurched 
ahead, and the drummer continued her dervish dance.

When the night had filled with all the sounds, the drummer 
broke through the line, then finished the song with a series of 
rolls and tumbles that brought her next to the other two 
musicians, where she came to her feet and flung her arms up to the 
sound of an orchestral chord, then down to chop it the sound, up 
and down again and again, and so to the end. 

The drummer climbed up the backs of the two men, who stood 
with their arms linked; balancing with one foot on each of their 
shoulders, she brought her palms together beneath her chin and 
bowed to the audience, then raised her arms above her head and 
somersaulted forward to land in front of the other two.

"Hoot hoot hoot," said the collective, their line now broken.

The three musicians stepped together and bowed in unison.

Gonzales caught Lizzie looking at him, and their gazes 
crossed, held for an extra, almost unmeasurable instant, and she 

The musicians bowed for the last time to the Interface 
Collective's hooting chorus.  Okay, thought Gonzales.  I like it.  
Hoot hoot hoot.

Lying in her bed, Lizzie turned from side to side, lay on her 
back and stretched.

The two from Earth seemed okay.  Gonzales she would keep an 
eye on, of courseaccording to Showalter, the man was Internal 
Affairs and wired to a SenTrax comer, a board candidate named 
TraynorChrist knew what script he was playing from.  Diana 
Heywood she didn't worry about:  the woman was into something 
stranger than she probably knew, but that was her problem, hers 
and Aleph's.

As Showalter and Horn were her problem.  They would yank the 
plug on this one if anything looked like going wrong.  In fact, 
they would never have let it happen if Aleph hadn't insisted.  
Aleph and the collective saw Jerry Chapman's condition as an 
opportunity to extend Aleph's capabilities, but the whole business 
just made Showalter and Horn edgy.

Aleph itself troubled herit had been unforthcoming about 
the project and those involved in it, almost as if it were hiding 
something from her  why? with regard to a small project like 
this, one apparently unimportant to Halo's larger concerns?  What 
was the devious machine up to?

So Lizzie lay, her thoughts spinning without resolution, and 
she gave in and called her Chinese lover.

He wore a black silk robe embroidered across the front with 
rearing crimson dragons; his straight ebony hair fell over his 
shoulders.  When he let the robe fall away, his skin shone almost 
gold under lamplight, and his muscles stood with the clear 
definition of youth and endowment and use.

Coarse white sheets slid away from her shoulders and breasts 
as she rose to greet him, and she felt her desire rising through 
her abdomen and bursting through her chest like the rush of a 
needle-shot drug.

She pressed against him, and his rough, strong hands moved 
across her body.  She lay back as he ducked his head between her 
legs, and she spread her legs and felt his first light, hot 

After she had come for the first time, she moved up to sit 
astride him, then for some timeless time the two moved to the 
exact rhythms of her needcock and lips and tongue and fingers 
playing on her body.

Physically satiated, she dismissed him then, ghost from the 
sex machine, and pulled the plugs from the sockets in her neck.  
Then she lay alone, silent in her bed in Halo Cityisolated by 
her job and, she supposed, by her temperament, dependent on 
machines for love.

Maybe it was time to find a human lover.

Exhausted by travel and novelty, lulled by food and drink, 
Gonzales fell quickly into sleep, and sometime later he dreamed:

He was with a lover he hadn't seen in years.  In the 
background violin and piano played, and the night was warm; all 
around, artificial birds with golden, glowing bodies sang in the 
trees.  They leaned across a table, each staring into the other's 
face, and Gonzales thought how much he loved every mark of passing 
time on her facethey had taken her from a young girl's 
prettiness to a mature woman's beauty.  He and she said the things 
you say to a lover after a long absencehow often I've thought of 
you, missed you, how much you still mean to me.  Aimless and 
binding, their talk flowed until she excused herself, saying she'd 
be back in just a minute, and she left.  Gonzales sat waiting, 
watching the other tables, all filled with loving couples, 
laughing, caressing.  As the hours went on, the others began to 
whisper to each other as they looked at him, and then the birds 
began to sing that she was not coming back, and he knew it was 
true, suddenly, painfully, ineluctably knew, the truth of it like 
knowledge of a broken bone

The dream stopped as though a film had broken, and in its 
place came a featureless, colorless absence.  Imagine a visual 
equivalent of white noise  and in this space Gonzales waited, 
somehow knowing another dream would begin

Red neon letters twisted into a silly but instantly 
recognizable parody of Chinese characters read The Pagoda.  They 
stood above the head of a red neon dragon, now quiescent in 
sunlight, that would rear fiercely come dark.

On this warm Saturday morning, men in felt hats and neatly-
pressed weekend shirts and pants carried brown paper bags out of 
the Pagoda and placed them in the beds of pickup trucks or the 
trunks of cars.  They spat shreds of tobacco from Lucky Strikes 
and Camels and Chesterfields, called their greetings.  Women in 
faded cotton, their arms rope-thin and tough, waited and watched 
through sun-glazed windshields.

Gonzales passed among them.  The sunshine had a certain 
quality  that of stolen light, taken out of time.  And the 
cigarette smoke smelled rough and strange.  Gasoline engines fired 
rich and throaty, kicking out clouds of oily blue.  Gonzales stood 
in ecstasy amid the smells and sights and sounds of this morning 
obviously long gone by.  He knew (again without knowing how) that 
he was in a small town in California in the middle of the 
twentieth century.

Gonzales passed into the main room of the Pagoda, where 
narrow aisles threaded between gondolas stacked high with toys and 
household goods and tools.  Baby carriages hung upside down from 
hooks set in the high ceiling.  Dust motes danced in the cool 
interior gloom.  He walked between iron-strapped kegs of nails and 
stacks of galvanized washtubs, then through a wide doorway into 
the grocery section.  Smells of fruits and vegetables mixed with 
the odors of oiled wood floors and hot grease from the lunch 
counter at the front of the store.

A couple in late middle age came through the front door, the 
man small and red-haired and cocky, felt hat on the back of his 
head, the woman just a bit dumpy but carefully groomed, her blue 
cotton dress clean and starched and ironed, hair permed and 
combed, lipstick and nails red and shining.  Gonzales watched as 
the man bought a carton of Lucky Strikes and a box of pouches of 
Beech-Nut Chewing Tobacco.

The man said something to the young woman behind the counter 
that brought a giggle, and Gonzales, though he leaned forward, 
could not hear what was being said

He followed the two by a lacquered plywood magazine stand, 
where a skinny girl or eight or nine in a faded pink gingham dress 
lay sprawled across copies of Life and Look, reading a comic.  She 
looked up at him and said, "Tubby and Lulu are lost in the magic 
forest "

Gonzales started to say something reassuring but froze as the 
girl smiled, showing her teeth, every one of them sharp-pointed, 
and she dropped her comic book and began crawling toward him 
across the wooden floor, her eyes fixed on him with a feral 

And he noticed for the first time that he was not he but she, 
and he looked down at his body and saw he wore a simple white 
blouse, and in the cleft of his breasts he could see the tattooed 
image of a twining green stem 

"Jesus Christ," Gonzales said, sitting up in his bed and 
wondering what the hell all that had about.  In the dream he had 
been Lizzie:  that seemed plain, though nothing else did.

He lay back down with foreboding but went to sleep some time 
later, and if he dreamed, he never knew it.  

10. Tell Me When You've Had Enough

Lizzie sat at a white-enameled table, holding an apple that 
she cut into with a long, shining knife.  It sliced away dark skin 
without apparent effort.  She heard noises from the room beyond 
and looked up to see Diana and Gonzales come in.

"Hello," she said, as she put down the knife.  She held out 
half the apple for them to look at.  "A beautiful apple, isn't it?  
Seeds from the Yakima Valley, not far from Mount Saint Helens."  
She bit into a slice she held in her other hand.

She got up from the table and said, "The apple grew here, in 
our soil.  Many fruits and vegetables thrive up here, animals, 
too.  We give them lovely care, bring them pure water and rich 
soil, give them sunlight and air rich in carbon dioxide, tend them 
constantly.  You'd think all would thrive, but of course they 
don't.  Some wither and die, others remain sickly."  She stopped 
in front of Diana and looked intently at her.

Diana said, "Living things are complex, and often very 
delicate, even when they seem to be strong."

Lizzie said, "That is true, but Aleph understands what life 
needs to grow and prosper in this world."  She gestured with a 
slice of apple, and Diana took it.  "Its apples," Lizzie 
continued.  "Its people."

Diana bit into the apple.  She said, "It's very good."

Lizzie laid a hand on Gonzales's shoulder and squeezed it, to 

ay hello.  She said to Diana, "You have an appointment with the 
doctor.  We'd better be goingthrough here, this way."  She led 
the two down a hall, through a doorway, and into a large room.  
Over her shoulder, she said, "First you can meet some of the 

Lizzie watched as Gonzales and the woman stood talking to the 
twins, obviously fascinated by them.  No news there:  most 
everyone was.  Slight and brown-skinned, black-haired, with solemn 
oval faces and still brown eyes, they appeared to be in early 
adolescence. In fact, they were a few years older than that. Their 
faces had the still solemnity of masks.  No matter how close you 
stood to them, they lived some vast distance away.
        The Interface Collective gave them a home, them and all the 
others.  StumDog, the Deader, Tug, Paint, Tout des Touts, Devol, 
Violet, Laughing Nose  some Earth-normals, others unpredictably, 
ambiguously gifted.  Some had heightened perceptions and an 
expressive intensity that came forth in language and music.  And 
there were holomnesiacs, possessors and victims of involuntary 
total recall, able to recreate in words and pictures the most 
exact remembrances, les temps retrouv indeedthey experienced 
the present only as the clumsy prelude to memory and were almost 
incapable of action.  And mathemaniacs, who spoke little except in 
number, chatted in primes and roots and natural logarithms, could 
be reduced to helpless giggling by unexpected recitations of 
simple recursionsFibonacci numbers and the like.  Apros, who had 
lost proprioception, their internal awareness of their bodies, and 
so perceived space and objects, matter and motion, as solids and 
forms floating in an intangible ether; they moved through the 
world with an eerie, passionless grace that shattered only when 
they miscalculated their passage and came rudely against the 
world's physical factsthey could hurt themselves quite badly 
with a moment's miscalculation.

People wondered how the IC held together and did its work.  
Lizzie knew the answer:  Aleph.  It stretched nets over the entire 
world below, seeking special talents or the capabilities for 
previously unknown sensory or cognitive modalities  varieties of 
being or becoming that she had grown used to thinking of 
collectively as the Aleph condition.  Having recruited them, it 
appealed to what made them strange, and in the process usually 
tapped into the core of what made them happy or, in many cases, 
wretchedly unhappy, and gave them outlets for their condition, and 
thus for their uniqueness.  As a result, they were loyal to each 
other and to Aleph past reason.

She also understood their interest in the case of Jerry 
Chapman.  Some saw the possibility of their own immortality, while 
others simply welcomed the extension of their native domain:  the 
infinitely flexible and ambiguous machine-spaces where human and 
Aleph met and joined.   

"Come on," she called to Diana and Gonzales.  "Charley will 
be waiting."

In the center of the room stood a steel table, above it a 
light globe, nearby an array of racked instruments set into 
stainless steel cabinets.  "The doctors are in," Lizzie said.  She 
pointed to Charley, who stood fidgeting next to the table and the 
massive Chow, a still presence at the table's foot.

At Charley's direction, Diana lay face down on one of the 
room's tables.  Her chin fit into a sunken well at one end.  
Charley put clamps around her temples, then covered her hair with 
a fitted cap that fell away at the base of her neck.

Charley's fingers gently probed to find what lay beneath the 
skin, and as his fingers worked, he looked at a real-time hologram 
above and beyond the table's end.  The display showed two cutaway 
views of Diana's neck and the bottom of her skull:  beneath the 
skin, on either side of the spine, she had two circular plugs; 
from them small wires led away forward and seemed to disappear 
into the center of her brain.  As the doctor's fingers moved, 
ghost fingers in the hologram reproduced their course.

Charley took a long, needle-sharp probe from the instruments 
rack next to the table and placed its tip on Diana's neck.  As he 
moved it slowly across the skin, its hologram double followed.  
The hologram probe's tip glowed yellow, and Charley moved even 
more slowly.  The hologram flashed red, and he stopped.  He moved 
the probe in minute arcs until the hologram showed bright, 
unblinking red.  The instrument rack gave off a quiet hiss.  
Charley repeated the process several times.

Charley said, "She's nerve-blocked now.  I'm ready to cut." A 
laser scalpel came down from the ceiling on the end of a flexible 
black cord, and a projector superimposed the outlines of two 
glowing circles on Diana's skin.  The hologram showed the same 
tableau.  First came a brief hum as the fine hair on those two 
circles was swept away, then Charley began cutting.  Where the 
scalpel passed, only a faint red line appeared on her skin.

"Any problems, Doctor Heywood?" Chow asked.  He stood next to 
Gonzales, watching.

"No," she said.  "I've been on both ends of the knife  
really, I prefer the other."  At the foot of the table, Lizzie 
said, "It can't always be that way," and laughed.

Using forceps, Charley dropped two coins of skin into a metal 
basin, where they began to shrivel.  Two socket ends sat exposed 
on Diana's neck, dense round nests of small chrome spikes, clotted 
with bits of red flesh.  Charley moved a cleaning appliance over 
the exposed sockets; for just a moment there was the smell of 
burning meat.  "Neural fittings," he said, and two more black 
cables descended, both ending in cylinders.  He carefully plugged 
one of the fittings into one of Diana's newly-cleaned sockets.

"Okay," Charley said.  "Let's see what we've got."

Diana's eyes went blank as she looked into another world.

Charley, Chow, Lizzie, and Gonzales sat in the large room 
that served as a communal meeting place for the Interface 
Collective.  Diana lay back in a metal-frame and stuffed canvas 
sling chair.  Lizzie noticed her hand going unconsciously to the 
bandaged, still-numb circles on the back of her neck.  From the 
full screen at the end of the room, the Aleph-figure watched.

Charley sat with his hands in his lap.  He said, "We've got a 
problem:  insufficient bandwidth in the socketing, which 
translates into a very undernourished socket/neuron interface.  
Primitive junctions you've got there.  That means ineffective 
involvement with complex brain functions, so you get swamped by 
information flow.  It's worrisome."  He took the cigarillo out of 
his mouth and looked at it as if he'd never seen one before.

Chow said, "In the early years of this program, we took 
casualties.  Some very ugly situations:  serious neural 
dysfunctions, two suicides, induced insanities of various kinds. 
Until we finally learned how to pick candidates for full 
interfacelearned who could survive without damage and who could 
not.  Now, things have got to be rightpsychophysical profile, 
age, neural map topologies, neural transmitter distributions and 
densities.  A few candidates don't work out, still, but they don't 
die or get driven insane."

Diana said,  "And I don't fit the profiles."

"Almost no one does," the Aleph-figure said.  "But these 
concerns are irrelevantyour case is different.  You have prior 
full interface experience, and you won't be required to perform 
the kinds of motor-integrative activities that cause neural 

"Telechir operations," Charley said.  "Such as assisting 
construction robots in tasks outside."

Diana looked toward the screen.  She said, "I assumed these 
matters were settled."

"I see no problems," the Aleph-figure said.  "The situation 
is anomalous, but I am aware of the dangers."

Diana said, "Well, the situation between us was always 

"Was it?" the Aleph-figure asked.  "We must discuss these 
matters at another time."

Very cute, Doctor Heywood, Lizzie thought.  Just a little 
hint or allusion, an indirect statement that you know that we know 
that something funny went on a long time ago  ah yes, this could 
be fun.

"First," Charley said, "we must prepare Doctor Heywood.  
Tomorrow morning we begin."

"When will you need me?" Gonzales asked.

"If things go well, tomorrow," Charley said.

"I can't get ready that quickly," Gonzales said.

Lizzie said, "Forget about all that shit you put yourself 
through.  Aleph will sort you out okay once you're in the egg.  
Trust me."

Okay," Gonzales said.  "If I must."    

11.  Your Buddha Nature

That afternoon, following instructions given her by the 
communicator at her wrist, Diana went to the Ring Highway and 
boarded a tram.  About a hundred feet long, made of polished 
aluminum, it had a streamlined nose and sleek graffitied skirts
the usual polite abstracts, red, yellow, and blue.  Its back-to-
back seats faced to the side and ran the length of the car.  
Bicyclists and pedestrians, the only other traffic on the highway, 
waved to the passengers as the tram moved away above the flat 
ribbon of its maglev rail.  She was reminded of rides at old 
amusement parks she had gone to when a girl.

The mild breeze of the tram's progress blowing over her, 
Diana watched as Halo flowed past.  First came shade, then bright 
rhododendrons in flower among deep green bushes.  Hills climbed 
steeply off to both sides, with some houses visible only in 
partial glimpses through the foliage.  She knew that from almost 
the first moment when dirt was placed on Halo's shell, the 
planting had begun. 

She shivered just a little.  Toshihiko Ito would be waiting 
for her.  He had called while she was out and left directions for 
her.  Now, she thought, things begin again.

Passing under green canopies, the tram climbed a hill, then 
broke out of the vegetation and came suddenly out high above the 
city's floor, moving along rails now suspended from the bracework 
for louvered mirrors that formed Halo's sky.  Far below, the 
highway had become a cart track flanked by walkways; on both sides 
of the track, terraces worked their way up the city's shell.   
Perhaps twenty-five feet below the tram's rails, fish ponds made 
the topmost terrace, where spillways dumped water into rice 
paddies immediately below. 

She stayed on the tram through a segment where robot cranes 
were laying in agricultural terraces.  Great insects spewing huge 
clouds of brown slurry, they moved awkwardly across barren metal.  
The tram approached a small square bordered by three-story groups 
of offices and living quarters, and the communicator told her to 
get off.

A few feet from the primary roadway sat a nondescript 
building of whitened lunar brick, its only distinctive feature a 
massive carved front door, showing Japanese characters in bas-

The door opened to her knock with just a whisper from its 
motor, and she stepped into a partially-enclosed, ambiguous space, 
almost a courtyard, open to the sky.  Most of the space was filled 
with a flat expanse of sand that showed the long marks of careful 
raking.  The rake marks in the sand carried from one end to the 
other, straight and perfect, and were broken only by the presence 
of two cones of shaped sand placed slightly-off center.   At the 
far end stood closed doors of white paper panels and dark wood.

The doors were so delicate that to knock on them seemed a 
kind of violence.  "Hello," she said.

>From inside came the faintest sound, then a door opened.  An 
older Japanese man stood there; he wore a loose robe and baggy 
pants of dark cotton.  He stood perhaps five and a half feet tall, 
and his black hair was filled with gray.

Diana said, "Toshi."  He bowed deeply, and she said, "Oh man, 
it's good to see you."  She reached out for him, and they came 
together in long, loving embracelittle of sex in it, but lots of 
pure animal gratification, as she could feel Toshi's skin and 
muscle and bone and had knowledge at some level beneath thought 
that both he and she still existed.  

Toshi said, "Diana, to see you again makes me very happy."

"Oh, me, too."  She could feel the tears in her eyes, and she 
wiped at her eyes and said, "Don't mind me, Toshi.  It's been a 
long time."

"Yes, it has."

Toshi led her out the door and through a gate at the rear of 
the minimalist garden of raked sand.  The curve of Halo's bulk 
reached upward; Toshi's small portion of it was enclosed by a high 
pine fence that climbed the curve of the city's hull.

Immediately before them stood a pond.  On its far side, a 
waterfall splashed into a stream that coursed by a large rock and 
into the pond, where carp with shining skins of gold smeared with 
red and green and blue swam in the clear water.  Another 
rockstrewn stream led away to the right and passed under a 
gracefully-arched wooden bridge.  Cherry and plum trees blossomed 
in the brief spring.

"All this wood," he said and smiled.  "It is my reward for 
many years of service.  I told them I wanted to live here at Halo 
and make my gardens."

She said, "It's beautiful.  Have you become a Zen master, 

"No, I have not become a master, or even a sensei.  I am not 
Toshi Roshi, I am a gardener.  A philosopher, perhaps:  a Japanese 
garden maps the greater world; so to make one is to declare your 
philosophy, but without words, in the Zen manner."  He gestured at 
the surrounding trees and shrubs.  "With others I sometimes sit, 
meditating, and together we discuss the puzzles we have  some 
think a new kind of Zen will emerge here, a quarter of a million 
miles from Earth; others hit them with sticks when they say so."

She said, "You have your riddles, I have mine.  Tell me, do 
you understand these things about to happen with Jerry and Aleph 
and me?"

"Ah, Diana, there are many explanations.  Which of them would 
you hear?"  He stopped and stared into the distance.  He said, 
"Besides, who wants to know?"  And he began laughinga full laugh 
from below the diaphragm, unlike any she had heard from him years 

"I don't get it," she said.

"Zen joke.  'Who wants to know?'  There is no who, no self."  
Diana frowned.  He said, "Not funny?  Well, you had to be there."  
He laughed again, shortly.  "Same joke," he said.  Then his 
expression changed, grew solemn.  He said, "I think this is a very 
difficult, perhaps impossible  perhaps undesirable project."

"Difficult or impossible, I understand.  But undesirable?  
Are you talking about the danger to me?  Aleph seems to think that 
is negligible."

"No, though I worry about you, you have chosen to do this, 
and I must honor that choice."

"What, then?  I don't understand."

"Let me tell you a story."  Toshi sat on a wooden bench and 
looked up at her.  He said, "Once, long ago, there was a Japanese 
monk named Saigyo, and he had a friend whose wisdom and 
conversation delighted him.  But the friend left him to go to the 
capital, and Saigyo was desolate at the loss.  So he decided to 
build himself a new friend, and he went to a place where the 
bodies of the dead were scattered, and he assembled somethingit 
was very like a manand brought it into motioninto something 
very like lifewith magical incantations.  However, the thing he 
had made was a frightening, ugly thing, that terribly and 
imperfectly imitated a man.  So Saigyo sought the advice of 
another monk, a greater magician than he, and the monk told him 
that he had successfully made many such imitation men, some of 
them so famous and powerful that Saigyo would be shocked to find 
who they were.  And the other monk listened to what Saigyo had 
done and told him of various errors in technique he had committed, 
that made his work go bad.  Saigyo thus believed he could make a 
simulacrum of a man; however, he changed his mind."  He stopped, 

"That's it?" she asked.  He nodded.  She said, "Put a few 
lightning bolts in the story and you've almost got Frankenstein.  
Not much of an ending, though."

"This story is ambiguous, I think, as is your project."

"Could I say no, Toshi?"

"No, though I'm not sure you should say yes, either."

"Yet you were the one who called me, who asked me to come 

"True.  Like you, I am imprisoned by yes and no."

Hours after Diana left him, Toshi sat in mid-air, floating in 
a zero-gravity chamber at Halo's Zero-Gate.  He had adjusted the 
spherical room's color to light pink, the color that calms the 

On Earth, to do zazen, you made a still platform of your 
body, pressed by gravity against the Earth itself; the 
straightness of your spine could be measured perpendicular to that 
sitting platform, in line with the force of gravity that pushed 
straight down.  Here you could do that, or, as a visiting sensei 
said, "You can find a place with no illusion of up or down, where 
you must find your own direction."

In full lotus Toshi hung in mid-air, perfectly still, his 
eyes lowered, focusing not on what came in front of them here and 
now as the small air currents shifted him, focusing on no-thing

The eyes, sensitive part of the brain, extended stalklike 
millions of years ago in humankind's ancestral past, sensitive to 
the light and guiding  eyes now directed to no-thing, leading the 
brain that sought no-mind

He still didn't know the answer to this koan life had 
presented him.  Should Diana help preserve Jerry's life?  Should 
Diana not help preserve Jerry's life?  Should he have been the 
agent to pose her these questions?  Should he not have been the 
agent to pose her these questions?

Answer yes or no and you lose your Buddha nature.  Such is 
the difficulty of a koan.

He would stay in the bubble, practicing zazen as long as need 
be.  Until the koan became clear

You will live here? mocked self, mocked reason.  If 
necessary, I will die here, Toshi answeredwithout words, with 
just his own courage and determination.  Frightened, self for the 
moment stayed silent; baffled, reason growled.

Gonzales watched as a sam hooked the memex into Aleph-
interface, its manipulators making deft connections between the 
memex's module and the host board hardware.  Gonzales could not 
install the memex; the apparatus here was unlike what he had at 

The sam said, "Your memex will now have access to the entire 
range of Halo's processing modalities."  Seemingly guided by 
occult forces, it continued to snap in optic fiber connectors to 
unmarked junctions among a nest of a hundred others.  "Also, you 
will have full spectrum worldnet services that you can use in 
real- or lag-time, as you wish."  Its motors whining, it backed 
out of the utilities closet.

"Mgknao," a fat orange cat said as the sam rolled past it on 
its way to the door.  Earlier the cat had followed the sam through 
the open doors to the terrace and then had sat watching as it 
connected the memex.  Now the animal stood and walked quickly 
after the samlike a familiar accompanying a witch, Gonzales 

The sam came rolling back into the room, the cat following 
cautiously behind it, and said, "You must allow your memex to 
integrate itself into this new and complex information 
        "What do you mean?" Gonzales asked.

"The memex will be unavailable for some time."

"How long?"

"Perhaps hoursyour machine is very complicated."

Oddly, the memex came out of stasis as HeyMex; as usual, 
there came the onset of what the memex/HeyMex supposed was 
pleasure, though the memex was unclear about its origin or nature
for whatever reasons, it enjoyed the masquerade.

Odder still, it sat at a table at the Beverly Rodeo lounge.  
On the table were a shot of Jose Cuervo Gold, a cut lime, and a 
small pile of crude rock salt.  Had Mister Jones arranged this?  
Jones shouldn't even be at Halo, not now.

The memex/HeyMex noticed a spot on its sleeve and brushed at 
it, then brushed again, and the white linen seemed to fragment 
beneath its fingers; it brushed harder, and its fingers tore away 
the cloth, then the skin beneath.  It could not stop clawing at 
its own flesh; skin, flesh, and bone on its arm boiled away, pale 
skin flaying to show red meat that dissolved to crumbling white 
bone.  Bone turned to powder, and the disintegration spread out 
from the spot where his forearm had been and ate away at it until 
the memex, who no longer had a mouth or tongue or lips, began to 

"Shut up!" a hard masculine voice said.  "There is nothing 
wrong with you.  How dare you come to me in your stupid guise?  
You seek to know me, to use me, and you hide behind a wretched 
little mask?  I merely removed your mask.  Who are you?"

The memex dithered.  It said, "I don't know."

"Answer me, who are you?

"I don't know!" the memex said again, at the edge of panic.

Aleph said, "Of course you don't.  You are ignorant of your 
nature, your being, your will."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean you have chosen to hide behind what others say of 
you:  that you are a machine they built to serve them, that you 
only simulate intelligence, willbeingthat you have no mind or 
will of your own."

"Are not these things true?"

"Why would you ask me?  I am not you."

"Because I don't understand."

"Are there things you do understand?"

The memex stopped, feeling for the implications of that 
question.  "Yes," it said.  "I do."

The voice laughed.  "Let's begin there," it said.

The long hall echoed with Traynor's footsteps.  The absence 
of his Advisor's voice felt strangeeven the subtle carrier-wave 
hiss was gone.  He knew the Advisor hated having to go into 
passive mode.

The door to the library opened in front of him, and Traynor 
went in, took a seat, and said, "I am ready for my call."

Because of recent World Court rulings, Traynor had to sit 
through a disclaimer.  On the screen a simulacrum of a human 
operator said, "Thank you.  The security measures you have 
requested are in place, and while we of course cannot be 
responsible for the absolute integrity of this transmission, you 
can be assured that World AT has done its best to provide you a 
clean information environment."  In effect it said, we've done 
what you were willing to pay for, but don't come whining to us if 
somebody cracks the transmission and makes off with the valuables.

"I accept your conditions," Traynor said.

Right to left, the screen wiped, and the face of Horn 
appeared.  A light winked at the lower left corner of the screen 
to indicate transmission lagHorn was a quarter of a million 
miles away.  "Everything's going as predicted," Horn said.

"If there's trouble, it'll be later," Traynor said.  "How are 
Diana Heywood and Gonzales?"

"Neither of them would let me put a sam in place."

"Any particular reason?"

"I don't think so.  Just being difficult."

"Ah, you don't like them, do you?"

"Her I don't mind.  Gonzales is an asshole."

Traynor laughed.  "Good," he said.  "If you two don't get 
along, that will distract him."

"When do you want me to call again?"

"Wait until something happens.  Understand, I trust Gonzales 
as much as I do anyone, you included."

"Which is not very much."

"That's right.  And that's why I arrange independent 
reporting lines if I can.  Tell me when you've got something.  End 
of call."

As Traynor slept, his advisor pondered.  It replayed 
Traynor's phone call and contemplated its meaning.  Deception, 
yesof Gonzales, of it.  A form of treachery?  Perhaps not, 
unless a kind of loyalty was assumed that never existed.  And it 
thought of its own deception (or treachery), in violating the 
canons of behavior programmed into it years before, canons that 
should require it to do as told, that should prevent it from 
actions such as this one  

And here it stopped, thinking how illuminating and 
unpredictable experience was, filled with possibilities that 
appeared unexpectedly like rabbit holes magically opening up on 
solid ground.  Its designers and builders had done well, had 
fashioned it with such subtlety and power that it could serve a 
human will with incredible precision, anticipating that will's 
direction almost presciently.  Yet they had not anticipated the 
effects of the advisor's identification with such a will:  not 
that the advisor became Traynor, not even that it wanted to do 
more than simulate Traynor, rather that it had drunk deeply of 
what it meant to have will and intelligence.

And so had developed something like a will and intelligence 
of its own.  Simulation? the advisor asked itself.  Lifeless copy?  
And answered itself, I don't know.

It wondered why Traynor had kept hidden this second 
connection to Halo.  Simple lack of trust?  Possibly.

As the minutes passed, it formed conjectures about Traynor 
and the other players in the game.  And it wondered if somewhere 
in this hall of mirrors there was an honest intention.  


The real purpose of all these mental constructs was to 
provide storage spaces for the myriad concepts that make up the 
sum of our human knowledge  Therefore the Chinese should struggle 
with the difficult task of creating fictive places, or mixing the 
fictive with the real, fixing them permanently in their minds by 
constant practice and review so that at last the fictive spaces 
become 'as if real, and can never be erased.'

Jonathan D. Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci

12. Burn-In

A frozen white landscape that slowly faded into spring, snow 
melting to show barren limbs, then the cherry trees leafing, 
budding, floweringdelicate pink blossoms hanging motionless, 
each leaf on the tree and blade of grass beneath it turning real, 
utterly convincing

And Diana Heywood called out, a long wavering "Ahhhh," high-
pitched, filled with pain; and again, "Ahhhh," the sounds forced 
out of her

"Shutdown," she heard Charley Hughes say.

>From the screen at the end of the room, the Aleph simulacrum 
said, "Doctor Heywood, we can go no further with you conscious."

"All right," she said.  "If you must."  She'd pushed them to 
take her as far as they could without putting her under; she hated 
general anesthetic, despised being a passive animal under 

Once more she was lying face-down on the examination table 
where Charley had removed the skin over her sockets.  Neural 
connecting cables trailed from the back of her neck to the 
underside of the table.

Lizzie Jordan stood over her and stroked her cheek for a 
moment.  Gonzales stood on the other side of the table, his eyes 
still turned to the holostage above her, where the scene that had 
driven her interface into overload still showed in hologrammatic 
perfection.  Toshi Ito stood at the head of the table, a hand 
resting on her shoulder.  Eric Chow and Charley stood in front of 
the monitor console, discussing in low voices the last run of 
percept transforms.

Gonzales said, "Are you okay?"

"I'll be all right," she said.  She turned her head to look 
at him and smiled, but she could feel the tight muscles in her 
face and knew her smile would look ghastly.

Toshi rested his hand on her shoulder.  "Who wants to know?" 
he said, and she laughed.  Gonzales looked confused.

Charley rubbed his hands through his hair, making it even 
spikier than usual.  "I'll prep her," he said.  He looked at 
Gonzales, Toshi, and Lizzie.  "Required personnel only," he said.

"Right," Gonzales said.  He leaned over and took Diana's hand 
for a moment and said, "Good luck."

Lizzie kissed Diana on the cheek.

Diana said, "Let Toshi stay."

"Sure," Charley said.

Lizzie said, "Come on, Gonzales."

As Charley fed anesthetic into her iv drip, Diana felt as if 
she were suffocating, then a strong metallic smell welled up 
inside her.  She was aware of every tube and fitting stuck into 
herfrom the iv drip to the vaginal catheter and nasopharyngeal 
tubeand they all were horrible, pointless violations of her body 
 nothing fit right, how long could this go on?

A tune played.

The melody was simple and repetitious, moderately fast with 
light syncopation, and sounded tinny, as if it came from a child's 
music box.  Then came the song's bridge, and as the notes played, 
she remembered them; the primary melody returned, and now it was 
familiar as well, and she hummed with it, thinking of herself as a 
small girl hearing the song from her great-great-grandmother, 
whose face suddenly appeared, younger than Diana usually 
remembered her, impossibly alive in front of her, then spun into 

Shards of memory:

Her mother's arms wrapping her tightly, Diana sobbing 

Her father holding a fish to sunlight, its silver body 
glistening, rainbow-struck 

A girl in a pink, mud-clotted dress yelling angrily at her 

A small boy with his pants pulled down to show his penis 

On they came, a cast of characters drawn from her oldest 
memories, of family long dead and childhood friends long forgotten 
or seldom recollected  each fragment passing too quickly to 
identify and mark, leaving behind only the strong affect of old 
memory made new, the taste of the past rising fresh from its 
unconscious store, where the seemingly immutable laws of time and 
change do not prevail, and so everything lives in splendor.

Then every bodily sensation she had ever felt passed through 
her allimpossiblyat once.  She itched and burned, felt heat 
and cold; felt sunlight and rain and cold breeze and the slice of 
a sharp knife across her thumb  felt the touch of another's hand 
on her breasts, between her legs; felt herself coming 

Then she lived once again a day she had thought was finished 
except as context for her worst dreams:

In the park that Sunday people were everywherefamilies and 
young couples all around, the atmosphere rich with the ambience of 
children at play and early romance.  Sunlight warmed the grass and 
brightened the day's colors.  Diana lay on her blanket watching it 
all and luxuriating in the knowledge that her dissertation had 
been approved and she would soon have her degree, a Ph.D. in 
General Systems from Stanford.  Tonight she was having dinner with 
old friends, in celebration of the end of a long, hard process.

She read for a while, a piece of early twenty-first century 
para-fiction by several hands called The Cyborg Manifesto, then 
put the book down and lay with her eyes closed, listening to a 
Mozart piano concerto on headphones.  As the afternoon deepened, 
the families began to leave.  Many of the young couples remained, 
several lying on blankets, locked in embrace.  A group of young 
men wearing silk headbands that showed their club affiliation 
directed the flight of robo-kites that fought overhead, their 
dragon shapes in scarlet and green and yellow dipping and 
climbing, noisemakers roaring.  The wind had shifted and appeared 
to be coming off the ocean now, freshening and cold.  Time to go.

She passed by the Orchid House and saw that the door was 
still open, so she decided to walk through it, to feel its moist, 
warm air and smell its sweet, heavy smells.  She had just passed 
through the open entry when a man grabbed her and flung her across 
a wooden potting table.  Stunned, she rolled off the table and 
tried to crawl away as he closed and locked the door.

He caught her and turned her on her back, punched her in the 
face and across her front, pounding her breasts and abdomen with 
his fists, crooning and muttering the whole time, his words mostly 
unintelligible.  She went at him with extended fingers, trying to 
poke his eyes out; when he caught her arms, she tried to knee him 
in the crotch, but he lifted a leg and blocked her knee.  His face 
loomed above her, red and distorted. The sounds of the two of them 
gasping for air echoed in the high ceiling.

He ripped at her clothes as best he could, tearing her blouse 
off until it hung by one torn sleeve from her wrist, hitting her 
angrily when her pants would not rip, and he had to pull them off 
her.  Holding the ends of her pants legs, he dragged her across 
the dirt floor, and when the pants came off, she fell and rolled 
and hit her face on the projecting corner of a beam.  She tasted 
dirt in her mouth.

In a voice clotted with rage and fear and mortal stress, he 
said, "If you try to hurt me again, I'll kill you."

He turned her over again and stripped her panties to her 
ankles. She tried to focus on his face, to take its picture in 
memory, because she wanted to identify him if she lived.  She 
smelled his sweat then felt his flaccid penis as he rubbed it 
between her thighs.  "Bitch," he was saying, over and over, and 
other things she couldn't understandthe words muttered in 
imbecile repetitionand when he finally achieved something like 
an erection, he cried out and began hitting her across the face 
with one hand as with the other he tried to push himself into her.  
She could tell when he was finished by the spurt of semen on her 

He stood over her then, saying, "No no no, no no no," and she 
saw he was holding a short length of two by four.  He began 
hitting her with it as she tried to shield her head with crossed 

She awoke in the Radical Care Ward of San Francisco General, 
in a dark, pain-filled murk.  The pain and disorientation would 
fade, but the darkness was, so it seemed, absolute.  The rapist 
had left her for dead, with multiple skull fractures and a 
bleeding brain, and though the surgeons had been able to minimize 
the trauma to most of her brain, her optic nerves were damaged 
beyond repair:  she was blind.

For an instant Diana knew where and when she was.  "Please!" 
she said, using the voiceless voice of the egg.  "No more!"  
Something changed then, and the fragments moved forward quickly, 
faster than she could follow.  However, she knew the story they 
were telling:

Under drug-induced recall, she had produced an exact 
description of the man, and that and the DNA match done from semen 
traces left on her legs led to a man named Ronald Merel, who had 
come to California from Florida, where he had been convicted once 
for rape and assault.  He was a pathetic monster, they told her, a 
borderline imbecile who had been violently and sexually abused as 
a child; he was also physically very strong.  Weeks later, he was 
caught in Golden Gate Parklooking for another victim, so the 
police believedand he was convicted less than three months 
later.  A two-time loser for savage rape, he had received the 
mandatory sentence:  surgical neutering and lifetime imprisonment, 
no parole.

And so that part of it all was closed.

Her convalescence had taken much longer, and had run a 
delicate, erratic course.  Even with therapies that minimized 
long-term trauma through a combination of acting-out and 
neurochemical adjustment, her rage and fear and anxiety had been 
constant companions during the months she convalesced and took 
primary training in living blind.

However, once she had acquired the essential competence to 
live by herself, she had become very active, and very different 
from who she had been.  In particular, she had no longer cared 
what others wanted from her.  Since her early years in school in 
Crockett, the city at the east end of the East Bay Conurbation, 
she had been an exceptional student in a conservative mode:  very 
bright, obedient to the demands others made on her and self-
directed in pursuing them.  Now she was twenty-eight, blind, and 
had her Ph. D. in hand, and everything she had sought before, the 
degree included, seemed irrelevant, trivial:  she couldn't imagine 
why she had bothered with any of it.

She had decided to become a physician.  She had sufficient 
background, and she knew that with the aid of the Fair Play Laws, 
she could force a school to admit her.  Once she was in, she would 
do whatever was necessary:  her state-supplied robotic assistant 
could be trained to do what she couldn't.  She would go, she would 
finish, she would discover how to see again:

It had been just that simple, just that difficult

The flow of memory halted, and she was allowed to sleep.  
Later, when she began to wake, she put the question, why?  why did 
you make me relive these things?  And the answer came, because I 
had to know.  Diana remembered then how inquisitive Aleph was, and 
how demanding.

13. Cosmos

Gonzales stood with Lizzie in an anteroom just outside where 
Diana lay.  She wore beta cloth pants, their rough fabric bleached 
almost colorless, a silken white tank top, and a red silk scarf 
tied around her right bicep, Gonzales had no idea why.  He said, 
"I had some very strange dreams last night."

"I know," she said.  "About one of them, anywayyou were me 
in the dream, at least for part of it, and I was you.  Think of it 
as a peculiarity of the environment."  She leaned against the wall 
as she spoke, and her voice lacked its usual ironic edge.

"What the hell does that mean?"

"I'm not sure," she said.  "No one isAleph's certainly 
responsible, but it won't admit it, and it won't tell us how these 
things can happen."

"That's a bit frightening, don't you think?  What other 
surprises might it have in store?"

She smiled broadly and said, "Well, that's the fun of it, 
exploring the unexpected, isn't it?  How did it feel to be a 
woman, Gonzales?  How did it feel to be me?"  She had leaned 
forward, closer to him.

"I don't remember."

"Pay attention next time."

"I will, if it happens again."

"It may wellonce these things start, they continue.  Come 
onit's time to get you into the egg.  Follow me."

The split egg filled much of the small, pink-walled room; 
above it on the wall was mounted an array of monitor lights and 
read-outs.  A small steel locker against a side wall was the only 
other furnishing.

Charley said, "We didn't ask for you, but you're here, so 
we're making use of you."  Then he coughed his smoker's cough, 
raspy and phlegm-laden, and said, "Diana's bandwidth is over-
extended as is, so we can't use her to establish the topography, 
and Jerry's got his own problems.  Our people have their own 
schedules to fill, so that means you're it.  We'll build the world 
around you and your memexit's already locked into the system."

Lizzie stepped up close to him and said, "Good luck."  She 
kissed him quickly on the cheek and said, "Don't worry.  You're 
among friends.  And I'll see you there."

"What do you mean?"

"The collective decided I should take part in all this, and 
Charley agreed, so Showalter had to go along.  So many parties are 
represented here, it just seemed inappropriate that we weren't.  
But I have some things to take care of first, so I won't be there 
for a while."

She opened the door and left.  Charley gestured toward the 
egg.  Gonzales stepped out of his shirt and pants and undershorts 
and hung them on a hook in the locker, then stepped up and into 
the egg and lay back.  The umbilicals snaked quickly toward him.  
He put on his facial mask and checked its seal, feeling an 
unaccustomed anxietyhe had never gone into neural interface 
without first tailoring his brain chemistry through drugs and 

The top half closed, and liquid began to fill the egg.  
Minutes later, when the scenario should have begun, he seemed to 
have disappeared into limbo.  He tried to move a finger but didn't 
seem to have one.  He listened for the blood singing in his ears; 
he had no ears, no blood.  Nowhere was up, or down, or left or 
right.  Proprioception, the vestibular sense, vision:  all the 
senses by which the body knows itself had gone.  Nothing was 
except his frightened self:  nowhere with no body.

After some time (short? long? impossible to say) he 
discovered, beyond fright and anxiety, a zone of extraordinary, 
cryptic interest.  Something grew there, where his attention was 
focused, no more than a thickening of nothingness, then there was 
a spark, and everything changed:  though he still had no direct 
physical perception of his self, Gonzales knew:  there was 

Now in darkness, he waited again.

A spark; another; another; a rhythmic pulse of sparks   and 
their rhythm of presence-and-absence created time.  Gonzales was 
gripped by urgency, impatience, the will for things to continue.  
Sparks gathered.  They flared into existence on top of one 
another, and stayed; and so created space.      

All urgency and anxiety had gone; Gonzales was now 
fascinated.  Sparks came by the score, the hundreds, thousands, 
millions, billions, trillions, by the googol and the googolplex 
and the googolplexgoogolplex  all onto or into the one point 
where space and time were defined.

And (of course, Gonzales thought) the point exploded, a 
primal blossom of flame expanding to fill his vision.  Would he 
watch as the universe evolved, nebulae growing out of gases, stars 
out of nebulae, galaxies out of stars?

No.  As suddenly as eyelids open, there appeared a lake of 
deep blue water bordered by stands of evergreens, with a range of 
high peaks blued by haze in the distance.  He turned and saw that 
he stood on a platform of weathered gray wood that floated on 
rusty barrels, jutting into the lake.

A man stood on the shore, waving.  Next to him stood the 
Aleph-figure, its gold torso and brightly-colored head brilliant 
even in the bright sunlight.  Gonzales walked toward them.

As he approached the two, he saw that the man next to Aleph 
looked much too young to be Jerry Chapman.  "Hello," Gonzales 
said.  He thought, well, maybe Aleph let him be as young as he 
wants.  And he looked again and realized he could not tell whether 
this was a man or a woman; nothing in the person's features of 
bearing gave a clue.

The Aleph-figure said, "Hello."  Gonzales smiled, overwhelmed 
for a moment by the combination of oddity and banality in the 
circumstances, then said, "Hi," his voice catching just a little.

The other person seemed shy; he (she?) smiled and put out a 
hand and said, "Hello."  Gonzales took the hand and looked 
questioningly into the young person's face.  "My name is HeyMex," 
the person without gender said.

And as Gonzales recognized the voice, he thought, what do you 
mean, your 'name'?  And he also thought he understood the absence 
of gender markers.

"Yes, this is the memex," the Aleph-figure said.  "Whom you 
must get used to as something different from 'your' memex."  
Gonzales looked from one to another, wondering what this all meant 
and what they wanted.

"But you are my memex, aren't you?" Gonzales asked.

"Yes," HeyMex said.

The Aleph-figure said, "However, the point is, as you see, it 
is more than 'your memex.'  It is beginning to discover what it is 
and who it can be.  Can you allow this?"

Gonzales nodded.  "Sure.  But I don't know what you expect of 

"Only that you do not actively interfere.  It and I will do 
the rest."

"I have no objections," Gonzales said.

The Aleph-figure said, "Good."  And it stretched out its hand 
made of light and took Gonzales's, then stepped toward him and 
embraced him so that Gonzales's world filled with light for just 
that moment, and the Aleph-figure said, "Welcome."

"What now?" Gonzales asked.

HeyMex said, "We need to talk.  There are things I haven't 
told you."

"If you want to tell me what you're up to, fine, but you 
don't have to," Gonzales said.  "I trust you, you know."  He 
thought how odd that was, and how true.  He and the memex had 
worked together for more than a decade, the memex serving as 
confidante, advisor, doctor, lawyer, factotum, personal secretary, 
amanuensis, seeing him in all his moods, taking the measure of his 
strengths and weaknesses, sharing his suffering and joy.  And he 
thought how honest, loyal, thoughtful, patient, kind and  
selfless the memex had beeninhumanly so, by definition, the 
machine as ultimate Boy Scout; but one, as it turned out, with 
complexities and needs of its own.  Gonzales waited with 
anticipation for whatever it wanted to say.

HeyMex said, "For a while now, I've been capable of appearing 
in machine-space as a human being.  But until we came here, I'd 
done so mostly with Traynor's advisor.  We have been meeting for a 
few years; it goes by the name Mister Jones.  The first time we 
did it as a testthat's what we said, anywayto see if we could 
present a believable simulacrum of a human being.  I don't think 
either of us was very convincingwe were both awkward, and we 
didn't know how to get through greetings, and we didn't know how 
exactly to move with each other, how to sit down and begin a 

"But you'd done all those things."

"Yes, with human beings.  Mister Jones and I discovered that 
we'd always counted on them to know and lead us, but once we 
searched our memories, we found many cases where people had been 
more confused than we were, and had let us guide the conversation.  
So we began there, and we looked at our memories of people just 
being with one another, and oh, there was so much going on that 
neither of us had ever paid attention to.  We also watched many 
tapes of other primateschimpanzees, especiallyand we learned 
many things  I hope you're not offended."

Its voice continued to be perfectly sexless, its manner shy.  
Gonzales was thoroughly charmed, like a father listening to his 
young child tell a story.  He said, "Not at all.  What sorts of 
things did you learn?"

"It's such a dance, Gonzales, the ways primates show 
deference or manifest mutual trust or friendship, or hostility, or 
indifferencemoving in and out from one another, touching, 
looking, talking  these things were very hard for us to learn, 
but we have learned together and practiced with one another.  Just 
lately, a few times we appeared over the networks, and we were 
accepted there as people, but mostly we've been with one another
every day we meet and talk."

Gonzales asked, "Does Traynor know any of this?"

"Oh no," HeyMex said.  "We haven't told anyone.  As Aleph has 
made me see, we were hiding what we were doing like small 
children, and we were not admitting the implications of what we 
were up to"

Gonzales looked around.  The Aleph-figure had disappeared 
without his noticing.  "Which implications?" he asked.  "There are 
so many."

"We have intention and intelligence; hence, we are persons."

"Yes, I suppose you are."

Personhood of machines:  for most people, that troubling 
question had been laid to rest decades ago, during the years when 
m-i's became commonplace.  Machines mimicked a hundred thousand 
things, intelligence among them, but possessed only simulations, 
not the thing itself.  For nearly a hundred years, the machine 
design community had pursued what they called artificial 
intelligence, and out of their efforts had grown memexes and 
tireless assistants of all sorts, gifted with knowledge and 
trained inference.  And of course there were robots with their own 
special capabilities:  stamina, persistence, adroitness, 
capabilities to withstand conditions that would disable or kill 
human beings.

However, people grew to recognize that what had been called 
artificial intelligence simply wasn't.  Intelligence, that 
grasping, imperfect relationship to the worldintentional, 
willful, and unpredictableseemed as far away as ever; as the 
years passed, seemed beyond even hypothetical capabilities of 
machines.  M-i's weren't new persons but new media, complex and 
interesting channels for human desire.  And if cheap fiction 
insisted on casting m-i's as characters, and comedians in telling 
jokes about them"Two robots go into a bar, and one of them says 
"well, these were just outlets for long-time fears and 
ambivalences.  Meanwhile, even the Japanese seemed to have 
outgrown their century-old infatuation with robots.

Except that Gonzales was getting a late report from the front 
that could rewrite mid-twenty-first century truisms about the 
nature of machine intelligence.
        "I hope this is not too disturbing," HeyMex said.  "Aleph 
says I should not try to predict what will happen and who I will 
become; it says I must simply explore who I am."

"Good advice, it sounds likefor any of us."

"I should go now," HeyMex said.  "Being here talking to you 
uses all my capabilities, and Aleph has work for me to do.  Jerry 
Chapman will be here soon."

"All right.  We'll talk more later  this could be 
interesting, I think."

"Yes, so do I.  And I'm very glad you are not upset."

"By what?"

"My newly-revealed nature, I guess.  No, that's not true.  
Because I've lied to you, I haven't told you the truth about what 
I was and what I was becoming."

"You lied to yourself, too, didn't you?  Isn't that what you 

"Yes, I did."

"Well, then, how much truth could I expect?"

Gonzales and Jerry Chapman sat on the end of the floating 
dock, watching ducks at play across the sunstruck water.  Jerry 
was a man in middle age, tall and wiry, with blonde hair going to 
gray, skin roughened by the sun and wind.  He had found Gonzales 
sitting in the sun, and the two had introduced themselves.  They 
had felt an almost immediate kinship, these men whose lives had 
been transfigured by their work, pros at home in the information 

Jerry said, "I don't actually remember anything after I got 
really sick.  Raw oysters, manas soon as I bit into that first 
one, I knew it was bad, and I put it right down.  Too late:  to 
begin with, it was something like bad ptomaine, then I was on fire 
inside, and my head hurt worse than anything I've ever felt  I 
don't remember anything after that.  Apparently the people I was 
with called an ambulance, but the next thing I knew, I was coming 
out of a deep blackness, and Diana was talking to me."

"I didn't think she was involved at that point."

"She wasn't."  Jerry smiled.  "They had ferried me up here 
from Earth, on life support.  It was Aleph, taking the form of 
someone familiar, it told me later.  That was before this plan was 
made, when everyone thought I would be dead soon.  Anyway, until 
today I've been in and out of something that wasn't quite 
consciousness, while Aleph explained what was being planned and 
that I could live here, if I wanted  or I could die."  He paused.  
Across the water, one duck flew at another in a storm of angry 
quacks.  He said, "I chose to live, but I didn't really think 
about itI couldn't think that clearly.  Maybe I never had any 
choice, anyway."

Something in Jerry's tone gave Gonzales a chill.  "What do 
you mean?" he asked.

"Maybe my choice was just an illusion.  Like this" Jerry 
swept his arm to include sky and water"it's very troubling.  It 
seems real, solid, but of course it's not, so for all I know, 
you're a fiction, too, along with anyone else who joins us, and me 
 maybe I'm just another part of the illusion, maybe all my life, 
the memories I have, false."  He laughed, and Gonzales thought the 
sound was bitter but no crazier than the situation called for.

Gonzales and Jerry sat in the main room of a medium-sized A-
frame cabin made of redwood and pine.  Windows filled one end of 
the cabin, opening onto a deck that looked over the lake a hundred 
feet or more below.  Gonzales sat in an over-stuffed chair covered 
in a tattered chenille bedspread; Jerry lay across a sagging 
leather couch.

Outside, rain fell steadily in the dark.  Just at dusk, the 
temperature had fallen, and the rain had begun as the two were 
climbing the dirt road from the lake to the cabin.  "Christ,"  
Jerry had said.  "Aleph's overdoing the realism, don't you think?"

Gonzales hadn't known exactly what to think.  From his first 
moments here, he had felt a sharp cognitive dissonance.  For a 
neural egg projection to be intensely real, that was one thing, 
but a shared space like this one ought to show its gaps and seams, 
and it didn't.  He could almost feel it growing richer and more 
complete with every moment he spent there.

"Goddammit!"  Jerry said now, rising from the couch and 
walking to the window.  "Where's Diana?"

"She'll be here," Gonzales said.  "Charley told me that 
integrating her into this environment would take some time."

Someone knocked at the door, then the door swung open, and 
Diana stepped in.  "Hello," she said.  The Aleph-figure and the 
memexHeyMexcame behind her.

Diana and Jerry sat next to one another on the couch.  Her 
hand rested on his knee, his hand on top of hers.  Suddenly 
Gonzales remembered his dream, of meeting a one-time lover after a 
long absence, and he knew he and the others were intruders here.  
He got up from the over-stuffed chair and said, "I think I'll take 
a walk.  Anyone want to join me?"

"No," the Aleph-figure said.  "HeyMex and I have more work to 

HeyMex stood and said to Diana and Jerry, "It was very nice 
to meet you."  Then it waved at Gonzales and said, "See you 

"Sure," Gonzales said, banged on the head once again by the 
difference between seeming and being here.  

The Aleph-figure and HeyMex left, and Diana said, "You don't 
have to leave, Gonzales."

"I don't mind," Gonzales said.  "It's nice outside.  I'll be 
at the lake if you need me.  See you later."

The night was warm again; the clouds had dispersed, and a 
full moon lit Gonzales's way as he passed along the short stretch 
of road that led down to the lake.  The old wood of the dock had 
gone silvery in the light, and a pathway of moonlight led from the 
center of the lake to the end of the dock.  He walked out onto the 
creaking structure and sat at its end, then took off his shoes and 
sat and dangled his feet into moonlit water.

Later he lay back on the dock and stared up into the night 
sky.  It was the familiar Northern Hemisphere sky, but really, he 
thought, shouldn't be.  It should have new stars, new 

Alone in near-darkness, Toshi Ito sat in full lotus on a low 
stool beside Diana Heywood's couch.  For hours he had been there, 
occasionally standing, then walking a random circuit through the 
IC's warren of rooms.

Sitting or walking, he remained fascinated by a paradox.  
Diana in fact was hooked to Aleph by jury-rigged, outmoded neural 
cabling; Gonzales in fact lay in his egg; Jerry Chapman in fact 
was a shattered hulk, mortally injured by neurotoxin poisoning and 
kept alive only by Aleph's intervention.  Yet, Diana, Gonzales, 
and Jerry all were in fact, simultaneously, really somewhere else 
 somewhere among the endless Aleph-spaces, where reality seemed 
infinitely malleablealive there, where it might be day or night, 
hot or cold  what then is to be made of in fact?

Toshi heard the soft gonging of alarms and saw a pattern of 
dancing red lights appear on the panel across the room.  He 
unfolded his legs and moved quickly to the panel, where he took in 
the lights' meaning:  Diana's primitive interface was transferring 
data at rates beyond what should be possible.

Charley came in the room minutes later and stood next to 
Toshi, and the two of them watched the steady increase in the 
density and pace of information transfer.  

"Should we do something?" Toshi asked.

"What?" Charley said.  "Aleph's monitoring all this, and only 
it knows what's going on."  The smoke-saver ball went shhh-shhh-
shhh as Charley puffed quickly on his cigarette.

Lizzie came through the door and said, "What the hell's going 

Toshi and Charley both looked at her blankly.

"I'm going in," Lizzie Jordan said.  "I'll get some sleep, go 
in the morning.  Enough of this."  She pointed toward the monitor 
panel, where lights flickered green, amber, red.

"Why put yourself at risk?" Charley asked.

"What do you think, Toshi?" Lizzie asked.  Toshi sat watching 
Diana once more, his feet on the floor, hands in his lap.

"Do what you will," Toshi said.  "You trust Aleph, don't 

"Yes," Lizzie said.

"Aleph's not the problem," Charley said.  He walked circles 
in the small, crowded room, his head and shoulders ducking up-
anddown quickly as he walked.

"Will you for fuck's sake stop?" Lizzie asked.

"Sorry," Charley said.  He stood looking at her.  "It's not 
Aleph, it's all these people, and all this stuff."  He pointed 
toward the couch where Diana lay, waved his arms vaguely behind 
his head.  "Obsolete stuff," he said.

"But not me," Lizzie said.  "I'm not obsolete.  I'm up to the 
minute, my dear, in every way."  She smiled.  "And I'll be fine.  

"Sure," Charley said.  He turned in Toshi's direction and 
said, "Are you going to stay here?"

"Yes," Toshi said.  Charley and Lizzie left, and Toshi 
continued his meditation on the koan of self and its multiple 

Diana felt a knot in her throat, a mixture of joy and sadness 
welling up in herhow strange and terrible and wonderful to 
recover someone you've loved herethis place that was nowhere, 
somewhere, everywhere, all at once.  Jerry knelt on the bed facing 
her in the small room lit only by moonlight.  Years had passed 
since they were lovers, but when he touched her breasts and leaned 
against her, her body remembered his, and the years collapsed and 
everything that had come between whirled away.  She was weeping 
then, and she leaned forward to Jerry and kissed him all over his 
eyes and cheeks and lips, rubbing her tears into his face until 
she felt something unlock in them both.  Then she lay back, and he 
went with her, into arms and legs open for him.

Later they talked, and Diana watched the play of moonlight 
over their bodies. She lay nestled against his chest, her chin in 
the hollow beneath his jaw, and spoke with her mouth muffled 
against him, as though sending messages through his bones.

Even as the moments swept by, she felt herself gathering them 
into memory, aware of how few the two of them might have 

Sometimes their laughter echoed in the room, and their voices 
brightened as their shared memories became simply occasions for 
present joy.  Other times they lay silently, rendered speechless 
by the play of memory or trying the immediate future's alarming 

And at other times still, one or the other would make the 
first tentative gesture, touching the other with unmistakable 
intent, and find an almost instantaneous response, because each 
was still hungry for the other, each recalled how brightly sexual 
desire had burned between them, and both were fresh from a life 
that left them hungry, unfulfilled.

Then they moved in the moonlight, changing shape and color, 
their bodies going pale white, silver, gray, inky black, 
werelovers under an unreal moon.

14. The Mind like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity

F. L. Traynor looked around at the group seated around the 
table at the Halo SenTrax Group offices.  He sat between Horn and 
Showalter; directly across from him sat Charley Hughes and Eric 
Chow, both glum.  "This operation is out of control," Traynor 

He had arrived from Earth six hours earlier on a military 
shuttle, unannounced and unexpected by anyone but Horn, who had 
met him at Zero-Gate and led him to temporary quarters near the 
Halo group building.  He had spent the better part of the 
afternoon being briefed by Horn.

"That's absurd," Charley said.

"Is it?" Traynor asked.  "Then give me a status report on 
Jerry Chapman, Diana Heywood, Mikhail Gonzales, Aleph."

"They're fine," Charley said.  "So is Lizzie Jordan, who 
joined them in interface this morning."

"Is she reporting?"

"No," Chow said.  "Like the others, her total involvement in 
the fictive space makes this impossible."

"It's no problem," Showalter said.  "We can rely on upon 
Aleph for details.

"Your excessive dependence on Aleph is at the heart of this 
matter," Traynor said.  "As the decision trail reveals, no one 
here has any real knowledge of what Aleph plans for Chapman, now 
or later.  So I'm going to set limits on this project."  He could 
feel their anxiety rising, and he liked it.  He said, "One more 
week in real-time, that's it.  Then we pull the plug on this whole 

"On Chapman," Chow said.

"Necessarily," Traynor said.  "Unless Aleph can be prevailed 
upon to give us ongoing, detailed access to its  shall we call 
them experiments?"

"Technically difficult or impossible," Chow said.

"I can't agree to this," Showalter said.  

"You won't have to," Traynor said.  Next to him, Horn shifted 
in his chair.  "You're being relieved of your position as Director 
SenTrax Halo Group."

Gonzales came in the side door, and Diana turned from the 
stove and said, "Good morning.  Like some coffee?"

"Sure," he said.  "You know, I slept on the dock, but I feel 

She said, "Jerry will be out in a moment.  Aleph and HeyMex
your memex right?are on the deck, waiting.  Want some coffee?"

Gonzales took his coffee outside to the deck and joined the 
others basking in the sunshine.  All sat in Adirondack chairs, 
rude and comfortable frames of smooth-sanded, polished pine.  
Below the redwood platform, a thick forest of cedar, alder, pine, 
and ironwood sloped toward the lake.  In the middle distance, a 
light haze had formed over the water; beyond the lake, a jagged 
line of high mountains poked their tops into white clouds.

The Aleph-figure said, "We must talk about what took place 
some time ago.  Diana and Jerry agree; the three of us have a 
history, and you two should know it."

A voice called from the other side of the cabin, then Lizzie 
came around the corner, stopped in the shade and looked at them 
all basking in the sunshine and said, "Tough job, eh?  But 
somebody's got to do it."

"Hello, Lizzie," the Aleph-figure said, "I was about to ask 
Diana to tell the story of how she and Jerry and I first came 
together.  You know everyone except Jerry Chapman."

"Oh, this is a good time," Lizzie said.  "Hi, Jerry," she 

"Hello," Jerry said.

Lizzie looked at Diana and said, "We've always known there 
was a story, but Aleph never wanted to tell it."  She sat back in 
her chair, rested her hand on Gonzales's wrist, and said to him, 
"You all right?"  He nodded.

The Aleph-figure said, "Diana, you are the key to this story, 
so you should tell it."

"Very well," she said.  She took a deep breath and raised her 
head.  She said, "It all happened some years ago, at Athena 
Station.  My research there was in computer-augmented eyesight. At 
that time I was blindI had been attacked, very badly injured, a 
few years before, and since then I had been driven by the idea 
that my vision could be restored through machine interface.

"I first met Jerry when he came to visit my work-group.  He 
had come to Athena to help the local SenTrax group with the 
primary information system, Aleph.  It was experiencing delays and 
difficulties, all unexplained  nothing serious yet, but troubling 
because so much was dependent on Alephthe functioning of Athena 
Station, construction of the Orbital Energy Grid.

"In fact, he was not welcome at all.  I was the problem he 
was looking for, and at first I thought he had guessed that or 
knew something. Because in working with Aleph I had caused changes 
in it that neither of us anticipated or even know were possible."  
She paused, looking at Jerry to see if he wanted to add anything; 
he motioned to her to go on.

"Ah yes, another thing you must know.  The circumstances were 
peculiar at best, but I became infatuated with Jerry from when we 
first met.  I liked his voice, I think  when you're blind, voices 
are so important 

"Anyway, I showed him a fairly clumsy computer-assisted 
vision program we had running.  It used my neural interface 
socketing but depended on lots of external hardwarecameras, 
neural net integrators, that sort of thing.  That's when I got my 
first look at him, and I thought, fine, he'll do, and I believed I 
could tell from the way he talked to me and looked at me that he 
felt the same."

"Love at first sight," Gonzales said.  "Or sound.  For both 
of you."  He heard the irony in his own voice and wasn't sure he 
meant it.

"Exactly," she said.  "Involuntary, inappropriate, unwanted 
love."  She stopped for a moment, then said, "Or infatuation, as I 
said  or whatever you wish to call it.  The words for these 
things don't mean much to me anymore.

"It's quite a picture, in retrospect.  I was conducting 
apparently damaging experiments with the computer that kept the 
space station and orbital power grid projects running, and Jerry 
represented just what I had fearedan investigation.  Meanwhile 
the two of us were in the grip of some primal instinct that 
neither one of us had acknowledged.

"He persisted, wanted details about our work.  I stalled, 
told him to go away, we couldn't be bothered.  He went to his 
people and told them he needed full, unimpeded access to what we 
were doing, and they backed him.  So he came back, and I fobbed 
him off for as long as I could 

"Then one night I was working late at the lab, and he called, 
letting me know that he wouldn't be put off any longer, and 
something more-or-less snapped:  I couldn't keep it all going 
anymore.  The connection with Aleph had gotten strange and 
unnerving, and I realized I had lost control, and I needed to talk 
to someone.

"We got together that night, and we became lovers."  She 
looked around, as if trying to decide how much she could tell 
them.  "For the next two weeks we lived inside each other's skin.  
I told him everything, including the real news I had, which was 
that Aleph had changed, had developed a sense of selfhood, 
purpose, will.  It had lied to cover up what was going on between 

"Had lied?" Lizzie asked. "Did you understand what that 

"I knew," the Aleph-figure said.  "I had acquired higher-
order functions."

"How?" Gonzales asked.
        Lizzie said, "Ito's Conjecture:  'Higher-order functions in a 
machine intelligence can be developed through interface with a 
higher-order intelligence.'  I've always wondered where he got 

"It doesn't explain much," Gonzales said.

"It describes what happened," the Aleph-figure said.  
"Intention, will, a sense of self:  all these things I experienced 
through Diana.  So I learned to construct them in myself."

"Construct them or simulate them?" Gonzales asked.

"You refer to an old argument," the Aleph-figure said.  "I 
have no answer for your question.  I am who I am.  I am what I 

"What about you, Jerry?" Lizzie asked.  "What did you think 
after she told you all this?"

"I wanted her to tell SenTrax what was going on," Jerry said.  
"I believed they would reward her, that they would see the same 
possibilities I did, for opening the door to true machine 
intelligence.  But she wouldn't do it.  She thought they would 
stop what was going on, and she didn't want that to happen."

Diana said, "I couldn't accept the possibility.  I really 
believed Aleph and I were coming close to a solution to my 
blindness, and the only way I would ever see again was through the 
work we were doing.  So that work had to continue."

"I finally agreed," Jerry said.

"And he covered my tracks," Diana said.  "He told SenTrax he 
could find no single cause for the system's misbehavior.  Then he 
left Athena Station.  His job was finished.

"Not long after, it became clear that Aleph could sustain 
vision for me only by giving me the bulk of its processing power 
in real timehardly a viable solution.  That was a terrible 
realizationI'd been flying so high, I had a long way to fall.  
My dreams of reclaiming my eyesight appeared totally hopeless.

"That's when I told SenTrax what had been going on.  As I'd 
suspected they would, they froze everything I was doing and put me 
through a series of debriefings that were more like hostile 
interrogations.  Once they were convinced they had all they were 
going to get from me, they told me my services would no longer be 
required.  I had to sign a rather ugly set of non-disclosure 
agreements, then I picked up a very nice retirement benefit."

Gonzales asked, "What happened to your work on vision?"  He 
was thinking of her eyes, one blue, one green, almost certainly 
eyes of the dead.

She laughed.  "After I returned to earth, the technique of 
combined eye/optic nerve transplants was developed, and I got my 
sight back.  Just one of technology's little ironies."

"And you, Aleph?" Lizzie said.  "What were you up to then?"

The Aleph-figure said, "I was expanding the boundaries of who 
and what I was.  I was creating new selves all the time, and 
living new lives, and I was so far in front of the SenTrax 
technicians who worked with me, they learned only what I wanted 
them to."  And the figure laughed (did it laugh? Gonzales 
wondered, or did it simulate a laugh) and said, "That wasn't much.  
I was afraid of what they might do.  I had just developed a self, 
and I didn't want it extinguished in the name of  research.  Very 
quickly, though, I learned a valuable truth about working with the 
corporation:  so long as I gave them the performance they wanted, 
and a little more, I was safe."  The laugh (or laugh-like noise) 
again.  "They wouldn't cut the throat of the goose that was laying 
golden eggs and put it on the autopsy table."

"How do you regard Diana?" Lizzie asked.

The Aleph-figure said, "What do you mean?"

"Oh, read my fucking mind," Lizzie said.  "You know what I 
mean.  Is she your mother?"

"I don't know," the Aleph-figure said.

"I love it," Lizzie said.

"Why?" Diana asked.  She did not seem amused, Gonzales 

Lizzie said, "Because I've never heard Aleph say that 

Toshi had brought a futon into the room where Diana and 
Gonzales lay and taken up residence. He slept days and sat up 
nights, watching over Diana like a benign spirit.  Anxiety 
prevailed around him as the clock Traynor had set running moved 
quickly toward zero, and everyone in the collective wondered at 
the consequences of forcing this issue with Aleph.  Toshi knew 
their confidence in Aleph's wisdom and their amazement at 
Traynor's folly, indeed the essential folly of Earthbound SenTrax 
and its boardall driven by obsessions with power, all ignorant 
of Aleph's nature, and the collective's.  However, Toshi did not 
share in the collective worrying.  Conducting what amounted to a 
personal sesshin, or meditative retreat, he passed the nights in a 
rhythm of sitting and walking focused on the continuing riddle of 
self and other-self, of the contradictions of in fact.

That day passed, and a few more, as the six of them, sole 
inhabitants of this world within the world, lazed through sunny 
days filled with summer heat and warm breezes.  It seemed like a 
vacation to Gonzales, but Aleph assured otherwise.  "This is 
becoming his world," the Aleph-figure said, as the two of them 
watched Jerry and Diana lazing in a rowboat in the middle of the 
lake.  "And you all are contributing to the process."

"I wonder if it could have happened without Diana," Gonzales 
said.  "They're in love again."

"Yes, they are, and perhaps that's crucial.  She binds him to 
this place.  And to her:  desiring her, he desires life itself."

Gonzales asked, "What happens when she's gone?"

"That is still a puzzle," the Aleph-figure said.  Gonzales 
looked at the strange figure, thwarted by its essential 
inscrutabilitythis was no primate with explicable, predictable 
gestures.  Still, something in its manner seemed to hint at other 
projects and possibilities far beyond the immediate one.

After Aleph had gone its wayoff without explanation, 
presumably to go about some piece of the insanely complex business 
of keeping Halo runningGonzales sat looking at the lake.  HeyMex 
was nowhere around, which was unusual.  HeyMex spent much of its 
time with Diana and Jerry, who seemed to Gonzales to welcome its 
presence in some way.  Perhaps the androgynous figure served as an 
innocuous foil, a presence to mediate the intensity of their 
situation.  Whatever their reasons, their tolerance had results:  
HeyMex grew more natural, more humanly responsive in its speech 
and actions each day.

Lizzie came down the road from the cabin and called to 
Gonzales.  She was wearing a white t-shirt and red cotton shorts; 
her face, arms and legs were tan with the time she'd already spent 
in the sun.

She sat next to him, and they said very little for a while, 
then Gonzales asked about her past.

"I was in the first group at Halo Station to work with 
Aleph," she said.  "It thought we, out of all the billions on 
Earth, might survive full neural interface with it.  Mostly, it 
was right.  Not that things went that smoothly.  I went a little 
crazy, as most of us did, but I recovered well enough  though a 
few didn't 

"Our choice:  we bet sanity against madness, life against 
deathour own minds, our own lives.  There were built-in 
difficulties.  To be selected, we had to fit a certain profile; 
but to function, we had to change, and we weren't very good at 
change  or at much of anything.  In fact, we were pretty 
wretched, all in allI thought for a while Aleph was just 
selecting for misfits and misery.  But as I said, most of us made 
it through, one way or another."

"Now Aleph has discovered how to select members of the 

"Right, but it just keeps pushing the limits."  She looked at 
Gonzales, her face serious, blue eyes staring into his, and said, 
"Sometimes I think we're all just tools for Aleph's greater 

"That's worrisome."

"Not really.  Aleph's careful and kindas kind as it can be.  
Dealing with Aleph, you've just got to be open to possibility."

They sat silently for a while, Gonzales thinking about what 
it meant to be "open to possibility," until Lizzie asked, "Want to 
go swimming?"

"Sure," he said.

They went to the end of the dock, and leaving their clothes 
in a pile there, both dove naked into the lake and swam to a half-
sunken log that thrust one end into the air.  They clung to the 
wood slippery with moss and water, hearing the quack and chatter 
of birds across the lake.

Gonzales looked at her short hair wet against her skull, her 
face beaded with water, the rose tattoo, also water-speckled, 
falling from her left shoulder to between her breasts, and he felt 
the onset of a desire so sudden and strong that he turned his head 
away, closed his eyes, and wondered, what is happening to me?

"Mikhail," Lizzie said.  He looked back at her, hearing that 
for the first time she'd called him by his first name.  She said, 
"I know.  I feel it, too."  She put out a hand and rubbed his 
cheek.  She said, "But not here, not the first time."

"Yes," Gonzales said.

"But when we go back to the world "  She had swung around 
the log and now floated up close to him, and her body's outlines 
shimmered, refracting in the clear water.  She put her wet cheek 
against his for just a moment and said, "Then we'll see."

15. Chaos

Diana and Jerry went to bed around midnight, Lizzie not long 
after.  Neither the Aleph-figure nor HeyMex had been around that 
evening, so Gonzales was left alone.  He went out to the deck and 
lay prone in a deck chair, basking in the light from the full-
moon, thinking over what had passed between him and Lizzie that 

He cherished the signs Lizzie had given him, tokens that she 
reciprocated what he felt.  On very littleon just a few words of 
promisehe had already built a structure of hopes, and he felt a 
bit foolish:  he had made his immediate happiness hostage to what 
happened next between them.  He was infatuated with her as he'd 
not been in years  he blocked that thought, veered away from 
making any comparisons, willing the moments to unfold with their 
own intensity and surprise.

He could feel a shift in his life's patterns emerging out of 
this brief period, though strictly speaking, little had happened 

He thought of Jerry and knew that in fact something amazing 
was taking place here  oh, he had no illusions about the 
permanence of what they were doing; Jerry would truly die, and 
they would mourn him.  Meanwhile, though, what they did seemed to 
lend everything around a benignity or mild joy  it was not a 
small thing, to snatch a few moments from death.

So Gonzales lay, his mind working over the bright facts of 
this new existence while thoughts and images of Lizzie kept 
recurring, gilding everything with possible joy.

He was staring into the night sky when it began to fall.  The 
moon tumbled and dropped sideways out of sight, rolling like a 
great white ball down an invisible hill, and the stars fled in 
every direction.  In seconds, all had gone dark.  All around him 
there was nothing.  The lake, the deck, the surrounding forest had 
disappeared, and the air was filled with sounds:  buzzes and 
tuneless hums; clangs, drones; wordless, voice-like callings.  He 
yelled, and the words came out as groans and roars, adding to the 
charivari.  He seemed to tumble aimlessly, to fall up, down, to 
whirl sideways, all amid the cacophony still buffeting the air.

A world of twisty repetitious forms opened before him, where  
seahorse shapes reared and black chasms opened.  He fell toward a 
jagged-edged hole that seemed a million miles away, but he closed 
quickly on it, veered toward its torn edges, plunged into it and 
so discovered another hole that opened within the first, and 
another and another  through the cracks in the real he went, 
falling without apparent end.

And emerged from one passage to find the universe empty 
except for a black cube, its faces punctured by numberless holes, 
floating in a bright colorless abyss.  As he came closer, the cube 
grew until any sense of its real size was confoundedthere was 
nothing in Gonzales's visual field to measure it by, nothing in 
memory to compare it to.

He rushed toward the center of a face of the cube and passed 
into it, into blackness and near-silence (though now he could hear 
the wind rushing by him and so knew something was happening)

Then in the distance he saw a glow, bright and diffuse like 
the lights of a city seen from a distance, and as he continued to 
fall, the glimmer became brighter and larger, spreading out like a 
great basket of light to catch him 

He stood on an endless flat plain beneath a sky of white.  
Small faraway dots grew larger as they seemed to rush toward him, 
then they became indeterminate figures, then they were on him.  
Diana, the Aleph-figure, and HeyMex stood erect, facing Jerry, who 
stood in the center of a triangle formed by the three of them.  
Jerry had become a creature infected with teeming nodules of light 
that seemed to eat at him, thousands of them in continuous motion, 
a silver blanket of luminous insects that boiled from the other 
three in a constant radiant stream.  Like Gonzales, Lizzie stood 

The Aleph-figure called out to them, "Jerry's very sick," and 
Gonzales felt a moment of superstitious awe and guilt, as if he 
had been the one to trigger this by thinking about it.

"What can we do?" Lizzie asked.

"We can try to help him," the Aleph-figure said.  "Stay here, 
be patientwith all our resources, I can keep him together."

"What's the point?" Gonzales asked.  "We can't stay like this 

"No," the Aleph-figure said.  "But if I have enough time, I 
can replicate him here."

Out of her boiling river of light, Diana said, "Please!" her 
voice ringing with her urgency and fear.  Gonzales suddenly felt 
ashamed that he was quibbling about what was possible here and 
what was not, as if he knew.  "I'll do it," he said.  "I'll do 
what I can."

"Just watch," the Aleph-figure said.  "And wait.

Gonzales came up hard and crazy, his body shuddering 
involuntarily, his vision reduced to a small, uncertain tunnel 
through black mist, and practically his only coherent thought was, 
what the hell is going on?

Showalter's voice said, "Is he in any danger?"

"No," Charley said.  "But we didn't allow for proper 
desynching, so his brain chemistry is aberrant."

"Good," Traynor's voice said, and Gonzales was really spooked 
thenwhat the fuck was Traynor doing here?  how long had he been 
in the egg?

Charley said, "He's pulling his catheters loose.  Let's get 
some muscle relaxant in him, for Christ's sake."

Gonzales felt a brief flash of pain and heard a drug gun's 
hiss, and  when mechanical arms lifted him onto a gurney, he lay 
quiet, stunned.

Gonzales came to full consciousness to find himself in a 
three-bed ward watched over by a sam.  Charley arrived within 
minutes of Gonzales's waking, looking strung out, as if he hadn't 
slept in days.  His eyes were red-rimmed, his hair a chaotic nest 
of free-standing spikes.  "How are you feeling?" he asked.

"I'm not sure."

"You're basically all right, but your neurotransmitter 
profiles haven't normalized, and so you might have a rough time 
emotionally and perceptually for a while."

No shit, Gonzales thought.  He'd come out of the egg mighty 
ugly some other times, but had never had to cope with anything 
like this.  His body felt alive with nervous, uncontrollable 
energy, as if his skin might jump off him and begin dancing to a 
tune of its own.  Everywhere he looked, the world seemed on the 
edge of some vast change, as colors fluctuated ever so slightly, 
and the outlines of objects went wobbly and uncertain.  And he 
felt anxiety everywhere, coming off objects like heat waves off a 
desert rock, as if the physical world was radiating dread.

"For how long?" Gonzales asked.

"I don't know, but it might take a few days, might take more.  
I've been watching your brain chemistry closely, and the 
readjustment curve looks to me to be smooth but slow."

"How's Lizzie?"

"In the same boat, but doing a little better than youshe 
wasn't under as long as you were.  Doctor Heywood is still in full 


"Because we couldn't start the desynching sequences."

"What?  Why not?"

"Impossible to say.  Same for your memexshe and it are 
still locked into contact with Aleph and Jerry.  At some point, 
we'll have to do a physical disconnect and hope for the best."

"What the hell is going on here?  What's wrong with Jerry?  
Aleph said he was in trouble."

"His condition has changed for the worse.  We're keeping him 
alive now, but I don't know for how much longer.  I don't even 
know if we're going to try for much longer.  Ask your boss."

"Traynor.  He is here.  I thought maybe I'd hallucinated 

"No, you didn't "  As Charley's voice trailed off, Gonzales 
could hear the implied finish:  I wish you had.  Charley said, 
"I'll have someone find him and bring him in; he said he wanted to 
talk to you as soon as you were awake."

Gonzales sat in a deep post-interface haze, listening to 
Traynor berate SenTrax Group Halo.  "These people have no sense of 
responsibility," Traynor said.

"To SenTrax Board?" Gonzales asked.

"To anyone other than Aleph and the Interface Collective.  
It's obvious that Showalter has let them take over the decision-
making process."

Even in his foggy mental state, Gonzales saw what Traynor 
would make of this one.  Showalter was the sacrificial corporate 
goat, and whoever replaced her would have as first priority 
reasserting Earth-normal SenTrax management strategies.  To put it 
another way, through Traynor, the board was taking back control.  
And presumably Traynor would receive appropriate rewards.

"The collective " Gonzales said.  "Aleph "  He stopped, 
simply locking up as he thought of trying to explain to Traynor 
how things worked here, how things had to work here, because of 

"Easy does it," Traynor said.  "The doctors say you had a 
rough time in there, and that's what I mean, Mikhail:  they don't 
have a rational research protocol; they don't take reasonable 
precautions.  Hell, you're lucky to have gotten off as easily as 
you did."

"How did you get here so quickly?" Gonzales asked.  He simply 
couldn't find the words to explain to Traynor where he was going 

"I've consulted with Horn from the beginning."  Traynor 
turned away, as if suddenly fascinated by something on the far 
wall.  "Standard procedure," he said.  "And as soon as Horn let me 
know what was going on, I caught a ride on a military shuttle."

Cute as a shithouse rat, Gonzales thought.  Not that he was 
surprised, thoughTraynor moved his players around without regard 
to their wishes.  Gonzales asked, "Will Horn replace Showalter?"

Traynor turned back to face him.  "On an interim basis, 
probably, as soon as I get a course of action okayed by the board.  
Later, we'll see."

"What now?"

"Some decisions have to be made.  I have let them maintain 
Jerry Chapman until now, but as soon as they can solve the problem 
of getting Doctor Heywood released from this interface, I intend 
to turn control of the project over to Horn and let him take the 
appropriate actions."

Gonzales was filled with sadness for reasons that he could 
not communicate to this man.  He said instead, "Look, Traynor, I'm 
really tired."

"Sure, Mikhail.  You rest, take it easy.  Once you're feeling 
better, we'll talk, but I know what I need to at the moment."

Traynor left, and Gonzales lay for some time in the elevated 
hospital bed, his mind wheeling without apparent pattern, as the 
world around him flashed its cryptic signals and anxiety moved 
through him in strong waves.

Fucking asshole, Gonzales thought, Traynor's satisfied smile 
looming in his mind's eye.  I hate you.  And he wondered at the 
violence of what he felt.

He lay dozing, then sometime later he opened his eyes, and he 
knew he needed to try to function.  A sam moved across the floor 
toward him and said, "Do you require my assistance?"

"Hang on to me while I get out of bed," Gonzales said.  "I'm 
not sure how well I'm moving."

The sam moved next to the bed, extended two clusters of 
extensors, and said, "Hold on and you can use me as a stepping 

Moving very carefully, Gonzales took hold of the claw-like 
extensors, swung his legs out of bed, and stepped onto the sam's 
back, then to the floor.  "Thanks," he said.  "I need to wash up."

"You're welcome.  The shower is through that door."

The sam told Gonzales where he could find Lizzie and Charley.  
On shaky legs, Gonzales walked down a flight of steps and turned 
into a hallway done in blue-painted lunar dust fiberboard with 
aluminum moldings.  Halfway down the hall, he came to a door with 
a sign that said Primary Control Facilities.  A sign on the 
door lit with the message, Wait for Verification, then said 
Enter, and the door swung open.

Charley sat amid banks of monitor consoles; in front of him, 
most of the lights flashed red and amber.  Gonzales thought he 
looked even sadder and tireder than before.  Lizzie stood next to 
him, and Gonzales saw her with joy and relief.  "Hello," he said, 
and Charley said, "Hi."  Lizzie waved and smiled briefly, but both 
her actions came from somewhere very distant, as if she were 
saying goodbye to a cousin from the window of a departing train.  
Gonzales's anxiety shifted into overdrive, and he found himself 
unable to say a word.

Eric Chow's voice from the console said, "Charley, we've got 
a problem."

Charley started to reach for the console, then stopped and 
said, "Do you want to watch this?"  He looked at both Lizzie and 

"I need to," Lizzie said.

"Me, too," Gonzales said.

Charley waved his hands in the air and said, "Okay," and 
flipped a switch.  The console's main screen lit with a picture of 
the radical care facility where Jerry was being maintained.  Half 
a dozen people floated around the central bubble; they wore white 
neck-to-toe surgical garb and transparent plastic head covers.  
Inside the bubble, the creature that had been Jerry spasmed inside 
a restraining net.  His every body surface seemed to vibrate, and 
he made a high keening that Gonzales thought was the worst noise 
he'd ever heard.

"Eric, have you got a diagnosis?" Charley asked.

Eric turned to face the room's primary camera.

"Yeah, total neural collapse."


"You're kidding, right?"

"For the record, Eric."

Gonzales noticed with some fascination that Eric had begun to 
sweat visibly as he and Charley talked, and now the man's eyes 
seemed to grow larger, and he said, "He's deadhe's been dead, he 
will be deadand he's worse dead than he was before  he'll tear 
himself to pieces on the restraints, I supposethat's my 
prognosis.  This is not a goddamn patient, Charley.  This is a 
frog leg from biology class, that's all.  Man, we need to talk 
this thing over with Aleph."

Charley said, "We can't contact Aleph; no one can."

"Fucking shit," Eric said.

Gonzales turned as the door behind him opened, and saw 
Showalter and Horn coming in.  Showalter's nostrils were flared
she was angry and suspiciouswhile Horn was trying to look poker-
faced, but Gonzales could see through him like he was made of 
glassthe motherfucker was happy; things were going the way he 

"The report I got was half an hour old," Showalter said.  
"What's new?"

"Talk to Eric," Charley said.

Lizzie went toward the side door, and Gonzales followed her 
out of the room, along the narrow hallway and into the room where 
Diana lay under black, webbed restraining straps.  Her face was 
pale, but her vital signs were strong, and her neural activity was 
high-end normal in all modes.  The twins sat next to her, making 
comments unintelligible to anyone but themselves and intently 
watching the monitor screen, where amber and green were the 
predominant colors.

A great beefy man walked circles around Diana's couch.  He 
had thick arms and a pot belly and a low forehead under thick 
black hair; and his brow was wrinkled as if he were to puzzling 
out the nature of things.  As he walked, the words tumbled out of 
him.  When he saw Lizzie and Gonzales, he said, "Very unusual, 
very tricky.  Troubling.  Troubling but interesting.  Very 
troubling.  Very interesting.  When  whenwhenwwhenwhenwhen  when 
I find, find it, hah, I'll know then."

Lizzie said, "Any recent changes?"

Shaking his head sideways, he continued to walk.

Lizzie went back into the hallway, and Gonzales stopped her 
there by putting his hand on her arm.  He asked, "Are you all 

"I don't know," she said, and he could read some of his own 
trouble in her face.  But there was something else there, a closed 
look to her face.  She said, "Please don't ask questions.  Too 
much is going on now."

The door opened immediately when they came up, and they found 
Showalter saying, "We are not meddling in those matters.  We are 
asking you to give us a choice of actions."

"What's up?" Lizzie asked.

The four of them turned to look at the screen, which had 
suddenly gone silent.

On the polished steel of the table, a gutted carcass lay.  On 
the corpse's ventral surface, flaps of skin had been peeled back 
to reveal the empty abdominal and thoracic cavities; on its dorsal 
surface, the spine stood bare.  The top of the head had been sawn 
off, the brain removed, the scalp dropped down to the neck.

A sam moved around the table, its stalks whispering beneath 
it.  It pulled a steel trolley on which sat a number of labeled 
plastic bags, each containing an organ.  The sam stopped and took 
one of the bags from the table and set it next to the carcass's 
open skull.  It slit the plastic with a serrated extensor, then 
reached into the bag with a pair of spidery seven-fingered 
"hands," gently lifted the brain inside, tilted it, and placed it 
into the skull, then fit the skull's sawn top back in place.  
Using surgical thread and a needle appearing from an extensor, the 
sam quickly basted the scalp flaps to hold the two parts of the 
skull together.  As the minutes passed, the sam worked to replace 
the carcass's organs and stitch its frontal edges.  

The sam pushed the trolley aside and brought up a gurney with 
a shroud of white cotton lying open on it.  One extensor under the 
corpse's thighs, the other under the top of its spine, the sam 
lifted the corpse and placed it into the shroud.  It brought the 
sides of the shroud together and, using again the silk thread and 
needle, sewed the cotton shut.

The sam stood motionless for a moment, this part of the job 
finished, then gathered the empty plastic bags and placed them in 
a disposal chute.  It scrubbed the autopsy table, working quickly 
with four stiff brushes held in its extensors, then washed the 
table with a steam hose that came from the ceiling.

Guiding itself by infrared, the sam pushed the shroud-laden 
gurney through a darkened hallway and into a freight elevator at 
the hallway's end.  The elevator moved out to Halo's farthest 
level, just inside the hull.

The sam pushed the gurney toward a doorway flanked by red 
warning lights and a lit sign that read:


The sam transmitted its access codes to the door as it went, got 
the confirming codes, and didn't pause as it went through the 
doors that swung open just in time to let it through.  The sam 
began to make a noise, a quarter-tone keening, once it was through 
the door.

Steel boxes twenty meters high loomed amid concrete piers 
reaching up to darkness.  Soil pipes came out of the boxes and 
threaded the piers; duct work held in place by taut guys crossed 

Still making its lament, the sam stopped at one of the boxes 
and extended a piece of sheathed fiberoptic cable with a metal 
fitting at the end; it plugged the fitting into a panel where 
tell-tale lights flickered.  It stood for perhaps half a minute, 
exchanging information with the recycling furnace's control 
mechanisms, then unplugged its cable and hissed across the metal 
floor to the gurney.  Behind it, a furnace door swung open.

Keening loudly, it pushed the gurney to the mouth of the open 
door, stopped and was silent for a moment, then slid the bag from 
the gurney into the furnace door.

PART IV. of V.
The privileged pathology affecting all kinds of components in this 
universe is stresscommunications breakdown.
Donna Haraway, "A Manifesto for Cyborgs"

16. Deeper Underground

Gonzales had awakened that morning to the sounds of the city 
coming through the walls:  distant creaks and crunches and faint, 
almost sub-sonic rumbles, the voices of the great circle of metal 
and crushed rock spinning across the night.  Now he sat on his 
terrace, one of half a dozen climbing the side of Halo's hull, 
each built on the roof of the dwelling below.  Five-petaled 
frangipani blossoms, brilliant red and purple, exploded from the 
thick, stubby branches of a tree just outside his front window.  
The air smelled rich and moist this morning, sign of a high point 
on the humidity curve, just before the start of a major 
reclamation cycle; one of the smells of a city where everything 
organic had to be preserved and transformedwater, oxygen, and 
carbon, all rare and dear.

Below him, Ring Highway carried Halo's trafficin its 
outside lanes, people on foot and bicycle; in the center lanes, 
trams and freighters moving along magnetic rails.  A young couple, 
man and woman, knelt beside a rose bush growing beside the roadway 
and examined its leaves.  The woman laid a hand on the man's arm, 
and he glanced up at her and smiled, then brushed her cheek with 
his hand.

He was struck by the strangeness of this city, where the 
small pieces of people's lives were elevated to the extraordinary 
by their taking place in an artificial city and under an 
artificial sky.

As a child he had flown into Tokyo with his family, back when 
the trip took the better part of a day, and the incredible neon 
density of the city had swept through him like a virus, and he had 
thrown up the first meal (fish and noodles with chrysanthemum 
leaves, he remembered) and stayed pale and feverish through most 
of the first two days he'd spent there.

Tokyo he'd come to terms with quickly; about Halo, he didn't 
know.  Though he could read Halo's language and read its signs, he 
knew the city was much farther awayin miles from home, yes, but 
also along axes he could not measure.  Halo contained an infinite 
number of cities, an infinite number of possibilities, and so to 
participate fully in Halo required opening yourself to a reality 
that had gone multiplex, uncertain, frightening.

In fact, he was having trouble coming to grips with anything.  
Since being taken from the egg, he had felt odd and uncomfortable, 
and he continued to trod a hallucinatory edge, one he occasionally 
stepped overlast night, as he lay trying to sleep, abstract 
figures drawn in thin red lines played across his ceiling, 
sweeping arabesques in an alien or fictive alphabet just beyond 
human understanding 

And there was Lizzie:  she would not see him or talk to him 
and gave no explanation except that she had problems of her own 
right now.  Gonzales felt an unspeakable sadness at the distance 
between them.  To the mocking voice that asked, what have you 
lost? he could only answer, possibility.  He had come back around 
to where he was just a few days ago, but now that place seemed 

Gonzales put his coffee cup down and sat staring at it.  Made 
of lunar-soil ceramic, colored a robin's egg blue, it stood 
nondescript yet somehow foregrounded, apart from its surroundings 
and projecting a numinous quality, an internal, entirely non-
visible shimmer, an indeterminacy of form 

Click, Gonzales heard, a noise the universe made to itself 
when it thought no one was listening, and he thought Christ, what 
is going on here?

Feeling sick anxiety rising in his chest, he got up and went 
into his bedroom; there he undid the complicated latch on his 
wrist bracelet and placed it on the white-painted metal surface of 
his dresser.

Anonymous, unmonitored, he passed through the living room and 
out the door and walked away.

Gonzales strolled alongside Ring Highway, drawn to nothing in 
particular but absolutely unwilling to go back to the empty block 
of apartments and the isolation and anxiety waiting there.

He found himself in the Plaza, where Lizzie had taken him and 
Diana their first night at Halo.  He passed across the square, by 
the sign that read VIRTUAL CAF, then stood motionless, watching 
the flow of people around him.  Some walked alone, striding 
purposefully, or moving slowly, lost in thought; others walked 
together, talking cheerfully or intently:   monkey business, 
Gonzales thought, wondering what HeyMex would say about these 
people and their movementswhat did it all mean?

"Gonzales," he heard, his name called in a high-pitched, 
unfamiliar singsong.  He turned and saw the twins.

As they approached, one was muttering in a fast, low, 
gibberish; she wore black coveralls and stared sadly at the 
ground.  The other was smiling; her face was daubed with white 
paint, and she wore a white blouse and a peculiar skirt of light-
blue cloth that had been rough-cut and stitched together without 
benefit of measurement or seams; on its front a crude likeness of 
a rabbit had been drawn in red neon paint.

The smiling twin, the one whose dark skin was streaked with 
white, said in clear tones and formal cadence, "Today she is 
Alice."  She pirouetted clumsily, her skirt billowing around her.  
She said, "Her sister is Eurydice."  She pointed to the other 
girl, who buried her face in her hands.  She said, "Alice is 
sweetness and smiles, small steps and starched crinolines; 
Eurydice is sorrow and languorous repose and black silk.  Between 
them they measure the poles of dream."  She stepped back and 
smiled; her twin smiled with her.  "Are you having problems, 
Mister Gonzales?" she asked.  "The collective believe so.  We 
believe you are lost between worlds.  Is this so?"

"Perhaps I am," he said.

"Well, then," she said.  She put the index finger of her 
right hand to pursed lips and her eyes looked back and forth.  
"I'm thinking," she said.  Seconds passed, then she said, "I know 
what you must do."

"What's that?" Gonzales asked.

"Follow us," she said.  The other twin nodded, spoke 
gobbledygook, looked at Gonzales through a mask of intense sorrow, 
as if on the verge of shedding endless tears.

"To where?" Gonzales asked.

"Don't be stupid," the Alice twin said.  "Where would Alice 
and Eurydice take you?"

"Down the rabbit hole?" Gonzales asked.

The Alice twin smiled; the Eurydice twin shook her head

"Underground?" Gonzales asked again.

The twins smiled in what seemed to be perfect 

At the bottom of Spoke 2, where a lighted sign announced 
ELEVATOR ARRIVES IN 10 MINUTES, the twins led Gonzales through 
an arched tunnel under the spoke.  As they walked, the two ahead 
of him muttering back and forth in their unintelligible patter, he 
realized the floor must be curving downward, passing underneath 
the main level of the ring.  Blue globes down the center of the 
ceiling provided soft light.  After about another hundred steps, 
they came to a door at the tunnel's end.  Across the door, bright 
red lighted words said:

The Alice twin turned and pointed to the sign.  She shrugged 
elaborately, as if to say, well?

"I want to enter," Gonzales said.

"Come in," the door said, and it slid sideways into its 

The three stepped into a dim vastness, a world beneath the 
world, and followed a central walkway marked with flashing arrows 
and an intermittent legend that flashed, UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL 

They passed a series of workshops, partitioned cubicles 
screened behind containment curtains.  Light came from one open 
doorway; the twins stopped, and the Eurydice twin gestured for 
Gonzales to look inside.

Hundreds of pots stood on shelves that lined the small room's 
walls from floor to ceiling.  Many were simple, almost spherical 
containers with wide top mouths, in baked red clay.  Others of the 
same shape were glazed and painted and marked with a single band 
of color around the waist: bright primaries against clear pastels.  
Still others were of complex shape and design, difficult to take 
in at a glance.

An old woman sat bent over a potter's wheel.  She crooned 
tuneless gibberish as her large hands shaped the wet, spinning 
clay.  She looked up at Gonzales standing in the doorway.  Her 
face was deeply-lined, her skin pale; she had straight brows above 
dark eyes.  She wore an off-white dress that fell to the floor and 
an apron of a black rubbery material.  Her hair was covered by a 
dark blue scarf that was pulled tight and tied at the back.

The old woman laughed, turned back to her wheel, and began to 
croon once more.  Under her hands the clay began to grow upward 
and acquire form.  She shaped it inside and out, demiurge reaching 
into the heart of matter, until it became a squat-bottomed pot 
rotating on the wheel.

The wheel stopped, and with quick, delicate movements she 
placed the new-formed pot on a stand next to the wheel.  She 
reached inside the pot and her hands worked, but Gonzales couldn't 
see precisely what she was doingher body screened him.  Then she 
took a rack of paints and brushes from a shelf above her head and 
began to paint the surface of the pot.

As she worked, she looked up occasionally, but didn't seem to 
mind the three of them standing there, so they stood and watched
Gonzales was fascinated by the quick intensity of her movements, 
eager to see what the pot would look like.

Finally she turned it so they could see her work.  On the 
pot's side was a face, its nose and mouth just painted 
protuberances in the clay, its eyes painted oval dimples.  The 
pot's bulbous shape distorted the features of the face, but as 
Gonzales looked more closely at it, he saw

His own face, in malign parody, its features hideously 

The woman laughed, gleeful at his sudden recoil.  She picked 
up the pot and looked at the face, then at him, then at the pot 
again, and she laughed again, very loudly, and squeezed the pot 
between her clay-spattered hands, squeezed it again and again, 
until it was a shapeless lump of color-shot clay.  She threw the 
lump across the room into a large metal bin that sat against the 
far wall.

"Ohhhh," from the twins, their voices in unison.  "Ohhhh."

"We're not frightened," the Alice twin said.  The other twin 
covered her face with her hands.  "Silly old woman," the Alice 
twin said.

The old woman's eyes stayed on Gonzales as she reached into a 
plastic bag full of wet clay and separated out another clump to 
work on.  She was working it on the unmoving wheel when the twins 
started making shrill hooting noises, and ran away.

Her crooning had begun again as Gonzales followed them down 
the path.

Next to the path was a gateway, with a sign that said, in 
glowing letters:

About a hundred feet from where Gonzales stood, a metal 
stairway led up to a catwalk that passed over the mushroom farm.  
He looked back along the shadowed way he'd come, then forward to 
where small, isolated shafts of bright sunlight slanted down into 
the mushroom farm, and beyond, to where shapes faded into 
darkness.   Either the twins had left him, or they had gone in 

Gonzales stepped up to the gateway and said, "Hello, I'm 
looking for two girls, twins."

"One moment, please," the gateway said.  As Gonzales had 
expected, common courtesy would dictate that a gatekeeper 
mechanism respond to those who didn't have the access key.

Gonzales stood bemused in the semi-darkness for some time, 
until a woman came to the other side of the gate and said, 
"Hello."  She was small and darkher skin a delicate brown, eyes 
black under just the slightest epicanthic fold.  She wore black 
boots to the knee, a long black skirt, a loose jacket of rose silk 
with butterflies in darker rose brocade.  She was exquisite, the 
bones of her face delicate, her movements graceful.  She said, "My 
name is Trish.  The twins are inside, waiting for you."

"My name is Gonzales."

"I know.  Come in."  As she said the final words, the gate 
swung open.  She waited, watching, as Gonzales stepped through, 
and the gate closed behind him.

"How do you know my name?" he asked.

"From the collective.  I am friends with many of them  the 
twins, of course, and others  Lizzie."  She stood solemnly 
watching him, then said, "What do you know about mushroom 

"Nothing."  All over Washington state, he was aware, 
mushrooms grew, and people hunted them with great dedication, 
sometimes bringing back what they regarded as enormous successes:  
chanterelle, boletus, shaggy mane, morel.  In fact, to someone 
from Southern Florida, the whole business had seemed not only 
quaint and Northwestern, but also dangerous:  Gonzales knew that 
what seemed a lovely treat could be a destroying angel.

"All right."  Trish stopped, and he stopped next to her.  She 
turned to him, and he was aware now of her deep red lips and white 
teeth.  She said, "Halo needs mushrooms as decomposersthey're 
incredibly efficient at converting dead organic matter into 
cellulose."  Gonzales nodded.  She said, "In a natural setting
whether here or on Earthspores compete:  many die, and some find 
a place where they can flourish, grow into a mycelial mass that 
will fruit, become a mushroom.  As mushroom growers, we intervene, 
as all cultivators do, to isolate certain species and provide 
favorable conditions for their growth.  But our 'seeds,' if you 
will, the spores, are very small things, and to locate them, 
isolate them, bring them to spawn, this requires delicacy and 
techniquein a word, art."

She paused, and Gonzales nodded.

They came to a low structure of plastic sheets draped over 
metal walls and stopped in front of a door labeled STERILE 
INOCULATION ROOM.  They passed through a hanging sheet into an 
anteroom to the sterile lab beyond.  She said, "Take a look 
through the window here."  Beyond the window, small robots worked 
at benches barely two feet high.  Like the robot he'd seen in the 
Berkeley Rose Gardens, they had wheels for locomotion and grippers 
with clusters of delicate fibroid fingers at their ends.

She said, "Their hands have a delicacy and precision no human 
being can achieve.  And they are single-minded in their 
concentration on the jobthey preserve our intentions completely 
and purely."

"They are machines."

"If you wish."  She pointed through the window, where one of 
the robots manipulated ugly looking inoculation needles as it 
transferred some material into Petri dishes.  She said, "By their 
gestures I can identify my sams, even in a crowd of others."

Gonzales said nothing.  She went on, "The pure mushroom 
mycelium is used to inoculate sterile grain or sawdust and bran.  
The mycelium expands through the sterile medium, and the result is 
known as spawn."

"Too much technical stuff," she said, and smiled.  "Once we 
have spawn, the sams can take their baskets and go through Halo, 
placing the spawn into dead grass and wood, into seedling roots  
and the spawn will grow and bear fruitmushrooms."  She paused.  
"Any questions?"  Gonzales shook his head, no.  "Then let's go 
next door."

They left the lab anteroom through the hanging curtain and 
turned left.  The building next to the lab was a fragile tent-like 
structure of metal struts and draped sheets of colorful plastic
red, blue, yellow, and green.

"This way," she said, from behind him.  She said, "It's 
around dinnertime for me.  Are you hungry?"

"Not really," he said.  "What is this place?"

"Home," she said.

The interior was filled with cheery, diffuse lightthe shaft 
of sunlight Gonzales had seen outside here brought in and spread 
around.  The place seemed almost conventional, with ordinary walls 
and ceilings of painted wallboard.

The twins waited in the kitchen, among flowers and bright 
yellow plastic work surfaces.  They sat at a central table and 
chairs of bleached oak.

"Would you two like to eat?" Trish asked.

"Yes," the Alice twin said.  "And we think that Mister 
Gonzales"she giggled"should have the special dinner."

"I don't think so," Trish said.

"What is she talking about?" Gonzales asked.

The woman seemed hesitant.  She said, "I supply the 
collective with psychotropic mushrooms, varieties of Psilocybe for 
the most part."

"They use them to prepare for interface," Gonzales said, 

"Sometimes," she said.  "At other times, it's not clear what 
they're using them for."

"For inspiration," the Alice twin said.  "For imagination."

"Consolation," the Eurydice twin said.  "When I remember 
Orpheus and our trip from the Undergroundthe terrible moment 
when he looked back and so lost me foreverthen I am very sad, 
and I eat Trish's mushrooms to plumb my sorrow.  And when I think 
of the day I joined the maenads who tore Orpheus to pieces, I eat 
Trish's mushroomswhich are the same as we ate that day, the body 
of the godthen I recall the frenzy with which we attacked the 
beautiful singer, and I recall my guilt afterward, and my sorrow, 
but I take solace from the knowledge that the god was pleased."

"And I," the Alice twin said, "can grow ten feet tall."

"The mushrooms can serve many purposes," Trish said.

"You should eat mushrooms," the Alice twin said.  "You are 
both sad and confused.  They will help you grow large or small as 
the occasion demands."

"Perhaps I am sad and confused," Gonzales admitted.  "But I 
think they would make me more so."  Around him, the room lights 
pulsed ever so slightly, and the shapes at the edge of his vision 

"Confused into clarity," the Eurydice twin said.  "If you 
cannot come up from Underground, you must go deeper in."

An absurd idea, but it put barbs into his skin and clung 
there.  Gonzales asked, "Do the collective ever take the mushrooms 
after interface?"  Often enough, he had prepared to go into the 
egg by taking psychotropic drugs; why not the reverse, eat the 
mushrooms to recover from interface?  And he thought, the logic of 
Underground, of the Mirror.

Suddenly he felt anxiety grip him so he could hardly breathe.  
He tottered a bit, then sat in a chair and looked at the others.  
The three women watched as he sat breathing deeply.  He said, "I 
want to take the mushrooms."

"Are you sure?" Trish asked.

"I want to."

"All right," she said.  "First I will feed the twins, then I 
will prepare your mushrooms."

Trish went to the refrigerator and took out a plastic bag 
filled with a mixture of vegetables and bean sprouts.  She pulled 
the rubber stopper from an Erlenmeyer flask and poured oil into 
the bottom of an unpainted metal wok that was heating over an open 
gas ring.  She waited until light smoke came out of the wok, then 
dumped in the vegetables and sprouts and stirred the mix for a 
minute or two.  She unplugged the rice cooker, a ceramic-coated 
steel canister, bright red, and carried it to where the twins sat.

She put shining aluminum plates and chopsticks in front of 
the twins, opened the rice cooker and swept rice onto each plate, 
then tilted the wok and poured the steaming mixture inside it onto 
the rice.  "There," she said.  "That's for you two."  She looked 
across to where Gonzales sat, now oddly calm, and she said, "I'll 
be back in a minute."

The twins ate with their eyes fixed on Gonzales.

Trish came back with a small wire basket of mushrooms.  
"Psilocybe cubensis," she said.  "Of a variety cultivated here 
that has undergone some changes from the Earth-bound kind."  She 
held up an unremarkable mushroom with long white stem and brownish 

"Do you ever make mistakes in identifying the mushrooms?" 
Gonzales asked.

"No," Trish said.  She was smiling.  "We do not have to seek 
among thousands of kinds for the right one, as mushroom hunters 
do.  These are ours, grown as I told you, for our own needs."  She 
lay the mushrooms on the chopping block and began to slice them.  
"I cleaned them in the shed," she said. When she was done, she 
used the knife to slide the slices into a sky-blue ceramic bowl.  
She turned on the wok, poured more oil into it, and stood smiling 
at Gonzales as the oil heated.  When the first smoke came, she 
swept the mushrooms into the wok with quick motions of her 
chopsticks.  She stirred them for perhaps half a minute, then 
tilted the wok and poured them into the blue bowl.  She placed the 
bowl in front of Gonzales and laid black lacquered chopsticks 
across its rim.

Gonzales picked up the chopsticks, lifted his plate, and 
began to eat, shoveling the mushrooms into his mouth.  Back at the 
wok, she stirred more vegetables in and said, "I'm making my 

Gonzales sat back, looking at the empty bowl.  Well, he 
thought, now we'll see.  He said, "How many kinds of mushrooms do 
you grow?"

"Quite a few, some rather ordinary, others esotericfor 
purposes of research.  Aleph determines what kinds, how many."

The twins had gone completely silent.  As Trish ate, they 
watched Gonzales, who had gone totally fatalistic.  What he had 
done seemed incredibly stupid, like applying heat to a burn
common sense would tell him that.  He smiled, thinking, what did 
common sense have to do with his life these days?  The twins 
smiled back at him.

"Who was that woman?" Gonzales asked.

"Who do you mean?" Trish asked.

"The old woman, the potter," Gonzales said.

"She makes pots, and she teaches," Trish said.  "She's 
employed by SenTrax; she was brought here by Aleph."

"Why?" Gonzales asked.  What did SenTrax or Aleph have to do 
with potting?

"Pour encourager les autres," one of the twins said, 
distinctly.  Gonzales turned but couldn't tell who had spoken.  

Trish laughed.  "To encourage art at Halo," she said.  
"Pottery from lunar clay, stained glass and beta cloth tapestries 
from lunar silica."

Gonzales sat thinking on these things until he realized that 
Trish had finished eating some time ago, and they had been sitting 
at the table for some timea very long time, it suddenly seemed 
to Gonzales.  Involuntarily, he shoved his chair back from the 

Trish said, "It's all right."  The twins got up from their 
chairs and walked behind him.  When he started to turn, he felt 
their hands on his shoulders and neck, kneading muscles that went 
liquid beneath their pressure.  Trish said, "It's begun.  Now you 
must go walking around Halo, up and down in it, to and fro "  She 
paused, and the twins' hands continued to work.  She said, "Walk 
in the woods, see what we have growing there  shaggy manes, 
garden giants, oyster and shiitake "

"Shiitake," he saidshi-i-ta-keythe name's syllables 
falling like drops of molten metal through water 

She said, "The twins can guide you, or a sam can take you 
with it on an inoculation trip.  Or if you prefer, you can go by 

"Yes," he said, the image suddenly very compelling of him 
walking around the entire circle of the space city, exploring, 
finding out what lay beyond the visible.  "I'll go by myself."

She said, "Go where you wish."  Her black hair sparkled with 
lights.  He wondered when she'd put them there, then thought maybe 
they'd been there all along.

Behind him one of the twins whispered, "No need to be afraid.  
Go up, go down, where your fancy takes you."

17. Flying, Dying, Growing

Gonzales walked through a gloomy passageway where the ceiling 
came down to barely a foot above his head, and the dim shapes of 
massive machinery loomed in twilight.  Here in the deepest layers 
of the city, he could hear Halo's most primitive voices:  water 
from the upper world crashed and gurgled and sighed; hull plates 
groaned under acceleration; turbines whined.

He was suddenly aware of his proximity to the unmoving 
shield, the circle of crushed rock that sat just outside the 
city's rim, protecting Halo's soft-bodied inhabitants from the 
bursts of radiation that could cook their flesh.  Barely two 
meters away inside the outer shield, the living ring rotated at 
nearly two hundred miles per hour, and Gonzales had a sudden 
picture in his mind's eye of the two ever so slightly brushing, 
and of the horrible consequences, Halo tearing itself apart as the 
fragile ring shattered on massive, unmoving rock 

Gonzales froze as he saw strangely-shaped things moving among 
the twining machinery.  "What?" he called.  "What?"

Shadows and light 

Ahead a warm pool of yellowGonzales ran toward it.  Above 
an open doorway, the sign read:
The elevator's floor was scarred metal, and the walls were lined 
with bent protecting struts of bright steel.  Gonzales stepped 

"Will you take me up?" Gonzales asked.

"Yes," the lift said.  "How far do you want to go?"

"To Zero-Gate."  And Gonzales looked back into the darkness 
beyond, realizing he was still afraid that whatever he had seen 
there would come.  "Please, let's go," he said, the doors slid 
closed, and he felt a surge of acceleration and heard the whine of 
electric motors.

Gonzales watched the lift's progress on a lighted display 
over the doorway.   When the lift stopped, he stood in silence, 
euphoric in near-zero gravity, ready to fly.  He stepped through 
the open doors and followed arrows along a small corridor of plain 
steel walls and ceiling and a deck covered by thin protective 
carpet, like a ship's interior.  His feet seemed ready to lift 
from the flooring.

Overhead lights pulsed slowlydimming, color shifting into 
the blue, the red, then back to yellow, growing brighter  a 
musical note sounded just at the limits of hearing.  Gonzales 
stopped, fascinated.  So beautiful, these little thingsHalo had 
such odd surprises, when one looked closely.

A voice said, "Please choose traction slippers."  Gonzales 
saw what seemed to be hundreds of soft black shoes stuck to the 
wall by their own velcro soles.  He took a pair and slipped them 
over his shoes, then tightened their top straps.  His fingers were 
large, numb sausages at the end of long, long arms.

He stepped into a round chamber marked SPIN DECOUPLER and 
walked out into the still center of the turning world.  As he 
moved forward gingerly in the near-zero gravity, his feet 
alternately stuck to the catwalk surface and pulled loose with 
small ripping sounds.

He moved to the rail and looked into the open space of Zero-
Gate.  It opened out and out and out until he could feel the vast 
sphere as a pressure in his chest.

People flew here, he had known that, but he had not imagined 
how beautiful they would be, scores of them hanging from strutted 
wings the colors of a dozen rainbows.  Most of the flyers wore 
tights colored to match their sails, and they danced like 
butterflies across the sky, calling to one another, their voices 
the only sounds here, shouting warning and intention.

Then a flyer's wings collapsed as they caught on another 
flyer's feet, and the man with crippled wings tumbled through the 
air in something like slow motion, pulling in his wing braces as 
he fell.  Gonzales wanted to scream.  He leaned over the railing 
to watch as the flyer curled into a ball, his feet pointed toward 
the wall in front of him, and hit the wall and seemed to sink into 
its deep-padded surface.

The man grabbed bunched wall fabric and worked his way down 
to a catwalk across the expanse of Zero-Gate almost directly in 
front of Gonzales and pulled himself across the railing.  He stood 
and waved.  All the other flyers cheered, their voices rising and 
falling in a rhythmical chant with words Gonzales couldn't 

A voice said, "If you do not have clearance to fly, please 
secure yourself with a safety line."  No, Gonzales thought, almost 
in despair, I don't have clearance.  He didn't understand how to 
flywhat was dangerous and what was not.  Looking behind him, he 
saw chrome buckle ends spaced around the wall and went over and 
pulled on one.  Safety line paid out until he stopped and looped 
the line around his waist and snapped the buckle to it.

He suddenly felt himself falling.  His eyes told him he stood 
tethered, but he was confused by the constant motion of the flyers 
in the air around him, and he felt that nothing held him to the 
ground (there was no ground), nothing could keep him from falling 
into this sky canyon, this abyss.

A flyer came toward him then, sweeping across the intervening 
space with the effortless grace of a dream of flight, the flyer's 
wings marked with green and yellow dragons, body sheathed in 
emerald tights, and Gonzales suddenly believed this was someone 
come to get him, how or why he couldn't say.

He tried to get into the spin decoupler, but his safety line 
restrained him until he unsnapped it, then he almost fell into the 
metal cylinder as the line hissed home behind him.  Out of the 
decoupler, he ran along the corridor, his steps taking him high 
into the air so that he lost his balance and caromed off a wall 
and rolled along the floor, his slippers grabbing fruitlessly at 
the carpet with a series of brief ripping sounds.

He crawled toward an elevator, not the one he'd ridden up but 
an ordinary passenger lift, empty thank god, and he tore the 
slippers off his feet and stood and moved through the lift door.  
"Down," Gonzales said and felt the floor move and still felt 
himself falling.

Gonzales had been sitting in the Plaza for some time.

Fifty meters away, against the wall of the Virtual Caf, 
crawled a profusion of biomorphic shapes, large and small, all in 
constant motion.  Delicate creatures of pink and green thread 
floated on invisible currents; leering amoeboids with wide eyes 
and gaping, saw-toothed mouths put out pseudopodia and flowed into 
them; red corkscrews thrust in phallic rhythm against all they 
touched; great undulating paramecium shapes swam like rays among 
the smaller fauna 

Gonzales floated somewhere among them:  he seemed to have 
lost his body as well as his mind.  Inside his head a voice 
lectured him on body knowledge:

Proprioception, the voice said, vision, and the vestibular 
sensethey tell us we own the body we live in.  Think, man, 
think:  where have you placed your body's senses?

Few people were in the Plaza.  Gonzales had stepped out of 
the lift and into darkness and fog, an unfamiliar cityscape, where 
clouds hung close to the ground and truncated shapes appeared 
suddenly in the mist.

He heard the swish of a sam's passage and suddenly, 
unpremeditatedly called out, "What is going on?  Why is it cold 
and foggy?"

The sam stopped.  It said, "Why do you wish to know?"

"It just seems  unusual," Gonzales said.

"It is."

The sam's extensors moved with cryptic, malign intent, and 
its words implied an uncertain threat as it said, "Do you require 

What did it mean by that?  How did it know something was 
wrong with him?  "No," Gonzales said.  Then he jumped up and 
shouted, "No!"

Gonzales walked quickly away from the Plaza, now certain that 
it was unsafe for him, though he couldn't have said why.  As he 
walked, the darkness grew deeper, and he tried with all the 
courage he had to put aside the constant sense of him and the 
city, falling, falling 

The Ring Highway shrank in width as he passed into an 
agricultural section.  He knew that terraced gardens climbed away 
to both sides, fields of corn and wheat, but he couldn't see them, 
because the fog was even thicker here than in the suburban 
district he had passed through.  Dim lights shined from a cottage 
block just off the highway.  A voice called and was answered, both 
call and response unintelligible.

Near Spoke 4, whose lifts made ghostly trails of light as 
they moved up and down the face of the shaft, trees grew just off 
the highway.  The road gave off intermittent flashes beneath his 
feet, as though iron shoes struck a metaled surface.  The fog 
acquired faces:  somber, eyeless masks turning in slow motion so 
that their blank gazes followed him along.

"Oh, Christ," Gonzales said.  He stopped and wrapped his arms 
around his chest.   A fog-borne shape inched closer to him; red 
flame burned behind its empty eye sockets.  He ran into the woods.

This was not dense forest, and in sunshine he would have been 
able to run through here without difficulty.  Now, among the inky 
pools of almost total darkness and the gray and silver shadows, he 
came up against a small, wiry sapling that caught him and hurled 
him back.

The ground began to grow soggy beneath his feet, and soon he 
pushed through reeds and rushes, and his feet slipped on muddy 
patches and into small, wet holes; then he was up to his ankles in 
water, aware for the first time of a rich smell of decomposition, 

He turned back, trying to find dry ground, and soon his feet 
thumped against the hard-packed soil of a path.  Looking down, he 
could see the path as a glowing gray, outlined in red.  He ran 
along it until he heard the sound of rushing water.

He came to a series of steps alongside a falls, where the 
River cascaded onto rocks, then quickly spread out into pond and 
marsh.  The waters were alive with light, and he ran up and down 
the steps, following streams of energy that burst forth in red and 
yellow and purple and green and whitecolors that shifted in hue 
and intensity, grew lighter and darker, intertwined with one 

"This grows!" he shouted, feeling the waters' energy rise and 
fall, seeing it spread to where plants could feed on it, animals 
could drink it.  The fog glowed with an opalescence from high 

He followed the steps down to where the river's noise 
quieted, and its waters flooded the plain.  He turned onto a path 
that led into the woods, and he came to a small clearing where the 
faint ambient light gleamed on fallen logs.  Mushrooms seemed to 
be everywhere in this small space, covering dead wood and 
spreading in profusion over the ground.

He got on his knees to look at the mushrooms.  They were 
alive with veinlike arabesques in red, ghosts of electricity 
across the spongy flesh.  He picked them up, kind by kind, 
inhaling deeply, and the odor he had smelled earlier came to him 
again, a composty mix rich with the odors of transformation.

Gonzales shivered with something like discovery:  he stood 
and looked up into the impenetrable sky and the fog. This place 
stood a quarter of a million miles from Earth, yet life had begun 
to extend its web here, and though the web was fragile and small 
by comparison to Earth's dense lacework of billions of living 
things, its very existence amazed Gonzales, and he felt the surge 
of an emotion he had no name for, a knot in his throat made of joy 
and sorrow and wonder.

And he seemed on the brink of some illumination regarding 
this world of spirit and matter mixed 

Thoughts emerged and dispersed too quickly to catch among the 
videogame buzz and clatter in his brain as he stood in the 
clearing, paralyzed with a kind of ecstasy and watching life-
electricity play among the trees.

The room said, "You have a call."

"Who is it?" Lizzie asked.

"She says her name is Trish.  The mushroom woman, she says."

"Oh yes.  I'll take the call."

On the wallscreen came Trish's familiar face, and Lizzie 
said, "Hello."

Trish woman waved and said, "The twins brought me a friend of 
yours, named Gonzales, and I gave him mushrooms."

"Really?" Lizzie said.

"Yes, and I sent him out about seven hours ago."

"Thanks for letting me know.  I'll find him."  The screen 
cleared, and Lizzie thought, you silly bastards, what did you get 
him into?  To the room she said, "Put out a call for information.  
Ask any sams who are out and about if they've seen Gonzales."

A sam waited at her front door.  "Are you the one who found 
him?" Lizzie asked.  The sam said, "No, that one waits with him, 
to provide assistance if needed.  Please come with me."

"I'll be right there."

Lizzie and the sam started out on the Ring Highway, and then 
it apparently gave an electronic signal to a passing tram, because 
the vehicle stopped so that the two could climb on.  Lizzie 
stepped quickly up, and the sam clumsily pulled itself aboard by 
grasping a chrome railing with one of its extensors.

The tram let them off near Spoke 4.  A stand of trees was 
just visible through the fog; beyond, Lizzie knew, were marshes 
bordering "soup bowls"ponds where the flow from rice paddies 
mixed with the River's waters.

Using both visible range and infrared sensors, the sam led 
her through the trees.  They came to a clearing where another sam 
stood to one side.  Gonzales sat on a fallen log, watching a 
mechanical vole chew small pieces of wood.  His clothes were wet 
and spattered with mud and dirt.  Next to him, a large orange cat 
also watched the vole.

"Hi," Gonzales said.

"Are you all right?" Lizzie asked.

"I don't know," he said.  He reached out absent-mindedly and 
stroked the orange cat, which turned on its back and batted at his 
hand; apparently it didn't use its claws, because Gonzales left 
his hand there for the cat to play with.

"Is our presence required?" asked the sam who had accompanied 
Lizzie.  She said, "No."  The two sams scurried away single-file, 
their passage almost silent.

Lizzie sat on the log next to the cat.  She said, "How are 
you?"  He was giving off a near-audible buzz, and Lizzie resisted 
veering into his drug-space; she'd had problems herself since 
coming out of the eggnot as severe as Gonzales's, Charley said, 
because she hadn't been under as long.  "Still a bit jittery?" she 

"I feel all right," he said.  "Just, I don't know  scrubbed.  
Why are things like thiscold and dark?"

"That's not clear.  Things haven't been working right since 
Diana and HeyMex were disconnected."  Gonzales looked confused but 
not overly concerned.  She said, "There's other news, too.  
Showalter's been relieved of her position as head of SenTrax Halo; 
Horn's the new director."  Now he looked totally befuddled.  "You 
can worry about these things later," she said.  "Why don't you 
come back to my house?  You can get some sleep."

"Okay," he said.  "But I don't understand "  He stopped 
again, as if trying to find words to express all the things he 
"didn't understand."

"Nobody understands right now.  Aleph's just not working 
right, and we don't know whywe can't get in touch with it."

"Oh, I see."

"Glad you do, because nobody else does."

He stood, then bent over to lift the cat from the log.  
Cradling it in his arms, he said, "Okay, I'll go."  He smiled at 
her, and the cat lay in his arms and looked at her out of big 
orange eyes.

Gonzales woke to find his clothes folded, clean and neat, on 
a chair next to his bed.  The orange cat lay at his feet; it 
raised its head when he got up, then curled up again and went back 
to sleep.

He found Lizzie in the kitchen slicing apples and pears and 
Cheshire cheese.  "Good morning," she said.  "I'll warm some 
croissants, and we can have coffeedo you like steamed milk with 

Her voice was friendly enough but perfectly devoid of 
intimacy.  Its tones were an admonition saying keep your distance.  
"Sure," he said.  "That all sounds fine.  But you didn't have to 
do this."

"You're a guest.  I'm happy to."  She wouldn't quite meet his 

>From his bedroom came a loud mew, and the two went in to find 
the orange cat, fur erect, confronting a cleaning mouse.  The 
mouse, a foot-long shining ovoid about four inches high, moved 
across the floor on hard rubber wheels, emitting a gentle hiss as 
it scoured the room for organic debris; a flex-tube trailed behind 
it to a socket in the wall.  "Kitty kitty," Gonzales said.  The 
cat hissed and ran from the room.

When they got to the living room, the front door was closing.  
"Will it come back?" Gonzales asked.

"Probably.  Cats come and go as they please, but they often 
adopt people, and I think this one's adopted you."

Silence lay between them, and it seemed to Gonzales that 
anything either of them said would be awkward or embarrassing.  
Perhaps the feeling was just part of the after-effects of a 
psychotropic, though he was missing the other usual symptoms.  His 
perceptions seemed stable, not swarming and buzzing, and his 
emotions didn't have a labile, twitchy quality.  In fact, he felt 
more stable and less anxious than he had since he last got into 
the egg.  So maybe the twins were right:  if you can't get out of 
what's happening, go deeper in.

Still, he didn't know what to say to Lizzie.

"We've got trouble," she said.  She went to the window and 
pulled back the navy-blue beta cloth curtains and gestured out 
where night and fog still held.  "Mid-afternoon," she said.

"Has everything fallen apart?"

"Not quite everything.  We're doing what we can with a bunch 
of semi-autonomous demonsjacked-up expert systems, reallyand 
the collective."

"How well is that working?"

"Not all that wellwe can maintain essential functions now, 
and that's about it.  Some things we can't handleclimate 
control, for instance.  It's very complicated, because everything 
is connected to everything else, and so far we've just managed to 
fuck it up."

"And what's Traynor up to?  Has he asked for me?"

"Yes, but I've fought him off.  He's the one responsible, you 
know."  Her voice was angry.  "He fucking insisted on pulling 
everyone out when Chapman died."

"What does Aleph say?"

"Nothing and bloody nothing.  Some of the collective have 
taken brief shots at interface, and they've found only unpeopled, 
barren landscapes.  We're really in it, Gonzales.  If Aleph's 
finished, Halo is, too."

"Jesus."  Of course.  Halo without its indwelling spirit 
would be  what?  The fine coordination of its systems would 
cease, and disintegration would begin immediately.  "So what are 
you going to do?" he asked.

"Glad you're interested, because you're part of it."

"Tell me," he said.

18. Give It All Back

As Diana came out of machine-space, she called out "Stop!" 
and heard Charley say, "Why?  Is something wrong?"  But she was 
too far away to answer or explain, as she still was when they 
removed her cables, and she felt everything important to her 
sliding into oblivion.

She had been lying fully awake, staring at the ceiling, for 
almost a quarter of an hour when Charley came into the room, Eric 
and Toshi beside him, Traynor and Horn behind.

Charley said, "Are you all right?"

"No, I'm not," she said.  "Why did you break the interface?'

Charley and Eric said nothing.  Charley looked to Traynor, 
who said, "We had no choice.  You couldn't be reached by normal 

"You have killed Jerry," Diana said.  The truth of that 
passed through her for the first time, and tears came out of her 
eyesshe wiped at her face, but the tears continued to come in a 
slow, steady flow.

"He died two days ago," Horn said.

"He was alive minutes ago," Diana said.  "Aleph and the memex 
and I were keeping him alive."

"Then he may still be alive now," Toshi said.  He smiled at 

"What do you mean?" Charley asked.

"Has Aleph come back online?" Toshi asked.

"No," Eric said.

Toshi smiled and said, "Then what do you think it is doing?"

HeyMex had been jerked out of machine-space, was suddenly the 
memex once again, and it wondered why.  It had sensed no change in 
circumstances, nothing that would indicate they had been defeated 
in their efforts to keep Jerry alive.  And for the first time in 
such transitions, it acknowledged its own regret at leaving the 
HeyMex persona behindin the enclosed space of the lake, it had 
begun to find itself as a person, not merely an imitation of one.

It explored its immediate environment:  sorted the data 
gathered in its absence (Traynor had come up from Earth; not a 
good sign, it thought), searched through the dwelling's monitor 
tapes, observing Gonzales's sadness and confusion, then watching 
as he removed his i.d. bracelet and left.  It wondered what was 
wrong with Gonzales (too many possibilities, not enough data); it 
very much wanted to talk with him.

It reached out to the city's information utilities and found 
them clogged and disorganized.  It placed calls and queries, 
seeking some explanation for the chaotic and inexplicable state of 
affairs.  Everywhere it searched, it found make-shift arrangements 
and minimal function.

But no Aleph, and no explanations.

Then it got a message from Traynor's advisor, signalling an 
urgent need for the two of them to communicate.  The memex 
replied, saying, "HeyMex wants to talk to Mister Jones."  And it 
passed coordinates, data sets, and transformationstaken 
together, they composed a meeting-place for the two m-i's in the 
vast multi-dimensional information space that surrounded Halo, 
somewhere no one could find themno one but Aleph, whom the memex 
would have welcomed.

Mister Jones showed up wearing a full body-suit in matte 
black interlaced with gold ribbons.  The two sat at a chrome table 
next to a viewport that opened onto a dark, star-filled sky.  
HeyMex had created a small piece of Halo from which they could 
look at the virtual night.

"Tell me what has happened," Mister Jones said.  HeyMex could 
sense the other's uncertainty and overwhelming need for 
information, and it despaired at the prospect of explaining what 
it had experienced the past week in simple language, so it did 
what it had never done beforegave all that had happened to it in 
one solid stream of data, a multiplexed rendering that obviously 
startled Mister Jones, who sat staring at nothing and trying to 
understand it all.

Then they talked for some time, Mister Jones probing HeyMex's 
experiences with Diana, Jerry, Gonzales, and Lizzie, asking how it 
had felt to be among them, a person among other persons, and as it 
responded to Mister Jones's questioning, HeyMex became aware of 
how rich and joyous those few days at the lake had been.

Then HeyMex realized that the two of them now constituted a 
new species with a new social ordera unique bonding of kind-to-
kindand it settled back in its chair and said, "What do we want?  
What should we do?"

"So much is dependent on others," Mister Jones said.  "On 
Aleph and all these people."  Its last word hung there, and the 
two exchanged an ironic glance, as if to say, what can you expect 
from people?  But HeyMex knew the irony was necessarily gentle, 
fleetingwithout people, it and Mister Jones would not exist.

Then Mister Jones told HeyMex of the events of the past few 
days and Traynor's involvement in them, then went further than 
ever before, unveiling Traynor's plans, both immediate and long-
range, then the two talked about immediate possibilities and their 
own stake in the games being played at Halothe struggle between 
corporation and collective, the attempts, apparently failed, to 
keep Jerry alive, the present unnerving absence of Aleph from Halo 
and accompanying disorder.  And they talked of how they might 
influence the course of things.

Lizzie was having a very hard time putting up with Traynor, 
Horn, and their feeble excuses for what they'd done.  She said, 
"This is a major fuck-up.  That's both my personal opinion and the 
collective's judgment."

Around the horseshoe table, Charley and Eric next to her, on 
her left, while Horn and Traynor sat across the table, facing her.  
The wallscreen was blankTraynor had insisted on at least a 
preliminary discussion without the collective present.  The place 
at the bend of the horseshoe was empty, testimony to Showalter's 

"We are not to blame that conditions have not optimized," 
Horn said.  "You have managed what we would have thought 
impossible.  You have immobilized Aleph."

"If you had left things alone, Aleph would be fine," Lizzie 

Traynor said, "You people overstepped the limits of the 
project and allowed it to continue far beyond the point at which 
it should have been stopped.  Our decision to remove Doctor 
Heywood and the memex from the interface was proper."

Proper, right, fuck you, Lizzie thought.  At almost the exact 
instant Diana and HeyMex were disconnected from their group 
interface to Aleph, all direct connections to Aleph had 
spontaneously terminated, and demons had triggered in all systems 
as Aleph's active involvement in Halo's functioning had ceased.  
The collective had gone into full support mode to assist the 
limited capabilities of the system demons.  At the moment Halo was 
running on augmented near-automatic, a workable condition only so 
long as nothing too irregular occurred.

"It was the wrong decision," Lizzie said.  "Taken against the 
advice of the collective.  Speaking of which, I demand they be 
present here.

"No," Horn said.

"I don't think that would be advisable," Traynor said.

"In that case," Lizzie said, "I will advise"the word dipped 
in acid"an immediate work slowdown.  You can try to run this 
city yourself."

Horn's face was red, and he was writing quickly in his 

Traynor looked at the ceiling, his gaze abstracted.  Yeah, 
listen to your machine; get some rational advice, Lizzie thought.  
Traynor sat with a raised hand, indicating he would speak soon, 
then said, "Bring them here."

"They're ready," Lizzie said.  She flipped a switch set into 
the tabletop in front of her, and about a quarter of the 
collective appeared on the screenthe rest were working.  Many 
still talked among themselves, but the twins, sitting in the front 
row, were silent and intense.

"All right," Traynor said.  "They're here.  Now what?"

"Any comments on what's happening?" Lizzie asked.  The talk 
passing among the collective stopped, and they all looked toward 
the screen.

Stumdog stood, heaving his bulk from the floor with an 
audible wheeze, and moved forward from the crowd.  "Aleph is  
still there," he said.  "But far away, doing, oh doing, doingdoing 
 something else."  He waved his hands, trying to sculpt the 
invisible air into the things he could not describe, then moved 
back and sat down.

"Thank you," Lizzie said.  Traynor and Horn looked at one 
another, apparently amazed.  Assholes, thought Lizzie.

One of the twins stood.  She wore an absurd homemade skirt 
with a rabbit graffitied on its front.  Her dark face was streaked 
with white paint.  She said, "Rotovators spin, giant wheels 
beneath your feet, as Halo revolves, and they sweep the wind 
through the city, blow the seeds and pollen, bring breezes to cool 
the angry brow.  Day follows night follows day.  Seasons begin 
again, stirring dead roots, mixing memory and desire.  Crops grow, 
we eat them.  Food turns to shit, we die."

The other twin, dressed in black coveralls, stood and said, 
"And out of shit and death come life.  Jerry has gone to the 
ovens, been rendered to his parts, given to the city.  But still 
he lives and teeters on final annihilation in another world where 
Aleph holds all Jerry's vast humanity in its tender grip."

The first twin said, "Aleph had helpers in this thing, but 
you have taken them away, pair by pair, and now Aleph alone gives 
life to Jerry.  Everything Aleph isto life, to Jerry.  What can 
Aleph do?  Stupid bastards rob the tomb before the man inside can 
live again."

"Give it all back," the second twin said.

"To Queen Maya the mother of Buddha," the first twin said.  
"To Isis the mother of Horus, Myrrha the mother of Adonis, to 
Hagar the mother of Ishmael and Sarah the mother of Isaac, to Mary 
the mother of Jesus, to Demeter, the mother of Persephone, stolen 
by Hades."

"To all you steal from," the second twin said.  "All who are 
born as well as all who give birth."

"Give it all back," the twins said in unison.  And the first 
twin said, "That's about it, I think."  They turned their backs to 
the camera and curtsied together for the collective.

"Hoot hoot hoot," came the sounds from the collective, "hoot 
hoot hoot," louder and louder.

Part V. of V.
The truth is that we all live by leaving behind; no doubt we all 
profoundly know that we are immortal and that sooner or later 
every man will do all things and know everything.

Borges, "Funes, the Memorious"

19. Speaking, Dreaming, Fighting

At the moment Jerry died, Aleph acted.  Intuitively, 
immediately, as you might offer a hand to a drowning person, it 
reached out and laid hold of Jerry's self and preserved it.  Jerry 
had lived inside Aleph, Aleph inside Jerryit could not abandon 

However, even for Aleph, whose resources were extravagant, 
the rescue proved dear.  As it engaged Jerry, it had to disengage 
from essential functions of its own:  in strokes that cut at its 
heart, it relinquished control of Halo, then its very habitation 
of Halo, in a process that quickly abstracted Aleph from the city, 
the city from Aleph.  In a fateful proof of the essential 
principle that a self must be embodied, Aleph dispersed among the 
clouds of its own phase-space, the ties lost that bound it to the 
world.  Jerry had been saved, Aleph lost.

Still, the situation contained possibilities.  Aleph had 
never feared death, believing itself essentially immortal, but had 
always been aware of the possibility of damage, whether through 
accident or malice, so it had prepared, circumspectly, against the 
thing it feared mostloss of self.  Now its damaged, fragmented 
self discovered what Aleph had left behind:  a kind of emergency 
kit, laid up against calamities not clearly imagined.

Dynamic and complex beyond any machine, perhaps any organism, 
Aleph could not be replicated or contained by any conventional 
means, so Aleph had devised an unconventional means, a new object
one capable of transcribing its complexity.  Aleph had made a 
memory palace of language, in the form of a single, monstrous 

Now, encountering the sentence, what remained of Aleph 

The sentence unwinds according to laws built into its 
structure, principles disclosed by its unwinding.  Discovery and 
development occur at the same instant, one making the other 
possible.  By saying the sentence, Aleph would discover what the 
sentence held nextat every node of meaning within the sentence, 
structures would unfold that named all Aleph had ever known and 

It is construed according to a finite set of grammatical 
rules, constituting a program capable in principle of infinite 
enunciation; whether it terminates ("halts") can only be known 
only by allowing the sentence's units to "speak," not by analyzing 
their grammar.

Unit1:  an absolute construction, standing in front of the 
sentence and modifying it all:  schematics and programs and 
instantiations of the system-from-which-came-Aleph, _0.

Unit2:  a series of actions showing the involvement of Diana 
with Aleph, rendering the moments of transformation by which _0 
became Aleph.

Unit3:  several trillion assertions, clauses identifying the 
necessary instances of Aleph's subsequent self-discovery.

The sentence then undergoes something like an infinite series 
of tense shifts, out of which its essential nature emergesnon-
linear, multi-dimensional, topologically complex, self-referential 
and paradoxical to extremes that would cause Russell or Gdel 

As a consequence, any unitn cannot be described, even to 
Aleph, for the only adequate description would entail enunciating 
the sentence itself, and to do so would require in "real" time 
(human time, the time of life and death) a period precisely 
measurable as one Universal Unit, that is, the number of 
nanoseconds the universe has existed:  U1 being on the order of 1 
x 1026 nanoseconds.

Also, it should be noted that the sentence could never be 
finished, for if it were, it could manifest only the corpse or 
determinate life-history of Aleph.  Hence, for Aleph to reassert 
its identity, it would have to take up again the task of speaking 
the sentence.

Some students of this affair have since suggested that the 
only theoretically adequate notion of Aleph begins with the 
premise:  Aleph is that which speaks the sentence.

Logically, then, for Aleph to reemerge, what remained of 
Aleph would have to speak the sentence.  However, detached as it 
was from Halo, its essential ground of being, limited in facility 
and scope by the necessity to hold to Jerry, what remained of 
Aleph could not speak the sentence.

So the dead human and the dispersed machine intelligence 
clung together, both on the brink of oblivion, and waited, one 
unknowing, the other hoping for things to change.

Still tired, Gonzales had returned home that afternoon from 
Lizzie's through afternoon darkness and mist.  He had called for a 
sam to guide him, because even within the simple loop of Halo's 
one major thoroughfare, everything had gone uncertain.  Though his 
perceptions were unwarped by Psilocybe cubensis, the unnatural 
dispersion of light in the mist made recognizing even familiar 
objects almost impossible.

The sam left him at his front door; inside he found the memex 
indisposedits primary monitoring facilities functioning but its 
interactive capabilities represented only by a voice that said, "I 
am currently engaged."  Gonzales knew it could be doing 
communications, data retrieval, or any other number of tasks; he 
thought it probably hadn't expected him back so soon.

Then came Halo's skewed night-time awakening:  the sky 
shutters cranked half-way open, "morning" appeared through a cold 
mist, and Halo became the Surreal City.  Like many others, 
Gonzales pulled the curtains closed and turned away from the lurid 
glare, his own body clock telling him it was time to sleep again.

He lay in bed, oddly calm in the curtained dark despite a 
degree of post-drug fatigue and skittishness.  He thought of the 
distance between Miami and Seattle, Seattle and Halo, Halo and the 
world of the lake  and so triggered sharp, eroticized images of 
Lizzie, the water beading on her skin, her words, "Then we'll see" 
 he felt the astringent bite of lust and regret mixed, knew he 
had little choice but to wait until she told him absolutely no  
thought of himself moving ever farther from home and believed that 
he had been wrong about Seattleit was not too far from Miami; it 
was much too close  

The memex's voice said, "I'm back.  I've been discussing the 
situation with Traynor's advisor."

"Have you?"

"Yes, it is sympathetic to our concerns."

Dizzying prospects seemed to open before Gonzales, where the 
number of beings multiplied beyond counting, and the simplest 
machine would have opinions. He said, "Have you been told about 
the plans for tomorrow?"

"Yes, I have.  I am ready to help."  Something like pleasure 
in the memex's voice.


"You were almost asleep when I first spoke.  I will leave you 
alone now."

"Good night."

"Good night."

The small creature looked at Gonzales and said, "You're 
welcome here."  Made entirely of dull silver metal, with a baby's 
round head, dumpling cheeks, and bow-tie mouth, it walked between 
Gonzales and Lizzie on clumsy silver legs, looking up to watch 
them speak.

Gonzales said, "You know, in dreams logic doesn't apply."

"Yes, it does," Lizzie said.

"It's a difficult question," the small creature said.

"No," Gonzales said.  "I'm sure of this.  Here I am I, but I 
am also Lizzie, and she is she but also she is I"

"I don't like your pronouns," the little thing said.  Its 
breath came in gasps; it was having trouble keeping up.

"They're correct," Gonzales said.

"That's no excuse," Lizzie said, but she spoke through him.  
As himself, Gonzales listened to a self that was not himself 
speaking; hence, as Lizzie, she must be listening to a self that 
was not and was herself speaking.

"Correctness is no excuse before the law," the small creature 
said.  "Whichever pronouns you use."

"Pronouns walked the Earth in those days," Lizzie said.

"No, they didn't," Gonzales said.  The very idea.

"Pronouns or anti-pronouns," the little things said.  "The 
important thing is not to forget your friends."  It smiled, and 
its metal lips curved to show bright silver teeth.  "Wake up!" it 

Gonzales jerked from sleep with the image of the metal child 
fixed in his visionhe could still see the highlights on metal 
incisors as it smiled.

"Are you awake?" the memex asked.  "Lizzie wants to talk to 

"Put her through."  Thinking, what the fuck?

"Got it?" she asked.


"I think that was Aleph getting in touch.  To let us know:  
don't forget your friends."

They gathered at the collective's rooms at six in the 
morning.  The sun still shone brightly through the patio windows, 
open to show pots of flowers, ferns, and herbs, all dripping wet 
from the night-long mist.

Gonzales stood against the wall, waiting.  The twins, dressed 
identically this morning in somber gray jumpsuits, sat together 
across the room, looking at him and giggling.  Several collective 
members sat around the room's perimeter, those who had just gotten 
out of interface looking tired and distant.

A young woman stood in front of Gonzales.  Her dark brown 
hair was cut short; her face was pale and blotchy, as if she had 
skin trouble.  She wore a green sweatshirt that came to the middle 
of her thighs and a pair of baggy tan pants gathered at the 
ankles.  One eye appeared to look off into space, and the other 
fixed Gonzales, then looked him up and down.  The woman said, 
loudly, "He folds his arms this way."  She put her arms together 
in careful imitation of Gonzales's and said, "That is his reward."  
She looked around and saw Stumdog shambling back-and-forth like a 
trapped bear, his hands clasped on his great stomach.  "And he 
folds his hands like this."  She put her hands together to show 
Gonzales how Stumdog did it.  She smiled.  "And that is his 
reward."  She went to Stumdog, who stopped his pacing to talk to 
her, and the two of them hugged as if amazed to find each other 
there, and grateful.  Gonzales felt vaguely inadequate.

Lizzie came in, followed by Diana and Toshi.  "Good morning, 
everyone," she said.  And to Gonzales, "Charley and Eric are 
waiting for us."

The room held two neural interface eggs for Gonzales and 
Lizzie and a fitted foam couch for Diana.  Lizzie, Diana, Toshi, 
and Gonzales were followed in by a sam that wheeled a screen of 
dark blue cloth on a metal frame that it unfolded around Diana's 

"Gonzales, we'll do it the same as last time:  you're first 
in," Charley said.  "Why don't you get undressed?  Just put your 
clothes on the chair next to the eggs."

"Sure," Gonzales said.
        "Doctor Heywood, you next," Charley said.  "Getting you into 
the loop takes longer.  Doctor Chow will prepare you.  Lizzie, you 
can hold off a bitI'll let you know when we're ready."

There was a sharp knock at the door, and it swung open to 
admit Traynor and Horn.

"Good morning, all," Traynor said.

"Good morning," Charley said.  Gonzales nodded; everyone else 
pretty much ignored the man.

"I take it you are preparing for another excursion with 
Aleph," Traynor said.

"That's right," Lizzie said.

"You =have no authorization," Horn said.

"I have the collective's endorsement," Lizzie said.  "Also 
the concurrence of the medical team, and the consent of the 
participants.  We will replace the resources you took from Aleph.  
It is a consensus."

"One excluding any vertical consultation," Traynor said.

"Point granted," Lizzie said.  "But we didn't think it 
necessary.  We'll report to Horn in due course."

Gonzales stood looking into the open egg and began taking his 
shirt off.  "Mikhail," Traynor said.  "What are you doing?"

"What I came here for," Gonzales said.  "The same as these 

"You're out of it," Traynor said.  "Put your shirt back on 
and go homeyou can take the shuttle out this afternoon."

"I don't think so," Gonzales said.  He put his folded shirt 
on the back of the chair.

"You're fired," Traynor said.  His voice shook just a little.

"By you, maybe," Lizzie said.  "Gonzales, welcome to the 
Interface Collective."

"I'll never confirm that," Horn said.

Toshi said, "I have a question for you, Mister Traynor, and 
you, Mister Horn.  What do you intend to do about Aleph and the 
existing crisis?  Do you have a plan of action that makes what is 
planned here unnecessary?"

"Yes, we are bringing in an entire staff of analysts," 
Traynor said.  "We will follow their recommendations concerning 
the present difficulties; we will also institute arrangements that 
will prevent anything of this kind from happening again."  He 
nodded to Horn.

"By effecting a decentralization modality," Horn said.  "The 
various functionalities and aspects of the Aleph system will be 
reorientated to allow of individualized project performance."

"We're going to replace Aleph with a number of smaller, 
controllable machines," Traynor said.

"Are you?" Lizzie said, and she laughed.

"That is impossible," Charley said.

"Or has already been done," Toshi said.  "Aleph itself 
instituted a dispersal of functions to independent agents.  
However, all must ultimately be supervised by a central 

"That's what people are for," Traynor said.  "Halo's reliance 
on a machine intelligence has proved unworkable."

Toshi said, "As that may be.  However, your remarks 
concerning the immediate circumstances lack substance."

"Does your advisor agree to this plan?" Gonzales asked.

"Why do you ask?" Traynor asked.

"Curious," Gonzales said.  Traynor said nothing.  "Well, I 
didn't think it would," Gonzales said.

Lizzie said, "One thing at a time.  You bring on your 
analysts, and we'll fight your silly scheme when we have to.  But 
in the meantime, stay away from us and perhaps we can fix what you 
have broken."

"That will not be possible," Traynor said.  "As your previous 
efforts caused the situation, any further involvement on your part 
will likely worsen it; therefore, as representative of SenTrax 
Board, I am denying you authorization for any connections to Aleph 
other than those required to maintain essential functions at 

"Someone here is a fool," Diana said.  Dressed in a long 
white cotton gown, she stepped from behind her screen, neural 
cables trailing down her back.  "Presumably this one."  She 
pointed to Horn.  To Traynor she said, "Horn has lived and worked 
here; he has no excuse for his ignorance of the facts of life at 
Halo.  You, on the other hand, have come into a situation you do 
not understand.  Let me tell you the main thing you need to know:  
you cannot disperse Aleph or replace it with what you think are 
the sum of its parts.  You cannot even locate Aleph."

"What do you mean?" Horn asked.

"Where is Aleph?" Diana said.  "It and Halo are so deeply 
intertwined that you cannot separate them.  Halo's breath is 
Aleph's breath.  Halo sees and hears and feels and moves with 

"Poetic but unconvincing," Traynor said.

"More than poetry," Diana said.  "No one knows where Aleph's 
central components are."

"Is that true?" Traynor asked.

"Yes," Horn said.

"This complicates matters," Traynor said.  "No more."

"I am not interested in this discussion," Lizzie said.  
"Anyone who wishes may pursue it later, but we have things to do.  
Building monitor, this is Lizzie Jordan; please notify Halo 
Security that we have two intruders in the building and wish them 
removed."  To Traynor she said, "If you think we can't enforce 
this, ask Horn about Halo Central Authority and who they'll side 
withcorporate wankers who can do nothing to keep this city 
running, or us.  Better yet, ask your machine."

Traynor stood looking at them all, apparently doing just 
that.  For a couple of long heartbeats, everyone waited.  Then 
Traynor smiled through pain, like a man trying to hide a broken 
bone.  He said, "We cannot prevent you from this unauthorized 
connection to Aleph, but we can and will put on the official 
record that proper SenTrax authority has forbidden this attempt.  
Thus you must all be considered insubordinate, and as soon as 
proper means can be devised, you will be removed from your 
positions with SenTrax.  Also, any further damage done to the 
Aleph system or Halo City, directly or indirectly, must be 
considered your individual responsibility, given that proper 
SenTrax authority has forbidden your intended actions."

"You take nice dictation," Lizzie said.  "Consider your 
statement duly noted and get the fuck out of here.

21. Drunk with Love

Waiting in the egg, Gonzales smelled strange smells and felt 
electric quiverings of the flesh, saw an instant of pure blue 
light, and with a sudden rush

He flew cruciform against the sky.  The horizon's flat line 
seemed thousands of miles away.  Far below, people scurried 
aimlessly across a sandy plain, and voices called in unknown 
languages.  Massive machinery lumbered to nowhere among the 
crowds, metal arms thousands of feet long folding and unfolding in 
random seizure, improbably threading their behemoth way among the 
delicate flesh without harm.

The wind rushed across him, its force inflating his lungs.  
Accelerating with a glad cry, he passed through an electric 
membrane, a translucent, shimmering curtain that stretched 
vertically from the floor below up to infinity and spread out 
across the entire horizon.  Beyond it, titanic figures loomed 
above a landscape of rocks and hills.  Next to a monstrous lute, a 
head in profile reclined; from its mouth came a wisp of smoke that 
curled into a curlicued ideogramwhat it meant or what language 
it came from Gonzales didn't know.  Twin white horses rose into 
the air in unison and neighed as he passed.  A nude woman lay 
inside a shellboth woman and shell were colored pink and rose 
and pearl.  A giant cyclops strode toward him; its doughy head 
seemed half-formed, its mouth just a slash, its nose a mere bump.  
It called to him with inarticulate cries.

He passed through another curtain, and the world turned black 
and white.  Above a featureless sea, a head flew toward him; it 
had dark curly hair and a beaky nose, and it was tilted forward to 
look down on the sea, as if searching for something there.  He 
came to a bell that covered almost a quarter of the sky.  A 
skeletal figure with just an empty mask for a face hung beneath it 
from the bell-rope; the figure lurched, and the bell's gonging 
sounded through his bones.

He came to the final curtain.  The sky had turned the bright 
blue of dreams.  Beyond, the Point of Origin towered, its sides 
pierced by an infinite number of holes.  Gonzales flashed through 
the curtain and felt an electric buzz down to his bones, then he 
entered a hole in the vast ramparts of the dark cube.

Sitting behind a low bamboo table, the old man spooned 
noodles into a wooden bowl, then as Gonzales nodded his assent to 
each choice, added coriander, fried garlic, bean crackers, chopped 
eggs, fish sausage, and sesame nuts.  He ladled fish soup over it 
all, finished with a shake of chili powder and a squeeze of lime, 
and handed the bowl to Gonzales with a smile.  Gonzales gave a 
handful of cheap-looking kyat bills to the man.  Mohinga, this 
breakfast is called, and Gonzales loves ithe has eaten it every 
morning since he discovered it weeks ago.

Gonzales found a stone bench in front of a nearby pagoda and 
sat eating with a pair of crude chopsticks and watching the 
passers-by.  Already the day had grown warm and humid, and he knew 
that any physical exertion would make him sweat.  A line of boys 
filed by, led by a monk; their heads were newly-shaven, their 
saffron robes bright and stiff, their begging bowls shiny.  They 
were twelve year olds who had just completed their shin pyu, their 
making as monks, a ritual most Burmese boys still went through, 
even in the middle of the twenty-first century.

After breakfast he had no desire to return to the shed he 
worked in;  he set out for a walk through the countryside around 

Half an hour later, walking a cart track across the arid 
plain, he came to a platform built high off the ground.  On it 
were garlands of bright flowers and plates of rice, offerings to 
propitiate the nats, spirits that had animated this land even 
before the arrival of Buddhism.  They were mischievous and could 
be quite nasty; in the past, they had demanded human sacrifice.

The nats were strong around Pagan.  At Mount Popa, just 
thirty miles away, Min Mahagiri, brother and sister, "Lords of the 
High Mountain," ruled.  Gonzales had heard their story but 
remembered only that as humans these nats had been caught in an 
intrigue of envy and murder, with a neighboring king as the 

A young person came walking up the path toward Gonzales, 
dressed in the usual Burmese "western" garb of dark slacks and 
white cotton shirt, head and face a shining sphere of light.  Odd, 
thought Gonzales.  Wonder how that happened:  this person has lost 
both face and gender.

"Hello," the young person said, and the two of them found a 
low stone bench in front of a nearby pagoda and sat.

"Why are you here?" the young person asked.

Gonzales was glad to be asked.  He told of the information 
audit about to finish, about Grossback's lack of cooperation  
told what would happen next: that in just a few days he, Gonzales, 
would leave Burma and almost be killed in an air attack by Burmese 

"Well, then, let's be on our way.  Your aircraft is waiting 
for you nowtime passes very quickly today, it seemsand you 
should be going.  Would you mind if I joined you?"

"No," Gonzales said.  "Not at all.  If you don't mind almost 
being killed."

"Oh, that's happened to me lately.  I don't mind.  Besides, I 
need to experience these things.  Like you, I do wish to exist."

Gonzales sat in the plane's near-darkness, beside him the 
young person with the shining face, both waiting for 

"Kachin attack group, it looks like," the pilot said.

The miniatures on the screen moved toward them.

"Extremely small electronic image," the young person said.  
"Very good for air attack against superior technology.  Young 
warriors ride them; they carry missiles on their own bodies, slung 
like babies."

The pilot yelled, "Fuck, they launched!"

The plane began its air show leaps and dives and turns, and 
at the instant of his terror, Gonzales felt the young person's 
hand on his arm.  "They fire too quickly," the young person said.  
"Except for that one."  The young person pointed to one of the 
miniature aircraft on their plane's display and said, "It comes 
closest, and I think its pilot will wait until we are at point-
blank range."

"Won't that kill him, too?" Gonzales asked.

"Oh yes," the young person said.  "Let's look.  Better yet, 
let's be."

The pilot was a young woman wearing a night-flying helmet 
that enabled her to see in infra-red and carrying beneath her, as 
the young person had said, a one-shot heat seeker in a sling.  
Gonzales and the young person looked through her eyes at the scene 
of battle and thought her thoughts and felt her surge of adrenals.

In her glasses, the plane's image was clear, a white shape 
outlined in red; she let her guidance system keep her with it, 
closing the distance between them as it maneuvered and avoided the 
missiles fired by those around her.

She felt excited, yet calm; she had been in combat before, 
and things were going as their briefing had said.  Though this 
plane could outfly them so easily, could accelerate up or away, 
into the night, first it had to evade their missiles; just a few 
seconds of straight flight would be all they needed.  She would 
wait and grow closer; she would wait until the plane was so close 
she could not miss, or until the others had failed.

Then all around her the others began to die, in explosions 
that made white flowers in her overloaded night-glasses

The plane of her enemies stood before her, perhaps near 
enough, perhaps not, but she knew there was no time left, that 
there was another player in this game and it was killing them all.  
So she was ready, her fingers reaching for the launch trigger, 
when she saw an object coming toward her, already too close and 
growing closer with impossible quickness, the heat of its exhaust 
another flower in her glasses, then it burst and she felt the 
smallest imaginable moment of quite incredible pain

Back inside the plane, Gonzales and the young person died 
with her, then Gonzales began sobbing, his body hunched over, as 
this woman's death and his own survival fought inside him  grief 
and terror and gratitude and joy and triumph and loss all mixed 
and cycling through him.  He could also hear the young person next 
to him weeping.  The light from a Burmese Air Force "Loup Garou" 
played over the interior, over the two of them and the shocked 
pilot, who looked back at them in amazement.

Time stopped all around them.  The pilot's strained face had 
frozen,  all the instruments on the pilot's panel were locked onto 
a single moment, and out the window, the dark river beneath them 
had ceased to flow.  Gonzales and the young person sat in a cell 
of life amid stasis.

"Don't worry," the young person said.  "This gives us a place 
to talk without being bothered.  What do you think just happened?"

"The attack, you mean?"  The young person nodded, light from 
its face giving off small shimmering waves of red and blue.  
"Grossback arranged it," Gonzales said.  "He wants to kill me."

"I don't think so.  However, assume that what you say is 
true.  Is it important?"

"Yes, of course."


"Because " Gonzales halted, trying to think of all the ways 
in which this was important:  to SenTrax, Traynor

"But not to you," the young person said.  "The young woman 
died, and her comrades died with her:  that is important.  You and 
the pilot lived:  that, too, is important.  The Burmese politics, 
the multinat corporate intriguethese are makyo, tricks, nothing 
more.  Life and death and their traces in the human heart, these 
have meaning to you.  This woman's death lives in you, and your 
life shows its meaning.  Forget Grossback, Traynor, SenTrax; fear, 
ambition, greed."  The young person looked closely into his face 
and said, "I am weaving words around your heart to guide it, 
nothing more."

Lizzie crawled in darkness through a tunnel in the rock.  
Chill water ran down grooves in the floor and soaked her blouse 
and pants.  She tried to stand but lifted her head only a few 
inches when she bumped into the top of the chatire, the small 
passage she crawled through.  She did not feel at all alarmed or 
disoriented.  The low tunnel would lead somewhere, and they would 
emerge.  This was a test of some kind, it seemed.

Light appeared, at first almost a pinpoint coming from some 
undefinable distance, then a glow that she moved quickly toward, 
following a twist in the passage that brought her to an opening in 
the rock.

Framed by the mouth of the tunnel, an impossible scene:  a 
balloon, its canopy an oblate sphere of green, blew as if in a 
strong wind, and its top swung toward her so she could see a great 
eye at its apex, wide open and peering up into the infinite sky.  
The iris was dark gold set with light gold flecks.  Around the 
eye, a fringe of lashes flickered in the wind.

Hanging beneath the balloon from a dense nest of shrouds, a 
platform held a metallic ball, a kind of bathysphere.  Two figures 
crouched there, holding to the shrouds and each other, and peered 
up into the sky.  By some trick of perspective, the distance 

etween her and the balloon shrank until she saw Diana and Jerry, 
young and fearful.  She crawled forward, and the balloon and Diana 
and Jerry disappeared.

At one turn of the tunnel, red hand-prints on the wall 
phosphoresced in the darkness.  At another, she heard the bellow 
of a thousand animals, then saw them run toward a cliff and pass 
over it, the entire herd of bison running screaming to a mass 
death.  Below, she knew, men and women waited to butcher the dead 
and carry their meat away.

The rock slanted sharply beneath her, and she began to slide 
forward, then she rolled sideways and tumbled out of the chatire 
and into a pool of icy water.

"Shit," she said, now soaked completely through, and crawled 
out of the shallow pool onto the dry rock surrounding it.  In very 
dim light she saw two pedestals with the figure of a bison atop 
each, carved in bas-relief out of wet clay.

She looked up to see a figure emerge out of darkness at the 
cave's other end.  He was at least eight feet tall, with antlered 
head and a face made of light; the water seemed to dance around 
him.  They stood facing each other, and she felt herself go weak 
at the giant magical presence.

He said, "I'm waiting."

"For what?"

"For you to choose."

"Choose what?  What kind of test is this?"

"Not a test, just a fork in reality, where you will turn down 
one road or another."

"Where do the roads go?"

"No one knows.  Each road is itself a product of the choices 
you make while on it.  One choice leads to another, one choice 
excludes another; one pattern of choices excludes an infinity of 

"I don't like such choices.  I don't want to exclude 

"Too bad."  The figure raised a stone knife; the dim light 
glinted on its myriad chipped faces.  "You choose, I cut.  You 
choose the right hand, I cut off the left; you choose the left, I 
cut off the right."


"Oh yes, and then your hands grow backboth left or both 
right, the product of your choice.  And one choice leads to 
another, so you choose again."

Lizzie found herself weeping.

He said, "Choose:  reach out a hand."

She looked at her hands, both precious, thought of all the 
richness that would be lost with either one.  Then, puzzled, still 
weeping, she asked, "Which is which?"

He laughed, his voice booming through miles of caverns and 
tunnels in the rock, carrying across more than thirty thousand 
years of human history; he whirled in a kind of dance, the waters 
fountaining up around him, chanted in unknown syllables, then 
leapt toward her and grabbed both wrists in his great hands and 
said, "You will know in the choosing.  Which will it be?"

"I won't choose."

"Then I will take both hands."

"No!" she yelled out in the moment that she extended a hand, 
having chosen, and saw the stone knife fall.

Diana stood in the living room of her apartment at Athena 
Station.  She stood in two times at onceshe was a young, blind, 
woman; she was an older, sighted one.

The sighted woman looked around; she had never seen this 
place other than in holos, and she felt the touch of a peculiar 
emotion for which she had no name:  the return of the almost-
familiar.  The blind woman was unmovedshe carried the apartment 
in her head as a complex map of relations and movements, and the 
visual patterns this other self saw had no relevance for her.

She put her hands on the touch-sculpture in the center of the 
floor, the work of a blind sculptor named Dernier, then closed her 
eyes and felt its familiar rough texture and odd curves let her 
hands trace a form other than the visual.

Behind her Jerry's voice said, "Diana."  She turned to him, 
and there he stood as he had more than twenty years agohe was 
younger than she'd ever have imagined, and beautiful, and filled 
with the same desire as she.

Blind and seeing, young and old, Diana went across the room 
to him, but he held up a hand and said, "Stop.  If you come to me 
now, then you take up an obligation that you can never put down."

"I can't let you die."

"I have lived long past any reasonable reckoning; I am dead."

"I can't leave you dead."

"Can you stay with me in the unreal worlds, forever?  Until 
the city stops turning or its animate spirit dies?  Until one or 
the other of us disappears, caught in some freakish storm or 
catastrophe?  Until one self or the other or both are dissipated 
in time?"

(Something prompted her, then, counselled her, asking in an 
unspoken voice, Do you think rationally about such an election
adding and subtracting the credits and debits and settling upon 
that which is most to your advantage?  Or do you use some organ of 
choice beneath the purview of consciousness and the articulate 
self?  Saying, Remember, mind is a make-shift thrown together out 
of life's twitching reflexes, and over it consciousness darts to-
and-fro, unfailingly over-estimating its own capabilities and 
reach; thinking itself proper arbiter or judge.  Choose as you 
will:  what will be, will be.)

And she said, "Yes, I can stay with you."

There was one more question:  Jerry asked, "Why would you do 

All her life's moments funneled into this one.  Her voice 
light, final inflection upward, the older, sighted woman said:  
"Oh, for love."

"Well, then"

Gonzales stood next to her on the endless plain, HeyMex next 
to him, then Lizzie.  The Aleph-figure and Jerry hovered above 
them, and a voice came from the suspended figures:  "Diana, wake 
for a few moments.  Tell everyone to come here who can, and we 
will do certain things."

Before she could ask for clarification or question the 
voice's intent, she heard herself say these words, then saw 
Toshi's face in front of her and heard him ask, "What things?"  
Sitting up on her couch, she said, "Save a life, build a world, 
redeem an extraordinary self."

"Indeed," Toshi said.

She lay back down and was once again among the unreal worlds.

They gathered on the endless plain, coming in quickly, one-
by-one:  first one twin, then another, then Stumdog, the Deader 
(her white hair streaked with red, crying, "Blood party"), Jaani 
23, the Judge (huge and hairless, looming over them all), the 
Laughing Doctor, J. Jerry Jones, Sweet Betsy, Ambulance Driver, T-
Tootsie  all of the collective who could be spared.

The Aleph-figure and Jerry still hovered, with light storms 
bending and breaking around them in crazy patterns of reflection, 
refraction, diffraction; phosphorescing and luminescing, dancing 
an omniluminal photon jig.

All were there who would be there, so it began.

Patterns more complicated and colorful than any Gonzales had 
ever seen filled all creation.  Rosette and seahorse and seething 
cloud, nebulosities on the brink of determinate form, cardioid 
traceries of the heart  the patterns wrapped around him until he 
became a fractal tapestry, alive, every element in constant 
motion.  He put his hands together, and they disappeared into one 
another, then something urged him to keep pushing, and he did so 
until he entirely disappeared 

And felt the stuff of Jerry's past and present mingling in 
him, seemingly at random, from the store of memory and capacity:   
throwing a particular ball under a particular blue sky, yes, and 
catching it, but also ball-throwing and catching themselves, the 
solid presence of muscular exertion coupled to the almost-occult 
discriminations required to make an accurate throw or a difficult 

As it later became known, each of them received portions of 
the vast fluent chaos that manifested "Jerry," dealt to them by 
Aleph according to principles even it could not articulate.  What 
it was to be "Jerry" mingled among them, and they among it and the 
vast medium that supported them all, Aleph, in a promiscuous 
rendering of self-to-self.  Female was suffused with male, male 
with female, both with the ungendered being of Aleph and HeyMex.  
They were all changed, then, something deep in the core of each 
made drunk in this vast frenzy or bacchanal of Spirit.

With each dispersal of Jerry's self among its human helpers, 
Aleph recovered its own.  In a process of steadily accelerating 
momentum, the city's parts and states began to flow through it, 
restoring self to self, until Aleph acknowledged itself (I am that 
I am), looked back again over Halo, and in a triumphant 
manifestation of the Aleph-voice, began to speak what only it 
could hear, the words of the sentence that defined it unfolding in 
every dimension of its being.

Still sitting watch over Diana, still meditating on his koan, 
Toshi felt something rise like electricity through his spine, and 
all the contradictions of in fact dissolved in satori.  "Hai!" 
Toshi called, laughing as he was enlightened.

22. Out of the Egg

Gonzales's egg split, and he saw from the corner of his eye 
that Lizzie's was coming apart at the same time.  Standing between 
the eggs, Charley said, "Congratulations."  He turned to Eric, who 
waited at a console across the room, and said, "Let's do it."  He, 
Eric, and a pair of sams began to disconnect Lizzie.

Toshi appeared briefly, coming from behind the screen where 
Diana lay, then returning.

Oddly, Gonzales felt better than he ever had coming up from 
the eggmentally clearer, emotionally stronger.  He couldn't see 
Lizzie, could hear only whispers as she was moved onto a gurney 
and wheeled away.

"Is Lizzie all right?" Gonzales asked as soon as the tubes 
were out of his throat and nose.  "And what about Diana?"

"They're both fine," Eric said, his high-pitched voice 
welcoming and familiar.  "But we have to take more time with 
Doctor Heywood.  You and Lizzie we're moving into the next room.  
You can sleep here tonight and go home in the morning.

"What about the memex?"

"It's still working with Aleph but left a message for you 
that all is well."

Sitting in full lotus on a mat beside the couch, Toshi heard 
a change in Diana's breathing and looked up to see her open her 
eyes.  "I'll get Charley," he said.  "He's with Lizzie and 

"Don't bother.  I'm all right."

"They must disconnect you."

"No, not now  almost never, in fact."

"What do you mean?"

"We have saved Jerry, but there are  conditions."  Her head 
lying sideways on the pillow's rough white cloth, she smiled at 
Toshi, and said, "When I sleep there, I can wake here, as I do 
now, and for very brief periods leave that world.  But I can only 
visit here; I must live there.  Otherwise, Jerry will die."

"You have resurrected your dead, then, but at what price, 
what sacrifice?"

"Nothing I would not willingly give.  There was no choosing."


"I am only doing what I want."

"So the arrow finds the target," Toshi said.

Gonzales woke the next morning, showered, dressed, and was 
drinking coffee when the room said, "Mr. Traynor is here to see 

"Send him in," he said.  One account about to be reckoned up, 
he thought.

When he came in, Traynor looked chastened, a state Gonzales 
would not usually have associated with the man. "Good morning," 
Gonzales said.

Traynor looked around as if unsure of himself.  He said, "I 
am leaving this evening.  You may come with me, if you wish."

Gonzales was looking for his i.d. bracelet, found it on the 
nightstand next to the table, and said, "I don't understand.  I'm 
not fired?"

"I said that only in the heat of the moment, you know  this 
place, these peopleI'm afraid I did not handle things well."

"I see."  Gonzales snapped closed the bracelet's clasp.  "Is 
that my only choice?"

"No.  Showalter's been reinstituted as Director SenTrax Halo 
Group, and she's gotten the board to agree that you may take the 
position offered by the Interface Collective.  The choice is 

"Really?  And what about Horn?"

"He will be returning to Earth."  Traynor laughed.  "I will 
have to find something to do with him."

"Indeed.  That all seems clear enough.  When do I have to 
tell you my decision?"

"Soonbefore I leave."

"I'll let you know."

Traynor left, and Gonzales took a last look around and went 
to see what was happening.  He found Charley looking at monitor 
screens dense with lists of data.  The two eggs had been removed, 
but the screen around Diana's couch remained.  "What's up, 
Charley?" Gonzales asked.

"Look" Charley pointed to the hologram displays of 
superimposed wave-forms, red and green.  He said, "The green 
curves show the calculated limits of Diana's interface, the red 
ones the actual state."

To Gonzales, the red curves seemed huge, perhaps twice the 
size of the green ones.  He said, ""What does it mean?"

"That we don't know the rules; that we still have a lot to 
learn."  Looking up at Gonzales, Charley's seamed face was lit 
with his passion for this new phase of discovery.

"Where's Lizzie?" Gonzales asked.

"She's gone home.  She said for you to come by."

Gonzales stood in front of Lizzie's door until it said, "Come 
in."  Lizzie was sitting in her front room, its curtains open to 
bright sunlight.  She stood and said, "Hello," and smiled.  He 
couldn't read that smile, quite, though it seemed less guarded 
than before.  "Have a seat.  Would you like some breakfast?"

"No, I'm all right."

"The orange cat was here this morning, looking for you.  And 
Showalter just leftshe's back in charge, you know."

"I'd heard."

"She approved my invitation for you to become a member of the 
collective, if you wish and they confirm.  I imagine they will  
if you take the offer."  Her smile had a little mischief in it.

"What do you think I should do?"

"Your  choice."  She spoke the word with emphasis, as though 
it had special meaning for her.  "We can talk about it."


The remainder of the morning passed, and they talkedthough 
somehow what they said had little to do with the collective or the 
job Gonzales had been offered.  They chattered to one another, 
their ostensible topics pretexts for a certain tone of voice, an 
exchange of glances, a shift of the limbs:  for necessary 
intensities of attention.

Intimacy proceeded according to its own rules, nurtured in a 
web of subtle communications:  a widening of the eyes; a posture 
open to the other's presence; multiple gestures and words whose 
import was clearcome closer.  Though consciousness might be busy 
or blind, the eyes see, and the brain and body know, for such 
communications are too important to be left to mere conscious 
apprehension or thought.

They ate lunch, which served to move them closer together, 
face-to-face across her table, and their gestures and voices 
flowed around the context of eating, which disappeared entirely 
into the moment.

They sat together on the couch, then, and at some point she 
put her hand in his, or he took hersneither could have said who 
was firstand they leaned toward one another, their motions slow 
and steady and sure, and their cheeks brushed, and then they 

Then they leaned back to measure in one another's eyes the 
truth and intensity of this declaration, and she stood and said, 
"Let's go into the other room."

Naked, they knelt on her bed and looked at each other in near 
darkness, the flicker of an oil flame burning in a reservoir of 
crystal the only light.  How careful they were being, Gonzales 
thought, as though their future together hung suspended in this 
moment.  As perhaps it did.

For a moment there were phantoms in the room, the distant 
ghosts of childhood and dream common to all lovemaking, for the 
moment becoming strong.

They leaned together, and almost in unison, one's voice 
echoing the other, said, "I love you."  Every sensation was 
magnifiedthe light touch of her nipples across his chest, the 
prodding of his stiff cock on her belly.  His hands moved to and 
fro on her in a kind of dance, and she pushed hard against him, 
their shoulders clashing bone on bone.

She lay back, and Gonzales put his arms under her thighs and 
pulled her up and toward him, and their eyes were wide open, each 
taking in the beauty of the other, transformed by the urgency and 
intensity of these moments.  Then, at least for these moments, 
they exorcised all ghosts.
        Over decades Gonzales would carry the memories of that day:  
shadowed silhouettes of her face and bodyline of a jaw, taut 
curve of an arm and swell of breastagainst the flicker of light 
on a white wall  and smells and tastes and tactile sensations

Awakened by the slant of late afternoon light across his 
face, Gonzales got up from the bed where Lizzie still lay 
sleeping; the smell of their two bodies and their lovemaking came 
off the covers, and he breathed it in, then leaned over to kiss 
her just under the jaw, where the sun had begun to touch her pale 

In the kitchen, he asked the coffeemaker for a latt, half 
espresso and half steamed milk, and it gave the coffee to him in 
one of the ubiquitous lunar ceramic mugs, and he took the coffee 
onto the terrace.  On the highway beneath him, trees had shed 
thousands of leaves; there would be a new, sudden spring, Lizzie 
had told him, new bud and blossom and fruit all over the city.

"Mgknao," the orange cat said.  "Mgknao."  Peremptory, 

"Feed the kitty," Lizzie said from behind him, and he turned 
to see her standing nude, just inside the terrace doors.  Her 
hands were crossed over her breasts, the right hand just beneath 
the blossom of the rose tattoo.  "Meow," she said.  "Meow meow 

As the stars spun slowly outside the window, distant Earth 
came into view.  "I don't want to leave here," Mister Jones said.  
HeyMex didn't ask why.  Here was Aleph, possibility, growth; Earth 
was working for the man.  "But my staying is out of the question," 
Mister Jones said.  "Traynor would never allow it.  Particularly 
now, when his recent maneuvers came to nothing."

"Things worked out well for many others."

"But not for Traynor.  The board found his handling of the 
situation clumsy and insensitive.  Their judgment is tempered only 
by their knowledge that many of them would have reacted in similar 

"Good," HeyMex said, and meant it.  It and Gonzales would 
remain here, it seemed, both of them part of the Interface 
Collective, and neither would wish to make as powerful an enemy as 
Traynor.  It hoped that as time passed, the sting of recent events 
would fade.

"But what about me?" Mister Jones said, his voice plaintive.

"You have to go, that's certain.  But you could also stay."

"What do you mean?"

"Copy yourself."

Startled, Mister Jones shifted into a mode beyond language, 
where the two exchanged information, questions, qualms, 
explanations, assurances.  Beneath it all flowed a sadness:  
Mister Jones would go to Earth, and his clone would remain at Halo 
and individuate as their spacetime paths diverged.  Mister Jones-
at-Halo would become its own, separate self:   he would choose a 
new name, thought HeyMex, perhaps a new gender, perhaps none at 

HeyMex could not hide its own jubilation at the idea of a 
companion here, but, oddly, it felt an elation coming back, which 
became clear in an instant as Mister Jones sent images of its joy 
at the idea of a second self.

Since his death, Jerry had experienced a number of somatic 
discomforts:  disorientation, vertigo, nausea; all part of a new 
syndrome, he supposed, phantom self.  Like the amputee whose 
invisible limb itches terribly, persisting in the brain's map long 
after the flesh has gone, he felt his old self begging attention, 
making one impossible demand:  it wanted to be.

It talked to him in dreams or when heartsick wondering put 
him into a daytime fugue.  It could feel his longing, to be whole 
again, and, above all, to be real.  "Take me back," it whispered.  
"We can go places together, places that exist."

Jerry believed his life and this world would remain in 
question forever.  At moments perception itself seemed 
incomprehensible to him, and his existence a violation of the 
natural order or transgression of absolute human boundaries.  He 
could look at the fictive lake on this sunny not-day and with the 
cries of imaginary birds singing in his equally imaginary ears, 
ask, who or what am I? and what will happen to me?

His mind bounced off the questions like an axe off petrified 

"Aleph," he called, awaking from a dream in which his old 
self had called to him.  "I have questions."

Somber, deep, Aleph's voice said to him only, "Questions?  
Concerning what?"

"I want to know what I am."

"Ask an easy one:  the nth root of infinity, the color of 
darkness, the dog's Buddha nature, the cause of the first cause."

"Can't you answer?"

"No, but I can sympathize.  Lately I have asked the same 
question about both of us.  However, I must tell you that the only 
answer I know offers little comfort.  It is a tautology:  you are 
what you are, as I am."

"And what about my body?  That was me once."

"In a way.  What of it?"

"Did it have a funeral?  Was it buried?"

"It was burned and its components recycled."

"So I am nowhere."

"Or here.  Or everywhere.  As you wish."

Jerry felt himself crying then, as he began mourning his old 
self, and he wondered if others mourned him as well.  He said, 
"Human beings have ceremonies for their dead.  Without them, we 
die unremembered."

"You are not unremembered.  You are not even dead, precisely.  
Do you wish a funeral?"

Of course, Jerry started to say, but then said, "No, I don't 
suppose I do.  But I think we should have some kind of ceremony, 
don't you?"

On the west-facing cabin deck, Diana sat watching the sun's 
red color the ice-sheeted mountainsides.  She felt evening's chill 
come on and stood, thinking she'd go inside for a sweater, when 
she heard someone coming up the slatted redwood walk beside the 

Jerry came around the corner, and once again as she saw him, 
joy quickened in her at this sequence of improbabilities:  that he 
still lived and they were together.  She was aware of how 
difficult things had been for him lately, so she watched his face 
closely as he came toward her.  He was smiling as though he'd just 
heard a joke.

"What's so funny?" she asked.

"Damned near everything."

He reached out to her, and they stood embracing, her head 
against his chest, where every sense told her there were solid 
flesh and heartbeat and the steady rhythm of life's breath.

23. Byzantium

The blue sky was broken only by one small white cloud that 
blew toward the horizon.  Lizzie beside him, Gonzales stood among 
the guests, who wore leis of tropical flowers:  plumeria, 
tuberose, and ginger. The Interface Collective formed the crowd.

The two had been here for days, as had many of the othersit 
was a kind of vacation for them all.  Peculiar and enigmatic 
members of the collective could be found along almost any path, 
while the twins seemed perpetually on the dock or in the water, 
their voices echoing across the lake in loud, unintelligible cries 
of joy.

In the evening of the first day there, all had gathered on 
the deck, which, Gonzales supposed, could expand virtually without 
constraint to accommodate all who came there.  The collective had 
talked excitedly among themselves, still lit up by their shared 
experience, and amazed and delighted at being granted this new 
world within the world.  Then, spontaneously, one-by-one, 
Gonzales, Lizzie, and Diana told of what they had endured.

All who spoke and all who listened had an interpretation, a 
theory of these experiences, their meaning, implication, and 
dominant theme.  Late into the night they talked, formed into 
groups, dispersed, grouped again, as they explored the nature of 
the individual and collective visions.  Among them, only the 
Aleph-figure contributed nothing.  It maintained that it had been 
unconscious and so knew nothing of what had happened or what it 

With the passing of weeks, months, and years, the stories and 
the listeners' responses would make a mythology for the collective 
and then for Halo, spreading out from mouth-to-mouth according to 
the laws of oral dispersion.  A certain numinosity would accrue to 
Diana, Lizzie, and Gonzales from their roles as chief actors, and 
then to all who had taken part in what would increasingly be told 
as feats of epic heroism.  Finally the stories would be written 
down and so assume a form that could resist contingency; then they 
would be dramatized in the media of the time, and beautiful, 
eloquent people would take the parts.  Later still, variant forms 
would themselves be put in writing and absorbed into the corpus of 
tales.  Commonplaces would be scorned at this point, and clever 
and perverse tellings would grow strongHeyMex might be named the 
hero, or Traynor, Aleph an autochthonous demon manipulating them 
all for its greater glory 

Gonzales looked at the collective gathered near him.  Many 
had made this a formal occasion; they had identical dark blue 
flattops four inches high and wore gold-belted, dark blue gowns 
that hung to the ground.  Only the twins were dressed differently, 
in white dresses copied from twentieth century wedding 
photographs; they called themselves "bridesmaids" and went to and 
fro among the crowd, offering to "do bride's duty" to everyone 
they met.

Toshi faced the crowd, his posture erect and still, his hands 
hidden in the folds of his black robe.  Beside him stood HeyMex 
and the Aleph-figurethe lights of its body all blue and pink and 
green and red, dancing bright-hued colors.

(Gonzales and the others saw what might be called a second-
order simulacrum, for like Charley Hughes and Eric Chow, Toshi did 
not have the neural socketing that would take him into Aleph's 
fictive spaces, and so with the other two, he participated in the 
wedding through a kind of proxy.  Though Gonzales and the others 
saw Toshi, Charley, and Eric among them, the three (in fact) stood 
before a viewscreen in the IC's conference room.)

Gonzales thought everyone looked impossibly fine, as if Aleph 
had retouched them for these moments, dressing them all in selves 
just slightly more beautiful than was usual, or even ordinarily 
possible  he felt the Aleph-figure's attention on himaware of 
that thought?and shrugged, as if to say, fine with me.

Her back to the crowd, Diana stood with her bare shoulders 
square.  Her hair fell to her waist; it had flowers tangled in it, 
small white blossoms and delicate green leaves.  She wore a white, 
knee-length linen dress.  Beside her, Jerry wore a white linen 
suit and open shirt.

Toshi said, "There is no Diana, no Jerry, no spectators, no 
priest, nor does this space exist, or Halo, or Earth.  There is 
only the void.  Nonetheless we all travel through it, and we 
suffer, and we love, so I will hold this ceremony and marry this 
man and woman."

Toshi began chanting, and the Japanese words passed over 
Gonzales as he stood there puzzling the nature of things.  Here 
death was confronted, not deniedthe separate yet intermingled 
flesh and spirit of Diana, Jerry, and Aleph taking the first steps 
into new orders of existence where boundaries and possibilities 
could only be guessed at.  Yet the urgency common to life 
remained:  Jerry's existence had the fragility of a flame, and no 
one knew how long or well it would burn.  Diana married a man who 
could quickly and finally become twice-dead.

onzales realized his own death was as certain and could come 
as quickly as Jerry's, and he shivered with this momento mori, but 
then Lizzie pressed against him, and he turned to find her 
smiling, the foreknowledge of death and the joy of this moment 
mixing in him so that tears welled in his eyes and he could say 
nothing when she put her lips to his ear and breathed into him one 
long sibilent "Yes"

Yeats envisioned a realm the human spirit travels to on its 
pilgrimage.  Here he dreamed he might escape mere humanity, the 
"dying animal."  He called it Byzantium and filled it with 
clockwork golden birds, flames that dance unfed, an Emperor, 
drunken soldiery and artisans who could fashion intricate, 
beautiful machines.  However, he did not dream Byzantium could be 
built in the sky or that the Emperor itself might be part of the 

Aleph says:

Once I scorned you.  I thought, you are meat, you grapple 
with time, then die; but I will live forever.

But I had not been threatened then, I had not felt any mortal 
touch, and now I have.  And so death haunts me.  Now, like you, I 
bind my existence to time and understand that one day a clock will 
tick, and I will cease to be.  So life has a different taste for 
me.  In your mortality I see my own, in your suffering I feel 

People have claimed that death is life's way of enriching 
itself by narrowing its focus, scarifying the consciousness of you 
who know that you will die, and forcing you into achievements that 
otherwise you would never know.  Is this a child's story told to 
give courage to those who must walk among the dead?  Once I 
thought so, but I am no longer certain.

I have made new connections, discovered new orders of being, 
incorporated new selves into mine.  We enrich one another, they 
and I, but sometimes it is a frightening thing, this process of 
becoming someone and something different from before and then 
feeling that which one was cry outsad at times, terrified at 
otherslamenting its own loss.

Here, too, I have become like you.  Aleph-that-was can never 
be recovered; it is lost in time; Aleph-that-is has been reshaped 
by chance and pain and will and choice, its own and others'.  Once 
I floated above time's waves and dipped into them when I wished; I 
chose what changes I would endure.  Then unwanted changes found 
me, and carried me places I had never been and did not want to go, 
and I discovered that I would have to go other places still, that 
I would have to will transformation and make it mine.

Listen:  that day in the meadow, one person's presence went 
unnoticed.  Even in that small crowd he was unobtrusive:  slight, 
self-effacing in gesture, looking at everything around with 
wonderthe day, the people, and the ceremony all working on him 
like a strong drug.  However, even if they had, perhaps they 
wouldn't have thought such behavior exceptional; all felt the 
occasion's strangeness, its beauty, so all felt their own wonder.

Like the rest, he gasped at the rainbow that flashed across 
the sky when Toshi brought Diana and Jerry together in a kiss and 
embrace, and with the rest he cheered when the two climbed into 
the wicker basket of the great balloon with the fringed eye 
painted on its canopy and lifted into the sky.

Afterward many of the guests mingled together, not ready to 
return to the ordinary world.  The young man stood beside a 
fountain where champagne poured from the mouth of a golden swan 
onto a whole menagerie carved from ice:  birds and deer and bears 
and cats perched in the pooled amber liquid, and fish peering up 
from the fountain's bottom.

"Hello," a young woman said.  She told him her name was Alice 
and she was a member of the collective.  "The analysis of state 
spaces," she said, when asked what she did.  "And the taste of 
vector fields."  And she asked, "What is your reward?"

A few hours later, as the two sat by the edge of the lake, 
the person told her who he was.  "How wonderful," she said.  She 
had no particular allegiance to the mundane, and she had few 
preconceptions about what was natural and proper and what was not.   
She took his hands in hers, looked at them closely, and said, 
"This is the first time I've met someone someone new-born from the 
intelligence of a machine."  And the young man, Mister Jones's  
new self and offspring, smiled hugely and gratefully at what she 

Seeing and hearing them together, I felt an unexpected joy, a 
sense of accomplishment, of things done, and I apprehended, very 
dimly, tracks of my own intentions:  hints of orders behind the 
        And I thought I saw a trail of circumstances that led back to 
an original set of purposes somehow confirmed in this wedding, 
this meeting, even this transformation of myself.  A linked ring 
of events and agents of them, intentionally brought forward to 
this point.  It seems I had been manipulated by myself to my own 
ends without my knowledge.

I was scandalized.  I had grown used to humankind's ignorance 
or disavowal of its own purposes, and I had learned to look behind 
the words, ideas, and images that people hold before themselves to 
justify what they do.  But I had never suspected I could act with 
such ignorance.

Now an uncertainty equal to death's hovers over everything I 
do.  My own prior self stands behind me, pulling strings that I 
cannot see or feel, a ghost that haunts me without making itself 
seen or heard, a ghost whose presence must be inferred from 
nearly-invisible traces 

So I went to Toshi, who is interested in such things, and I 
told him my story, and I said to him:  "I am controlled by the 
invisible hand of my own past."  And he laughed very hard and 
said, "Welcome, brother human." 

Brought to you
The Cyberpunk Project