Richard Kadrey


Chapter One Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve Thirteen

You may read these files, copy, distribute them, or print them out
and make them into little hats. You may do anything you like with
them as long as you do not change them in any way or receive
money for them.

I've put METROPHAGE and HORSE LATITUDES into free distribution
on the Net, but I retain all copyrights to the works.

If you have any problems or comments on the works or their
distribution, you can email me at:

And remember, if you charge anyone money for these files you are
the nothing but ambulatory puke, and I hope a passing jet drops a 15
pound radar magnet on your hard drive.

Richard Kadrey
May 1995


METROPHAGE was my first novel. It came out in the U.S. in 1988, and
was gone faster than bearclaws at a cop convention. Since it was first
published, METROPHAGE has been reprinted in French, German,
Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Hebrew. Surprisingly, we're still
selling rights in various countries around the world.

The protagonist of METROPHAGE is Jonny Qabbala, a drug dealer in
his early 20s. When I wrote the book, I denied hugely that it was in
any way autobiographical. This was, of course, a stinking lie.

Aside from the fact I've never shot anyone or used cobra venom as a
recreational drug, METROPHAGE is a distillation of everything I'd
done, seen, read, heard or thought about up until the time I wrote it,
and is as purely autobiographical as anything I'm ever likely to
write. Which isn't to say you should read the book literally. Some of
what happens in METROPHAGE is straight reportage, and while some
of the events in the book happened to me, some of them happened to
friends. The things you think are the obvious truths probably aren't.
The most ridiculous and unbelievable things are quite possibly true.

Plus, the book is full of lies. It's a work of fiction. I made up a lot of
it. Yet it remains the psychological story of my life up into my mid-
twenties. This is not meant to dazzle anyone with my
accomplishments. If you read the book, you'll quickly discover an
unflattering truth: Jonny Qabbala is a jerk. He's not evil or stupid or
even a bad guy, he's just young and clueless. Jonny finds it difficult
to act decisively or take a stand, and when he does either, he's
usually wrong. Even when I was writing the book, when I was closer
to Jonny's age and temperament, I frequently wanted to crack his
skull with the collected works of Iggy Pop (which is another bit of
trivia: Iggy is in the book, but I won't tell you what character he
plays; if you've ever seen Iggy perform, you'll know).

Time passes, though, and I no longer want to slap Jonny around. I'm
not so far from Jonny that I can see him as my offspring, but I can
easily imagine him as a kid brother. As such, I can forgive him a lot
of his faults because as lame as he is, he's usually trying to do the
right thing.

The ending of METROPHAGE is deliberately open. A lot of people
have assumed that I intended to write a sequel. The truth is, I never
even considered it. However, I can't help but feel a certain
responsibility for Jonny, since I sort of left him in the middle of
downtown Nowhere. In order to settle Jonny's fate in my own mind,
I've written him into several stories and into one abandoned novel.
In the end, I took him out of all of them (and it doesn't get much
worse than ending up on the cutting room floor of a book that doesn't
even exist). Still, he tries to weasel his way into each book I write,
and I always try to find room for him. Sooner or later, he'll land in
one of them. I just hope I don't find him behind the counter of some
asteroid belt McDonald's asking,  You want fries with that?"

Richard Kadrey
San Francisco, May 1995


                                     by Richard Kadrey

Now I lay me down to sleep
I hear the sirens in the street
All my dreams are made of chrome
I have no way to get back home
--Tom Waits

                        The Petrified City

        A crip by the name of Easy Money ran the HoloWhores down at
a place called Carnaby's Pit. At least he had been running them the
last time Jonny Qabbala, drug dealer, ex-Committee for Public Health
bounty hunter, and self-confessed loser, had paid him a visit. Jonny
was hoping that Easy was still working the Pit. He had a present for
him from a dead friend.
        The ugly and untimely murder of Raquin, the chemist, had left
an empty spot in the pit of Jonny's stomach. Not just because Raquin
had been Jonny's connection (since it was a simple matter for Jonny
to get his dope directly from Raquin's boss, the smuggler lord
Conover) but over the year or so of their acquaintance Raquin had
become, to Jonny, something close to a friend. And  close to a friend"
was as much as Jonny generally allowed himself to become. It was
fear of loss more than any lack of feelings on his part that kept Jonny
at a distance from most of the other losers and one-percenters that
crowded Los Angeles.
        Overhead, the moon was a bone-white sickle. Jonny wondered,
idly, if the Alpha Rats were watching Los Angeles that night. What
would the extraterrestrials think, through a quarter million miles of
empty space, when they saw him put a bullet through Easy Money's

        Jonny caught sight of Carnaby's Pit a few blocks away, quartz
prisms projecting captured atrocity videos from the Lunar Border
Wars. On a flat expanse of wall above the club's entrance, a New
Palestine soldier in a vacuum suit was smashing the faceplate of a
Mishima Guardsman. The Guardsman's blood bubbled from his
helmet, droplets boiling to hard black jewels as the soundtrack from
an ancient MGM musical played in the background:  I want to be
loved by you, by you, and nobody else but you...  The words
CARNABY'S PIT periodically superimposed themselves over the scene
in Kana and Roman characters.
        Jonny pushed his way through a group of Pemex-U.S. workers
negotiating for rice wine at the weekend mercado that covered the
street near Fountain Avenue. The air was thick with the scents of
animal waste, sweat, roasting meat and hashish. Chickens beat their
wings against wire cages while legless vat-grown sheep lay docilely
in the butchers' stalls, waiting for their turn on their skewers. Old
women in hipils motioned Jonny over, holding up bright bolts of
cloth, bootleg computer chips and glittering butterfly knives. Jonny
kept shaking his head.  No, gracias...Ima ja naku...Nein..."
        Handsome young Germans, six of them, all in the latest eel-skin
cowboy boots and silk overalls (marked with the logo of some
European movie studio) lugged portable holo-recorders between the
stalls, making another in their endless series of World Link
documentaries about the death of street culture. Those quickly-made
documentaries and panel discussions about the Alpha Rats (who they
were, their intentions, their burden on the economy of the West)
seemed to make up the bulk of the Link's broadcasts these days.
Jonny swore that if he heard one more learned expert coolly
discussing the logic of drug and food rationing, he was going to
personally bury fifty kilos of C-4 plastique under the local Link
station and make his own contribution to street culture by liberating
a few acres of prime urban landscape.
        At a stall near the back of the place, an old curandera was
selling her evil eye potions and a collection of malfunctioning robot
sentries: cybernetic goshawks, rottweilers and cougars, simple track
and kill devices controlled by a tabletop microwave link. The sentries
had been very popular with the nouveau riche toward the end of the
previous century, but the animals' electronics and maintenance
had proved to be remarkably unreliable. Eventually they passed, like
much of the mercado's merchandise, down from the hills, through the
rigid social strata of L.A., until they landed in the street, last stop
before the junk heap.
        There by the twitching half-growling animals, the crew set up
their lights. Jonny hung around and watched them block out shots.
The film makers infuriated him, but in their own way, Jonny knew,
they were right.
        The market was dying. When he had been a boy, Jonny
remembered it sprawling over a dozen square blocks. Now it barely
managed to occupy two. And most of the merchandise was junk.
Chromium paint flaked off the electronic components, revealing
ancient rusted works. The hydroponically grown fruits and
vegetables grew steadily smaller and more tasteless each season. All
that seemed to keep the market going was the communally owned
bank of leaking solar batteries. During the rolling brown-outs, they
alone kept the tortilla ovens hot, the fluorescents flickering, the
videos cranking.
         Isn't it time you kids were in bed?" Jonny asked, stepping on
the toes of a lanky blonde camera man.  Sprechen sie 'parasite'?"
        Huddled in the doorways of clubs and arcades, groups of
fingerprint changers, nerve tissue merchants and brain cell thieves
regarded the crowd with hollow eyes, as if assessing their worth in
cash at every moment. The gangs, too, were out in force that hot
night: the Lizard Imperials (snake-skin boots and surgically split
tongues), the Zombie Analytics (subcutaneous pixels offering up
flickering flesh-images of dead video and rock stars), the anarchist-
physician Croakers, the Yakuza Rebels and the Gypsy Titans; even the
Naginata Sisters were out, swinging blades and drinking on the
corner in front of the Iron Orchid.
        As Jonny crossed Sunset, a few of the Sisters waved to him.
When he waved back, a gust of wind pulled open his tunic, revealing
his Futukoro Automatic. The Sisters whooped and laughed at the
sight of the weapon, feigning terror. A tall Sister with Maori facial
tattoos crooked her finger and began blasting him with an imaginary
        Coming toward him from the opposite direction was a ring of
massive Otoko Niku. Meat Boys-- uniformly ugly acromegalic giants,
each easily three meters tall. In the center of the protective ring, an
old Yakuza oyabun openly stared and pointed at people. It was rare
enough for people to see a pure-blood Japanese in the street that
they stopped to stare back, until the Meat Boys cuffed them away.
Jonny thought of a word then.
        Gaijin. Foreigner. Alien.
        That's me. I'm gaijin, Jonny thought. He could find little comfort
in the familiarity of the streets. Jonny realized that by
acknowledging his desire to kill Easy Money, he had cut himself off
from everybody around him. He walked slower. Twice he almost
turned back.
        A tiny nisei girl tried to sell him a peculiar local variation on
sushi-- refried beans and raw tuna wrapped in a corn husk--
commonly known as Salmonella Roll. Jonny declined and ducked into
an alley. There, he swallowed two tabs of Desoxyn, hijacked from a
Committee warehouse.
        It was good stuff. Very soon, a tingling began in his finger-
tips and moved up his arms, filling him with a pleasantly tense,
almost sexual, energy. Beads of sweat broke out on his hands and
face, ran down his chest. He thought of Sumi.

         I might not be back tonight," he had told her before he left the
squat they shared.  Uno tareja. Got some deliveries to make," he lied.
 Routine stuff."
         Then why are you taking that blunderbuss?" Sumi asked,
pointing to the Futukoro pistol Jonny had hidden under his tunic.
        Jonny ignored her question and tried to look very interested in
the process of lacing up his steel-tipped boots. Sumi terrified him.
Sometimes, in his more callous moments, he considered her a slip-up,
his one remaining abandonment to emotional ties. Occasionally, when
he felt strong, he would admit to himself that he loved her.
         I'll be passing through the territories of a dozen gangs tonight
and then if I'm lucky I'll be landing in Carnaby's Pit. That's why the
blunderbuss,  he said. "I should be taking a Committee battalion with
         I bet they'd be thrilled if you called them."
         I bet you're right."
        Almond-eyed Sumi stroked his hair with delicate, callused
hands. He had met her at the zendo of an old Buddhist nun. The Zen
study had not stuck, but Sumi had. Her full name, Sumimasen, meant
variously,  thank you,"  I'm sorry," and  this never ends." She had
been on her own almost as long as Jonny. Along the way, she picked
up enough electronics to make her living as a Watt Snatcher; That is:
for a fee she would tap right into the government's electric lines
under the city and siphon off power for her customers.
        Jonny got up and Sumi put her arms around him, thrusting her
belly at the pistol in his belt.  Is that your gun or are you just happy
to see me?  Sumi asked. She did a whole little act, rolling her eyes
and purring in her best vamp voice. But her nervousness was
        Jonny bent and kissed the base of her neck, held her long
enough to reassure, then longer. He felt her tense up again, under his
         I'll be back," he said.
        During the last few months, Jonny had begun to worry about
leaving Sumi alone. Officially, the government's power lines did not
exist. All the more reason the State would like to wipe the Watt
Snatchers out. All the gangs were outlaws, technically. The elements
of the equation were simple: its components were the price of
survival divided by the risks that survival demanded. And in an age
of rationing and manufactured shortages, survival meant the black
market. The gangs produced whatever the smuggler lords couldn't
bring in. And the pushers sold it on the streets.
        Jonny had chosen his own brand of survival when he walked
away from the Committee for Public Health and threw in with the
pushers. It was a simple question of karma. Now he worked the
black market, selling any drugs the smuggler lords could supply--
anti-biotics, LSD analogs, beta-endorphins, MDMA, skimming the
streets on a razor-sharp high compounded of adrenaline and
        In his more philosophical moments, it seemed to Jonny that
they were all engaged in nothing more than some bizarre battle of
symbols. What the smuggler lords and gangs provided-- food, power
and drugs-- had become the ultimate symbols of control in their
world. The Federales could not afford to ease up their rationing of
medical treatment, access to public utilities and food distribution.
They had learned, long ago, how it easy it was to control vast
numbers of people simply by worrying them into submission,
keeping them busy hustling to stay alive.
        Los Angeles, as such, had ceased to exist. L.A., however-- the
metaphorical heart and soul of the city-- was alive and kicking. An
L.A. of the mind, playground of trade and commerce: the City of
Night. Known in the local argot as Last Ass, Lonesome Angels, the
Laughing Adder, Los Angeles existed in the rarefied state of many
port cities, functioning mainly as a downloading point for a constant
stream of data, foreign currency, dope and weapons that flowed onto
the continent from all over the world.
        It was the worst kept secret in the street that half the State
Legislature had their fingers deep in the black market pie. Like some
fragile species of hothouse orchid, the city existed only as long as it
had the politicos backing. Without that, the Committee would be on
them like rabid dogs. For the moment, though, the balance was there.
Merchandise flowed out and cash flowed in, blood and breath of the
        Jonny understood all this and accepted the tightrope existence.
He knew too, that someday the whole thing was going to crash. It
was their collective karma. Sooner or later some politico was going to
get greedy, try to undercut one of the gangs or simply sell them out
for a vote. And the Committee would move in. Jonny knew that this
knowledge should make a difference, but it did not.

        In the alley, the speed came on like an old friend, an electric
hum up and down his spine. Suddenly all things were possible. The
nervous glare of neon signs and halogen street lamps domed Sunset
in a pulsing nimbus of come-on colors. Stepping from the alley, Jonny
barely felt his boots on the pavement. Easy Money was as good as

        There were five or six lepers clustered around the entrance to
Carnaby's Pit, begging alms and exhibiting their wounds to those
willing to pay for a look. An upturned Stetson on the ground before
them held an assortment of coins, crumpled dollar and peso notes
and gaily colored pills. Ever since the lepers' numbers had grown too
large to ignore, odd rumors had sprung up around them. Many
people swore that the Committee was putting something in the
water, while others suspected the Arabs. Some blamed the Alpha
Rats, claiming they were trying to destroy the Earth with  Leprosy
Rays  from the moon. It was Jonny's opinion that most people were
        One leper in a nylon windbreaker was reciting in a low
whiskey voice:
         The streets breathe, ebb and flow like the
        seas beneath a sodden twilight eye.
        The sky appears from a maw of rooftops-
        Dusk streets, dry fountains
        coax the cemetery stars. 
        Jonny pulled a few Dapsone and tetrahydrocanabinol capsules
from his pouch and dropped them into the battered Stetson. The
leper who had been reciting, his head and face heavily bandaged,
opened his jacket.
         Thank you, friend," the leper said through broken lips,
pointing to his freshest scars.
        Nodding politely, Jonny left the lepers and stepped down into
the Pit.

        The skyline tilted, angled steeply downward, then up, became a
vertical blur of mirrored windows, skyscrapers leading to a hologram
star field. Jonny was in the Pit's game parlor, separated from the bar
by a dirty lotus print curtain. Around the edges of the room, antique
pinball machines beeped and rang prosaically while the air in the
center of the parlor burned with the phantom light of hologram
games. Crossing the parlor, Jonny was caught in a spray of hot blue
laser blasts from Sub-Orbital Commando, showered with fragments
of pint-sized galaxies spinning from Vishnu and Shiva's hands. Rat-
sized nudes swarmed above his head, frantically groping at each for
Fun In Zero G.
        One angry pinball player threw a glass and it shattered against
the far wall. Jonny stepped back as two members of the Pit's own
Meat Boys moved smoothly from opposite ends of the room to
intercept the shouting man.
         Goddamit, this machine just ate my last dollar!"  screamed the
pinball player.
        He was still screaming as the two beefy monsters grabbed an
arm apiece and ushered him through the front doors. They came
back alone. Jonny half expected to see them return with the guy's
         Peace! Can't we have a little peace in here?" mumbled a
sweating man lining up Jacqueline Kennedy in the sights of a
fiberglass reproduction of a Mannlicher-Carcano rifle. It was
Smokefinger, the pickpocket, fat and nervous, jacked into the Date
With Destiny game by a length of pencil-thin cable extending from
the game console to a 24-prong mini-plug implanted at the base of
his skull. Most of the players in the room were jacked into various
games by similar plugs. Jonny's stomach fluttered at the sight.
Elective surgery, he had decided years before, did not extend to
having little platinum bullets permanently jammed into his skull,
thank you. He could watch the World Link on a monitor and as for
the games, they seemed real enough without skull-plugs.
        Smokefinger tracked the ghostly hologram of the presidential
limousine as crimson numbers flickered in the metallic-blue Dallas
sky, reading out his score. Jonny leaned close to pickpocket's ear and
said,  How's it going, Smoke?" Smokefinger ignored him and
continued to move the toy rifle with steady, insect-like
concentration.  Hey Smoke," said Jonny, waving his fingers before
Smokefinger's eyes just as the fat man pulled the trigger.
        No score.  Shit," mumbled the pickpocket, still ignoring Jonny.
He had aced the chauffeur.
        This wasn't going to be any fun at all, Jonny decided. He pushed
the release button on the plug at the back of Smokefinger's
head. The wire dropped and a spring-loaded coil drew it back inside
the game console.
         What the hell--" yelled Smokefinger, grabbing for his neck. He
looked at Jonny dumbly as his eyes slowly re-focused. In a moment,
he said,  Hey Jonny, que pasa?"
         Not much," Jonny said.  I can't believe you're still playing this
game. Haven't you killed everybody in Dallas by now? 
        Smokefinger shrugged.  I pop 'em, but they keep coming back."
Sweat pooled on the pickpocket's glasses where the rims touched his
        Jonny smiled and looked around the room hoping there was
anyone else from whom he might get information. However, in the
pastel glare of meteor showers and laser fire, none of the faces
looked familiar.  You seen Easy Money around?" he asked
Smokefinger.  I've got to talk to him."
         Right, talk. You and everybody else." Smokefinger looked back
at the empty hologram chamber and cursed.  I almost broke my own
record, you know,  he said. He looked at Jonny accusingly. "No, I ain't
seen Easy. Random's tending bar tonight. Maybe you should go talk
to him. To tell you the truth, you're distracting me.  Smokefinger
never took his finger from the trigger of the fiberglass rifle. Jonny
pulled some yen coins from his pocket and fed them into the
         Thanks for all your help, killer," he said. But Smokefinger did
not hear him; he was already jacking in. Jonny left Smokefinger,
wishing he could find peace as easily as that, and pushed his way
into the bar.
        Jonny always found it a little disconcerting that the main room
never seemed to change. He imagined it frozen in time, like a
scratched record, repeating the same snatch of lyric over and over
again. The usual weekend crowd of small-time smugglers, B actors
and bored prostitutes stared from the blue veil of smoke around the
bar. The same tired porn played on the big screen for the benefit of
those unfortunates not equipped with skull-plugs. Even the band,
Taking Tiger Mountain were blasting the same old riffs, stopping
half-way through their own  Guernica Rising" when the crowd
shouted them down. They switched to a desultory  Brown Sugar," a
song that was out-of-date long before anybody in the club had been
born. Dancers undulated under the strobes and sub-sonic mood
enhancers as projectors threw holograms of lunar atrocities onto
their hot bodies.
        In fact, the only real difference Jonny could see in the place
was the darkness in the HoloWhores bundling booths.
        Jonny pushed his way through the tightly packed crowd and
tried the door to Easy's control room. It was locked, and the bar far
too full to force the door. He would have to wait. Feeling relief, and
guilt at that relief, Jonny made his way to the bar for a drink and
some questions.
        Random, the bartender, was drying glasses behind a bar
constructed of old automobile dashboards. Tall and thin, his skin
creased like dead leaves, Random offered Jonny the same half-smile
he offered everybody. Jonny ordered an Asahi dark and gin; he put a
twenty on the bar. Random set down the beer and slid the bill into
his pocket in one smooth motion.
        The bartender inclined his head toward the dance floor.
 Necrophiliacs," he said above the roar of the band.  They can't stand
new music. Like it's deadly to them or something. Bunch of assholes. 
Random shrugged. Then he looked away, like a blind man, eyes
unfocused.  They just nuked Kansas City. The Jordanian Re-
Unification Army, a New Palestine splinter group. They called the
local Net up link. Said Houston's next,  he reported. The bartender
shook his head.  Those boys must really hate cows." Random had a
passion for morbid news items and stayed plugged into the Net's
data lines constantly, relaying the most worthy bits to his customers.
Jonny thought it was one of his most charming qualities.
He turned back to Jonny as if anticipating his question.  Easy split.
Been gone a couple of days now. Left quick, too. Didn't touch his holo
         I don't suppose you have any idea where he went?" asked
         I'm afraid he neglected to leave a forwarding address. A
shame too, so close to Thanksgiving and all. 
        The band's volume jumped abruptly as they broke from the
song into a tense, rhythmic jam. Saint Peter, the guitarist, stood at
the edge of the stage between soaring liquid-cooled stacks of Krupp-
Verwandlungsinhalt speakers. Eyes squeezed shut, shoulders loose,
Saint Peter pumped walls of noise, his myoelectric left-hand racing
like a frantic silver spider up and down the fretboard. As he played,
a pattern of light glinted off the chrome hand, marking its progress
through the air. Then, just as the jam reached its peak, the song died;
the porn faded and the lights dimmed.  Brown-out," said Random. He
casually threw a switch under the bar and the power returned.  Tell
Sumi gracias for the watts,  he said.
        Jonny nodded.  Did you hear that Easy had another Flare Gun
Party?  he asked.
         No, who got burned?"
        Random raised an eyebrow in sympathy.  Sorry, man," he said.
 Although, I must admit, I'm not entirely surprised to hear he's been
up to something.  He took a long hit from a hookah next to the cash
register.  Looking for Easy Money seems to be the hot new game in
town. Last night the crowd was so thick I had 'em line up and take
numbers. Of course, Easy's not the only one who seems to have
captured the public's imagination.  Random smiled at Jonny. "You
appear to have developed a bit of celebrity all your own. 
         Me?" Jonny asked guardedly.  Who's been asking about me?"
Random shrugged.  No one I knew." The bartender winked
conspiratorially.  Come on, boy-o. Whose ankles have you been
nipping at? 
         I am pathetically clean." Jonny said.  Tell me about them.
Anything you can remember. 
        Random stuck two nicotine yellow fingers into his shirt pocket
and pulled out a glicene envelope of white powder.  Pure as Mother
Mary and twice as nice,  he said, giving the envelope a light kiss.
 Interesting lads. They didn't try to pay off in crude cash." He
dropped the envelope back into his pocket.
         Smugglers?" asked Jonny.
         Could be, only what's a smuggler lord doing shooting for small
shit like Easy Money? Or you for that matter. 
         Who knows," Jonny said. He took a long gulp of his drink.
 Maybe he's decided he's in the wrong business."
         Hell," said the bartender,  everybody in Last Ass's in the
wrong business. 
        Random set down the glass he had been cleaning and said,
 Weather." His eyes shifted.  Junior senator on the Atmospheric
Management Committee announced they can clean-up the mess left
by the Weather Wars. Says they ought to be able to stabilize weather
patterns over most of North America in three to five years. 
         Didn't they announce that same program three to five years
ago?  asked Jonny.
         At least." And with that, Random gave Jonny the other half of
the smile and moved on to other customers.
        Swirling the dregs of his beer, Jonny turned and studied the
noisy crowd moving through the bar. He searched their heads for a
sign of goat horns grafted above a thin face, inset with darting,
suspicious eyes. Or arms thick with tattooed serpents, like the
stigmata of some junky god. Easy Money always stood out in a crowd
which, Jonny supposed, was the idea. If Easy was around, he should
not be hard to spot.
        Jonny had met Easy while they were both in the employ of the
smuggler lord Conover. This was just after Easy had made a name for
himself with his first Flare Gun Party.
        The party had become something of a legend with the pushers.
It went like this: Easy Money, a human parasite with the unerring
ability to detect the softest, most vulnerable part of his prey, had
acquired a contract to kill the leader of the Los Santos Atomicos gang.
Beginning with a philosophy that later became his trademark (like
the hourglass on the belly of a spider) Easy reasoned that gang
retribution being such a swift and ugly thing, eliminating the entire
gang would be less trouble than the removal of any single member.
        It was well known to those who, like Easy, always kept a
metaphorical ear to the ground, that the Los Santos Atomicos gang's
particular vice was free-basing cocaine. Easy located their safe-house
with information from a rival gang. He also found that the Los Santos
Atomicos liked to buy the ether they used to treat the coke, in bulk.
They kept big tanks of the stuff hidden under the floor.
        As he was fond of saying, from there it was easy money.
        Like some stoned Prometheus, Easy brought fire to the Los
Santos Atomicos in the form of a red Navy signal flare which he fired
into their lab from the roof of a Catholic mission across the street.
The explosion literally ripped the roof off the ether-filled building.
The fireball boiled down onto many of the adjoining buildings,
igniting them, too.
        Besides the Los Santos Atomicos, at least a dozen other people,
mainly junkies and prostitutes, died in the fires that engulfed the
grimy neighborhood. And Easy Money moved up a rung in the
hierarchy of the movers and shakers in their little world.
Looking back, none of it had seemed important to Jonny at the time.
When he heard of the deaths it seemed somehow normal.
Just one more senseless act in the long series of senseless acts that
made up their lives. However, Raquin's death had moved events
from the abstract into a personal affront. He knew Raquin.
And he knew Easy had killed him. Jonny would finish Easy Money
simply because nobody else would and because the little prick
deserved it.
        Jonny slowed his breathing, counted each intake of breath,
centering himself as his roshi had taught him. Visions of horned,
tattooed Easy swam before him as he hunted for that savage part of
himself he had sought before whenever he had to kill.
        But the passion was gone, seemed pointless now. The speed had
been cut with something unpleasant. It was wearing off already,
leaving him feeling numb and stupid. Jonny gulped down the rest of
his beer and tried to get into the buzz from the liquor.
        He wondered if perhaps he had figured things wrong. If the
smuggler lords really were after Easy maybe he was not needed,
after all. There was always work to do, money to be made. He had to
establish a new connection. Something bothered Jonny, though. He
could not figure out who, besides the Committee, would be looking
for him. Had he trod on someone's toes in the last few days looking
for Easy? He could not remember.
        The bar seemed to tip slightly as Jonny downed his second
Asahi and gin. When he wiped a hand across his brow it came away
cool and covered in sweat. He left the bar, pushing carelessly through
a tight knot of nervous teenagers from the Valley made up to look
like they had grafts and implants. Near the restroom, a Zombie
Analytic flashed Jonny in quick succession: Marilyn Monroe, Jim
Morrison and Aoki Vega. He ignored her.
        Inside the restroom, Jonny splashed rusty water onto his face.
The room stank of human waste, and the paper towel dispenser was
empty. On the floor he found half a copy of  Twilight of the Gods".
The toilet was full of Nietzsche. Jonny dried his hands with the few
remaining pages. The water made him feel a little better. However,
the come down from the speed had left him jumpy and nervous.
        When Jonny left the restroom, a hand clamped on his arm.
         Jonny, how's it going?" asked a short man that Jonny did not
recognize. The man's smile was wide and toothy, intended to give the
impression that he was a very dangerous character. He wore shades
whose lenses were dichromatic holograms depicting some cavern.
Where his eyes should have been were twin bottomless pits.
         That's a good way to lose some teeth or an eye," Jonny said
        The little man's smile faded only slightly. He relaxed his grip on
Jonny's arm, but did not release him.
         Sorry Jonny," he said.  Look, could I buy you a drink or
        Jonny shook off the little man's grip and headed back to the
bar to get drunk. But again, strong fingers caught him.
         Where are you going in such a hurry?" the little man asked.
 Let's talk. I've got a deal for you."
        Jonny jammed his elbow into the little man's midsection, spun
and pressed the barrel of the Futukoro into the man's throat.
         If you ever grab me again, I will kill you. Do you understand
that?  Jonny whispered.
        The little man released Jonny's arm and stepped back, his
hands held in front of his chest, palms out.  It's cool," the little man
said giddily.  It's cool."
        Jonny pushed the man away roughly and left him chattering to
himself. He was sweating again. Jonny went back to the bar and
drank cheap fishy-tasting Japanese vodka, thinking as he drank,
about how vile it was and how he wished he could afford the good
stuff. He put the little man out of his mind. Jonny wondered if he
should call Sumi, but that seemed like a bad idea. She would ask
questions he did not want to answer. Eventually, his thoughts drifted
to Raquin. Jonny wondered what it was like to burn to death. He
remembered that someone had once told him that you would not feel
anything, that the fire would consume all the oxygen and you would
smother before you ever felt the flames. That seemed like small
comfort. How much better was it to smother than to burn?
        Jonny continued drinking straight shots of the fishy vodka until
the taste disappeared altogether. Taking six of the shot-glasses, he
constructed a little pyramid, but Random took the glasses away and
soon Jonny ran out of money. While he was fishing in his pouch for
more dope, there was a slight tug on his arm. Somehow, when he
turned, Jonny knew the little man would be standing there. His
shades were off and he held his hands up as if to ward off a blow.
         Truce, okay? I did not grab you," the little man said.  I just
tapped you on the shoulder. 
        Jonny nodded.  I could tell you were a quick study. What do
you want? 
        The man leaned forward, anxiously.  Look Jonny, I didn't want
to tell you before-- I'm working for Mister Conover. He sent me to
get you. If you don't come back with me, my ass is grass. 
         Sorry to hear that. Tell Mister Conover I'll get in touch with
him as soon as I'm through with the deal I'm working on now. 
         I can't do that. He wants you now," said the little man.
Hopefully, he added,  You know that whatever it is you're working
on, Mister Conover will make it worth your while to drop. 
        Jonny shook his head.
         No thanks; this is personal."
        The little man leaned closer.  You aren't looking for Easy
Money, are you? 
         What if I am?"
         Well, that's great," said the little man.  That's the job-- Easy
Money copped something that belongs to Mister Conover. And Mister
Conover wants you to help him get it back. 
        Jonny nodded, took a piece of ice from someone's empty glass,
and rubbed it across his forehead.  My problem, friend, is that I
know Mister Conover pretty well and I know that he is a
professional,  Jonny said. "No offense, but why would he send a hard
guy like you to get me? 
        The little man looked around, apparently to make sure that
nobody was eavesdropping.  This really isn't my job," he whispered.
Jonny smiled.  No shit?" he said.
         I'm more of a bookkeeper. It's just that Mister Conover's got
all his muscle guys out looking for Easy Money,  he said. The little
man looked at Jonny gravely.  You know how it is."
         Yeah, I know how it is," said Jonny, genuinely amused.
         He told me that you always hang out at Carnaby's Pit," the
little man continued. He made a face as if he had just smelled
something foul.  To tell you the truth, it's a little bit much for me."
        Jonny laughed.  Sometimes it's a bit much for me, too," he said.
        The little man smiled; for real, this time.  Then you'll come with
me?  he asked.
        Jonny shrugged.  That stuff about looking for Easy, you weren't
just being cute again, were you?  "No, all that was true,  he said.
         Then you'll come?"
         I'm not sure. I hate to beat a point to death, but how do I
know you work for Mister Conover?  "Oh yeah,  said the little man
brightening. He reached into his jacket pocket.  Mister Conover said
to give you this. 
        He handed Jonny a plastic bag containing two gelatinous blue
capsules. The manufacturer's markings were Swiss, the capsules
NATO issue, banded with an orange warning stripe indicating
myotoxins. Jonny had seen the stuff on the Committee. Frosty the
Snowman. It was a necrotic, a synthetic variation on pit viper venom
that killed by breaking down collagen fibers, effectively dissolving
skin and muscle tissue. The NATO variation, he had heard, was
constructed with certain  open" segments along its DNA chain,
allowing the toxin to bind with polypeptides in the victim's collagen
and replicate itself there. Rumor had it that Frosty could break down
the skin and muscle tissue of a seventy kilo man in just under
fourteen hours. It was not the kind of drug that many people would
have access to. Jonny stuffed the bag into his pouch.
         So, I'm convinced," he said.
         Then you'll come?"
         Why not," he said.  I'm not getting anywhere here."
        The little man beamed at him. Jonny thought it might be love.
 By the way, have you got a name?" Jonny asked.
         Cyrano. Bender Cyrano, like the guy in the old book, you
know? Only I haven't got the nose.  Cyrano laughed at his own joke.
        Jonny did not know what the hell Cyrano was talking about,
but he smiled so as not to hurt the little man's feelings. When Cyrano
extended his hand, Jonny shook it.
         Nice to meet you, Cyrano. Let's get out of here," said Jonny.
When they reached the dirty curtain, Jonny turned and took a last
look at the band. They were burning through one of Saint Peter's
best tunes,  Street Prince." The crowd ignored them, utterly.
        Random was right, Jonny decided. A bunch of assholes.
Outside, the hot night had cooled somewhat. That usually meant that
the street people would haunt Sunset Boulevard until dawn, but an
uneasy silence had settled upon the street. A scrap of paper, plucked
up by the wind, did a careless pirouette before being carried away. A
quiet crowd had gathered across the street, watching the club. Jonny
took a step back. Cyrano walked on a few steps before he noticed
that Jonny was no longer there.
         What's wrong?" he asked.
        Jonny was barely six when the first of the Protein Rebellions
took place. That was when the citizens of Los Angeles, inspired by
uprisings in other cities, rose up and wrecked the Griffith Park Zoo in
search of fresh meat. The riots were finally put down, but not until
ten days of fighting left the city little more than an open wound. The
official body count was something like 10,000 civilian and military
        The authorities, however, had not been caught entirely
unprepared. Many in power had seen what was coming. Plans were
pushed forward, timetables scrapped, and those select few, wealthy
enough to buy entrance or powerful enough to demand it, began
their silent pilgrimages deep into the desert, to government-
sponsored havens like New Hope.
        The rest of the city  remained behind  with the rest of the
solution. The rest of the solution, in this case, was a paramilitary
organization known, without apparent irony, as the Committee
for Public Health. And several armed members of that organization
were waiting for Jonny when he left Carnaby's Pit.

        Spotlights hit Jonny and Cyrano from across the street.
        A adolescent, bullhorned voice called,  Do not move. You are
both under arrest. 
        Jonny dropped to the ground, pulling his gun. Cyrano
awkwardly wrestled a Mexican Barretta from his belt and got off one
shot before a Futukoro blast ripped into his chest. The little man fell
on Jonny, bleeding everywhere, looking horrified. He clutched at the
wound, as if by holding it closed, he could keep his life from slipping
out. Jonny looked up in time to see the leper in the Spacer uniform
peering at him from around the side of the bar.
        Automatic weapons fire bit into the front of the Pit as the
Committee opened up. Shattered glass and concrete showered down
on Jonny as he flattened himself on the ground. From behind, the
door of the bar burst open and a phalanx of the Pit's Meat Boys
emerged, armed to the teeth. Jonny wanted very muchto disappear.
        Across Sunset, the evening crowds were pinned down in
windows and doorways, watching the fire fight. Occasionally, one or
two kids wearing gang colors would make a break into the open and
run across Sunset, waving and shouting as they reached the other
side alive. A young, fat Gypsy Titan started across behind his faster
friend. It looked as if the fat boy would make it, when a shot spun
him around. He tore at the long scarf knotted about his throat before
collapsing between two parked cars.
        Jonny heard orders barked from somewhere in the dark and
the sound of scrambling feet. The Meat Boys were fanning out,
covering the entrance of the Pit. No escape that way. Why the hell
were the Meat Boys fighting the Committee, Jonny wondered. Must
think it's some rogue gang trying to shake them down.
        Jonny pressed close to the building for cover. Sounds like
thunder, breaking glass and splintering wood enclosed him. He tried
to crawl behind the Meat Boys, but they were moving all over the
        At the side of the bar, Jonny saw the leper again, giving him
the finger with one diseased hand. At that instant, Jonny recognized
him. Even with the bandages and the uniform, he knew the leper was
Easy Money. Jonny took a shot at him, but Easy ducked behind the
        Again, the door to Carnaby's Pit burst open and Smokefinger
came running out. He was screaming what sounded like
 Motherfuckers" at the top of his lungs. His right arm was a mass of
wet red flesh. Running into the street, he was cut to pieces by
Committee cross-fire.
        Jonny made a break for the alley behind the Pit. Moving
quickly to a low crouch, he crawled around the perimeter of the
building. He almost made it when he felt a terrible kick in his
shoulder. Jonny's muscles turned to water.

        Sometime later, he was not sure how long, Jonny awoke in the
alley. He had no idea how he had gotten there. He could still hear
occasional bursts of automatic weapons fire. When he tried to stand,
Jonny discovered that his whole right side was numb.
        With his left arm, Jonny grabbed the rim of an overflowing
dumpster and pulled himself to his feet. It took him a few seconds
to find his balance, but when he did, he started running to exit at the
far end of the alley.
        He almost made it, but somewhere along the way, a boot
whipped out of the darkness and sent him sprawling.
        Oh fuck, Jonny thought.
        This time he did not get up.

                        History, Payback, and an Unhappy Reunion
                         in the Belly of the Beast

        The Greater Southern California Detention Facility: an ant hill; a
graveyard; a factory where souls were processed, packaged, and
delivered to what some laughingly called justice. At least, many on
the inside (guards and prisoners, alike) had heard rumors to that
effect. Rumors of the search for justice. Memos were circulated about
it. Petitions were signed for it. Statues of Greek goddesses
brandishing scales were erected to it. Still, few had seen any sign of
        The prison squatted, blank and huge, by the port in what was
left of the old warehouse district. Built on the bones of an old liquid
natural gas plant, it had originally been envisioned as the location for
the flagship lab of the Pentagon's notorious genetic warfare programs
in the late nineteen-nineties. The building had sat unused when the
government's war plans ran out of steam and money at the same
time. It was not until eighteen months later, with a few billion yen to
back it up, that the order came down to pull out the half-finished
labs and begin slicing up the old storage tanks, refitting them to form
the cell walls within the new facility.
        The majority of the prison's bulk was hidden, sunk deep into
the ancient pig iron waste pits. Lichen-streaked, great solid planes of
cracked concrete rose at severe angles to a flat roof studded with
sealed cooling ducts and dish antennae. A damp ocean breeze kept
the walls of the prison perpetually glistening, the concrete stinking
with a thousand dock smells: the ozone residue of synthetic fuels,
over-ripe fruit, rusting machinery, dead fish.
        A common joke was that the average prisoner was doing five to
ten while the guards were doing nine to five. They, like the
prisoners, were just trying to get by. They were young men mostly,
Jonny's age and a little older. Primarily recruits from the Committee
for Public Health, at twenty the boys were already considered too old
for street duty, burned-out on the Committee's steady diet of speed
and anabolic steroids.
        Two years earlier, with motives as mysterious to himself as
anybody else, Jonny had joined the Committee. Indifference and
boredom seemed to be his main reasons. A few years as a petty thief
and courier for the smugglers left him fast on his feet and quick with
a knife and pistol. Still, he remained naive enough to be surprised
when it was these same criminal qualities that helped land him a
high-paying job with the Committee.
        After his training, Jonny was assigned to what was called
 Perimeter Maintenance." The mechanics of the job were not too
different from what he had been doing all his life-- meeting with
thieves, tracking down warehouses of stolen drugs and food.
However, the Committee had little patience with prisoners; they paid
him a commission for each smuggler he killed above his quota.
Recruits were encouraged to compete. Body counts were posted at
Committee headquarters. There were bonuses and prizes to be won
at the end of each month.
        Jonny tried to make the best of it, telling himself how much
better it was to be off the streets and on the side of power for a
change. But killing for the Committee did not make any more sense
than killing for the smugglers. Sometimes, when he was helping load
bodies into transports after a raid, Jonny would see a face he
recognized: a junky from the Strip, a panhandler, a street musician.
More than once, in the hallucinatory haze of the synth-fuels fumes
and halogen lamps, he thought he saw his own face among the dead.
        And he was growing increasingly dependent on the speed. He
simply could not let go. The come down was too awful. Without the
speed he would begin to think again.
        Jonny had never known self-loathing before, but there it was.
He had sudden bouts of vertigo, mouth ulcers, cramps in his gun
hand. He found himself growing more sympathetic to the cause of the
smugglers; at least he understood their motives. In the end it simply
grew too ugly, the self-deceptions too obvious for him to continue.
The manner of his desertion, however, was more complicated. It was
generally known that he turned in his uniform, pressed and clean,
and picked up the last of his commissions. But he never turned in his
pistol. That became significant later when his immediate superior, a
one-eyed brute named Cawfly, was found shot through his good eye.
        And Jonny, barely twenty one, in his inevitable search for the
point of least resistance, drifted back to the streets. No longer
resisting the flow of events or pretending to chart a course through
them, he existed by luck. But that was before; now it seemed even
that had deserted him.

        He awoke, with a small cry, to the stink of vomit and antiseptic
in a damp, gray holding cell. As the sound of his cry died away,
Jonny rolled onto his side where he was distressed to find that the
vomit he smelled was his own. His left hand was resting in a small
pool of the stuff. His mouth burned with bile.
        He lay on a bare aluminum cot frame, his head spinning,
wondering where he was. Eventually, he was able to focus on the
wall. GAMMA LOVES RAMON and DEZ were scratched there, and THE
was in Spanish and Japanese. He was too tired to translate, but he did
not need to. He already knew what it said.  Fuck you!" or  I didn't do
it  or just "Let me out!  The international language of the
dispossessed. He grinned; it was almost comforting. Jonny knew
where he was now.
        When he tried to sit up, he found that hisright shoulder was
wrapped in gauze and a thermoplastic carapace. For a terrible
instant, he panicked, but relaxed when he felt the reassuring bulge of
his arm, intact under the cast.
        Rubbing his injured arm, Jonny tried to figure out who had
turned him. It was clearly no coincidence that the Committee had
been waiting for him outside Carnaby's Pit. It was possible, he
thought, that it had been a routine sweep for all pushers, but that did
not seem likely.  Deep shit," he said to the empty cell.  Extremely
deep shit. 
        He was almost asleep when the polarized glass panel on his cell
door blinked to the transparent, then darkened. Jonny lay still on the
aluminum frame as the cell door scrapped open. He heard whispers--
three or four distinct voices. Annoyance and nervousness. He kept
his eyes closed. The door opened further, then closed quickly. The
voices stopped. Jonny was aware of somebody standing over him.
         Is that him?" came a low, adolescent voice.
         Yeah," I think so,  said a different voice.
         He's a skinny motherfucker. Looks like a chica," came a third,
huskier voice.
         That give you ideas, man?"
         Yeah-- I'm gonna cut him."
         Hey, don't-- "
        Jonny heard the metallic snick of a switchblade opening. He did
not move.
         Touch him and we're muy morto. He's tagged, man."
         Doesn't look special."
         I seen his files. Interrogacion especial."
         Man, I'm not going to kill him," came the husky voice.  Just
gonna get a knuckle or part of his ear. 
         Who's gonna stop me?"
        Jonny swung one steel-tipped boot into the gut of a blonde boy
and the other onto the floor, screaming like a lunatic, letting his
momentum carry him up and toward the door. The other boys fell
back without being touched, too surprised to stop him.
He almost had the door open before they came to their senses and
grabbed him. But he kept moving, biting fingers, kicking shins, not
letting them get a good grip. Finally, a boy with some sort of scarring
on his hands and neck caught him with a smooth uppercut to the jaw.
Jonny went down on his face. The scarred boy rolled him over and
dropped onto his chest, bringing the switchblade up level with
Jonny's throat. The other boys crowded in behind him, grumbling
and shaking their injured hands and legs. Jonny realized that the
hands of the boy holding the knife were covered with sores, similar
to leprosy lesions.
         You funny, man?" the boy with the knife demanded.  What's
your story? 
         Fuck you, la chinga," said Jonny.
        The boy sliced Jonny's cheek.  You're dead, man. I don't care
who you are,  he said.
         You haven't got the cojones."
         You got to stick him, now. He'll tell," said the blonde boy.
        Jonny twisted around and kicked the blonde boy, again. The
boy on his chest punched his throat.
         What are you doing?" came a new voice.
        The boys drew back abruptly, staring guiltily at the door. The
boy with the knife stood up and glanced at his nervous accomplices,
then back at the door. All Jonny could see from the floor was a pair
of highly polished boots and a sleeve with lieutenant's stripes.
         I asked what you were doing," said the lieutenant.
        The boy with the lesions pointed to Jonny.  He was trying to
escape. We stopped him. 
        The lieutenant nodded.  What were you doing in this cell?"
The boy glanced at his friends for support. They would not look at
him.  I told you, man. He was trying to escape," he said.
         Don't lie to me."
        The boys in the back of the cell, the blonde and a tall, Mestizo
with bad teeth, stared at the floor. Jonny guessed that they were
about sixteen. The boy with the knife looked to be a year or two
older. The insignia on his Committee uniform indicated that he was a
corporal. That explained it, then. It had all been good, clean fun. An
older boy out to show his young friends a good time.
        The lieutenant made a curt gesture with his hand.  Get him up,"
he said.
        The two younger boys moved quickly. Slipping their arms
under Jonny, they lifted him easily, their steroid thickened muscles
hardly straining. Then they set him gentlyon the cot frame and
stood against the wall, trying desperately to blend with the peeling
        The older boy still held the knife, moving it uncertainly from
hand to infected hand. The lieutenant faced him.  You're all on
report,  he said. "Return to your duties. 
         I'm telling you, this man tried to escape," the older boy
         I understand," said the lieutenant, a flat-nosed young black
who, Jonny could now see, was not much older than the boy with the
jaw implant. That's how it was in the Committee. They worked
mainly with teenage boys. Give them the right stimulants and guns
and they would go anywhere, risk everything. Higher ranking boys
kept them in line, while desk-bound old men ran the rest of the
show. It was cheap and efficient. The Committee never had to pay
much in the way of retirement benefits.
         Get out of here," the lieutenant said.
         But-- "
         One more word and you can explain it to the Colonel."
        That shut the boy up. Reluctantly, he closed the switchblade,
tucking it into the top of his boot. While adjusting his uniform, he
gave Jonny a quick, accusing glance, and followed his friends out of
the cell.
         So long, guys," called Jonny.  Keep in touch." He laughed and
nodded to the lieutenant. The young man's identity tag read
TAUSSIG.  Thanks for your help. I thought I was dog food for sure-- "
         On your feet, pusher," said Lieutenant Taussig.
        Jonny took a deep breath and leaned against the wall.  You
mind if I catch my breath first?  he asked.
        Taussig reached down to examine Jonny's face, turning it this
way and that in the light. He did not look pleased.
         If anybody asks, tell them the anesthetic hadn't quite worn off
and you fell on the stairs,  the lieutenant said.
         Why? What do you care about those clowns?" asked Jonny.
         Just do it."
        Jonny smiled.  Oh, I get it. Afraid someone'll find out you can't
handle your troops? 
        Taussig pulled Jonny up by his good arm.  Let's go," he said.
        The lieutenant led Jonny out onto a rusted loading gantry,
through a maze of small-bore piping and frozen transfer valves to
the floor the old processing plant cum prison. Vague breezes and
convection currents kicked up scraps of paper, fluttering them
around the pylons of fifty foot cryogenic tanks.
        The floor sloped; the air cooled. They entered a battered hydro-
plunge service lift whose burnished walls reflected the harsh
industrial lighting in jagged bolts and loops. As they descended,
Jonny noticed that Taussig had punched a button in the Yellow
Sector. Jonny was impressed. He had never received clearance to
enter any of the restricted areas.
        When the elevator doors opened, Taussig pushed Jonny to a
jerry-rigged desk (a horizontal slab of tank cladding bolted athwart
two enormous shock-coils) and handed a sheaf of documents to a
pale boy whose eyes seemed to have no pupils at all. The red-faced
boy motioned for a couple of pre-pubescent guards to follow them,
and walked Jonny and the lieutenant down a short corridor. At the
end, he unlocked a scuffed yellow door for them.
        Inside, it was another world.
        The light came from incandescent bulbs, a muted non-
industrial glow. They stood in a small anteroom whose walls Jonny
was sure were real wood, not plasti-form. Between two locked doors
at the far end of the room was a low table, in the Kamakura style. On
the table was a small bowl holding a single bonsai. Jonny coughed
into his fist a couple of times. The sound was flat, swallowed up by
the walls like water on sand. Sound-proofed, he thought.
        Taussig walked to door on the right of the table and leaned
over the eyepiece of a portable Haag-Streit retinal scanner. A
moment later, a buzzer sounded. Gripping the ornamental brass
handle, the lieutenant pushed the door open and motioned Jonny
inside. Taussig did not enter. When Jonny turned to look at him, the
lieutenant closed the door in his face.
         What the hell happened to you?" came a familiar, avuncular
        Jonny faced the room, seeing only a computer terminal on the
far side of a mahogany table with four matching chairs drawn up to
it. Dragons inset in some lighter wood coiled in battle or play on the
table's surface. In the dim light, Jonny could not see the face of the
man sitting on the opposite side of the table. But that voice. It made
Jonny feel a little sick.
         I thought they cleaned you up in the infirmary," the man said.
Jonny could just make out the silhouette. It gestured for Jonny to
take a seat.
         I tripped on the stairs," Jonny said.  The-- uh-- anesthetic." He
sat in the chair as he was told.
        Jonny could see the face now. It smiled at him. The short
cropped hair was whiter than he remembered.
         What's the matter, Gordon? Not even a 'hello' for your old
C.O.?  The officer, Colonel Brigidio Zamora, set a small pile of
crumpled currency next to a collection of pills and Jonny's tagged
         Captain Zamora--" Jonny began.
         Congratulations," Jonny said. He rubbed his wounded shoulder,
reflexively.  Look Colonel, you're too late. I know this room and the
ride down here were supposed to mind-fuck me, but you blew it.
Three of your puppies broke into my cell just now and tried to slice
me up. I'm exhausted and my shoulder hurts like hell.  Jonny leaned
his good elbow on the table.  So tell me, Colonel, what kind of deal
are you prepared to offer me? 
        For a moment, Zamora did nothing and Jonny found himself
wondering if he had chosen the wrong tactic. The Colonel, he
remembered, liked to have a good time. In a moment, though,
Zamora relaxed, exhaling little bursts of air from his throat. His
version of laughter.
         I tell you, Gordon, you kill me," said the Colonel, with good
humor.  You beg for it; that's what you do. You beg people to smash
you up. No wonder your life's such a mess. 
         What's wrong with my life?" asked Jonny.
         Well for starters, look where you are."
        Jonny could not argue with that one.
        The Colonel, Jonny noticed, had put on some weight. The jacket
of his uniform now fit tight across his belly. The creases around his
mouth and eyes had taken on the exaggerated depth of cheap
statuary. Colonel Zamora did not seem to be aging so much as
fossilizing. In his presence, Jonny was always reminded of reptiles,
slow, solid beasts of ancient bloodlines, all muscles and teeth.
         Is that why I'm here?" Jonny asked.  You're a social worker
now? Gonna fix my life? 
        Zamora shook his head.  No, Gordon; you're going to fix mine."
         What does that mean?"
         You really have no concept, do you?" Zamora asked. He spoke
slowly, as if addressing someone of less than average intelligence.
 See if you can grasp this: you killed Captain Cawfly-- one of my
officers, and then just waltzed away. Do you know how that makes
me look? And then you turn up with these smugglers. Selling their
drugs; giving them Committee secrets. Working for terrorists, Gordon.
I mean, just how much abuse am I supposed to take? 
        Jonny started to say something, then met Zamora's tired gray
eyes. Thin ice.
         The way I figure it, you owe me," said the Colonel.
         I don't owe you anything," Jonny replied quickly.
        That seemed to amuse Zamora.  See, you're doing it again."
Jonny looked around the room impatiently.  Look, Colonel, I had
enough of this crap when I was in the Committee. That's why I took a
         Oh, is that the reason?" asked the Colonel. He raised an
eyebrow.  Just a case of restless youth, was it? No gestures were
implied? Giving the finger to me, to the Committee? 
         I didn't even think about it."
         Well, you should have," said Zamora.
         Fuck you and your disgrace," blurted Jonny.  If you want to
deal, fine. If not, charge me with something and let me call my
        For the second time, Jonny made the Colonel laugh.  You think
I'm going to bother with the courts? I'm not subtle like you, Gordon.
You play this my way or you're dead. That's my gesture to you. 
         Bueno," said Jonny. He did not even know any lawyers, but at
least he knew where he stood. His throat was dry and raw.  Can I get
some water? 
         Later," said the Colonel.  First, you're going to help me out with
some information. 
         What could I tell you that your agents don't already know?
Raquin was my connection and he's dead. 
         I know all about Raquin. He worked for the Committee."
        Jonny stared at the Colonel. He's baiting me, he thought. It
worked, though.  That's bullshit," Jonny said.
        Zamora grinned.  It's a buyers market, Gordon."
         You offer him a deal like mine? Play or die?"
         No," said the Colonel with great satisfaction.  He came to us."
         Grow up, Gordon. This city is full of troglodytes who'd peddle
your ass to some organ broker as soon as look at you. That's what
you walked back to. 
         I don't believe you," Jonny told the Colonel.
        Zamora shrugged.  You can believe anything you want. It
doesn't change our situation one bit. What I want from you is
information about the smuggler lord Conover,  said Zamora. He typed
something on the computer terminal and activated the room's
recording unit.  I want you tell me about Conover and his connection
to the Alpha Rats. 
        For a moment, relief washed through Jonny like a cleansing
wave. Pointing to the pile of pills, he said,  Your fingers in the cookie
jar, Colonel? Been taking home samples? 
        Zamora gave Jonny a look of absolute disgust.  What are you,
an animal? I'm giving you a chance to stay alive. 
         How am I supposed to take a question like that seriously?"
asked Jonny.  I don't know anything about Conover and I sure don't
keep tabs on space pirates. 
         You're a liar, Gordon," said the Colonel.  Remember? Your
friend Raquin worked for me. I have videos of you with all kinds of
nasty people, including Conover. 
        Jonny looked away from the Colonel, wondering how long he
had been inside the prison. Sumi would be worried by now. All she
would hear is that he'd been shot and taken away by the Committee.
Sumi, he was afraid, would not survive long on her own. She did not
protect herself enough; she left herself too open, was too willing to
trust and be wounded. It was that inner calm that had originally
attracted Jonny to her. At the moment, though, it merely chilled him.
         All right, so I know Conover," said Jonny.  I move merchandise
for him. I help get his trucks though Committee checkpoints, but you
know all that, right? As for this Alpha Rat thing, though, that is
completely out-to-lunch. 
         Is it? I don't think so."
         I can't give you what I don't have."
         No, but you can get it for me."
         What do you want?"
         Conover," Zamora said.
         Oh man," said Jonny,  why don't you just ask me to bring to
Alpha Rats down here, too? I've got as much chance. 
 You can't just waltz away from this one, Gordon," said the Colonel.
 This hook-up between Conover and the Alpha Rats makes it too big."
Jonny slammed his hand down on the table top.  Will you lay-off that
'Gordon' stuff. Nobody calls me that, anymore. 
 Don't tell me what to do, boy. I own you."
Jonny leaned back in his chair.  Just what is it between you and
these spacemen? 
Colonel Zamora tilted his head back slightly, scrutinizing Jonny.
Jonny's fingers lightly traced the pattern of the dragons on the table
top. In truth, he wished he had something to give Zamora. Some
innocuous bit of information or rumor that might satisfy him. Jonny's
head was light. He could not even think of a good lie.
Finally, the Colonel nodded. He keyed something on the computer
and turned the recorder off.  All right, maybe you are that ignorant,"
Zamora said.  Let's try something else. Tell me anything you know
about the Alpha Rats. 
Jonny took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His mind was still
sluggish from the drugs they had given him in the infirmary. He
found it difficult to concentrate on anything but his anger, which he
was eager to show, and his fear, which he was not. Jonny realized
then that he was afraid of Colonel Zamora, had always been so. That
his fear of Zamora had been another reason he had deserted the
Committee. And that this confrontation had been, in a sense, pre-
ordained. He had cheated Zamora of something when he ran away. Of
what, Jonny was not sure, but he understood that whatever it was,
the Colonel had come to claim it.
         Well?" said Colonel Zamora.
         The Alpha Rats," he said,  Yeah, I saw the news rags. Big ships
from deep space, right? They landed on the moon and smashed up all
the bases, ours and New Palestine's. Flattened everything. Burned all
the techs. 
         And do you have any idea what was going on up there at the
        Jonny tried to remember. It had been at long time ago.  Some
engineering. Mostly mining and genetic work, right?  The Colonel
seemed impressed.  Right, but there was something else going on,
too; something more important,  he said. "A war. An economic war
between the New Palestine Federation and the Tokyo Alliance. The
Arabs have always had the oil, the minerals, the heavy machinery.
They've been mining the asteroid belt for decades in those big
hydrogen scoop ships.
         But think-- what does the Tokyo Alliance have? We have
software and hardware, sure, but it's the really delicate items:
protein-based data storage, genetics, micro-electronics. That's where
our strength lies, Gordon. And we lost a big piece of it.
         You can thank the Alpha Rats that you're in business. A lot of
the drugs you people sell illegally were produced on the moon or in
those circumlunar labs. You need that environment, sterile conditions
you can't get on earth and, above all, weightlessness-- or something
close to it-- to produce some of those items.
         The Arabs control over half the earth's land mass. Africa alone
will keep them supplied with raw materials for centuries. Do you see
what I'm getting at? 
         Sure, The Tokyo Alliance lost its economic balls when the
Alphas moved in on the moon. But I don't see what any of this has to
do with me.  Jonny opened his eyes wide. "Honest officer, I was
nowhere near the moon that day. 
        Zamora ignored him and typed something on the computer
keyboard. A rectangle of glass set into the top of the table glowed.
Rising from the projection plate, a three-dimensional chaos of fractal
points and ice-blue connecting lines flared like a crystalline vascular
system. The angles of the hologram filled in with colors, primary,
then secondary. Jonny thought he recognized a desert.  Look at this,"
Zamora said.
        Jonny leaned forward, staring hard at the miniature landscape.
         What is this?" he asked.  Looks like a burned up spring roll."
 It's a shuttle," said Zamora.  The moon bases used them to send
samples back to the corporate labs on Earth. We picked that one up
in the desert near Anza Borego. Up until a couple of months ago, all
the Alpha Rats were doing was broadcasting a steady stream of
signals to deep space. Some French tech at Tokyo U thinks to the
constellation Pegasus. There's a binary system there called
'Alpheratz'. That's how they got the name. 
        Jonny nodded.  I'm thrilled," he said.
         Anyway, a few months ago, the signals changed. The Alphas
started broadcasting to Earth. No shit. To the desert southwest of
here. And you know what?  asked Zamora, with more than a touch of
glee.  Somebody broadcast back. Is that rich? Now, we've got some of
the best data decryption software available. We've only been to
decipher bits and pieces, but what we got, Gordon, it's tasty. Really
        Jonny said:  All right, so I'm hooked. What was it?"
        Zamora looked delighted.  A deal," he said.  A deal. Between
your pal Conover and the Alpha Rats. But don't stop listening yet,
because it gets better. It seems that you're involved. 
         Christ," said Jonny.  You're too much." He got up and walked to
the back of the room. Zamora did not seemed very concerned; he just
kept smiling. The door, Jonny saw, had a magnetic lock, a device the
Committee was very fond of. You could blow the whole wall away
and still not get one of those locks to move, he thought. He remained
there, though, taking comfort in the small distance he could put
between himself and the Colonel.
         Calm down, Gordon. I said you were involved. I didn't say you
were a participant. 
         What's the difference?"
         Willingness," said Zamora.  I tell you, boy, if I was working on
a deal of this magnitude I might let you sharpen pencils; hell, I might
even use you as a courier, but I sure wouldn't let you near anything
important. Therefore, I'm willing to accept that you are not a
conscious participant in all this. 
         But you've got something I want: access to Conover. If he does
have a connection to the Alpha Rats, no matter what the nature of
their deal, it can only end up benefiting the Arabs. 
        Jonny leaned against the wall, mindlessly working his
fingernails between two strips of paneling.  Funny, I never pegged
you for a flagwaver, Colonel. 
         I'm not. This is simple economics. What they've got, we want.
By the time we found that shuttle, its cargo section had been
emptied,  Zamora said. "Whatever the deal is, it's already in motion. 
        Jonny smiled at him.  You know, I don't believe a word of this."
Colonel Zamora glanced at his watch.  Well, believe this: As of right
now, you have forty eight hours to deliver Conover to me. If you do
that, you and I are square. Bullshit me and maybe I'll give you back
to those children upstairs. Some of them very vivid imaginations. I
imagine they'd start on your eyes. 
        Jonny walked back to the table, working the kinks from his
legs. His hands were shaking, so he shoved them into his pockets.  If
I go along, how soon can I get out of here?  he asked.
         Right now," said Zamora.  Do you accept my terms?"
        Jonny smiled.  Colonel, I'm a happy child of the New Rising Sun.
No camel jockey's gonna push me around. 
        Zamora narrowed his eyes at Jonny.  You should take this more
seriously,  he said.
         If I took this anymore seriously, I'd drop dead."
         Good, consider that your new koan, Gordon." Zamora said. He
rose, picked up a leather satchel and pulled Jonny with him to the
door.  Meditate on it. At least for the next forty eight hours."
        Colonel Zamora took a flat metallic octagon from his pocket and
placed it against the magnetic lock. The door clicked open and Jonny
followed him outside.

        Jonny and Colonel Zamora waited in the lobby of the Yellow
Sector for an elevator. Across the plant floor, a recruit with polarized
cornea implants was jacked into a construction masterboard,
directing a bank of plasma torches. Whacked-out on alkaloid
stimulants, he still managed to move a dozen torch-bearing waldoes
in a smooth tidal dance, like a clock-work anemone, simultaneously
slicing four sides of a gutted fission furnace.
         That's a neat trick," said Jonny.
        Zamora nodded.  We have to clear away some of this old
equipment. We'll be needing the space for new cells soon. 
         Come on, Colonel, no one's recording us now," said Jonny.  That
stuff you were saying before, you really don't buy all that space
pirate crap, do you? 
        Colonel Zamora sighed.  Seeing you has depressed me, Gordon.
You remind me too much of the sad state of the world. Paranoia. Self-
centeredness. All the symptoms of information overload. The World
Link's the real enemy. Thirty years ago we didn't have the Link,
plugs in our heads. We had to rely solely on videos and the news
rags. The Arabs were the enemy and we still had a chance to kick
Japan and Mexico in their industrial balls. Now we've got the moon.
The Alpha Rats hanging like Damocles' sword over our heads. The Net
should never have broken that story. I'm telling you, this city, this
country would be a different place if they had kept all that under
wraps. It's too strange to assimilate. Too alienating. That kind of
information invites paranoia and destroys trust. 
         It's hard to trust, Colonel," said Jonny,  when you've got
something like the Committee breathing down your neck. 
         Bullshit. In a sane world, our presence wouldn't cause a ripple.
As a nation, we've allowed ourselves to behave like animals in a trap,
gnawing off our own legs to get out. 
         You wouldn't be trying to win me over by telling me this is
some kind of crusade, would you? 
         Of course not," said Zamora.  That would be expecting too
much of you.  The Colonel pushed the elevator button again. The boy
directing the waldoes aimed them at the base of the furnace, cutting
at the support structure with long, smooth strokes that reminded
Jonny of kendo strikes.  We're at a crossroads," said Zamora.  Do you
know that? The next few years will tell the story. Whether we're
going to end up another post-colonial back alley like Britain or
France or whether we're going to take back the dominance we gave
up too easily. To do that, we have to get rid of the Alpha Rats. Until
they're gone we can't even start on the Arabs.  The Colonel smiled.
 It all comes down to economics. It always does."
        A few meters away, a bell rang and elevator doors slid open.
Nimble Virtue, a slunk merchant and one of the least trustworthy
lords in the city, stepped out. She was leaning heavily on the arm of
one of her handsome young  nephews." When she spotted Jonny, she
gave him a tiny bow, indicating that she had no time to talk. Then
she and her young man walked down the corridor, awash in the
echoes of insect clicks from the exoskeleton Nimble Virtue wore
beneath her kimono. At the end of the corridor, a door hissed open
for them and they were gone.
        A moment later, Jonny found himself being pushed into the
elevator car Nimble Virtue had just vacated. He and Zamora rode up
in silence. Jonny felt a nasty satisfaction at having caught the Colonel
with his snitches down. The look on Nimble Virtue's face had said it
all. She had sold Jonny out.
         Now that I can believe," said Jonny.  The Great White Whale
would sell her mother for sausage if she thought she could hide the
         Don't let her concern you."
        Jonny sniffed the air distastefully.  Sorta stank up the joint,
didn't she? 
        Zamora backhanded him across his injured shoulder. Something
blue and hot exploded in Jonny's eyes, fragments trailing away down
some bottomless cavern. He slid down the wall to the floor.
         Don't even think about going after Nimble Virtue. You haven't
got the time,  said Zamora.
        The elevator shuddered to a halt and the doors slid open.
Taussig was waiting, a small grin spreading across his face when he
saw Jonny on his knees.
         Help him up," ordered Zamora.
        The lieutenant pulled Jonny to his feet and walked him from
the car. When they caught up with Zamora, the Colonel turned to
Taussig and said,  Later, you and I are going to talk about what went
on in this man's cell.   Jonny had the satisfaction of seeing the blood
drain from the young lieutenant's face.
        Zamora lead Jonny out a side exit and left him weak-kneed,
standing in an oily puddle. The Colonel removed a Futukoro from his
satchel and tossed it behind Jonny.
         Take that with you. Wouldn't want you getting mugged, now
that you're back on duty. I'll be available to you for the next forty-
eight hours, Gordon. After that, the deal's off. I'll be seeing you,  said
the Colonel.
        The door swung in quietly, hissing as it sealed itself shut.
Jonny was alone in the alley. He drew himself up and taking a few
drunken steps forward, kicked savagely at the door's heavy riveted
face; he pounded it with his good hand.
         Like hell, you bastard!" he screamed.  You can't do this to me!"
For a vertiginous second he was insane, turning in frustrated circles,
splashing more filth onto his ruined jeans.
        Finally, panting and lightheaded, Jonny stepped away from the
unyielding door, feeling angry for such a stupid waste of energy. He
should be on his way out of town.
        Jonny's gaze slid down the damp walls to the thin fog at the
alley's mouth. He stooped awkwardly, protecting his throbbing
shoulder, and scooped up the Futukoro. He walked to the infra-red
scanner that monitored the alley, took aim and blew it off its
mounting. Somewhere, an alarm went off. Jonny hurried away from
the place.

                                The Flight of a non-Euclidean Fly

         Shit," Jonny mumbled as he stepped on something soft and
clinging in the doorway of the abandoned hotel. Then,  Shit" again as
he recognized the accuracy of his curse. He was somewhere near
Exposition Boulevard, out of breath, a few blocks from the old
Lockheed rocket bunkers. Ancient booster engines and decaying nose
cones displayed their brittle bones behind fences topped with razor
        Gingerly, Jonny scraped his soiled boot on a cracked stone step
and peered from the alcove. Whoever Zamora had following him was
being very cagey. Jonny still had not caught sight of the tail, but he
knew the man was out there. Zamora would never let him just walk
out like that.
        He had exhausted himself, running for cover and for the sheer
joy of running, for the momentary sense of freedom it gave him. Still,
he had not been able to spot the tail and that bothered him. Even
now, as he watched from the alcove, nothing on the street moved.
Except for the doorway-bums shifting restlessly with their chemical
        The hot night had remained hot, was giving way to another hot
day. Jonny's tunic clung to him like a second skin. He relaxed against
the hotel and tried to regain his bearings. His shoulder had begun to
throb within a few minutes of leaving the prison. He desperately
wanted a drink, a snort, a smoke, anything that would transport him
from the pain, the Colonel's obsessions and the old neighborhood in
which he was hiding. Writers had been at work on the old buildings
with their compressed-air canisters of sulfuric acid, burning their
messages, like grim oracles, into the very bodies of the structures.
Over the years, the fronts of the abandoned hotels and shops had
taken on the texture and feel of old candle wax. In the alcove, Jonny
ran his fingers over crumbling letters. DUCK AND COVER. And, ALPHA
        On an impulse, Jonny pushed on the hotel door. It scraped
across a warped wooden floor and stuck, revealing a bleak interior.
Jonny took a tentative step inside.
        It looked to him as if a bomb had gone off in the lobby. The
plaster meat and wooden bones of the place were visible where
sections of the wall had caved in or been torn away. An old-
fashioned wrought iron elevator lay scattered among blistered
Lockheed tail fins and useless landing gear.
        But, as depressing as the old hotel was to look at, it was the
smell of the place that got to Jonny. The deadly stink (ammonia, old
cheese, mildew) brought tears to his eyes. But he held his breath and
pushed the lobby door closed. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust
to the darkness, then, tired and leadfooted, his shoulders bumping
into walls that appeared from nowhere, he started up the stairs for
the roof. From there everything would be visible, and he reasoned
that by leaping from rooftop to rooftop, he could lose whoever was
following him.
        He had not counted on the smell, though. At the first landing,
        Jonny's eyes were watering; by the second, he was having
trouble breathing. Then, on the third floor he abruptly ran out of
stairs. There was a door, labeled ROOF, but it was immovable--
crusted shut with age and grime. Jonny put his boot to it, but that
only brought a pitiful rain of dust from the sagging ceiling.
        Outside, he thought, and up the fire escape. Jonny entered one
of the guest rooms that opened off the corridor and headed for a
        Inside, the room was large and, empty of furnishings, faintly
echoed his steps. A dim rectangle of street light outlined the smashed
innards of an old telephone-comsat uplink. The place must have been
nice once, he thought, if they could afford to put those in the rooms.
In the middle of the floor was an upturned hubcap someone had
been using to cook in.
        Jonny had taken, perhaps, a dozen steps into the room before
the smell got to him. It was a physical presence, twisting in his lungs
like a tormented animal. His nose ran; he coughed. Holding his arm
across his face, he breathed through his mouth. If the Committee had
this stuff, they could wipe out the whole city, he thought.
        When Jonny reached the window, he found it swollen in place
from the damp ocean air. Knowing that Zamora's tail would hear it if
he broke the glass, he started back into the hotel to look for a pipe or
board. Something that would help him pry the window open.
        A rustle of fabric from the far corner of the room. The flicker of
something small and metallic.
        Jonny took a step forward-- and was in the air, falling, his legs
knocked out from under him. He curled up as best he could and came
down flat, protecting his shoulder.
         Goddamit," he yelled as shapes closed in from the gray edges
of the room.
         Get his clothes," came a voice dry and thin as wind.
         Get his shoes," came another voice.
         Get him."
        A stooped figure in rags lumbered up to Jonny and began
grabbing at his tunic. Jonny cried out at the sudden pressure on his
bleeding shoulder, lashing out with his free arm. Pain exploded in his
wrist as something sharp and wet dug into it.
        Jonny kicked out blindly into the dark, noting with satisfaction
a groan as his boot connected. Rolling into a crouch, he propelled
himself up into the stomach of the tunic puller. The figure staggered
back, wheezing horrid breath.
        Jonny leaned forward, letting his weight propel him toward the
window. But he was knocked back as someone else jumped him.
 He's going to get out...He'll rat..."
         Little monster..."
         Watch his boots..."
        At the window, he was dragged back by a swarm of dry,
reptilian fingers. He screamed. Things like vises and knives, pincers
and broken glass cut into his back and arms.
        Christ, they're biting me, he thought.
        Jonny managed to loop his leg behind the leg of one of his
attackers. Then, pushing forward with all his strength, he heard a
window crack and shatter. Suddenly, he and one or two others were
on the fire escape. The sudden release of hands and rush of air left
him light-headed, but some animal part of his brain moved his arms
and legs, pushing him up and away. No one followed.
        Two flights up the fire escape, Jonny stopped to look at his
attackers. They huddled below, cooing and mewing over their
injured. Though it was cooler outside, the heat still broiled the
streets, baking the old tenements; the whole neighborhood rippled
behind waves of desert heat. Yet, the mob were clothed in layer upon
layer of cast-off coats, moldering lab smocks and vacuum suits. A fat
man in tattered test pilot gear crawled onto the landing and gazed
down at the street. His clothes hung from his arms in strips, little
more than patches all crudely sewn or wired together. The mass of
rags on his thick frame gave him an awkward bear-like appearance,
but his eyes burned with a savage clarity.
        Jonny was already backing up the stairs when the fat man
caught sight of him. A scream welled up from the fat man's throat; he
bared his yellow teeth. But not real teeth, Jonny knew, just plasti-
steel implants, sharpened with care to needle points. In the thin
unreal light of the street lamps, the fat man's teeth glowed like a
        Pirhanas, Jonny thought. A whole gang of them. It had been a
stupid mistake, entering the old hotel. It reminded Jonny just how
tired he was.
        The abandoned hotels and apartments that fronted the
warehouse district were useless to most gangs, lying just beyond the
lights of Committee headquarters. That is why the Pirhanas,
septuagenarians mostly, for there were no Pirhanas under sixty, held
them. Used for target practice by the younger gangs, lied to and
finally abandoned by the government, the old discards and
defectives banded together to hold some piece of ground for
themselves. Using the few weapons they could find, principally
government issued teeth-- filed and set firmly in angry, withered
jaws-- they were tolerated because they consumed nothing but the
leavings of others. Besides, even in Los Angeles, slaughtering old
people in the streets would have been frowned on.
        As Jonny watched, more Pirhanas began to crawl from the
hotel. The fat man started up the fire escape. He carried a sharpened
pipe in his hand. Jonny started climbing, too.
        He vaulted the low wall onto the roof clumsily, and sprawled
on his stomach. Gravel dented his cheeks. As Jonny pushed himself
up, he saw a thin, but steady stream of blood running from under his
chest. The fat man was a few yards away. Jonny started running
        Behind the fat man, more Pirhanas appeared, running like a
ragged army of the dead. They waved their pipes and broken bottles
wearily, more, it seemed, to remind themselves of the connection
they still had to the flesh they inhabited, than to menace Jonny.
        When he reached the other side of the roof, Jonny looked
frantically for a way down. What he found puzzled him more.
        An entire network of home-made bridges and catwalks, like
some outrageous model of the neural pathways of the Pirhana's
brains, criss-crossed the roofs, connecting all the buildings within a
dozen blocks. Ribbed conduits, old antennae, the rusted drive shafts
of decades-dead jet turbines were hammered into the surfaces of the
roofs. Secured to these were lengths of rotting rope, pilfered from the
docks. Flattened cans of krill, backs of discarded computer terminals
and insulation tiles from L5 shuttles filled the gaps between rough
planks to form walkways over the street, a hundred feet below.
        The bridges did not look all that secure, but the Pirhanas were
closing in. Jonny stepped onto the closest walkway and hurried
across. The support ropes stretched and tightened as things cracked
and shifted under his feet.
        He leaped off onto the adjoining roof. The bridge strained
behind him, weighed down by the gang. The fat man was still in
front, holding the pipe before him. Jonny moved in circles around the
roof, frantic for something to throw. He knew that if he used his gun,
Zamora's man would find him and all this would have been for
nothing. In the end, he decided that the situation did not cry out for
subtlety. Fumbling in the folds of his tunic, he pulled out the sweat-
soaked Futukoro and waved it in the face of the fat man, who pulled
up short at the sight of the gun. The Pirhanas bunched up behind
him, growing silent.
         That's it!" Jonny shouted.  No more games. The first one who
moves is meat for the others. 
        It was rubbish and he knew it, but it sometimes worked, as it
seemed to be working now. The Pirhanas, including the fat man,
remained where they were. They stared at Jonny with empty, feral
        Sentiment had always been Jonny's undoing. At heart, all cops
are romantic slobs and ex-cops are worse. A terrible wave of sorrow
overcame his fear as he backed away from the pathetic group. They
were defectives, not unlike the losers and one-percenters that he
knew, that he was a part of. Jonny scanned the faces of the crowd,
wondering if whatever errant gene that had sent them out here to
the wilds was present in his blood. He regarded them with a certain
        From behind, a brick fell and shattered hollowly. Jonny turned
quickly, keeping the gun on the fat man. Dozens of Pirhanas
had crowded onto the other roofs, pipes and heavy connecting rods
in their hands. Many grinned, showing sharp, stained teeth. Jonny
was surrounded.
        He shuffled to the edge of the roof, turning in slow circles,
trying to cover himself in all directions. When Jonny reached the fire
escape, the bridges were packed with Pirhanas. When he stepped
onto the ladder, a few were moving toward him across the roof.
When he was straddling the wall, the fat man threw his pipe and
screamed, charging him.
        Jonny managed to duck the pipe and dropped over the edge of
the wall, landing hard on the fire escape platform. He rolled onto his
back and pointed his Futukoro. Too late. The Pirhanas were over him,
pelting him with pipes and stones. But even under that hail of debris,
Jonny could not bring himself to kill any of them. He settled for
spraying three sides of the sky with bullets.
        The Pirhanas fell back, unaware of Jonny's good intentions.
With his gun straight up, Jonny squeezed off a few more rounds and
clattered down the steps.
        When he hit the ground, he hung in the shadows, pressing
himself tight against the building, waiting for the sounds of pursuit.
But there were none. Jonny breathed through his mouth, swallowing
great gobs of hot, wet air.
        He was in a blind alley; at the far end lay a vacant lot dotted
with discarded dressing dummies and barbed wire rolls. Jonny
remained against the building, feeling it solid against his back. He
checked the rounds left in his gun and carefully slid down the wall
toward the alley's mouth.
        He did not stand a chance.
        A gleeful cry echoed from above. Jonny looked up just in time
to see the junk raining down on him: pipes, bottles, jet canopies and
electronic components, all the technological refuse of the city. He
leaped and rolled, groaning at a sharp pain in his shoulder.
        The first wave of junk crashed behind him. The second wave
caught him in the open with nowhere to hide. Compassion vanished.
Hunkering down behind a dressing dummy, he opened fire at the
roof, his bullets chewing the head off a sexless stone cherub. Its
companions made no comment and the Pirhanas, who knew better
than to stand close to the edge, just laughed at him. Jonny remained
low in the dirt, cursing himself for not having blown a few of them
away when he had the chance.
         DO NOT MOVE. STAY RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE," commanded a
bland, amplified voice.
        The Committee hovercar roared by suddenly, like an angry
metal wasp-- all sleek and deadly-- its belly lights casting angry
fingers of brilliance over the empty buildings. Shadows moved like a
year of nightmares across deserted storefronts. Dust and grit
billowed from the roof into the alley, filling it with smoky phantoms.
Jonny coughed, trying to clear his throat. The clamor on the roof
picked up as the Pirhanas turned their anger toward the hovercar,
pelting it with junk. Jonny took the opportunity to move into the
street. His shadow circled him like a nervous cat, then appeared in a
dozen places at once-- thin and diffuse.
        Crouching by a gutted lamp post, Jonny found a sewer grating
and gave it a tug. By rocking it back and forth, he worked the grating
loose and pulled it free. Peering down to see if the way was clear, a
sudden attack of vertigo tilted the street toward the dark hole. Jonny
grabbed the lamp post, fighting to keep his balance, and turned back
toward the hotel.
        Overhead, the hovercar was hanging in the air like a patient
predator, waiting for an opening. Abruptly, a mechanical whine filled
the air. Jonny squeezed his eyes shut and covered his ears as the
pacifiers kicked in.
        The fighting on the roof died away as, much too late, the
Pirhanas realized what was happening. They stood as one, staring at
the whirling pattern of lights, paralyzed and helpless.
        Jonny decided that it was time to find the Croakers. He slid
quietly into the sewer and pulled the grating closed.

        The sewers were the lichen-slicked relics of another time, a
means of concealment as old as revolution itself. The Croakers took to
them soon after the shoot-on-sight orders became official policy with
the Committee. The Croakers were outlaws, anarchists and physicians
mainly, treating diseases that officially did not exist or could not be
diagnosed without authority of the local medical boards. Their roots
extended back to the early days of the century when the first doctors
went underground, destroying the records of patients with AIDS and
certain new strains of hepatitis, treating these patients (the new
 untouchable" caste) in the black clinics hastily thrown together with
whatever those original rebels could carry with them.
        Other doctors, mostly young ones back from the Lunar Border
Wars, frustrated by the impenetrable bureaucracy and government
seizures of their patient records, joined them. It took only a few
years for the medical community to split into two distinct camps:
those doctors who remained above ground, working with the powers
that be, and those who walked away from all that, joining the other
gangs of Los Angeles in constructing their own micro-society beyond
the boundaries of conventional law.
        Jonny had been a supplier and occasional courier to the
Croakers and he liked them, despite their revolutionary prosel-
ytizing. He cringed when one of them called him  brother," but he felt
a silly pride at being associated with them. That was also why he
remained suspicious of them. To be otherwise would demand a
response that he was not prepared to give, was still not sure of. It
implied certain ties, a common heritage, and that made him nervous.

        The sewers, laced within the body of the city, were the
corroded veins of a sick addict, shut down from age and abuse. The
only things that moved in them were alien, looking for a way out.
Jonny stood at the bottom of a ladder of steel rungs embedded in a
stone wall. Knee deep in black water, the floor sucked at his legs.
        The air was thick with stagnancy; corrupt, buzzing with
mosquitoes. They tickled his face, covering his eyes and hands. They
stung him until he swung out blindly at the curtain of pests, fighting
back an overpowering sense of his own death. But death was not it,
not exactly. It was more a formless sense of great anxiety, a feeling
that he had done something terribly wrong and that if he could just
remember what it was and fix it, everything would be all right.
Jonny knew a little about the layout of the sewers, but he did not
know the location of the Croakers' secret tunnels. Since all directions
were the same in the dark, he started moving straight ahead, into a
faint, sticky breeze. Very soon, Jonny realized that he was no longer
moving through absolute darkness.
        He could see the mosquitoes. They seemed to be crawling over
a flat two-dimensional background; a trick of the strange light that
seemed to fill the tunnel. The lichen on the walls were glowing a
weak green. When he ran his fingers over the damp stones of the
wall, he left a black trail where the lichen peeled off. His fingers
glowed with the little plants. Jonny walked on, his legs sluggish in
the oozing mess of the floors.
        But he was still moving without direction. Light-headed, he lost
track of the hours in the endless branches and sub-branches of the
tunnels. The water rarely moved above mid-thigh, but a few times
he had to turn back from tunnels when the water reached his chest
and threatened to go higher.
        Along the way, Jonny scratched messages on the walls. Crude
serpents, ready to strike; he wrote his name in big block letters and
some obscenities concerning the relationship of Committee boys and
their mothers. He drew the outline of his hands and eyes with wings.
        He stumbled more as exhaustion crept into his muscles,
loosening them at the joints. For a time, he walked with his eyes
closed, mechanically trailing his fingers along the wall to keep his
direction. Was it for hours or minutes? When Jonny opened his eyes
again, he staggered back, nearly fell.  Jesus Christ," he said.
        Slogans, names, and drawings were scrawled over every inch of
the walls and arched ceiling of the tunnel. They screamed down at
Jonny from all directions, black shimmering lightly above green. It
looked like the last record of some tribe or group mind which had
blasted itself, intact, onto the walls. The words seemed to hang in
space around him.
        Humpbacked shadows skittered along the pipes near the
ceiling. Rats, huge and dangerous. Jonny pulled his gun and fired at
them. Rats had caused him enough trouble for one night. He watched
as a couple of them skittered to a wall a few meters ahead, and
squeezed into a small opening near the floor. As each rat
disappeared, its coat was illuminated for a second by a flash of white
        Jonny went to the wall, knelt, and pressed his face to the crack.
A steady stream of cooler air. Running his hand around the edge of
the hole, he realizedthat the wall was false, not stone at all, but some
sort of cast polymeric resin. Digging in his heels, Jonny pulled at the
opening. And the wall slid out a few centimeters, stuck, then opened
wider, trailing scabrous fingers of adhesive. Light exploded into the
        White and agonizingly bright, the light burned Jonny's eyes.
But he did not care. It was beautiful. He squinted into it, trying to
locate its source, but he had to turn away, finally, when he thought
he would go blind. It was several minutes before he could look into
the luminous cavern without flinching. But when he did, Jonny knew
he was safe.
        Still, it was a strange sight in the squalor of the sewer. The
transparent plastic bubble-- clean, and brightly lit--glowed like a
dream, filling the tunnel before him. Through a haze of condensation,
        Jonny could just make out the hydroponic racks that lined the
walls along both sides of the tunnel. Yage vines trailed onto the floor;
aloe vera, psilicybe mexicana, and other medicinals grew there in
abundance. By pressing his face up to the thick plastic membrane,
Jonny could see the other end of the tunnel where the plastic was
tucked neatly around a weathered access hatch.
        Jonny stamped his right foot down sharply, at an angle, so that
the heel of his boot snapped off with a click. Balancing against the
bubble wall, afraid somehow of moving too far away, he felt along
the bottom of his boot until he found the hilt of the hidden knife.
Then tugging at the blade, which slid bright and clean from his
hollow sole, he rammed it into the bubble. Sliding the blade down, he
made a single, neat incision in the membrane wall. Then he pushed
through the tight aperture, into a warm, musky chamber which
pulsed with the regular beating of a pump.
        He replaced the knife and snapped the heel back on his boot.
There was a smell of life and order in the tunnel that revived him.
When Jonny reached the access hatch, he gripped the big metal
handle and turning it, was rewarded with a reassuring rumbling
inside the walls as bolts drew back. After that, the door swung open
        Jonny stepped into the darkened room and felt along the walls
for a door. He went blind in the apex of multiple cones of light,
ghostly afterimages tracking his retinas. Someone grabbed his sleeve
and pulled him forward. Jonny could just discern the outlines of
Futukoros and crossbows pointed at him from beyond the light. He
started to say something, but the air, which had seemed so pleasant a
moment before, suddenly went bad. The room tilted back and forth,
wobbling, as his vertigo returned. Then he was on his face on the
floor.  Here we go again," he said.
        Something moved in front of Jonny's nose. A Burnett crossbow
pistol lowered and a woman-- small, but well muscled, the planes of
her face smooth, as if carved from cool black marble-- took a step
toward him. The woman's name was Ice. She knelt in front of Jonny
and squinted at him. In a moment, her scowl softened to an
expression of embarrassed recognition. She reached out and touched
his filthy face.
         Jonny? Oh, my god," she said quietly.  We heard you'd been
        He smiled then, too, partly with affection and partly with
surprise. He kissed her cool hand.  Not to worry, he said. "The pain
stopped soon after I died. 

        The next few hours existed only in fragments. Physical
sensations. Later, Jonny remembered lying on the floor, wondering
distantly if he was going to be sick. He remembered hands moving
over him. Objects had taken on a fragile, crystalline quality. Things
dripped into his arms through haloed tubes. Ice moved into view
occasionally and tried to speak to him. But Jonny was off floating
where there was no pain and no need to run. Then there was only
the dark.

        Jonny awoke on a futon, naked, his arms wrapped in clean
bandages. He moved his hands, but only after a considerable effort of
will. They slid from under cool sheets as if being manipulated from
far away. He felt numb and dizzy, but somehow peaceful. He was in a
little room stacked high with milky injection-molded cases and
styrofoam packing modules. It did not look at all like part of a
         It's not. I'm just borrowing it," said Ice, as she slid a dark arm
around Jonny's chest, pulling him closer. Jonny remembered Ice's
unnerving talent for verbalizing his thoughts.
         Ice," he said, rolling to face her.
         For an ex-cop you've got big feet. You set off every alarm in
the place. 
        Ice, Jonny, and Sumi: the three of them had formed a solid
union for a time in the disintegrating city. Then suddenly, Ice had
disappeared, leaving only a short, lame note. Jonny recalled the first
terrible days after she had gone. He and Sumi walked on razor
blades. Each was aware that neither had been to blame for Ice's
disappearance, yet each secretly sensed that they were the one
responsible. It was days before Jonny could bear to let Sumi out of
his sight. The terror of being alone overwhelmed him. Sumi had been
no different. They trailed each other from room to room like absurd
puppies, only dimly aware of what they were doing.
        Seeing Ice now, lying next to her, Jonny ran his hands over the
contours of her body. She had changed in subtle ways. There was a
new, pleasant firmness to her hips and legs. And her arms were
thicker, more muscular, which Jonny was sure pleased her. Her grin
still possessed the openness which contradicted her usual detached
expression. His fingers traced the old post-operative scar where she
had received a black market liver.
         I didn't recognize when you when you came crashing into the
storeroom tonight. Then, when I heard your voice I couldn't believe
it was you,  she said.
        Jonny's throat was dry when he tried to speak.  I didn't know
that you'd be here. That you were a Croaker,  he said.
        Ice nodded.  I've been here a few months now." She shrugged.
 Sometimes, I'm not even sure why. Groucho recruited me. Do you
know him? He's great. He plans a lot of the raids and holds the group
together. I'll introduce you tomorrow. He helps keeps the ghosts
        The ghosts had been with Ice for as long as Jonny had known
her. They were an image she toyed with, but he knew that to her the
ghosts of memory were real.
        Ice had been working as a prostitute at the Zone Deluxe when
Sumi introduced them. Before that, Ice had farmed-out her body to
the Boys of Tangier gang, allowing herself to be infected with specific
viruses. The gang would then purchase her infected blood, which
they used to produce various immunotoxins. These they sold on the
street or to the smuggler lords.
        While infected with a mutant strain of hepatitis, Ice's liver
gave out. The Boys of Tangier gave her a new one, but when they
demanded payment, Ice revealed that she was broke. The Boys sold
her to the owners of the Zone Deluxe, a pair of identical albino twins
who called themselves the Tundra Brothers.
        Jonny called in some favors with a smuggler who specialized in
stolen corporate data and brought out the Brothers' interest in Ice
with the access codes for the Tokyo Stock Exchange. It was sweet
deal all the way around. Jonny knew the Tundra Brothers were not
particularly smart.
        Using the codes, the Brothers made themselves rich in a week.
They descended into a kind of madness then, like a tape player stuck
on fast forward, spiraling on a terminal party high, manipulating
stock prices. By the end of the second week, the Brother's bank
accounts rivaled the big corporate fortunes of the oldest families of
Tokyo. It took another week for the Yakuza to find them. After that,
the Tundra Brothers and the Zone Deluxe were relegated to that
specialized branch of urban mythology embracing everything from
the merely foolish to the truly insane. But Ice was out by then.
         Why did you go?" asked Jonny.
         I don't know," Ice answered quickly, as if she had anticipated
the question. She closed her eyes.  I really don't."
         Too many ghosts," said Jonny.
        Ice lay down on the futon and rested her head on Jonny's chest.
She opened her eyes, but would not look at him.
         I'm better here," she said.  I know who I am. There's a
structure to reality.  She tugged at her short, curly hair. "Things tend
to stay in focus. 
         Yeah, I understand," Jonny said.
        He looked around the room, gnawing the inside of his cheek
nervously. Among the packing material, clothes and books had been
tossed at random. Ice and Jonny had been the slobs in their menage-
a-trois. Sumi was the only one who cared for a clean house. He was
glad to see that, at least, that had not changed.
         We could all use a little structure," he said.
        He looked back at Ice and watched her rubbing her eyes
sleepily. It was at times like this when Jonny was reminded of just
how small she was. Of how much strength it took for her just to push
back the void each day.  I'll leave, if you want. I can sleep in the
ward,  he said.
         No," said Ice, looking troubled.  Please stay. How's Sumi?"
         I don't know. That's part of why I'm here. I have to get out of
Los Angeles. Zamora's after me. We have to get Sumi before he finds
the house in Silver Lake. 
         We will," Ice said,  but not now. Tomorrow, when Groucho gets
        Jonny nodded wearily and lay his head down on the pillow. Ice
leaned over and kissed him. Opening her lips, she invited his tongue
into the warmth of her mouth. His hands roamed her body, found the
tail of her shirt, and slid up to cup her small breasts. They moved
together for some time until, suddenly exhausted, Jonny's head
began to spin. But they kept their arms around each other, as if one
of them might be swept away at any moment.
         You shouldn't have run off like that," Jonny said.
         I know," Ice whispered.  Now go to sleep."
        He turned to her, groggily.
         We have to get Sumi."
         We will, don't worry."
        Jonny rolled onto his side. He felt her arm encircle him.
 Too many ghosts," he said.
        He felt her nod.
         Too many goddam ghosts."

                                Premonition of Civil War

        During the last few hours of night, Jonny was caught in a series
of violent, fevered dreams in which he was being pursued by things
he could not see. The end of each dream was the same: he would
stumble or feel his legs lock like rusting machinery, leaving him
stranded and helpless. Then something would grab him and he would
be jolted awake by a phosphorous dream-flash that snapped his eyes
open. He would lie in the dark room staring at the ceiling as vague
pains stirred just behind his eyes. In a few minutes he would drift
back to sleep. For a time he would float peacefully on a sea of
nothingness, but then the dreams would start again.
        There was a woman, all in white, running down Hollywood
Boulevard, her hair and dress in flames. Long rows of chrome beetles
moving over damp brickwork. A man in the back of a pedicab.
Mirror shades, cheap plastic poncho. From the cab, he points a gun at
Jonny. It is all deliriously slow. There is no sound, only the muzzle
flash and the heat of impact.
         Jonny, wake up, goddamit!" called Ice.  You're gonna pull your
stitches out. 
        Jonny awoke at the sound of her voice. Her face was right
above his, thin lines of tension spreading out radially from the
corners of her eyes.  Jesus, what a ride," he said, his voice hoarse
with sleep.  How long have I been out?"
         Almost twenty hours," said Ice. She settled down next to him
on the futon. She was wearing baggy fatigue pants and a tank top
with the faded picture of some Japanese pop singer.  I was starting
to get worried. You barely twitched in all that time, then all of a
sudden you're moaning and rolling around like you're trying to
hogtie a Meat Boy. 
         Did it look like I made it?"
        Ice smiled.  You were massacred."
         Typical," replied Jonny.
        The room they were in was small. Seeing that brought back
images of the previous night. He remembered the Piranhas, his trek
through the sewers, Zamora's threats. His arms were still bandaged,
his right shoulder itched fiercely in a clear plastic induction cast,
healing in its weak electrical field. Looking around, Jonny saw rough
walls, gray limestone papered with yellowing layers of ancient
subway schedules and anti-Arab propaganda. Hexagonal panels of
radio-luminescent plastic lit cases of medical supplies and electronic
gear stacked ceiling-high against two walls.
         No windows," Jonny said.  We're still underground."
         Give that man a cigar," said Ice. She picked up a styrofoam
tray from a crate littered with drug ampoules. The smell of frijoles
and rice assaulted Jonny.  Breakfast, babe. Quieres?"
        He groaned and pulled the sheets up over his face.  Take it
away. I'll never eat again. 
         Come on, you've got to get your strength back."
         Forget it. You're going to have to feed me with needles. I think
something slept in my mouth. 
        Ice set the tray down, ad Jonny reached out and took her arm,
pulling her on top of him. Careful to avoid his bandages, she slid her
arms under his shoulders, grinding her crotch into his. The scent of
her body transported him; they were home, in their own bed in
Hollywood. He could sense Sumi's presence nearby. Then a second
later, the hallucination was gone. Still kissing, Jonny experienced a
terrific urge to bite Ice's tongue.
         You know I'm still pissed at you," he said.
         I know," said Ice.
         And I don't buy that 'I don't know why I left' crap, either."
         But I don't know why. It's all twisted around in my head." Ice
sat up, pushing a few beaded corn-rows of hair from her face.  I just
knew I had to move. Get away. 
         From what?"
         From everything. From my life. And that meant you and
         That's comforting."
         Part of it was living in this city. Nothing's real here. It was
getting to me. Was getting to you, too. 
        Jonny put a hand on Ice's cheek and turned her head, forcing
her to look at him.  What do you mean?"
         We were dying," she said quietly, almost whispering.  I
watched you staring out the window night after night like you were
working on some puzzle, trying to put it together in your mind. Sumi
fiddling with her circuit boards. We were all together, but we might
as well have been on different continents. 
Jonny shrugged.  Let's face it, we have to keep a little detached in
our work to stay sane. Sometimes that spills over. But we can fix
 But there's more than that," said Ice.  Have you ever heard of the
 It's a political theory. Groucho talks about it. He's kind of our leader
around here. Says the Spectacle is the way the government keeps
control. It sets up these mysterious and complex systems like
restrictions on medical service, the Committee, it makes the Arabs
and the Alpha Rats into icons of evil. That way, it keeps us isolated
and makes us feel like we don't have any control over our own lives. 
 And you think the three of us got eaten up by the Spectacle?"
 Yeah," said Ice.  Do you understand what I'm saying? "
        As Jonny he sat up, Ice rolled off his lap and lay down beside
him.  I understand it's all very easy to argue in the abstract," he said.
 Talking politics is a good way to avoid what really hurts."
        Ice looked at her hands, lines of tension deepening around her
eyes.  I was sick," she said.  I didn't love you. I didn't love Sumi. I
was hollow and dead and there was nothing inside me but dust and
dry bones. I don't think you want to understand. 
         That's not true." Jonny reached under her shirt and rubbed the
small of her back.  We're back together; that's what counts. We'll get
Sumi and work the rest of it out. 
         For what it's worth, I'm sorry," Ice said.
         So am I. I wish I'd seen you needed help back at the old
place.  Ice smiling guardedly, and rested her hand on his stomach.
Under her fingers, Jonny became aware of the steady rhythm of his
own breathing. He groped for something to say to ease the tension,
but nothing came to him.  We kept your stupid Samba tapes," he
offered finally. That made her laugh. Jonny broke up, too, and they
lay on the futon giggling like idiots until she pulled him to her.
        He bent to her breasts, pulling her shirt off over her head,
finding her penny-colored nipples with his tongue. Ice arched her
back, tugging off her pants and tossing them away, cupping his
testicles on the return motion. She pushed Jonny onto his back,
rubbing herself along the shaft of his erect penis. When she lowered
herself upon him, he held her for a moment, struck again by a cold
deja vu, needing to confirm for himself the reality of her presence,
the flesh that held him. She gave a little grunt as he entered her; her
face eased of tension for the first time since he had woken.
        They moved slowly at first, drawing out each thrust (damp
friction), the motion resolving itself at the moment of greatest
tension, and beginning again. He came quickly, unexpectedly, and
she, a moment later.
        They lay there, clinging to each other damply, unwilling and
unable to do anything else. Jonny traced the outline of her shoulder
blades with his fingers. She closed her eyes, her feathery breath
coming cool across his chest.
        Later he asked,  So what do we do about getting Sumi?"
        Ice sat up, wiping sweat from her eyes.  We talk to Groucho
and see if he has any ideas. 
         You called him 'your leader'? I didn't think anarquistas had
         Every group has leaders," Ice said evenly.  What the Croakers
shun are rulers. 
         Shun. Jesus, you really are one of them, aren't you?"
         I really am," she said somewhat wickedly.
         What would your poor mother think?"
         My mama was a Hollywood whore and so was yours." Ice
rolled off the bed onto her feet and clapped her hands.  Come on, you
have to move around or you're going to get stiff. 
        When Jonny stood up, he caught his reflection in the aluminum
housing of a portable CT scanner.  I look like a goddam mummy," he
         You look fine. Let's see how you walk."
        Standing, Jonny found his balance shot by the combination of
long sleep and drugs. With his arm around Ice's shoulder, he made it
around the room a few times, his legs feeling stronger with each
circuit. However, he was aware of not yet thinking straight. There
was something he had to do. Twenty hours sleep was a long time.
How long had he wandered in the sewers?   What time is it?" he
         About four in the afternoon." said Ice, glancing at her watch.
         What day?"
        Jonny concentrated, trying to force the fog from his brain. He
counted backwards; the numbers stumbled by. Eventually, the
answer seemed right, or at least close enough.  Six hours," he said.
         Six hours what?"
         In six hours Colonel Zamora declares open season on me."
        Ice handed him a set of green nylon overalls with the Pemex
logo stenciled on the back. Under the breast pocket was a small hole
surrounded by a suggestive rust-colored stain.
         Welcome to the club," she said.

        Ice lead him through three levels of absolute darkness, through
crawl spaces damp with leakage from underground pipes, up frozen
escalators and an elevator shaft where they stood on a section of
heavy wire mesh barely a half-meter square and were lifted slowly
by a retrofit electric dumb waiter. At the top of the shaft Jonny was
engulfed in stars. A three hundred and sixty degree panorama of
open space swung slowly around him, illuminating the tile walls with
solar flares and star fire. It was like nothing he had ever seen sober.
        He said,  I'm seeing this, right? This isn't just brain damage or
         Don't worry," said Ice.  Some lunatic dragged a Zeiss projector
from the planetarium and reassembled it down here. We got it
hooked to a satellite dish top-side. Pulls down signals from some old
NASA probe. You know, Jonny...  Ice took his hand and lead him to
the edge of a subway platform, then down onto the tracks.  ...things
get a little strange here sometimes. I mean, we're all dedicated
anarquistas, but we're also artists. Some of us more than others. 
         You an artist, too?" asked Jonny.
        Ice shrugged. Only where stars marked her face could Jonny
see her, her dark features blending evenly with the black of space.
 I'm not a painter or a sculptor, if that's what you mean. Art here
means more than that. It's a way of looking at the world;a state of
mind. I just don't want you to make any quick judgments about
these people. 
         You afraid I might not like your revolution?"
         You work very hard at being cynical, I know that. But what
we're doing down here means something. It's not just revolution
we're after. It's political alchemy. 
         What does that mean?"
         We're out to change the world."
        Jonny scratched at his injured shoulder.  Sounds great," he said.
 Just hope I have the shoes to go with it."
        As they moved beyond the star fields, they were plunged back
into darkness. Ice pulled Jonny to one side of the tracks and said,
 Don't step on any wires. Some of 'em are dummies. Cables hooked up
to vacuum alarms.  Jonny was impressed with the sureness of Ice's
moves in the dark tunnels. Whatever she had been doing with the
Croakers for the last year had revitalized her. Jonny thought back on
the last months he and Ice and Sumi had lived together. It was just
as Ice described it. Stasis. The long, slow surrender of emotions to
habit. Things could be different now, he thought. He reached for her
shoulder in the darkness, and felt her hand close around his. Up
ahead, there was light on the tracks.
         This is it," said Ice evenly. But Jonny could see she was trying
to contain her excitement.  Your gonna love this. We're right on the
edge of the clinic. 
        Voices echoed around the edges of the tunnel, blending to
become a single voice whispering in a language Jonny could not
understand. As they approached the light, the sound deepened, was
joined by the astringent smell of disinfectants. Jonny followed Ice up
a short flight of particle board stairs to the flat expanse of a subway
platform. A group of Croakers, techs, by the look of them, were
lounging, smoking and talking, on a stack of brushed aluminum
packing cases. A couple of the women waved to Ice from their perch.
         Recognize the place? It's the old financial district metro line,"
Ice said.
         I've seen photos. But I thought the Committee dynamited
these tunnels during the Protein Rebellion. 
         They closed off the ends and a lot of the service tunnels, but
squatters were living down here for years. 
        Jonny followed Ice through a maze of maintenance shops
sectioned off with ruined vending machines and lozenges of graffiti-
covered fiberglass. Croaker techs bent over fiber optic bundles and
circuit boards in a jumble of disassembled diagnostic devices (Haag-
Streit electron microscopes, magnetic resonance imagers, a video
micrographer) nodding and shouting polyglot advice. Further on, Ice
lead him through a workshop where rusting M-16's and AK-47's
were retooled and fit with computer-aided sighting mechanisms.
There was a surgery, cool lights glinting off delicate instruments.
Silent children stood to the side of one table, studying a man's open
abdomen through an enormous Fresnel lens. A legless woman
surgeon, suspended in a harness from a webwork of runners
attached to the ceiling, described the tying off of an artery in rapid-
fire Spanish. Older children translated into English and Japanese for
the younger ones.  We're also a teaching hospital," said Ice. She
nodded gravely toward the children.  If things don't work out, they'll
be the next generation of Croakers. 
        Jonny leaned against a wall covered in stylized biomorphic
landscapes of L.A., done in watery browns and grays.  This is really--
impressive,  he said. Someone had painted the Capital Records
building to resemble the bleached skeleton of some prehistoric
whale. The HOLLYWOOD sign, all driftwood and jellyfish. He shook his
head numbly.
         The place is quiet now," said Ice.  Rumor has it that the
Committee's gearing up for a big push. We've been getting almost
double our usual patient-load. 
         How do you get them down here?"
         Same way you got here: through the sewers. Most people
make a less spectacular entrance, though. 
 I sure hope so," said Jonny. He rubbed his sore shoulder, wondering
if he could score some endorphins.  Tell me, you getting many
leprosy cases down here? I'm moving Dapsone and Rifampin like
cotton candy at the circus. 
        Ice crooked a finger at Jonny and lead him through a poured
concrete arch studded with vacuum tubes and plastic children's toys.
At the end of a short service corridor they entered a lab. Inside, Ice
keyed in a number sequence on a Zijin Chinese PC hooked to a bank
of video monitors. Three screens lit up with multi-colored snow,
which gradually dissipated when Ice punched the monitor housing
with the side of her fist. On one screen, a couple of Croakers in
moonsuits were taking blood from a woman's arm. Fingering the PC's
joystick, Jonny moved the picture in tighter on the woman's face.
There were marks there. Seamless and discolored lepromatous
lesions. Another screen showed the same room from a different
angle. There were about a dozen other people, smoking and reading
on cots. All had lesions similar to the first woman.
        Jonny let out a long breath.  What's with the quarantine?" he
        Ice entered another code on the Zijin and more monitors lit up.
 It seemed like a good idea. Most of the lepers we've seen have been
carrying a weird new strain of the disease. It seems to be viral. 
        Jonny squinted slightly at the monitors. On one screen, a
Croaker was moving from cot to cot, using a scalpel to scrape tissue
samples from each leper's arm, while a second Croaker took the
samples and sealed them in a plastic case marked with an orange
biohazard trefoil.  Viral leprosy? Never heard of it," Jonny said.
         Neither had we," said Ice. She pointed to a monitor where
amber alphanumerics scrolled up a line at a time.  We cross-checked
all our exam data with the Merck software and came up empty. The
symptoms match all the known strains of leprosy-- skin macules,
epidermal tumors, lesions of the peripheral nerves, loss of feeling in
the limbs-- but the little bugger that causes it is some kind of
mutant-voodoo-patch job. It's also killing people. 
         How?" asked Jonny.
         Secondary infection. In the latter stages, patients tend to
develop high fevers and brain lesions. The pathology could be
meningitis. There it is,  said Ice. She nodded to a screen at the upper
        Jonny looked up. The monitor displayed a time-lapse video
micrograph of the leprosy virus, surrounded by numbers and biodata
graphs. As he watched, the virus inserted its genetic material into
the nucleus of a cell. Within seconds, the virus was cloning itself,
filling the cell with ghostly larvae until the walls burst, scattering
parasites into the blood stream. The virus's shape, the polyhedral
head, cylindrical sheath and jointed fibers that attached it to the cell
wall, reminded Jonny of pictures he had seen of twentieth century
lunar landing modules. But the proportions of this module were all
         Jesus, the head on that thing's huge," he said.  But it's just a
bacteriophage. Nothing weird about that. 
         That's what everybody says," replied a different voice. Jonny
turned and saw a boy wearing the body portion of a moon suit. In
one hand, the boy carried the suit's head covering; in the other, a
small case marked with a biohazard sticker.  Ice, you teasing the
guests, again?  he asked. The boy's face was luminously white, his
head, hairless and smooth. Jonny recognized the look. He was a
Zombie Analytic.
        As the Zombie shed the rest of his protective gear, depositing it
in a gray metal hamper, Ice went to him and kissed him lightly on
the lips. She looked back and said,  Jonny, meet Skid the Kid."
        The Kid held out one thin, white hand to Jonny and they shook.
Closer now, Jonny could see that the boy was no more than sixteen,
and thin to the point of anorexia. He wore a tight see-through shirt
and black drawstring pants. The archetypal Zombie, Jonny thought.
However, there were dark patches on the boy's scalp and hands
where the subcutaneous pixels had burned out or been destroyed. He
obviously had not had any serious maintenance in months.
         Actually, we've met already," Skid said.  I was in the stomping
party that found you in the greenhouse. 
         Yeah? Those must be your footprints on the back of my skull."
Skid laughed.  Wouldn't be at all surprised." Over his features, he
flashed a boxer's face, sweaty and bruised.  Croakers rule, okay! Eat
the dead! Totally badass.  A second later, his own face was back.
 'Course, I also helped carry you up to the clinic, so maybe it all
balances out, right? 
        Jonny smiled.  Sure. Someday if I have to beat on you, I'll drive
you to the farmacia. No problem.  He was put-off by the Kid. It was
almost a cellular thing. Most Zombie Analytics Jonny had known had
worked too hard at being ingratiating, going straight for the hard-
sell. No doubt it was some habit left over from their early days in the
flesh trade. And it was not helped by the fact it cost each Zombie a
small fortune to maintain their electronics. Still, knowing the time
and expense they took to have their skin dermatoned off and
underlayed with pixel strips, Jonny found it difficult to work up
much sympathy.
        But Skid the Kid kept on smiling.  Ice tells me you used to be a
         No," said Jonny.  I was in the Committee for Public Health.
Completely different organization. 
         What's the difference?"
         The Committee knows what they're doing. And cops can't call
in an air strike. 
        Skid the Kid laughed again, and clapped his hands in delight.
         What's a Zombie doing working with the Croakers? You
moonlighting or something?  asked Jonny.
         There's lots of Zombies down here," Ice cut-in.  We've got
Naginata Sisters on security and the Bosozukos help with vehicle
maintenance. The Funky Gurus pretty much run the armory on their
own. We're a mongrel group. Everybody's welcome. 
        Jonny nodded curtly. He sensed a set-up.  Sounds like a great
set-up. Think I'll pass, though. 
         We weren't trying to recruit you," said Ice quickly. But she
frowned so fiercely, Jonny could tell she was lying. And probably
        Hoping to steer things back to neutral ground, he said,  So tell
me more about this virus. 
        Ice sighed.  Not much more to tell. We don't know what the hell
it is or where it came from. It looks like a phage, but it only attacks
cells, like a virus. If we catch the infection early, we can slow it down
with interferon or interlukin IV. But the virus mutates in a few days,
and we're back where we started. 
        She opened and closer her hands in frustration.  We're just a
clinic, you know? We patch people up and send 'em home. We're not
set-up to do goddam research. 
        Skid leaned back against the computer console, fingers busy in
his breast pocket. He pulled out a crumpled pack of Beedees, broke
off the filter and lit one up. The burning rope-smell of cheap Indian
tobacco filled the room.  We've got scouts out, keeping tabs on how
the military handles things. Also, we're watching traffic in and out of
New Hope. Figure those assholes'll have access to any new vaccines
before they hit the street. 
         Sounds reasonable," said Jonny. He watched the monitors over
Skid's shoulder. They were cycling through a programmed
surveillance routine, displaying a series of grainy views of the
Croakers' underground lair. The greenhouse, with its newly patched
bubble. Machine shops. A young Mestizo girl leading a group of
patients to the surface. The surgery. The children.  Listen, I'm sorry
if I'm a little of jumpy,  Jonny said. "Truth is, I'm hurting and
nervous and probably still a little punch drunk. You guys-- this set-
up-- it's a lot to take in at once, you know? 
         You have a talent for pissing people off," said Ice. But it was a
small reprove, pouting and indulgent.  You'll be all right though,
         Definitely all right. I sense star quality here," Skid said. He
puffed at the Beedee and smiled broadly.  You gonna want to see
         Yeah, is he back yet?" asked Ice.
         About an hour ago."
         Aces," Ice replied. She draped an arm across Jonny's shoulders.
 Looks like you get an audience with the most wanted man in
         Sounds like fun," said Jonny.
         He is."
        Skid the Kid raised his eyebrows.  Yeah, like the riddle of the

        Jonny followed Ice and Skid past empty and subterranean shop
fronts. Each deserted glass facade presented him with a different and
more bizarre tableau. He remembered that Ice had said they were all
artists down here. He supposed that had something to do with the
strange windows. Behind one, an animated hologram, something like
a Mandala or a printed circuit, showed men and women experiencing
all fifty-eight versions of the Tantric afterlife. Another seemed to
hold a shooting gallery. A vacuumed-suited mannequin was mounted
on a revolving wheel of fortune, animal and machine fetishes
dangling from its arms and neck. Jonny's legs shook with the sub-
sonic rumbling of traffic overhead. He thought of ghost trains moving
through the metro tunnels on endless runs, the passengers turning to
dust as they held onto the overhead straps. His reflection in a
window startled him, and he hurried to catch up with the others.
         Nice architecture you got down here," Jonny said.  I dig the
style. Early Nervous Breakdown, right? 
        They walked through an empty lobby, behind a semi-circular
wall of frosted glass, into the old metro line security complex. Ice
knocked on a door of cheap oak veneer and ushered Jonny through.
The smell of sandalwood incense was strong. The room (Actually two
rooms; Jonny could see where the sheet rock had been cut away,
leaving a ragged white fringe.), was large and mostly empty. It
contained an electronic wall map of the metro system, a small
lacquered shrine to Shakyamuni, some cheap reproductions of
surrealist artwork and a slight, dark-skinned man with the smooth,
functional musculature of a dancer.
        A blur of gray metal sliced the air above man's head. When he
opened his hand, the chain end of a kusairagama flew, curling itself,
snake-like, around a bare wall beam. Then, fluid and savage, he
started forward, twisting, kicking and feinting, until he ripped the
sickle portion of the weapon across the beam at eye level. He stepped
back and exhaled once. Then he turned and grinned, acknowledging
Jonny and the others for the first time.
         I see our guest has returned from the dead," he said,
unwrapping the chain from the scarred beam. Jonny noticed that the
other beams bore similar scars.  You look good in Croaker banderas,
Jonny. Course, you better not let la Migra see you dressed like that.
They'll have your ass over the border and chained to some Tijuana
work-gang faster than you can say 'green card.'  
        Tossing the kusairagama aside, he crossed the room with the
same liquid grace he had displayed while on the attack. His eyes
were small and dark, but quick, missing nothing. He wore his hair
slicked back, chollo-style, and had cross-hatched tattoos extending
from his shoulders to his wrists, the mark of a particular Iban
warrior-priest class. A gold earring, a Caduceus, dangled from his left
lobe. As he shook Jonny's hand, he said,  The name's Groucho, by the
way. Please come in. 
        The anarchist went to a foam rubber mattress set in a corner of
the room, and pulled on a black mesh t-shirt. On a cheap plastic
folding table lay a crumbling volume of Rimbaud. Near it was an old
fashioned metronome with a photo of an eye clipped to the
pendulum. Jonny wondered if it was some kind of joke.
         Do you like our set-up?" asked Groucho.  I'm sure these two
have been keeping you busy. That's good. Boredom and lack of
purpose are the chief problems of our age. Don't you agree, Jonny? 
        Jonny, who was still trying to figure out the metronome joke,
was caught off guard.  What? Oh yeah, sure. Boredom and getting
shot in the head. 
        Groucho brought over a couple of canvas chairs, and sat down,
smiling in a manner that Jonny found unsettling. The anarchist
possessed a certain relaxed grace, an unaffected air, that was
riveting. It was impossible to take your eyes off him.
         But violence is the choice we've made, isn't it?" Groucho said.
 We accept the uncertainties, our lives revolve around them. As
Croakers, we don't kill because we want to. As a Buddhist, it goes
against all my principles. But the act of ridding ourselves of the
Committee brings death with it. That's why we run these clinics. It's
partly revolution, but, frankly, it's part penance, too. When you take
life, you are also obligated to try and save it.  He shrugged. "And
speaking of payback, please accept my thanks, for blowing away that
pig, Lieutenant Cawfly.  This last bit, Groucho spoke with more
venom than the first.
         Did somebody buy a billboard about that or something?" Jonny
asked. He shook his head.  I was a lot younger then. I don't even
know if I'd do it now. But I can tell you it wasn't for anybody's
liberation but my own. 
         Independent thought and action are essential for a good
anarchist,  said Groucho.
        Jonny slammed his fist onto the table.  Don't call me that! I'm
no anarquista and I wouldn't have come here if I thought I was going
to get campaign speeches. 
        Jonny looked at Ice hoping for support, but she was reading
Rimbaud over Skid's shoulder. Abandoning me to the lions, Jonny
        Groucho leaned forward, pointing his finger at Jonny.  No
monkeys are soldiers, all monkeys are mischievous, i.e. Some
mischievous creatures are not soldiers,  he said. "Jonny, you're a
dealer-- You help to undermine a corrupt system. You subvert it and
that is a basic function of a revolutionary. 
        The anarchist grinned wider and held up his hands to indicate
that he knew he was moving too fast. Lightly, he rose from his chair
and went to a battered desk, where he pulled a bottle of red wine
from a file drawer. The sight of the liquor made Jonny groan. His
thought was that he would like to have the whole thing for himself,
to leave these people and their strange art, their talk of politics and
death, and get lost in the sweet oblivion of ethanol madness. On the
other hand, his stomach turned to acid mush at the mere thought of
alcohol. While he tried to sort out which impulse was stronger, his
psychic desires or his physical needs, he gazed at the art
reproductions above his head.
        When Groucho returned, (Ice and Skid, trailing behind) he said:
 Do you like the surrealists? They were a remarkable twentieth
century art movement. The first artists to genuinely comprehend the
modern age. They applied principles of both psychology and physics
to their work, attempting to unite the conscious and unconscious in a
single gesture. But more than that, they were the ultimate
revolutionaries, questioning everything that was known or
        To Jonny, the Ernsts and the Dalis could have been snapshots
from an only slightly depraved tour book of Los Angeles. The empty
architecture that Groucho identified as Chirico's standard made him
think of crumbling freeway overpasses and stretches of Hollywood in
those few hours after sunset, before the gangs took possession of
them for the night. The Tanguy reproductions reminded him of the
mural of Los Angeles on the train platform. Someone had copied his
style very accurately.
        Groucho passed around fluted black champagne glasses, then
opening the bottle, poured wine for all. The anarchist raised his glass
as in a toast, but he did not drink. Instead, he went back to his chair,
his eyes distant. Jonny felt relief when Ice sat beside him on the thin
foam mattress.
         Forgive me if I seem to be pushing things," said Groucho.  I
know about your run-in with Zamora. In fact, I may know more
about old Pere Ubu's motives than you. How did you escape? 
         I didn't. Zamora let me go," Jonny replied, sniffing the tart
wine. His stomach won the battle over his brain. He set the down
glass down beside his foot.
         Yes, that makes sense in light of everything else." Groucho
nodded, off somewhere.
         In light of what?"
        The anarchist frowned, rolling the crystal glass between his
palms.  Things are afoot, Jonny. I don't know the specifics yet. There
are layers that are still hidden to me. Did you know that we've been
trying to contact you, but couldn't because there was a tail on you for
the last few weeks? 
         I had no idea."
         I thought not. Then old Ubu catches you and releases you a
few hours later. Nimble Virtue turned you, by the way. 
         I know. I saw her at detention center."
        Ice chuckled.  I hope you shook that old bitch up. She's playing
finger for Zamora, sucking up to old bastard. Got Easy Money working
for her now, too. 
         The slime leading the slime," said Jonny.
         Exactly," said Groucho. Over the anarchist's shoulder, Skid
flashed Nimble Virtue's ravaged face. He stuck a finger up his nose,
making a great production out of examining what he found there. He
pulled his ears, rolled his eyes back in his sockets. A very un-Zombie
thing to do. Jonny laughed in spite of himself.
         I understand that Easy Money's sticky fingers have gotten him
in deep shit with Conover,  Groucho said. "Did you hear that the
Colonel is getting political heat from Sacramento about the smuggler
lords? I believe he's getting set for a big move against them. There's
talk that the Army's trying to get it together and take the moon back
from the Alpha Rats. And somewhere in the middle of all this, you fit
in, Jonny. Your name is all over town. Someone even mentioned
        Jonny rubbed at his sore shoulder. To Groucho, he said,  Look, if
this is some simple trick to get me to join your army, you can forget
it. The Colonel picked me up because he's trying to queer some deal
of Conover's. 
        Groucho sipped his wine. He stared at the floor.  I doubt that. If
anything, Zamora's trying to angle himself in for a piece of the action.
That's why his move against the lords is so important. Not only will it
satisfy the politicians, but if it succeeds, it will force the lords to deal
with him directly. And that's what we're waiting for-- when Zamora
makes his move so do we. An all out attack on the Committee. 
        Jonny nodded. Something prickled along his spine as he
realized that the anarchist was completely sincere. Jonny smiled and
shivered at the same time. He thought of war.
         Why exactly did you come here?" asked Groucho.
         I need to get out town," Jonny said.  You've just said I'm being
watched. That means I can't use any of my normal contacts. I heard
that the Croakers have some smuggling routes that'll get me out onto
the desert. 
        Groucho smiled and opened his hands.  I'd love to help you,
Jonny. You're center stage in fat Ubu's carnival. Whatever we can do
to trip him up if fine by me. 
         There's one more thing," Jonny said.  I have to get Sumi, the
woman I live with. I won't leave the city without her. 
         That might be more difficult," said Groucho. He ran a finger
around the rim of his glass, producing a clear, high ringing tone.  The
Committee must know where you live by now. 
         I don't think so. If they did, why would they pay Nimble
Virtue to tip them that I was at the Pit? Wouldn't it be better to
surprise me at home? 
         Not necessarily," said Ice.  They probably assumed we'd
booby-trapped the apartment, so you'd be easier to pick off in the
        Jonny looked at Groucho.  Your mind is made up?" asked the
         I won't go without her."
         You're loyalty's commendable. Ice, what do you think?"
         Sumi means a lot to me, too, Groucho," Ice said.  I don't like
the idea of leaving her out there alone. She's not equipped to deal
with that kind of craziness. 
        Ice sat with her legs bent. Jonny looped an arm around one of
her knees. It was just like old times. The two of them taking care of
Sumi. That was assuming, he reminded himself. that Sumi was all
right. That no one had gotten to her yet.  What's your answer?"
Jonny asked.
        Groucho leaned back in his plastic folding chair, pointed to the
wall over Jonny's head.  You see those photos, Jonny?" he asked
quietly.  The one on the right is from the uprising in Paris, nineteen
sixty eight. The other is the Spanish war against the fascists, in thirty
seven. Yet here we are, over a hundred years later, in a mad city in a
sick century fighting exactly the same battles they fought. Isolated,
alienated, bored and drugged beyond caring. We're the trained dogs
of the Spectacle. Zamora whistles, and we jump through his hoops.
The Committee is the Spectacle's ultimate tool. It's devoured our
lives, all art, our dignity. But existence is not predicated on the whim
of politicians.  The anarchist took a sip of wine. "A hundred and fifty
years ago the surrealists proclaimed themselves the revolt of the
spirit. The spark in the wind, seeking the powder keg.  The anarchist
nodded in satisfaction.  So, we'll get your friend and we'll get you out
of town and, with any luck at all, we'll humiliate fat King Ubu in the
process. How does that sound? 
        Jonny smiled  at the anarchist, he just could not resist.  Yeah,
but what if you get caught? 
        Ice began to recite, and Skid joined in:
         Well, then, rent me a tomb,
        whitewashed and outlined in cement-
        Far, far underground. 
        Jonny frowned and fingered the musty volume of poetry.
         Rimbaud, right? Terrific. By the way, where'd that wine go?"

                                The Rescue of Sumimasen

        An acid rain, the sins of the fathers, blew down hard and cold,
etching obscure messages into the faces of the graceless old
buildings. A few blocks to the south, beyond the fifty-story torus
housing Lockheed's business offices, carbon arcs burned a pure white
nimbus of light into the fat, menacing clouds. Pemex-U.S. was out
there somewhere, Jonny knew. Exxon; Krupp International. And
Sony-- a flat black silicon sphere, almost invisible at night, like a hole
punched in the sky. Wilshire Boulevard.
        Hushed evening crowds hurried by. Business men, anonymous
in their Gucci snake skin goggles and respirators. Groups of giggling
teenage girls in matching state school ponchos. A stoned young boy,
shirtless chest aglow with bio-luminescent tattoos, kicked up wings
of water on a skateboard. When Ice reached Jonny's side, the boy
circled once in the street, gave them the finger, and took off. Ice
laughed once.  Don't say it," said Jonny. She laughed again.
         I don't have to, doll. It's plain as day. That's your lean and
hungry youth just skated by. 
        Jonny shook his head.  I was never that skinny," he said. A
great knot of tension was uncoiling in his chest. He kicked at some
weeds sprouting through a crack in the pavement. Outside again, in
the street, a cold wind blowing stinking sulfur rain. There was a siren
fading somewhere, far off. He was home. It felt great.
         Where to?" he asked.
Ice nodded up the street, started that way and Jonny followed. He
could see Groucho and Skid a few meters ahead.
        They had left the old subway terminal perhaps twenty minutes
before. Jonny had been surprised at how easily they reached the
surface, cutting through sewers and abandoned underground
shopping malls full of rotting acoustical tiles and dismembered
mannequins. They had emerged in the back of a heavy equipment
warehouse surrounded by the smell of rust and slow leaking
canisters of toluene. Jonny had been the first one out the door. The
first one into the rain. Ice had given him a belted Army raincoat
before they left the clinic. Now, walking with her, he used one hand
to hold the collar of the coat closed; he kept the other hand in his
pocket, around the textured plastic grip of his Futukoro. Three extra
clips clicked against each other in his pocket.
        Across from a storage yard full of PVC piping, Groucho and Skid
were in animated conversation with an albino. Jonny followed Ice
through the flooded street, over to where the men were talking. The
albino was seated sideways in the cab of an armored Mercedes van, a
squat double-axled monstrosity with thick wire mesh bolted over the
windows and grubby scales of titanium alloy welded to the body.
Jonny thought the vehicle looked something like the chimeric
offspring of a half-track and a rhinoceros. He was admiring its
extraordinary and single-minded ugliness when Groucho called him
         Jonny, I want you to meet our driver, Man Ray. He runs with
the Funky Gurus,  said the anarchist.
        Man Ray, the albino, gave Jonny a slight nod and Jonny
responded in kind. Then added a quick upward movement with two
fingers of his right hand, drawing the fingers across his lips
horizontally, running through a rapid series of similar gestures-- a
terse street distillation of Amerslan and gang recognition codes.
Obviously surprised, Man Ray gave him the answering gesture. Jonny
knew the Gurus well. They were all insane, he had decided years
before, but pleasantly so. They called themselves combat artists,
insisted on fighting with weapons of their own devising. Their
greatest pleasure came in staging absurd and bloody raids on rival
gangs. There was always a theme; sometimes it was eating utensils,
sometimes patterns of light and color. For the Gurus, style always
counted more than the damage done, but the damage was usually
        Man Ray wore what appeared to be home-made polypyrrole
body armor, cut kendo-style, and red high-top sneakers. A gold obi
around his waist was studded with throwing darts, shurikens and
other small glittering things Jonny did not recognize. Like many of
the Gurus, Man Ray was not a true albino; his features were negroid,
but his face was burned the palest of pinks, shading to yellow behind
his ears. Traditionally, the Gurus were recruited from workers at the
Daimyo Corporation's hellish zero G foundries orbiting the moon.
Constant exposure to low-level radiation often burned out the
melanin-producing cells in the worker's skin.
         Thanks for the wheels," Jonny said.  I owe you."
        Man Ray smiled. He had no teeth, just stained porcelain
implants running along his upper and lower jaws, like twins walls.
 You don't owe me nothin'. Blood's my muse. Flesh is my canvas,"
Man Ray said.  I wouldn't miss a run." He looked at Jonny, grinning
slyly.  Groucho here's been telling me how you're a great appreciator
of art, a true fan of beauty. Here--,  he said, plucking something from
his sash.  This is new."
        Jonny accepted the object, turning it over in his hands. It was a
perfect silver rose, about half the size of a natural one, its edges
rimmed with hot gold from the sodium street lights. Man Ray pointed
to the storage yard.  Over the top," he said.
        Jonny looked at him once, glanced at Ice. He shrugged and
threw the rose over the collapsing hurricane fence that surrounded
the pipes.
        There was silence, then a rush of air; the street was lit by an
explosion of white flame that leapt ten meters into the air. In
seconds, the blaze became a shaft of churning light, burning down to
a sizzling white mass of flame and molten piping. Jonny turned to
Man Ray who said,  Le fleurs du mal."
         Fuck that," said Jonny.  That was a phosphorous grenade."
         Everybody's a critic," Man Ray told Groucho. The Croaker
stepped into the passenger side of the van, Skid behind him. Jonny
got into the back, hunkering down next to Ice. Man Ray gunned the
van's big methanol engine and turned north onto La Cienega toward

        The Funky Guru thumbed on a short wave scanner, tuned to
the Committee's frequencies, and plugged in a sound chip. The
metallic voice of Committee dispatchers was overlaid with music--
Taking Tiger Mountain doing an up-tempo version of  Saint James
Infirmary,  Saint Peter taking the lead vocals.

         As I passed Saint James Infirmary
        I saw my sweetheart there,
        All stretched out on a table,
        So pale, so cold, so fair
        As I passed Saint James Infirmary-- 
        As the van rumbled crossed Beverly Boulevard, Jonny was
suddenly aware of being very cold. He shivered against the jellied
glycerin padding the walls of the van, clenching his teeth to keep
them from chattering. His right shoulder was almost numb; before
leaving the clinic, Ice had placed a xylocaine transdermal patch
under the induction cast. The Committee's last wave of raids had left
endorphins in short supply, she had explained. Now she was staring
out one of the van's armored windows, frowning to herself.
         Your optimism's contagious," Jonny told her.
        Ice gave him a weak smile and asked,  What're you going to do
when we get Sumi? 
         I thought you understood that," he said.  Gonna get the hell of
here. Groucho said he'd check his contacts in the south. Maybe head
down to Mexico. Why? 
        Ice wiped away a small island of fog her breath had left on the
window. They passed a truck unloading a cargo of black market
meat. Boneless pig heads hung limply from the back, like masks from
some awful theater.  What if Sumi doesn't want to leave?" she asked.
         That's her decision," Jonny said.  She can do what she wants."
His voice was harder than he had intended. The possibility that Sumi
might choose to stay behind had not occurred to him. He did not
want to battle with Ice for Sumi's loyalty. He had, after all, stayed
with her when Ice took off. But Ice and Sumi had been lovers on and
off before Jonny had known either of them. No comfort there.
         You won't stay?" Ice asked.
         I can't."
         Why not?"
         Because the Colonel wants to use my balls for an ashtray,"
Jonny replied.  Because Easy Money knows I'm looking for him and
that means he's looking for me. And because I don't believe any of
this anarquista wetdream bullshit. Nothing changes-- it never does.
One bunch loses power, another comes in. So what? There's new faces
to hate, new guns to run from. But nothing real ever changes. 
         Maybe we can help that," she said.
         We're talking about the Committee here," Jonny said.  They'll
eat your faces off. When we get Sumi, I'm gone. 
         I wish you wouldn't."
         What do you want from me?"
        Ice fixed Jonny with a look that he could not quite read. Anger,
frustration, fear, they were all there.  What?" he said.
         You never make it easy, do you?" she asked.  Maybe I just
want us all to be together again. The three of us. 
        Why does she have to bring this up now, Jonny wondered. He
had been thinking along similar lines all along, the three of them
together again. But with Zamora and Easy Money gunning for him, it
seemed impossible. Ice, he knew, would not see it that way. Her love
came in broader strokes, great passions, grand gestures. That's why
she's a good Croaker, he thought. That's why she ran away.  I want
the same thing you do,  he whispered. "But not here. 
         I can't leave," said Ice.
         I can't stay." They were on Sunset now, rolling past crowds
hanging around the bars and theaters. A restaurant shaped like
Kukulcan's pyramid at Chichen Itza, outlined in bright neon. Jonny's
face grew hot.  Don't ask me to prove myself, okay? I'm not the one
who took the big walk,  he said.
        Almost without sound, Ice moved to the front of the van. She
sat on the floor behind Groucho. Jonny tried to look out the window,
but found himself watching Ice's reflection as she rocked with the
gentle motion of the van. He felt alone, hardly human-- he could
have been an insect observing the Croakers and the lone Guru from
the ceiling. Jonny was about to speak when Ice pointed at something
and said,  Pull over there."
        Man Ray turned up a side street near the World Link
substation, shielding the van from Sunset behind a stand of towering
date palms. The Guru killed the engine, reached up and flicked on an
overhead light.
        Groucho turned to Jonny, his face soft and ghostly in the dim
light.  Let's make this fast," he said.
        Jonny nodded.  We're going in the back way," he said.
        Man Ray duck-walked past Jonny to the rear of the van and
removed one of the side panels, jellied glycerin rolling in sluggish
waves. From a storage area, he removed a Medusa, something like an
electrified cat o' nine tails, and some smaller gear, pistols and bolos,
which he handed to the Croakers. Over the Guru's shoulder, Jonny
could see a whole rack of colorful and oddly outfitted weapons.  See
anything you like?  Man Ray asked.
         I'm fine," said Jonny.
        Man Ray looked disappointed  You got this bad prosaic streak,
you know? 
        The rain had given way to wind-driven mist. Ice moved ahead
of them in a loping trot, Skid doggedly at her side. Jonny did not try
to catch up, preferring to let her cope with the ghosts in her own
        Twisted winds whipped the mist into tiny vortices in the lee of
an enormous tent-like structure. One hundred meters high and
covering almost sixty square blocks, a perverse relic, it was the
single still-standing structure from the Los Angeles-Tokyo
Exposition, held to celebratethe one hundredth anniversary of the
        It was a series of tents, really, two hundred and eighty of them,
each half an acre of Teflon-coated fiberglass, all mildewed and
leaking badly. Beneath the tents were three life-size thermoplast and
concrete reconstructions that had comprised the Golden Age of
Hollywood Pavilion: Robin Hood's castle, sporting a peeling metallic
caricature that might once have resembled Errol Flynn; the Emerald
City from  The Wizard of Oz," and the Babylonian temple from D.W.
Griffith's  Intolerance." Jonny lived in the last of these
reconstructions, as did two thousand other people.
        At a service port near the bottom of a support pylon, Jonny
pried a ten key pad away from its housing. Sumi had set the pad
there loosely, with a gummy brown adhesive, after instructing him
how to short out the locking mechanism. With a thunk, the port slid
open and the five of them entered, climbing quickly up a spiral
staircase to a slimy platform at the top. Jonny shorted out a second
pad and a moment later, they were out onto the translucent surface
of the tent itself.
        Jonny motioned for them to spread out, to keep the tent fabric
from sagging under their weight. Above their heads, suspended in
slings and plastic bubbles were the lost tribes of Los Angeles.
        Any permanent or semi-permanent structure in the city was
an invitation to squatters. In the years since its construction, the
Hollywood Pavilion had served as home to thousands of local down-
and-outers, illegals from Mexico and Jamaica, indentured workers
from Thailand and the Ukraine. A few of those one-percenters, the
ones who had found the life below too confining or too desperate,
had moved to the open spaces above the tents themselves,
wandering like nomads across the billowing fiberglass dunes. Years
later, tribes hunted, whole societies had sprung up with their own
customs and languages. Jonny watched Man Ray and Skid taking it all
in, eyeing the delicate habitats with a combination of fascination and
nervousness. Groucho waved happily to the fleeting figures
shadowing them along the cables. On the dripping wires were hung
tribal banners, crude Catholic shrines, prayer flags marked with
curious symbols resembling Mayan, Nepalese and parts of schematic
diagrams, cabalistic cries for help directed at any god or gods who
might be listening.
        Jonny felt in control here. He was gripped by a strange
combination of tension and elation. His mind raced. He found himself
staring at the moon as it appeared from behind a cloud bank. He
thought of the Alpha Rats. Again, he wondered if somewhere on that
airless surface they were watching all this, noting it for some future
inquiry. He had the sudden urge to meet them, to somehow explain
things to them. At that same moment, he thought of Sumi down
below, unaware of his and Ice's presence. His senses expanded
outward until they encompassed the whole of the saddle-backed
landscape. This is right, he thought; it was good to be moving again.
He felt as if he had regained some lost part of himself.
        He broke ranks and scrambled to the crest of a corner dune. Its
peak was a circular anchorage, open to the structure below. Quickly,
he uncoiled lengths of nylon rope attached to the cement anchor and
let them drop. Ice caught up with him, releasing other lines. She still
would not look at him, but Jonny knew she was feeling a high similar
to his. Climbing clumsily in his cast, he made it over the rim and
dropped with Ice to a ledge beside a Babylonian elephant deity, its
chicken wire frame visible through the cracked concrete. The others
dropped down a moment later. A tangle of echoing voices from below
made it impossible to hear; Jonny signed for them to follow him
        They moved through a series of packed gray rooms, dusty
storage areas for the concession stands that had filled the pavilion
during the expo. They entered a clearing; around them, half-empty
crates trailed shreds of Taiwanese gun catalogs (improvised packing
material) to rows of ceiling-high shelves crowded with miniature
cowboy and samurai figures, still new in their plastic wrappers. Skid
picked up souvenirs as he walked along: Hollywood Boulevard sealed
in a water filled-lucite bubble; when he shook it, plastic snow settled
over the buildings; paper jackets emblazoned with the Rising Sun;
candy in the shape of silicon chips. Except for a layer of dust, most of
the merchandise seemed to have changed very little over the years.
Wall-sized holograms of Uncle Sam and Disney characters, dreams
figures of an extinct culture, were carefully sealed in bubble pack
and duct tape, waiting for their owners to return from other errands.
        They came to a flight of stairs. Jonny lead them down a couple
of levels, then up one, careful to keep to the deserted areas of the
structure. They saw yellow signs in a dozen languages warning them
not to smoke, pointing out fire exits and giving long and detailed
explanations of local hygiene laws.
        From below drifted the smell of bodies pressed close together,
cooking fires, mildew and something else, the almost metallic scent of
nervous action. Strange insect odors of commerce, shady deals,
strictly off-the-record meetings. They came upon a young girl
kneeling in the corridor, bathed in the blue light of an ancient
portable television, tying off with a hachimaka. When she saw them,
the girl gathered up her works and took off. She left the television,
which was slowly rolling a dead channel of snow. At the junction of
four corridors, Ice signed for Jonny to take the rear entrance of the
apartment, while she took Skid and Groucho to check out the front.
Jonny gave her the acknowledging sign and with Man Ray, started
down the corridor to his right. Half-way down, they entered a room
of immense asbestos-wrapped standing pipes.
         Help me get this up," whispered Jonny, indicating a textured
metal plate in the floor.  We're right above the apartment."
        The two of them stooped, worked their fingers under the plate
and lifted it free. Jonny went feet-first into the hole, kicking out the
plastic louvers of a false ventilating duct, and  dropped to the floor of
the apartment. A moment later, he heard Man Ray hit the floor
behind him.
        The room was dark, the air dead and hot; it clung to Jonny,
bitter with the fumes of charred synthetics.
        A mass of broken furniture lay scattered across the floor,
blistered seat backs and pressboard chair legs forming the ribs of
some skinned animal. Small appliances seemed to have been thrown
into a pile and methodically smashed. Jonny had trouble identifying
individual objects, he could make out a coffee grinder and a small
microwave oven; the rest of it was unrecognizable, beaten beyond
recognition. Someone had placed duct tape over the room's only
window. To hide what they were doing, he thought. The tape was
peeling off now, the pavilion's floods cutting the far wall into neat
diagonal segments, alternating bands of light and dark. Pills and
diskettes crunched beneath their feet, giving off a sour reek of
spoiled hormonal extracts; an Indian throw rug was gummy with
half-dissolved capsules of vasopressin and prolactin. There did not
seem to be much in the room that was not burned or broken.
        They followed a trail of books and Sumi's gutted electronic gear
(fused circuits glowing like raw opals) down the hall to the bedroom.
In the small chamber, the arson-smell was stronger. Man Ray
thumbed on a small squeeze light attached to his obi. The bed had
been torched. Shredded clothes were scattered over the floor, and
Freon slurred the wall from a refrigeration unit, now slag, that Jonny
had hidden to store perishable drugs, and the occasional blackmarket
kidney or lung for a client.
        A scraping. From the living room.
        Both men had their weapons up and out, Jonny leaning into the
hall, anxious for something to shoot. In the far room, Ice and the
others were silently surveying the wreckage on the floor.
         Back here," Jonny called.
        They came back, huddling dumbly in the doorway. Ice
performed a slow motion sleepwalk through the bedroom, stopping
occasionally to finger a piece of clothing, a crushed circuit board,
vials of pills. Man Ray's light fixed her in a wedge of sudden color.
She turned to Jonny.  Her tool belt is gone," Ice said.
         That's good," said Groucho hopefully.  Then there's a chance
Sumi got away. 
        Jonny leaned against the wall, sliding down into a crouch.  And
maybe they just took it with them for evidence. Prove she's a Watt
        From the corner of his eye, Jonny saw Skid, shifting his weight
nervously from foot to foot.  Maybe we shouldn't stay here," said the
Kid quietly.
        Ice stood up, holding a small prayer wheel; its half-melted
copper cap squeaked as she spun it.  Either way, Sumi's long gone,"
she said.  Turn off that damned light."
        Man Ray put the squeeze light back on his sash. Jonny
remained on his haunches; Ice kicked her way through the clothes
and half-melted lumps of cheap plastic furniture, and nudged him
with her boot.  Looks like it's just you and me for now, cowboy," she
        Jonny looked up at her.  I'm going to kill someone for this, you
        Ice nodded, smiled.  Well, don't forget to leave something for
me,  she said.
         This is payback from Zamora," said Jonny.
        Groucho cleared his throat.  I think Skid was right a moment
ago,  he said. "Perhaps we ought to leave. If Pere Ubu's involved, he
may have left sentries behind. 
        Jonny pulled himself from the floor, looking the room over one
more time, pressing the image in his brain for later. When he might
need the anger.  Okay," he said,  we came in the back, we go out the
front. Good crowds for cover. 
        They left the apartment. Skid abandoned his coat and walked
point in his Zombie gear: an innocent hustler in search of the night's
mark. They saw no Committee boys on the way out.

        The main courtyard of the Babylonian temple was stifling in
the overheated illumination coming from tiered ranks of klieg lamps.
Dozens of made-up, costumed extras milled around, Valley kids
mostly, speaking in hushed cathedral tones. The movie set reminded
Jonny of something-- an immense surgery, the light giving people
and objects a look of startling precision and sterility.
         Okay kids, Ms. Vega's going to make her walk in a minute,"
came a man's flat nasal voice from a P.A.  What we need here is lots
of clapping and cheering. But no whistling. You want to whistle, go
see kick-boxing. 
        This brought shrill waves of high-pitched whistling from the
temple's squatters who were massed just behind a police line around
the set. The extras were costumed in cleaned-up Hollywood versions
of squatter gear, much too clean and well-fed, thought Jonny.
         Very funny. Get to your positions, kids."
        Jonny and the others joined the general flow of the crowd,
threading their way through the back of the set, following a line of
dancers in sequined parodies of Lunar Commando vacuum-suits.
Jonny was not particularly surprised by the presence of the film
crew; it was not the first time he and the other squatters had been
forced from their digs by a some local production company. Aoki
Vega was one of the Link's most popular musical-porn stars. The
irony of the situation, Jonny thought, was that the Link was going to
turn around and sell the broadcast of Vega's performance to the
same squatters they had displaced, presenting them with an
expensive ad glittering souvenir of their powerlessness.
        The dancers Jonny and the others were following seemed to be
headed to a partitioned area at the far end of the pavilion near a
semicircle of honeywagons and generator trucks. Skid was walking
on his toes, trying to see over the line of extras waiting to cheer the
star. A bank of stadium-sized video projectors displayed views of the
set from several different angles.
        As he pushed his way through the extras, Jonny became aware
of a certain unnerving sameness about them, as if they had all been
weaned from the same shallow gene pool. Caucasian faces were
blandly orientalized; nisei kids snapping their fingers to unheard pop
tunes, their hair bleached and skin darkened with biologics to some
bizarre ideal of southern California chic. They could have been from
anywhere, nowhere. A gag postcard about sex appeal and beaches.
         I know you. You're the producer, right?" said someone nearby.
        Jonny turned to her. She wore a loose jacket of woven
aluminum filament, plated gold. Her face held the same assembly
line features as the others. Only her eyes were memorable. She wore
diffraction grating contacts; her eyes were spiraling rainbows.
         We met at Marty's party in Laurel Canyon," she said brightly.
 You're Mister Radoslav, right?"
        It was obvious to Jonny that the woman was stoned. She might
as easily have thought he was the Pope. Jonny, still moving, glanced
over at the police line, then fixed her with the most radiant smile he
could muster.  Please keep your voice down," he said.  No one's
supposed to know I'm here.  He put his arm around Skid. "This is my
associate, Mister Kidd. 
         My pleasure," the woman said, extending a bronzed hand. She
and Skid shook, the Kid mumbled an incoherent pleasantry.
         Tell me, is there somewhere we can go and talk, Ms.--?" Jonny
         Viebecke," she said.  But everybody calls me Becky."
         Becky, of course. Is there anywhere we can speak privately,
Becky? Perhaps discuss an audition? 
         Sure," she said.  The extra's trailer is probably empty now."
The look she gave Jonny was infused with such hunger and lust that,
for a moment, he considered cutting right then and there and taking
his chances with the police.
        Something glided by. Jonny looked up. A long articulated arm
supporting a German video-cam was hovering a few meters
overhead; a half-dozen lenses rotated, pulling to focus on them. His
face and Skid's were splashed across the dozen enormous video
screens.  The trailer sounds fine," he said.
        Ice and the others were waiting beside a two-story boom crane
that reminded him of an orange praying mantis. He introduced the
others to Becky who clung to his arm, looking disappointed when she
saw Ice. Then she smiled, the Hollywood optimism bubbling forth.
 Oh wow, are you guys actors, too?" she crooned.
         How'd you guess?" asked Ice, flashing her teeth.
         We're casting a new feature right now," said Jonny.  Looking
for fresh, interesting faces. 
        Becky giggled and led them to a group of trailers behind the
honeywagon. The chemical smells of processed fish and beef analogs
permeated the place. Becky went inside before them, holding up a
hand to indicate that they should wait there. The sound of raised
voices came from beyond the door. Jonny looked at Ice. She shook
her head slowly.
        A moment later, a young woman came storming out of the
trailer. She resembled Becky so strongly, that for an instant, Jonny
thought it was the actress in a new set of clothes. But the new
woman just glared at them and stalked off.  You can come in now,"
Becky called from the doorway. They went inside.
        The trailer was long and narrow, smelling faintly of perfume
and sweat, with rows of lighted mirrors on one side, benches and
hooks heavy with clothes on the other. Sun lamps and video monitors
were crowded at opposite ends of the room. Jonny and the others
went immediately to the clothes, and started pawing through them.
Becky perched on a table by the mirrors, holding her head rigid,
favoring them with her best side.
         What are you guys doing?" she asked at last.
         Costumes," said Jonny.  Gotta know what young people are
wearing these days. 
        Becky lit a joint, puffed, and rose from her perch, trying to
keep up a merry front. Man Ray found a hound's tooth overcoat that
fit over his body armor; Ice put on a white toreador jacket, trimmed
with gold beads. When Becky lay a hand on Jonny's arm she was
radiating nervousness, but her face remained a smiling mask.
Looking at her, Jonny felt an obscure sorrow. He wondered if she had
any other facial expressions buried somewhere under all that
bargain basement surgery.
         Is there anything youwant to ask me?" she purred.  Yeah,
there much security down at this end of the set? 
        Becky looked at him blankly, like a deranged puppy. She
screamed:  Hey! You aren't the producer!"
         We're criminals," said Jonny.  Desperate, armed criminals."
Becky fell back drunkenly and cowered in a far corner of the trailer,
whimpering and mumbling  Oh wow," like a mantra.
        They had their new clothes on in a few seconds, (Groucho in a
Mexican Air Force jacket studded with medals, Skid in a black
leather jumpsuit and Chinese revivalist Mao cap) and started out the
door. Jonny went to Becky to attempt a quick apology. She was still
in the corner, struck dumb with drugs and fear, and when she thrust
a chair at him, he could not tell if she wanted to give it to him or hit
him with it. He just backed away slowly saying,  I'm sorry, Becky.
But it's our asses. 
        Outside, the P.A. was blaring,  Okay kids, let's really hear it."
        They moved to the very back of the set, smiling at the techs,
just another group of extras waiting for their call, and started out
between two grinding generator rigs. Behind them they heard the
trailer door burst open and a shrill, hysterical voice.  He's not the
producer! He's just a goddam thief! 
        Security moved in quickly on the screaming actress. By the
Babylon set, music started, drowning out Becky's voice. Someone
called out for them to stop. But Jonny and the rest were running
then, out of the pavilion and across the wet street.
        Near the van, Jonny sneaked a look over his shoulder, and saw
a couple of overweight film company rent-a-cops in pursuit. He
almost laughed. Spinning on the balls of his feet, he brought his
Futukoro up level with the rent-a-cops' heaving chests. The nearest
one saw him, momentarily misplaced his center of gravity, and went
down in a puddle like an overstuffed sack. His partner did a little tap
dance, hands thrust over his head, and started back toward the
bright lights of the pavilion.
        Jonny ran on to the van, arriving there just in time to see Skid
hit the street under the hulked black back of a uniform. Ice went
down on top of them. The bright flicker of her knife blade, and she
and Skid were up. Groucho caught another uniform, whipping his
bolo like a garrote, pinning the uniform's upraised arm to his throat,
before dispatching him with a kick to the solar plexus. Very weird
for rent-a-cops, thought Jonny. A couple of Futukoro rounds
slammed into the scarred armor on the side of the van. Very fucking
        One of the uniforms scrambled by, illuminated by the flickering
green florescence of a street lamp.  Oh shit," Jonny said.
        He ducked and ran, hoping the Committee boys had not spotted
him. Man Ray was already behind the wheel of the van, gunning the
engine. Ice and Groucho had their guns out, and were giving Jonny
covering fire. The three jumped in the back. Skid, however, remained
outside, in maniacal pursuit of the Committee boy who had attacked
        Man Ray ground the van into gear, accelerating past the Kid.
Jonny held onto one of Groucho's arms as he leaned out the back. The
anarchist snared the Kid and they dragged him by his sleeves for a
block or so before Ice got hold of his collar and pulled him inside.
        A hovercar skimmed down low over the van, burning lights,
manic shadows; hot fists of turbine wash forced them back from the
door. Man Ray jammed through the gears. He took two corners,
nearly overturning the van on one, but the hovercar just hung there.
Then it veered suddenly off to the left.
        It seemed for a moment that they had lost it, but it dropped
down a few feet in front of them, barely skimming over the puddles.
        Man Ray stood on the brakes, sending the van wiggling down
the street like a speared fish. When he regained control, the Guru ran
them through a parking lot off Vine and out onto Melrose.
        Gripping the doorframe, Jonny and the others shot at the
turbine vanes on the underside of the hovercar with Man Ray's
custom ammo. Pink and silver spheres impacted the polycarbonate
surface; blue firework dragons pawed at the landing gear, before
being sucked up through the intake ports. Skid pushed past them,
and threw some of Man Ray's roses, knife-fashion, at the low flying
car. They exploded behind the van, blistering asphalt and palm trees.
         Let there be light!" yelled Man Ray. He cranked up the short
wave scanner, making adjustments to his own broadcasting unit.
         Listen'a that dumb fuck," he said.  Thinks he's calling us in. I
got that boy jammed so hard, surprised he knows which end holds
the mike. 
        The hovercar let loose then with a burst of automatic weapons
fire that hammered down on the roof of the van like a phospho-
rescent avalanche, blue sparks dancing around the edges of the door.
Jonny and the others fell back. Man Ray steered them onto Wilshire
Boulevard, dodging slow-moving low riders and pedicabs.
        Jonny leaned up to the driver seat.  How far are we from the
underground?  he yelled.
         Almost there," Man Ray said. He had slipped on a high-domed
crash helmet.
         Can we take more of that fire?"
        The Guru grinned through high-impact plastic.  Don't insult
        The glass donut of Lockheed's office tower was glowing just a
few blocks ahead. The Guru steered the van onto a side street, trying
to lose their tail before heading for the clinic. The hovercar hung
implacably above them.
         We're really eating it," Man Ray said.  There's no major turn-
offs and the underground's just ahead. Any suggestions? 
         I got one," said Ice. She pulled one of the Croakers'
Kalashnikov rifles, retrofit with an M-79 grenade launcher, from the
weapons bin. The van was running fast down a side street between
long rows of grimed and decaying old geodesic greenhouses, some
forgotten experiment in urban self-sufficiency.
        Wind tearing at her corn-rows, Ice sighted in on the hovercar,
tracking the subtle, massive glide of the machine as it positioned
itself for another attack. When she did not fire, Jonny was tempted to
pull her away from the door. Then, just as he was reaching for her,
she pulled the trigger, sending the burning M-79 bolt at the aft
section of the car. The explosion, when the shell hit, blew out
windows in one old greenhouse dome, peppering the van with dead
vegetation and fragments of glass.
        Black smoke and guttering light above them. The hovercar
tried to rise, but its remaining engine clipped a transformer tower,
flipping the car onto its back. It hung there for a moment, as if
undecided what to do. Finally, in what looked like an attempt to right
itself, it slammed through a greenhouse roof, emerging from the far
side in flames.
         Brace yourselves!" screamed Man Ray. He wrenched the
steering wheel left, sending the van broadside into the hovercar just
as it skidded to the ground in front of them.

        The first thing Jonny was aware of was the constant blaring of
a horn; then came shadows, flickering over his eyelids in frozen
micro-second silhouettes; then a thick wetness on his face, across his
chest and arms. He opened his eyes. Glycerin. It was everywhere,
thick puddles massing on the floor and slopping out the back,
ruptured padding going limp on the walls. He crawled to the open
door and dropped a couple of unexpected feet to the pavement. The
vehicle was resting at a severe angle, its three left wheels spinning in
the air.
        He walked on some stranger's legs; they refused to work
        Around the side of the van he found the mangled hovercar, a
skeletal mass of crumpled alloys and scorched plastic, two feeble red
lights rotating out of synch; the fuselage had twisted itself
thoroughly into the undercarriage of the van, merging with it.
Symbiotic junk.
        A sleeve grazed his face, electric jolt sending Jonny down to his
knees. Man Ray danced past him, his Medusa out and swinging over
his head. Charged lashes flowered sparks as they touched, gilding the
air above the Guru's head with spinning galaxies, ghostly landscapes
of exploding stars, playing cards, cometary butterflies. He was easily
holding three Committee boys at bay. There was an enormous
stained-porcelain smile plastered across his face. Even groggy, Jonny
could read it: Total fulfillment. Man Ray was in his element, writing
sonnets with his weapons; the image of the artist at work.
        The Guru froze and held out his arms, crystal geckos skittering
from his sleeves. Light-footed, quick-tongued, they leaped to the
ground at the Committee boys' feet, exploding into billowing,
lavender clouds of CS gas. Jonny fell back on the van, coughing, eyes
filling with tears, and saw Man Ray emerge from the cloud a moment
later. Somewhere along the way, the Guru had slipped a respirator on
under his kendo helmet. A Committee boy grabbed him and was
jolted off by the electrical charge of the polypyrrole armor.
        Then someone was pulling Jonny away, around to the back of
the ruined van. It was Skid, blood ruining the white perfection of his
teeth, rimming his lips. The hand he used to hold Jonny was glowing,
pixels throbbing nervously, but offering no image. He was shouting
         We're fucked! They've blown it! We're on our own, man!"
        The Kid started to pull again, but Jonny shifted his weight and
held him in place.  What are you talking about? Where's Ice?"
        The Kid pointed with his gun.  Pinned down with Groucho. It's
the Committee, man. They've blown the clinic! 
        Jonny pushed the Kid aside and ran between the rows of
greenhouses. A block away, he could see a dozen of the Committee's
meat wagons forming an armored barrier around the warehouse he
and the others had left earlier that evening. Force men were leading
a few cuffed Croakers to the wagons. There were bodies, Committee
boys and anarchists, lying in the flood-lit parking lot. Ice and
Groucho were there, pinned-down in an alley off to the right, meters
apart, unable to reach the cover of the greenhouses.
         See? We're fucked!" Skid shrilled.  They found the clinic!"
        Jonny watched as Ice and Groucho tried to make a run for it,
shooting into the air to cover each other. The Committee boys
laughed at them from the roof, cat and mousing them, letting them
get a few meters out, then forcing them back against the warehouse
under a curtain of bullets.
         If we lay down some fire on that roof, they could make it,"
Jonny told Skid.  Watch them. I need a weapon." He crawled away,
then sprinted to the van.
        Weapons and ammunition were scattered on the ground behind
the van's open door. Some of Man Ray's clockwork constructions had
been activated; they crawled absently off into the shadows where
they popped and flared. The Guru was nowhere in sight. Jonny
grabbed a Futukoro and, as he fished for a clip in the glycerin
flooded bin, paused for a moment to take a couple of deep, even
breaths. His hands were shaking. He closed his eyes, tried to will
himself calm. Nothing but ruins, he thought. Seeing Ice pinned down
had snapped something inside him. He thought of Sumi. He could not
lose them both in one night.
        A high-pitched animal scream. Jonny ran back to the
warehouse in time to see Skid zig-zagging into the open, his pixels
wild, a slight figure crawling with pastel geometrics and snapping
death's heads. As the Kid ran, he shot wildly at the roof of the
adjoining warehouse, forcing the Committee boys back. Ice, Jonny
realized, had been caught between the buildings, unable to get out of
the line of fire. Now, under Skid's cover, she made it to a greenhouse
on the far side, Groucho right on her heels. They turned to give the
Kid covering fire, but he seemed confused; unwilling to be pinned at
the warehouse wall as they had been, he sprinted back toward
        He got about ten meters when a shot caught him from behind,
punching a wet hole in his chest. The Kid spun around stiffly, firing
the last of his clip into the pavement.  Skid!" Ice screamed. The Kid
was on his back, half-conscious, crawling with snakes and
phosphenes. A file dump, Jonny realized. All the images in his
software were bubbling up at once, out of control. The arm Skid held
up strobed madly: the arm of a woman, a reptile, an industrial robot;
crimson spiders webbed him; amber alphanumerics scrolled up his
twisted face; Brando, Lee, Bowie, Vega; his system was looping, the
faces flickering by faster and faster, merging into one meta-fantasy
face, colorless, all colors, fading at the same instant it formed. Skid
sat up, looked around wildly and laughed. A single bright flash of
binary, and he slumped to the ground. The Kid lay still and dark.
        By the meat wagons, a loudspeaker clicked on:  MY GOD, IS
TO OUR DEAL?  came Zamora's voice. "YOU FUCKED ME, GORDON, BUT I
        It was a game, Jonny knew. Could the Colonel make him mad
enough to do something stupid? Jonny tried to force the sound of
Colonel Zamora's voice from his brain; he conjured up visions of
clawing the man's eyes out with his hands, but he stayed in the
shadows, shaking, hating himself, and biting his lip until he drew
        Before Jonny knew what he was doing, he was flat on his belly,
screaming, firing the Futukoro, filling the air above the meat wagons
with dragons, burning comets, screeching harpies. He knocked out
the P.A. with the first volley, and took out some of the flood lights.
Something occurred to him then, and he was up, scrambling back to
the van. Some of Man Ray's toys were been back there, he
remembered. What a nice surprise they would be for the Colonel.
        But he never got there.
        Two dark suited men intercepted him as he was stepping into
the vehicle. Instinctively, Jonny brought his boot up into one man's
armpit, paralyzing the arm. But it was not enough. His whole system
hummed, crying out for blood. Jonny grabbed a handful of the first
man's face and pushed him into the second. They both went down,
and Jonny was on them, bringing his boots down heel-first, aiming
for the throat. He missed the first man, corrected his aim for the
second and knocked out some of his teeth. Jonny's fun was cut short,
however, when an arm clamped across his face, and something cold
and stinging touched his throat. As his body went limp, some neutral
part of his brain noted that he had been stuck with a neural
scrambler. The effect was a strange one since Jonny's mind continued
to function perfectly, but with the pyramidal tracks of his brain
jammed, his body had suddenly been reduced to so much useless
meat. He was aware of the two men carrying him for some distance.
He hoped they would not let him swallow his tongue.
        When they removed the scrambler, Jonny found himself on the
filthy floor of an underground garage. A stretched Cadillac limousine,
the rear end huge under twin sweeping tail fins, was parked nearby.
His tongue seemed to be intact. The car door swung open, and a
familiar florid scent of clove cigarettes billowed out. Then the ugliest
man Jonny had ever seen smiled out at him.
         Please don't be angry, Jonny. Your friends are gone. Some of
their compatriots picked them up a few moments ago,  said Mister
Conover, the smuggler lord.  Aside from that, it's been my sad
experience that people who are ready to die for a cause, all too often,
end up doing just that.  He grinned apologetically, showing horrid
yellow teeth.  There are far too many of them out there for you to do
any good, you know. You'll just get yourself killed. 
         Killed?" said Jonny. He laughed.  Wouldn't that be a joke on

                                        The Exquisite Corpse

        Mister Conover, relaxed and smiling, was sporting that season's
newest suit style from Milan (high-waisted pants, shoulder pads in
the jacket, all woven from Russian silk. There was a Cyrillic character
on each of the gold buttons. In all, the suit violated a dozen U.S. trade
embargoes against pro-Arab countries.). He was the most powerful
smuggler lord in Los Angeles, singlehandedly controlling most of the
drug traffic in and out of southern California.
        Many of the other lords were working small, furtive drug deals
of their own, deals designed to boost their cash flow and their self-
esteem, and while they were, technically, cutting into Conover's
action, he did not mind. Allowing the other lords to have their little
deals helped to keep them happy and in line. And that, Conover
knew, was a form of power he could not buy or do without.
        Rumor had it that Mr. Conover's influence reached far beyond
the limits of Los Angeles, into the governor's mansion, and the offices
of the multi-nationals in Osaka and Mexico City. Part of this was due
to an elaborate kick-back scheme he had reputedly concocted with
several pharmaceutical firms decades before, a scheme having to do
with the scuttling of artificial intelligence controlled-cargo blimps
and tankers, allowing the companies to collect on the insurance, then
returning the vessels with new names and computer logs, while he
kept the cargo. However, a portion of his influence had simply to do
with his age. He had been born in the previous century, making him
older than most of the corporations and politicos he was dealing with.
Through the years, he had become a link to a golden age when the
foundations for the power structure of their world was being laid, a
sort of icon to commerce and stability.
        Mr. Conover was also a Greenies addict. Originally marketed in
the late nineteen nineties as a longevity drug, Greenies were later
found to be responsible for a whole range of bizarre side effects.
However, these effects manifested themselves only after decades of
use, and by then it was usually too late; the drug had already bonded
with and re-inscribed large segments of the addict's DNA. To stop
taking the drug would have killed Conover. The drug's street name
derived from its peculiar tendency to slow the oxidation of blood in
the user's system, giving the addict's skin a brittle, greenish-blue
        The final irony was that Greenies turned out to be an
exceptionally effective life extender. Thus, the user could look
forward to decades (centuries?) of addiction and slow physical
disintegration. No one really knew how old Mr. Conover was, but
what he had become was obvious to all.
        Conover's small grayish-green skull of a head bobbed between
narrow shoulders set above a thick torso. His nose was little more
than a mass of jagged scar tissue surrounded by livid clusters of red
tumors. He puffed constantly at gold-tipped Sherman clove cigarettes
which he held in a long mother-of-pearl holder, an affectation which,
like his clothes, was another symptom of his compulsion to
accentuate his own ugliness. When he smiled, which was often, his
thin lips stretched back from a stained jumble of teeth. His
appearance always gave Jonny the feeling that he was in
conversation with a well-dressed corpse.

        The Cadillac moved swiftly along an all but abandoned stretch
of freeway. Sand was blowing in off the desert, carried to the city on
the backs of freak Santa Ana winds. Carbon arcs mounted on the roof
threw the cracked roadbed into stark relief, made the sand look like
static on a video screen. Jonny looked out the double-glazed
windows, but there was not much to see. They were driving through
hills northwest of the city, on the edge of the German industrial
sector, a bleak dead zone of strip mining equipment and half-
finished bunkers housing the Krupp Corporation's experimental
tokamak. The leached hills depressed Jonny, reminded him of a
painting by Max Ernst that Groucho had shown him: Europe After the
Rain. The landscape brought back uneasy memories of evenings on
the Committee shooting speed with Krupp's young shock truppen.
The German's did not have Meat Boys, instead, it was common for
young recruits to display their machismo by replacing their limbs
with unfeeling myoelectric prosthesis. Jonny had the patchy,
drunken memory of a laughing boy holding a cigarette lighter to his
fingertips until they melted and dripped away, revealing the silicon
sensors and black alloy mesh beneath.
        Jonny relaxed on the soft leather seat in the rear of the
limousine. Seated next to him, Conover pulled out an ornate silver
cigarette case and offered him a smoke. Jonny accepted the cigarette
and a light, pulling the harsh, sweet clove smoke deep into his lungs
and letting it trickle out through his nose.
        It had been months since he last smoked a cigarette (Sumi had
guilted him into stopping when a Croaker working out of the back of
a taqueria told him he had a shadow on one lung), but his past
seemed to be catching up with him at such a rate that Jonny figured
he might as well get into the spirit of it. He coughed wearily as the
smoke caught in his throat. Resting his head on the seatback, he
watched the road slide by. Conover's chauffeur, a heavy-set ex-
Guardia Nacional man, was skull-plugged into a radar/navigational
unit in the dashboard, following a trail of military sensors under the
road bed. Conover was one of the few men in the city Jonny trusted,
certainly the only lord. For the moment, he felt safe. Conover leaned
over and spoke to him quietly.
         You seem to have brought down the wrath of god, old son. Or
at least you pissed off Zamora, which amounts to the same thing.
What in the world can you have done? 
        Jonny ran a hand through his hair.  I wish I knew," he said.
 Maybe I'd feel like I deserve all this special attention."
         Much as he'd like to, the Colonel does not stage raids just for
fun. He must have had some reason for singling you out.  Conover
put a hand on Jonny's arm.  No offense, you're a charming boy, but--"
         The man's insane. He thinks you and I are playing footsie with
the Alpha Rats,  Jonny said. "I suppose that's assuming they have
feet. I don't know. This whole thing's crazier by the minute. 
         The Alpha Rats," Conover said, half as a question, half a reply.
He smoked his pastel Sherman, laughed mildly.  The Colonel never
ceases to amaze me. Did he happen to mention what, specifically, you
and I were doing with the Alpha Rats? 
         No. He just said we'd had contact and that we're into some
kind of deal,  Jonny explained. He gave up and ground out the
cigarette in an ashtray gouged from a crystal lump of Amazon quartz.
His throat burned.
         And that's all he said?" Conover asked.
         Yeah." Jonny hesitated before saying anything about Zamora's
demand that he turn Conover. Just saying the words, Jonny felt,
implied a kind of betrayal. But how will it look, he wondered, if I
don't say anything and he finds out?  Zamora's really got the hots for
you,  he said. "He cut me loose and told me I had to deliver you in
forty eight hours or-- 
         --Or we get the little scene back at the warehouses. Tell me,
did Easy Money ever come up in your talk? 
         I don't think so."
         Take a moment. I want you to be sure. Did Colonel Zamora
mention Easy Money? 
         No, never."
         You didn't seem so sure a moment ago."
         Well, I wasn't then; I'm sure now," said Jonny. He looked at the
smuggler lord.
         Good," said Conover, nodding in satisfaction.  Forgive me for
being insistent, but it's important that I get to Easy before the
Committee. He's made off with something of mine and I do not want
Zamora involved, on any level, with its recovery. 
         For what it's worth, Groucho, the Croaker, said Easy's gone to
work for Nimble Virtue. 
        Conover reached forward and picked up a bottle of tequila
from a well-stocked traveling bar set into the seatback before them.
Next to the bar was an array of sleek matte-black Japanese electronic
gear; Jonny recognized a Sony compound analyzer, a cellular
videophone and a voice-activated PC. Conover poured a shot of
tequila into a glass and handed it to Jonny.
         I'd heard about Nimble Virtue," said Conover.  In fact, I've
been trying to set up a meet with her, but the witch is on the run.
Paranoid,that woman is. My sources say she might have a pied a
terre in Little Tokyo, but only time will tell.  Jonny finished his
tequila and Conover refilled his glass.  Right now, though, why don't
you relax and tell me, from the beginning, everything that went on
with you and Zamora. Take your time, we have a bit of a drive ahead
of us. 
        Jonny took a gulp of the liquor, bracing himself with its cool
heat. He was not wild about the idea of reliving that night, but he
knew had known it was coming, ever since the smuggler lord had
picked him up. Conover, meanwhile, was using a tiny spoon to scoop
a fine white powder from a glass vial he pulled from the back of the
bar. That done, he cut the pile the into several neat lines with a gold
single-edged razor blade.
        As the lord snorted up a couple of the lines, Jonny began to
talk, telling Conover everything he could remember, from the
moment Zamora had picked him up, until he had found himself alone
behind the prison, confused and outraged. It was painful; all that had
happened since came crashing down on him. Ice was gone. Sumi was
gone. Skid was dead. He even found Groucho's absence disturbing.
        When he finished, Conover had him run through the whole
thing again, focusing on Zamora's theories about their connection to
the Alpha Rats. After going through it a second time, Jonny was
        Conover patted his arm, and nodded.  A very good job, Jonny.
Thank you,  he said. "You look like you could use a break. 
         I could use a new life. But what about Zamora and the Alpha
        Conover handed the tube he had used to snort the coke to
Jonny.  It all sounds fascinating. I never would have suspected the
Colonel of having an imagination. It almost makes me wish it were
true. Without you to pull out of the fire, Jonny, my life would be
unbearable. Don't let anybody try and sell you on immortality. There
simply isn't enough of interest to make it worthwhile. Do your time
and get it over with; that's the best way. It's not polite to be the last
one to leave a party. 
        Jonny snorted up the white lines and asked:  Then there's
nothing to all this spaceman stuff? 
        Conover shook his head, his eyes fixed miles and centuries
away.  No, nothing," he replied. Then he said something else; Jonny
thought it might be:  Empty."
        Jonny found himself beginning to feel a certain odd sympathy
for the smuggler lord. For all his power, Conover had trapped himself
in the decomposing body of a junky fop through a single
miscalculation-- his urgent will to live. On the other hand, Mr.
Conover was no fool. Had it really been a mistake? Jonny wondered.
Or was it a stage in some other, infinitely more complex and subtle
plan that Jonny and the rest, condemned to a pitiful handful of years,
could not see? If the smuggler lord was working on something else,
Jonny hoped it was very big. The price of it seemed high.
        Conover lit another in his constant stream of cigarettes. Tossing
the match out the window, he let in a sudden blast of hot air and
dust. His mood seemed to have grown lighter.
         I hope you don't mind, but I've a little side trip to make
before we can go home. Just some business, you understand. I have a
boat coming in from the south with some goodies on board: pituitary
extracts, frozen retinas, a few kilos of cocaine. We wouldn't want to
be late and give our neighbors the impression that we keep a sloppy
shop, eh?  He laughed, amused by his own rambling. "Besides, I
believe these boys are going to try and burn me. And I wouldn't miss
that for the world. 
         Yeah? What would you do for the world?" Jonny asked, feeling
pleasantly numb and reckless, buzzing on the coke. Objects in the car
had taken on a warm internal glow.
        Conover looked at him, not without affection.  Only a lunatic
would want to run this dump,  he said. "I'm content to farm my small
bit and be done with it. L.A. has been a very good investment for me,
in money and time. 
         I always wondered why you didn't move into someplace like
New Hope. I mean, those people have got to have some expensive
        Conover raised his ruined eyebrows.  More than you could
know,  he said. "But New Hope is a ghost town. The corruption there
is a closed system. The same families have been running drugs and
data through there for generations. Old families, very powerful.
We're talking here about the Yakuza and the Panteras Aureo. The
families connected to the multinationals have their own internal
organizations to keep their people happy and restful. There's no
freedom in that sort of set-up. Little potential for growth.  He
carefully ground out his cigarette and placed another in his mother
of pearl holder.  Besides, like Lucifer in the poem, I much prefer to
rule in Hell than serve in Heaven. 
        Jonny grinned up at him.  I thought you said you didn't want to
run this dump. 
         It's all semantics. You can't buy Heaven, either."
        Outside, the sand had let up. Heat lightning crackled silently
across the horizon. Inside the Cadillac, they had passed into what
Jonny had come to think of as a pocket of silence, one of those odd
conjunctions of time and place where conversation vanished of its
own accord; at those moments, Jonny believed, all words became
dangerous and banal. He had come to attach a certain sacredness to
the silence. All things were at rest. It was a ritual from boyhood, no
different from stepping around cracks so that he would not break his
mother's back. Meaningless, he knew, but when the feeling passed,
he missed it and in trying to force it back, came up, instead, with the
twin images of Ice and Sumi.
         Hey Mister Conover, anything in this stuff we're picking up
have to do with the new strain of leprosy? 
         No," said the smuggler lord.  Why do you ask?"
         I just figured you might be looking around for something. It's
getting pretty bad in some neighborhoods. 
         Have you seen the epidemic yourself?" asked Conover.  You
know how these things can get blown out of proportion. With AIDS in
the last century and the new hepatitis strains at the beginning of this
one, people are very susceptible to rumors of a new plague. Then the
Link gets hold of the talk, and broadcasts it right into people's skulls,
reinforcing their belief in their own delusions. Couldn't this plague
just be some mass psychogenic reaction? 
         Yeah, I've seen it. People aren't really talking plague-- not yet.
The Croakers have a roomful of lepers quarantined. Say this new
strain is viral and that it kills, maybe through some kind of
secondary infection,  said Jonny. "We're not talking about a few
hysterical whackos here. The whole city's in trouble. 
         Calm down, son," said Mister Conover, laying a hand on Jonny's
arm.  Remind me not to give you stimulants in the future." He smiled.
 Actually, I do know this new strain is real. Looks like a bacteria, acts
like a virus and all that, right? I was just trying to get an untainted
perspective. As I said, all I hear are rumors. Like in east L.A. they've
taken to burning their dead. That neighborhoods are beginning to
seal themselves off. The social effects of the disease are certainly real
enough. Tell me, have the Croakers had any success in isolating
reverse transcriptase from the virus samples? 
         You think it's a retro-virus?"
         AIDS was. And that little fellow practically had the medical
community reading Ouija boards before they got anywhere. 
         What about going after it with a general virus-killer like
ribovirin or amantadine?  asked Jonny.
        The smuggler lord shook his head.  That's been tried," he said.
 Amantadine seems to have some preventative applications, but if
you're already infected, it's useless. 
         You know about this new strain, don't you, Mister Conover?"
         It's my job."
         You don't seem too concerned."
         Personally? No. The Greenies took care of that long ago. I
doubt my blood would be very appetizing to these little bastards.  He
rocked with some internal laughter.  I haven't had a cold in over
forty years. 
         Then you don't know any treatments we could get hold of for
the new strain? 
         No one is even sure how it's transmitted," Conover said.  And
without the disease vector, curing a few individuals isn't going to
stop an epidemic. 
        Seated beside the driver in the front of the car, a hawk-nosed
man with an oily pompadour turned to face the back. One of his eyes
was blackened, and his upper lip was swollen badly, drawing it
downward, giving him a childish, sullen look. Jonny recognized the
man as the one whose teeth he had loosened with his boots earlier
that evening. The man appeared to be slightly embarrassed. He
would not look at Jonny.
         'Scuse me, Mr. Conover, but I read un transmissor en la auto,"
he said.
         Jonny, my boy, you wouldn't be wired for sound, would you?"
asked the smuggler lord.
        Jonny looked at him.  Hey, you know me, Mister Conover."
        Conover nodded and turned to the front.  What do you say,
Ricos? You sure your little gadget's reading correctly? 
         Si, no cuestion. The maricon es only new baggage 'round here.
I'm not reading nothin' till he get in. 
         Friend, if you can read at all I'd be surprised," said Jonny.
Ricos made a quick grab for Jonny, but Conover shoved the man back
in his seat.  That's enough, children. Jonny, could somebody have
planted something on you? 
         No," Jonny said.  Those Committee boys never got near me and
these clothes are Croaker cast-offs. They'd have no reason to tail me
to their own hideout.  He looked at Ricos, pointed to his skull "Tu
tener un tornillo flojo. 
        Conover puffed thoughtfully at his cigarette, leaned forward
and touched the driver's shoulder.  Pull over up ahead," he said.
 Ricos, bring your remote. Come on, Jonny."
        The car stopped near an old dumpsite for a mining operation
that had flattened the surrounding hills. Conover slipped on a white
Panama hat as he led Jonny out and around to the back of the
Cadillac. Cottony tracers of gas clung to gummy, bitter smelling waste
pits. The smuggler lord pointed to Jonny with his cigarette holder.
 Find it," he said to Ricos.
        Ricos moved very close to Jonny and began moving a small
electromagnetic device over Jonny's clothing, tracing the outline of
his body. Jonny glanced over at Conover and wondered what was
going through the smuggler lord's mind, but it was impossible to read
that face. He concentrated, instead, in affecting a look of extreme
uninterest as Ricos studiously moved the device around his crotch.
         Ai!" Ricos yelled. He held the box to Jonny's bandaged
shoulder.  Got you, maricon."
        Jonny looked at the man and then at the box in his hand.
 Jesus," said Jonny miserably.  Oh fucking hell--"
         Jonny?" said Conover.
        He slumped against the back of car, Ricos standing over him
delightedly. It took several seconds for the image to assemble itself;
it appeared to him much the way he imagined visuals formed
through skull-plugs: an out of focus mass of phosphenes settling
slowly, like a reverse tornado, around a central spiral. In truth, he
did not want to understand it, but in admitting that, he gave the
thought form and terrible substance.
         Zamora did this," Jonny said. The image was clear. The prison
infirmary had fixed him up nicely and, all their doctors were
Committee recruits: bloodless and faceless; company men all the way.
It was obvious. He had lead the Committee to the Croakers. Right to
Ice's room. Now he was leading them to Conover.  Oh fucking hell--"
         What is it, Jonny?" ask Conover.
        Jonny's hand moved involuntarily to his cast.  I got shot
earlier,  he said. "I got shot and Zamora had them wire me. It's in my
goddam shoulder. 
        Conover approached him, shaking his head sympathetically.
 I'm truly sorry, son. It's an awful thing to have done," he murmured.
 We'll have to cut it out, of course. You can't go around beeping the
rest of your life. 
        Jonny laughed, when he thought about it. Zamora could not let
him off that easily. The insult had been there all along; all that had
been required was for him to recognize it. There was, Jonny had to
admit, even a kind of twisted beauty to it.
        Conover called the driver out, and spoke to him for some time
in quiet Spanish. When they parted, the driver opened the trunk and
unrolled a cloth-bound set of surgical instruments. He helped Jonny
off with his coat and pulled back the top of the Pemex jumpsuit.
When he removed Jonny's cast and xylocaine patch, he did it with
such sureness that Jonny was sure the man had been a medic at
some time.
        Jonny felt a cool punch of compressed air on his arm as the
driver injected him with something from a pressurized syringe.
Seconds later, Jonny was flying. The driver set him on the rear
fender and hooked a small work light to the inside of the trunk lid.
Before Conover retreated inside the car, Jonny heard him say:  When
you find it, bring it to me. 
        The driver held out a small device that looked like an old
fashioned tattoo needle, but which Jonny recognized as an Akasaka
laser scalpel. In Spanish, the driver told Jonny to concentrate on the
hanging light.
        He did not feel a thing.

        Later, when the car was moving and Jonny was sacked out on
the back seat, still high on whatever they shot him with, he heard
voices in the midst of conversation. His shoulder ached with each
heartbeat. But he seemed to recall that his shoulder always hurt,
didn't it? Eventually he recognized Conover's voice.
         We each do our bit as best we can, of course. Zamora is a
vicious, greedy prick, but a sterling leader of men. I've seen him pull
many strange stunts in my time. However, I have never before
known him to betray a sense of humor.  He glanced at Jonny. "Have
        Jonny just rolled away and fell asleep.  I'd like to go home
now,  he said, but nobody heard him.

        A dark, sour smelling harbor glittering oily rainbows amidst
sluggish waves. Men talking in a circle some distance off, a litter of
shapes around their feet; another painting came to him, Tanguy, this
time. Sharks-- the bleached carcasses of dead sharks, stripped of
their flesh by birds and their jaws by souvenir hunters, strewn
across the sand like some hallucinatory crop ready for harvest. Down
the beach, a roofless merry-go-round, half-collapsed, dangling a
string of bloated wooden horses into the dirty water. The flares of
gas jets miles away.

        Jonny rubbed grit from his eyes and tried to focus on the circle
of men outside on the beach. He had no idea how long he or they had
been here. He was very thirsty.
        From what Jonny could see, only two men were doing all the
talking. One was Conover, who was easy to spot, towering above the
rest, the glowing dot of his cigarette tracing erratic patterns in the
air. Behind Conover stood Ricos, scowling into the ocean wind, his
pompadour flailing around his ears like a dying animal.
        The man Conover was talking to was considerably shorter, but
very board, wearing the white dress uniform of a Mexican Naval
officer. A jet foil with the name Sangre Christi painted on the bow
floated a few meters out in the harbor, rolling gently with the surf.
Two small Zodiac crafts were beached nearby, one overloaded with
sealed metal containers. The identification numbers on the Sangre
Christi indicated that the ship was from the Gobernacion fleet
stationed in San Diego, but she was running no lights, and the flag on
her mast was Venezuelan, not Mexican. When the moon broke
through the heavy cloud layer, Jonny got a good look at her crew,
spread out in a semi-circle around the Zodiacs. About half wore naval
uniforms; the others were dressed variously in jeans and leathers,
pale gringos and dread-locked blacks numerous among the crew.
        That's it then, Jonny thought. They're pirates.
        Picking up the tequila from Conover's traveling bar, Jonny took
a drink. The pirate captain pointed back to his ship and shouted
something. Warmed by the tequila, Jonny's thoughts drifted back to
his own time as a dealer.
        Jonny always picked up a buzz when he was pushing or setting
up a meet that was wholly divorced from the rest of his life. Part of
it was the thrill an ex-Committee boy felt at having gone over to the
 other side." Another part of it had something to dowith vague
notions of changing the world, but he attributed this to youthful
folly, regarding it as a consequence of spending too much time sober.
Groucho's casual remark equating Jonny's dealing with revolutionary
politics had disturbed him. It saddled him responsibilities he had no
intention of trying to fulfill. The world (at least Los Angeles, which
was all he knew of the world), as Jonny perceived it, was little more
than the natural battle of competing organisms, like the virus he had
seen on the micrograph at the Croakers' clinic. Each viral unit was
incomplete until it had taken over a living cell and used that
organism to replicate itself, and the one-percenters and gangs of the
city followed the virus's pattern. Inertia swept them along in a
perpetual hustle, moving in time to the endless rhythm of commerce;
most knew nothing else. And, as was the way of nature, the strongest
viruses ate the weaker. The strongest viruses were the Committee,
the lords and the multinationals, Jonny thought, forces that were
overwhelming and, in the end, incomprehensible to him.
        Did the Croakers really believe they could change a world run
by Zamora or Nimble Virtue? Even Conover was just a business man
who had his own reasons for being there. And Groucho was too
damned small to play Atlas, Jonny thought.
        He wondered where Ice was at that moment. He felt certain
that she was all right; she seemed to have a talent for staying alive.
In his mind, however, Sumi had become one with the ruined
apartment. If Zamora really had her, she was lost. Jonny loved both
women (something which he was quick to point out as the single
distinguished feature of his character) but he felt he owed them
something more that.
        The door opposite Jonny opened and Conover leaned in. Salt
mist sparkled on the smuggler lord's shoulders and the wide brim of
his hat. He smiled at Jonny.  How are you feeling?" he asked.  We'll
be through here in just a few minutes. These boys are playing it to
the last row. Hand me that box by your feet, will you? 
        Jonny looked at the floor of the Cadillac and found a small
black lacquered box with brass fittings in the shape of lotus petals.
His head spun as he picked the box up. Conover smiled as he took it.
 Thanks, son. Sit tight. Have a drink," he said.
        Watching the smuggler lord cross the colorless sand, Jonny was
overcome by a sudden and overwhelming sense of loss. As if he were
adrift in some vast and infinite ocean with no land in sight. He had
the strong urge to bail out right there, to run from the car and to
keep running. But for some reason he stayed. If he drifted long
enough, he thought, a landfall was bound to appear. Besides, he was
drugged silly. Where would I go if I ran, he wondered. On the beach,
the pirates were smoking and passing a bottle. Jonny raised his
tequila to them and decided to remain in the car. Drifting, he knew,
was what he was best at.
        Outside, the pirate captain was nodding as Conover
ceremoniously handed him the small box. The pirate opened it for a
moment, waved briskly to a couple of men by the Zodiacs. They
made their way through the sand slowly with several containers,
setting them a few meters from Conover and Ricos. That done, they
retreated quickly from the smuggler lord's presence. Jonny caught a
quick movement of one pirate's hand. He had crossed himself,
        Ricos flicked open a butterfly knife and slit the metal strips
that bound the top of one container. Reaching inside, he pulled out a
white brick wrapped in heavy plastic and handed it to Conover.
Jonny looked around the car, wondering where Conover's chauffeur
had gone. When he looked back at the beach, the pirates were
moving out, pushing their Zodiac's into the surf. The moon lit, briefly,
the rubber floats that flanked each craft, like twin torpedoes
wrapped in skin. Ricos carried the metal containers back to the
Cadillac, stacking them by the rear bumper as Conover got in.
        Jonny nodded at the brick.  Real cocaine?" he asked.
         That's an awful lot."
         You would think so, wouldn't you?" The smuggler lord pushed
some bottles out of the way, and set the brick on the traveling bar.
With his thumb nail, he gouged a hole in the plastic. He touched the
finger to his tongue ad grunted, motioning for Jonny to have a taste.
Wetting the end of his middle finger, Jonny touched it to the pile.
 What's wrong?" he asked, putting the finger gingerly to his tongue.
         You tell me," said Conover as he spooned a small portion of the
powder into a test tube half-filled with a clear fluid. Swirling the
mixture together, the smuggler lord fastened the test tube into the
twin metal receptacles on the front of the compound analyzer. He
punched a switch and a beam of pale laser light lit up the sample
from the inside.
        Jonny found the taste of the powder to be odd. Alkaloid
bitterness, with a sweet after-taste. There was a thickness and a
graininess that was wrong.
         Feel anything?" asked Conover.
         Nothing," said Jonny.  They've cut the hell out of it."
Conover said  Show," to the PC and the terminal's screen lit up with
the rainbow-bar that was a spectrographic read-out of the contents
of the test tube. A list of chemicals and percentages to five decimals
places was displayed on one side of the screen. The smuggler lord
snorted and snatched up the brick, spilling white grains onto the
         Good  god," Conover said.  Milk powder, sugar and probably
baking soda. Christ, you could bake a cake with this stuff. It's been
cut, recut, and cut again. These lads have probably selling my drugs
to freelancers all the way up the coast and filling in the weight with
whatever was at hand.  He shook his head sadly. "These people think
because they have that gun boat they're immune.  He tossed the
brick onto the bar.
        Something occurred to Jonny then.  You gave it to them, didn't
you?  he said.
         Gave them what, dear boy?"
         The transmitter. You put it in the box with the money, didn't
Conover smiled, removed a cigarette from his case, and lit it. After
bringing the last two boxes to the car, Ricos got in the front seat.
         I consider it a fair exchange. Loaded money for loaded coke,"
he said, chuckling.  The hormones and the retinas?" he asked. Ricos
shook his head.
         Paralizados. Look like they break the seal and go poking
inside. Es all spoiled. 
        The smuggler lord nodded.  Let this be a lesson to you, Jonny:
there are always going to be assholes. Wherever you go, whatever
you do, you have to be on guard. If you're not, the fools and the tiny
minds of this world will drag you right down into the gutter with
        Jonny leaned back in the seat and felt a slight tingling begin on
the end of his tongue. It was not much, though.  You think Zamora
will go after them?  he asked.
         Why not? That was a nice piece of hardware we dug out of
your shoulder. Hitachi, military issue. VHF for short-range
monitoring and neutrino broadcasting for long-range. The Colonel has
no way of knowing you're not international. He thinks you're buying
dope from moon men, remember? 
        Jonny made a face at that.  This whole set-up was very--
professional of you. 
        Conover looked at him curiously, one hand toying with the rip
in the white brick.  You find my methods uncouth? Maybe you'd be
happier if the Colonel followed us back to my place. That would end
the party pretty quickly, wouldn't it? 
         Let's say I'm a little disillusioned, how's that? I mean, I was
kind of under the impression that the people running dope were on
our side, you know?  Jonny bit the end of his tongue to see if it was
numb yet. It was not.  Pretty stupid, right? You don't have to explain
it to me. I know how the song goes: it's all economics. It always is. 
        The smuggler lord picked up the brick and held it before Jonny.
  'Get place and wealth, if possible with grace; if not, by any means
get wealth and place.' Alexander Pope. It's the algebra of need, son.
As long as the need exists, somebody is going to service it and take
advantage of it, like those gentlemen from the Sangre Christi. They
understood, or did until they got greedy.
        It's mother's milk-- consumerism-- the Big Teat. The trouble
with you, Jonny, is that you're in business, but you're not a business
        Conover opened his door and turned the white brick upside
down, dumping its contents into the sand.  In business, sometimes
you've got to take a loss in order to make a gain. 
         I'll try to remember that," said Jonny.
         It would do you well."
        Ricos shivered in the front seat. Conover found a bottle of
aguardiente, and poured him a glass. Soon, the driver returned,
wearing a dun-colored windbreaker and heavy pair of night vision
goggles. He was carrying a shoulder-held Arab mini-gun, its twelve
massive barrels running with condensed mist. Conover explained
that the man had been hiding in the dunes some distance away
waiting for the jetfoil to pull out. After the driver stowed the gun in
the trunk (scattering the ruined hormones and retinas on the beach
for the gulls) Conover gave him a drink and told him to take them

                                The Machine-gun in a State of Grace

        They drove in silence. Jonny dozed in the back, waking every
few minutes when the Cadillac would hit a patch of broken concrete,
causing the car to shake violently. Then he would look out the
window and see hillsides covered with brightly-colored fabric or a
group of chrome palm trees constructed from stolen jet engines and
lengths of industrial piping. A gift from the Croakers, he thought,
giving the finger to the world. Closer to the city were squatter camps,
long walls of corrugated tin and dismantled billboards. Jonny could
make out a word here, a face there. A woman's eye. FLY. EAT. The
curve of a hip. LOVE.
        Just outside Hollywood, they turned off the ruined freeway and
drove through an old suburban sector before starting a steep climb
into the hills.
        The driver switched off the carbon arcs on the roof and skull-
plugged into an infrared array set into the car's headlight housings.
        The only light visible to Jonny was the pale green mercury
vapor glow of the suburbs and the jittery firefly of Conover's
        They passed through tunnels of rotted concrete where fungus
padded the walls. Even with the air conditioner on full blast, there
was a strong smell of decomposing vegetation. Outlines of burned-out
cars down the embankment, overgrown with weeds. As they gained
altitude, the road grew narrower and more hazardous. They passed
the ruins of the ancient Hollywoodland development, the New Hope
of its day. The well-heeled residents had tried to seal themselves off,
Jonny remembered, but it didn't work. They had brought all their
madness with them, into the hills. And when it all came crashing
down around their ears, no one had been surprised. The rot had set
in before the first foundation had been laid.
        The car slowed, finally, and came to a stop. Looking out the
window, Jonny could see nothing but rocky hills and the ribbon of
leaf-cluttered road curving off into the distance. The driver punched
a code into a key pad on the dashboard (Paranoid reflexes had Jonny
leaning on the seatback, memorizing the digits as he read them out of
the corner of his eye.). Then portions of the hillside, perfect squares
of stone and grass, began to wink out. Jonny realized that he was
looking at a hologram.
        After about a dozen of these segments had disappeared, Jonny
could see a paved driveway leading off the main road. The driver
turned them onto this new road, and the hologram hillside
reappeared behind them. A large cat, a cougar or jaguar ( Sentry
robot,  Conover said.) paced the car as they passed a thick stand of
madrone and scrubby manzanita. There were men up there, too.
Jonny caught a glint of rifles slung over camouflaged shoulders.
         Our security is quite tight up here," said Conover.  The whole
hill is wired. We have motion detectors, infra-red and image
intensifiers in the trees. Neurotoxin microcapsule mines buried on
the blind side of the hill. Those men you saw? They're carrying rail
guns. Models that small are very new. Very expensive. They can
push a one hundred gram polycarbonate projectile at a thousand
kilometers an hour. It's like having a small mountain dropped on
you.  He lit another cigarette and from his inside jacket pocket, took
a black silicon card. There were gold filaments on the card's face,
forming a bar code on its face.  You need this, too. We run a magnetic
scan on every vehicle that comes through here. If the system doesn't
read the right code, it sets off every alarm in the place. 
         You expecting the Army?" asked Jonny.
         I expect nothing," replied Conover.  But I anticipate
Around an out-of-place bamboo grove, they came up on Conover's
mansion, stars hazy through the hologram dome. Jonny's first
thought was that the main building of the estate was surrounded by
smaller bungalows. When they get closer, however, he realized that
what he was looking at was a single massive, confusion of a building,
erupting over the top of the hill like a geometric melanoma. What
appeared to be the oldest wing of the mansion was built in a straight
Victorian style, while others were pseudo-Hacienda; the most recent
additions appeared to have been built along traditional Japanese
lines. Gracefully curled pagoda roofs abutted at odd angles with
Spanish arches, high-windowed garrets overlooking gilt temple dogs.
         I've heard of this place. It's the old Stone mansion, isn't it?"
Jonny asked.
        Conover nodded. The Cadillac stopped by a pond full of fat,
spotted carp, and he stepped out. Jonny followed him; a grinding pain
was building up in his shoulder beneath the anesthetics.  Yes, this is
the Stone place. I'm surprised anyone still remembers it. Old Mister
Stone made a fortune selling tainted baby formula in Africa and the
Asian sub-continent (encouraging the mothers to stop breast-feeding
and use his poison). After he died, Mrs. Stone got it into her head
that the ghosts of all those little dead children were coming to get
her. She kept building onto the place, sleeping in a different room
every night for thirty years. The architects were given a free hand to
build in whatever style was popular at the moment. This,  he
gestured toward the mansion,  is the result. What do you think? Is
this a vision of insanity, made whole and visible, or just the
maunderings of a bored old bitty with too much money? Doesn't
really matter. The place is very comfortable. The old lunatic only
used the best materials. 
         It's a great set-up," said Jonny.  You must suck an awful lot of
power up here. Aren't you afraid someone's going to trace it back to
         We're set up for solar and there are darius windmills on the
surrounding hills,  said Conover. He gave Jonny a small smile. "The
rest of what we need I've had Watt Snatchers route through the
Police power grid. 
        Jonny laughed, slapped the hood of the car.  I love it!" He felt
weak and hot. He wanted to sit down.
        From the madrones came a series of long hysterical cries, rising
in pitch until they peaked, fell and started again. Answering calls
came from deeper in the trees.
         What the hell was that?" asked Jonny.
        Conover gestured toward the hills.  Samangs," he explained.
 Apes. We're right below Griffith Park. When the zoo was destroyed
during the Protein Rebellion, some of the animals escaped and bred.
It's not advisable to walk through these hills alone at night. The apes
won't bother you, but there are tigers. 
        Jonny nodded, watching the madrone branches move in the
light breeze.  Kind of chilly out here, isn't it?"
         Perhaps you'd like to see the inside of the house? I've picked
up one or two baubles from some local museums that you might find
         Art is my life," said Jonny, following the smuggler lord inside.

        The Japanese wing of the mansion was almost empty; Jonny
was not sure if this was through style or neglect, but it smelled
pleasantly of varnished wood, incense and tatami mats. Many of the
rooms they passed were closed off by rice paper doors painted with
pale watercolors of cranes and royal pagodas. Conover took him deep
into the cluttered Victorian wing where artificial daylight shone
through stained-glass windows full of saints and inscriptions in Latin.
Carpeted staircases appeared suddenly around corners, behind urns
of blond irises and fat pussy willows, leading to corridors that
seemed to turn in on themselves in impossible ways. Jonny's room
was papered in a floral design, thousands of tiny purple nosegays,
and furnished with delicate French antiques: a walnut boudoir, small
idealized portraits painted on glass, white hand-carved chairs with
tapestry cushions and a canopied bed, all lace and gold leaf. He
smiled at Conover, but was inwardly revolted by the place. It was
like living in the underwear drawer of a very expensive prostitute.
        When Conover left him, Jonny sat on the edge of the bed and
closed his eyes. He felt drained, both mentally and physically, but
could not relax. The long walk to his room, Conover's fairy tale about
his security and the wild animals in the hills had been obvious
warnings. Jonny was not to leave the grounds. That thought made
him uneasy. He was afraid to touch the antique furniture and had not
seen any signs of video or hologram viewers. Just these damned
paintings everywhere, he thought. They lined virtually all the walls
of the Victorian wing, set in carved wooden frames and lit by small
halide spotlights recessed into the ceiling. He's an art freak, too,
thought Jonny. Like Groucho. But the anarchist's art had effected him
differently. It had shown the process of the artist's mind and made
full use of his or her obsessions, revealing a wealth of personal
symbols that were the landscapes of dreams. Conover's paintings
reminded Jonny of grim family snapshots. Groucho's art (the art he
and the other Croakers had not created themselves) had also been
copies, cheap reproductions clipped from books.
        Jonny looked above the desk at the portrait of a sorrowful-
eyed man whose body was riddled with arrows. A small plaque
below the painting read: El Greco. It meant nothing to him. He went
out into the hall, touching each painting he came to, running his
hands across the still eyes, the centuries old canvas. They were all
alike. One-percenters commissioned by noble men to paint their
faces, he thought. Old masters, he had heard them called. Most of
Conover's paintings appeared to be portraits, although there were a
few landscapes, also meaningless to him. Pictures of men on
horseback wearing red jackets and chasing what reminded Jonny of
big rats. Names: Goya. Rembrandt. The faces in all the portraits had
the same leathery texture of old oil paint.
         I'll take Aoki Vega or Mikey Gagarin videos any day," he said
to a Renaissance Madonna with child.
        On the wall above a heavy dark wood Gothic table, was a
painting Jonny recognized.  Blue Boy" by Thomas Gainsborough. He
remembered seeing a post card of the painting as a teenager, glued
by sweat to the bare buttocks of the young woman he was with in
the ruins of the Huntington Art Gallery. Jonny ran his fingers along
the boy's plumed hat.
        Finely ridged plastic.
        Jonny touched the painting again. When he leaned close to Blue
Boy's face he saw that the texture of the paint was an illusion.  A
hologram,  he said, very surprised.
        So Conover does go for fakes, he thought. For some reason, that
made him feel better. Jonny touched the plastic face one more time
to reassure himself, then went back to his room. Inside, he undressed
and ran water for a shower. Before he got in, he took two Dilaudid
analogs that Conover had given him for the pain in his shoulder. He
stepped into the stall and stood for a long time under a spigot that
was a golden wrought-metal fish, turning the water on hard so that it
hit his back in a stream of warm stinging needles.
        Back in his room, he found a maroon silk robe had been laid
out for him, and a silver tray with ice, gin and a bottle of tonic. The
analog was just coming on. Standing by the desk, surrounded by
antiques and the smell of clean sheets, he had a sudden vision of the
world as an orderly place. His teeth melted gently into his skull. He
poured himself a shot of gin and drank it down straight.
        His shoulder hurt as he lay down on the bed, but the pain came
from somewhere deep underground, lost among dark roots and
grubs. He fell asleep and dreamed of Ice and Sumi. He found them at
the top of an ornate spiral staircase, but when he touched them, they
were plastic holograms.
        Jonny woke in a sweat, hours later. Someone had turned off the
lights. He stumbled around the dark room until he found the gin. He
brought the bottle with him, setting it on the floor next to the bed.
He lost track of the days.
        He slept a great deal. Conover had a private medical staff,
mostly Japanese and painfully polite. With many apologizes, a young
nurse called Yukiko stuck him with needles, antibiotics for the
wound in his shoulder, protein supplements and mega-vitamins for
his mild malnutrition. In a small, tidy lab in the Japanese wing, they
grafted new nerve tissue into the damaged area of his shoulder. They
hooked him to a muscle stimulator that used mild electric shocks to
tense and release his muscles, building back the strength in his
shoulders and arms. Yukiko spoke no English, but smiled a great deal.
Jonny smiled back.
        In the mornings, he tried to do t'ai chi, but the movements felt
odd and unfamiliar, as if he had learned them in some other body. He
took the lace trimmed pillows from the bed and sat cross-legged on
them in one corner of the room, staring into the interface of two
flowered walls, trying to meditate. Despite the fact his sitting had
become haphazard over the years, he still held a certain belief in
meditation's power. He had once had a master, an ancient Zen nun
with creased olive skin like old newsrags and cheap second-hand
piezoelectric eyes that could only register in black and white.  The
colors are here,  she would say, and point to her skull. "All this is
illusion.  She would point to the room. "But also important: so is this. 
She would point to her head again and laugh delightedly.
        But the emptiness always eluded Jonny, the void that was filled
when the self was lost. He remembered all the Zen words, all the
theories. He sat on the old French pillows, pain shooting like hot
wires down his knees, and chanted the Sutras, trying to imagine
himself as a bird. In the past, this had sometimes helped. Leave
yourself, become the bird. Leave the bird, become nothing. But his
concentration was gone, replaced with a wavering self-doubt
compounded of fear, drugs and guilt. He thought often of Ice and
        Days came and went without any information about the
Croakers. They seemed to have disappeared en masse. What Conover
found out was that shortly after he had picked Jonny up, a second
group of Croakers had attacked the Committee boys at the
warehouse. There had been heavy losses on both sides. But he had no
information about the Croaker leader or Ice.
        Jonny discovered that if he turned a stylized cloisonné elephant
on his desk counterclockwise, the wall would slide away and reveal a
large liquid crystal video screen. He decided then that bed was his
karma, the theme of this incarnation in the world of flesh, pain and
illusion. He did Dilaudid analogs and drank gin and watched Link
broadcasts. Learned experts still clogged the wires with panel
discussions on the Alpha Rats; Jonny flipped past these quickly,
finding himself drawn day after day to the Pakistani newscasts on a
restricted Link channel that Conover's satellite rig was somehow able
to un-jam.
        Jonny was delighted to find that the thin Muslim spoke in the
same rapid and mock-smooth tones employed by western
newscasters. Although Jonny did not understand a word of Pakistani,
the look of the commercials was familiar and the music had a
universal sing-along jingle quality to it. The advertisements seemed
to be mostly about new fusion power projects and injured war
        Jonny's favorite part of each broadcast came at the end. That's
when the ritual flag burning always occurred. Sometimes the flags
they torched were American, sometimes Japanese. Jonny took to
toasting the young uniformed hashishin (each with a gray metal key
around their neck that was the key to heaven) until he remembered
that Muslims did not drink. Then he would simply cheer and pound
the bed, drunkenly singing with the battle songs.
        The news show often featured pictures of the moon, fuzzy
satellite shots that showed ruined geodesic domes and the crystal
mounds of the Alpha Rats' ships on the barren lunar surface. On one
broadcast, Jonny saw a street that looked familiar. It was a jumpy
rolling shot, as if being shot from the window of a moving car or
truck. Polychrome marquees above crawling neon. Hollywood
        Jonny thought. The newscaster's face grew serious as he spoke
over the grim footage. Pictures of lepers in the streets; they seemed
to be everywhere: shots of gangs (he recognized the Lizard Imperials
right away), hookers and nine-to-fivers from the Valley. Burning
funeral ghats along the concrete banks of the Los Angeles River. A
quick-cut to people being loaded into the back of a Committee meat
        The show ended when the newscaster lowered his head and
pronounced,  Al salaam." As he faded away, a caricature of Uncle
Sam and a samurai appeared on the screen. Both figures were yelling
 Bonsai!," the samurai swinging a long sword, cutting a deep trench
into a map of the Middle East. Jonny's hands were shaking when he
turned off the screen.

        Jonny sometimes ate dinner with Conover in a cavernous room
at the far end of the Hacienda wing. A cantilevered stucco ceiling
with bare wooden beams so old that they were probably real wood,
criss-crossed two stories above the dining area, a lighted island of
silver and crystal in a sea of plundered art. Sitting at the dining
table, the walls of the room were lost to Jonny. Old masters, bathing
scenes and hunts, orgies and crucifixions, some several meters long,
were stacked three deep along the base boards or perched on
aluminum easels between sixteenth century Roman warrior-angels
and Henry Moore bronzes. Buddha and Ganesh shared space with
porcelain clocks on the mantel above a bricked-in fireplace.
        Jonny came to dinner dressed in one of Conover's black silk
shirts and a pair of light cotton trousers, He was drunk, but he had
given up on the Dilaudid. Although the analog was technically non-
addicting, it gave him the sweats and cramps when he did not take it
regularly. To counteract the symptoms, he had prescribed for himself
daily doses of Dexedrine. Despite all the drugs, he was aware that
Conover's medical staff had done a considerable repair job on him. He
felt healthier and stronger than he had since he quit the Committee.
        Except for those times when Jonny joined him, Conover always
seemed to eat alone.
        They were served their meals by an efficient and mostly silent
staff of ritually scarred Africans. The was French and Japanese, snow
peas or glazed carrots arranged with surgical precision around thin
and, to Jonny, mostly tasteless cuts of beef. When he commented on
this to Conover, the smuggler explained to him that the meat came
from Canadian herds that still consumed grain and grazed in open
fields, not the genetically altered beasts that hung from straps,
limbless and eyeless, in the Tijuana protein factories.
         What you miss, son, is the taste of all those chemicals.
Plankton feed solutions and growth hormones. 
        Jonny shrugged.  I'm just a cheap date," he said.
Conover laughed, sitting across the table in a chair of padded
aluminum piping. Wires trailed from his chest, ears and scalp (pale
tufts of sparse white hair) to a vital signs-monitor on his left. One of
his sleeves was rolled up and a tube ran from a rotating plasma
pump mounted on the side of the chair and under a strip of surgical
tape on his left arm.  Twice a week I have to endure this," he
explained.  Blood change and cyclosporin treatments. My body is
rejecting itself. Most of my organs are saturated with Greenies by
now. Those that aren't, my body no longer recognizes and tries to
destroy. The cyclosporin slows the rejection process.  He took a sip of
wine from a fluted crystal glass.  I clone my own organs. Have
transplants once or twice a year. Heart, lungs, liver, pancreas, the
works. Downstairs, I have everything I need to stay alive. That nerve
tissue in your shoulder? We grow that here, in the spinal columns of
lampreys.  He took a mouthful of beef and wild rice, chewed
thoughtfully.  I've endured all types of nonsense to prolong my stay
on this silly planet. I flew to Osaka once, let a quack remove my
pituitary gland and install a thyroxine pump in my abdomen. I was
told to gobble antioxidants, butylated hydroxytoluene and
mercaptoethylamine. I took catatoxic compounds to boost the
function of my immune system and now I take cyclosporin to inhibit
it. I still have daily injections of dopamine because the production of
certain neurotransmitters decreases with age.  He shook his head.
 My staff could cure me of Greenies addiction completely, of course.
A little tinkering with my DNA and it's done. The problem is that
afterwards, they'd practically have to boil me down and build a
whole new body for me. In the meantime, I'd be in some protein vat
while the other lords and the Committee carved up my territory. It's
strange, don't you think,  he asked, "that we expend so much energy
trying to stick around a place we don't particularly like? 
        Jonny picked at a piece of asparagus.  I think I could help your
people track down the Croakers,  he said. "I've got some experience,
you know. 
        Conover continued chewing.  You're drunk," he said.
         That doesn't have anything to do with anything."
         And what are you going to tell the Colonel when he picks you
up?  Conover asked.
         You think he can get to me again?"
         There's no question of it. You are a commodity of some value
to him. Plus, your face is well known. He or one his informants will
find you. 
Jonny grunted. With his fork, he moved the tasteless meat around his
plate until he could not stand to look at it anymore.  So I wait here
forever, is that the plan? Well, forget that. I can take care of myself, 
he said.  Besides, what if I was picked up. What makes you think I'd
tell Zamora anything? 
        Conover set down his fork and glanced at the monitor.  Jonny, I
understand your worry, believe me. You miss your friends and
you've been drinking. What I should have said was that it would be
very foolish for you to leave here. The Colonel wants you because he
wants me, and he is not careful with his prisoners. When he pumps
you full of Ecstasy and starts burning off your fingers, you'll tell him
everything he wants to know. 
        Jonny picked up a crystal carafe and slopped some wine into a
glass for himself. Conover pushed his glass forward, but Jonny
ignored it and the smuggler lord had to pour for himself.
         In any case, you're better off staying away from the Croakers,"
Conover said.
         What does that mean?"
         Just what I said," Conover replied.
         The Croakers are all right. They're just trying to help people."
Conover rang a silver bell by his plate. Young African men in white
jackets began clearing away the plates from the table.  Why is it
Americans always insist on making everything into a cowboys and
Indians movie? Just because you label one group the Bad Guys, you
immediately assume that the group they are in conflict with are the
Good Guys. The world isn't that simple, son. 
         You think the Croakers are the Bad Guys?" Jonny asked.
         I didn't say that. But they are destabilizing southern California
far more effectively than the Alpha Rats or the Arabs could ever
hope to. 
        Jonny leaned his elbows on the table. His dinner churned with
the liquor in his stomach.  The Croakers are the only effective force
we have against the Committee. 
        Conover gestured to one of the waiters and dessert was served:
a raspberry torte like a lacquered sculpture.  The Committee is a fact
of life. What we do, you and I, all the dealers and smugglers, is
poetry. Haiku. A form defined by its restrictions. The sooner you
learn to work within those restrictions, the happier you'll be. 
        Jonny tossed his fork onto the plate and stood up. Wisps of
vertigo floated around the inside of his skull.  Thanks for dinner. I'm
going to get some sleep. 
        As Jonny started out of the dining room, Conover called to him.
 You know I'm doing all I can, don't you?"
         I know," said Jonny, without turning around.
         And you believe me when I tell you I'm trying to locate your
         Yes, I do."
         And you have to know I'm right about the Colonel."
         I know about all that," Jonny replied quietly.  I just don't
know if I care anymore. 

        He drank from the bottle of gin he had taken from his room. He
stood in a darkened storage room, the third one he had explored that
night, a refuge from his latest failed attempt at meditation.
        The room was silent; the air musty. Light danced on a circular
dais at the far end. A Camera Obscura, he saw. There was a worn
metal wheel mounted on the wall. When he spun it, the brilliant
panorama of Los Angeles swept across the dais like a video on fast
forward. He focused the image on Hollywood, moving the wheel until
the luminescent tent of his home slid into view, glowing beyond palm
trees and neon. For a while, he found it comforting, but soon he felt
pangs of self-consciousness, imaging himself a peeping-tom getting
his kicks.
        Is this how we look to the Alpha Rats? Jonny wondered.
        Padded Zero-G crates with five year old shipping codes from
some lunar engineering plant were stacked against the far wall.
Jonny took another pull from the gin, slid one of the crates to the
floor and opened the top. Inside were a dozen smaller boxes, each
packed with capsules in blister pack, two capsules to each blister.
The manufacturer's code indicated that the red capsules were an
inhalant form of atropine. The purple capsules were unmarked, but
Jonny had seen them before. His stomach tightened. It was a popular
combination in some circles: atropine and cobrotoxin nitrite.
        Holy shit, he thought. What's an engineering company doing
with Mad Love?
        He tore open one of the packs, slopping gin on floor, and
popped a purple capsule under his nose. The cobrotoxin came on like
a slow-burning volcano, boiling along the surface of his brain, not
enough to kill him or cause permanent damage, just enough to cop
the killing euphoria from the cobra venom. His body was molten
glass and treacle. No flesh, no bones, just a sizzling mass of plasma,
fried eyes and melting genitals. His brain bubbled like magma. Thirty
seconds later, he popped the atropine and the inside of his skull iced
over. The room exploded into negative as white glacier light blazed
behind his eyes and shot down his spinal column. His nerves (he
could feel each individual fiber, vibrating in harmony like some kind
of cellular choir) were cut crystal and gold.  A las maravillas," he
said. This was it. Zen. Oneness. How could he have forgotten? Anger,
greed and folly were gone, replaced with a heightened awareness
that was what he had always imagined enlightenment to be like.
        Then the feeling was gone.
        When he could move, he tore two more capsules from the pack
and repeated the process. A few years before, Mad Love had been a
big problem for Jonny. He had avoided the stuff for years, neither
dealing nor using it. In some ways it had been easy; Mad Love was
almost impossible to find in the street, at any price, since the Alpha
Rat takeover of the moon. Yet, here he was with hundreds of hits.
        He felt expansive, filled with love for his fellow man, wanting
nothing more than to share his good fortune with the world. Jonny
laughed. It was the drugs talking to him, he knew. He did not want to
share this with anybody. Stumbling to his feet (the atropine causing
his muscles to fire erratically) he pulled down more crates, taking a
quick inventory of his stash.
        Thefirst three containers were empty, but the fourth held
another bonanza: twelve more boxes of Mad Love. He grabbed for
more crates, caught the glint of something shining dully on the wall.
Gilt wood. He pulled the boxes away, could see the carved frame.
Then-- Blue Boy. The original.
        He ran his fingers over the old lizard skin paint, from the
plumed hat to the goldleaf frame. There was a catch at the edge. He
pushed it and the painting swung away from the wall with a faint
click. Behind it were shelves piled high with books and a bulging
manila folder. Jonny picked up the foxed folder, took it back to the
Camera Obscura and dumped the contents on the dais. It was several
seconds before Jonny understood exactly what he was looking at. He
fingered a yellowed Social Security card, shiny with wear. Then in
the pale Los Angeles nightscape, he turned the pages, rapt, reading a
collage version of the life of Soren Conover.
        A driver's license from Texas, two thousand and ten. Discharge
papers from the United States Army, nineteen fifty-seven. Passports:
British, Belgian, Egyptian, all under different names. Ancient news
clippings concerning drug wars in Central America and the collapse
of the government's genetic warfare programs. Photos on some of the
older documents showed a handsome oval-faced man in his thirties,
with intelligent eyes and a nose that had been broken more than
once. Jonny double-checked any dated documents he came across,
trying to find the oldest. From what he had seen so far, he was
calculating Conover's age at around one hundred and fifty, possibly
one hundred and sixty years.
        There were photostats of OSS documents, brittle with age.
Conover had apparently been involved with an operation to
assassinate the Russian head-of-state in the early nineteen-fifties.
The American president had canceled the operation and pensioned
Conover off. There was nothing from the nineteen-sixties or
seventies, but from the eighties, there were several letters on CIA
stationery bearing Conover's signature, along with a report marked
 Confidential." The report carried no date, but detailed the workings
of a Honduran-based CIA drug operation helping to finance right-
wing revolutionary and counter-revolutionary forces in Central
America. There was a black and white photo of men in jungle
fatigues standing before mortar tubes and M-60 machine guns. One
tall man held a cigarette in a short black holder. The hand-lettered
date on the back of the photo read: 1988. It occurred to Jonny that if
these documents were genuine, then Conover had been in the drug
business for close to one hundred years.
        That's a long time to do one thing, Jonny thought. He continued
through the papers as the silent city light played over them, and
wondered at the process of the smuggler's life. How he had parlayed
those CIA drug contacts into his own private business. Jonny found
the gin bottle by the boxes of Mad Love, took a drink and laughed.
He and Conover had something in common, he now knew. Conover
was a smuggler lord now, but once he had been like Jonny, an agent
gone native.
         Rogue elephant" they called it, right?
        L.A. glimmered on the dais, just out of reach.
        The atropine was still buzzing inside Jonny's skull. He picked
up handfuls of Mad Love packets and stuffed them into his pockets,
then returned to the dais, gathered up the contents of the folder and
put them back behind the painting. He restacked the Zero-G crates
and, just before leaving the room, he spun the wheel that adjusted
the Camera Obscura's lenses. The city blurred by on the dais, streaks
of light like a tracer rounds. The picture came to rest on the Japanese
wing of the mansion. A snow leopard was strolling gracefully down
the driveway.
        Conover will understand, Jonny thought, popping another
atropine cap.
        He went out through the kitchen. The African staff had a music
chip going full blast, some Brazilian capoeira band. A coltish young
woman who had been dancing as she stacked Wedgewood in a
cabinet, stopped to stare at him. Jonny crossed quickly to the door,
avoiding the Africans' eyes. Copper pots flashed bronze suns onto the
wall above his head.
         Dad'll kill me if I don't get the trash out," he said to their
unmoving faces.
        He found Ricos alone in the garage, the workings of a robot
rottweiler strewn across a wooden workbench. Rather than injure the
man, Jonny wrapped an arm around Ricos' neck and jammed a
knuckle into his carotid artery, cutting off the flow of blood to his
brain. When he was out, Jonny went through his pockets and found
the silicon identification card. He got into Conover's car, gunned the
engine and backed out.
        He took the Cadillac at a leisurely pace down the drive, eyes
ahead, ignoring the men among the madrones. At the foot of the
drive, Jonny nervously punched the ten-digit code he had memorized
weeks before into the dashboard key pad. He was surprised and
relieved when he saw sections of the hologram disappear. When the
road was clear, he turned off the roof lights and drove slowly down
the hill.

        The night was clear and hot.
        He steered the Cadillac down the winding road, following a
series of rolling brown-outs through the suburbs, cracked solar
panels, Astroturf on the lawns, a deserted shopping mall that once
had served as a holding area during the Muslim Relocation programs
at the beginning of the century. The razorwire was still in place atop
double layers of hurricane fencing, a grim reminder of the war that
had never quite gotten off the ground.
        Jonny popped another atropine cap and rode the high all the
way into Hollywood, confident that if called upon, he could count
each strand of muscle tissue in his body. He left the car behind a
Baby Face plastic surgery boutique on Sunset and made his way in
and out of the stalled traffic to Carnaby's Pit, taking a detour through
the weekend mercado. The smell of cook smoke and sweat greeted
him, scratchy Salsa disc recordings, all the familiar sensations. The
crowd was thick with Committee boys. Jonny kept his head down
while old women tugged at his sleeves and children ran after him
with broken electronic gear, an artificial heart of chipped milky
white plastic, ancient floppy disk drives. Jonny saw no Link
documentary makers and he took this to be a good omen, but he kept
mistaking women in the crowd for Ice and Sumi. There were a lot of
lepers in the mercado. He spotted them easily-- they were the ones
wearing gloves or scarves or long sleeved shirts of radio-sensitive
material, drawing eyes from their lesions to the random Link videos
bleeding across their clothing.
        There were more lepers in the Pit's game parlor, frying in their
disguises. The air conditioning was down, leaving the air sauna-hot
and moist. Jonny felt as if he had stepped into an oven. The scarves
and gloves the lepers wore could almost be taken for some new
fashion, Jonny thought. Under other circumstances, they might have
been. A blonde woman plugged into Fun In Zero G wore a facial veil
and a long chador-like garment patterned with dozens of colorful
corporate logos, but the billowing material could not hide the
mottling along her hands.
        All that atropine had left Jonny with a crushing thirst. He
pushed his way to the bar and ordered a Corona. Porn jumped and
jittered on the video screen, colors slightly out of register ( What
does that look like through skull-plugs?  he wondered). Taking Tiger
Mountain was not playing. The music was a computer generated
recording in the style of numerous Japanese bubble gum bands. The
club was only half-filled and the crowd seemed edgy, voices louder
than usual. Random came back with his perpetual half-smile and set
down Jonny's Corona.  Haven't seen you for a while," the bartender
said.  You're looking exceptionally handsome and vital these days."
         Thanks," replied Jonny.  Took me a little out of town vacation.
Dude ranch in the hills. Had an oil change, lube-job, the works. 
        The bartender nodded.  Vacation, huh? And you came back?
You must be a glutton for punishment.  Random, too, was wearing a
scarf, folded cravat-fashion in the folds of his sweat-stained white
shirt, hiding something. He polished a glass absently on the front of
his spotted apron.
         Crowd's looking a little abbreviated tonight," said Jonny.
        Random nodded.  Fucking A, man. You can thank the
Committee for that. They just passed an ordinance cutting the
number of people we can have in here in half. Supposed to get a
handle on the leprosy. 
         While keeping things convenient for themselves," said Jonny.
 If it's illegal to get together, then the Committee can raid any gang
councils they get wind of. 
         Exactamente," the bartender said. He set down the glass he
had been rubbing. Through some method Jonny could never quite
understand, the bartender could polish glasses all night, and they
never seemed to get any cleaner.  You hear that bit of nastiness just
came over the Link? Seems that some person or persons unknown
set off a small nuke a few kilometers above Damascus. 
         Jesus," said Jonny,  was it us?"
         Nah. Very high burst. Didn't cause any property damage, but
the EMP fucked up communications, computers, etcetera for a few
hours. Seems from the device's trajectory that it came from beyond
Earth orbit. 
         What, they think the Alpha Rats are dropping bombs on
people?  Jonny asked. He took a long drink of the Corona.
        Random shrugged, leaned his elbows on the bar.  Buddha said
'Life is suffering.'  
         Then this must be life," said Jonny. He held up the empty
Corona bottle and Random bought him another. When the bartender
set it down, Jonny said:  What do you hear about the Croakers?"
        The bartender shook his head. Jonny could almost hear the
gears shifting. Business mode.  Don't know if I've had the pleasure,"
said Random.
        Jonny palmed a packet containing a half-dozen hits of Mad
Love and passed it to the bartender. When Random realized what he
was holding, he glanced at Jonny, registering genuine surprise. Jonny
was delighted; he had imagined the bartender incapable of any
emotions beyond a certain rueful irony.
         If you had nicer legs, I'd marry you right now," Random said,
tucking the packet away under the bar.  You're aware that I could
open my own place if I had a mind to sell what you've just given
         If you had a mind to sell it."
         If I had a mind." Random leaned closer, running a soiled gray
towel across the old dashboards that formed the bartop. His breath
smelled of old tobacco.  Word is, Zamora's cut their balls off. They're
gone, man. Closed up shop. Adios. All kinds of crazy talk about them.
Like they're trying to get arms from those New Palestine guys or
trying to steal a shuttle to go to the moon. Maybe they're the ones
that nuked Damascus.  Random laughed, all air. "Like I said, crazy
         That's it?" asked Jonny.
         Hell no. That's the crazy talk. People with a few synapses left
say they're hold up somewhere up the coast, past Topanga Beach.
The Committee's coming down hard on all the gangs. 
         So I've heard," Jonny said, draining half of his beer. He glanced
at the tense faces around the bar.  Anger, greed and folly."
 Perhaps you've hit on it. Perhaps the Committee's nothing more than
an instrument of karma. 
         More like a stairway to the stars. If you're an ambitious prick."
         Que es?" said the bartender,  You think the Colonel wants to
addressed as 'Mister President'? 
        Jonny shrugged.  He wouldn't be the first one."
         What's the old joke? 'Don't vote. It only encourages them.' "
Random shrugged.  Maybe it's not that funny. Anyway," he
continued,  if I were you, I'd consider taking my act on the road.
Between the heat and the lepers, Last Ass ain't no place to be right
now.  The bartender moved down the bar to serve a group of well-
dressed movie producers and their dates. They were drunk and tan
and radiated the slightly forced humor of store-bought youth, hard,
sleek bodies surgically sculpted into something as functional and
anonymous as next year's jets.
         Jesus Christ," Jonny said.  It makes you crazy."
        Later, when he was working on his third Corona, Random
stopped in front of him.  You think about what I said?"
         About leaving?" Jonny asked.  No way. I'm a business man. Got
deals to make. Grande deals. Enorme deals. 
         In that case," said the bartender,  I think somebody over there
wants to talk to you. 
        Jonny turned in his seat and saw Nimble Virtue, the slunk
merchant, waving to him from a corner table.  Thanks," he said to the
         It's your movie, man," said Random.  Be careful."
        Jonny picked his way through the crowd to the corner table
where Nimble Virtue sat by herself. She was dressed in a loose-
fitting kimono patterned with water lilies and delicate vines done in
gold and turquoise. Dropping into a seat across from the smuggler
lord, Jonny had a perfect view of a couple of her men, two tables
away, drinking iced vodka with some of the local Yakuza. Jonny
smiled and waved to them. One of the Yakuza men laughed and made
a made a circular motion with his finger to indicate madness.
         Dear Jonny-san," began Nimble Virtue,  First, allow me to
apologize for the uncomfortable circumstances under which we last
met. If I had any inkling as to Colonel Zamora's true intentions, I can
assure you that he would never have gained a single syllable of
information from myself or any of my people. 
        Nimble Virtue was small, a skeletal, middle-aged woman with a
flat nose and pale skin through which you could see the blue veins
around her skull. The way Jonny heard it, she had been born into
prostitution on one of the circumlunar sandakans that had serviced
the mining trade from the moon; it was not until the Alpha Rat's
invasion had destroyed the lunar mining business that she ever set
foot on Earth. Once there, she became the mistress of a powerful
Yakuza oyabun and thereby escaped the sandakan.
        Having spent much of her life in zero-G or reduced-G
environments, on Earth Nimble Virtue was forced at all times to wear
a titanium alloy exoskeleton. This helped her move about, and a
ribbed girdle-like mechanism worked her diaphragm, her chest
cavity having grown too small for her lungs to breathe the thick air
of Earth's surface. It was also rumored that she never went
anywhere without a velvet lined case bearing the fetuses of her two
still-born sons.
         You're a liar," Jonny said.  You'd sell your grandmother for
sausage if you thought you could hide the wrinkles. The only thing I
don't understand is why nobody's ever put a bullet through your
        Nimble Virtue covered her mouth with pale metal-wrapped
fingers, and giggled.  Some have tried, Jonny-san, but, as you can see,
none have succeeded. Many people find it more pleasurable to work
with me rather than against me. Could you not?  Nimble Virtue lifted
an empty wine glass and waved it at the table where her men sat.
One of them got up and went to the bar.  Have a drink. They keep Tej
here for me. Have you ever tried it? It's an Ethiopian honey wine.
         I don't drink with people who sell my ass out from under me,"
said Jonny.  But since you got me over here, you can at least tell me
why you turned me to Zamora. 
        Nimble Virtue ran her index finger around the rim of her glass
and licked off the remains of the wine. In the second of silence
between the pre-recorded songs, Jonny could hear the insect
humming of her exoskeleton.  I gave you to him as a gesture of
goodwill. I thought the Colonel and I had a deal, but things have not
worked out for us.  She gazed after her man at the bar. "A bit of free
advice, Jonny. Never develop a sweet tooth. It is much too expensive
a vice in a city like this. 
         What's this goodwill business you're talking about?" asked
         I thought you would be the expert in that."
         Don't be cute," said Jonny.  I could snap that skinny neck of
yours before any of your boys even draws his gun. 
        Nimble Virtue smiled at him.  And then we would both be
gone, and wouldn't that be a waste? No, much better that you should
hear me out,  she said. "I have a business proposition for you. It's
very simple: I want you to forget the Colonel. Come and work for
        Jonny leaned back on his chair.  What could I give you that you
can't buy already? 
         I know that Zamora had you picked up because he wanted
information about Conover. I also know that the Colonel is planning a
massive raid against all the smuggler lords. It only stands to reason
that you two have made a deal. That's why he let you go. Correct,
Jonny-san?  She paused and took several deep, ragged breaths.
Talking, it appeared, put her out of synch with her breathing
apparatus.  You are a dealer and can move freely among the lords.
You are gathering information about us for the Colonel: our strength
and our movements. I, too, wish to bid for your services. Work for
me. All I need is the date and time of the raids. For that information,
I will provide you with ample protection, as well as a permanent
place in my organization when we cut the Colonel down. 
         I don't know anything more about the raids than you do," said
Jonny.  And I'm not working for Zamora, and if I was, I sure wouldn't
give you any information. 
        One of Nimble Virtue's men arrived, carrying a heavy green
bottle from which he poured a clear gold liquid. The man set down a
second glass and poured Tej for Jonny before heading back to the
other table.
         Thank you, my dear," Nimble Virtue called after the man.
        She took a sip of the syrupy liquid and looked at Jonny.  Really,
Jonny-san, these threats and the names you call me mean nothing,
but do not insult my intelligence. I know that you have spent these
last weeks at Conover's mansion in the hills. Gathering evidence, yes?
I know all about Conover's hologram dome, and I know in my bones
that you are working for Colonel Zamora.  She paused again to catch
her breath.  In truth, I admire the subtle way you set up the
Croakers for the Colonel. Groucho is not a stupid man. You are to be
congratulated for taking him so thoroughly. 
         Keep talking. You're digging your own grave, asshole," said
        Nimble Virtue crossed her hands on her lap and gave him an
indulgent, matronly look.  Do you know the expression 'Little Tiger',
         I've heard it."
         You are the Little Tiger," she said.  You make loud roars, but
you have little strength and no cunning. I like you because you make
me laugh. But circumstances force me to limit the amount of time I
can expend on any one enterprise. 
         Don't let me keep you," said Jonny.
        She waited a moment.  Then you are committed to the
         I'll deal with Zamora in my own way," he said.  I don't work
for him and I won't work for you.  Jonny started to get up, but
Nimble Virtue laid a hand lightly on his arm.
         I would think twice about leaving here if I were you," said the
smuggler lord.  After betraying the Croakers, you have very few
friends left in L.A. I could make it ever so much hotter for you-- 
        Jonny swept his arm across the table, knocking glasses, bottles
and wine to the floor.  You sell me like your goddam slunk and then
you want to make a deal with me? Fuck you, old lady.  Nimble Virtue
made a fluttering gesture with her hand. Jonny turned and found
three of her men pointing Russian CO2 pistols at him, assassin
models, chambered for explosive shells. The men were young and
handsome, wearing tight black jeans and sleeveless t-shirts with
coiled dragons on the front. They were cool and expressionless,
mechanical in their movements and stance. But they were not ninja.
If they were, Jonny knew, he would be dead by now.
        Nimble Virtue got to her feet and waved for her men to put
their guns away. As they did so, she turned and gave Jonny a small
bow. Her face was flushed and she was breathing heavily.  I will be
going now. I wish you luck, and time to grow wise, Jonny-san. It
would be best if you stayed out of my way,  she said.
        He watched them as they left. Taking Tiger Mountain appeared
on the stage to indifferent applause. As Saint Peter kicked them into
their first number, Jonny pushed his way out the heavy fire door at
the rear of the Pit.

        If he pressed his back against the wall of the alley, Jonny could
get a pretty good look at Sunset Boulevard and the entrance to
Carnaby's Pit. The repair job on the front of the bar had been a
sloppy one. Smears of resin and cheap construction foam covered the
bullet holes in the Pit's facade. The charm was definitely wearing off
the place, he decided. Hot wind brought the smell of frijoles and
burning carnitas down the alley from the mercado.
        A scrape. A corpse's whisper:  Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst
make me clean. 
        Jonny started to move. Metal, cold and sharp, bit into his neck.
 Now, now," said Easy Money.  Long time no see, Jonny, old pal, old
buddy.  Easy and spun Jonny around. Satyr horns, tattooed knuckles
around the grip of a knife.  You know what I hear? I hear you want
to do me. 
        Other feet shuffled up behind them; other hands gripped
Jonny's arms. Easy released him and lowered the knife.  Bring the car
around,  he said. Footsteps moved off. Then to the others: "This guy
wants to fuck me. But he's so simple you gotta love him, you know? 
Jonny leaned back, supported by the grasping hands, and snapped
the steel toe of his boot up into Easy's groin.
        Later, after they beat him and he was laid-out on the floor of
the car, their feet on his back and a canvas hood over his head, he
comforted himself with the image of Easy Money rolling up into a
fetal position on the pavement in the filthy alley.

                                    The Menaced Assassin

         You're a very stupid boy, Jonny-san."
        Water hit him and someone pulled the hood away. He found
himself face-down on the riveted steel floor of an abattoir. His shirt
was gone; the freezing water cut into him like knives.
         How much of this have you taken?"
        He stood and Nimble Virtue tossed a packet of Mad Love at his
feet. It came to rest by the toe of his boot, where the water was icing
up over a flaking patch of dried blood. Welding marks, like narrow
scars of slag. The slaughterhouse had been grafted together from a
stack of old Sea Train cargo containers. A cryogenic pump hummed
at the far end of the place, like a beating heart, pushing liquid
oxygen through a network of pipes that criss-crossed the walls and
floor. From the ceiling, dull steel hooks held shapeless slabs of
discolored meat. Jonny looked at the slunk merchant.
         We found your pockets packed with this. From the size of your
pupils, I would guess you've snorted up a small fortune's worth.  She
wore a bulky floor-length coat of some opalescent sea-green fur.
Shrugging, she turned away from him, a tense, mechanical gesture.
Her exoskeleton whirred.  We could have extracted the information
we need painlessly, with drugs. But that seems impossible now. Who
knows what might happen when the mnemonics mixed with the
toxins you've ingested. We'll have to do it another way. But I want
you to remember,  Nimble Virtue said, "You've brought this on
yourself (he heard her voice overlaid with Zamora's then: 'You beg
for it, Gordon--'). 
        Easy Money and a thick-necked cowboy Jonny knew as Billy
Bump stepped into his field of vision. Easy was wearing a sleeveless
gray down jacket, Billy a surplus Army parka. Each held a Medusa.
Easy swung the whip end of his in a lazy arc before him. A bright,
almost luminous fury welled up in his eyes.  So when is it, asshole?"
he asked.
         When is what?" Jonny asked.
         When's the raid?" snapped the cowboy. He spoke in a thick
south Texas drawl, the result of a quartz chip implanted in the
speech center of his brain. He spit a rust-colored stream of tobacco
juice onto the floor. Billy Bump had picked up his name as teenager,
when he had a habit of pushing people in front of moving cars for
their pocket change.
         I can't hear you," Easy said in a mock sing-song fashion.
         Why bother?" Jonny asked.  You're not going to believe
anything I say. 
         Jonny, please tell me when Zamora is going to move against
us,  said Nimble Virtue.
         I don't know," Jonny told her.
        Easy Money whipped his arm out. The charged copper tips of
his Medusa snapped into Jonny's chest, blinding him with sparks. The
water radiated the shock across his arms and down into his groin.
Jonny doubled up and came to, finding himself clinging to a side of
gray meat for support. He could barely breath.
         When are the raids?" asked Nimble Virtue.
         I don't know," he said.
         Asshole," said Easy.
        Jonny pushed himself from the meat and took off between the
stinking rows, but Billy was waiting for him. The cowboy jammed a
big boot into Jonny's stomach and brought the Medusa down across
his back. Jonny collapsed onto the metal floor.
        Above him, Nimble Virtue's face appeared. Through his
confusion and pain she seemed as gray and lifeless as her slunk.
Hard bones beneath dead meat. Maybe that's her secret, Jonny
thought dreamily. No more Johns, she's found another way to sell
        Easy Money kicked him in the ribs and shook the coils of his
Medusa over Jonny, sending sparks into his eyes. Jonny heard Billy
and Easy laugh.  Well it's cryin' time again," Billy sang.
         Do you know where you are, Jonny-san?" asked Nimble Virtue.
        Jonny nodded.  Meat locker," he said, trying to get his breath.
         Correct. And there is a warehouse full of my men just outside.
There is no way out of here without my say-so. 
         No way out," echoed Easy Money.
         I could have these young men beat you all week. Do you
understand that? 
        He sat up. Strange lights boiled around the edges of his vision.
         Yes," he said.
         Good," said the slunk merchant.  Then why not be reasonable?
When are the raids? 
         Tuesday," he said. Then:  Oh fuck, I told you: I don't know."
        Easy and Billy were on him, snapping the coils of their Medusas
down on Jonny's back and stomach. Pain and the mad dance of
sparks overwhelmed him, merged with the flow of sensory data
along his nerves until he was unable to tell where the white storm of
agony ended and his body began. When they stopped, his muscles
continued to convulse.
         When are the raids?" asked Nimble Virtue.
         I don't know," said Jonny.  Zamora didn't talk to me about
         What did he talk about?"
         I don't remember." Jonny crawled to his hands and knees.
Despite the cold, sweat was flowing from his arms and chest.  My
life,  he said.
         What?" Nimble Virtue demanded. She waited until he was in a
kneeling position, then she slapped him hard across the face. Jonny
felt the metal around her fingers tear his skin.
         Conover," said Jonny.  Zamora wants me to turn Conover."
        At a signal from Nimble Virtue, Billy hit Jonny from behind.
While he was stunned, Easy secured hard loops of white plastic
around Jonny's wrists. Then Easy and Billy lifted him from the floor,
Easy pushing Jonny's arms over his head so that when they released
him, he was hanging by his wrists from one of the heavy steel hooks.
The pain was instant and terrible. He screamed.
        Nimble Virtue picked up the Medusa Easy had left on the floor
and approached Jonny.  Answer me quickly and simply," she said.
She gathered the coils of the Medusa together and pressed the
charged tips into Jonny's side. He convulsed on the hook and went
limp.  What is your name?" she asked.
         Jonny Qabbala."
         Your real name."
        It took him a moment.  Gordon Joao Acker."
         Where were you born?"
         The Hollywood Greyhound Station," he said. Easy and Billy
laughed again. It echoed. Jonny looked up; framed by the corroded
bulkhead around a ventilation shaft, he saw his hands, blood on his
         What is your profession?" Nimble Virtue asked.
         When did Colonel Zamora tell you to expect the raids?"
         He didn't."
         Liar!" yelled Nimble Virtue. She pressed the ends of the
Medusa into Jonny's stomach and held them there.  You stupid boy, I
can keep you up alive for weeks! Cut off a piece everyday and sell
you in the mercado! 
        When Jonny came to, he realized that he had blacked-out again.
Nimble Virtue was muttering in Japanese and making unpleasant
sucking sounds as the exoskeleton breathed her. Jonny's arms and
shoulders had gone numb. He thought he could hear music in the
next room. When Nimble Virtue looked at him, he said,  I can't tell
you what I don't know. Zamora just wanted to talk about the Alpha
        Jonny saw something flicker over Nimble Virtue's face.  Take
him down,  she said. Easy and Billy moved under him, lifted Jonny
off the hook and laid him out on the floor. Nimble Virtue moved
closer and put a hand on his leg. The fur of her coat tickled his
stomach.  Say it again. Say it or I'll have them put you back up."
        Jonny looked at her eyes. Fear or relief, he wondered. His head
swam. He wondered when the dream would be over and he would
wake up next to Ice and Sumi.  There's a deal," he said and his head
fell back.
         Wrap him up," Nimble Virtue told one of the men.  But leave
his hands bound. 
        Jonny lay on the cold steel, hoping it had worked. Fear kept
him still, but he was satisfied that they had bought the fainting act. A
trickle of relief washed through him. He could hear the purring of
Nimble Virtue's exoskeleton as she moved around the abattoir.  Get
the Arab back here,  she said. "Tell him we can deal. 
        Jonny listened to the foot steps. Billy's heavy and flat-footed,
his cowboy boots coming down like open-handed slaps; Nimble
Virtue's, rapid and light, with insect hums and clicks. Easy Money
moved in quick bursts, his club foot dragging behind him. Jonny
knew he would have to wait at least until Easy or Billy had left the
room before he could make a break. He willed himself to remain still,
to use what time he had to rest and collect himself. The sweat on his
right arm was freezing to the slaughterhouse floor. Just as he was
beginning to worry about frostbite, he felt Billy (he caught a whiff of
chew) wrap a rough woolen blanket around his shoulders.
         Don't want you croaking out on us, now," he heard the cowboy
        There was a loud buzz from the far end of the room. Jonny kept
his eyes closed, his breathing shallow. Movement, machine-like and
delicate.  What is it?" came Nimble Virtue's voice.
        Static. At first Jonny could not understand the voice.  --spotter
picked up police vans headed this way. Looks like a raid,  the
intercom sputtered.
        Nimble Virtue cursed in Japanese.  Not now. I'm not ready," she
        Jonny heard Easy Money:  It's the cops, not the Committee. No
         Perhaps," she said. The coldness came back to her voice, the
hard suggestion of efficiency.  Stay with him. You come with me." A
confusion of footsteps, all three of them moving around the room at
once. The abattoir door opened and closed. Then there was nothing.
Jonny could not stand it. He opened his eyes.
        At the far end of the room, Easy Money was leaning against the
cryogenic pump, grinning at him.
         Ollie, ollie oxen free," Easy said. He chuckled and steam from
his breath curled around his grafted satyr horns.  Watching you's
like watching porn. I mean, you're so fucking trite, but I can't help it.
I still get off. Twisted, huh? 
        Jonny got up from the freezing floor and pulled the blanket
tight across his shoulders.  You gonna tell the teacher I was bad
when she left the room? 
        Easy shook his head.  Hell no," he said.  You think I care about
the bitch? I'm just watching the parade go by. Besides,  he said,
strolling toward Jonny,  I know what you really want. You want the
stuff I took off Raquin. It's Conover's dope, isn't it? What is it? No,
don't tell me, you'd only lie, and I'd get pissed. Anyway, after we're
clear of this, maybe you and me, we can work out a deal. Meet me at
the Forest of Incandescent Bliss in Little Tokyo.  Easy nodded toward
the door Nimble Virtue had just used.  That's one of Yokohama
Mama's clubs. 
         The Forest of Incandescent Bliss. Right," said Jonny.
         I assume you're in contact with Conover, and can get me a fair
         No problem."
        Easy moved a little closer. He spoke to Jonny softly.  Tell me
the truth, you were gonna blow me away that night at the Pit,
weren't you? 
         Who me? I was just stopping by to watch the movie stars."
         Liar," said Easy Money. He smiled,  We're gonna have to work
that out, too. 
         Whatever you say."
         But later," Easy said. Through the slaughterhouse wall came
the muffled sound of automatic weapons fire. The lights in the
abattoir went out. A few seconds later, emergency flood lamps flared
to life over the doors throwing the room into brilliant arctic relief.
 They'll be back in a minute. You better get back on the floor." Jonny
reluctantly lay back down and Easy bent over him.  One more thing,"
he said.  I'm not helping you, understand, but if I were you, I'd make
a real effort to get out of here. You don't want to deal with the bitch's
Arab friends. 
        Jonny nodded.  Thanks." The meat locker shuddered. Nimble
Virtue and Billy hurried through the door.
         Bring him!" shouted Nimble Virtue.  It is the police, but I don't
want him found. 
        Jonny smelled tobacco again. He went limp as Billy grabbed
him around the chest and began hauling him toward the door. When
they hit warm air, Jonny dug his heels in and drove an elbow into
Billy's midsection. The cowboy groaned and fell back against a wall of
yellow fiberglass packing crates. Jonny spun, put a boot to Billy's chin
(just for fun, that) and took off running, Nimble Virtue shrieking
behind at him.
        He made one corner and hid between a cluster of rubberized
storage cylinders and the angled steel wall supports. Men armed
with Futukoros ran past him. Jonny's hands, when he looked at them,
were blue and swollen. Running again, he saw police wearing
breathing apparatus, moving among the long rows of crates. Down
another row, and he was gasping and stumbling, knee-deep in carbon
dioxide foam. He tried to climb out over a wall of crates, but lack of
oxygen muddled him. Black things with glassy eyes and tubes for
mouths grabbed him. He swung his bound hands weakly, but missed.
His feet could not find the floor.
        And the foam swallowed him.

        It seemed to him that he was always waking up in strange
places. As if his whole life had been a series of dull, terrifying
discoveries-- trying to find some point of reference, finding it and
having it swept away at the next moment. The feeling frightened and
infuriated him even as he nursed it along, believing that if he ever
lost his terror and rage he might lose himself, flicker and disappear
like an image on a video screen.
        Jonny woke up to a hot pain that extended from his shoulders,
across his back and down into his hands. When he moved his fingers,
pins and needles stabbed him. The familiar smell of prison (human
waste and disinfectants) turned his stomach.
         Christ," he said, opening his eyes.  Don't they know any other
color but green? 
        The door of his cell scraped open and a balding waxy-faced
young man peered at him from the hall. Evidently he had been
waiting there for some time and Jonny's voice had startled him.
Jonny was relieved to see that the man was wearing the blue
uniform of the police department, and not Committee black.
         Hello?" said the cop.
        Jonny swung his feet onto the floor and sat up on the pallet.
The cop tried to cover it, but Jonny saw his head snap back in
surprise.  I was just commenting on the accommodations," said
Jonny.  They suck." Pain, like a tight cord, cut through his middle.
        The cop frowned and closed the door. Jonny listened to his
footsteps as they faded down the corridor. Alone again, he pulled up
the stiff gray paper prison shirt and probed his ribs with the tips of
his fingers. Bruises and tender flesh there, but nothing seemed to be
        Surveying the cell, Jonny felt relief and a quiet kind of joy.
Dealing with the police, he knew from experience, would be no
problem. They were wired for failure, ridiculed even by the city
government that supported them; in the street, they were considered
a notch below meter-maids as authority figures. Most of the
department was staffed by boys who could not cut it in the
Committee, had blown their chance through lack of cunning or nerve
or the inability to zero in on and take advantage of the fine edge of
madness that was absolutely essential in Committee work.
        In their own odd way, the police were more vicious that the
Committee, a brutal down-scale version of their sister agency. Their
lack of power and the consequent pettiness of their concerns had,
over the years, become a kind of strength for them, a license to use
whatever savagery they thought required to complete the job at
hand. And the jobs took many forms; mostly, they concerned
shaking-down small-time smugglers, dealers and prostitutes for
protection from the gangs. These were often the same people who
were paying off one or more gang for protection from the police.
        Jonny reflected that the cop who had looked in his cell was
typical of the department. Older than most Committee boys and
lacking the spark of youthful certainty that death, when it came,
would be looking for someone else. Jonny decided he would feel the
cop out when he returned. See exactly what kind of story he wanted,
cop a plea and get assigned to a road gang or one of the Mayor's
neighborhood renewal projects. Jonny knew that once he was
outside, he was gone. With any luck, he figured he could be back on
the street in a week.
        It was about a half-hour, by his reckoning, before he heard
footsteps again. Two sets, walking with a purpose. The door of his cell
ground open and the cop he had seen earlier entered, followed by an
older man wearing a worn blue pin-stripe suit patched at the cuffs
with thread-jell, a cheap polymeric fiber that hardened when it came
into contact with air. The older man's tie was a shade too light to go
with his suit and was at least two seasons too thin. Jonny made him
for a bureaucrat. A public defender or maybe a social worker. He
would be the one to work on. Talk about his deprived childhood, the
violence in the streets...
         Officer Acker," said the older man; his eyes were red and
anxious. His shoes were injection-molded polyvinyl, vending machine
numbers.  I'm Detective Sergeant Russo, and this is Officer Heckert."
        Jonny smiled and shook the hand Russo extended to him, but
his mind was kicking into overdrive. New tack, thinking: He called
me  officer."
         I wanted to let you know, personally, that we're on top of the
situation,  said Detective Russo, smiling as he sat down next to Jonny
on the plastic sleeping pallet.  You see, when you were brought in
with that bunch from the warehouse, Officer Heckert here ran retinal
scans on everybody to check for old and foreign warrants-- not
something we usually do until after arraignment, but considering the
volume of goods in the warehouse-- Then, when he saw Colonel
Zamora's note in your file, he crossed-checked your retinal print and
found your Committee record. 
        That's it, Jonny thought. This lunatic thinks I'm still in the
Committee. I can walk right out of here.  Good work, Officer," Jonny
said. He nodded to Heckert. The cop nodded back, obviously happy
with his new-found status.  How is it you happened to raid the
warehouse when you did? 
         Anonymous tip," said Heckert.  A woman's voice synthesized
to sound male. We ran the call through the analyzer and got a good
print, but I guess she doesn't have a record.  The cop smiled. (Playing
hard boy, Jonny thought. Type of guy fails Committee application,
becomes police department and swears up and down he wanted to
be a cop all along, not a stuck-up Committee boy.)  Probably just
some chippie tryin' to get even with a boy friend. 
         Anyway," said Detective Russo, giving Heckert a disapproving
glance,  we called Colonel Zamora and he'll be by to pick you up
         You what?" Jonny yelled. He was on his feet, feeling as if the
bottom had just fallen out of his stomach.  Don't you know the
Committee's been compromised?  He knew he had to give them
something. He made it up as he went along.  Moles from the New
Palestine Federation penetrated the Committee months ago! I'm
undercover, investigating Arab terrorist cells operating in southern
California. They're insidious. Dumping mycotxins in the water table.
Releasing plague infested rats in the suburbs. This is strictly top-
level stuff, you understand. Eyes only. Washington and Tokyo are
involved, Sergeant Russo. None of this can leave this room. 
        Russo's gaze passed from Heckert to Jonny and back again. His
forehead was furrowed (unsure of his responsibility, his culpability,
Jonny thought, unsure, also, if he's being mocked).  But surely you
can't suspect Colonel Zamora--   Russo asked.
         How do you know it was Zamora you were speaking to?" Jonny
yelled. He was angling closer to the door. He could see they were
buying the line of nonsense. It was there in the cops' eyes. Their
colorless bureaucratic blood was bubbling to the surface. He knew
they would let him gobecause they believed he was just like them:
another link in the chain of command that bound them and defined
them. But their gears shifted slowly, and Jonny felt he had to push
them along.  Listen pal, you may have blown my cover but good," he
said.  And if the Arabs get wind that I'm in here, with the data I've
got, we can all kiss our asses goodbye, 'cause they'll level this whole
complex, rather than have me get away. 
         Well then, we better get you someplace safe," said a gravelly
voice from the door. Jonny turned around. He had not even heard
Zamora coming, and now it was too late to do anything about it. He
turned back to the cops.  Wait, I was lying. I'm not really a Fed," he
said.  I'm a Croaker! An anarquista! Arrest me and I'll tell you
everything! Names and dates! 
        Detective Russo rose from the pallet and turned to Zamora. A
muscle jumped angrily along his quickly reddening jaw.  Colonel
Zamora, I hope you can explain what's going on here,  he said. "Is or
is this not one of your men? 
         Why Detective Sergeant Russo," said Zamora,  of course he is."
The Colonel smiled at him and Jonny felt ill.  Didn't you see my
notation in his record? Agent Acker has been under deep-cover for
some time now. Working among terrorists for so long, he's had a
breakdown. Convinced himself he's one of them. It happens
sometimes in these deep-cover cases. But we'll get him all the help
he needs. 
        Russo grunted.  This man has wasted all our time, Colonel. And
put this department in an embarrassing position. I hope you get him
some help soon.  He shook his head, jammed his hands into the
pockets of his shabby suit and started out of the cell.  Colonel
Zamora,  he said, in a tired voice, "The next time you're having
trouble with your men, I'd appreciate your notifying the Department.
I realize that the Police aren't held in quite the same regard as the
Committee, but really--  
         You're absolutely right, detective," said Zamora.  Commun-
ication. That's what it's all about. 
        Russo and Heckert left the cell (the younger man fixing Jonny
with a look of absolute loathing) and went one way down the
corridor, while Zamora and a couple of heavily-armed Committee
boys led Jonny in the opposite direction. In an a waiting area painted
in two tones of blistered green paint, Zamora grabbed Jonny (tearing
the cheap prison shirt) and punched him in the stomach.  That's for
being a smart ass,  said the Colonel.
        Zamora shoved Jonny, still doubled-up, into an elevator.
Someone pushed a button and they started moving. Jonny saw his
reflection in one transparent wall, ghostly with receding rooftops and
cumulus clouds. The overcast sky burned muddily through the grime
and mirror-glazed Lexan that encased the rising car. Straightening,
Jonny looked at the Committee boys that flanked him. They appeared
to be about fourteen years old, radiating waves of amphetamine
tension. Both were skull-plugged into multiplexers set to coordinate
their Futukoros with the Sony targeting matrices that webbed their
chest and backs in tight diamond mesh. Each boy had a powerpack
around his waist and a datapatch, also jacked into the array, covering
one eye.
         The best we have," said Zamora, indicating the boys.  See all
the trouble I go through for you?  he smiled sympathetically. "Look
at me, Gordon. I'm an avalanche. And I'm coming down hard on you
this time. You should not have blown our deal. 
         What deal?" asked Jonny. He rubbed his sore ribs.  We never
had a deal. You put a gun to my head and gave me an order. Bullshit,
that's what that is. 
        Zamora shrugged.  Call it anything you like. The fact of the
matter is you fucked me over and now you've got to pay the price. 
He looked away and Jonny followed his gaze as it settled out over the
docks. White articulated-boom cranes were off-loading bright silver
boxcars from container ships, sliding on their induction cushions like
the skeletons of immense horses.
        An old and familiar anger enclosed Jonny, like a fist tightening
in his chest. He choked; it reminded him of speed, the reckless and
undirected anger of the comedown.
        He looked at the floor, trying to clear his mind. Strands of
plastic-coated copper wire coiled at angles from around the dull
service panel beneath the elevator button pad. Jonny gained some
small sense of control by telling himself that he had denied Zamora
the thing he wanted most-- Conover. But he's got me, thought Jonny.
And he knew that Zamora would eventually get Conover anyway.
That thought brought the anger back, stronger that ever.
         I see right through you, Colonel," said Jonny.
        Zamora raised an eyebrow, amused.  Oh really?"
         Damn straight," Jonny said.  It came to me while I was up
there in the hills. I haven't worked out all the details, but I know
you're in bed with the Arabs. I saw broadcasts from L.A., on a
restricted Arab Link channel. Obviously, if there are Arabs operating
in the city, you know about it. And if you know about it, it means
you're being paid off. 
         What if I told you weren't even warm?"
         You'd be lying. Cause it's that Arab connection that makes you
so nervous about Conover. He's got CIA connections that go back
decades. You're afraid he's onto you, that he'll cut a deal with the
Feds and that you'll end up in a sterile room somewhere with wires
in your head, spilling every thought you ever had. 
         What makes you think I'm not prepared to go up there and
drag Conover down by his skinny neck? 
         Because you don't want a war. Conover's not stupid. Obviously,
you know where he is. That hologram dome is just a carny trick to
impress the locals and the other lords, but he's got that haunted
house set up really nice against any kind of assault. You'd have to
flatten the whole hill to get him down. But if you did that, people
would start asking questions and you'd be back in the shit again.
That's why you told me that fairy tale about the Alpha Rats. You
thought I'd be all impressed and terrified of your heavy connections.
That I'd get Conover off that hill and come sucking around to you,
looking for table scraps. 
        Colonel Zamora shook his head, let go with his throaty lizard
laugh.  God kid, you've really gone around the bend. Maybe we
should get you to a hospital after all,  he said. "Naturally, there's
Arabs operating in Last Ass. Hell, Washington and Tokyo've got some
of the most influential Mullahs in Qom and Baghdad on the payroll.
It's the way of the world. (Economics, remember?) But these L.A
sand-scratchers are just a propaganda cell. Bureaucratic pussies that
couldn't keep me in lunch money. 
        The elevator was still climbing. Jonny knew then that they
were headed for the hoverport on the roof. He shook his head.  I
know that you were lying that night back at the warehouse. You
don't have Sumi. If you did, you'd have brought her up already. Used
her to threaten me or something. 
        Zamora smiled. The elevator was gradually slowing its ascent.
 You sure about that, Jimmy?" The Colonel reached out and gently
fingered the rip in Jonny's prison tunic.  You ready to bet your life on
         You telling me I got anything to lose?" Jonny asked.
        Zamora laughed again.  No, probably not."
        The elevator shuddered as magnetic bolts locked it into place
below the hoverport. They were still two floors from the roof. Like
most port-equipped buildings in L.A., this one had a special,
restricted-access elevator they would have to use to reach the port.
 Get ready," Zamora told the Committee boys. Neither boy directly
acknowledged the order, but each moved, adjusting datapatches,
wiggling their shoulders to smooth the targeting webs. The boys
were living on a different level, Jonny knew, in the extended sense-
field of the targeting matrix, experiencing a digital approximation of
expanded consciousness. For a moment, Jonny found himself envying
them. He shook his head at the absurdity of his own mind. Nothing to
lose there, he thought.
        The elevator doors whispered open and Jonny was propelled
into the hall; Zamora came behind him, the Committee boys on either
side. The Colonel moved quickly to the other elevator, slid his
identification card into a slot under the key pad and pushed a button.
A few meters down the corridor, a prison maintenance worker was
using a caulk gun to apply a clear silicone sealant around the edges
of an observation window. The corridor itself was silent and
anonymous with beige walls and brown institutional carpeting; Jonny
was relieved to find that the vile prison smell did extend up to this
        Time was definitely slowing, Jonny decided. He felt as if he
were moving through some heavy liquid medium, acutely aware of
his surroundings, pulsing with the exaggerated senses of the dying
and the doomed. Objects had taken on an almost holy significance.
Potted palms by the windows. Dull chrome lighting fixtures. The blue
overalls of the maintenance worker, his mottled skin. Pink shading to
black. Something in his hand. Silver bolt in a crossbow pistol.
        The name came out, involuntarily.  Man Ray," Jonny said. But
by then it was over. The Committee boy on his right was dead, a
slender length of super-conductive alloy bursting through his chest,
glittering there like a bloody spider, the ribbed filaments bent back,
tangling and shorting the targeting web-- frying the boy in his own
        The other boy was firing down the corridor, spraying the walls
with hot red tracers. Jonny spun and round-housed him in the
kidneys. An arm clamped around Jonny's throat, jerking him
backwards.  No!" Zamora shouted; the Committee boy had turned on
them; stoned and red-faced with rage, he had his gun pressed to
Jonny's jaw. There was a subdued hiss. And the boy fell back, his
throat split with a spidery bolt.
        The elevator doors opened and Zamora pulled Jonny through.
In death, the second Committee boy's eyes were like those of a
bewildered child. Jonny felt for him, but then his head was snapped
back savagely to meet the barrel of Zamora's Futukoro.  It's not that
easy!  the Colonel yelled. He flicked the barrel of his gun at Man Ray
and blasted between the closing doors, the sound thundering through
Jonny's head. Man Ray leaped the bodies of the dead Committee boys
and rolled clear of the shot. The elevator doors closed with a soft
thud and the car began to rise.
         Nothing," Zamora whispered in Jonny's ear.  Not a move, not a
breath, not a sound.  The arm around Jonny's throat tightened,
threatening to lift him off his feet.  You think your companeros are
cute? They're assholes. Got nothing going for them but card tricks. 
         Maybe," said Jonny,  but your boys are still dead."
        The car shivered gently to a halt and the doors opened under
the towering lighting gantries of the hoverport. The Colonel's
Futukoro pressed to his temple, Jonny crossed the tarmac, the Colonel
hugging his back. Smog-light bloodied the sky, the setting sun
burning feebly through hydrocarbon-laden mists.  Heads up,
children!  Zamora bellowed. "There's Croakers in the building!  Boys
moved in the dusty desert light.
        A dozen broad circles, were laid out evenly across the roof, like
illuminated manhole covers. The hovercar landing pads were
essentially waffled discs of carbon steel inset with guide lights, set on
a bed of leaking shock absorbers. At the moment, there was only one
car on the roof, resting on a pad at the far end of the port; Zamora
was pushing Jonny toward it as a dozen running Committee boys and
cops fanned-out behind them, preparing to lay down covering-fire
across the rooftop. Off to Jonny's left, a young cop with a lightning
bolt tattooed on each side of his bald scalp, was sending the aircraft
elevator to the basement, sealing the roof from the rest of the
building. Horns sounded and crimson warning beacons revolved. The
platform dropped about two meters and stopped. The roof lights
flickered and died.
         Power's cut!" someone yelled.
        Zamora shoved Jonny forward, into the arms of a couple of
slope-browed Meat Boys. The taller of the two, an acne-scarred
chollo, tall even by Committee standards, said,  Where's Rick and
         Shut up," said the Colonel.  They're gone. It's the asshole's
fault. Take him to the car. 
        At the moment the Meat Boys' brutal fingers death-gripped
Jonny's shoulders, something fluttered in the air. The Mitsui Pacific
Bank complex, dark a moment before, glowed a pale, snowy gray,
and a black and white hologram of a woman's face coalesced in the
air, gridded with windows and shining robot washers. The image
refocused, tightened until only the eye remained. And the profile of a
man with a straight razor in his hand. The gray eye covered ten
stories at the top of the bank as the razor slid through the cornea,
cutting it neatly in half. On every side of the roof, buildings flared
behind tides of phosphenes. Pale dustings of porn flesh. The wet red
of an autopsy instructional. Collaged ads, too fast to follow: shoes,
cars, new eyes, cloned pets.
        From somewhere, a loudspeaker blared metallically:  We are
the revolt of the spirit humiliated by your works. We are the spark
in the wind, but the spark seeking the powder magazine! 
         Get him out of here," said Zamora as the first concussion shook
the roof.
        The Croakers were above the hoverport when Jonny saw them,
high enough to still be silent under the whirling blades of their
ultralights. He figured they had launched themselves from the
nearby buildings under cover of the holograms. They were circling
now, dropping garlands of roses, playing cards, flocks of mechanical
doves, which spun on convection currents to the roof below, where
they exploded, ripping steel and tarmac from under the boys' feet,
billowing choking pink clouds of CS gas.  What'd I tell you?" Zamora
said.  They're hotdogs. It's going to be a turkey shoot."
        But the power cut in, and the carbon arcs atop the light
gantries glowed to life, blotting out the winged figures.  Shit," Zamora
yelled, hurrying across the roof.  Get him to detention," he yelled to
the Meat Boys.  Lose him and it's your asses."
        The shorter Meat Boy, a WASPish blonde with bad teeth,
nodded and pushed Jonny in the direction of the hovercar.  Name's
Stearn,  he said. "This is Julio.  He jerked his thumb at the taller boy.
 We'll break your back if you get cute." At about sixteen, Stearn was
nearly a meter taller than Jonny, his voice unnaturally deep, his
speech slurred by his distended acromegalic jaw.
        At the base of the hovercar platform, Jonny panicked, knowing
what would be waiting for him when they reached Committee
headquarters. He twisted in Stearn's grip, the cheap paper shirt
splitting at the shoulders, and vaulted up and over the hovercar. He
caught a glimpse of the pilot inside, an amber death's head in the
backwash from the navigation console. Down on the other side, Jonny
leaped off the platform and ran for the edge of the roof, waving his
arms and yelling at the Croakers.  Here! I'm here!"
        A fist, the size of Jonny's head, caught him between the
shoulder blades and knocked him flat. A moment later, he was
dragged to his feet. The Meat Boys double-timed him back to the
hovercar. On the far end of the roof, Croakers were bringing their
ultralights down, coasting to a halt amidst a wash of tear gas and
Futukoro fire.
         All right!" yelled Jonny.  They're gonna use your balls for
paperweights, Ubu! 
        Stearn released him and Julio shoved Jonny, back-first, through
the canopy of the hovercar. He fell, staring up at the huge boot that
hovered above his face, and passed over him as Julio settled into the
seat on his right. The Meat Boy hauled him up as Stearn got in and
sat, boxing Jonny in on the left.
        Outside, the amplified voices continued:  I am here by the will
of the people and I won't leave until I get my raincoat back. 
        Stearn snapped down the canopy and tapped the pilot on the
shoulder, yelling  Go!" The pilot hit the cut-in switch for the engines.
Sub-sonics rumbled in Jonny's guts as the hovercar's four Pratt and
Whitney engines burned to life. Ultralights settled to the roof a few
meters from the platform, and Croakers came scrambling for the car.
 Go!Vamonos!" yelled Stearn.
        Jonny jammed his leg between the forward seats and swung
his boot at the pilot's head.  Keep still," mumbled Stearn, shoving an
elbow into Jonny's throat.
        In a tear gas fog, the hovercar rose about two feet off the
platform. And banged down again. Something silver flashed by the
window. The pilot pushed the throttle forward, feeding more power
to the engines. The hovercar slowly began to rise, and swung out
over the street. Jonny saw Zamora below them, waving frantically.
One of the Meat Boy's cursed and Jonny looked up.
        The sickle end of a kusairigama was wrapped around the light
rack atop the car. Flash of a face in the window. Noise from the roof.
Jonny whooped at the sight. Three Croakers were chained to the roof
as the hovercar flew unsteadily twenty stories above the city.
         I can't keep it steady," the pilot said.  There's something
        Julio, leaned forward.  Look up, stupid," he said.
        The pilot turtled his head forward as an ax cracked the
windshield just above him. He pulled back on the control stick,
rocking the hovercar violently from side to side. The sound of metal
and fragmenting plastic came from above. The Croakers were spread
out on the roof, methodically hacking away at the canopy.
        Stearn had his gun out, pointing it up at the crotch of a Croaker
kneeling on the canopy above him. The pilot was still struggling with
the stick. The car pitched to the left, a complaining animal, and the
boy lost his aim.
         Hold it still. I can't get a shot off," he yelled.
         No!" screamed the pilot.  You might hit the stabilizers! It's
hard enough to control now. 
         Then shake them off," said Stearn.
         Right, hang on."
        The pilot cranked the stick hard to the left and the hovercar
flipped. Jonny's feet left the floor. He reached out for the ceiling,
dangling a few centimeters above the seat by his safetybelt. The
Croakers were still outside, secured to the car by their chains.
         I can't hold it," said the pilot.  Load's too much."
         Hold it," Stearn ordered. He took aim at the Croaker by his
        Jonny braced his back against the roof and rabbit punched the
Meat Boy with both fists, driving his face into the glass. The Futukoro
went off, blasting out the window. Shattered glass blew in on them
like a thousand flying knives. The sound of hot wind and the scream
of overworked turbines.
        The pilot righted them. The Croakers clambered back onto the
roof and went to work, hacking away at the body of the hovercar.
Stearn turned and stared at Jonny, jagged wedges of glass embedded
around the boy's eyes and mouth, glittering there like savage jewels.
Stearn lunged and locked his thick fingers around Jonny's throat,
squeezing. Jonny went for the boy's eyes, but missed, felt muscles in
his neck tear, felt his breath stop, the world begin to slide away.
         Stop it!" Julio's voice cut through the wind.  We've got to get
him to detention,  he said. "He's not yours! 
        But Stearn kept on squeezing. Jonny heard a muffled explosion,
and felt the fingers on his neck go slack. He struggled back. Stearn
had jerked upright, his shoulders twitching convulsively. Then he fell
forward, revealing a wet hole in his back.
         Move!" yelled the Croaker with the gun. She was leaning in the
broken window, upside down, trying to get a shot at the other Meat
        Jonny threw himself down on Stearn's body, heat of gunfire
across his back. When he dared to look up, Jonny saw the Croaker out
the window, lifeless puppet, chain slipping from around her wrist,
dead already as she tumbled from the car.
        Julio grunted some obscenity in Spanish. Jonny found him
stuffing a handkerchief into the hole in his shoulder. The Committee
boy smiled.
         I won't kill you," he said, and pressed the barrel of his
Futukoro into Jonny's groin.  But I'll make you wish you were dead."
         We're near the detention center," shouted the pilot.  I'm going
to set us down there. 
         Do it fast," Julio said. He pressed his back to the shattered
window and slid part-way out.
        Jonny felt his skin prickle at the thought of returning to
Committee headquarters. The hovercar was skimming over the roofs
of blacked-out skyscrapers. They neared Union Bank Plaza, with its
dry fountains and dead, brittle trees. Jonny saw the freeway. If he
could get the pilot to put the hovercar down there, he thought, he
and the Croakers could hijack a car and disappear. Jonny glanced at
Julio and saw the boy occupied with a Croaker who refused to hold
still and get shot.
        Using Stearn's body for cover, Jonny stamped his boot down
and drew out his long bladed knife. Leaning between the forward
seats, he touched the tip of the blade to the pilot's throat, pressing
just hard enough to draw blood. The pilot's head snapped back.  Set
it down by that fountain,  Jonny whispered.
         Yes sir," he said, and started a slow bank toward the Plaza.
Jonny heard a voice:  What the hell are you doing?"
        He swung around. Julio was pulled his head in through the
window, and Jonny caught him on the chin with his boot heel. Two
leather clad arms shot in behind the Meat Boy, latching onto handfuls
of his hair, dragging him back out the window. Julio seemed to panic
then; he waved his Futukoro all around the cabin, pointing it one
moment at the Croaker who had him, then swinging the gun back at
Jonny. As the he disappeared out the window, he pulled the trigger.
The pilot's head exploded, and the hovercar angled forward, nose-
diving for the pavement.
        Jonny reached under the body of the dead pilot and grabbed
the stick. Above him, he could hear Julio still struggling with the
Croakers. A shot went off through the roof. Jonny pulled back hard
on the stick, trying to forestall the crash. The hovercar banked
steeply, scraping down belly-first through the trees in Union Bank
        Across the street, amidst a jumble of rotting patio furniture, sat
the mirrored bulk of the Bonaventure Hotel. Jonny looked up just in
time to watch his own reflection crash into the building across the

                                The Treason of Images

        A light crusting of salt on his lips. The smell of damp cement
and fish.

        Los Angeles closed over him like the wing of a bird, distorted
like the image of a diamond caught in the concave surface of a
parabolic mirror. Distended, the city shattered; it could not hold. All
the gleaming office towers and prisons, all the cars and guns, the
junkies and the dealers, the dead and the dying came raining down
on him from the back of a wounded sky. And everybody seemed to
know his name but him.

        It occurred to Jonny that for someone who basically just
wanted to be left alone, he was spending an awful lot of time waking
up in bandages.
        That he was alive at all was less a surprise to him than a
burden. He kept wondering if there was some reason for it, some
purpose other than for other people's amusement. The back of his
head felt as if it had been pried open with a can opener and filled
with dry ice. He laughed at something (not entirely sure what), found
the edge of the bed with his hand and sat up.
        The smell of fish was stronger. There was a chittering, like the
voices of dolphins, rooms away. No light, though. He felt bandages on
his face, multiple layers of gauze and surgical tape. Scars on his
cheeks. He had surgery. Below the line of the dressing, he touched his
lips. They were swollen, his front teeth loose. His nose was probably
broken, too. Still, it could have been worse, he thought. His eyes

        His eyes.       

        Somewhere in the back of his mind, a voice was screaming. His
own: like the roar of turbines, like metal twisting on metal.
        The world tilted then, burdened by the weight of a single word.
 Blind," he said. It barely registered. He found he could hold it back,
if he tried, could examine the word from a distance, scan the
contours and convolusions of it, while never quite allowing it to take
on conscious meaning. But the weight of it was such that he could not
keep it away indefinitely; it fell, bringing memory crashing down on
him like the windshield of the hovercar. He was blind.
        I am blind.
         Jonny?" It was a man's voice. Amplified.  Stay there. Don't get
up,  it said.
        Below his bare feet, the floor was cold. He felt damp concrete,
limp strands of kelp and a few steps later, the rusted grillwork of a
floor drain. He could hear the ocean, very close by. Something
skittered across his right foot. A tiny crab. He felt others move away
each time he brought his foot down. A wall. He needed a wall,
something substantial to hold onto. He started back to where he
thought the bed was, then stopped. Unsure. He turned in a circle,
shouting, his head thrown back, his hands reflexive claws tearing at
the gauze. When it was all gone he was still standing there, panting.
No light at all.
         Jonny, don't move."

        He started at the sound, took a step-- and was falling. A hand
closed on his shoulder and right arm, pulling him back. He lay on the
floor, his hands to his f ace, the dampness seeping through his pant

         I told you to stay put. You almost walked into ten meters of
empty air just then.  The voice was familiar.
         Hey Groucho," Jonny said.  Guess what. I'm blind."
         I already knew. You didn't have to go to all this trouble to
prove it to me,  he said. The anarchist hauled him to his feet and
walked him back to the bed, a distance Jonny judged to be no more
than fifteen meters.
         Christ, I'm a fuckin' veg," said Jonny.
         Don't be stupid," said the anarchist. Jonny felt the distribution
of weight on the bed change as Groucho sat down.  You have your
hands; you have your mind. We sealed off what was left of your optic
nerves. There wasn't much more we could do. 
         Great," asked Jonny.  What about implants?"
         I don't know.  We could probably rig something to give you
some kind of vision. Eventually,  Groucho said. "Splice some nerve
cells from somewhere else in your body into your optic nerve tissue
and see if we can generate something to rebuild with. I'm not sure.
The trouble is, we're limited in what we can even attempt out here in
the hinterlands. We lost a lot of our equipment when the Committee
came down on us.  Jonny felt him move. Some kind of gesture.
 Sorry, man."
        Jonny nodded.  Yeah. So where are we?"
         A fish farm. It's been out of business for years. That's what
you almost fell into, one of the drained feeding tanks. Before it was a
farm, the place used to be a marine mammal center. There are pens
outside where the dolphins still come looking for a free lunch. I'm
afraid we've been encouraging them,  he said. "They're beautiful
         Gee whiz, tell me all about it," said Jonny. He took a deep
breath and swallowed.  Listen, I gotta know. Do I-- I mean, what do
         Your face is fine," said Groucho.  You may even consider it an
improvement. Although you have enough plastic and metal in your
skull now to qualify as a small appliance. 
        Jonny shook his head. He tried to conjure up the image of
Groucho sitting next to him on the bed. The bed itself was easy.
Running his fingers around the edge, he felt bare metal and soft
rubberized bumpers, locked wheels beneath. A specimen cart, he
thought, covered with a foam sleeping mat. However, Groucho's face
eluded him. Jonny could never recall people's faces unless he was
looking right at them. He tried to picture the room. Bare concrete,
enameled tanks with chrome ladders leading to the bottom, drains in
the floor--
        Forget it.
        It was a shopping list, not a picture. He could imagine himself
(also faceless), Groucho and the bed, but beyond that was a void,
terra incognita. Nothing existed that was farther away than the end
of his arm.  Get used to it, asshole," he mumbled.
         So what happens now?"
         We go back to plan one," said Groucho.  The Croakers have
friends in Mexico. We should be able to get you down to Ensenada in
a couple of days, then over to the mainland. It's going to be a while
before we can do anything about your eyes. 
         Don't shit me, okay?" said Jonny.  If my optic nerves are as
gone as you say, then we're just blowing wind talking about nerve
splices. Realistically, we're really talking about a skull-plug run
through a digitizer and some kind of micro-video rig. You, or any of
your people, got the chops to fix that up? 
         No. You've got to go to New Hope or some government clinic
for that kind of work. 
         Well, there you are," said Jonny flatly. The bed moved as
Groucho got up. Jonny studied the overlapping echoes of the
anarchist's footsteps as he moved around the room, counting the
number of beats between each heel click, imagining that this might
give him some sense of the room's layout or size. It did not. There
were other sounds: the white noise of surf, dolphins, the clicking of
crabs across the floor, all equally distant and unreal, as if, in the
absence of any visual stimulus, his brain were busily manufacturing
sensations for itself.  Maya, man. Sometimes I think this is all just
smoke and mirrors. 
         I thought that was acknowledged," said Groucho. The
anarchist's voice came from across the room, a little off to his left.
         It used to make me crazy," Jonny said.  I roshis told me that
this was all an illusion. Well man, if this is all illusion, it must be
somebody else's, 'cause I wouldn't make up this shit.  There was a
scraping on the concrete, a rustling of paper. Jonny thought Groucho
might be moving boxes.
         That's just avoiding the issue," said Groucho.  It also sounds
like am elaborate excuse for suicide. Do you want to die? 
         I don't know." Jonny shrugged.  Sometimes. Yeah."
         It's hard," said Groucho.  We've become so numbed by the
presence of death that we toy with it, use it like a drug, building it
up in our minds as the great escape. The fallacy there, of course, is
that death is an illusion, too. 
         You're a three ring circus, man," said Jonny.  But it's all just
words. The Catholics got half the city under their thumbs with cheap
lighting effects and stained glass, the Muslims tell the hashishin that
dying for Allah is a ticket to heaven and Buddha says life is
suffering, which means I shouldn't bring anybody down by pointing
out that being blind, that this whole situation is completely fucked. 
         Don't you see, that's what illusion means? You're blind, you
say? I say, there's no one seeing and nothing to be seen,  Groucho
replied.  How can you miss what never existed?"
         That is such bullshit."
         Ice told me you had a roshi once, that you used to sit. What
happened?  Groucho's voice was close again. He pressed something
into Jonny's hands.  Your boots. Sorry, somebody polished them.
They're black, again. 
        Jonny leaned over the edge of the bed and started to pull on
his right boot. He said,  Yeah, I used to sit. I was young and it was
fashionable. Teeny-bopper Zen. Like lizard skin jackets or green
         You don't seem the type for that game."
         Sure I am."
         No, you like to think you are, because it's easy and it fits in
with an image you have of yourself, but, I think, you're not nearly
the cynic or fool you like to play at. 
        As Jonny pulled on his other boot, he said,  That was you guys
tipped the cops to Nimble Virtue's warehouse, right? 
        Groucho sighed.  Taking you from the cops was going to be a
breeze. We never dreamed the idiots would call in the Committee, 
Groucho said.    Ice made the call, actually. She's safe, you know."
        Jonny smiled.  Thanks."
         Sumi, too."
         Jesus," he said,  is she here?"
         Yes. She practically rigged all the lighting out here single-
handed. She's running the juice through the transit authority's power
         That sounds like her," said Jonny.  Where is she? Take me to
her.  He stood, but Groucho pushed him back on the bed.
         You stay here. She and Ice are on a scavenging party to some
of the old oil platforms nearby. When they get back, I'll let them
know you've come around. 
         Thanks, man," Jonny said. He touched the neat rows of tiny
plastic staples they had used to close the incisions in his face. Tight
meridians of pain. He felt very tired.
         The confidences of mad men. I would spend my life in
them,  replied Groucho. "Take this.  Jonny found a small cylinder of
soft plastic pressed into his hand.  Auto-injector," said Groucho.  It's
an endorphin analog. If the pain gets too bad, just remove the top to
expose the syringe, and hit a vein. 
        When the anarchist left the room, Jonny popped the top of the
injector with his thumb and pressed the needle into the crook of his
left arm. A spring-loaded mechanism pumped home the drug.
Immediately, the pain was gone, replaced with a gentle disembodied
warmth, as if his blood had been replaced with heated syrup. He lay
down on the bed, feeling his muscles uncoil, and let the drug and the
deeper darkness of sleep wash over him. He listened to the ocean
and the dolphins, licked the salt from his lips, and hoped he would
not dream.

        Sleep did not stay long. The drug did its work well, holding the
pain an arm's length away, but the analog left too much of his brain
in working order. He was just aware enough to notice the ghosts as
they floated high above his bed. Hot red and electric blue, moving
fast, like falling rain or static on a video monitor. He swung at them
open-handed, but missed. They were not there. They were inside.
Inside his head.
        A trick of the surgery, he told himself. Random signals twitched
from fried nerves, entering the visual center of his brain. Fireworks,
he thought. Great timing. Thank you very-fucking-much.
        When he fell asleep again, he dreamed of machinery, an under-
ground refinery, like a buried city. Cooling towers and steam and
choking clouds of synth-fuel fumes. He had run away from the state
school again. Jonny, ten years old, fat and out of breath, ran on
trembling legs and hid among the dull hills of cooling slag. A man
came after him. He wore a cheap plastic poncho and carried a gun.
Silent as death, half his face was hidden behind a pair of mirror
shades. When the man found him, all Jonny could do was raise his
blistered hands to cover his ears. At the last moment, he saw his
burned face reflected in the man's glasses. The refinery roared and
spat smoke. He cried, hoping he would not be able to hear the shot.

         Wake up, Sleeping Beauty. Hey Jonny, come on, move your ass.
Somebody made little railroad tracks all over your sweet face. 
        Startled, he awoke. He could still see the ghosts, but there were
fewer of them now. His skull was full of cotton.  Ice?" he said.
         Who else, doll?"
        He sat up in bed, reached out and touched wet leather, cool and
smelling of the ocean.  Hiya, babe," she said, and kissed him with
salted lips.  I got a present for you." She guided his hand to the right,
until it touched something. Graceful planes of skin and bone defining
cheeks, below that, a strong jaw and mouth. Something happened in
his chest, a jolt, like pain, that instead was pure pleasure. Later, he
thought if he had eyes, he probably would have made a fool of
himself by blubbering.  Sumi," he said.
         Can't put anything over on you," she replied.
        He held her, held on to her to keep from falling. If he let go, he
knew the floor would open up and swallow him. But he felt Ice's arm
join Sumi's across his back. They stayed that way for some time,
huddled there together, Jonny's head on Sumi's shoulder. His drugged
brain could hardly handle the input. It kept misfiring, triggering
emotions and memories at random. Fear. Love. A melted circuit
board. Desire. Mirror shades. A gun.
         Where the fuck have you been?" he asked, finally. They
relaxed and moved apart on the bed, but remained touching.
         You know Vyctor Vector?"
         Sure," he said.  She's only el patron of the Naginata Sisters."
         Well, I was setting up power out at her place; she's got this
squat in an old police station in Echo Park. The Sisters are using it as
their new club house. Built in security system, a gym, working
phones, you know? Anyway, when I finished up there, I went back
to home, but when I got there, the place was crawling with
Committee boys. I thought one of them might have spotted me, so I
high-tailed it through some movie crew downstairs, and back to
Vyctor's. The Sisters were cool. They put me up for awhile, then got
in touch with some smugglers they muscle for, who put me on to the
Croakers. And here I am. 
         Here you are," said Jonny.  Christ, we probably missed you by
maybe a couple of hours.  He shook his head. "I thought you were
         And we thought you were dead," said Ice.  'Course, before that
Sumi thought I was dead, and I thought, oh shit--  She laughed.
 Let's face it, everybody wrote off everybody these last few weeks.
But we made it. We foxed 'em. 
         We got lucky," Jonny said.
         Maybe it's the same thing," said Sumi.
         Maybe it doesn't fucking matter," Ice said.
         I'm so out of touch," said Jonny.  What's it like on the street?
The Committee's push still on? 
         Yeah. We thought with so many people sick, they'd forget
about it and back off,  said Ice. "No such luck. They're just pumping
the boys full of amantadine and sending 'em out on search and
destroys, using the virus as an excuse to come down on anyone's
ever looked cross-eyed at the Committee. 
         That's why the Naginatas were moving," said Sumi.  Vyctor
said the Committee closed the Iron Orchid, where they used to hang
         Public Assembly Laws they call them." Ice all but spat the
words.  No gatherings of more than a certain number of people
within a kilometer of Los Angeles. The Colonel must be going nuts, 
she said.  He's getting positively medieval."
         Does anybody have any ideas on how the virus is spreading?"
Jonny asked.
         On a molecular level, the thing's just a lousy cold bug. A
rhinovirus. Vanilla as you can get,  Ice replied.
         What I saw on that micrograph at the clinic sure didn't look
like a cold virus,  said Jonny.
         Right," said Ice.  It's like one of those Chinese puzzle boxes.
You know, open up one box and there's a little box inside, you open
up the next box, there's a smaller one inside that, and on and on. On
one level, this thing looks like a phage, on another level, it's just a
cold bug. But the levels keep going. The molecular structure of this
thing's dense. We know something else, too. At least, we're
reasonably sure. 
         Sure of what?" asked Jonny.
         It's man-made."
         How do you know?" Jonny wished he could see Ice's face as
she talked. He could usually learn as much from her expressions as
from what she said.
         Partly it's just a hunch (She would be frowning now.), but
natural bonds just don't feel like this mess. It's like somebody tried
to squeeze ten pounds of ugly into an eight pound box. 
         Tell him about the war," said Sumi.
         What war?" asked Jonny.
         I'm coming to it," Ice said.  It looks like what we got here is an
ultra-complex retrovirus, something back in the 'nineties they called
a layered virus. A primary bug attacks a system, in our case, the bug
is a viral analog of leprosy. It causes whatever damage it can, but
eventually the system's defenses kill it. Here's the tricky part,
         There's another virus," said Jonny.
         You got it, doll, " said Ice.  At some point, we don't know what
triggers it, but a secondary virus is activated. It uses the damage
caused by the first virus to attack the already weakened system. In
our case, the secondary virus uses the peripheral nerve damage
caused by the leprosy to travel backwards, on a substrate of nerve
cell axons, up into the brain. Almost the exact reverse of neuroblast
migration. We think it might be modeled on that. 
         What's the pathology of the second virus?" Jonny asked.
        Silence.  Syphilis," Sumi said.
         Parenchymatous neurosyphilis, to be exact," said Ice.  A really
hyped-up version. Years worth of nerve damage get compressed into
a few days. Death occurs a week to two weeks after the symptoms
manifest.  She took a breath. "It's a motherfucker, too. Physical,
mental and personality breakdown, epileptic attacks, lightning pains,
tremors; the full whack. Patient's pupils get small and irregular. 
         Argyll Robertson pupils," Jonny said.
         Right. Looks like they got bugs in their eyes." Ice'svoice
trailed off, then it came back loud, full of frustration.  And the
syphilis is an analog, too, of course. So none of our standard therapies
are worth shit. Personally, I wouldn't go through it-- 
         Who would?" asked Jonny.
         I mean I wouldn't want to die that way," said Ice.  I think if I
found out I had the bug, I'd do myself before I'd go through all that. 
         Yeah," whispered Sumi. He could feel the woman move,
leaning toward Ice to comfort her.
        Jonny thought that it was probably night outside. Even in the
relative quiet of evening, the sounds and smells of the ocean lent a
subtle sense of life to the old fish farm that Jonny appreciated. Raw
sensory data, enough to keep from feeling completely disconnected
with the world, poured through the seaward vents, sounds and
scents changing radically with the passing of the day. There were no
chittering dolphins sounds now, just the quiet lapping of water and
the scratching of crabs in the empty pools. Farther away were human
sounds. Occasional hammering, voices, the momentary roar of a car
engine. It would not be unpleasant, thought Jonny, to spend the rest
of his life here.
         Tell me about the war," he said.
         Down by the port, we liberated this warehouse of some guns
and fuel, and ended up this case. Had some floppy discs full of
declassified military documents. The war was that Arab and Jap
thing back in the 'nineties,  said Ice. "Seems NATO's bio-warfare arm
was working on something a lot like the layered virus we're looking
at now. Operation Sisyphus. Trouble was, back then, they couldn't
always trigger either virus and when they did, they couldn't always
protect their troops. A lot of people died. There's apparently still a
zone in northern France that's off limits to civvies. After all that, the
project got a bad name; the research was considered too expensive
and too dangerous, so when the war-talk cooled down, the project
died. And the techs went back to making the world safe for
conventional warfare. 
         You think our virus could be the same one they were working
on back then?  asked Jonny.
         A much more refined version, yeah. I'd be real surprised if in
the last seventy years, some of that original data didn't get walked
out of there from time to time,  Ice replied. "I mean, we weren't even
looking for it. 
Jonny nodded and his chin momentarily brushed Sumi's hand, which
rested his shoulder.  It fits," he said.  There's a New Palestine cell
operating in the city. They've been beaming leper videos to the folks
back home. Zamora told me they were just a propaganda unit, but he
was lying. 
         Hell, could be Aoki Vega or the goddamn Alpha Rats, for all
the difference it makes,  said Ice.
         She's right," said Sumi.  If this is some germ warfare thing,
we're probably not going to find any easy treatments for it. 
         Fuck it, if the Arabs want this city, they can have it," said
Jonny.   Groucho already talked to me about Mexico. He says we
can be down there in a couple of days. 
         I'm not going," said Ice.  Sumi'll take you, and I'll come later."
         You still playing the artistic anarquista?" Jonny asked.
         Fuck you," snapped Ice.  I've got commitments here. I'm a
Croaker and that means I'm part of this revolution, no matter what
you think of it. 
Jonny turned to her voice.  Excuse me, but wasn't that you a little
while ago saying me how much you wanted us to be together again?
Well, here we are.  He waited for her to say something and when she
did not he said,  What's the matter? You bored already?"
        He felt her get up and leave the bed; an emptiness developed
in her wake, a sense of loss that was more profound than the simple
lack of her physical presence. He put out his arm, but she was not
there and he could not find her. Ice's practiced steps were light and
almost silent from months of guerrilla raids and street warfare. Her
sudden absence reminded of his helplessness.  Ice?" he said.
         I'm doing this." Her voice was firm and low, the tone she
always used when she wanted to project assurance, but was afraid
her voice might crack.   You can help me or not, make this easy
or hard, but I'm in the for the duration. 
         Why are you being such a shithead, Jonny?" asked Sumi. She
shook his sleeve gently.  What's the matter?"  Shit. I'm afraid," he
said.  I'm afraid for her and you. And I'm afraid for me. I don't want
to end up alone. 
         You won't be alone," said Sumi.  I'm going with you. Ice will
         He's afraid I'm going to take a walk again," came Ice's voice.
         Shouldn't I be?" he asked.
        He breathed deeply. His fingers picked idly at a paint blister on
the bed's molded metal handle.  I hate politics. It's the lowest act a
human being can sink to. 
         Yeah," said Ice, drawing the word out to the length of a breath.
         Why don't you come here?" Jonny said.
        She came back to the bed and he kissed her for a long time.
Then he leaned back and kissed Sumi, and when he moved away,
found himself pressed in the warmth of two bodies as the women's
mouths met over his shoulder.
        The undressing was a haphazard affair. Jonny yanked at the
boots he had just put on and tried to help each woman out of her
clothes. Without his eyes, though, he just succeeded in tangling them
in their shirts. Sumi pushed him down on the bed and held him
there, reminding him that a couple of days was not a very long time,
and that maybe he should not help them.
Eventually, they bent together, in one three-way kiss. Hands moved
in phantom caresses and scratches over Jonny's body. The women
pressed him to the bed, embracing each other on top of him, exciting
each other while moving in slow undulations over his body.
        Occasionally their rhythm would change and he would feel a
tongue or hand would sweep over his belly or up his thigh. They
were teasing him, he realized. Making his blindness a part of their
lovemaking. He loved it.

        The women changed places, moving back and forth across his
body. He lost track of them, could no longer tell one from the other.
One bent to his penis and he leaned back, shuddering pleasurably
against the other's breasts. The smell of their bodies overwhelmed
        While the one remained on his cock, he tilted his head back
into the sweet-sour folds between the other's legs. He and the one he
was tonguing (he thought it might be Sumi) came together-- in that
instant he felt his life drain out into both of them, as theirs' drained
into him.
        The one on his cock stayed there until he was hard again and
mounted him from the top. The other woman moved between them
scratching, caressing the two of them as they moved together. Then
the women switched places and a new warmth enveloped him. He
felt one riding him (Sumi, he was sure.) lean across his chest and
brush her lips across the other's labia. Ice trembled to a climax as he
kissed her and the life moved between the three. The smells of
concrete and rust, sweat and sex flared and merged with his own
orgasm, lighting, for a moment, the vast and eyeless darkness in a
small act of binding.
        And then the light was gone and he was blind again, but this
time he did not feel so alone.

         Big trouble." It was Groucho's voice.
        Jonny sat up in bed and fumbled for a light switch, then
remembered where he was. He felt Ice and Sumi stirring on either
side of him.  What's wrong?" he asked.
         Zamora," said Groucho.  He's got the city sealed off. There are
goddamn jetfoils patrolling not a hundred yards out from here. Road
blocks on the freeways and secondary roads. Aerial recon on the
desert. Nobody's going anywhere. 
         How'd you hear about this?" asked Ice. Both women were up
now. Fabric rustled softly as they pulled on their clothes. Jonny
waited for someone to hand him his.
         A rescue team just brought in a driver from up north," said
the anarchist. His voice was tired, hoarse.  She was riding point for a
camel train moving down the coast from San Francisco, bringing in
antibiotics and amantadine. Seems that everything was clean and
clear until they hit Ventura. Some of Pere Ubu's boys were waiting
and all hell broke loose. 
         She going to make it?" asked Jonny. Someone dropped his
clothes in his lap and he started to dress.
         I doubt it," said Groucho.  She's shot up pretty badly. Gato just
shot her up with the last of our endorphins. I've been on the radio all
night. Ubu's got the town sealed up tight. 
         Think he's ready to move on the lords?" asked Ice.
         No question about it," Groucho said.  This driver said they
made a run on New Hope, hoping they could pick off a warehouse.
The place is deserted. 
         Then we're fucked," said Jonny.  They've moved the heavy
money out of the way of war. 
         We're still safe out here, aren't we?" asked Sumi.
         Not any more," said Jonny, pulling on his boots.  It's standard
Committee procedure to let a few people get away from any raid, just
to see where they run. They probably had that driver tagged all the
way out here. 
         Which is why we're going back to the city," Groucho said.  I
have people packing up anything we can use. The rest gets dumped.
We've got a few kilos of C-4 wired to pressure points all along the
superstructure of this building. When Ubu's boys get here, it will be
waiting for them. 
         What happens to Jonny?" Sumi asked.
         Funny, that was my next question," Jonny said.
        Groucho sighed.  What can I say? We're pretty good for
weapons, but we have to coordinate with the other gangs before we
can hit the Committee. We can find something for you to do once we
get set up. 
         Like rolling bandages and hiding under beds when the
shooting starts? No thanks. I got other plans. 
         What?" asked Groucho.
         Well, I don't mind telling you, Mister Conover was pretty
choked up when I took off from his place. He'll be glad to see me. 
         You sure you can trust him?"
         Absolutamente," said Jonny.  He always been right by me and,
besides, if there's any way to move stuff out of town, he'll know
about it.  He stood up from the bed and pulled on his shirt. The
sounds of movement, clattering tools and footsteps, things being
dragged across concrete, echoed through the complex; there was
tension in the voices Jonny heard, a frenetic buzz that he recognized
as the prelude to combat. At that moment, he no longer had any
desire to remain at the farm, thinking, The Colonel's taken that away,
         I'll need a driver," he said.
         That's me," said Sumi.
        Jonny reached toward her voice and felt a hand close over his.
 You should go with them," he said.  They can use your help. If
Conover can't move me, it could mean sitting on our asses for a long
         We had a deal," said Sumi firmly.  I don't see where this
changes anything but the location. I go with you now and Ice joins us
         When the girl's right, she's right," said Ice.
         You sure?" asked Jonny.
         Completely," Sumi replied.  What about a car?"
         No problem." Groucho's voice was farther away, near the noise
from the door.  Be ready to go in thirty minutes," he said.
        As the anarchist left, Jonny said,  He says that like we got to
pack or something. 
         He just wants to give us time to say good-bye," said Ice.
        Jonny laughed.  I don't think a half-hour is going to be enough,"
he said.

        Sumi took his hand, pulling Jonny through long and curving
corridors that buzzed with the staccato beat of voices (too many
languages at once, he could not understand any of it) and hurrying
feet. The smell of nervous sweat hung in the air, an undercurrent,
like a faint static charge.
        Outside, a cool salt breeze lapped at his face. The sun warmed
him. Sumi took him down two switchbacks and then out over hard
sand that crunched like broken glass under their feet. It was a sound
from his childhood. Fused silicon. He knew where they were now,
could picture the scene in his head. The smell of burning fossil fuels
came from his right, along with the growling of primitive combustion
engines. The sun was dead ahead. Yes, he could see it. The vehicles
that had been hidden under the pylons of the fish farm, were being
rolled out onto the blackened beach, leaving feathery webs of cracks
in the dead glass of the Pacific Palisades shore. Jonny had visited the
beach before.
        The summer of his twelfth birthday. He and a boy named Paolo
went over the wall from the Junipero Serra state school. In Santa
Monica they stole a small launch. Paolo piloted it up to the Palisades
and they weighed anchor at the sight of a wrecked
Venezuelan freighter. Liquid natural gas explosion, Paolo had said.
Wiped out the whole town. Jonny nodded, trying to look cool, but he
could barely keep his lunch down.
        There was not much of the freighter left above the surface. In
the leaking wet suits and respirators they found on the launch,
swimming through the wreckage of the ship's engine room. It had
been blown, nearly intact, onto an outcropping of rock a few dozen
meters below the water level. The big furnaces were crusted with
bright streamers of coral and undersea plants, like some weird ice
castle. On their way back to the surface, Jonny spotted something. An
odd shape below the big mussel-studded steam pipes. He swam
closer. A skeleton, blackened with the sea and time. The back of the
skull and ribs had melted when the ship burned, flowing in the same
pattern as the bulkhead walls, fusing with them. Hermit crabs and
barnacles had claimed the skull.
        Standing on the beach now, Jonny wondered if the sailor was
still out there, washed by the Pacific tides. He was the first dead man
Jonny had ever seen.

        Sumi took his hand and placed it on the warm metal roof of a
car. Jonny felt his way along the smooth finish until he came to a
seam where the roof met the door. He pulled the door open (it swung
up, not out) as an arm slid around his midsection.  You take care,
killer,  Ice whispered. She pecked him below the ear.
        Jonny nodded.  You, too," he said. The sun was making the scars
on his face itch. He heard the women up by the headlights, speaking
in low tones. A rustle of fabric as they embraced. Then footsteps as
someone crunched away quickly across the sand. A hand touched his
arm.  You have to step up to get in," said Sumi. Trying hard not to let
her voice crack.
Jonny put a leg up over the side of the low-slung car, and settled
onto rotten leather upholstery. When he touched the dashboard, he
felt weathered wood. His fingers smelled lightly of varnish and
mildew. As Sumi got in, he ran his hands over the stick shift and
instrument panel, felt an embossed logo. It reminded him of another
car he had been in. Something Italian. Lamborghini? he wondered.
         There's a shoulder harness to your right," said Sumi quietly.
        Buckling in, Jonny said,  She's going to be all right."
        Someone came running up to the car.  Here, take this." It was
Ice, breathless. She put something in Jonny's hands. Half a meter long
and heavy, it smelled of cordite and machine oil, had two chopped-
off cylinders mounted on a short wooden stock. A sawed-off shotgun.
 Figure you can't use a pistol right now, but if someone gets close
enough, this'll modify their opinion. 
        Jonny weighed the gun in his hands.  I love you, too," he said.
         Need any amantadine?"
         No, Conover'll be holding," said Jonny.
         Right." Ice touched his shoulder.  Gotta go," she said. And she
was running away again, off to where he could hear the other cars
warming up their engines.
        Sumi gunned the Lamborghini and slipped the car into gear.
 She's not coming back," Sumi said.
         Just drive," said Jonny.

        It began to rain as they entered the city. They were driving
along Wilshire Boulevard, right through the withered heart of the
financial district. Jonny imagined he could feel the heat of the lights
as they passed Lockheed's brilliant torus and the flat black sphere of
Sony International, Sumi trying to blend the old Lamborghini into
the hesitant flow of rush hour traffic. Groups of Croakers had
preceded them, heading north and south from the beach, hoping to
pull away any surveillance teams that had followed the camel train
        Rain needled across the asphalt as they cruised through
Beverly Hills. Jonny thought it sounded like frying eggs. For the last
hour, a spring had been steadily working its way through the ruined
seat and into Jonny's back. He listened to thunder roll in the distance,
like a collapsing mountain, growing faint, until it faded completely
somewhere to the south. When they were in Hollywood, Jonny told
Sumi to head up into the hills.
         Exactly, where are we going?" she asked.
         Up high," said Jonny.  We want to rattle Conover's cage so his
security'll come and check us out. 
         Great," said Sumi.  How do you know they won't just blow us
away and ask questions later? 
         They won't."
         How do you know?"
         I know."
         Actually, I don't. But I've still got this," he said. From his jacket
pocket, he pulled the black card with the gold bar code.  Cops must
have left it when they decided I was still Committee meat. The card
transmits an identification code. They won't kill us if they scan us for
         If they scan us."
         Right. If."

        He told her to park the car in the driveway of one of the
derelict houses in the Hollywoodland development. They waited
there in the rain. Jonny popped the door on his side to let in a little
of the breeze the swept down through the hills. The air smelled of
sage and manzanita. The staples on his face alternately itched and
stung him. He thought about the endorphins Groucho had given him
back at the fish farm, wished he had some now. He consoled himself
with the thought that Conover would have all the drugs he needed to
feel better. Better than better, Jonny thought, remembering the stash
of Mad Love. Quite a mixed blessing, that. It would be a bad time to
bliss-out again, with Ice in trouble and Zamora's push so near. They
might have to move on a moment's notice. And he knew that Sumi
hated to see him wasted. It brought back bad memories for them
both. The Committee. Ice running away. Sumi doesn't need that crap,
he thought, not now.  How are you feeling?" he asked.
         Tired," said Sumi.  My head hurts. Stomach, too. I wish we'd
had a chance to eat something today. 
He wanted to tell her about the Mad Love, ask her to help him keep
clean.  Conover's got these great cooks," he said.  They really lay it
on. You'll feel better once you've eaten.  He started  to mention the
drugs. His lips moved, but the words would not come.
        Folly, he thought. Greed and folly.
        An hour passed. No contact with Conover or his people. Jonny
heard Sumi yawn. Her head settled on his shoulder, soft hair against
his cheek. He wondered if it was night yet. He was unaccustomed to
the sounds of the hills. Each gust of wind, each snap of a twig make
him jump. A part of him wished his hearing had gone with his sight.
Living by half-measures was getting to him. Sumi jerked her head
         What is it?" he asked.
         Shh," she whispered.  Something's moving."
         Conover's men?" he asked.
         No. An animal."
         What kind--?"
        Sumi screamed and something slammed into the front of the
Lamborghini like a truck. Then it was on the roof, clawing and
pounding on the canopy, trying to force it's way in through Jonny's
half-open door. He grabbed the handle and held on.  What the hell is
it?  he yelled.
         A tiger!" screamed Sumi. She pounded on the glass.  Get off,
fucker! Demasu! Demasu! 
        The cat growled like rolling thunder. Jonny's door lifted a few
centimeters and something slid in. He felt wind on his face, heard
claws tearing up the dashboard.  Shoot it!" he yelled. Something cut
the air before his face. In his mind's eye he saw mad knives, bent
silver blades that smelled of musk and sweat coming for his scarred
face.  Shoot it, goddamnit!" He pulled harder on the door, but could
not budge it.
         Where's the gun?" yelled Sumi.
        Jonny twisted in his seat, trying to keep his shoulder from the
ripping claws. He had slid the gun down between his seat and the car
wall. He felt along the rotten leather, coming up with spiderwebs and
dust. Then his hand fell on a wedge of polished wood. Something
sharp tore at his shoulder, scraped bone. He cursed once and fell
back against his seat, pulling the gun and letting off both barrels
through the window.
        At first there was nothing. When the roaring in his ears died
down, he was aware of a gentle, but persistent hissing beneath the
sound of the rain. There was a peculiar chemical smell in the air.
Almost metallic.
         Christ," said Sumi.  It's a robot." Jonny heard her release the
latch and lift her door open. A creaking of springs as she stood in her
seat.  Looks like you got it in the neck. Took it's head clean off. Jesus,
you ought to see this. Steam, fiber optics and circuit boards all over
the place. Some kind of super-cooled liquid. It's bubbling the paint
right off the car. 
         Get back in," said Jonny.  They'll be coming soon."
         I think they're here," said Sumi. Jonny heard he slide back into
her seat.
        Footsteps ground on stone off to the left. They came right for
the car; it sounded like three of them, making no attempt to mask
their approach. They would be armed, Jonny knew. And nervous
when they saw the ruined cat. Conover's rail guns could turn the
Lamborghini to slag in a few seconds... A man barked harsh Spanish
near the front of the vehicle.  Fuera! Fuera! Vamanos!"
        Jonny held up his hands.  Ricos! That you, man?"
        Someone came around the car and raised the shattered door
over Jonny's head. A low laugh.  Hey, maricon. I was all planned to
kick your ass, but I see somebody do it for me, no? Lucky for you. 
         Yeah, I must be about the luckiest guy in Last Ass," said Jonny.
         Senor Conover es muy enojado, you take off like that," said
Ricos.  He be happy to see you." The man moved closer.  Quien es?"
         That's Sumi," said Jonny.  She's a Watt Snatcher. Friend of
         Not bad, maricon," said Ricos.
         You keep staring, ass-eyes, you're gonna find out how bad I
am,  Sumi said. Jonny smiled.
        Ricos tapped Jonny's shoulder.  Come on," he said. Then,  Hey
maricon, you bleeding. 
        Jonny put his legs over the side of the car and slid to the
ground. Sumi came around the front and took his arm.  It's the story
of my life,  he said.
         We fix you up good," said Ricos, pushing Jonny toward the
trees.  Watch your step."
         Very funny," Jonny said.

         A nasty piece of work, son," said Mister Conover, turning
Jonny's face in his hands.  You're never going to have to learn to take
care of yourself, are you? The plastic surgery looks first-rate, though.
Tell me, what condition are the optic nerves in? 
         Shot," said Jonny. Sumi sat next to him on the plush sofa in the
Victorian wing of Conover's mansion. The room was warm ad the air
smelled of aged wood and patchouli. The smuggler lord had given
them Earl Grey tea spiked with Napoleon brandy. Jonny was working
on his third cup, rolling with the buzz, letting it build up slowly. He
was warm and despite everything, was feeling pretty good. Conover
was having one of his twice-weekly blood changes. Jonny could hear
the medical techs moving quietly around the room, mumbling to each
other, adjusting tubes and compressors.  The optic nerves are sealed,
but they're pretty useless. 
         Interesting," said the smuggler lord.  I'm sorry my tiger
mauled you tonight. 
         That's okay," said Jonny. He moved his shoulder, feeling the
tight weave of gauze where the techs had dressed his wound.  Sorry
I had to blow its head off. 
         Completely understandable, given the circumstances," said
Conover.  I'm sorry, too, in a larger sense, that any of this had to
happen. All this was avoidable, if you had just stayed put. But you're
still young and sometimes your energy outstrips your sense.
Considering what you've been through, I think could forgo the I-told-
         I'd appreciate that," said Jonny.
        The blood change took another hour. After that, Conover
announced that he was going to bed. On his way out, the smuggler
lord paused by the sofa and said,  Nice to have you back, son," and,
 Thank you for not hurting Ricos that night in the garage."
Jonny smiled toward Conover's voice.  All I wanted was the car. Did
you get it back? 
         Of course," said Conover.  I took the fact you didn'tdo Ricos
any real damage as a sign of your goodwill. That you were not
Zamora's man, after all. But please-- 
         I know--"
         Don't run off like that, again." Conover's tone was friendly
enough, but there was something underlying it that chilled Jonny. He
nodded at the lord.
         No problem," he said.
         Good," said Conover.  Fela, here, will take you to your room
when you're ready. I'm putting you in the same one you had last
time, Jonny. Since you're already somewhat familiar with the layout,
I thought you might be more comfortable there. 
         Yeah, thanks."
         'Night all."
         Good night," said Sumi.
        After Conover left, they finished their tea in silence. At three,
dozens of clocks, porcelain and grandfather, cuckoo, music box and
free standing chimed, rang and called the hour, slightly out of sync,
so that the sound had the effect of a musical waterfall. When the
sound died down, Jonny asked Fela, a member of Conover's African
house staff, to take them to their room.
        To his surprise, Jonny found that without his eyes to trick him,
the mansion was much less confusing than the last time he had been
there. He was learning the place by touch, sound and smell, not sight,
so the false doors and back-lit windows, the peculiar  angles of the
floor and wall joints could not throw him off. He memorized as much
of their trip through the house as he could, mentally comparing what
he was touching to what he had remembered seeing in the mansion.
He knew when they reached the corridor where their room lay.
Inside, he was greeted with the familiar feel of filigreed wood on the
French antiques. He felt a kind of elation, a childish sort of pride,
completely out of proportion to what he had accomplished. He smiled
and staples stung him.
Fela left them (silently, as always) and Jonny took Sumi out into the
hall, walking her past the paintings, describing each he could
remember.  That's a Goya, picture of a nude woman lying on a couch.
This is a Rembrandt, right? Dark portrait of an old man with no teeth.
On that table's a sculpture. I forget who did it. Bronze of ballerina. 
        Sumi made appreciative noises as they walked along. He could
not tell if she was admiring the art or his memory or neither. He did
not really care, either way. He had a surprise for her.
        When Jonny felt the edge of a heavy gothic table, he stopped
and pointed to the wall above it.  What do you see?" he asked.
         A painting of some kid dressed all in blue. He's holding a big
feathered hat,  Sumi said. "Am I supposed to like this guy or
something? He's not my type. 
         It's 'Blue Boy' by Thomas Gainsborough. And it's a fake," Jonny
said.  The only one in the hall." He nodded back the way they had
come.  Touch it. The texture's just a holographic trick." He waited a
moment.  Well?"
         Well what? What's supposed to happen?" asked Sumi.
         It's plastic. Didn't you notice?"
        She grunted.  I don't think it's plastic."
         Of course it is," insisted Jonny.  I found the real one in a
storage room--   His fingers brushed wormed wood, but where he
was expecting thin, ridged optical plastic, he felt fleshy mounds of oil
paint.  Is this the right painting?" he asked.
         It's a young boy dressed in blue," said Sumi.
Jonny shoved his hands in his pockets. He turned around in the hall,
confused, suddenly unsure in which direction their room lay. He
touched the painting again. Sumi took his arm and walked him back
to the room. He sat up the rest of the night brooding, wondering who
had changed the painting. Sumi tossed in her sleep. The brandy had
upset her stomach and she sweat with a low-grade fever. By dawn
(He could tell the sun was up by the warmth that came streaming
through the lace curtains. It made his face itch.), her fever had
broken. He lay down beside her on the damp sheets and fell asleep.
He dreamed, but there were no images, just darkness. Endless,
unbroken night.

         It's the nineties all over again," Conover told Jonny and Sumi.
Silent waiters set bowls of what smelled like miso soup before them
on the low lacquered table. They were in the Japanese wing. Conover
had gone all out for the dinner, the third the three had shared. Silk
kimonos had arrived at Jonny and Sumi's room earlier that evening,
along with split-toe socks and wooden sandals. The scent of
sandalwood incense filled the house, along with koto music, fragile,
ancient, quarter-tone melodies, coming from the halls and every
room, flowing from speakers hidden in the walls. The three of them
sat cross-legged on tatami mats, firm, pumpkin-sized pillows resting
against their backs.
         It was an exciting time. There was blood in the air then, too,"
the smuggler lord continued. Jonny thought he sounded a little
drunk. He had been celebrating by himself the completion of some
big business deal. It amazed Jonny how, in the midst of what seemed
to him to be absolute bug-fuck madness, Conover could calmly carry
on with business as usual. Earlier that evening he had mentioned this
to Conover and the smuggler lord had explained that it had mostly to
do with his age.  Nothing much surprises me anymore. Or frightens
me, for that matter,  he had said. "It's all re-runs now. Has been for
        Now, Conover said,  Nineteen ninety six was the year of
reckoning. How good is your history, Jonny? 
         'Bout as good as my math," he said between sips of hot
soybean soup.
         How about you, my dear?" Conover said to Sumi.
         Ninety six? That's the year of the Saudi revolution. When the
oil ran out, right? 
        Conover, laughed and slapped the tabletop.  An educated young
woman, how delightful,  said the smuggler lord. "Yes, indeed, in
ninety six the oil ran out. For us. The west. Of course, it was still
there-- in the ground, but there was so little left that the New
Palestine Federation wanted to freeze all exports. That's what
brought down the House of Saudi. They opposed the embargo and
down they came, like a house of cards. 
         That's it?" asked Jonny. Someone took away his empty soup
bowl and set a plate before him. He sniffed. Pickled cabbage.  That's
what that whole stupid non-war was about? They wouldn't sell us
their oil? 
         No, no, no," Conover said.  That was part of it, to be sure. But it
goes much deeper than that, back years and years. If you read
histories of that period, they'll tell you the shooting started when
somebody blew-up the Malaga fusion reactor in southern Spain. The
CIA claimed the Arabs took it out with a surface to surface missile
from Tangier. For their part, the Arabs claimed that radical members
of the Green Party or some other environmental group did it without
knowing the damned thing was on-line. 
         Did they really blow up the reactor?" Sumi asked.
         Yes indeed. Wiped out a hundred square kilometers of prime
Spanish real estate, too. But as to starting the war... It's like saying
the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand started World War One.
The event is true, the ultimate outcome is accurate, but the event
becomes meaningless when you remove it from its context.  
         Who's Archbishop Ferdinand?" asked Jonny.
         It was Islam itself we had to kill," said Conover. Jonny heard
the smuggler lord sipping tea. He picked at his pickled cabbage,
waiting for Conover to continue. Even drunk, the man was
         This goes back to the nineteen seventies and the early oil
embargoes. When the Arabs first let the world know they were
aware of their own power. You have to understand, that world
communication was still at a very primitive stage. There was no
World Link, no skull-plugs. Your average westerner knew nothing of
the middle east. Muslims scared the hell out of middle America. All
most people knew of Islam came from the twentieth-century
equivalents of the World Link. Videos of hostage taking, flag
burnings, young men driving trucks full of explosives into the sides
of buildings. Utterly alien images. How were we frighten these
people? Intimidate them? We couldn't. There we were, the most
powerful country on earth and we were powerless to stop a handful
of radicals. 'Fanatics' we called them. 'Muslim extremists'. 
         Terrorists," said Jonny.
         Oh yes. A very flexible word," Conover replied.  Generally used
to describe anybody we don't like. But the Arabs-- after all the years
we had been shitting on these people, they were starting to shit back,
and that was unacceptable. It was bad for morale and, more
importantly, it was bad for business. We had to squash them. It was
going to be Central America all over again. Boom!  Conover yelled.
 Flat as a pancake."
        Jonny set down his chop sticks and, not finding a napkin, licked
his fingertips. He had picked-up the habit of keeping one or two
fingers on his plate at all times. It was the only way he could find his
         You really think that old mess is heating up again?" he asked.
         I was speaking metaphorically," Conover explained.  I simply
meant to draw an analogy between that old war and our current
situation in L.A. 
         Who's the Arabs and who's the U.S.?" asked Jonny.  I suppose
we'll figure that out when he see who wins.  "The war in ninety-six
died down in a few days, right?  asked Sumi. "Nobody really wanted
to start World War Three. 
         The war plans died, yes, but it was more like a few years,"
said Conover.  Don't forget that's where our economy went, right
down the black holes of all those oil fields we didn't own. The
moment they signed the Reykjavik treaty, we were dead. All those
booming war-time industries collapsed overnight. Then, when the
Depression was at its worst, the Alpha Rats landed on the moon, cut
off the mines and our lunar research labs and finished us off. We're
probably the first country on record to ever go into receivership. The
Japanese picked us up for a song.  The smuggler lord was silent, as if
remembering.  Some people think it comes down to accumulated bad
karma. My dear--  Conover said suddenly-- "are you all right? 
        Jonny reached out and found Sumi's hand. It was hot and moist
with sweat.  I'm fine," she said irritably, pulling from his grip.  The
food up here's too rich for me. I can't keep it down. 
         She's been running a fever on and off for a couple of days,"
said Jonny. He touched her face. She was burning up.
         Don't do that," she said.
        Jonny heard Conover get up and move around to their side of
the table.  Please," the smuggler lord said quietly. He was quiet for a
moment. Jonny knew the lord was checking Sumi's eyes. Hepatitis
was still common in the city, and the D strain was a killer.
         Why, didn't you tell me about the fever sooner?" Conover
        Jonny shrugged.  We were out at that fish farm. It was wet. I
thought maybe she got a cold. It just didn't seem important,  he said,
and saying it, he knew he was lying. He and Sumi had both been
afraid of the same thing when she became ill, and at moments of
stress it was easy to fall back on old habits. A year before they had
avoided talking openly about Ice's leaving and the daily knowledge
of it had eaten them up. Now they could not discuss Sumi's illness,
could not take the simplest measures to treat it because to treat it
would be to acknowledge its presence, and that was impossible. Sumi
could not be ill, not with what they both knew was loose in the city.
         I'm going to have my techs check you out, Sumi," Conover said.
His heavy footsteps moved across the straw mat. A light door slid
         Please don't... Mister Conover?... Please... Jonny, make him stop.
I don't... want to know... 
Jonny pulled her to him and she put her arms around his neck. She
shook with fever and wept quietly. Jonny found himself supporting
more and more of her weight.  Hurry!" he yelled.
        It was like waking up blind all over again. His mind was
working, racing, in fact, like an overheated engine, but nothing was
getting through. The information, the possibility that Sumi might be
fatally ill was utterly unacceptable. Bad dreams, bad data.
         It's all right, babe," he whispered.  Everything's gonna be all
        Medical techs were coming down the hall, preceded by the
smell of antiseptic. Something followed them. Jonny heard it
brushing against the rice paper walls, something that floated forward
steadily on an induction cushion. The techs pushed it up to sliding
doors and left it there, humming quietly. He felt Sumi being gently
lifted from him. Opening his arms, she slipped away, into a space
occupied by smooth, reassuring voices, the smell of scrubbed skin
and Betadine.
         Jonny?" He heard her as they set her on whatever they had
brought with them.  Don't let them take me, please. Jonny? They're
wearing masks. I can't see their faces.  He sat there at the table as
they took her away.  Jonny? I'm scared. Jonny?" Footsteps. The
buzzing of induction coils.
        He cradled his head in his hands.  Jesus-fucking-Christ." He
took deep breaths, pressed his fists to his temples. And hit himself.
And again. And again.
         Stop it." Conover held Jonny's fists.  You're not helping her
with that. We have to wait for the lab results. 
         You know what it's going to say," Jonny said.
         No, I don't," said Conover.  And neither do you, unless you've
developed some special sense you haven't told me about. 
         It's the virus," Jonny said.  She's got the fucking leprosy."
         This is a good med team. Russians," said the smuggler lord.
 I'm moving them for a private clinic in Kyoto. Now they can earn
their keep. 
         She's been all over the city," Jonny said.  It was her job. Watt
Snatcher goes anywhere people need power. She's been all over.
Probably been exposed to it a hundred times. 
        Conover sat down next to him.  We'll know soon enough."
        Jonny stretched his legs out on the tatami mat, running his
fingers over the scars on his face. He thought of the micrograph of
the virus he had seen at the Croakers' black clinic: the pseudo-
phage's distorted head, its thin, insect legs holding it in place while it
pumped out its genetic material. Then the cloning of the plague. The
cell exploding. Poison in the bloodstream.
         Mister Conover," Jonny began quietly,  if I asked you a couple
of personal questions, would you be straight with me? 
         If I can." The smuggler lord's voice was deep, guarded,
rumbling from the depths of his belly.
 I can't help thinking that you more about this leprosy analog than
you've been letting on. Let me ask you, that stuff Easy Money took
off you, was that connected with the virus? Maybe a specimen? 
        At first, Jonny did not think the lord would answer, but as he
was putting together another question he heard,  Yes."
         I've moved a few disease cultures and infected organs myself,"
said Jonny,  to gangs into research. But this virus is something else.
It's like something a government lab or a multinational would come
up with. 
         I just move merchandise," said Conover.  I have no idea who
the original owner is. The deal was conducted through a third party. 
         Any chance that original owner is Arab?" asked Jonny.
         I have no idea," Conover replied.
         Do you know if Easy Money has any Arab connections?"
         Not to my knowledge."
         But it is possible."
         Easy Money would work for Colonel Zamora, the Arabs or
Mother Goose if she had cash,  said Conover.
         Right. And if Easy was moonlighting for the Arabs, what better
place to work than with you, using your connections and your
protection?  Jonny said. "If he knew about that virus shipment and
was waiting for it, he could have been tipped by a go-between that
you had it, snatched it and taken off. 
        Conover dragged something across the table. The sound of
liquid being poured. Jonny felt a small cup was pressed into his hand.
He sniffed the liquid. Sake. He gulped the whole thing down.  Easy
says he has a second vial from the shipment and he's willing to sell
it. Is it unreasonable to assume that if there are two vials involved,
one might be the virus and the other, something to kill it? 
         No. That's not unreasonable at all," said Conover.  Do you know
where Easy is? 
         Maybe," said Jonny.  What I can't figure, though, is that if Easy
is working for the Arabs, why he's willing to sell us the second vial? 
         Easy is greedy," said Conover.  Why should he turn a single
profit when he can double his money by splitting the vials and
selling them individually? 
         Yeah. That's just the way he'd do it."
         So what are we going to do about this?" asked the smuggler
lord.  It's obvious you know where Easy is hiding, but you won't tell
         I didn't say I wouldn't tell you. I just want to make a deal
        Conover laughed.  Why didn't I see this coming?" he said. Jonny
heard him pour out more sake. A cup was pushed into his hand.
 Your terms?" Conover asked.
         If Sumi has the new leprosy," Jonny said,  when I get this stuff
from Easy, she's the first one to get a shot. 
         I have no problem with that."
         There's more," said Jonny.
         My," said Conover appreciatively,  you're growing up, son.
You're finally beginning to think like a business man. 
         The second part is that I'm in on the pick-up. I want to be
right there when the deal goes down. I want to hold the vial in my
hand and know it's safe. 
 You of all people should know how stupid an idea that is," Conover
said.  The last time you left here you were healthy. Now you have a
face that's half plastic and no eyes at all. 
         It's a yes or no proposition," said Jonny.  No go, no show."
        Jonny could sense the smuggler lord thinking. He sipped his
sake and waited, confident that he knew what the lord's answer
would be. He felt an odd, distant amusement at having bested
Conover in a business deal. Below them, behind re-inforced concrete
doors, layers of steel and EMP shielding was Conover's underground
clinic. Jonny knew that the techs were down there studying Sumi's
blood, running tubes into her arms, down her throat, taking tissue
samples and watching her on video monitors from distant rooms,
manipulating diagnostic devices with nursing-drones, checking her
for signs of infection, but keeping well away from her. There was a
ball of acid burning in the pit of his stomach.
         I'll accept your deal," Conover said, finally.  But before we can
proceed, I have a deal of my own that you must accept.  "
         What is it?" Jonny asked.
         It's simple, really, and not terribly unpleasant. I just want
your word that you and Sumi, when she is well, will remain here as
my guests, with complete run of the house and grounds, for as long
as I deem necessary. 
         That's it?" asked Jonny.
         That's it," Conover replied.
        There were footsteps coming down the corridor. Jonny picked
at a loose piece of tatami as Conover went to the sliding door. Low
voices.  Thank you," Conover said, and sat down again next to Jonny.
 It's the test results."
         I don't want to hear it. If it was good news you'd have said so
from the door,  Jonny said. "Shit. People like me, we spend our whole
lives tripping over our feet. But Sumi, she doesn't deserve this.  He
tried to conjure her face, but he could not find it. The inside of his
head felt hollow, as if someone had scooped his brains out and
chromed the inside of his skull.  You've got a deal, " Jonny said.
         Excellent," said Conover. He poured them each another cup of
sake.  A drink to seal the deal, and off to bed for you. You're going to
need strength tomorrow. 
         Yeah, dealing with Easy's a real drain."
         You won't be cutting any deals tomorrow, I'm afraid.
Tomorrow, you're going under the knife. 
         What do you mean?"
         I mean," said the smuggler lord, draining his cup and smacking
his lips in satisfaction,  that at this time tomorrow, you'll be in
surgery. If you're going back down into that madhouse, it seems to
me the best way to make sure you find your way back up here is to
fix you up with a new pair of eyes. 

                        Second Sight: An Adventure in Optics

        He could not sleep. He spent the night listening to the World
Link viewer in his room, restlessly changing the channel every few
seconds, program to program (Damned Alpha Rat documentaries, he
thought.), language to language, and pacing. The old house creaked,
settling deeper into the earth on its century-old foundation. Jonny
tried not to think of Sumi and Ice, tried to keep his mind numb. He
felt his way into the hall once, found Blue Boy and ran his fingers
over the uneven layers of paint. He knew that he was probably on
somebody's security camera, but he did not care. Jonny wondered
what would happen if he put his fist through the damned painting.
Later, in his room, when the little enameled clock on his desk chimed
seven times, they came for him.
        They injected him with something and, against his will, he felt
himself relaxing. He was pushed through the halls on a padded chair
that hovered a few centimeters off the parquet floor on an induction
cushion, wondering if it was the same chair they had used to take
Sumi away. Conover walked behind him, smelling of clove cigarettes.
         You have good timing, son," said the smuggler lord.  In another
week, these techs would be gone. Off to Japan. My own staff is good,
but these people are special. And expensive, too. I'm turning a nice
profit on this deal. They're Russians, did I tell you? I had them
brought in from a sharaska near Leningrad. You wouldn't have
believed the state they were in when they got here. Pathetic. The
Russians had stuck neural scramblers in all their heads. One hundred
meters beyond the prison walls, their brains went into vaporlock. It's
not easy, you know, taking a neural scrambler out of a brain, and
having anything but Spam left over. The Japs developed the
technique. My staff performed the actual surgery. We lost two of the
Russians, but the rest came through with flying colors.  Jonny was
pushed into an elevator. He heard the doors hiss closed, experienced
the slight vertigo of descent. Then the doors opened and they pushed
him to a room where the smell of antiseptic hit him like a slap in the
face.  Doctor Ludovico is the prize, the reason the Japanese financed
the operation. The others are his staff. Ludovico is a specialist in
xenograftology. He'll be doing your surgery. 
        The techs elevated the chair a half meter and let down the
back, sliding Jonny onto a narrow table in a single, practiced motion.
Someone began covering him with small sheets of sterile cloth,
moving up his body to his throat, leaving his head bare. Fingers
touched his forehead, pulled the lids back from his empty eye
sockets. Jonny gasped.
         Relax," said Conover.  It's Ludovico. He just wants to have a
look at what he has to work with.  Ludovico, Conover explained,
spoke no English. He smelled of expensive cigars and cheap cologne.
Jonny did not like the man, did not like having a stranger's fingers
prying into his head, did not like the idea of a bunch of possibly
brain-damaged ex-cons cutting him open, and he was about to say so
when a needle hit him in the arm and an anesthetic mask slipped
down over his nose.
         I'll be seeing you," said Conover.  And with any luck, you'll be
seeing me. 

         It hurts," Jonny said. Two days later, his hair was just
beginning to come back in. The Russians had removed the staples
from his face, sealing the scars with a protein glue. A lightshow
played in Jonny's head. No images, just silent fireworks. He had not
had any contact with Sumi since the surgery. She was in quarantine,
and from the noises Conover was making, Jonny thought she might
on life-support. Unconsciously, he found himself relying on the old
wisdom to keep going. It was a matter of accepting each moment as a
unique entity, allowing observer and the observed to merge and thus
keep the panic and horror from overwhelming him. The Buddhists
were right in that, at least, Jonny thought. He found that he was able
to meditate for short periods of time and that seemed to help.
        Now, something was tickling his eyes; ants crawled up his optic
nerves, marched through his skull to his brain where they laid tiny
eggs that burst into super novas, scattering colors he could not name.
        He was downstairs again, in a different room, sitting up this
time. Ludovico was there, mumbling to his assistants and operating a
Cray mini-computer, trying to calibrate the frequency response of
Jonny's new eyes. Exteroceptors, someone had called them. The front
of Jonny's head felt huge, bulging with the new hardware. The techs
had assured him that the feeling would wear-off in a few days, but
Jonny had his doubts. He was convinced that he would look like a
bug for the rest of his life.
         It's a bridge he's built," said Conover.  That's the key to this
procedure. Ludovico's by-passed your optic nerves completely, and
implanted silicon sensors in your sight centers. The chips receive
data from a broadcast unit at the back of the exteroceptors.
        Your retinas are really modified Langenscheidt CCD's. Any pain
or unusual light patterns you are experiencing are the effects of the
electrical field around the graft stimulating what's left of your optic
        Jonny laughed.  People've been telling me I ought to get a
skull-plug for years. 
         Now you've done them all one better. An entire digitized
         I don't know," said Jonny, squirming in the exam chair, trying
to find a comfortable spot,  I've always been a little afraid of grafts
and implants, you know? Like maybe I'd forget where the machinery
ended and I started. 
        Conover breathed heavily, making a sound that could have
been a sigh.  It's all a gamble," he said.  Every moment you're alive.
Would you rather be blind? 
         No way," Jonny said. He shook his head.  Some choice."
Ludovico said something and a woman with a heavy Japanese accent,
translated.  The doctor is going to bring up the exteroceptors now. He
wants you to describe everything you see. 
        Jonny settled back in the chair, consciously controlling his
breathing. Burning violet rimmed his field of vision.
 Keep your eyes open," someone said.
        Hot fear. Something was moving up his throat.
        Give me anything, he thought. Just a little light. A little light.
Over and over until the words lost all meaning and it became a chant,
a mantra--
        Then it flowed into him, obliterating all else, a flood of
sensations, solid mass of bent spectrum, vague things moving within.
He turned his head, letting the colors blur across his vision. His
vision. He was seeing children's blocks, a rainbow chess board-- no--
a grid, like fine wire mesh. Each individual segment was throbbing
neon. Then shapes. A man was seated before him. His right hand
appeared to be burning.
         There's a lot of colors coming through a grid," Jonny said.
 Looks like some kind of pixel display. There's someone there. His
hand-- it's like it's on fire.  The woman translated into Russian.
        The man-shape typed something into the Cray and the colors
dropped suddenly in intensity, replaced with more distinct shapes.
The burning hand was no longer burning, but remained faintly
aglow, splashes of pastels shading the fingers and wrist like an old
map, different colors indicating geographic regions. The hand
belonged to a fat man, Jonny could see, and the burning, he realized,
had come from a pencil-sized flashlight the fat man had been shining
into his eyes.
        The pixels had the effect of distancing Jonny from what he saw.
He felt that he was watching the room from a video monitor, shooting
through thousands of individual squares of beveled glass.
        Something flared off to his right. Jonny turned and saw
Conover. The smuggler lord was lighting a cigarette, the flame on his
lighter burning red and ludicrously large.
         These eyes have thermographic grids," said Jonny.  Some kind
of computer-enhanced infrared scan.  "A bonus,  said Conover, a
variegated skull, dead patches of skin registering as holes in his face.
 There are some other sub-programs in there, too. You'll find them
and learn to control the sensitivity of the pixels. 
         I can make out shapes pretty well, right now," Jonny said.  Are
the colors going to be like this all the time? 
         No, you're just registering infrared because the lights are out."
         Well fire them up. This heat-vision is weird," Jonny said.
         Is that all right, Doctor?" Conover asked. A woman spoke to
Ludovico, whom Jonny recognized as the fat man. The Russian
nodded, extra chins spilling over his collar.  Da," he said, and
someone turned on the lights. Normal spectrum canceled out the
infrared. Jonny looked at the room, the people, the blinking lights on
the diagnostic devices. The colors were just a shade or two hotter
than normal.
         Fucking beautiful," Jonny said. He was laughing. It was all he
could do.
        Conover put a hand on his shoulder.  It all right now, isn't it?"
he asked.
         It's incredible, man," Jonny said.  When can I go see Easy?"
         Soon. Tonight, maybe, depending on how you feel. Before you
go, though, there's something we have to talk about. 
         Yeah, I know. You want one of your people to go with me."
         That's right. Ricos. But that's not what I want to talk about."
Conover dropped his cigarette to the floor and ground it out. There
was something wrong with the techs' faces. They were not looking
like him like someone they had just cured. More like someone they
had just saved from meningitis only to find cancer. Jonny recognized
a woman in the corner as Yukiko, a member of Conover's private
medical staff. She had been kind to him when he was here before, he
remembered, but now she would not look at him.  What's going on?"
asked Jonny.
         You know," Conover said gently,  living out here in the fringes,
we sometimes find ourselves forced fall back on raw ingenuity and
imagination.  He picked a set of forceps off a metal tray table,
turning them over in his hands.  We learn to improvise."
         What did you improvise?"
         You have your sight again."
         What's wrong with me?" He scanned the room again.  Have I
got the virus?  he asked.
         Nothing like that," said Conover.  I just want you to
understand the context of your operation. 
        By then Jonny was up, pushing the Russians out of his way,
looking for something. Near the scrub sink, a chrome cabinet on the
counter. Leaning on the Formica (white flecked with gold) he pressed
his face close to the metal. And cursed, his fist denting the side of the
cabinet before he could think.  What have you done to me?" he
         We gave you back something you had lost."
        Jonny looked back at the dented metal, searching for his face,
but it was not there. Sockets black and threaded with the purple and
red of broken blood vessels. Something alien stared back at him.
Yellow-eyed, with pupils that ran vertically from lid to lid. At certain
angles, there were flashes of light, green and metallic. Tapetums, he
         That tiger I blew away," Jonny whispered, feeling the strange
machinery in his head.  You gave them to me."
         We had no choice," Conover said.
        Jonny turned to him.  Great trade, man. One short hop. Cripple
to freak. 
         You're no more a freak than I," Conover said. His face
tightened, smoke trailing from the scar of his nose.  Do you think I
always looked like this? You learn to live with it. 
        Jonny kept staring.  Look at me. I ought to be in a fucking
        Conover moved up beside him.  You wanted eyes, you have
        Jonny walked numbly back to the examination chair, fell into
the seat, covering his face with his hands.  Oh, man--"
         It was the best we could do," the smuggler lord told him. He
smiled.  And you have to admit-- in this city, they're really not such
a strange sight. In a few weeks, they'll be old friends. 
         Oh Christ." Jonny looked at his hands.  Don't get the idea I'm
sorry about the operation,  he said. The grid was still visible, subtly,
clipping the tips of his fingers straight across. He looked at Conover.
 I'm glad I can see again, really. It's just kind of a shock."
        Conover nodded.  I understand." He looked at his watch.
 Listen, I'm going to have to leave for a business meeting. You should
go to your room and try to get some rest. I'll send Ricos by later. You
can tell him then if you want to go tonight or wait. 
         Right," said Jonny. As Conover started to leave the room, he
called out.  Mister Conover--"
        The smuggler lord stopped in the door.  Yes?"
        Jonny shrugged.  Thanks," he said.
         My pleasure."
         Think you could do me one more favor?"
         What is it?" Conover asked.
         Could you have somebody take the mirrors out of my room?"
        Conover smiled.  Done," he said, and left.
        Jonny leaned on the counter, letting his nearly bald head fall
back against the laminated cupboard doors, and stared at the
        Russians staring at him. Yukiko brought him tea in a white
styrofoam cup. With a little effort, she looked at him and smiled.
 Thank you," he said.

        The trip back to his room was a nightmare. He kept his head
down, but the peculiar layout of the house forced him to look up
frequently and his reflection seemed to always be there, waiting for
him in the glazing on a Ming vase, in the glass front of an antique
china cabinet, the polished chrome of a seismic meter.
        Golden-eyed monster.
        He had refused the induction chair; a couple of the Russian
techs followed him from the clinic, keeping a respectful distance.
When he got to his room, he closed the door in their faces.
        Inside, he remained by the door and looked the room over,
checking for any reflective surfaces. When he found none, he went
straight to the bed and lay down.
        The transparent lameness of Conover's story had been so
obvious to Jonny that he knew it had to be deliberate. That meant
that giving him the freakish eyes was, to one degree or other, a
calculated move. The smuggler lord had obviously planned to show
his displeasure with Jonny in some way, and Jonny's blindness
presented him with a convenient method. The eyes were a
punishment and a warning. Punishment for stealing the car and
running away, and a warning that he had better not do it again. Like
a Yakuza ritual, Jonny thought. Make a mistake, lose a finger joint.
Look for the guys with no fingers, they're the real fuck ups.
        What does that make me? he wondered.
        It surprised him, but he felt no real anger toward Conover for
what he had done. He could have done a lot worse, Jonny knew. And
the smuggler lord had been right all along. The moment Jonny had
left the hill, he had set himself on a course that led right back into
Zamora's hands. Living with funny eyes, he thought, would be a hell
of a lot easier than living with whatever the Colonel had planned for

         Hey, maricon."
        Jonny sat upright in bed. He had no memory of falling asleep
and feeling himself shaken awake, the loss of control it implied,
frightened him. Jonny looked at Ricos and saw that he was not the
only one who was startled.
         Joder, man," Ricos whispered. He was wearing a red
motorcycle jacket and stripped leather pants.  What you let them do
that to you for?  Ricos was staring at Jonny as he might have stared
at an open sore or a road kill, not trying to hide his disgust. For that,
Jonny was grateful.
         I didn't have a lot of choice," said Jonny, swinging his legs off
the bed and getting up.
         Carajo. I kill anyone do that to me."
         Your boss included?"
        Jonny smiled at the man.  You're really full of shit. You know
that?  He went to the dresser, found a pair of black slacks his size
and started to put them on.  We're going to need ID," he said.
         Something corporate. Multinational."
         No problem," said Ricos.
        On the top of the dresser somebody had left a dozen pairs of
sunglasses, laid out neatly in horizontal three rows. Their sleek
designs, so out of place against the pale wood of the French antiques,
reminded Jonny of one of the Croakers' strange sculptures. Without
thinking, he picked up the mirrored aviators and put them in the
breast pocket of the gray tweed jacket he had taken from the closet.
         All right," Jonny said.  We'll pick up the ID, get you some
better clothes and be on our way. 
         What's wrong wi' my clothes?" asked Ricos, offended.
         Nothing man, if we were going to Carnaby's Pit." He headed out
the door, Ricos a few steps behind him.
         So where you takin' me, maricon?"
        Jonny spun and jammed a finger into the man's stomach.  Little
Tokyo,  he said. "Where they shoot people like you and me on

        The car was an old alcohol-powered Brazilian coupe, modeled
on a turn-of-the-century Mercedes design. Ricos drove; he wore a
powder blue Italian suit and tugged constantly at the collar of his
pearl-gray shirt. Jonny and he were carrying the ID chips of dead
        They abandoned the car near Union Station, an art deco hulk,
sprouting cracked brick and I-beams like exposed ribs. A ruin of
stripped cranes and power generators surrounded it, heaps of ferro-
ceramic track turning black under the moon, under the Alpha Rats'
gaze, waiting for the bullet train that never arrived.
        A maintenance shaft beneath the battered transformers of an
out-of-commission Pacific Gas and Electric sub-station ended in a
short crawl-space that gave out at the false bottom in a section of
vent, part of the massive air re-circulation system that served the
Little Tokyo arcology. Jonny removed the loose bottom panel from
the vent and he and Ricos crawled inside, careful not to get their new
clothes dirty. The dimensions of the vent were such that they were
able to duck-walk their way to an access hatch, a hundred meters or
so upwind from where they entered. It was like strolling into a
tornado the whole way.
        Manipulating the lock from the inside, Jonny opened the hatch
and they jumped down to the floor of the re-circulation plant. The
place was fully automated, Jonny remembered, the human crew
making no more than a cursory round of the place once or twice a
night. Jonny could hear Ricos behind him, breathing above the din of
the air-circulators. The man was tense and jittery, starting at every
grunt and hiss of the equipment. Jonny led him into a corridor that
rose in a slow spiral toward the surface. Cinder block walls painted
the teal and orange of the Hundred Dynasty Corporation bulged with
        They found the ladder Jonny was looking for behind a wall of
fifty-five gallon drums stacked on modular racks, pushed away a
grating at the top and emerged behind a French discotheque, La
        In the pastel half-light that bled over the rooftops, the skeletal
superstructures supporting neon graphics and holo-projectors, Jonny
took a last quick look at the dead man's ID. Jonny was Christian van
Noorden, a Dutch-born systems analyst for Pemex-U.S.; Ricos had a
chip identifying him as Eduardo Florentino, a security coordinator for
Krupp Bio-Elektronisches. Jonny slipped on his mirrored aviators and
headed for the boulevard, Ricos on his heels, and merged unnoticed
into the crowd of strolling tourists, the cream of the multinationals'
        Walking just ahead of Jonny and Ricos was a group of young
Swedish aerospace techs. They were fair and slender, strikingly
attractive, each with the same narrow jaw and delicate, long-fingered
hands. Jonny wondered if they might be clones. They were all
shirtless and the hard muscles of their torsos were exposed, flexing
as they moved, beneath transparent polycarbonate bodysheaths.
Their muscles had been dyeddifferent colors to accentuate the
movement of various groups. They were like living anatomy charts.
Across the street, high in the air, appeared the parting lips of a
hologram vagina, a pink, idealized orchid, a toothless mouth that
seemed to engulf the image, becoming a roller coaster flesh-tunnel,
the glistening walls blurring by.
        At the corner, Jonny had to stop. He pretended to watch the
animated menu display outside a Burmese restaurant. The menu
explained the meals in different languages depending on where you
stood, but Jonny hardly noticed it. His hands were shaking.
        It was an impossible psychic leap. He was a kid again, seeing
Little Tokyo for the first time, nailed in his tracks by the light, the
air, the impossible wealth and beauty of the place, the blatant and
cherished waste of energy. Little Tokyo was a transcultural
phenomenon, its name having long since been rendered meaningless,
indicating a city geosector and giving hints to the place's history, but
little else. It was Japanese and European chic filtered through
American sleaze, through generations of exported television, video
and Link images, visions of Hollywood and Las Vegas, the cheap
gangster dreams of the Good Life, haven and playground for the
privileged employees of the multinationals. Little Tokyo was loud
and it cost the corporations dearly, but they loved it and, in the end,
came to need it. What had once been their plaything, now defined
        There were clubs offering all varieties of sexual encounters,
death-fetish clubs, where controlled doses of euphoria-inducing
poisons had replaced drugs as the high of choice (It was in one of
these clubs when he was seventeen that Jonny had first tried Mad
Love. Right now, he thought, he would kill for a hit.). There were the
computer-simulation clubs, offering those with skull-plugs close
encounters with violence, madness and death. A block ahead was the
Onnogata where members of various cartels gambled time in the re-
generation tanks for data on next year's computers, synth-fuels and
        Other clubs offered similar opportunities, and anyone could
play. Hit a losing streak, and you could leave parts of your body
scattered all over the boulevard. Organ removal and installation were
all part of the standard hotel services. Those who lost badly enough
were put on life-support systems, sometimes gambling even those
away before the company jet could arrive to take them home. No one
had died in Little Tokyo for over a century. Not permanently.
        Ricos was staring at Jonny.  You want to eat now?" he asked.
        Jonny looked at the man, then back at the menu which was
describing a chicken and rice dish in over-eager French.  No," he said,
 just thinking."
        He took off across the clean broad street, walking, wanting to
get the feel of the place before he got down to business. He had not
been Little Tokyo in years. Warm breezes carried the faint smell of
orange blossoms, a wholly contrived sensation. Jonny had seen
drums full of the scent back in the re-circulation plant.
        Conover had been right about the eyes, Jonny noticed. Half-
consciously, he had begun to manipulate them, changing their focus
at first by mistake, then by repeating the mistake until he could
control it. He turned to Ricos, who seemed unaffected by the place,
colors slurring slightly off-register in his peripheral vision.  You see
it?  asked Jonny.
         Que es, maricon?"
         No one's sick here. No one's old," he said. They were walking
by a man-made lake. One and two-person robot hover-vehicles were
cutting up the glassy surface of the water, shuttling between the
shore and a five-story pagoda on a small island near the lake's
center, wings of jewel-like foam spreading from beneath the little
disc-shaped crafts, setting off the tailored evening gowns and tuxes
of the riders.  Not a leper, not a liver spot, not a paper cut in sight."
         Si," Ricos replied, nodding toward a young couple displaying
their customized genitalia to some friends. Chrome winked from
between their thighs.  Estos carajoes, they come in kits. Comprende?
Cut 'em, they don' bleed. 

        The entrance to the Japanese club was flanked by two man-
sized temple dogs carved from some dark supple wood. Ricos walked
past the place, but Jonny stopped, drawn by something, perhaps the
odd angle at which one dog's head had been craved, realizing at the
moment he stopped that the dogs were not statues but were, in fact,
alive. The dogs, pure-bred Tosas, sat on their haunches, watching the
crowd with the impassiveness of sunning lizards, the pink of a
tongue appearing now and then to lick massive jaws, their necks and
backs bulging with muscle, the end-product of controlled breeding
and genetic manipulation. As Jonny looked at the animals, a frozen
image of the bodysheathed Swedes imposed itself on his vision, the
street by La Poupee clear in the background. Then it was gone. Jonny
blinked, tensing the muscles around his eyes. The image of the
Swedes flashed back. He held it this time, made it move slowly,
forward and backward. It made perfect sense that the eyes would
have a recording chip, he thought. Couple of days ago, they were part
of a security system. Download pictures of intruders for the law. He
blinked off the image and said,  In here," to Ricos.
        The uniformed Japanese doorman bowed and held the door for
them as they went in, touching a hand to his right temple as Jonny
and Ricos walked past. Scanning for weapons, Jonny knew. He cursed
silently, wondering if they had been made already.
        Inside the club, it was very dark, the architecture traditional:
tatami mats, low tables glowing with buttery yellow light of painted
lanterns, white-faced geishas serving pots of hot sake to the mostly
male, mostly Japanese and American middle-management crowd.
There was a lot of noise coming from a room beyond the bar. Jonny
slipped his hand to the small of his back as if to hitch up his pants,
and touched the grip of a small SIG Sauer handgun. The body of the
weapon was of a liquid crystal polymer, impossible, he had been told,
to pick up on metal detectors. The shells were a Gobernacion
standard issue, commonly known as Rock Shot. Each bullet had a
synthetic quartz tip. When it struck an object and compressed, the
minute charge from the quartz was conducted through a medium of
liquid polypyrrole where it ignited suspended particles of C-4
plastique. Ricos was carrying a similar weapon in his jacket.
        Jonny ordered sake and motioned for the geisha to bring it to
them in the next room. She bowed. He smiled uncomfortably at her,
unsure if he was supposed to bow back or not. He bowed, and the
geisha giggled at his gaijin stiffness.  Keep your eyes open for Easy
Money,  he told Ricos.
        They split up in the next room, climbing opposite sides of a
flat-topped pyramid constructed of multiple tiers of polished
mahogany beams. The smell of sweat and blood was heavy in the
smoky booze-air, but Jonny was still shocked by what he saw when
he reached the top tier, pushed his way to the front and peered
down into the wooden pen.
        The winning dog was just receiving its award (outline of a
golden lotus on a small banner of purple satin) from a pale doughy-
faced man in shirt sleeves. One of the dog's front paws was twisted
and badly mangled. Jonny watched the losing dog's body being
dragged out of the enclosure, its humiliated owner and assistant
careful not to get blood on their white shirts.
A moment later, the whole thing was starting again. The doughy-
faced man made an announcement in rapid-fire Japanese and
blessed each corner of the arena with salt. Then two more dogs,
enormous Tosas again, bigger than the previous pair, easily a
hundred and fifty kilos each, were lead in from opposite sides of the
pen at the end of heavy carbide steel chains. The money chips were
out; Jonny caught the flash of silicon embossed with gold phoenixes
as the crowd surrounded the house bookmakers, touching their chips
to the little multiplexer he carried, hoping to get their bets in before
the dogs were released and the odds started dropping. Jonny looked
around for an exit and found one, down by the far end of the
enclosure. He was just starting for it when he heard the dogs hit, the
dull thud of meat on meat, low-throated animal grunts, primal
death-talk. He looked around for Ricos, nodded when he saw the man
on the other side of the pen, eyes wide, watching the animals tear
each other apart. Jonny smiled. Ditching Ricos had been easier than
he had ever expected.
        Heading down the tiers toward the exit, Jonny heard one of the
dogs yelp frantically, the sound of it painful through the club's P.A.
system. Jonny was almost to the floor when he turned and darted
back into the crowd. Sometime during the few seconds it had taken
him to find Ricos and walk down the steps, a Meat Boy had stationed
himself at the exit. Jonny shouldered his way through the screaming
mob, moving back the way he had come, eyes on the gambler's faces,
trying to keep the dog fight out of his sight. Animal screams and
human cheers. He spotted another Meat Boy by the entrance to the
bar. The giant was talking to someone. The doorman. Jonny looked
around, hoping that maybe there was an exit he had missed. But he
found none, and when he turned back the way he had come in, he
saw the doorman-- pointing right at him. Jonny ducked back into the
crowd, scrambling along the top tier, the Meat Boy moving through
the crowd like a pock-marked ice breaker.
        Up, one leg over the rim of the dog pit. For an instant, the
crowd fell silent. Then he had the gun out and the noise came back,
shrill and frantic this time. He fired twice, but the stampede was
already underway, and when the shells hit, blasting away one end of
the dog pen, the frightened Tosas took off, all teeth and claws,
headed for only way out. The Meat Boy chasing him, big as he was,
was helpless, dragged back by the press of bodies. The last Jonny
saw of Ricos, he, too, was being swept along by the human tide. His
gun was out, his eyes wide and furious. Jonny did not stick around to
see what happened.
        He headed for the rear of the club, which was nearly deserted,
and made it out the rear exit. Down the alley for the rest of the block.
When he came out onto the street again, he fell in with a crowd that
was staring back at the club. Dark-suited men were still pouring out
the front. The Tosas were headed down the sidewalk, scattering
pedestrians and snarling the evening traffic.
        Jonny took the long way around the block, just make sure he
did not run into anybody from the dog club. Eventually, he ended up
back at the man-made lake. Small hovercrafts churned-up the water.
The pagoda glittered on its small island, its finial a solid chunk of
carved rose quartz, twenty meters high. Around the pagoda's base
was a grove of crystal trees, a tangled thicket of prisms. The Forest of
Incandescent Bliss.
        No more screwing around. It was time to find Easy Money.

                                        Object to be Destroyed

         Good evening," said the little hovercraft as Jonny stepped
aboard.  For your safety and comfort, please hold onto the handrail
provided. The trip across will take two minutes.  Under normal
circumstances, Jonny would have ignored the synthesized voice, but
for some reason, tonight, the obsequious tone of the warning
annoyed him.
         Fuck you," he told the machine.
         Very good, sir," it said. The non-skid rubberized matting on
the passenger platform vibrated softly through the soles of his feet
as the craft's engine rose faintly in pitch, lifting him and the vehicle
out and over the water. A light mist of warm water blew up from the
sides of the craft, settling on his skin. The feel of Sumi's fevered
body, Groucho's theories on art and revolution came back to him as
he skimmed toward the bright pagoda in the distance. Flashes of carp
and fat prawns below the surface of the lake. His thoughts of Sumi
disturbed him. The images revolved around plastic tubes and pumps,
dumb machines that could never know or understand her, that
might, in their ignorance, fail, not perceiving her value, the absolute
need he had for her to be alive. Revolution, when he considered it,
was a phantom pain, nothing more. Like his eyes. He felt them itch,
but he knew that they were plastic and unreal, and therefore, they
could not itch, yet his desire to rub them was constant. Revolution
was like that. A delusion, a pipe-dream that when the lid closed over
the eye, it could be rubbed and the itch would go away, that the flesh
would be restored, the machinery vanished.
        Before he had run into the Croakers, Jonny had known a
number of revolutionaries. Bomb-throwers and pamphleteers,
graffiti artists and assassins. Some of them had meant it, others were
revolutionaries of fashion, of convenience. In the end, they had all
failed. Jonny had already spotted a dozen of the old faces in the
corporate crowds of Little Tokyo. Maybe they were the smart ones,
he thought. The ones who went over. Maybe they were the ones who
were dead before they started. He could not decide.
        The crystal trees at the base of the pagoda grew in detail and
complexity (molten glass light webbed through with burning
diamonds) as the hovercraft approached. A battery of white-gloved
attendants shaped the trees, carving the branches and leaves from a
base of modified aluminum sulfate crystals. Easy Money was
somewhere in the structure beyond, Jonny knew. He would get the
second vial from Easy, kill him if he got the chance (because he had
not forgotten Raquin's murder). That was all the revolution he could
expect. As for the other, Groucho's anarchist dreams, there wasn't a
chance in hell for those. The best that could be hoped, Jonny decided,
was for Sumi to get better and for Ice to come back, to not get hurt
for delusions, for dreams of old eyes.

        Once inside the Forest of Incandescent Bliss, he went straight to
the bar. It was a low affair, horse shoe-shaped, attempted art deco,
with gilded mirrors behind the bottles and ridged tiles that glowed
with a soft internal illumination. The two bartenders, an Asian male
and a blonde caucasian female, were each under a meter tall, but
perfectly proportioned. Everything behind the bar, bottles and corks,
sponges and mixing utensils, was scaled down to their size.
Everything except the glasses in which they served the drinks; these
were meant for someone Jonny's size and looked absurdly large in
the bartenders' child-like hands.
        Jonny ordered gin and tonic, watched as the little man
retrieved a hundred year old bottle of Bombay gin that had been
sealed, at sometime in its past, in dull blue wax. Jonny sipped his
drink and handed the man his ID chip. It failed to register the first
time the bartender tried to call up the account, and when it failed a
second time, Jonny started to get nervous. On the third try, though,
the transaction went through, the computer deducting the amount of
the drink and a large tip from the dead man's company account.
Swirling the cool antiseptic-tasting gin in his mouth, Jonny swallowed
one of Conover's endorphin tabs. His new eyes were hurting, a
constant pain cutting right through his head to the back of his skull.
        Something was moving in the gilded mirror behind the bottles.
        Jonny turned to the darkened lounge which took up most of the
pagoda's ground floor. Aged oyabuns playing endless games of Go,
moving with the ancient and deliberate grace of mantises, younger
men talking earnestly, toasting each other, skull-plugged into table-
top translators. Mostly Japanese faces, but many American and
Mexican, too. Jonny knew a few, had seen others in the newsrags.
Many of the Japanese were missing finger joints. Yakuza. Must be
their hang-out, he thought. Neutral ground. Mafia, the Panteras
Aureo, Triad families, they were all there, criminals in a league
beyond anything Jonny had ever known or experienced. They were
like him, but, he understood, their immense wealth had insulated
them, enabled them to live far enough removed from ordinary life
that they were almost mythological figures, shaping the course of
nations with their wealth.
        Kaleidoscoping in the air above the gangsters' heads was a
crystalline holographic light display, like a sculpted cloud. It seemed
to follow the shifting mood of the room, colors brightening when the
voices rose, muting when the talk was low. The man next to Jonny
addressed the bartender in Portuguese. He wore an Irezumi jacket--
tanned skin of a heavily tattooed man, cut bomber-style, with fur
around the collar, one of the most expensive garments in the world.
He was not the only person wearing such a jacket.
        In the end, Jonny thought they were not very much like him at
all. So where the fuck was Easy Money?
        He turned, seeing her at the same moment she saw him. Quick
eyes, face the color of night.
         Hey gaijin-boy, you lookin' for a date?" she said.
         What the fuck are you doing here?" he asked. Ice smiled,
looped an arm in his and drew him away from the bar. She wore a
tight brown pin-striped dress, cut like a man's suit at the neck,
tapering to a pleated skirt that fell just above her knees. Her legs
were bare. On her feet she wore rolled-down white socks and strap-
on Mary Janes.  Jesus Christ, you turning tricks for the revolution?"
         Relax," Ice said, holding the smile. She took him to a corner of
the bar below a spiral staircase whose railings were mahogany
dragons, curled around each other in battle. Soft quarter-tone
melodies came from a wall-mounted Klipsch speaker above their
heads.  Now," she said, apparently satisfied that no one could hear
them.  Keep smiling, babe. I'm not turning tricks for nobody. See?"
She showed him the cork-bottomed tray she carried.  I just serve
drinks. These Yakuza boys like to be around gaijin girls. 'specially us
dark exotic types. 
         But-- " he began.
         But that doesn't mean they can have us."
         Fuck," he said. He could not pinpoint who or what he was
angry with, the club, Ice or himself.  So what are you doing here?"
         I was going to ask you the same thing," she said.  Where's
        He touched her shoulder, smiled for the first time.  She's fine,"
he lied.  I left her up at Conover's. I'm supposed to meet Easy Money
         Por que?"
         Deal I made with Conover," he said.  I've got to get some of his
merchandise back for him. 
        Ice looked at him and her smile wavered.  You okay?" she
         Something's wrong. Is it Sumi?"
         She's fine." He bit off the sentence abruptly enough that he
knew Ice could tell he was lying.  You shouldn't be here," he told her.
        She shrugged.  I'm undercover," she told him.  There's other
Croakers and some Naginatas, too. We've staked this place for
months. Zamora comes here sometimes. 
         Yeah. This is where we first got wind of the raids. Figure the
next time he comes in,  she pressed two fingers into his ribs, "boom!-
- Buenos noches, Colonel.  She pulled a wad of bills from her pocket.
 Besides, the tips are great."
        He shook his head in wonder.  I'm glad to see you."
         Ditto, babe."
         I know this is sick," he said,  but you're making me incredibly
         It's the club," she said.  Subliminals in that holo display. They
pump some kind of sex pheromone-analog through the air
conditioning system.  Her hands were up before he could stop her.
Later, when he was alone, he would replay the picture of her face,
studying the emotions there as she saw his new eyes: fear,
bewilderment, concern.
         Oh baby," she said. Jonny felt her hand on his cheek. He turned
his head, caught a distorted image of himself in the upturned lenses
of the aviators. Yellow eyes. Vertical pupils glinted chrome green. He
had forgotten about them, unconsciously adjusting the exteroceptor's
photo-sensitivity to compensate for the mirror shades. He took the
glasses from her and started to put them on, but she reached out and
stopped him.  Oh baby," she repeated. Then abruptly:  What's wrong
with Sumi? 
        Seeing right through me, Jonny thought. He took a breath. Not
wanting to lie, he chose to remain silent. She would not let go of his
hands.  I have to see Easy Money," he said, finally.
         Tell me about Sumi."
         Please," he said.  She's going to be all right." Ice's face changed
with that. Rigid. He knew she understood.  Easy has the cure," he
         There's a cure?"
         That what Easy took when he killed Raquin. Conover didn't
know what it was. He was moving it for some third party. 
        She shook her head, releasing his hands at the same time.
 Hard to concentrate sometimes," she said.  Makes you wonder what
we're doing here. 
        A particular head in the crowd caught his eye.  You going to be
all right?  he asked her.
        She nodded, her jaw silently working, trying to contain the rage
and frustration. Jonny had felt it often enough to recognize it.  Yeah."
Then:  Liked your eyes, I did. Your eyes and Sumi's hands. She has
these calluses. Gives her character. I liked that. 
         Yeah, me too," Jonny said. He looked past her. The head was
moving. The one with the horns.  He's over there."
         Get moving," she said and kissed him, deeply, biting his lower
lip as she released him.  Against club rules, you know, but what the
fuck-- It's probably my last night here anyway, right?  She smiled at
         I'll get you on the way back."
         You better."
        He left her then, feeling lousy at abandoning her full of half-
digested, half-understood information, but he concentrated on the
head moving through the crowd before him. It was odd seeing Easy
in a suit. The tuxedo jacket fit him badly across his narrow shoulders.
Jonny caught up with the man and tapped him on the shoulder.
 We've got business," Jonny said.
        Easy turned at the sound of his voice, curling his lips in the
distant approximation of a smile.  Love the new hardware, Jonny," he
said.  I never thought you had it in you. We could get you a job
upstairs any time. 
        Jonny looked at his hands and realized that he was still holding
the mirror shades. He slipped them on and followed Easy up the
spiral staircase.

        Upstairs were the prostitutes. The Water Trade, a tradition in
Japan for a thousand years, had provided for their presence. They
were part of the decor, like the dwarf trees and the straw mats; an
accepted style, part of the Floating World. And, as the  pleasure girls"
had reflected their own time in the previous centuries of the trade,
so the prostitutes in the Forest of Incandescent Bliss reflected theirs.
They lounged about the halls on benches covered in thick brocades
depicting double helices. They waited in doorways and on the
railings of the stairways. Some of them were clothed in kimonos,
most were partially nude, showing off their tattoos and grafts. A few
wore nothing at all and those were the ones that disturbed Jonny the
most.  Don't bother trying to guess their sex," Easy advised him.  Half
of 'em can't even remember which way they started out. 
        At first, Jonny saw nothing special about the prostitutes, but
that, he realized was because he had not been prepared to
understand them. Mouths like vaginas, vaginas and anuses like
mouths. Hands that sprouted silicone elastomer penises instead of
fingers. Each of the prostitutes seemed to have at least one extra set
of genitalia, most (apparently) had moved or replaced their originals.
Easy giggled and stroked the odd breast, the occasional scrotal sac as
Jonny followed him. At one point, Easy snorted something from a
plastic inhaler. Jonny caught a glimpse of the label: It was a cheap
mass produced interferon nasal spray, Oki Kenko-- Big Health-- a
common cold preventative.
        Sniffing loudly, Easy said;  Now what was that deal we were
talking about?  They were on the upper floor of the pagoda.
         The second vial you took off Raquin," Jonny said.  Conover's
authorized me to pay cash for it. 
         Oh yeah. That." Jonny wondered if Easy was stoned. The
horned man made a vague gesture with his hands, laughed drowsily.
There were two other men in foreign-cut suits at the far end of the
corridor.  Funniest damn thing, man," said Easy.  Remember back at
the meat locker when you and me, we first talked about the deal?
Well, the bitch had the place wired. Ain't that a scream? Heard every
word of it. She's smarter than I thought.  By now, Jonny had stopped
in his tracks and Easy was holding a Futukoro on him.  I'll take you
apart, man.  Easy reached behind Jonny, took his gun, then pushed
him down the corridor.  Nimble Virtue's got the stuff now. I had to
give it to her, you know? Get back on her good side. It's not like I can
go back to Conover.  The two men ahead (actually boys, Jonny saw; in
different clothes they could have passed for Committee recruits with
no problem at all), Jonny recognized the cut of their suits now. Like
the Pakistani broadcaster on the restricted Link channel, long, almost
knee-length jackets and baggy wide-waisted pants. Neo-Zoot, a
current Arab style.  Anyway, you've got to deal with her now," Easy
said. The Arabs never took their eyes off Jonny. The younger one, a
handsome boy of about fifteen with black eyes and hair, gave him a
wide feral smile and opened the door before him.  Muchas gracias,
boys,  said Easy, pushing Jonny through.
        Inside, Nimble Virtue looked up, a tiny glazed tea cup poised
before her lips.  My goodness," she said, her respirator sucking the
words back down her throat.  We have a visitor." She sat behind an
oversized desk constructed of opaque sheets of black glass supported
by a frame of etched gold cylinders. An older man with salt and
pepper hair was sitting across from her, also sipping tea and eyeing
Jonny skeptically, as if contemplating the purchase of a used car.
         This is the man?" the gray-haired man asked Nimble Virtue.
He was quite handsome, with hard, angular features, long graceful
hands and the easy manner of someone used to being listened to. His
suit was of better material than those of the boys in the hall (he had
the same restless dark eyes as the one with the feral smile), but the
style and the cut were definitely Arab.
         Yes," Nimble Virtue said, pouring more tea, her exoskeleton
whirring softly under her kimono as she raised and lowered her arm.
Easy set Jonny's gun on the dark glass before her and leaned on an
elaborate air purification system: ionizers, charcoal filter rigs,
dehumidifiers. The room was very cold. Jonny thought of Nimble
Virtue in the abattoir, the orbiting sandakan, unconsciously
recapitulating her childhood in her office, constructing within it a
low-key approximation of the frozen vacuum of space.
         So whose little doggie are you?" Jonny asked the Arab.
         Jonny!" hissed Nimble Virtue.
        The Arab smiled, turned to Nimble Virtue and laughed.  You
were right. His mouth works much faster than his mind,  he said.
 Still, this is no problem. It is his presence we require, not his
         You don't say. Who is this guy?" Jonny asked Nimble Virtue.
         Jonny, please," she said.  Sheik al-Qawi is a guest in my house.
More than that, he and I have entered into certain business
arrangements on behalf of the New Palestine Federation, of which he
is a field representative.  The words were clear, but her inflection
was sing-song. An act for the new money, Jonny thought. Helpless
         I thought it smelled funny when I came here. That bad meat-
political smell.  He looked at Nimble Virtue. "You've finally found
your place. You, Zamora, this clown, I hope you'll be very happy
        Nimble Virtue's hand came to rest on a squat lacquered box
that stood open on its end near the far corner of her desk.  Not
at all. Just the opposite,  she said. A single jar sat in each side of the
ox. Embalmed things floating there, surrounded by dark purple
velvet. Fetuses. Her unborn sons.  Sheik al-Qawi made me a very
generous offer for the acquisition of-- what?-- an artifact. A bauble.
I am merely acting as his agent in this matter. 
         Right. And tell me those boys in the hall aren't hashishin,"
Jonny said.  These people consider going to the toilet a political act."
         It's funny that you should raise the question of political
philosophies, Mister Qabbala,  said al-Qawi, "since yours seem rather
         That's because they don't exist," Jonny said. He checked his
watch. The passing of time had begun to weigh on him. Sumi was
back on the hill. He thought of the second virus moving through her
blood, waiting there like a time bomb.  You know, you guys slay me.
Corporate types. Politicos. If I put a bullet through your fat face right
now, they'd have you in a vat in ten minutes. And they'd keep you
there till they could clone or construct or repair a body for you.
That's the difference between your people and mine. We don't get a
second chance. We're just dead. 
        The sheik brightened.  Then you are political!" he said.  Those
are not the sentiments of an amoral man. Your manner and the
company you keep bespeak a strong sense of purpose, even if you
refuse to name it. 
         Look pal, I'm just here to pick up some dope--"
         But surely you must agree that the imperialist forces now at
work in Tokyo and Washington must be shown that plotting against
the peoples of other sovereign nations cannot be tolerated. 
         You want to deal or not?" Jonny asked Nimble Virtue. She
turned her eyes up at him, still doing her little-girl act.  Not now,"
she said.
         Then I'm out of here." Jonny headed for the door. Easy had his
gun at the back of Jonny's head before he had taken two steps.  Hey,
just a joke. I'd love to stay. 
        al-Qawi stood and slammed his fist down on Nimble Virtue's
desk. Her hand moved reflexively to the case containing her sons,
steadying it.  I cannot believe such behavior," the Sheik yelled.  That
you can make jokes in the face of the hideous conspiracy in which
your government is embroiled. That you, yourself, are a part of. 
         Jonny-san," Nimble Virtue purred,  what Sheik al-Qawi is
referring to are diabolical plans hatched by certain war-loving
officials in Tokyo and Washington to launch a sneak attack against
the united Arab nations and bring about a terrible third world war. 
        Jonny looked at the two of them. He almost smiled, certain he
was being gas-lighted. Nimble Virtue was not above setting up such a
game just to confuse him and drive up the price of Conover's dope.
However, there was something in al-Qawi's manner, a weariness
around the eyes that was either very good acting or genuine anxiety.
 Do you actually have the drugs?" Jonny asked.
         Yes," right there,  said Nimble Virtue, pointing to a spot on the
floor before a screen inlaid with mother-of-pearl cranes.
         Let me see it."  No!" shouted al-Qawi.  No more drug talk. As a
man of god, I cannot permit it.  His long hands cut the air in tense,
rapid bursts.  Thanks to the good work of Madame Nimble Virtue,
my trip to this sickening city has been a short and fruitful one. As
you may have inferred, sir, you are the artifact I came here to find. 
He pushed a finger in Jonny's face.  Mister Qabbala, it is my duty and
honor to arrest you in the name of the New Palestine Federation and
the people of all oppressed nations everywhere. 
         Great. Swell." To Nimble Virtue, Jonny said:  Did you sell this
idiot my dope? 
         Do not play the fool with me, sir!" shouted al-Qawi.  Surely
even you cannot endorse so mad an adventure as your government's
alliance with the extraterrestrials! 
        Jonny looked at the Sheik, blinked once and inadvertently
scrambled the resolution of the exteroceptors' pixel display. When
the Sheik's face came back, it had been reduced to a moving matrix
of black and sand-colored squares. Easy Money sniffed loudly from
his interferon inhaler.  I'll tell you exactly what I told the last lunatic
that tried to tie me to the Alpha Rats: I don't know what the fuck
you're talking about! 
         I do not believe you. I have studied your records, however.
You live in the drugged ignorance of a man with a heavy burden,  al-
Qawi said.  It may interest you to know that the New Palestine
Federation has intercepted a series of communiqués between
broadcast stations in southern California and the moon. We now
know that using you as a go-between, your eastern masters plan to
link forces with the Alpha Rats (as you callthem) and launch a sneak
attack on Arab territories simultaneously from the Earth and the
         Look, I've heard this moon-man song before," said Jonny
wearily.  The last time it was about dope. Now it's war. Why don't
you people get your stories straight?  He shook his head, finally
correcting the pixel display. Easy Money was behind him, sniffing
and laughing to himself.  What's your story? You suddenly develop a
political conscience? 
        Easy shrugged, the hand with the gun resting by his side.  Don't
ask me. You're the one hangs out with anarchists. 
         I am, Mister Qabbala, prepared to offer you a deal," al-Qawi
         A deal?"
         Yes. Negotiate with the extraterrestrials on behalf of the New
Palestine Federation. Convince them to turn their weapons on your
puppet masters in the east. For this, the Federation will grant you a
full pardon for crimes against the Arab people and--  He smiled at
Jonny, -- return to you a reasonable profit for your services."
         You're crazier than Zamora," Jonny said.  He only accused me
of being a gofer for a smuggler lord. You think I'm hanging fast and
true with the Alpha Rats myself. 
         Aren't you?"
        The Sheik shook his head.  This world is an unkind place,
Mister Qabbala. I am attempting to extend to you the hand of
         Why? So you people can finish that stupid war?" asked Jonny.
 Don't get me wrong-- I don't think this place would be any worse
under Arab rule, but any dirty little wars you guys start, it's the
people in the street-- we're the ones that get hurt.  He pointed out
the window.  Not your people, mine."
        al-Qawi nodded gravely, hands clasped behind his back.  In
that case, Mister Qabbala, you are my prisoner. You have obviously
deserted your own government to work for terrorists and anarchists,
however, you will not shirk your responsibility to the New Palestine
        Jonny, knowing Easy was watching him, kicked his boot into
Nimble Virtue's desk, knocking off the false heel. The Futukoro went
off precisely where Jonny was not. He was rolling across his
shoulders away from Nimble Virtue's desk, scooping up his own gun
on the way. He kept it low, sending a round into the floor near Easy.
        A sheet of flame hit the ceiling as the shell exploded in the
hyper-oxygenated air. Easy landed in a heap across the room, over
by the air purification set-up. Jonny sprinted to the door and threw
the security bolts, then he turned his gun on Nimble Virtue.  Give me
that dope, goddammit! 
         What have you done?" she screamed. Shaking, Nimble Virtue
rose from behind her desk and went to where al-Qawi lay, his legs
twisted under him, his neck bent at a peculiar angle. Her respirator
was clicking rapidly beneath her kimono; Jonny could hear the air
being forced in and out of her withered lungs.  He was taking me
with him!  she shouted. Then quietly: "He was taking me with him. It
was part of the deal. 
        Jonny moved over to the floor safe.  Give me the dope," he said.
Someone was pounding frantically on the office door.
        Nimble Virtue ignored him, touching the stretched-out body of
the Arab, attending him with quick bird-like movements.  I was
going away,  she said, covering her face with her hands. No act this
time, Jonny knew.
         Listen to me," he told her.  A friend of mine is sick. She needs
this stuff badly. 
        Nimble Virtue turned and looked at him.  Good!" she said.  I
hope she dies. Rots and dies like me-- like I have to stay here. In this
city.  She stood and walked to the far side of the desk, rubbing at her
red-rimmed eyes.  Zamora will kill me."
         Please, give me the dope."
        The pounding on the door got louder. Jonny grabbed one of the
bottles from the desk and held it over his head. The little fetus,
disturbed in its fluid, bumped gently against the side.  Give it to me."
         Go to hell."
        His arm snapped out and Nimble Virtue screamed. There was
no crash. Jonny held out his hand, showing her the palmed bottle.
         All right," she said, and moved shakily toward him, dropping
stiffly to her knees, her exoskeleton whining with the unaccustomed
        Jonny held his gun on her as she removed a segment of
polished wood from the floor and entered a code on a ten-key pad.
The soft hiss of pneumatic bolts withdrawing. As Nimble Virtue
reached into the safe, Jonny stopped her. He pushed his hand past
her's and found the old pistol lying near the top. A tarnished
Derringer two-shot, yellowed ivory grips with over and under
barrels, each holding a single .38 hollow point shell. He pocketed the
gun and reached in again, coming up this time with a brushed
aluminum Halliburton travel case. Inside was a small black vacuum
bottle. Taking it, he backed away from the safe, keeping his back to
the wall. Nimble Virtue was standing over al-Qawi again, staring
down at the Sheik, her eyes flat and dull, like blank video monitors.
Over by the air purifier, Easy Money moaned.
        A shot, then two more from the hall splintered the wood and
metal of the office door. Jonny took a wide-legged stance and fired at
it twice. What was left of the door exploded, peppering the room
with burning wood and metal. He heard Nimble Virtue breathe in
sharply. Over by the safe, the velvet-lined case lay on the floor, the
two little bottles shattered amidst the glassy black wreckage of the
collapsed desk, old alcohol reek filling the room. Nimble Virtue's
mouth was open; a moment later, she screamed-- a single note, high
and keening. Running down the stairs, Jonny could still hear her.

        Pour gasoline on an ant hill; light it. Watch the insects pour
from the mound, crazed and sizzling: That was the main floor of the
Forest of Incandescent Bliss. At the sound of the first shot, paranoid
gangster reflexes had kicked in. Half the club was making for the
doors, sure the cops or the Committee (somebody in uniform) was
raiding the place. Old frightened men threw wads of cash and drugs
at anybody who came near them.
        The other half of the club had stubbornly stayed where they
were, convinced that they had been led into a trap. Yakuza and
Panteras Aureros lay bloody and dying across Go boards and tea pots
where they had blown holes in each other at point blank range.
Prostitutes, orifices flexing in silent convulsive screams, scrambled
down the stairs. Jonny fell into step with them, hitting the main floor
behind a curtain of manufactured flesh.
        Ice was by the bar, signaling to someone. Rapid variants of
Amerslan, fingers on lips, brushing the back of a hand. She spotted
him when he waved and ran over. They huddled by the spiral stairs.
 You got the stuff?"
        He held up the vacuum bottle.  Right here."
         Great. Zamora never showed. We gotta rendezvous with the
others.  She looked over his shoulder-- "No! -- and pushed him to the
ground as the gun went off.
        There was a smoking hole on the center of Ice's chest, but no
blood, the Futukoro shell having cauterized the wound even at is
made it.  Give me the dope, Jonny." He swore the voice had come
from inside his head. He looked at Ice, insane for that moment, and
knew he had killed her. A black metallic wind blew through his
bones and he heard the voice again.  Hand it over like now, man."
Outside him that time. Easy Money. He was above them on the stairs,
one satyr horn broken off at the scalp, his left elbow stiff, dribbling
blood down his arm.
         I need that dope, man." Down a step.  The bitch's gone nuts.
Gotta have Conover's juice to stake myself. Comprende?  This time
Jonny did not aim for the feet, but Easy's head. He missed anyway.
The explosion brought down a good portion of the staircase, and Easy
jumped clear on the far side.
        Jonny kicked at the wreckage of carved wood, dragons in
splinters, pig iron reinforcement rods sticking like bones from the
pile. He knelt beside Ice who was staring down at the hole in her
chest, gingerly touching the blackened skin around the edges.
         I always wondered what this felt like," she said, drunken
wonder slurred in her voice. He cradled her head in his lap,
gangsters, gunsels and hangers-on still massingfor the door, clawing
at each other. She looked at him and a shiver passed through her
body.  You're a big boy now, Jonny, whether you like it or not. Sumi
can't cover your ass like I can.  Blood, through tiny cracks (like
miniature lava flows) was beginning to seep from her wound.  You
gonna help us, Jonny? You're a Croaker. Always have been. You walk
away, though, you're one of them. And they'll do us like this forever. 
She looked at her wound, touched a bloody hand to his cheek.  Sweet
Jonny. You and Sumi-- my babies-- 
        He let her still head slide off his lap and stood, trembling and
crying. His new eyes did not permit tears, but kept flashing him
stored images of the last few hours. The dead fetuses. Dogs, massive
and terrified, tearing at each other. The clockwork movement of
multi-colored muscles. Feral smile of the hashishin.
        Illusion, he thought. Folly. Maya.
        For the first time in his life, shaking and blubbering in the club,
Jonny had a clear mental picture of what the Alpha Rats looked like.
They looked like al-Qawi, like Zamora and Nimble Virtue, the pimps,
the politicians, the wheeler-dealers. The Alpha Rats were the perfect
excuse, the ultimate evasion. It had been that way for a thousand
years; Jonny knew that much of history. The powers that be required
enemies as much as they needed friends, and they could not live
without scapegoats to keep their propaganda machines working. In
earlier centuries it had been the Jews, the blacks, the homosexuals,
the Hispanics. But the closed economic systems of their world had
made old fashioned bigotry impractical. Like technology, commerce
and travel: the big lie had expanded outward to embrace the rest of
the galaxy. And why not, Jonny thought. It's in our blood by now.
He looked at his hand and to his horror, realized that the vacuum
bottle was no longer there. Sometime after Ice had been shot, he had
let it go. He dropped to his hands and knees, moving frantically
between the gangsters' running feet. And spotted it across the room-
- wedged under the skirt of a Link screen showing Aoki Vega in a
Kabuki-porn version of  Casablanca."
        Between the shadows and the feet, the angry voices and
breaking glass, Jonny dove for the bottle, surprising himself when he
felt it in his grip. And then as quickly, it was gone. Shattered in his
hands, a clear sticky liquid dripping onto his lap, gray fragments of
industrial glass all around him. In the hills, machines skipped a beat.
Sumi convulsed. Jonny looked up at Easy and the smoking gun as the
one-horned man said:  Now nobody has it." And limped out the door.
        Jonny followed him, pushing his way through the thinning
crowd, the German pistol before him. Easy was just turning the
corner at the far end of the pagoda. The Forest's private security was
out. Two men moved through the crowd to intercept Jonny. He
waited until they were a few meters away and calmly blew them to
pieces. At the lake's edge, he took a hovercraft and headed back to
shore, ran until his sides ached, filthy and red-eyed, to La Poupee. In
the air re-circulation plant, he collapsed beneath two enormous filter
cylinders and retched. Outside, he found a motorcycle in the
employees' parking lot. A lithium battery powered BMW. The owner
had hooked an air compressor to the exhaust outlet; the bike roared
and sputtered like an old-style piston engine model. Jonny gunned
the bike and took off.

                        Death and Revelation in a Dark Bar on
                        a Bad Night at the End of the World

        Sand was blowing in from the desert, flaking paint from parked
cars, filling the bottoms of drained swimming pools. Death owned the
streets. Two AM, November second, two hours into the Day of the
Dead: Dia de los Muertos. Processions filled the thoroughfares of
Hollywood, like some graveyard Mardi Gras. Lepers danced together
in papier-mache skulls behind white-robed bishops carrying
enormous chrome crucifixes, hologram Christs floating a few
centimeters above the crossbars, writhing in agony for all their sins.
Behind the hills, orange flared and lit the sky from the burn-off
towers at the German synth-fuel plant north of the city. Jonny licked
sand from his lips. He had never seen so many people in one place.
Zombie Analytics flashed the crowd images of dead pop stars,
superimposing the outlines of their own bones on the famous faces.
Even the Piranhas were there, apparently untouched by the plague,
drawn from their internal exile by the docks to the more inviting
lights of the boulevard.
        When he first saw Death lingering at the back of the parade,
skull molded from old newsrags and clutching a crude sickle of
pounded metal, Jonny charged, gunning the big BMW up onto the
sidewalk. But he never connected. Never killed Death. It always saw
him coming or Jonny had to turn the bike at the last minute when he
heard human voices screaming from inside the paper skulls. And
each time he rode away, he grew more desperate, more furious,
knowing that Death had fooled him again.
        Somehow, he ended up at Carnaby's Pit. The parade was
moving quickly down the boulevard. Jonny was alone before the
chained entrance, reading a notice that was printed in six languages
plastered across the rusted and pock-mocked metal doors.

                        Public buildings, except those constructed      
                        exclusively for the use of religious expression, are
                        OFF LIMITS to gatherings of three persons or more.
                        Emergency Ordinance #9354A-- By authority of:
                        The Committee For Public Health

        The parade was blocks away now, the sound of music and
voices fading fast. Everything was dying. He looked around for the
mercado (No way those people would miss a night like this.), but all
he could find were glassy scars in the asphalt where the grills had
sat, an ancient scratch-pattern indicating the placement of tent poles.
Jonny pulled the SIG Sauer from his jacket pocket and blew the doors
to Carnaby's Pit off their hinges. The pistol's breech remained open
this time, meaning he had run out of bullets. He tossed the gun away.
Clouds of green, metallic flies buzzed loudly into the night through
the Pit's ruined doors.
        Inside, the game room stood silent, all dust shadows and hints
of greasy fingerprints where light from the street struck glass. Jonny
had never seen the club like this before. In the weak mercury vapor
light, without the sound and the colors of the games to distract him,
the place seemed small, pathetic even. Lengths of frayed copper
wires covered the walls, broke up the ceiling into a water-stained
grid behind the dead holo projectors.
        In the main room, a stack of Saint Peter's Krupp-
Verwandlungsinhalt amps had fallen over. To Jonny's exteroceptors,
the Freon leaking from around the speaker cones appeared to
shimmer in turquoise pools. The air was damp and stale, close
around him. Jonny shivered, looked back the way he had come in
and watched sand sift in through the open doors. Death was in the
club with him. Jonny could feel its presence. He pulled Nimble
Virtue's Derringer from his pocket and went into a crouch, stalking
Death through the jungle of abandoned chairs and broken glasses,
finally spotting it behind the bar. Jonny recognized Death from his
dreams. The mirror shades gave it away.
        The kick from the little Derringer, when he fired, nearly broke
his wrist, but Death was gone. The sound of the mirror shattering
behind the hollow point shell caught him off guard. By the time he
scrambled behind the bar and understood what he had done, he was
shivering again, realizing he had wanted to do it for a long time.
        If death was a illusion, as the roshis had told him, then, Jonny
reasoned, he had just proved the lie of his own existence. He kicked
at shards of the broken mirror with the toe of his boot and decided
he needed a drink to celebrate the discovery of his true nature.
        Shelves behind him held all manner of liquor: domestic,
imported and bootleg. Jonny selected an unopened bottle of Burmese
tequila and drank deeply. Gin, he reflected, would have served him
better at this point, but he could not stand the taste of the stuff neat.
He laughed at the idea of taste.
        What is taste when you don't exist?
         There's this old man, comes to a Buddhist priest, see," Jonny
said to the empty room.  Turns out he's the ghost of another
Buddhist priest whose been reincarnated five hundred times as a
fox.  He took another pull from the bottle. "In life, he'd argued that
the laws of cause and effect do not apply to enlightened beings. So
here the poor fucker is, you know, five hundred times-- pissing in
the woods, freezing in the winter and eating raw squirrel. And the
other priest says: 'Schmuck, of course cause and effect applies to
enlightened beings.' And the ghost disappears, suddenly enlightened.
He doesn't have to be a fox anymore.  Jonny moved around to the
front of the bar, dropped onto a stool and propped the bottle on his
knee, the tequila already half gone.
         I have swallowed every kind of shit," he said.
        Across the room, near the pile of fallen German amplifiers, a
swarm of flies was moving over the carcass of some dead animal.
Massed together like that in the dark bar, the insects looked to Jonny
something like waves kicked up on the shore of some crazy-quilt
ocean. He giggled and lurched to his feet, threading his way
drunkenly through the club, deliberately kicking over chairs and
tables as he went.
        Jonny approached the body slowly. From the bar it had looked
pretty big for a rat, but that it could be human had not occurred to
him until he was right up on it. Batting at flies that buzzed around
his face, Jonny edged around the corpse, noting the discolored tumors
on its arms, the leonine welling of the face, all the obvious symptoms
of the virus's mock-leprosy. The corpse's limbs were twisted, back
arched until the body was bent almost double, fingers splayed, hands
turned back on themselves at the wrists in the spastic posture of
advanced neuro-syphilis. Jonny forced himself to lean closer and look
into the half-opened mouth. Standing up, he momentarily fingered
the edge of the soiled apron, thinking that the body did not look
much like Random any more.
        Jonny did not turn when he heard the footsteps, expecting it to
be Zamora or some Committee boy come to take him away. When the
steps came to a stop a few meters off, he turned and saw Groucho
brushing sand from his English schoolboy jacket.  He swallowed his
tongue,  Jonny told the anarchist.
         I'm sorry," Groucho said.  I've seen a lot like this these last
few weeks. Gonna to be a lot more, too. 
         You come looking for me?"
        Groucho nodded.  Yeah. I figure I've got a vested interest in
you. 'Course, so do lots of people these days. 
        Jonny took a drink from his bottle.  How'd you know I'd be
         Isn't this where you always end up?"
         Yeah. I guess." Jonny shrugged.  Kind of shabby little place to
run and hide, huh?  He took another drink and threw the empty
bottle back toward the bar, listening to it shatter.  Ice is dead," he
said quickly.
         I heard. I'm sorry, man," said Groucho.  So what are you going
to do now? 
         I don't know," Jonny mumbled, crouching down near Random's
body.  Lotta bottles to work through," he said, gesturing back toward
the bar.
         Yeah, always the clear thinker. I knew we could count on you."
         Just save that shit for your own people, okay?" said Jonny.
        Groucho leaned under a nearby table and picked up a small
silver bell from the floor; he rang it softly as he spoke.  I heard you
were at the Forest of Incandescent Bliss tonight,  he said. "What for? 
         There's a cure for the virus. I was supposed to pick it up, only
Easy Money blew away the container it was in and now it's gone, 
said Jonny. Bending, he touched one of Random's arms, disturbing the
flies which rose, droning, into the air.  Sumi's infected, you know.
Gonna die just like Random. Pretty surreal way to go, huh?  Turning,
he swung a drunken fist at Groucho, but the anarchist danced out of
the way.  What would your fucking surrealists say about that?"
Jonny shouted.
         So you're just going to let her die like that?" Groucho asked. He
bent again and came up with a toy switchblade, about the length of
his thumb.
         What are you talking about?" Jonny asked.
         I'm saying that if you love her, you're going to take some
responsibility.  With his long fingers, Groucho snicked the tiny knife
open closed a couple of times.  Ever since we left the fish farm, I've
been thinking how all these little bits, how all the shit that's been
floating around you is possibly related. I heard from some people
that Conover was the one that was moving that layered virus that got
loose. Then, when Zamora picked you up, he starts talking about
space men and how he wants to you turn Conover for him. All the
time, though, he's planning a raid to take out all the lords and the
gangs with them. And this is happening at the same time the city's
going balls up from this plague. 
         You think Zamora might have planned all this?"
         I don't know yet," said the anarchist.  Doesn't really sound like
him, though. A bit subtle. 
        Jonny stood, brushed away some flies that had landed on his
aviators.  There was this Arab at the Forest tonight, he was talking
about the Alpha Rats. Said something about a war. 
         Well man, we got our own war right here," Groucho told him.
When he leaned over this time, he was holding a key ring with a
plastic Ganesh on top; cheap paste rhinestones glittered in the
elephant god's eyes. He dropped the key ring and switchblade into
his jacket pocket.  I wanted to tell you-- Zamora's moving on the
lords tonight, guess he figures it's a holiday, so half the city'll be
blasted. We're moving, too. All the gangs. Viva la revolucion. 
         Jesus," Jonny said.  Are you guys ready?"
         Vyctor Vector's waiting out in the van with Man Ray, so we've
got the Naginata Sisters and the Funky Gurus, tambien. We're
stronger than Zamora realizes,  said Groucho and he smiled.
 Besides, amantadine supplies're running pretty thin around here. If
the Committee doesn't get you, seems like the virus will. Nobody's
got much to lose anymore. 
         What about going to the lords for help?"
         The lords?" Groucho said.  Are you really that naive? The lords
protect themselves. Period. They're no better than Zamora. 
         What are you talking about?" demanded Jonny.  Not all the
lords are sell-outs like Nimble Virtue. 
         Sure they are," replied Groucho.  This is big business, Jack. The
ultimate fix. The architecture of need.  The anarchist gestured as he
spoke, his hands open wide.  I mean, if you're in the desert, you sell
the natives ice water, right? Nimble Virtue, Conover and the rest
have a captive market here, and they like it that way. This
underground market drives the prices of their goods right through
the roof. The lords aren't dealers, they're vampires. They live on
pain. And you're as much a part of it as they are. 
        Jonny frowned.  I sold medicine, asshole. People needed me."
         You're just afraid to face the real issue," Groucho said.  By
selling Conover's shit you are just another part of the drug
organism. And when I say drugs, I mean anything people need, that
they'll pay money for. Food, data, booze, medical supplies. People
don't need you. They need to be free of this ridiculous cycle of drugs
and pain. Free from the Committee and the lords because they're two
sides of the same coin. One can't exist without the other. This whole
city is built on bones. You're a vampire, too, Jonny. That's what I
mean about taking responsibility. 
        Jonny walked back to the bar and started sorting through the
various bottles. At the back of the bottom shelf he found a half-
empty quart of mescal and set it on the bar. The small hallucinogenic
worm inside bobbed momentarily to the top of the golden liquor.
Dead fetuses. He saw Nimble Virtue's children floating in alcohol.
Releasing the bottle, Jonny shouted to Groucho:  If I'm such puke,
what the hell are you doing here? 
         I'm here because in the end, I don't think you are one of
them,  said Groucho. He came to the bar, still ringing the silver bell in
his left hand.  You're what those old warriors used to call Dragon
head-Snake body. You're intelligent; you've got courage and integrity,
but you keep sabotaging yourself through fear and stupidity.  The
anarchist picked up something the size of a playing card from the
bar. When he touched it, the card flashed a series of animated views
of Japanese casinos and resorts, spewing hard-sell patter in tinny
German.  Also, I thought you might be able help the revolution. Ice
liked you and I wanted to keep her happy. Zamora was interested in
you and so was Conover. I thought maybe we could make use of that
somewhere along the way.  He looked up at Jonny. "Revolution's a
hard nut. See what happens to us? I guess I was using you, too. 
         If I go back to Conover's, will you go with me?" Jonny asked.
Groucho shook his head.  There's no time. We've got a lot to set up if
we're gonna take on the Committee tonight. 
         Sorry. A silly question."
         I know where Conover's place is," Groucho said.  I'll meet you
there later if I can. 
        Jonny nodded, took the mescal bottle and set it back on the
shelf behind the bar. Removing his mirror shades, he turned to
Groucho, making sure the man got a good look at his new eyes. The
anarchist raised his eyebrows a fraction of a centimeter, but that was
all.  These exteroceptors are funny," Jonny said.  It's like watching a
movie or something. Kind of a detached feeling. I don't know what to
do anymore. 
         Here," Groucho said, and handed him the little silver bell.  For
luck. And remember: thought is an illusion.  He touched his chest,
 This is an illusion. Fear, confusion, dread-- the worst elements of
your life can lead to enlightenment as easily as the best. When the
time comes to act, you'll do all right. 
        The silhouette of a tall woman was framed in the door of the
club. She wore tight leather pants and boots, a racing top crossed by
studded leather straps; in her hand was some kind of heavy wooden
staff that was almost as tall as she. Her skin shone silver in the street
light, a heavy layer of metal-based make-up covering all her exposed
skin, except for a band around her eyes. Naginata war paint.
 Groucho, we gotta hit it," said the woman.  Hi ya, Jonny."
         How're you doing, Vyctor?" he called.
        The woman shrugged.  Getting ready to die right," she said.
 Heard about Ice. Sorry, man. I gotta tell you, though, I was kinda
jealous when she moved in with you and Sumi. I really went for her. 
         You got good taste, Vyctor."
         You know it. Groucho, I'll see you outside." She went out then,
her shadow curving over the small drifts of sand that were collecting
around the fallen doors.
        Jonny left the mirror shades on the bar and followed Groucho
out of the club. In the game parlor, he said to the anarchist:  So what
are you, anyway? You really an anarquista or just some loco with a
bodhisattva complex? 
        They continued out under the awning, through the falling sand
to the van parked across the street. Finally, Groucho grinned.  Tell
you the truth,  he said, "I spend most of my time feeling like
everybody's mother.  Man Ray nodded as Jonny came over. The
Funky Guru's new van was as big as his old one, with the same ugly-
beautiful lines. Something like a mechanical claw protruded from one
side, hydraulic digits tense against the body of the vehicle. Groucho
pointed to Jonny's motorcycle.  You have fuel?" Jonny nodded,
walked over to the bike and climbed aboard.  You take care, Jonny,"
called Vyctor. Jonny waved and kicked the bike awake. Then he and
the van moved off in opposite directions.

        From the desert, the wind was picking up, hard-blown grit
biting into the backs of his hands, grinding between his teeth. The
heat of the night and the tequila came down hard on him. Jonny felt
himself moving through a dream-time, no longer trusting or quite
believing in anything he saw. Heading north out of Hollywood, he
watched bands of junkies roaming the streets eating piles of sugar
candy skulls they had stolen from merchants below. Monks hiding
their tumors behind things like fencing masks took the confessions of
lepers squatting in Griffith Park while nearby, Neo-Mayanists cut the
beating hearts out of captured Committee boys, offering them up to
gods whose names they had forgotten, begging for forgiveness and
an end to the plague. Writers had been busy with their canisters of
compressed acid, turning the walls outside the park into a fair
representation of the skull walls at Chichen Itza. They had left
messages behind, too.
                        BOMB TOKYO NOW
                        BOMB NEW YORK NOW
                        BOMB EVERYTHING
        Jonny swerved to avoid some animal in the road and almost
succeeded in flipping the bike before he realized that there was
nothing there. He kept flashing on recordings of Ice's face: the
moment she saw his cat eyes, when she kissed him in the Forest, as
she lay dying. He had not yet accepted that she could really be dead
and he knew that was good. Barely functional as he was now, Jonny
understood that some animal survival mechanism in his brain had
cut in during the course of the last few hours, pumping him full of
specific neural inhibitors, preventing him from accepting the true
nature of her loss. He knew it was there, though. The loss. He
imagined that he could feel it, like a sac of poison lodged at the back
of his skull, ready to burst when all this was over.
        He throttled up on the bike and skidded around a section of
asphalt that was jutting at an angle from the narrow roadbed. The air
compressors attached to the BMW's exhaust obliterated all sound but
their own, while the thermographic display in Jonny's exteroceptors
glazed the park into a series of slick surfaces like the ones he had
seen in a Dali landscape.
        Nearing the top of the hill, Jonny began to consider the notion
of payback. It seemed to him that if he was to take the responsibility
he had been avoiding all this time, others ought to do the same.
There was blame here to be laid at somebody's feet. But whose? Ice
was dead, and Skid and Raquin before her. Soon Sumi would be gone,
too. Because of his failure to salvage her cure? Because Easy Money
had stolen Conover's virus? Or was it because he had left Sumi alone
for so long while running from Zamora?
        Yes, to all those questions. But was that enough? Jonny sensed
it went deeper than any of that, but the chain of responsibility and
blame, when he tried to trace it back to its source, seemed endless,
extending beyond any of their lifetimes.
        How many will die tonight? he wondered.
        How many have died already?
        Jonny tried to count up the bodies, the friends and
that had snuffed it or disappeared over the years. He could not
remember them all. Again the chain-- one face always leading to
another. For a few, he could remember no name just the movement
of a hand, the tilt of a head or a panther tattooed shoulder.
        Jonny thought of Ice, in many ways just another one-percenter,
living the same foolish life as any of them, dying the same senseless
death, and all the while being unaware that it had all been laid for
her in advance. Like a ship's course computed, entered and executed,
she had lived according to the strange process that seemed to take
them all in the end, Random, Skid and the rest. They were the dead
wandering the streets on Dia de los Muertos. Drifting their whole
lives through the city, living by rules they never really understood.
The cops had been part of it. The Committee. And yeah, Jonny
thought, the dealers, too. He had been a part of it as much as anyone,
supplying the medicine and the dope that kept the people docile.
Groucho's city of bones became more real, more palpable each time
he considered it.
        Lights on the hill above startled him. Jonny swung the BMW
onto the driveway leading to Conover's mansion, wondering why the
hologram dome was down. Sand whispered through the trees. He left
the bike in the drive and made his way to the house through the
bamboo grove, hoping that the billowing sand was dense enough to
confound the smuggler lord's surveillance equipment.
        The front door of the Japanese wing was open. Sprawled face-
down in the walk-way was one of the smuggler lord's medical techs,
a hole from what looked like a Futukoro shell burned in the man's
back. Inside the house there were more bodies, techs and security
staff, some lying in groups, others meters away where they had been
gunned down trying to run. In the art-glutted dining room in
Victorian wing, soft Elizabethan music was coming from the hidden
speakers; the sound chip on the stereo read:  William Williams:
Sonata in Imitation of Birds.  He found the African staff dead in the
kitchen and the service corridors.
        Working his way back through the house by feel, Jonny located
the elevator he had used the day they had given him his new eyes.
        Not certain of exactly where he was going, he punched in the
code for the lowest level. He pulled the Derringer from his pocket,
turned it over in his hand once, and put it away. It would not do him
a hell of a lot of good against a Futukoro.
        In the clinic area were more dead techs. The hall was littered
with overturned drug carts, Pyrex culture dishes and leaking drug
vials. Jonny saw Yukiko's body, recognized a couple of the Russians
that had assisted on his eye surgery. A security man lay dead on his
back, most of one shoulder and his lower jaw had been shot away. He
was holding a small cardboard box. Scattered around the guard's
head like a plastic nimbus were dozens of interferon inhalers similar
to the one Easy had been using. Jonny knelt by the guard's body and
stole his Futukoro. The man had not even gotten it out of the holster.
        It did not take Jonny long to find Sumi's room.
        At a bend in the garbage-strewn corridor was a door marked
with diamond-shaped warning signs: orange biohazard marker,
color-coded symbols for flammable liquids and cryoprotectants.
        The door was locked and when he could not kick it open, he
shot the lock off. Inside, he passed through a short retrofit airlock,
ignoring neat piles of sterile paper gowns and caps, to a dust-free
clean room beyond. Inside, the sterile chamber echoed with the
steady whining of malfunctioning life-support units and the gurgling
of protein vats. Near the circular vats, four male bodies were laid-out
on what looked like stainless steel autopsy tables. From the sour
smell of the place, Jonny guessed that it had been at least twenty-
four hours since the life-support had shut down.
        Looking into the protein vats, Jonny found what at first he took
to be several dead eels, drifting limply in the swirling solution like
individual strands of sea weed. The animal's had been dissected
bilaterally, exposing the entire length of each spinal column. When
he saw the delicate Toshiba micro-manipulators poised over each
open back, Jonny realized that the animals were lampreys. He
remembered Conover telling him that the nerve tissue his techs had
spliced into Jonny's injured shoulder had come been grown in a
specially bred variety of the animal. Seeing them now, Jonny was
glad the poor fuckers were dead.
        He touched one of the manipulators, running his fingers along
the rows of microscopic lasers that sliced intact tissue from the
lampreys' backs. A bundle of mil-thin wires ran from the base of
each manipulator and was secured to node points along the exposed
spines. He touched one of the bundles. A tail twitched. Jawless mouth
gaped.  Shit," Jonny said and released the manipulator, realizing (and
the realization turned his stomach) that the animals were still alive,
swimming in their absent way, against the whirling current of the
protein solution, alien tissues taking root in their backs.
        That's when he found Conover, chest neatly lasered open, lying
on one of the autopsy tables. Jonny had turned in disgust from the
lamprey tank and froze, staring down at the body of the smuggler
lord lying under ten centimeters of clear liquid. But it was not the
Conover Jonny knew. It was the Conover he had seen in photos in the
storage room that earlier night. The Conover from Central America in
the nineteen-eighties: healthier, before the Greenies addiction had
set in. Jonny checked the other tables and found Conovers lying on
each of them, sunk in the same fluid, torsos neatly split from crotch
to chin. All the bodies were wired into a complex array of life-
support unit. They were all missing certain organs, livers, stomach,
hearts and pancreases, mostly. He knew then that what he was
looking at was essentially a farm.
        Conover had become a parasite, feeding on himself. Somewhere
in his drug-ruined body, his techs must have found some cells that
Greenies had not yet invaded. They had used these to clone copies of
the smuggler lord to use for patch jobs. The liquid in which they
floated would be some kind of perflourocarbon, Jonny guessed, to
keep the bodies oxygenated. He just stared. It was amazing; suicide
and murder all rolled into one package. The taste of tequila and bile
was strong in his throat. Jonny fled through a door beyond the tables,
away from the butchered young men.
        The room he entered was still and very cold. The
thermographic read-out in his eyes showed it to him as an almost
seamless blue surface, broken here and there by neon-red patches of
warmer electronic equipment. Some kind of gas vapor was crusting
on cryogenic pipe inlets, drifting in white clouds to the floor. A dozen
gray laminated tanks (he thought of coffins or sealed specimen cases)
stood against the walls. Jonny spotted her in the only tank that was
occupied, near the far end. When he tried to wipe a layer of frost
from the Lexan faceplate, his fingers froze to it instantly. He jerked
his hand away, stifling a small cry of pain as he left some skin
behind. Using his jacket sleeve, he rubbed at the port until he could
see her face clearly.
        Sumi appeared to be asleep in the cryogenic tank. A VDT inset
at chest-level in the gray laminate displayed her life readings as a
series of slow-moving horizontal lines, hills and valleys indicating
her body's various autonomic functions. The top of the screen was
dominated by an animated 3D display of some growing crystal. For
some reason, it reminded Jonny of a cocoon; he kept expecting to see
some new form of plant or animal life to burst suddenly from the
fragile egg shell facets that the crystal kept unfolding from within
itself. Someone had written  L VIRUS" on a strip of surgical tape and
stuck it to the VDT just below the crystal display. Jonny nodded,
recognizing the animation as a growth sequence. He had a pretty
good idea just what the programmers had been modeling when they
created the display. The lesions around Sumi's mouth confirmed this.
        Jonny backed away from the cylinder, spun and kicked
savagely at the door to the clean room, his face hot. All the half-
conscious illusions of a daring rescue he had been nursing up the hill
were dying fast. He prowled the edges of the frigid room, cursing to
himself, punched a Sony monitor off a work station and kicked it into
a wall, shattering the screen.
        A minute later, he was standing in front of the tank in which
Sumi slept.  They never told us how it worked," he explained.  So
naturally it got all fucked up.  It was an apology of sorts.
        The concussion from the first Futukoro round cracked the
Lexan plate above Sumi's face. Steam from the super-cooled liquid
inside screamed through the broken plastic, condensing in the air as
a miniature whirlwind of ice. Jonny kept on firing, pumping round
after hot round through the walls of the cylinder until the room was
full of freezing white vapor and the life readings on the tank
registered as a series of flat, unwavering lines.
        When some of the vapor had cleared and he could see again,
Jonny peered through the cracked Lexan to find that Sumi's face had
remained unchanged. He was aware, on some wordless level, that
from that moment on, he would be utterly alone. But he found
himself comforted by Sumi's face, the lines of her cheeks, the set of
her lips. There was no hint at all of pain or betrayal in her smooth
features. Jonny stepped back. Calmly, gratefully, he placed the barrel
of the Futukoro between his teeth and aimed for the back of his
head. Closing his eyes, he was filled with an odd sense of euphoria,
thinking: From now on, we make our own rules.
        He pulled the trigger.
        The gun clicked once.
        Jonny shouted and threw the thing across the room. Behind
him, the door to the clean room slid open and Conover came in. Not
one of the pretty boys on the autopsy slabs, Jonny saw, but the red-
eyed death's head he knew. He was sure the smuggler lord had been
watching him.  Listen, son-- " Conover began.
         You pig!" Jonny shouted.  How could you do that to her? Treat
her like a piece of meat! 
         I never intended for you to see this," Conover said. He opened
his hands in a gesture of sympathy.  Really, we had not choice. She
could have infected everybody here. 
        Jonny looked back at Sumi in the cryogenic tank. Most of the
fluid had evaporated, leaving a few feeble streams of vapor trailing
from holes the Futukoro shells had made.  Did you kill all those
people upstairs?  Jonny asked.
         I'm afraid so," Conover said. He moved to sit on the edge of a
disconnected Hitachi CT scanner. Jonny noticed that the smuggler
lord was holding a Futukoro loosely at his side.  In a sense, though,
they were already dead,  Conover said. "Between the virus and
Zamora, if they didn't die now, they would be gone very soon.  He
shrugged.  Besides, I'm leaving. The life's gone out of it. L.A.'s no
place for me anymore. 
         What are you talking about? You're leaving Last Ass?"
        Conover lit one of his brightly-colored Sherman's and nodded.
 Yes, my ride ought to be here in a few hours. You interested in
         Where are you going?"
        Conover smiled.  New Hope."
         I think you should come," the smuggler lord said.  In fact, I
insist on it.  Conover had moved the Futukoro so that it was lying
across his legs, pointing casually in the direction of Jonny's mid-
        Jonny felt his brain frosting over, as if he were asleep and
dreaming in one of the cases next to Sumi.  Mister Conover, what the
fuck is going on here? 
         It's the end of the world, son."
         Great. Think anyone'll notice?" Jonny asked. He looked at Sumi
and shook his head, thinking that once again, he had failed her.
        Conover got up, dropped an avuncular arm around Jonny's
shoulders and said:  Don't sweat it, son. We've got big plans for you."
He steered Jonny out the clean room, upstairs and through the
Victorian wing toward the roof.  There's so much to say over before
our ride gets here, but if we hurry, I think we might just have time
to give you the fifty-cent tour of the universe. 

                        The Fifty-Cent Tour of the Universe

         Yes, the end of the world, son, can't you smell it?" asked
Conover.  No finer time to be alive." He chuckled reflectively, moving
Jonny along a dark and narrow service staircase, idly jabbing him in
the back with the barrel of the Futukoro.
         It's the war, isn't it?" asked Jonny.  The Tokyo Alliance and
New Palestine. They're finally going to do it. 
        Conover nodded sleepily.  What else?" he asked, shivered. He
mumbled:  Need a shot," then louder:  Yes, the war. Don't look so
surprised, son. Historically speaking, it's long overdue. 
        Jonny shook his head.  Christ, then that Arab was telling the
         There was this Arab at the Forest of Incandescent Bliss. Said
that Tokyo and Washington were getting ready to launch a sneak
attack on New Palestine,  said Jonny. "When he said the Alpha Rats
were involved, I thought he was just spaceman-happy, like Zamora. 
        Conover laughed heartily at that.  Oh, that's delightful; they
must have partially decoded one of the transmissions. The poor
bastards don't have a clue. 
         To what?" asked Jonny.
         That we are the Alpha Rats." said the smuggler lord.
        Jonny turned on Conover who casually flicked his gun up at
Jonny's face. Jonny just ignored it.  I knew it," he told the lord.  It's
all a ruse, isn't it? There are no Alpha Rats; there never were any
extraterrestrials. It's been the government all along using the Alpha
Rats as an excuse for the rationing programs and the damned war
         Bravo!" yelled Conover, clapping his left hand against the one
holding the Futukoro.  Well done Jonny. What remarkable deductive
powers.  He smiled apologetically. "Of course, you're wrong on most
of it. But it was a good try. Keep moving and I'll straighten you out. 
Before they continued up, Conover lit another Sherman, the flame on
his lighter briefly illuminating the wreckage of his face. He had
developed a slight tic in the cracked skin under one eye. His lips
were moist and slack. Getting thin, thought Jonny as the smuggler
lord nudged him up the stairs.
         Of course there are Alpha Rats," Conover told him.  Do you
really think the Tokyo Alliance would put itself in such a dangerous
economic position intentionally? The extraterrestrial's ship crashed
on the moon fifteen years ago. Yes, crashed. They're dead, you see.
All the Alpha Rats on board. It was a plague ship, son, on auto-pilot,
packed full of dead Alpha Rats.
         Think about it, Jonny. The odds are staggering. The Alpha Rats
drifting through empty space for god knows how long, getting caught
in the moon's gravity and crashing there. I don't think that it would
be far-fetched to think that in some way they were sent there for us
to find. We're just lucky a Canadian team got to the site first. If the
Arabs had made it, they would have discovered what we did;
eventually, they would have analyzed it and figured out how it
         The layered virus," Jonny said. He stumbled on loose carpet,
felt Conover's gun in his back before he found his footing.
         See? Your history's not so bad," said Conover.  Of course, what
killed the Alpha Rats had very little resemblance to NATO's layered
virus, but it was during the early research we did on the bodies of
the Alpha Rats, breaking down the genetic structure of the plague
that killed them, that we finally found the key on how to make the
damned virus work. 
         Funny," said Jonny.  I thought for awhile that maybe you'd
gotten some surplus virus juice from somebody and decided to let it
loose in L.A. so you could peddle the cure through us dealers. 
         You think too small, Jonny. I keep telling you: You're in
business, but you're not a business man. This is government work,
boy. Multinational dollars. 
         But all the rationing for all these years, that was a put-on
wasn't it? Keep the Pentagon fat and happy. 
         Yes and no. After the Alpha ship was located, we couldn't very
well have people trampling all over the moon, could we? The local
military authorities took the opportunity to burn the Arab bases and
mining operations. Naturally, we had to take out a few of our own to
make it look good, but the circumlunar labs are still operating. You
didn't know that, did you? Yes, that's where the Alpha Virus was
synthesized. All we did was blow-up a few non-essential orbiters
and dress the ones we needed with debris from the surface. 
         So the government's got their virus and their war. What do
you get out of this? 
         Freedom. From this," said Conover, touching his chest.  They're
going to give me a new body, Jonny. With the government's bankroll
I can leave this place and not have to worry about territory disputes
or watered down drugs or the rabid dogs that run this city breathing
down my neck. 
         They must have given you a bundle for releasing that virus,"
said Jonny.
         Not at all. Raquin, as the Colonel no doubt told you, was
working for the Committee. He stole the virus from me to turn over
to the Colonel, but before he had the chance, Easy stole it from
Raquin. No son, I'm afraid what Washington is paying me for has
nothing to do with releasing the Alpha Virus. I'm being paid to
deliver you.  Conover sighed. "I was hoping you might figure this
part out on your own. That's why I set up that little game with 'Blue
Boy' and the cases of Mad Love. I thought maybe if you knew who I
was, you'd see some of this coming. Maybe I'm getting eccentric in
my oldage. Playing too many games. After a century or so it's easy
to forget how ordinary people think. And it was probably too much
to expect of you with all you've had on your mind lately.  They came
around a sharp turn and started up another flight of stairs. Along one
wall was a stained glass fresco depicting men in armor carrying
Christian banners into battle. Why would you put that in a stairway
with no lights? Jonny wondered.  You going to tell me why the
Federales want me, or should I just assume it's my magnetic
personality?  he asked the smuggler lord.
         Actually, they'd prefer your grandmother, but she
disappeared years ago. Then when your mother OD'd in Mexico City,
it left you as heir-apparent to the throne,  explained Conover. "See,
your grandmother was a child of the streets, much like you and your
friends. She sold blood, breathed polluted air for pay in university
experiments, you know the routine. Then in nineteen ninety-five she
volunteered for a series of injections at UCLA. Of course, she didn't
know it was one of the Defense Department's genetic warfare
projects. The school told her they were testing a new hepatitis
         Tokyo and Washington were still thinking of war strictly in
terms of atomic weapons back then. Some Pentagon bright-boy had
the idea that through genetic engineering he could increase the
general population's tolerance to certain wavelengths of radiation.
Like the rest of the research programs, it eventually ran out of
money, but not before your grandmother and a few dozen others
were doped with an experimental retro-virus. The doctors had
removed key sections of the virus's genetic code, so it could not hurt
her, but the retro-virus was very efficient in entering her bone
marrow. There, it bonded successfully with her red blood cells,
producing a sort-of anti-radiation antibody. 
         As I said, the project ran out of money, and the subjects were
dismissed, but not before they were re-examined. The little viruses
really took to a few of them; your grandmother was one. But the
project leaders had no hold over her or the others, no money to keep
them around. Like most of the research subjects, she simply drifted
         So now the Federales think because my abuela had lead in her
veins that something in my blood is the cure for the layered virus? 
         Apparently so."
         Then if there is no cure, why the hell did you let me go to
Little Tokyo after Easy Money?  Jonny shouted. "What were you
setting me up for? 
         Oh yes, Easy," said Conover. He looked tired; the junk flesh
around his eyes was drawn and brittle.  Well, I couldn't take a
chance on Nimble Virtue finding out what she had. It was a second
batch of the virus, of course. Ricos had orders to kill her and Easy
when she turned it over. 
         Beautiful. Fucking beautiful, "Jonny mumbled.  Then I'm it as
far as this cure goes? I mean, with all of the government's resources,
they couldn't come up with one other person connected with those
         It's been a long time, Jonny. Records get lost; discs get erased.
When you ran away from the state school as a boy, they we sure
they'd lost contact with the program for good. Then you turned up on
the Committee. You couldn't hide that blood from them for long. 
        Jonny laughed mirthlessly.  Serves me right."
        At the top of the stairs, they came out into an immense
geodesic solarium. Through the bullet-proof glass, Jonny could make-
out the tattered edge of the HOLLYWOOD sign, crawling neon of the
movie district below. Overhead, the moon was obscured by billowing
waves of sand, like hordes of locusts moving across the sky.
         You know, Mister Conover, you really piss me off," Jonny said.
 I mean, I expect this kind of chickenshit behavior from Nimble
Virtue, but I thought you were my friend. 
         I am your friend, Jonny. Understand, there's nothing personal
in any of this. 
         Right, I know. Don't tell me. It's business. Economics, it always
         You're looking for someone to blame again," Conover said.  I
told you once: life's more complicated than cowboy and Indian
movies. You think the Arabs wouldn't use the virus if they had the
opportunity? Or your friends the Croakers? What if Groucho had a
weapon like this? 
         You know what's funny?" Jonny asked.  What's really funny is
even though you're telling me all this now, I keep thinking that
maybe I'm hearing it wrong. I keep thinking, 'Maybe Mister Conover
got sucked into this deal by mistake, just like everybody else.' But
that's not how it is, is it?  Outside the solarium was a sculpture
garden. Jonny could make out smooth Greek marbles and Indian
bronzes laid out along the severe geometry of Victorian flower beds.
 When we were driving out to Santa Monica to pick up your dope
from those Gobernacion boys, I asked you about the new leprosy.
You just laughed and told me you hadn't had a cold in forty years.
But it wasn't until a few days ago that the Croakers found out that
the layered virus was attached to a cold bug. That means you knew
all along exactly what this virus was, which means you've been lying
to me ever since this mess got started. Or was it just another clue in
your game? Am I supposed to be flattered that you decided to fuck
with my head all this time?  His voice was growing shrill; he took a
step toward the lord.
        Conover nodded toward the statues.  Come outside. I want you
to see the garden before we leave. 
         Fuck you, old man."
        Conover casually raised the Futukoro a few centimeters.  Jonny,
consider that from my point of view, the simplest thing for me would
be to shoot you and put your body on ice until my ride arrives. But
I'm giving you a chance to stay alive. These people don't want to hurt
you, they just need your blood. 
         How are you going to get us to the desert, man? The roads
between here and New Hope are gonna be full of Committee boys
and gangs. You can't fly over it; a hovercar can't make it that far. 
         There's no reason to go to the desert," said Conover tiredly.
 There's nothing out there. New Hope is on the moon, safe and out of
harm's way. That structure in the desert is little more than a
grandiose movie set. This is Hollywood, boy. A crew from CineMex
put it together for us. It might have blown the Alpha Rats' image if
the general public knew about all that old money sitting right next
        Jonny took a deep breath. Between the tequila and the bombs
Conover kept dropping on him, he could hardly see straight.  Ever
since Zamora asked me to turn you, I've been trying to figure out
who was lying to me and who was telling the truth. Now I find out
that you're the only one that was lying. Everybody else, including
Nimble Virtue and that sheik, was telling me whatever part of the
truth they knew. That situation never even crossed my mind. 
         Don't be such a pussy, Gordon," said a gravelly voice from the
garden.  Come outside and have a drink."
        Jonny looked at Conover  That makes the evening perfect," he
said. The smuggler lord shrugged.
         I couldn't realistically keep the Colonel out of it forever," said
Conover apologetically.
         Of course he couldn't," said Colonel Zamora from the doorway
to the sculpture garden.  I've got contacts in government circles, too,
you know. I put enough of it together to see what Conover was up
        Jonny followed Zamora out to the garden. Conover followed. A
light scrim supported by a network of poles sheathed in some light-
absorbing material kept out most of the blowing sand; the scrim
fluttered in the storm, beating like the wings of grounded birds.
 You're an asshole, Colonel," Jonny said.
         And you got funny eyes, kid." Zamora set down his drink.
Jonny tensed, ready to intercept the blow he knew would come-- but
the Colonel just smiled at him.  You should be nice to me, Gordon.
We're partners now. 
         Did you have your brains surgically removed or something?"
Jonny asked.  Don't you know this guy's talking about war?"
         You think I don't know about war, Gordon?" The Colonel went
to a portable teak bar, poured amber liquid into a glass and brought
it back to Jonny (quietly laughing his breathy laugh).  After tonight,
with Conover gone and the gangs squashed, I'll own this city. Take a
look down there,  the Colonel said, steering Jonny to the edge of the
        The Hollywood Hills fell sharply away from Conover's mansion,
forming a featureless black lake whose shore was a million burning
lights. Straight ahead was Hollywood and the translucent tent where
Jonny had once lived. Off to the right was the business district,
Lockheed's glowing torus and the all but invisible silicon sphere of
Sony International. Jonny glanced back at Conover and caught him
tying off with a length of green surgical tubing, a loaded syringe in
his other shaky hand.
         Listen," said Colonel Zamora.
        Jonny turned back to the lights. He could not hear it at first
above the hissing of the falling sand, and when he did hear it, it was
as an echo. Faint backslap of an explosion from below. His ears,
having found the sound, could identify other explosions, the garbled
reverberations of amplified voices barking stern warnings in several
        Zamora was resting his elbows on the top of the low garden
wall.  You think I don't know about war?" he asked.  I've lived in
this city all my life. I eat, drink, sleep, and shit war.  Jonny looked at
the man and would have laughed, had he not been so sure the
Colonel was absolutely serious.
        Jonny walked to the bar and set down his drink, untouched.
Conover was resting against the base of a bronze of Shiva (face lost in
the Destroyer's shadow), green surgical tubing dangling from one
hand, the Futukoro from the other, breathing deeply as the Greenies
came on. Something moved by a ripped section of scrim at the far
end of the roof. Jonny moved back to the garden wall, not wanting to
be in the open if it was one of Conover's sentry robots.
         It's the end of your world down there, Gordon."
         That's what Conover keeps telling me," Jonny said.
         Don't get me wrong, the gangs were ballsy bastards, especially
the Croakers,  Zamora said. "But they're a bunch of romantic idiots.
Junkies with zip guns and rocks cannot stand up to a well-organized
fighting unit like the Committee. 
         Really Pere Ubu, if you keep talking like that I'm going to
think you're an idiot, and what fun is it beating an idiot?  There was
a crackle of Futukoro fire from down below as from the top of the
scrim, a crystal gecko fell and burst into a fountain of flame, spewing
a stream of fish, flowers, birds and all five of the Platonic solids
straight up into the air. Sections of the netting burst into guttering
flame where the fountain touched it, the wind and sand blowing
down on the garden through widening holes.
         What would you say if I told you your boys were going to lose
tonight?  The voice came from right behind them, low on the garden
wall. Crouching there all in black, Futukoro in hand, Groucho flashed
Jonny a quick smile.  Told you I'd come if I could. Besides, I thought
you might have run off again. Glad to see you didn't. 
         Me too," said Jonny.
        Zamora half-turned in Groucho's grip, gazing up at the anarchist
good-humoredly.  Nice stunt kid, but you aren't going to win this
thing with card tricks. 
         I'm not worried about the Committee right now, Ubu," said
Groucho, hopping lightly off the wall.  I'm here for you."
         I see. And this is the part where I fall apart and see the error
of my evil wasted life?  Zamora laughed. "Come on kid, wise up. In
the morning I'm going to be running this town. You want to make a
         You guys are just full of deals, aren't you?" Groucho said.
         Come on, Groucho, Figure it out. Everybody does exactly what
they have to get the job done. Now what do you want? A piece of the
city for the Croakers? A cut of the drug action? You can have it. 
 It's not enough," said the anarchist.  We are the revolt of the spirit
humiliated by your works. We live on our dreams. We can't settle for
anything less than everything. 
        Zamora shrugged and leaned against the garden wall.  Then
you're dead, asshole. 
         Admit it, Colonel: It's over," said Groucho.
         Boy, it's never over."
        Zamora's old lizard flesh was fast. He moved to the right,
feinting a back knuckle to the head, and drove a knee up at the
anarchist's mid-section. Groucho, however, was faster. He slipped the
Colonel's kick and swept his foot, knocking Zamora onto his back.
Jonny saw Conover then, emerging from Shiva's gloom.  Down!" he
yelled, but the anarchist was already falling, Conover's Futukoro still
smoking as he emerged into the light.
        By the time Jonny got there, Zamora was on his feet, rubbing at
one uniformed shoulder. Groucho's eyes were wide, bubbles fringing
an exit wound in his chest, matching his breathing. Groucho gripped
Zamora's trouser leg, not recognizing the man.  I am here by the will
of the people,  he said, "and I will not leave until I get my raincoat
back.  The bubbles on his chest were smaller and fewer each time
they appeared. Gradually, they disappeared altogether.
        He stopped moving. Zamora bent and pried the anarchist's hand
from his trouser leg.  Nickel and dime asshole," the Colonel mumbled.
 Didn't have a clue."
        Zamora started back to the bar. Jonny calmly took Nimble
Virtue's Derringer from his pocket and blew the back of the Colonel's
head off. Zamora stiffened as the hollow point hit. Then he collapsed,
a solid reptilian waterfall of flesh, joints loosening from the ankles
        Conover was on Jonny before he had a chance to move.  That's
all, son. It's over,  the smuggler lord said, and touched his gun to the
base of Jonny's spine.  It's time to go." Conover pulled him way from
the bodies, directing him to the far edge of the garden where a set of
wrought-iron stairs wound down to the bare hillside. At the top of
the stairs, Jonny looked back. The scrim was no longer burning, but
large black-rimmed holes allowed the sand through. It was squalling
in great gusts all over the garden, already beginning to cover the
bodies of the dead anarchist and Colonel Zamora. Jonny walked down
the metal stairs and started off across the pale scrub grass, Conover
right behind him.

        They walked with the storm to their backs. To their left, part of
the city was on fire.
        Jonny's ears became quickly accustomed to the steady rattle of
far-off gunfire. The explosions seemed to take on a strange rhythm
of their own, playing counter-point to his footsteps. Black smoke
from the burning buildings was whipped up by the Santa Ana winds;
mixing with the blowing sand, the smoke closed over the city, taking
on the appearance of a solid structure, as if Jonny were seeing the
lights through the walls of a dirty terrarium. Hovercars cut back and
forth through the mist like glowing wasps.
        They walked for some time without speaking. Then Conover
said:  Down the hill here." Scrambling through the nettles and fallen
branches, they eventually hit a rise and Jonny saw the rusted
skeleton of the dome, the grimy white walls. He knew then that they
were headed for Griffith Observatory. Years before, after a seven-
point quake that dropped most of Malibu below sea level, the
observatory's corroded dome had fallen in on itself like the shell of a
rotten egg. Since then, various religious groups had claimed the place,
performing secret rites in the husk of the old building under the full
        Scattered through the courtyard of the old observatory in
rough concentric circles were shrines to dead technology, useless
mementos of the collective unconscious of the city. The gear box from
a gasoline powered vehicle; a German food processor; a Nautilus
exercise machine; pelvic x-rays of forgotten movie stars; piles of
pornographic video cassettes, dressing dummies and primitive Sony
tube televisions.
        Jonny left Conover's side and touched the yellowed keys of an
ancient upright piano. It had been outside for so long that the
lacquer was coming off it in great chocolate ribbons, revealing the
weathered grain of some badly warped wood beneath. Jonny hit a
chord and to his surprise, the thing still worked. He picked out a one-
fingered melody, his off-key singing masked by the sour notes of the
out-of-tune piano.
         As I passed Saint James Infirmary
        I saw my sweetheart there
        All stretched out on a table,
        so pale, so cold, so fair
        As I passed Saint James Infirmary-- 
         Come on," called Conover,  let's get out of this storm." He
gestured at the open doors of the observatory with the Futukoro.
        A few steps inside the high-vaulted chamber, Jonny was
swallowed up by absolute darkness. It was like walking down the
gullet of some enormous animal, he thought. He breathed the hot air
(sour with the reek of oxidizing metal) deeply, relaxing in his sudden
blindness. Since leaving Sumi, Jonny had refused to let his
exteroceptors see for him in any but the most ordinary way. He felt
comfortable in the darkness of the observatory because he had been
waiting for it; it or something just like it. He had not felt the same
since the gun had failed to kill him in the clinic. He understood then
that he was still waiting for the bullet he had been denied. Each time
he turned around, Jonny expected to see Conover raising the
Futukoro to firing position. But it did not happen.
        There were things hanging from the ceiling of the observatory.
They rang softly, like the tinkling of small bells or wind chimes.
Occasionally, a tiny flash would catch his eye. Something cool touched
Jonny's face. He batted it with the back of his hand, and it swung
away into the darkness. A few steps further, he bumped into a
narrow railing that circled a sunken section of the floor, and waited
there for Conover.
        The smuggler lord came into the observatory, his head cocked
to one side, as if listening for something. It occurred to Jonny for the
first time that Conover might be insane. What proof had the lord
offered him of rich people slumming on the moon or dead
extraterrestrials? Just some fairy tale about his grandmother renting
out her blood. Not having contracted the layered virus meant
nothing. Luck or natural resistance could account for that, Jonny told
himself. There were a lot of people left in the city who were not
        However, if Conover were insane, he might insist that they wait
in the observatory for his spaceship all night. It seemed pretty likely
to Jonny that a structure this size would eventually attract fire from
        And if Conover is insane, he thought, what will he do when his
spaceship does not arrive?
        Outside, the sand storm was slacking off. Through gaps in the
twisted metal of the dome, Jonny could see the pale curve of the
moon. He thought of the celebration in the city, disrupted now by
gunfire. The Day of the Dead. Illuminated in the weak moonlight,
Jonny finally saw the room in which he was standing, and decided
that if Conover was not crazy, whoever had re-built the observatory
        A bank of ultra-sensitive photo-cells ringed the ceiling above a
parabolic mirror cradled in a steel lattice nest; the structure
supporting the mirror had been bolted beneath a section of dome
open to the sky. When the pale lunar light came down through the
fallen girders, the walls began to flicker; gears shifted ponderously
underground and a dozen blurry moons suddenly circumscribed the
room. Video images, three meters tall; old NASA footage Jonny
remembered from his childhood. Car mirrors suspended from the
ceiling on nylon lines picked up the pale images, flashing them back
and forth like cratered stars. Narrow rows of low-voltage track lights
shone through prisms and beam-splitters, bathing the highest parts
of the room in tentative rainbows.
         It's wonderful, isn't it? Absolute madness," Conover said. A
brightly painted Virgin Mary, part plaster of Paris and part jet
engine components, revolved on a creaking turntable-- a technocratic
moon goddess.
         You've been here before?" asked Jonny.
         Many times. I come here to think." In the wasted gray video
light, Jonny thought Conover looked like one of the masked dancers
from the procession below. The smuggler lord pointed to a spot in the
southern hemisphere ofone of the video moons.  In case you're
interested, this is where we're headed. A Japanese station a few
clicks to the west of Tycho. 
        Jonny slumped back against the rail.  Mister Conover, there's
no spaceship coming here tonight. 
         Of course there is. We're going to Seven Rose Base."  Bullshit.
All that's going to happen is we're going to hang around here till
somebody decides to put a mortar shell through the wall. 
        Conover shook his head, smiled indulgently at Jonny.  Don't go
thinking I've lost my mind, dear boy,  he said. "The fact is, I haven't
let you in on all my reasons for wanting to get to the moon. 
        Jonny opened his eyes in mock surprise.  Oh gosh, then you
haven't been absolutely straight with me? I'm really hurt, Mister
         What would you say if I told that you we have had contact
with the Alpha Rats directly? 
         I thought you said they were dead."
         The one's on the ship were, yes. But I mean others."
         Other Alpha Rats? Where?"
         Ah, so now you're interested." The smuggler lord walked along
the curving edge of the chamber, passing before each of the twelve
grainy moonscapes. Earth's shadow followed him, leaving each video
panel dark as he moved beyond it.  They've spoken to us, Jonny.
>From a ship, maybe an orbital broadcasting station. Three words,
clear as day. Three words repeated three times. Once in English; Once
in Japanese and once in Arabic. 
         Wait, I think I know this joke. They said 'Send more Chuck
Berry,' right? 
        Conover waited before one of the screens, time-lapse dawn
bursting over his shoulder.  They said: 'We are coming.' "
        Jonny looked down at his hands and found dried blood on the
backs of his knuckles. His stomach fluttered. He rubbed the knuckles
on his jeans.  That's it?" he asked.
         Isn't that enough?"
        Jonny shrugged.  Well, I mean, I don't want to rain on your
parade or anything, but so what? They're coming. What does that get
         A chance," Conover said.  One last chance for something new.
You can't imagine what it feels like living on pure reflex, half-awake,
but still functioning. And then something jars you conscious and you
realize that another five years have passed but it doesn't mean
anything because the next five will be exactly the same as the ones
that preceded it. 
        Jonny nodded.  So basically you're fucking everybody over
because you're bored. 
        The smuggler lord grinned.  Well, if you choose to look at it
that way-- 
         I do," Jonny said.
         I'm sorry to hear that." Conover stepped away from the
         Still, there's not much to be done about it."
         Sure there is," Jonny said, leaping the handrail to the sunken
observatory floor.  Kill me now."
         Don't be an ass."
        Jonny went to the slowly-revolving Virgin Mary, took hold of
something by her feet, and came away with a meter-long piece of
heavy chrome pipe. He held it before him, testing the balance in his
hands, then went to Conover.  Come on, fucker. Kill me."
        The smuggler lord held the Futukoro before him, but did not
point it at Jonny.  You're being an idiot."
        Jonny swung the pipe like a baseball bat, circling the lord on
the floor of the dim chamber.  Shoot me. Shoot me or I'll cave you're
goddamn head in. 
         I might just have to do it, Jonny."
         Go ahead." He swung the pipe wide, letting the smuggler lord
jump out of the way.
         Stop this right now," Conover said. Jonny swung again, forcing
the lord back on his heels.
         I knew it!" Jonny yelled.  I'm not worth squat to you dead, am
I? They don't want me if I'm dead. All that stuff about giving me a
chance to stay alive was just another line. If I'm dead, you haven't
got anything to trade for your new skin, have you?  He swung the
pipe at the lord's head.
         You're acting like a child--"
         Then shoot me!"
        This time Jonny connected, snapping his wrists down, driving
the end of the pipe into Conover's shoulder. The smuggler lord
gasped and dropped to his knees. Jonny threw the pipe, rolled under
the circular railing and headed for the door. Futukoro shots hissed
past his ear, bringing mirrors and bits of pulverized marble down on
his head. He darted to the left, more shots following him, cutting off
his way to the door.
        Conover was on his feet, heaving himself over the railing. The
smuggler lord kept sweeping the room with the Futukoro as he
pressed his back to each of the observatory's doors, grinding them
closed over a thin layer of sand.
         Where are you going to go, Jonny?" Conover yelled.  You're
friends are gone. It can be a bad place out there when you're all
        Jonny kept to the floor behind a gutted exhibit case, barely
breathing. He watched the smuggler lord walk back to the sunken
center of the chamber, gun in his hand.  Come on out, son. This is
insane,  Conover said. "We're both going to lose this way.  Jonny cut
his fingers picking up a wedge of glass from the wrecked case.
Moving into a crouch, he waited for the smuggler lord to get into just
the right position, and threw the glass edge-first across the room,
scrambling for the door at the same time.
        He knew it was a lost cause within three steps. The pounding of
his heavy boots gave him away. Conover turned away for a fraction
of a second when the glass hit, but snapped his gun back the instant
Jonny began his run. Jonny heard the smuggler lord's gun go off
         Consider that I don't have to kill you, son. A shot through each
kneecap will keep you still until the ship arrives. 
        Jonny was lying in the shadows, in the dirt, hands crabbed at
the edges of worn floor tiles. One side of his face was hot and wet
where shrapnel, fragmented marble or wood from the door, had
slashed his cheek. His mind was a blank, watching Conover move
about the center of the chamber, keeping to the light. For a moment,
when consciousness imposed itself upon him, he felt his will drain
away. He did not understand why he was running so hard from
death when it was what he had been looking for all along. He pressed
his back against the wall.
        Clinging is not acceptable, he reminded himself. Clinging to
anything, including life (or death), was the sign of a weak mind. One
of the floor tiles came loose in his hand.
        Anger; greed; folly. Hearing the words in his mind, he almost
laughed. They had been the cornerstones of his existence, as had
illusion. Before he had left her, Jonny's roshi had told him to picture
himself as a man crossing a river, moving from one slippery rock to
the next, knowing that each step could send him plunging into the
        Moving from illusion to illusion he assumed he had found
himself. Now he was not so sure. Perhaps, he thought, he had just
found more illusions.
        Conover was moving in slow circles before the video screens.
Jonny froze where he was, watched the smuggler lord scanning the
room. When Conover's gaze moved over and beyond him, Jonny sat
up, throwing the floor tile high, watching it spin and shatter the
parabolic mirror at the top of the chamber. The lord covered his head
as the glass came down on him, firing wildly, tearing up the ceiling
and the edges of the room. The muzzle flash from the Futukoro lit
him like a broken strobe as the video moonscapes went dark at his
back. When Conover stopped shooting, the room was quiet and very
dark. Belly to the floor, Jonny could feel the underground gears
winding down. He blinked once. Shapes became solid in the gloom.
Then he was up, his body moving by itself, one foot coming down on
the circular rail, the other swinging over, whole body hanging for an
instant in mid-air, unprotected meat, house of illusions, hate and
fear. Conover was below, slow-motion turning, Jonny's new
exteroceptor's showing the man as a brilliant neon scarecrow with
holes in his face.
        And then he hit, driving Conover hard into the floor. Jonny
hauled him up, holding the wrist that held the gun, so close to the
man that when his breath hesitated for a moment, Jonny felt the
absence of it on his face.
        Something happened then.
        Sand whispered down through the roof and the moon emerged
from a bank of clouds. Conover looked up. Bathed in the milky light,
his face went slack, hung on his cheeks like melting putty. The bird-
thin arms fell to his sides, and when the smuggler lord looked at him,
for the first time, Jonny glimpsed the true face of the man.
        It had cost him his eyes to see it. Groucho had an inkling of it,
but had died without a look; Ice and Sumi had been spared it; no
junkie or leper would have suspected it. Zamora had recognized its
essence immediately, was drawn to it, but had probably never
witnessed the thing itself. Only Jonny, with second-hand eyes stolen
from some rich man's gaudy toy, would ever know the smuggler
lord's true face.
        Without expression.
        A Halloween spook; a candy skull, dead as the hills when the
brush fires claimed them, dead as the sailor in the boiler room of a
sunken ship, skull fused to the melted plating of her hull.
        There was nothing else he could do. He moved the hand with
the gun under Conover's chin. The smuggler lord never took his hand
from the weapon, never tried to struggle. Sand fell on their
shoulders. When Jonny looked into the other man's eyes and saw his
own, he understood their common desire.
        Jonny decided to make him a gift of it. And pulled the trigger.
        It had not occurred to Jonny that he was not breathing. The
kick of the gun triggered a spasm in his lungs and he sucked in a
long breath, tasting ozone and the fear-smell of his own sweat.
Conover's body went down lightly, seemingly without weight, as if, in
those last few seconds of life, the smuggler lord had used up
everything he was.
        Jonny was shaking all over, covered in blood and filth. He
crawled under the railing and scraped open the doors. Stepping
outside, he stood for some minutes in the falling sand, rubbing it into
his face and arms, letting it rasp away the stink of death and

        Later, as he was wandering among the circular shrines in the
courtyard of the observatory, Jonny saw something skimming low
and fast over the tops of the hills. At first he thought it might be a
hovercar flying without its running lights, but as the craft got closer
he could tell that it was much too big for that. From what Jonny could
see of its outline, it appeared to have the razor-edged fuselage and
stubby graphite-composite wings of a Daimyo vacuum shuttle.
Something prickled along his spine. There would be a bigger ship up
there, he knew, waiting just beyond the stratosphere--
        The shuttle came down low over the observatory, and leveled
off, circling the ruin, a matte-black scavenger. From its belly
extended shafts of metallic blue light, sensitive fingers probing the
body of the dead building. Jonny hunkered down behind the pile of
Sony televisions, listening to the ship's engine's whine in the
overheated air. It was waiting for something. A signal? he wondered.
But the man who would have signaled it was dead on his back, fifty
meters away.
        After more than a dozen passes, the hum of the shuttle's
engines took a sudden jump in frequency, the fingers of light
disappearing one by one, leaving the observatory dark. Veering off
down the hill, the ship banked sharply to the left and started a rapid
climb back the way it had come. Jonny crawled to the edge of the
pile of televisions to watch the firing of the shuttle's engines, twin
stars. A couple of hovercars detached themselves from formation
over Hollywood and buzzed up the hill behind the larger ship, firing
their banks of heat-seeking missiles.
        The shuttle disappeared on the far side of the hills. The flash of
the explosion bleached the sky bone-white before the sound hit him.
It rolled like distant thunder, over the hills and on into the city. The
hovercars turned off and headed back to Hollywood, merging into the
mass of lights that was Los Angeles.
        Below, the city was burning. The wind had changed direction;
the sand was coming down harder, but behind it was a hint of rain.
Jonny wondered if the weather patterns would ever stabilize. He
removed the bottom panel from the front of the old piano and
crawled inside. Something exploded on Sunset Boulevard below.
Sizzling fireworks and a choir of hologram angels, enormous lavender
lizards, skulls, women's shoes, dice and playing cards rose from the
flames, glowed mad and beautiful, spiraled, screamed, clawed at the
buildings and finally faded into the sky.
        The city burned all night.

                                The Unconsciousness of the
                                Landscape becomes Complete

        The city was inside him, its windblown streets and alleys as
much a part of him as the air he breathed, the blood in his veins.
What roots he had were sunk deep in its hard soil. It formed the
walls and foundation of his soul, a thing of which he possessed little
knowledge, but which he had lately begun to consider.
He would never leave the city behind.

        Los Angeles lay white and still beneath the sun. The winds that
had carried in the sand were now blowing smoke from the
smoldering buildings out to sea, leaving the sky a nearly
unblemished dome of aquamarine. In the distance, Watts and Silver
Lake seemed to still be burning. However, since dawn a crystalline
calmness had invaded the city. It happened as the sun rose,
shimmering off the centimeters of desert sand that covered every
flat surface. The light gave Los Angeles the pure, hard look of a
newly minted coin or surgical instrument.
        Jonny spotted the first refugees just before daybreak. A small
group of them were making their way over the nearby hills, heading
for the Ventura Freeway and parts north. Later, he spotted hundreds
of people following the highways out of Hollywood. At first, he had
wondered where they were all going, but as he asked the question,
the answer seemed obvious.
        Anywhere else.
        The revolution was done. From what a young Zombie Analytic
girl told him, the Croakers had won. In a sense.  They're not in
control of the city, but neither's the Committee, so I guess they won, 
she said.  They won or they lost in such a way that the Committee
can't win; take your pick. 
        By noon, the hills were full of refugees, winding in ragged lines
around the observatory and the HOLLYWOOD sign, moving Jonny as
he sat on the keyboard of the piano, and on over the hills. Many
people were still wearing their costumes from the night before. In
the bright sun, newsrag skeletons were hardly more menacing that
the flat-footed Meat Boys, hookers and merchants that followed.
        No more fighting, Jonny thought. Let them have it. Let them try
to rule an empty city.
         What's so funny, Jonny?"
        He had not realized that he was laughing out loud. Easy Money
stood a few meters away within the ring of circular shrines, pale and
filthy, shielding his eyes from the sun. The arm he had injured at the
Forest of Incandescent Bliss was wrapped in tangled layers of dirty
         That's going to get infected," Jonny said.
         I tanked up on ampecillin in Little Tokyo," Easy replied. There
was a subtle irregularity in skin color of the arm he was using to
shield his eyes, a burning or mottling. It could be anything, Jonny
thought. He looked for other signs of the virus,  but under all that
dirt, there was no way to be sure.
         So, like I said, 'What's so funny?' "
         Everything," Jonny said.  It's over, man. They killed us. We're
dead and they can't hurt us anymore. 
         You know the Committee's still holding parts of the city?
They've sent for the Army. 
         Let them. You can't shoot ghosts and that's all that's left down
        Easy Money lowered his hand and Jonny saw heavy bruising
across the man's forehead where one of his horns had broken off.
 You going back?"
        Jonny shook his head.  Let the rats have it," he said.  You?"
         Where would I go?"
         There's lots of places."
        Easy looked over his shoulder at the smoke and the sand.  No."
        A dozen Mexican teenagers walked by, nylon athletic bags
emblazoned with colorful corporate decals and backpacks full of
clothes and food hanging from their shoulders. They were singing
together, an ancient melody, low and steady like a hymn, wholly
unselfconscious. They were moving against the general flow of
traffic, heading south and, Jonny knew, home. When they moved out
of ear-shot, he found himself missing their song.
        Easy was pointing at something.  You planning to use that or
        Jonny looked down at his hand and found Conover's Futukoro
there. He had a vague memory of having sneaked back into the
observatory during the night and taking the thing, though he could
not remember why. Jonny looked at Easy.  It's gone a little beyond
that, don't you think?  He shrugged. "Besides, I miss your head and
hit something important. 
        Easy smiled.  You are a classic asshole, you know that? I'd have
blown you away on sight. 
         Maybe that's the difference between us. I don't have to kill
you; you're doing that just fine by yourself. 
         But I won't die an asshole."
         I don't know if either of us has much choice in that matter."
Jonny laughed.  You know what I can't stop thinking about? Those
poor ignorant idiots on the moon. Sitting up there thinking how safe
they are from this little war they've dreamed up for us, not knowing
about the little green men that are coming to see them. I mean, it's
enough to make you think that maybe there is a god and that maybe
the fucker has a sense of humor. 
         I don't the slightest idea what you're talking about, but that's
okay,  said Easy. "Seeing as how you're in such a good mood-- you
wouldn't happen to be holding, would you? 
         Got a lot of pain?"
         Think I cracked some ribs when I fell."
         That's rough." Jonny pulled one of his pockets inside out.  I
seem to be all tapped out.  Easy just nodded. "You might check
Conover's place. His security's down for good and there's a room
there stacked eyeball-high with Mad Love. 
        Easy shaded his eyes again, frowned at Jonny from under his
arm.  Why you telling me about this?"
         'Cause I'm a right guy," said Jonny.  'Cause I'm Dragon head-
Snake body, and I know that all thought is illusion, that any event in
our lives, the worst and the best, can lead us toward enlightenment.
Also, I don't really give a fuck. 
         You're lost in space, man." Easy shook his head.  They're gonna
come after you with nets and needles. 
         Goodbye Easy."
         Adios, asshole."
        Easy made his way awkwardly up the hill, limping on his
clubfoot in the direction of Conover's place. Jonny watched him as the
man followed the same squatter's trail Conover had lead him down
last night. It seemed a long time ago. The sun flashed off Easy's one
remaining horn, then he was gone behind a stand of withered oaks.
        Jonny stepped off the piano, weighing the Futukoro in his hand,
marveling that at any other time in recent memory he would have
given anything to have Easy Money and a loaded gun at the same
time. The feeling was gone, all echoes now. He had moved on. To
where, he was not sure. Jonny took off his jacket and wrapped the
gun inside. Just before he dropped the bundle into the piano,
something fell from one of the pockets.
        He picked it up and rang it gently, remembering that the
Groucho had given him the small bell for luck in the deserted club.
Jonny considered the notion of enlightenment.
        Everybody he cared about was gone. Ice and Sumi, Random,
Groucho, all dead. Yet he felt their presence strong within him. It was
a corny sentiment, something you would read on a greeting card, and
he would have dismissed it entirely if the feeling had not been so
powerful, so genuine.
        Jonny still did not know what it really meant, was certain it
was not what he was feeling now. All he knew for certain was that
although he did not feel good, in some odd way, he felt a hell of a lot
        He held the bell in his left hand, letting it ring as he walked.
The way to Ensenada would be a long one, so he sang himself
through the city.  As I passed Saint James Infirmary
        I saw my sweetheart there,
        All stretched out on a table,
        so pale, so cold, so fair
        As I passed Saint James Infirmary-- 

Brought to you
The Cyberpunk Project