Authors: William Gibson
ACE BOOKS, NEW YORK
Published by the Penguin Group:
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First published 1986
Published as electronic edition 2002
Copyright © William Gibson, 2002
All rights reserved
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All rights reserved.
FOR MY D
Quiero hacer contigo
lo que la primavera
hace con los cerezos
COUNT ZERO INTERRUPT—
On receiving an interrupt, decrement the counter to zero.
HEY SET A SLAMHOUND
on Turner’s trail in New Delhi, slotted it to his pheromones and the color of his hair. It caught up with him on a street called Chandni Chauk and came scrambling for his rented BMW through a forest of bare brown legs and pedicab tires. Its core was a kilogram of recrystallized hexogene and flaked TNT.
He didn’t see it coming. The last he saw of India was the pink stucco façade of a place called the Khush-Oil Hotel.
Because he had a good agent, he had a good contract. Because he had a good contract, he was in Singapore an hour after the explosion. Most of him, anyway. The Dutch surgeon liked to joke about that, how an unspecified percentage of Turner hadn’t made it out of Palam International on that first flight and had to spend the night there in a shed, in a support vat.
It took the Dutchman and his team three months to put Turner together again. They cloned a square meter of skin for him, grew it on slabs of collagen and shark-cartilage polysaccharides. They bought eyes and genitals on the open market. The eyes were green.
He spent most of those three months in a ROM-generated simstim construct of an idealized New England boyhood of the previous century. The Dutchman’s visits were gray dawn dreams, nightmares that faded as the sky lightened beyond his second-floor bedroom window. You could smell the lilacs, late at night. He read Conan Doyle by the light of a sixty-watt bulb behind a parchment shade printed with clipper ships. He
masturbated in the smell of clean cotton sheets and thought about cheerleaders. The Dutchman opened a door in his back brain and came strolling in to ask questions, but in the morning his mother called him down to Wheaties, eggs and bacon, coffee with milk and sugar.
And one morning he woke in a strange bed, the Dutchman standing beside a window spilling tropical green and a sunlight that hurt his eyes. “You can go home now, Turner. We’re done with you. You’re good as new.”
He was good as new. How good was that? He didn’t know. He took the things the Dutchman gave him and flew out of Singapore. Home was the next airport Hyatt.
And the next. And ever was.
He flew on. His credit chip was a rectangle of black mirror, edged with gold. People behind counters smiled when they saw it, nodded. Doors opened, closed behind him. Wheels left ferroconcrete, drinks arrived, dinner was served.
In Heathrow a vast chunk of memory detached itself from a blank bowl of airport sky and fell on him. He vomited into a blue plastic canister without breaking stride. When he arrived at the counter at the end of the corridor, he changed his ticket.
He flew to Mexico.
And woke to the rattle of steel buckets on tile, wet swish of brooms, a woman’s body warm against his own.
The room was a tall cave. Bare white plaster reflected sound with too much clarity; somewhere beyond the clatter of the maids in the morning courtyard was the pounding of surf. The sheets bunched between his fingers were coarse chambray, softened by countless washings.
He remembered sunlight through a broad expanse of tinted window. An airport bar, Puerto Vallarta. He’d had to walk twenty meters from the plane, eyes screwed shut against the sun. He remembered a dead bat pressed flat as a dry leaf on runway concrete.
He remembered riding a bus, a mountain road, and the reek of internal combustion, the borders of the windshield plastered with postcard holograms of blue and pink saints. He’d ignored the steep scenery in favor of a sphere of pink lucite and the jittery dance of mercury at its core. The knob crowned the bent steel stem of the transmission lever, slightly larger
than a baseball. It had been cast around a crouching spider blown from clear glass, hollow, half filled with quicksilver. Mercury jumped and slid when the driver slapped the bus through switchback curves, swayed and shivered in the straightaways. The knob was ridiculous, handmade, baleful; it was there to welcome him back to Mexico.
Among the dozen-odd microsofts the Dutchman had given him was one that would allow a limited fluency in Spanish, but in Vallarta he’d fumbled behind his left ear and inserted a dustplug instead, hiding the socket and plug beneath a square of flesh-tone micropore. A passenger near the back of the bus had a radio. A voice had periodically interrupted the brassy pop to recite a kind of litany, strings of ten-digit figures, the day’s winning numbers in the national lottery.
The woman beside him stirred in her sleep.
He raised himself on one elbow to look at her. A stranger’s face, but not the one his life in hotels had taught him to expect. He would have expected a routine beauty, bred out of cheap elective surgery and the relentless Darwinism of fashion, an archetype cooked down from the major media faces of the previous five years.
Something Midwestern in the bone of the jaw, archaic and American. The blue sheets were rucked across her hips, the sunlight angling in through hardwood louvers to stripe her long thighs with diagonals of gold. The faces he woke with in the world’s hotels were like God’s own hood ornaments. Women’s sleeping faces, identical and alone, naked, aimed straight out to the void. But this one was different. Already, somehow, there was meaning attached to it. Meaning and a name.
He sat up, swinging his legs off the bed. His soles registered the grit of beach-sand on cool tile. There was a faint, pervasive smell of insecticide. Naked, head throbbing, he stood. He made his legs move. Walked, tried the first of two doors, finding white tile, more white plaster, a bulbous chrome shower head hung from rust-spotted iron pipe. The sink’s taps offered identical trickles of blood-warm water. An antique wristwatch lay beside a plastic tumbler, a mechanical Rolex on a pale leather strap.
The bathroom’s shuttered windows were unglazed, strung with a fine green mesh of plastic. He peered out between hardwood slats, wincing at the hot clean sun, and saw a dry
fountain of flower-painted tiles and the rusted carcass of a VW Rabbit.
Allison. That was her name.
She wore frayed khaki shorts and one of his white T-shirts. Her legs were very brown. The clockwork Rolex, with its dull stainless case, went around her left wrist on its pigskin strap. They went walking, down the curve of beach, toward Barre de Navidad. They kept to the narrow strip of firm wet sand above the line of surf.
Already they had a history together; he remembered her at a stall that morning in the little town’s iron-roofed
how she’d held the huge clay mug of boiled coffee in both hands. Mopping eggs and salsa from the cracked white plate with a tortilla, he’d watched flies circling fingers of sunlight that found their way through a patchwork of palm frond and corrugated siding. Some talk about her job with some legal firm in L.A., how she lived alone in one of the ramshackle pontoon towns tethered off Redondo. He’d told her he was in personnel. Or had been, anyway. “Maybe I’m looking for a new line of work . . .”
But talk seemed secondary to what there was between them, and now a frigate bird hung overhead, tacking against the breeze, slid sideways, wheeled, and was gone. They both shivered with the freedom of it, the mindless glide of the thing. She squeezed his hand.
A blue figure came marching up the beach toward them, a military policeman headed for town, spitshined black boots unreal against the soft bright beach. As the man passed, his face dark and immobile beneath mirrored glasses, Turner noted the carbine-format Steiner-Optic laser with Fabrique Nationale sights. The blue fatigues were spotless, creased like knives.
Turner had been a soldier in his own right for most of his adult life, although he’d never worn a uniform. A mercenary, his employers vast corporations warring covertly for the control of entire economies. He was a specialist in the extraction of top executives and research people. The multinationals he worked for would never admit that men like Turner existed . . .
“You worked your way through most of a bottle of Herradura last night,” she said.
He nodded. Her hand, in his, was warm and dry. He was
watching the spread of her toes with each step, the nails painted with chipped pink gloss.
The breakers rolled in, their edges transparent as green glass.
The spray beaded on her tan.
After their first day together, life fell into a simple pattern. They had breakfast in the
at a stall with a concrete counter worn smooth as polished marble. They spent the morning swimming, until the sun drove them back into the shuttered coolness of the hotel, where they made love under the slow wooden blades of the ceiling fan, then slept. In the afternoons they explored the maze of narrow streets behind the Avenida, or went hiking in the hills. They dined in beachfront restaurants and drank on the patios of the white hotels. Moonlight curled in the edge of the surf.
And gradually, without words, she taught him a new style of passion. He was accustomed to being served, serviced anonymously by skilled professionals. Now, in the white cave, he knelt on tile. He lowered his head, licking her, salt Pacific mixed with her own wet, her inner thighs cool against his cheeks. Palms cradling her hips, he held her, raised her like a chalice, lips pressing tight, while his tongue sought the locus, the point, the frequency that would bring her home. Then, grinning, he’d mount, enter, and find his own way there.
Sometimes, then, he’d talk, long spirals of unfocused narrative that spun out to join the sound of the sea. She said very little, but he’d learned to value what little she did say, and, always, she held him. And listened.
A week passed, then another. He woke to their final day together in that same cool room, finding her beside him. Over breakfast he imagined he felt a change in her, a tension.
They sunbathed, swam, and in the familiar bed he forgot the faint edge of anxiety.
In the afternoon, she suggested they walk down the beach, toward Barre, the way they’d gone that first morning.
Turner extracted the dustplug from the socket behind his ear and inserted a sliver of microsoft. The structure of Spanish settled through him like a tower of glass, invisible gates hinged on present and future, conditional, preterite perfect. Leaving her in the room, he crossed the Avenida and entered
the market. He bought a straw basket, cans of cold beer, sandwiches, and fruit. On his way back, he bought a new pair of sunglasses from the vendor in the Avenida.
His tan was dark and even. The angular patchwork left by the Dutchman’s grafts was gone, and she had taught him the unity of his body. Mornings, when he met the green eyes in the bathroom mirror, they were his own, and the Dutchman no longer troubled his dreams with bad jokes and a dry cough. Sometimes, still, he dreamed fragments of India, a country he barely knew, bright splinters, Chandni Chauk, the smell of dust and fried breads . . .
The walls of the ruined hotel stood a quarter of the way down the bay’s arc. The surf here was stronger, each wave a detonation.
Now she tugged him toward it, something new at the corners of her eyes, a tightness. Gulls scattered as they came hand in hand up the beach to gaze into shadow beyond empty doorways. The sand had subsided, allowing the structure’s façade to cave in, walls gone, leaving the floors of the three levels hung like huge shingles from bent, rusted tendons of finger-thick steel, each one faced with a different color and pattern of tile.
HOTEL PLAYA DEL M
was worked in childlike seashell capitals above one concrete arch. “Mar,” he said, completing it, though he’d removed the microsoft.
“It’s over,” she said, stepping beneath the arch, into shadow.
“What’s over?” He followed, the straw basket rubbing against his hip. The sand here was cold, dry, loose between his toes.
“Over. Done with. This place. No time here, no future.”
He stared at her, glanced past her to where rusted bedsprings were tangled at the junction of two crumbling walls. “It smells like piss,” he said. “Let’s swim.”
The sea took the chill away, but a distance hung between them now. They sat on a blanket from Turner’s room and ate, silently. The shadow of the ruin lengthened. The wind moved her sun-streaked hair.
“You make me think about horses,” he said finally.
“Well,” she said, as though she spoke from the depths of exhaustion, “they’ve only been extinct for thirty years.”
“No,” he said, “their hair. The hair on their necks, when they ran.”
“Manes,” she said, and there were tears in her eyes. “Fuck it.” Her shoulders began to heave. She took a deep breath. She tossed her empty Carta Blanca can down the beach. “It, me, what’s it matter?” Her arms around him again. “Oh, come on, Turner. Come on.”
And as she lay back, pulling him with her, he noticed something, a boat, reduced by distance to a white hyphen, where the water met the sky.
When he sat up, pulling on his cut-off jeans, he saw the yacht. It was much closer now, a graceful sweep of white riding low in the water. Deep water. The beach must fall away almost vertically, here, judging by the strength of the surf. That would be why the line of hotels ended where it did, back along the beach, and why the ruin hadn’t survived. The waves had licked away its foundation.
“Give me the basket.”
She was buttoning her blouse. He’d bought it for her in one of the tired little shops along the Avenida. Electric blue Mexican cotton, badly made. The clothing they bought in the shops seldom lasted more than a day or two. “I said give me the basket.”
She did. He dug through the remains of their afternoon, finding his binoculars beneath a plastic bag of pineapple slices drenched in lime and dusted with cayenne. He pulled them out, a compact pair of 6 × 30 combat glasses. He snapped the integral covers from the objectives and the padded eyepieces, and studied the streamlined ideograms of the Hosaka logo. A yellow inflatable rounded the stern and swung toward the beach.
“Get up.” Bundling the blanket and her towel into the basket. He took a last warm can of Carta Blanca from the basket and put it beside the binoculars. He stood, pulling her quickly to her feet, and forced the basket into her hands. “Maybe I’m wrong,” he said. “If I am, get out of here. Cut for that second stand of palms.” He pointed. “Don’t go back to the hotel. Get on a bus, Manzanillo or Vallarta. Go home.” He could hear the purr of the outboard now.