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Authors: William Gibson

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BOOK: Count Zero
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an easy thing, death. He saw that now: It just happened. You screwed up by a fraction and there it was, something chill and odorless, ballooning out from the four stupid corners of the room, your mother’s Barrytown living room.

Shit, he thought, Two-a-Day’ll laugh his ass off, first time out and I pull a wilson.

The only sound in the room was the faint steady burr of his teeth vibrating, supersonic palsy as the feedback ate into his nervous system. He watched his frozen hand as it trembled delicately, centimeters from the red plastic stud that could break the connection that was killing him.


He’d come home and gotten right down to it, slotted the icebreaker he’d rented from Two-a-Day and jacked in, punching for the base he’d chosen as his first live target. Figured that was the way to do it; you wanna do it, then
it. He’d only had the little Ono-Sendai deck for a month, but he already knew he wanted to be more than just some Barrytown hotdogger. Bobby Newmark, aka Count Zero, but it was already over. Shows never ended this way, not right at the beginning. In a show, the cowboy hero’s girl or maybe his partner would run in, slap the trodes off, hit that little red
stud. So you’d make it, make it through.

But Bobby was alone now, his autonomic nervous system overridden by the defenses of a database three thousand kilometers from Barrytown, and he knew it. There was some magic chemistry in that impending darkness, something that
let him glimpse the infinite desirability of that room, with its carpet-colored carpet and curtain-colored curtains, its dingy foam sofa-suite, the angular chrome frame supporting the components of a six-year-old Hitachi entertainment module.

He’d carefully closed those curtains in preparation for his run, but now, somehow, he seemed to see out anyway, where the condos of Barrytown crested back in their concrete wave to break against the darker towers of the Projects. That condo wave bristled with a fine insect fur of antennas and chicken-wired dishes, strung with lines of drying clothes. His mother liked to bitch about that; she had a dryer. He remembered her knuckles white on the imitation bronze of the balcony railing, dry wrinkles where her wrist was bent. He remembered a dead boy carried out of Big Playground on an alloy stretcher, bundled in plastic the same color as a cop car. Fell and hit his head. Fell. Head. Wilson.

His heart stopped. It seemed to him that it fell sideways, kicked like an animal in a cartoon.

Sixteenth second of Bobby Newmark’s death. His hotdogger’s death.

And something
leaned in,
vastness unutterable, from beyond the most distant edge of anything he’d ever known or imagined, and touched him.


Girlvoice, brownhair, darkeyes . . .


Darkeyes, desertstar, tanshirt, girlhair—


And his heart rolled right over, on its back, and kicked his lunch up with its red cartoon legs, galvanic frog-leg spasm hurling him from the chair and tearing the trodes from his forehead. His bladder let go when his head clipped the corner of the Hitachi, and someone was saying fuck fuck fuck into the dust smell of carpet. Girlvoice gone, no desertstar, flash impression of cool wind and waterworn stone . . .

Then his head exploded. He saw it very clearly, from somewhere far away. Like a phosphorus grenade.




hovered twenty meters above the octagonal deck of the derelict oil rig. It was nearing dawn, and Turner could make out the faded outline of a biohazard trefoil marking the helicopter pad.

“You got a biohazard down there, Conroy?”

“None you aren’t used to,” Conroy said.

A figure in a red jumpsuit made brisk arm signals to the Honda’s pilot. Propwash flung scraps of packing waste into the sea as they landed. Conroy slapped the release plate on his harness and leaned across Turner to unseal the hatch. The roar of the engines battered them as the hatch slid open. Conroy was jabbing him in the shoulder, making urgent lifting motions with an upturned palm. He pointed to the pilot.

Turner scrambled out and dropped, the prop a blur of thunder, then Conroy was crouching beside him. They cleared the faded trefoil with the bent-legged crab scuttle common to helicopter pads, the Honda’s wind snapping their pants legs around their ankles. Turner carried a plain gray suitcase molded from ballistic ABS, his only piece of luggage; someone had packed it for him, at the hotel, and it had been waiting on
A sudden change in pitch told him the Honda was rising. It went whining away toward the coast, showing no lights. As the sound faded, Turner heard the cries of gulls and the slap and slide of the Pacific.

“Someone tried to set up a data haven here once,” Conroy said. “International waters. Back then nobody lived in orbit,
so it made sense for a few years . . .” He started for a rusted forest of beams supporting the rig’s superstructure. “One scenario Hosaka showed me, we’d get Mitchell out here, clean him up, stick him on
and full steam for old Japan. I told ’em, forget
shit. Maas gets on to it and they can come down on this thing with anything they want. I told ’em, that compound they got down in the D.F., that’s the ticket, right? Plenty of shit Maas wouldn’t pull there, not in the fucking middle of Mexico City . . .”

A figure stepped from the shadows, head distorted by the bulbous goggles of an image-amplification rig. It waved them on with the blunt, clustered muzzles of a Lansing fléchette gun. “Biohazard,” Conroy said as they edged past. “Duck your head here. And watch it, the stairs get slippery.”


The rig smelled of rust and disuse and brine. There were no windows. The discolored cream walls were blotched with spreading scabs of rust. Battery-powered fluorescent lanterns were slung, every few meters, from beams overhead, casting a hideous green-tinged light, at once intense and naggingly uneven. At least a dozen figures were at work, in this central room; they moved with the relaxed precision of good technicians. Professionals, Turner thought; their eyes seldom met and there was little talking. It was cold, very cold, and Conroy had given him a huge parka covered with tabs and zippers.

A bearded man in a sheepskin bomber jacket was securing bundled lengths of fiber-optic line to a dented bulkhead with silver tape. Conroy was locked in a whispered argument with a black woman who wore a parka like Turner’s. The bearded tech looked up from his work and saw Turner. “Shee-it,” he said, still on his knees, “I figured it was a big one, but I guess it’s gonna be a rough one, too.” He stood, wiping his palms automatically on his jeans. Like the rest of the techs, he wore micropore surgical gloves. “You’re Turner.” He grinned, glanced quickly in Conroy’s direction, and pulled a black plastic flask from a jacket pocket. “Take some chill off. You remember me. Worked on that job in Marrakech, IBM boy went over to Mitsu-G. Wired the charges on that bus you ’n’ the Frenchman drove into that hotel lobby.”

Turner took the flask, snapped its lid, and tipped it. Bourbon. It stung deep and sour, warmth spreading from the region of his sternum. “Thanks.” He returned the flask and the man pocketed it.

“Oakey,” the man said. “Name’s Oakey? You remember?”

“Sure,” Turner lied, “Marrakech.”

“Wild Turkey,” Oakey said. “Flew in through Schipol, I hit the duty-free. Your partner there,” another glance at Conroy, “he’s none too relaxed, is he? I mean, not like Marrakech, right?”

Turner nodded.

“You need anything,” Oakey said, “lemme know.”

“Like what?”

“ ’Nother drink, or I got some Peruvian flake, the kind that’s real yellow.” Oakey grinned again.

“Thanks,” Turner said, seeing Conroy turn from the black woman. Oakey saw, too, kneeling quickly and tearing off a fresh length of silver tape.

“Who was that?” Conroy asked, after leading Turner through a narrow door with decayed black gasket seals at its edges. Conroy spun the wheel that dogged the door shut; someone had oiled it recently.

“Name’s Oakey,” Turner said, taking in the new room. Smaller. Two of the lanterns, folding tables, chairs, all new. On the tables, instrumentation of some kind, under black plastic dustcovers.

“Friend of yours?”

“No,” Turner said. “He worked for me once.” He went to the nearest table and flipped back a dustcover. “What’s this?” The console had the blank, half-finished look of a factory prototype.

“Maas-Neotek cyberspace deck.”

Turner raised his eyebrows. “Yours?”

“We got two. One’s on site. From Hosaka. Fastest thing in the matrix, evidently, and Hosaka can’t even de-engineer the chips to copy them. Whole other technology.”

“They got them from Mitchell?”

“They aren’t saying. The fact they’d let go of ’em just to give our jockeys an edge is some indication of how badly they want the man.”

“Who’s on console, Conroy?”

“Jaylene Slide. I was talking to her just now.” He jerked his head in the direction of the door. “The site man’s out of L.A., kid called Ramirez.”

“They any good?” Turner replaced the dustcover.

“Better be, for what they’ll cost. Jaylene’s gotten herself a hot rep the past two years, and Ramirez is her understudy.
Shit”—Conroy shrugged—“you know these cowboys. Fucking crazy . . .”

“Where’d you get them? Where’d you get Oakey for that matter?”

Conroy smiled. “From
agent, Turner.”

Turner stared at Conroy, then nodded. Turning, he lifted the edge of the next dustcover. Cases, plastic and styrofoam, stacked neatly on the cold metal of the table. He touched a blue plastic rectangle stamped with a silver monogram: S&W.

“Your agent,” Conroy said, as Turner snapped the case open. The pistol lay there in its molded bed of pale blue foam, a massive revolver with an ugly housing that bulged beneath the squat barrel. “S&W Tactical, .408, with a xenon projector,” Conroy said. “What he said you’d want.”

Turner took the gun in his hand and thumbed the batterytest stud for the projector. A red
in the walnut grip pulsed twice. He swung the cylinder out. “Ammunition?”

“On the table. Hand-loads, explosive tips.”

Turner found a transparent cube of amber plastic, opened it with his left hand, and extracted a cartridge. “Why did they pick me for this, Conroy?” He examined the cartridge, then inserted it carefully into one of the cylinder’s six chambers.

“I don’t know,” Conroy said. “Felt like they had you slotted from go, whenever they heard from Mitchell . . .”

Turner spun the cylinder rapidly and snapped it back into the frame. “I said, ‘Why did they pick me for this, Conroy?’ ” He raised the pistol with both hands and extended his arms, pointing it directly at Conroy’s face. “Gun like this, sometimes you can see right down the bore, if the light’s right, see if there’s a bullet there.”

Conroy shook his head, very slightly.

“Or maybe you can see it in one of the other chambers . . .”

“No,” Conroy said, very softly, “no way.”

“Maybe the shrinks screwed up, Conroy. How about that?”

“No,” Conroy said, his face blank. “They didn’t, and you won’t.”

Turner pulled the trigger. The hammer clicked on an empty chamber. Conroy blinked once, opened his mouth, closed it, watched as Turner lowered the Smith & Wesson. A single bead of sweat rolled down from Conroy’s hairline and lost itself in an eyebrow.

“Well?” Turner asked, the gun at his side.

Conroy shrugged. “Don’t do that shit,” he said.

“They want me that bad?”

Conroy nodded. “It’s your show, Turner.”

“Where’s Mitchell?” He opened the cylinder again and began to load the five remaining chambers.

“Arizona. About fifty kilos from the Sonora line, in a mesatop research arcology. Maas Biolabs North America. They own everything around there, right down to the border, and the mesa’s smack in the middle of the footprints of four recon satellites. Mucho tight.”

“And how are we supposed to get in?”

“We aren’t. Mitchell’s coming out, on his own. We wait for him, pick him up, get his ass to Hosaka intact.” Conroy hooked a forefinger behind the open collar of his black shirt and drew out a length of black nylon cord, then a small black nylon envelope with a Velcro fastener. He opened it carefully and extracted an object, which he offered to Turner on his open palm. “Here. This is what he sent.”

Turner put the gun down on the nearest table and took the thing from Conroy. It was like a swollen gray microsoft, one end routine neurojack, the other a strange, rounded formation unlike anything he’d seen. “What is it?”

“It’s biosoft. Jaylene jacked it and said she thought it was output from an AI. It’s sort of a dossier on Mitchell, with a message to Hosaka tacked on the end. You better jack it yourself; you wanna get the picture fast . . .”

Turner glanced up from the gray thing. “How’d it grab Jaylene?”

“She said you better be lying down when you do it. She didn’t seem to like it much.”


Machine dreams hold a special vertigo. Turner lay down on a virgin slab of green temperfoam in the makeshift dorm and jacked Mitchell’s dossier. It came on slow; he had time to close his eyes.

Ten seconds later, his eyes were open. He clutched the green foam and fought his nausea. Again, he closed his eyes. . . . It came on, again, gradually, a flickering, nonlinear flood of fact and sensory data, a kind of narrative conveyed in surreal jump cuts and juxtapositions. It was vaguely like riding a roller coaster that phased in and out of existence at random, impossibly rapid intervals, changing altitude, attack, and direction with each pulse of nothingness, except that the shifts had nothing to do with any physical orientation,
but rather with lightning alternations in paradigm and symbol system. The data had never been intended for human input.

Eyes open, he pulled the thing from his socket and held it, his palm slick with sweat. It was like waking from a nightmare. Not a screamer, where impacted fears took on simple, terrible shapes, but the sort of dream, infinitely more disturbing, where everything is perfectly and horribly normal, and where everything is utterly
 . . .

of the thing was hideous. He fought down waves of raw transference, bringing all his will to bear on crushing a feeling that was akin to love, the obsessive tenderness a watcher comes to feel for the subject of prolonged surveillance. Days or hours later, he knew, the most minute details of Mitchell’s academic record might bob to the surface of his mind, or the name of a mistress, the scent of her heavy red hair in the sunlight through—

He sat up quickly, the plastic soles of his shoes smacking the rusted deck. He still wore the parka, and the Smith & Wesson, in a side pocket, swung painfully against his hip.

It would pass. Mitchell’s psychic odor would fade, as surely as the Spanish grammar in the lexicon evaporated after each use. What he had experienced was a Maas security dossier compiled by a sentient computer, nothing more. He replaced the biosoft in Conroy’s little black wallet, smoothed the Velcro seal with his thumb, and put the cord around his neck.

He became aware of the sound of waves lapping the flanks of the rig.

“Hey, boss,” someone said, from beyond the brown military blanket that screened the entrance to the dorm area, “Conroy says it’s time for you to inspect the troops, then you and him depart for other parts.” Oakey’s bearded face slid from behind the blanket. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t wake you up, right?”

“I wasn’t sleeping,” Turner said, and stood, fingers reflexively kneading the skin around the implanted socket.

“Too bad,” Oakey said. “I got derms’ll put you under all the way, one hour on the button, then kick in some kind of righteous upper, get you up and on the case, no lie . . .”

Turner shook his head. “Take me to Conroy.”

BOOK: Count Zero
13.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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