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Authors: William Gibson

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BOOK: Count Zero
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Now his mouth was watering for a slice of cold krill pizza, but his hunger was nothing in the face of his abrupt humiliation at seeing that Two-a-Day just didn’t care. Not that Bobby had thought of him as a friend, exactly, but he’d definitely had something invested in the idea that Two-a-Day saw him as
somebody with talent and initiative and a chance of getting out of Barrytown. But Two-a-Day’s eyes told him he was nobody in particular, and a wilson at that . . .

“Look here, my man,” someone said, not Two-a-Day, and Bobby looked up. Two other men flanked Two-a-Day on the fat chrome and leather couch, both of them black. The one who’d spoken wore a gray robe of some kind and antique plastic-framed glasses. The frames were square and oversized and seemed to lack lenses. The other man’s shoulders were twice as wide as Two-a-Day’s, but he wore the kind of plain black two-piece suit you saw on Japanese businessmen in kinos. His spotless white French cuffs were closed with bright rectangles of gold microcircuitry. “It’s a shame we can’t let you have some downtime to heal up,” the first man said, “but we have a bad problem here.” He paused, removed his glasses, and massaged the bridge of his nose. “We require your help.”

“Shit,” Two-a-Day said. He leaned forward, took a
Chinese cigarette from the pack on the table, lit it with a dull pewter skull the size of a large lemon, then reached for a glass of wine. The man with the glasses extended a lean brown forefinger and touched Two-a-Day’s wrist. Two-a-Day released the glass and sat back, his face carefully blank. The man smiled at Bobby. “Count Zero,” he said, “they tell us that’s your handle.”

“That’s right,” Bobby managed, though it came out as a kind of croak.

“We need to know about the Virgin, Count.” The man waited.

Bobby blinked at him.

Vyèj Mirak
”—and the glasses went back on— “Our Lady, Virgin of Miracles. We know her”—and he made a sign with his left hand—“as Ezili Freda.”

Bobby became aware of the fact that his mouth was open, so he closed it. The three dark faces waited. Jackie and Rhea were gone, but he hadn’t seen them leave. A kind of panic took him then, and he glanced frantically around at the strange forest of stunted trees that surrounded them. The gro-light tubes slanted at every angle, in any direction, pink-purple jackstraws suspended in a green space of leaves. No walls. You couldn’t see a wall at all. The couch and the battered table sat in a sort of clearing, with a floor of raw concrete.

“We know she came to you,” the big man said, crossing his legs carefully. He adjusted a perfect trouser-crease, and a gold cufflink winked at Bobby. “We know, you understand?”

“Two-a-Day tells me it was your first run,” the other man said. “That the truth?”

Bobby nodded.

“Then you are chosen of Legba,” the man said, again removing the empty frames,” to have met
Vyèj Mirak.
” He smiled.

Bobby’s mouth was open again.

“Legba,” the man said, “master of roads and pathways, the loa of communication . . .”

Two-a-Day ground his cigarette out on the scarred wood, and Bobby saw that his hand was shaking.


in the brasserie on the fifth sublevel of the Napoleon Court complex, beneath the Louvre’s glass pyramid. It was a place they both knew, although it had had no particular meaning for them. Alain had suggested it, and she suspected him of having chosen it carefully. It was neutral emotional ground; a familiar setting, yet one that was free of memories. It was decorated in a style that dated from the turn of the century: granite counters, black floor-to-ceiling beams, wall-to-wall mirror, and the sort of Italian restaurant furniture, in dark welded steel, that might have belonged to any decade of the past hundred years. The tables were covered in gray linen with a fine black stripe, a pattern picked up and repeated on the menu covers and matchbooks and the aprons of the waiters.

She wore the leather coat she’d bought in Brussels, a red linen blouse, and new black cotton jeans. Andrea had pretended not to notice the extreme care with which she’d dressed for the meeting, and then had loaned her a simple single strand of pearls, which set off the red blouse perfectly.

He’d come early, she saw as she entered, and already the table was littered with his things. He wore his favorite scarf, the one they’d found together at the flea market the year before, and looked, as he usually did, disheveled but perfectly at ease. The tattered leather attaché case had disgorged its contents across the little square of polished granite: spiral notebooks, an unread copy of the month’s controversial novel,
Gauloise nonfilters, a box of wooden matches, the leather-bound agenda she’d bought for him at Browns.

“I thought you might not come,” he said, smiling up at her.

“Why would you have thought that?” she asked, a random response—pathetic, she thought—masking the terror she now felt, that she allowed herself at last to feel, which was fear of some loss of self, of will and direction, fear of the love she still felt. She took the other chair and seated herself as the young waiter arrived, a Spanish boy in a striped apron, to take her order. She asked for Vichy water.

“Nothing else?” Alain asked. The waiter hovered.

“No, thank you.”

“I’ve been trying to reach you for weeks,” he said, and she knew that that was a lie, and yet, as she often had before, she wondered if he was entirely conscious of the fact that he was lying. Andrea maintained that men like Alain lied so constantly, so passionately, that some basic distinction had been lost. They were artists in their own right, Andrea said, intent on restructuring reality, and the New Jerusalem was a fine place indeed, free of overdrafts and disgruntled landlords and the need to find someone to cover the evening’s bill.

“I didn’t notice you trying to reach me when Gnass came with the police,” she said, hoping at least that he would wince, but the boyish face was calm as ever, beneath clean brown hair he habitually combed back with his fingers.

“I’m sorry,” he said, crushing out his Gauloise. Because she’d come to associate the smell of the dark French tobacco with him, Paris had seemed full of his scent, his ghost, his trail. “I was certain he’d never detect the—the nature of the piece. You must understand: Once I had admitted to myself how badly we needed the money, I knew that I must act. You, I knew, were far too idealistic. The gallery would have folded in any case. If things had gone as planned, with Gnass, we would be there now, and you would be happy. Happy,” he repeated, taking another cigarette from the pack.

She could only stare at him, feeling a kind of wonder, and a sick revulsion at her desire to believe him.

“You know,” he said, taking a match from the red and yellow box, “I’ve had difficulties with the police before. When I was a student. Politics, of course.” He struck the match, tossed the box down, and lit the cigarette.

“Politics,” she said, and suddenly felt like laughing. “I
was unaware that there was a party for people like you. I can’t imagine what it might be called.”

“Marly,” he said, lowering his voice, as he always did when he wished to indicate intensity of feeling, “you know, you must know, that I acted for you. For us, if you will. But surely you know, you can
Marly, that I would never deliberately hurt you, or place you in jeopardy.” There was no room on the crowded little table for her purse, so she’d held it in her lap; now she was aware of her nails buried deep in the soft thick leather.

“Never hurt me. . . .” The voice was her own, lost and amazed, the voice of a child, and suddenly she was free, free of need, desire, free of fear, and all that she felt for the handsome face across the table was simple revulsion, and she could only stare at him, this stranger she’d slept beside for one year, in a tiny room behind a very small gallery in the Rue Mauconseil. The waiter put her glass of Vichy down in front of her.

He must have taken her silence for the beginning of acceptance, the utter blankness of her expression for openness. “What you don’t understand”—this, she remembered, was a favorite opening—“is that men like Gnass exist, in some sense, to support the arts. To support
Marly.” He smiled then, as though he laughed at himself, a jaunty, conspiratorial smile that chilled her now. “I suppose, though, that I should have credited the man with having at least the requisite sense to hire his own Cornell expert, although
Cornell expert, I assure you, was by far the more erudite of the two . . .”

How was she to get away? Stand, she told herself. Turn. Walk calmly back to the entrance. Step through the door. Out into the subdued glitter of Napoleon Court, where polished marble overlay the Rue du Champ Fleuri, a fourteenth-century street said to have been reserved primarily for prostitution. Anything, anything, only go, only leave, now, and be away, away from him, walking blind, to lose herself in the guidebook Paris she’d learned when she’d first come here.

“But now,” he was saying, “you can see that things have worked out for the best. It’s often like that, isn’t it?” Again, the smile, but this time it was boyish, slightly wistful, and somehow, horribly, more intimate. “We’ve lost the gallery, but you’ve found employment, Marly. You have a job to do, an interesting one, and I have the connections you’ll need,
Marly. I know the people you’ll need to meet, in order to find your artist.”

“My artist?” Covering her abrupt confusion with a sip of Vichy.

He opened his scarred attaché and removed something flat, a simple reflection hologram. She took it, grateful to have something to do with her hands, and saw that it was a casual shot of the box she’d seen in Virek’s construct of Barcelona. Someone was holding it forward. A man’s hands, not Alain’s, and on one of them, a signet ring of some dark metal. The background was lost. Only the box, and the hands.

“Alain,” she said, “where did you get this?” Looking up to meet brown eyes filled with a terrible childlike triumph.

“It’s going to cost someone a very great deal to find out.” He ground out his cigarette and stood. “Excuse me.” He walked away, headed in the direction of the restrooms. As he vanished, behind mirrors and black steel beams, she dropped the hologram, reached across the table, and flipped back the lid of his attaché. There was nothing there, only a blue elastic band and some crumbs of tobacco.

“May I bring you something else? More Vichy, perhaps?” The waiter stood beside her.

She looked up at him, struck suddenly by a sense of familiarity. The lean dark face . . .

“He’s wearing a broadcast unit,” the waiter said. “He’s armed as well. I was the bellman in Brussels. Give him what he wants. Remember that the money means nothing to you.” He took her glass and placed it carefully on his tray. “And, very likely, it will destroy him.”

When Alain returned, he was smiling. “Now, darling,” he said reaching for his cigarettes, “we can do business.”

Marly smiled back and nodded.


three hours of sleep, finally, in the windowless bunker where the point team had established the command post. He’d met the rest of the site team. Ramirez was slight, nervous, perpetually wired on his own skill as a console jockey; they were depending on him, along with Jaylene Slide on the offshore rig, to monitor cyberspace around the grid sector that held the heavily iced banks of Maas Biolabs; if Maas became aware of them, at the last moment, he might be able to provide some warning. He was also charged with relaying the medical data from the surgery to the offshore rig, a complex procedure if they were to keep it from Maas. The line out ran to a phone booth in the middle of nowhere. Once past that booth, he and Jaylene were on their own in the matrix. If they blew it, Maas could backtrack and pinpoint the site. And then there was Nathan, the repairman, whose real job consisted of watching over the gear in the bunker. If some part of their system went down, there was at least a chance he could fix it. Nathan belonged to the species that had produced Oakey and a thousand others Turner had worked with over the years, maverick techs who liked earning danger money and had proven they could keep their mouths shut. The others—Compton, Teddy, Costa, and Davis— were just expensive muscle, mercs, the sort of men you hired for a job like this. For their benefit, he’d taken particular care in questioning Sutcliffe about the arrangements for clear-out. He’d explained where the copters would come in, the order of pickup, and precisely how and when they would be paid.

Then he’d told them to leave him alone in the bunker, and ordered Webber to wake him in three hours.

The place had been either a pump house or some sort of nexus for electrical wiring. The stumps of plastic tubing that protruded from the walls might have been conduit or sewage line; the room provided no evidence that any of them had ever been connected to anything. The ceiling, a single slab of poured concrete, was too low to allow him to stand, and there was a dry, dusty smell that wasn’t entirely unpleasant. The team had swept the place before they brought in the tables and the equipment, but there were still a few yellow flakes of newsprint on the floor, that crumbled when he touched them. He made out letters, sometimes an entire word.

Each of the folding metal camp tables had been set up along a wall, forming an L, each arm supporting an array of extraordinarily sophisticated communications gear. The best, he thought, that Hosaka had been able to obtain.

He hunched his way carefully along the length of each table, tapping each console, each black box, lightly as he went. There was a heavily modified military side-band transceiver rigged for squirt transmission. This would be their link in case Ramirez and Jaylene flubbed the data transfer. The squirts were prerecorded, elaborate technical fictions encoded by Hosaka’s cryptographers. The content of a given squirt was meaningless, but the sequence in which they were broadcast would convey simple messages. Sequence B/C/A would inform Hosaka of Mitchell’s arrival; F/D would indicate his departure from the site, while F/G would signal his death and the concurrent closure of the operation. Turner tapped the side-band rig again, frowning. He wasn’t pleased with Sutcliffe’s arrangements there. If the extraction was blown, it wasn’t likely they’d get out, let alone get out clean, and Webber had quietly informed him that, in the event of trouble, she’d been ordered to use a hand-held antitank rocket on the medicals in their miniature surgery. “They know,” she said. “You can bet they’re getting paid for it, too.” The rest of them were depending on the helicopters, which were based near Tucson. Turner assumed that Maas, if alerted, would easily take them out as they came in. When he’d objected to Sutcliffe, the Australian had only shrugged: “It isn’t the way I’d set it up under the best circumstances, mate, but we’re all in here on short notice, aren’t we?”

Beside the transceiver was an elaborate Sony biomonitor,
linked directly with the surgical pod and charged with the medical history recorded in Mitchell’s biosoft dossier. The medicals, when the time came, would access the defector’s history; simultaneously, the procedures they carried out in the pod would be fed back to the Sony and collated, ready for Ramirez to ice them and shift them out into cyberspace, where Jaylene Slide would be riding shotgun from her seat in the oil rig. If it all went smoothly, the medical update would be waiting in Hosaka’s Mexico City compound when Turner brought him in in the jet. Turner had never seen anything quite like the Sony, but he supposed the Dutchman would have had something very similar in his Singapore clinic. The thought brought his hand to his bare chest, where he unconsciously traced the vanished line of a graft scar.

The second table supported the cyberspace gear. The deck was identical with the one he’d seen on the oil rig, a Maas-Neotek prototype. The deck configuration was standard, but Conroy had said that it was built up from the new biochips. There was a fist-sized lump of pale pink plastique squashed on top of the console; someone, perhaps Ramirez, had thumbed in twin depressions for eyes and a crude curve of idiot grin. Two wires, one blue, the other yellow, ran from the thing’s pink forehead to one of the black, gaping tubes that protruded from the wall behind the console. Another of Webber’s chores, if there seemed any danger of the site being overrun. Turner eyed the wires, frowning; a charge that size, in that small, enclosed space, guaranteed death for anyone in the bunker.

His shoulders aching, the back of his head brushing the rough concrete of the ceiling, he continued his inspection. The rest of the table was taken up with the deck’s peripherals, a series of black boxes positioned with obsessive precision. He suspected that each unit was a certain specific distance from its neighbor, and they were perfectly aligned. Ramirez himself would have set them out, and Turner was certain that if he touched one, moved it the least fraction, the jockey would know. He’d seen that same neurotic touch before, in other console men, and it told him nothing about Ramirez. He’d watched other jockeys who reversed the trait, deliberately tangling their gear in a rat’s nest of leads and cables, who were terrified of tidiness and plastered their consoles with decals of dice and screaming skulls. There was no way to tell, he thought; either Ramirez was good, or else they all might be dead soon.

At the far end of the table were five Telefunken ear-bead transceivers with adhesive throat mikes, still sealed in individual bubble packs. During the crucial phase of the defection, which Turner took to be the twenty minutes on either side of Mitchell’s arrival, he, Ramirez, Sutcliffe, Webber, and Lynch would be linked, although the use of the transceivers was to be kept to an absolute minimum.

Behind the Telefunkens was an unmarked plastic carton that contained twenty Swedish catalytic handwarmers, smooth flat oblongs of stainless steel, each in its own drawstring bag of Christmas-red flannelette. “You’re a clever bastard,” he said to the carton. “I might have thought that one up myself . . .”


He slept on a corrugated foam hiker’s pad on the floor of the command post, using the parka as a blanket. Conroy had been right about the desert night, but the concrete seemed to hold the day’s heat. He left his fatigues and shoes on; Webber had advised him to shake his shoes and clothing out whenever he dressed. “Scorpions,” she’d say, “they like sweat, any kind of moisture.” He removed the Smith & Wesson from the nylon holster before he lay down, carefully positioning it beside the foam pad. He left the two battery lanterns on, and closed his eyes.

And slid into a shallow sea of dream, images tossing past, fragments of Mitchell’s dossier melding with bits of his own life. He and Mitchell drove a bus through a cascade of plate glass, into the lobby of a Marrakech hotel. The scientist whooped as he pressed the button that detonated the two dozen canisters of CN taped along the flanks of the vehicle, and Oakey was there, too, offering him whiskey from a bottle, and yellow Peruvian cocaine on a round, plastic-rimmed mirror he’d last seen in Allison’s purse. He thought he saw Allison somewhere beyond the windows of the bus, choking in the clouds of gas, and he tried to tell Oakey, tried to point her out, but the glass was plastered with Mexican holograms of saints, postcards of the Virgin, and Oakey was holding up something smooth and round, a globe of pink crystal, and he saw a spider crouched at its core, a spider made of quicksilver, but Mitchell was laughing, his teeth full of blood, and extending his open palm to offer Turner the gray biosoft. Turner saw that the dossier was a brain, grayish pink and alive beneath a wet clear membrane, pulsing softly
in Mitchell’s hand, and then he tumbled over some submarine ledge of dream and settled smoothly down into a night with no stars at all.


Webber woke him, her hard features framed in the square doorway, her shoulders draped in the heavy military blanket taped across the entrance. “Got your three hours. The medicals are up, if you want to talk to ’em.” She withdrew, her boots crunching gravel.

Hosaka’s medics were waiting beside the self-contained neurosurgery. Under a desert dawn they looked as though they’d just stepped from some kind of matter transmitter in their fashionably rumpled Ginza casuals. One of the men was bundled in an oversized Mexican handknit, the sort of belted cardigan Turner had seen tourists wear in Mexico City. The other two wore expensive-looking insulated ski jackets against the desert cold. The men were a head shorter than the Korean, a slender woman with strong, archaic features and a birdlike ruff of red-tinged hair that made Turner think of raptors. Conroy had said that the two were company men, and Turner could see it easily; only the woman had the attitude, the stance that belonged to Turner’s world, and she was an outlaw, a black medic. She’d be right at home with the Dutchman, he thought.

“I’m Turner,” he said. “I’m in charge here.”

“You don’t need our names,” the woman said as the two Hosaka men bowed automatically. They exchanged glances, looked at Turner, then looked back to the Korean.

“No,” Turner said, “it isn’t necessary.”

“Why are we still denied access to the patient’s medical data?” the Korean aked.

“Security,” Turner said, the answer very nearly an automatic response. In fact, he could see no reason to prevent them from studying Mitchell’s records.

The woman shrugged, turned away, her face hidden by the upturned collar of her insulated jacket.

“Would you like to inspect the surgery?” the man in the bulky cardigan asked, his face polite and alert, a perfect corporate mask.

“No,” Turner said. “We’ll be moving you out to the lot twenty minutes prior to his arrival. We’ll take the wheels off, level you with jacks. The sewage link will be disconnected. I
want you fully operational five minutes after we set you down.”

“There will be no problem,” the other man said, smiling.

“Now I want you to tell me what you’re going to be doing in there, what you’ll do to him and how it might affect him.”

“You don’t
” the woman asked, sharply, turning back to face him.

“I said that I wanted you to tell me,” Turner said.

“We’ll conduct an immediate scan for lethal implants,” the man in the cardigan said.

“Cortex charges, that sort of thing?”

“I doubt,” said the other man, “that we will encounter anything so crude, but yes, we will be scanning for the full range of lethal devices. Simultaneously, we’ll run a full blood screen. We understand that his current employers deal in extremely sophisticated biochemical systems. It would seem possible that the greatest danger would lie in that direction . . .”

“It’s currently quite fashionable to equip top employees with modified insulin-pump subdermals,” his partner broke in. “The subject’s system can be tricked into an artificial reliance on certain synthetic enzyme analogs. Unless the subdermal is recharged at regular intervals, withdrawal from the source—the employer—can result in trauma.”

“We are prepared to deal with that as well,” said the other.

“Neither of you are even remotely prepared to deal with what I suspect we will encounter,” the black medic said, her voice as cold as the wind that blew out of the east now. Turner heard sand hissing across the rusted sheet of steel above them.

“You,” Turner said to her, “come with me.” Then he turned, without looking back, and walked away. It was possible that she might not obey his command, in which case he’d lose face with the other two, but it seemed the right move. When he was ten meters from the surgery pod, he halted. He heard her feet on the gravel.

“What do you know?” he asked without turning.

“Perhaps no more than you do,” she said, “perhaps more.”

“More than your colleagues, obviously.”

“They are extremely talented men. They are also . . . servants.”

“And you are not.”

“Neither are you, mercenary. I was hired out of the finest unlicensed clinic in Chiba for this. I was given a great deal of material to study in preparation for my meeting with this illustrious patient. The black clinics of Chiba are the cutting edge of medicine; not even Hosaka could know that my position in black medicine would allow me to guess what it is that your defector carries in his head. The street tries to find its own uses for things, Mr. Turner. Already, several times, I’ve been hired to attempt the removal of these new implants. A certain amount of advanced Maas biocircuitry has found its way into the market. These attempts at implanting are a logical step. I suspect Maas may leak these things deliberately.”

“Then explain it to me.”

“I don’t think I could,” she said, and there was a strange hint of resignation in her voice. “I told you, I’ve seen it. I didn’t say that I understood it.” Fingertips suddenly brushed the skin beside his skull jack. “This, compared with biochip implants, is like a wooden staff beside a myoelectric limb.”

“But will it be life-threatening, in his case?”

“Oh, no,” she said, withdrawing her hand, “not for
 . . .” And then he heard her trudging back toward the surgery.

BOOK: Count Zero
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