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Authors: William Gibson

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Conroy sent a runner in with the software package that would allow Turner to pilot the jet that would carry Mitchell to Hosaka’s Mexico City compound. The runner was a wild-eyed, sun-blackened man Lynch called Harry, a rope-muscled apparition who came cycling in from the direction of Tucson on a sand-scoured bike with balding lug tires and bone-yellow rawhide laced around its handlebars. Lynch led Harry across the parking lot. Harry was singing to himself, a strange sound in the enforced quiet of the site, and his song, if you could call it that, was like someone randomly tuning a broken radio up and down midnight miles of dial, bringing in gospel shouts and snatches of twenty years of international pop. Harry had his bike slung across one burnt, bird-thin shoulder.

“Harry’s got something for you from Tucson,” Lynch said.

“You two know each other?” Turner asked, looking at Lynch. “Maybe have a friend in common?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Lynch asked.

Turner held his stare. “You know his name.”

“He told me his fucking name, Turner.”

“Name’s Harry,” the burnt man said. He tossed the bicycle down on a clump of brush. He smiled vacantly, exposing badly spaced, eroded teeth. His bare chest was filmed with sweat and dust, and hung with loops of fine steel chain, rawhide, bits of animal horn and fur, brass cartridge casings, copper coins worn smooth and faceless with use, and a small pouch made of soft brown leather.

Turner looked at the assortment of things strung across the skinny chest and reached out, flipping a crooked bit of bent gristle suspended from a length of braided string. “What the hell is that, Harry?”

“That’s a coon’s pecker,” Harry said. “Coon’s got him a jointed bone in his pecker. Not many as know that.”

“You ever meet my friend Lynch before, Harry?”

Harry blinked.

“He had the passwords,” Lynch said. “There’s an urgency hierarchy. He knew the top. He told me his name. Do you need me here, or can I get back to work?”

“Go,” Turner said.

When Lynch was out of earshot, Harry began to work at the thongs that sealed the leather pouch. “You shouldn’t be harsh with the boy,” he said. “He’s really very good. I actually didn’t see him until he had that fletcher up against my neck.” He opened the pouch and fished delicately inside.

“Tell Conroy I’ve got him pegged.”

“Sorry,” Harry said, extracting a folded sheet of yellow notebook paper from his pouch. “You’ve got who pegged?” He handed it to Turner; there was something inside.

“Lynch. He’s Conroy’s bumboy on the site. Tell him.” He unfolded the paper and removed the fat military microsoft. There was a note in blue capitals:
BREAK A LEG, ASSHOLE. SEE YOU IN THE DF
.

“Do you really want me to tell him that?”

“Tell him.”

“You’re the boss.”

“You fucking know it,” Turner said, crumpling the paper and thrusting it into Harry’s left armpit. Harry smiled, sweetly and vacantly, and the intelligence that had risen in him settled again, like some aquatic beast sinking effortlessly down into a smooth sea of sun-addled vapidity. Turner stared into his eyes, cracked yellow opal, and saw nothing there but sun and the broken highway. A hand with missing joints came up to scratch absently at a week’s growth of beard. “Now,” Turner
said. Harry turned, pulled his bike up from the tangle of brush, shouldered it with a grunt, and began to make his way back across the ruined parking lot. His oversized, tattered khaki shorts flapped as he went, and his collection of chains rattled softly.

Sutcliffe whistled from a rise twenty meters away, held up a roll of orange surveyor’s tape. It was time to start laying out Mitchell’s landing strip. They’d have to work quickly, before the sun was too high, and still it was going to be hot.

 

“So,” Webber said, “he’s coming in by air.” She spat brown juice on a yellowed cactus. Her cheek was packed with Copenhagen snuff.

“You got it,” Turner said. He sat beside her on a ledge of buff shale. They were watching Lynch and Nathan clear the strip he and Sutcliffe had laid out with the orange tape. The tape marked out a rectangle four meters wide and twenty long. Lynch carried a length of rusted I-beam to the tape and heaved it over. Something scurried away through the brush as the beam rang on concrete.

“They can see that tape, if they want to,” Webber said, wiping her lips with the back of her hand. “Read the headlines on your morning fax, if they want to.”

“I know,” Turner said, “but if they don’t know we’re here already, I don’t think they’re going to. And you couldn’t see it from the highway.” He adjusted the black nylon cap Ramirez had given him, pulling the long bill down until it touched his sunglasses. “Anyway, we’re just moving the heavy stuff, the things that could tear a leg off. It isn’t going to look like anything, not from orbit.”

“No,” Webber agreed, her seamed face impassive beneath her sunglasses. He could smell her sweat from where she sat, sharp and animal.

“What the hell do you do, Webber, when you aren’t doing this?” He looked at her.

“Probably a hell of a lot more than you do,” she said. “Part of the time I breed dogs.” She took a knife from her boot and began to strop it patiently on her sole, flipping it smoothly with each stroke, like a Mexican barber sharpening a razor. “And I fish. Trout.”

“You have people, in New Mexico?”

“Probably more than you’ve got,” she said flatly. “I figure the ones like you and Sutcliffe, you aren’t from any
place at all. This is where you live, isn’t it, Turner? On the site, today, the day your boy comes out. Right?” She tested the blade against the ball of her thumb, then slid it back into its sheath.

“But you have people? You got a man to go back to?”

“A woman, you want to know,” she said. “Know anything about breeding dogs?”

“No,” he said.

“I didn’t think so.” She squinted at him. “We got a kid, too. Ours. She carried it.”

“DNA splice?”

She nodded.

“That’s expensive,” he said.

“You know it; wouldn’t be here if we didn’t need to pay it off. But she’s beautiful.”

“Your woman?”

“Our kid.”

12
CAFE BLANC

A
S SHE WALKED FROM
the Louvre, she seemed to sense some articulated structure shifting to accommodate her course through the city. The waiter would be merely a part of the thing, one limb, a delicate probe or palp. The whole would be larger, much larger. How could she have imagined that it would be possible to live, to move, in the unnatural field of Virek’s wealth without suffering distortion? Virek had taken her up, in all her misery, and had rotated her through the monstrous, invisible stresses of his money, and she had been changed. Of course, she thought, of course: It moves around me constantly, watchful and invisible, the vast and subtle mechanism of Herr Virek’s surveillance.

Eventually she found herself on the pavement below the terrace of the Blanc. It seemed as good a place as any. A month before, she would have avoided it; she’d spent too many evenings with Alain there. Now, feeling that she had been freed, she decided to begin the process of rediscovering her own Paris by choosing a table at the Blanc. She took one near a side screen. She asked a waiter for a cognac, and shivered, watching the Paris traffic flow past, perpetual river of steel and glass, while all around her, at other tables, strangers ate and smiled, drank and argued, said bitter good-byes or swore private fealties to an afternoon’s feeling.

But—she smiled—she was a part of it all. Something in her was waking from a long and stifled sleep, brought back into the light in the instant she’d fully opened her eyes to Alain’s viciousness and her own desperate need to continue loving
him. But that need was fading, even as she sat here. The shabbiness of his lies, somehow, had broken the chains of her depression. She could see no logic to it, because she had known, in some part of herself, and long before the business with Gnass, exactly what it was that Alain did in the world, and that had made no difference to her love. In the face of this new feeling, however, she would forgo logic. It was enough, to be here, alive, at a table in the Blanc, and to imagine all around her the intricate machine that she now knew Virek had deployed.

Ironies, she thought, seeing the young waiter from Napoleon Court step up onto the terrace. He wore the dark trousers he had worked in, but the apron had been replaced with a blue windbreaker. Dark hair fell across his forehead in a smooth wing. He came toward her, smiling, confident, knowing that she wouldn’t run. There was something in her then that wanted very badly to run, but she knew that she wouldn’t. Irony, she told herself: As I luxuriate in the discovery that I am no special sponge for sorrow, but merely another fallible animal in this stone maze of a city, I come simultaneously to see that I am the focus of some vast device fueled by an obscure desire.

“My name is Paco,” he said, pulling out the white-painted iron chair opposite her own.

“You were the child, the boy, in the park . . .”

“A long time ago, yes.” He sat. “Señor has preserved the image of my childhood.”

“I have been thinking, about your Señor.” She didn’t look at him, but at the passing cars, cooling her eyes in the flow of traffic, the colors of polycarbon and painted steel. “A man like Virek is incapable of divesting himself of his wealth. His money has a life of its own. Perhaps a will of its own. He implied as much when we met.”

“You are a philosopher.”

“I’m a tool, Paco. I’m the most recent tip for a very old machine in the hands of a very old man, who wishes to penetrate something and has so far failed to do so. Your employer fumbles through a thousand tools and somehow chooses me . . .”

“You are a poet as well!”

She laughed, taking her eyes from the traffic; he was grinning, his mouth bracketed in deep vertical grooves. “While I walked here, I imagined a structure, a machine so large that
I am incapable of seeing it. A machine that surrounds me, anticipating my every step.”

“And you are an egotist as well?”

“Am I?”

“Perhaps not. Certainly, you are observed. We watch, and it is well that we do. Your friend in the brasserie, we watch him as well. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to determine where he obtained the hologram he showed you. Very likely, he already had it when he began to phone your friend’s number. Someone got to him, do you understand? Someone has put him in your way. Don’t you think that this is most intriguing? Doesn’t it pique the philosopher in you?”

“Yes, I suppose it does. I took the advice you gave me, in the brasserie, and agreed to his price.”

“Then he will double it.” Paco smiled.

“Which is of no importance to me, as you pointed out. He has agreed to contact me tomorrow. I assume that you can arrange the delivery of the money. He asked for cash.”

“Cash”—he rolled his eyes—“how risqué! But, yes, I can. And I know the details as well. We were monitoring the conversation. Not difficult, as he was helpful enough to broadcast it himself, from a bead microphone. We were anxious to learn who that broadcast was intended for, but we doubt he knows that himself.”

“It was unlike him,” she said, frowning, “to excuse himself, to break off that way, before he had made his demands. He fancies he has a flair for the dramatic moment.”

“He had no choice,” Paco said. “We engineered what he took to be a failure of the bead’s power source. It required a trip to the
hommes,
then. He said very nasty things about you, alone in the cubicle.”

She gestured to her empty glass as a waiter passed. “I still find it difficult to see my part in this, my value. To Virek, I mean.”

“Don’t ask me. You are the philosopher, here. I merely execute Señor’s orders, to the best of my ability.”

“Would you like a brandy, Paco? Or perhaps some coffee?”

“The French,” he said, with great conviction, “know nothing about coffee.”

13
WITH BOTH HANDS

“M
AYBE YOU CAN RUN
that one by me again,” Bobby said, around a mouthful of rice and eggs. “I thought you already said it’s not a religion.”

Beauvoir removed his eyeglass frames and sighted down one of the earpieces. “That wasn’t what I said. I said you didn’t have to worry about it, is all, whether it’s a religion or not. It’s just a
structure.
Lets you an’ me discuss some things that are happening, otherwise we might not have words for it, concepts—”

“But you talk like these, whatchacallem,
lows,
are—”

“Loa,” Beauvoir corrected, tossing his glasses down on the table. He sighed, dug one of the Chinese cigarettes from Two-a-Day’s pack, and lit it with the pewter skull. “Plural’s same as the singular.” He inhaled deeply, blew out twin streams of smoke through arched nostrils. “You think religion, what are you thinking about, exactly?”

“Well, my mother’s sister, she’s a Scientologist, real orthodox, you know? And there’s this woman across the hall, she’s Catholic. My old lady”—he paused, the food gone tasteless in his mouth—“she’d put these holograms up in my room sometimes, Jesus or Hubbard or some shit. I guess I think about that.”

“Vodou isn’t like that,” Beauvoir said. “It isn’t concerned with notions of salvation and transcendence. What it’s about is getting things
done.
You follow me? In our system, there are
many
gods, spirits. Part of one big family, with all the virtues, all the vices. There’s a ritual tradition of communal
manifestation, understand? Vodou says, there’s God, sure, Gran Met, but He’s big, too big and too far away to worry Himself if your ass is poor, or you can’t get laid. Come on, man, you know how this works, it’s
street
religion, came out of a dirt-poor place a million years ago. Vodou’s like the street. Some duster chops out your sister, you don’t go camp on the Yakuza’s doorstep, do you? No way. You go to somebody, though, who can get the thing
done.
Right?”

Bobby nodded, chewing thoughtfully. Another derm and two glasses of the red wine had helped a lot, and the big man had taken Two-a-Day for a walk through the trees and the fluorescent jackstraws, leaving Bobby with Beauvoir. Then Jackie had shown up all cheerful, with a big bowl of this eggs-and-rice stuff, which wasn’t bad at all, and as she’d put it down on the table in front of him, she’d pressed one of her tits against his shoulder.

“So,” Beauvoir said, “we are concerned with getting things done. If you want, we’re concerned with systems. And so are you, or at least you want to be, or else you wouldn’t be a cowboy and you wouldn’t have a handle, right?” He dunked what was left of the cigarette in a fingerprinted glass half full of red wine. “Looks like Two-a-Day was about to get down to serious partying, about the time the shit hit the fan.”

“What shit’s that?” Bobby asked, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“You,” Beauvoir said, frowning. “Not that any of it is your fault. As much as Two-a-Day wants to make out that’s the case.”

“He does? He seems pretty tense now. Real bitchy, too.”

“Exactly. You got it. Tense. Scared shitless is more like it.”

“So how come?”

“Well, you see, things aren’t exactly what they seem, with Two-a-Day. I mean, yeah, he actually does the kind of shit you’ve known him to, hustles hot software to the caspers, pardon me”—he grinned—“down in Barrytown, but his main shot, I mean the man’s real ambitions, you understand, lie elsewhere.” Beauvoir picked up a wilted canapé, regarded it with evident suspicion, and flicked it over the table, into the trees. “His thing, you understand, is dicking around for a couple of bigtime Sprawl oungans.”

Bobby nodded blankly.

“Dudes who serve with both hands.”

“You lost me there.”

“We’re talking a professional priesthood here, you want to call it that. Otherwise, just imagine a couple of major dudes— console cowboys, among other things—who make it their business to get things done for people. ‘To serve with both hands’ is an expression we have, sort of means they work both ends. White and black, got me?”

Bobby swallowed, then shook his head.

“Sorcerers,” Beauvoir said. “Never mind. Bad dudes, big money, that’s all you need to know. Two-a-Day, he acts like an up-line joeboy for these people. Sometimes he finds something they might be interested in, he downloads it on ’em, collects a few favors later. Maybe he collects a dozen too many favors, they download something on
him.
Not quite the same proposition, you follow me? Say they get something they think has potential, but it scares them. These characters tend to a certain conservatism, you see? No? Well, you’ll learn.”

Bobby nodded.

“The kind of software someone like you would rent from Two-a-Day, that’s nothin’. I mean, it’ll
work,
but it’s nothing anybody heavy would ever bother with. You’ve seen a lot of cowboy kinos, right? Well, the stuff they make up for those things isn’t much, compared with the kind of shit a real heavy operator can front. Particularly when it comes to icebreakers. Heavy icebreakers are kind of funny to deal in, even for the big boys. You know why? Because ice, all the really hard stuff, the walls around every major store of data in the matrix, is always the produce of an AI, an artificial intelligence. Nothing else is fast enough to weave good ice and constantly alter and upgrade it. So when a really powerful icebreaker shows up on the black market, there are already a couple of very dicey factors in play. Like, for starts, where did the product come from? Nine times out of ten, it came from an AI, and AI’s are constantly screened, mainly by the Turing people, to make sure they don’t get too smart. So maybe you’ll get the Turing machine after your ass, because maybe an AI somewhere wants to augment its private cash flow. Some AI’s have citizenship, right? Another thing you have to watch out for, maybe it’s a
military
icebreaker, and that’s bad heat, too, or maybe it’s taken a walk out of some zaibatsu’s industrial espionage arm, and you don’t want that either. You takin’ this shit in, Bobby?”

Bobby nodded. He felt like he’d been waiting all his life to hear Beauvoir explain the workings of a world whose existence he’d only guessed at before.

“Still, an icebreaker that’ll really cut is worth mega, I mean
beaucoup.
So maybe you’re Mr. Big in the market, someone offers you this thing, and you don’t want to just tell ’em to take a walk. So you buy it. You buy it, real quiet, but you don’t
slot
it, no. What do you do with it? You take it home, have your tech fix it up so that it looks real average. Like you have it set up in a format like this”—and he tapped a stack of software in front of him—“and you take it to your joeboy, who owes you some favors, as usual. . . .”

“Wait a sec,” Bobby said. “I don’t think I like—”

“Good. That means you’re getting smart, or anyway smarter. Because that’s what they did. They brought it out here to your friendly ’wareman, Mr. Two-a-Day, and they told him their problem. ‘Ace,’ they say, ‘we want to check this shit out, test-drive it, but no way we gonna do it ourselves. It’s down to you, boy.’ So, in the way of things, what’s Two-a-Day gonna do with it? Is
he
gonna slot it? No way at all. He just does the same damn thing the big boys did to him, ’cept he isn’t even going to bother telling the guy he’s going to do it to. What he does, he picks a base out in the Midwest that’s full of tax-dodge programs and yen-laundry flowcharts for some whorehouse in Kansas City, and everybody who didn’t just fall off a tree
knows
that the motherfucker is eyeball-deep in ice,
black
ice, totally lethal feedback programs. There isn’t a cowboy in the Sprawl or out who’d mess with that base: first, because it’s dripping with defenses; second, because the stuff inside isn’t worth anything to anybody but the IRS, and they’re probably already on the owner’s take.”

“Hey,” Bobby said, “lemme get this straight—”

“I’m
giving
it to you straight, white boy! He picked out that base, then he ran down his list of hotdoggers, ambitious punks from over in Barrytown, wilsons dumb enough to run a program they’d never seen before against a base that some joker like Two-a-Day fingered for them and told them was an easy make. And who’s he pick? He picks somebody new to the game, natch, somebody who doesn’t even know where he
lives,
doesn’t even have his
number,
and he says, here, my man, you take this home and make yourself some money. You get anything good, I’ll fence it for you!” Beauvoir’s
eyes were wide; he wasn’t smiling. “Sound like anybody you know, man, or maybe you try not to hang out with losers?”

“You mean he knew I was going to get killed if I plugged into that base?”

“No, Bobby, but he knew it was a possibility if the package didn’t work. What he mainly wanted was to watch you try. Which he didn’t bother to do himself, just put a couple of cowboys on it. It could’ve gone a couple different ways. Say, if that icebreaker had done its number on the black ice, you’d have gotten in, found a bunch of figures that meant dick to you, you’d have gotten back out, maybe without leaving any trace at all. Well, you’d have come back to Leon’s and told Two-a-Day that he’d fingered the wrong data. Oh, he’d have been real apologetic, for sure, and you’d have gotten a new target and a new icebreaker, and he’d have taken the first one back to the Sprawl and said it looked okay. Meanwhile, he’d have an eye cocked in your direction, just to monitor your health, make sure nobody came looking for the icebreaker they might’ve heard you’d used. Another way it might have gone, the way it nearly did go, something could’ve been funny with the icebreaker, the ice could’ve fried you dead, and one of those cowboys would’ve had to break into your momma’s place and get that software back before anybody found your body.”

“I dunno, Beauvoir, that’s pretty fucking hard to—”

“Hard my ass.
Life
is hard. I mean, we’re talkin’
biz,
you know?” Beauvoir regarded him with some severity, the plastic frames far down his slender nose. He was lighter than either Two-a-Day or the big man, the color of coffee with only a little whitener, his forehead high and smooth beneath close-cropped black frizz. He looked skinny, under his gray sharkskin robe, and Bobby didn’t really find him threatening at all. “But our problem, the reason we’re here, the reason you’re here, is to figure out what
did
happen. And that’s something else.”

“But you mean he set me up, Two-a-Day set me up so I’d get my ass killed?” Bobby was still in the St. Mary’s Maternity wheelchair, although he no longer felt like he needed it. “And he’s in deep shit with these guys, these heavies from the Sprawl?”

“You got it now.”

“And that’s why he was acting that way, like he doesn’t
give a shit, or maybe hates my guts, right? And he’s real scared?”

Beauvoir nodded.

“And,” Bobby said, suddenly seeing what Two-a-Day was really pissed about, and why he was scared, “it’s because I got my ass jumped, down by Big Playground, and those Lobe fucks ripped me for my deck! And their software, it was still in my deck!” He leaned forward, excited at having put it together. “And these guys, it’s like they’ll kill him or something, unless he gets it back for them, right?”

“I can tell you watch a lot of kino,” Beauvoir said, “but that’s about the size of it, definitely.”

“Right,” Bobby said, settling back in the wheelchair and putting his bare feet up on the edge of the table. “Well, Beauvoir, who
are
these guys? Whatchacallem, hoonguns? Sorcerers, you said? What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, Bobby,” Beauvoir said, “I’m one, and the big fella—you can call him Lucas—he’s the other.”

 

“You’ve probably seen one of these before,” Beauvoir said, as the man he called Lucas put the projection tank down on the table, having methodically cleared a space for it.

“In school,” Bobby said.

“You go to school, man?” Two-a-Day snapped. “Why the fuck didn’t you stay there?” He’d been chainsmoking since he came back with Lucas, and seemed in worse shape than he’d been in before.

“Shut up, Two-a-Day,” Beauvoir said. “Little education might do you some good.”

“They used one to teach us our way around in the matrix, how to access stuff from the print library, like that . . .”

“Well, then,” Lucas said, straightening up and brushing nonexistent dust from his big pink palms, “did you ever use it for that, to access print books?” He’d removed his immaculate black suit coat; his spotless white shirt was traversed by a pair of slender maroon suspenders, and he’d loosened the knot of his plain black tie.

“I don’t read too well,” Bobby said. “I mean, I can, but it’s work. But yeah, I did. I looked at some real old books on the matrix and stuff.”

“I thought you had,” Lucas said, jacking some kind of small deck into the console that formed the base of the tank. “Count Zero.
Count zero interrupt.
Old programmer talk.”
He passed the deck to Beauvoir, who began to tap commands into it.

Complex geometric forms began to click into place in the tank, aligned with the nearly invisible planes of a three-dimensional grid. Beauvoir was sketching in the cyberspace coordinates for Barrytown, Bobby saw. “We’ll call you this blue pyramid, Bobby. There you are.” A blue pyramid began to pulse softly at the very center of the tank. “Now we’ll show you what Two-a-Day’s cowboys saw, the ones who were watching you. From now on, you’re seeing a recording.” An interrupted line of blue light extruded from the pyramid, following a grid line. Bobby watched, seeing himself alone in his mother’s living room, the Ono-Sendai on his lap, the curtains drawn, his fingers moving across the deck.

“Icebreaker on its way,” Beauvoir said. The line of blue dots reached the wall of the tank. Beauvoir tapped the deck, and the coordinates changed. A new set of geometrics replaced the first arrangement. Bobby recognized the cluster of orange rectangles centered in the grid. “That’s it,” he said.

The blue line progressed from the edge of the tank, headed for the orange base. Faint planes of ghost-orange flickered around the rectangles, shifting and strobing, as the line grew closer.

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