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Authors: William Gibson

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BOOK: Count Zero
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“You can see something’s wrong right there,” Lucas said. “That’s their ice, and it was already hip to you. Rumbled you before you even got a lock.”

As the line of blue dots touched the shifting orange plane, it was surrounded by a translucent orange tube of slightly greater diameter. The tube began to lengthen, traveling back, along the line, until it reached the wall of the tank . . .

“Meanwhile,” Beauvoir said, “back home in Barrytown . . .” He tapped the deck again and now Bobby’s blue pyramid was in the center. Bobby watched as the orange tube emerged from the wall of the projection tank, still following the blue line, and smoothly approached the pyramid. “Now at this point, you were due to start doing some serious dying, cowboy.” The tube reached the pyramid; triangular orange planes snapped up, walling it in. Beauvoir froze the projection.

“Now,” Lucas said, “when Two-a-Day’s hired help, who are all in all a pair of tough and experienced console jockeys, when they saw what you are about to see, my man, they decided that their deck was due for that big overhaul in the sky. Being pros, they had a backup deck. When they brought
it on line, they saw the same thing. It was at that point that they decided to phone their employer, Mr. Two-a-Day, who, as we can see from this mess, was about to throw himself a party . . .”

“Man,” Two-a-Day said, his voice tight with hysteria, “I
you. I had some clients up here needed entertaining. I paid those boys to watch, they were watching, and they phoned me. I phoned you. What the hell you

“Our property,” Beauvoir said softly. “Now watch this, real close. This motherfucker is what we call an anomalous phenomenon, no shit. . . .” He tapped the deck again, starting the recording.

Liquid flowers of milky white blossomed from the floor of the tank; Bobby, craning forward, saw that they seemed to consist of thousands of tiny spheres or bubbles, and then they aligned perfectly with the cubical grid and coalesced, forming a top-heavy, asymmetrical structure, a thing like a rectilinear mushroom. The surfaces, facets, were white, perfectly blank. The image in the tank was no longer than Bobby’s open hand, but to anyone jacked into a deck it would have been enormous. The thing unfolded a pair of horns; these lengthened, curved, became pincers that arced out to grasp the pyramid. He saw the tips sink smoothly through the flickering orange planes of the enemy ice.

“She said, ‘What are you doing?’ ” he heard himself say. “Then she asked me why they were doing that, doing it to me, killing me . . .”

“Ah,” Beauvoir said, quietly, “now we are getting somewhere.”


He didn’t know where they were going, but he was glad to be out of that chair. Beauvoir ducked to avoid a slanting gro-light that dangled from twin lengths of curly-cord; Bobby followed, almost slipping in a green-filmed puddle of water. Away from Two-a-Day’s couch-clearing, the air seemed thicker. There was a greenhouse smell of damp and growing things. “So that’s how it was,” Beauvoir said, “Two-a-Day sent some friends round to Covina Concourse Courts, but you were gone. Your deck was gone, too.”

“Well,” Bobby said, “I don’t see it’s exactly his fault, then. I mean, if I hadn’t split for Leon’s—and I was
for Two-a-Day, even lookin’ to try to get up here—then he’d have found me, right?” Beauvoir paused to admire a leafy
stand of flowering hemp, extending a thin brown forefinger to lightly brush the pale, colorless flowers.

“True,” he said, “but this is a
matter. He should have detailed someone to watch your place for the duration of the run, to ensure that neither you nor the software took any unscheduled walks.”

“Well, he sent Rhea ’n’ Jackie over to Leon’s, because I saw ’em there.” Bobby reached into the neck of his black pajamas and scratched at the sealed wound that crossed his chest and stomach. Then he remembered the centipede thing Pye had used as a suture, and quickly withdrew his hand. It itched, a straight line of itch, but he didn’t want to touch it.

“No, Jackie and Rhea are ours. Jackie is a mambo, a priestess, the horse of Danbala.” Beauvoir continued on his way, picking out what Bobby presumed was some existing track or path through the jumbled forest of hydroponics, although it seemed to progress in no particular direction. Some of the larger shrubs were rooted in bulbous green plastic trash bags filled with dark humus. Many of these had burst, and pale roots sought fresh nourishment in the shadows between the gro-lights, where time and the gradual fall of leaves conspired to produce a thin compost. Bobby wore a pair of black nylon thongs Jackie had found for him, but there was already damp earth between his toes. “A horse?” he asked Beauvoir, dodging past a prickly-looking thing that suggested an inside-out palm tree.

“Danbala rides her, Danbala Wedo, the snake. Other times, she is the horse of Aida Wedo, his wife.”

Bobby decided not to pursue it. He tried to change the subject: “How come Two-a-Day’s got such a motherhuge place? What are all these trees ’n’ things for?” He knew that Jackie and Rhea had wheeled him through a doorway, in the St. Mary’s chair, but he hadn’t seen a wall since. He also knew that the arcology covered
number of hectares, so that it was possible that Two-a-Day’s place was very large indeed, but it hardly seemed likely that a ’wareman, even a very sharp one, could afford this much space.
could afford this much space, and why would anybody want to live in a leaky hydroponic forest?

The last derm was wearing off, and his back and chest were beginning to burn and ache.

“Ficus trees, mapou trees . . . This whole level of the Projects is a
lieu saint,
holy place.” Beauvoir tapped Bobby
on the shoulder and pointed out twisted, bicolored strings dangling from the limbs of a nearby tree. “The trees are consecrated to different loa. That one is for Ougou, Ougou Feray, god of war. There’s a lot of other things grown up here, herbs the leaf-doctors need, and some just for fun. But this isn’t Two-a-Day’s place, this is communal.”

“You mean the whole Project’s into this? All like voodoo and stuff?” It was worse than Marsha’s darkest fantasies.

“No, man,” and Beauvoir laughed. “There’s a
up top, and a couple or ten thousand holyroller Baptists scattered around, some Church o’ Sci. . . . All the usual stuff. Still”—he grinned—“
are the ones with the tradition of getting shit
 . . . But how this got started, this level, that goes way back. The people who designed these places, maybe eighty, a hundred years ago, they had the idea they’d make ’em as self-sufficient as possible. Make ’em grow food. Make ’em heat themselves, generate power, whatever. Now this one, you drill far enough down, is sitting on top of a lot of geothermal water. It’s real hot down there, but not hot enough to run an engine, so it wasn’t gonna give ’em any power. They made a stab at power, up on the roof, with about a hundred Darrieus rotors, what they call eggbeaters. Had themselves a wind farm, see? Today they get most of their watts off the Fission Authority, like anybody else. But that geothermal water, they pump that up to a heat exchanger. It’s too salty to drink, so in the exchanger it just heats up your standard Jersey tap water, which a lot of people figure isn’t worth drinking anyway . . .”

Finally, they were approaching a wall of some kind. Bobby looked back. Shallow pools on the muddy concrete floor caught and reflected the limbs of the dwarf trees, the bare pale roots straggling down into makeshift tanks of hydroponic fluid.

“Then they pump that into shrimp tanks, and grow a lot of shrimp. Shrimp grow real fast in warm water. Then they pump it through pipes in the concrete, up here, to keep this place warm. That’s what this level was for, to grow ’ponic amaranth, lettuce, things like that. Then they pump it out into the catfish tanks, and algae eat the shrimp shit. Catfish eat the algae, and it all goes around again. Or anyway, that was the idea. Chances are they didn’t figure anybody’d go up on the roof and kick those Darrieus rotors over to make room for a mosque, and they didn’t figure a lot of other changes either.
So we wound up with this space. But you can still get you some damned good shrimp in the Projects. . . . Catfish, too.”

They had arrived at the wall. It was made of glass, beaded heavily with condensation. A few centimeters beyond it was another wall, that one made of what looked like rusty sheet steel. Beauvoir fished a key of some kind from a pocket in his sharkskin robe and slid it into an opening in a bare alloy beam dividing two expanses of window. Somewhere nearby, an engine whined into life; the broad steel shutter rotated up and out, moving jerkily, to reveal a view that Bobby had often imagined.

They must be near the top, high up in the Projects, because Big Playground was something he could cover with two hands. The condos of Barrytown looked like some gray-white fungus, spreading to the horizon. It was nearly dark, and he could make out a pink glow, beyond the last range of condo racks.

“That’s the Sprawl, over there, isn’t it? That pink.”

“That’s right, but the closer you get, the less pretty it looks. How’d you like to go there, Bobby? Count Zero ready to make the Sprawl?”

“Oh, yeah,” Bobby said, his palms against the sweating glass, “you got no idea. . . .” The derm had worn off entirely now, and his back and chest hurt like hell.


came on, Turner found the edge again.

It seemed like a long time since he’d been there, but when it clicked in, it was like he’d never left. It was that superhuman synchromesh flow that stimulants only approximated. He could only score for it on the site of a major defection, one where he was in command, and then only in the final hours before the actual move.

But it had been a long time; in New Delhi, he’d only been checking out possible escape routes for an executive who wasn’t entirely certain that relocation was what he wanted. If he had been working the edge, that night in Chandni Chauk, maybe he’d have been able to dodge the thing. Probably not, but the edge would’ve told him to try.

Now the edge let him collate the factors he had to deal with at the site, balancing clusters of small problems against single, larger ones. So far there were a lot of little ones, but no real ballbreakers. Lynch and Webber were starting to get in each other’s hair, so he arranged to keep them apart. His conviction that Lynch was Conroy’s plant, instinctive from the beginning, was stronger now. Instincts sharpened, on the edge; things got witchy. Nathan was having trouble with the lowtech Swedish hand warmers; anything short of an electronic circuit baffled him. Turner put Lynch to work on the hand warmers, fueling and priming them, and let Nathan carry them out, two at a time, and bury them shallowly, at meter intervals, along the two long lines of orange tape.

The microsoft Conroy had sent filled his head with its own
universe of constantly shifting factors: airspeed, altitude, attitude, angle of attack, g-forces, headings. The plane’s weapon delivery information was a constant subliminal litany of target designators, bomb fall lines, search circles, range and release cues, weapons counts. Conroy had tagged the microsoft with a simple message outlining the plane’s time of arrival and confirming the arrangement for space for a single passenger.

He wondered what Mitchell was doing, feeling. The Maas Biolabs North America facility was carved into the heart of a sheer mesa, a table of rock thrusting from the desert floor. The biosoft dossier had shown Turner the mesa’s face, cut with bright evening windows; it rode about the uplifted arms of a sea of saguaros like the wheelhouse of a giant ship. To Mitchell, it had been prison and fortress, his home for nine years. Somewhere near its core he had perfected the hybridoma techniques that had eluded other researchers for almost a century; working with human cancer cells and a neglected, nearly forgotten model of DNA synthesis, he had produced the immortal hybrid cells that were the basic production tools of the new technology, minute biochemical factories endlessly reproducing the engineered molecules that were linked and built up into biochips. Somewhere in the Maas arcology, Mitchell would be moving through his last hours as their star researcher.

Turner tried to imagine Mitchell leading a very different sort of life following his defection to Hosaka, but found it difficult. Was a research arcology in Arizona very different from one on Honshu?


There had been times, during that long day, when Mitchell’s coded memories had risen in him, filling him with a strange dread that seemed to have nothing to do with the operation at hand.

It was the intimacy of the thing that still disturbed him, and perhaps the feeling of fear sprang from that. Certain fragments seemed to have an emotional power entirely out of proportion to their content. Why should a memory of a plain hallway in some dingy Cambridge graduate dormitory fill him with a sense of guilt and self-loathing? Other images, which logically should have carried a degree of feeling, were strangely lacking in affect: Mitchell playing with his baby daughter on an expanse of pale woolen broadloom in a rented house in Geneva, the child laughing, tugging at his hand. Nothing.
The man’s life, from Turner’s vantage, seemed marked out by a certain inevitability; he was brilliant, a brilliance that had been detected early on, highly motivated, gifted at the kind of blandly ruthless in-company manipulation required by someone who aspired to become a top research scientist. If anyone was destined to rise through laboratory-corporate hierarchies, Turner decided, it would be Mitchell.

Turner himself was incapable of meshing with the intensely tribal world of the zaibatsumen, the lifers. He was a perpetual outsider, a rogue factor adrift on the secret seas of intercorporate politics. No company man would have been capable of taking the initiatives Turner was required to take in the course of an extraction. No company man was capable of Turner’s professionally casual ability to realign his loyalties to fit a change in employers. Or, perhaps, of his unyielding commitment once a contract had been agreed upon. He had drifted into security work in his late teens, when the grim doldrums of the postwar economy were giving way to the impetus of new technologies. He had done well in security, considering his general lack of ambition. He had a ropy, muscular poise that impressed his employer’s clients, and he was bright, very bright. He wore clothes well. He had a way with technology.

Conroy had found him in Mexico, where Turner’s employer had contracted to provide security for a Sense/Net simstim team who were recording a series of thirty-minute segments in an ongoing jungle adventure series. When Conroy arrived, Turner was finishing his arrangements. He’d set up a liaison between Sense/Net and the local government, bribed the town’s top police official, analyzed the hotel’s security system, met the local guides and drivers and had their histories doublechecked, arranged for digital voice protection on the simstim team’s transceivers, established a crisis-management team, and planted seismic sensors around the Sense/Net suite-cluster.

He entered the hotel’s bar, a jungle-garden extension of the lobby, and found a seat by himself at one of the glass-topped tables. A pale man with a shock of white, bleached hair crossed the bar with a drink in each hand. The pale skin was drawn tight across angular features and a high forehead; he wore a neatly pressed military shirt over jeans, and leather sandals.

“You’re the security for those simstim kids,” the pale man
said, putting one of the drinks down on Turner’s table. “Alfredo told me.” Alfredo was one of the hotel bartenders.

Turner looked up at the man, who was evidently sober and seemed to have all the confidence in the world. “I don’t think we’ve been introduced,” Turner said, making no move to accept the proffered drink.

“It doesn’t matter,” Conroy said, seating himself, “we’re in the same ball game.” He seated himself.

Turner stared. He had a bodyguard’s presence, something restless and watchful written in the lines of his body, and few strangers would so casually violate his private space.

“You know,” the man said, the way someone might comment on a team that wasn’t doing particularly well in a given season, “those seismics you’re using really don’t make it. I’ve met people who could walk in there, eat your kids for breakfast, stack the bones in the shower, and stroll out whistling. Those seismics would say it never happened.” He took a sip of his drink. “You get A for effort, though. You know how to do a job.”

The phrase “stack the bones in the shower” was enough. Turner decided to take the pale man out.

“Look, Turner, here’s your leading lady.” The man smiled up at Jane Hamilton, who smiled back, her wide blue eyes clear and perfect, each iris ringed with the minute gold lettering of the Zeiss Ikon logo. Turner froze, caught in a split-second lock of indecision. The star was close, too close, and the pale man was rising—

“Nice meeting you, Turner,” he said. “We’ll get together sooner or later. Take my advice about those seismics; back ’em up with a perimeter of screamers.” And then he turned and walked away, muscles rolling easily beneath the crisp fabric of his tan shirt.

“That’s nice, Turner,” Hamilton said, taking the stranger’s place.

“Yeah?” Turner watched as the man was lost in the confusion of the crowded lobby, amid pink-fleshed tourists.

“You don’t ever seem to talk to people. You always look like you’re running a make on them, filing a report. It’s nice to see you making friends for a change.”

Turner looked at her. She was twenty, four years his junior, and earned roughly nine times his annual salary in a given week. She was blonde, her hair cropped short for the series role, deeply tanned, and looked as if she was
illuminated from within by sunlamps. The blue eyes were inhumanly perfect optical instruments, grown in vats in Japan. She was both actress and camera, her eyes worth several million New Yen, and in the hierarchy of Sense/Net stars, she barely rated.

He sat with her, in the bar, until she’d finished two drinks, then walked her back to the suite-cluster.

“You wouldn’t feel like coming in for another, would you, Turner?”

“No,” he said. This was the second evening she’d made the offer, and he sensed that it would be the last. “I have to check the seismics.”

Later that night, he phoned New York for the number of a firm in Mexico City that could supply him with screamers for the perimeter of the suite-cluster.

But a week later, Jane and three others, half the series cast, were dead.


“We’re ready to roll the medics,” Webber said. Turner saw that she was wearing fingerless brown leather gloves. She’d replaced her sunglasses with clear-glass shooting glasses, and there was a pistol on her hip. “Sutcliffe’s monitoring the perimeter with the remotes. We’ll need everybody else to get the fucker through the brush.”

“Need me?”

“Ramirez says he can’t do anything too strenuous this close to jacking in. You ask me, he’s just a lazy little L.A. shit.”

“No,” Turner said, getting up from his seat on the ledge, “he’s right. If he sprained his wrist, we’d be screwed. Even something so minor that he couldn’t feel it could affect his speed . . .”

Webber shrugged. “Yeah. Well, he’s back in the bunker, bathing his hands in the last of our water and humming to himself, so we should be just fine.”

When they reached the surgery, Turner automatically counted heads. Seven. Ramirez was in the bunker; Sutcliffe was somewhere in the cinderblock maze, monitoring the sentry-remotes. Lynch had a Steiner-Optic laser slung over his right shoulder, a compact model with a folding alloy skeleton stock, integral batteries forming a fat handgrip below the gray titanium housing that served the thing as a barrel. Nathan was wearing a black jumpsuit, black paratrooper boots filmed with
pale dust, and had the bulbous ant-eye goggles of an image-amplification rig dangling below his chin on a head strap. Turner removed his Mexican sunglasses, tucked them into a breast pocket in the blue work shirt, and buttoned the flap.

“How’s it going, Teddy?” he asked a beefy six-footer with close-cropped brown hair.

“Jus’ fine,” Teddy said, with a toothy smile.

Turner surveyed the other three members of the site team, nodding to each man in turn: Compton, Costa, Davis.

“Getting down to the wire, huh?” Costa asked. He had a round, moist face and a thin, carefully trimmed beard. Like Nathan and the others, he wore black.

“Pretty close,” Turner said. “All smooth so far.”

Costa nodded.

“We’re an estimated thirty minutes from arrival,” Turner said.

“Nathan, Davis,” Webber said, “disconnect the sewage line.” She handed Turner one of the Telefunken ear-bead sets. She’d already removed it from its bubble pack. She put one on herself, peeling the plastic backing from the self-adhesive throat microphone and smoothing it into place on her sunburnt neck.

Nathan and Davis were moving in the shadows behind the module. Turner heard Davis curse softly.

“Shit,” Nathan said, “there’s no cap for the end of the tube.” The others laughed.

“Leave it,” Webber said. “Get to work on the wheels. Lynch and Compton unlimber the jacks.”

Lynch drew a pistol-shaped power driver from his belt and ducked beneath surgery. It was swaying now, the suspension creaking softly; the medics were moving inside. Turner heard a brief, high-pitched whine from some piece of internal machinery, and then the chatter of Lynch’s driver as he readied the jacks.

He put his ear-bead in and stuck the throat mike beside his larynx. “Sutcliffe? Check?”

“Fine,” the Australian said, a tiny voice that seemed to come from the base of his skull.


“Loud and clear . . .”


Eight minutes. They were rolling the module out on its ten fat tires. Turner and Nathan were on the front pair, steering;
Nathan had his goggles on. Mitchell was coming out in the dark of the moon. The module was heavy, absurdly heavy, and very nearly impossible to steer. “Like balancing a truck on a couple of shopping carts,” Nathan said to himself. Turner’s lower back was giving him trouble. It hadn’t been quite right since New Delhi.

“Hold it,” Webber said, from the third wheel on the left. “I’m stuck on a fucking rock . . .”

Turner released his wheel and straightened up. The bats were out in force tonight, flickering things against the bowl of desert starlight. There were bats in Mexico, in the jungle, fruit bats that slept in the trees that overhung the suite-cluster where the Sense/Net crew slept. Turner had climbed those trees, had strung the overhanging limbs with taut lengths of molecular monofilament, meters of invisible razor waiting for an unwary intruder. But Jane and the others had died anyway, blown away on a hillside in the mountains near Acapulco. Trouble with a labor union, someone said later, but nothing was ever determined, really, other than the fact of the primitive claymore charge, its placement and the position from which it had been detonated. Turner had climbed the hill himself, his clothes filmed with blood, and seen the nest of crushed undergrowth where the killers had waited, the knife switch and the corroded automobile battery. He found the butts of hand-rolled cigarettes and the cap from a bottle of Bohemia beer, bright and new.

The series had to be canceled, and the crisis-management team did yeoman duty, arranging the removal of bodies and the repatriation of the surviving members of the cast and crew. Turner was on the last plane out, and after eight Scotches in the lounge of the Acapulco airport, he’d wandered blindly out into the central ticketing area and encountered a man named Buschel, an executive tech from Sense/Net’s Los Angeles complex. Buschel was pale beneath an L.A. tan, his seersucker suit limp with sweat. He was carrying a plain aluminum case, like a camera case, its sides dull with condensation. Turner stared at the man, stared at the sweating case, with its red and white warning decals and lengthy labels explaining the precautions required in the transportation of materials in cryogenic storage.

BOOK: Count Zero
10.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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