William GIBSON "Idoru"

1. Death Cube K

After Slitscan,  Laney heard about another job from Rydell,  the night
security man at the Chateau.  Rydell was a big quiet Tennessean with a
sad   shy   grin,   cheap  sunglasses,  and  a  walkie-talkie  screwed
permanently into one ear.

"Paragon-Asia Datafiow," Rydell said,  around four in the morning, the
two  of  them  seated in a pair of huge old armchairs.  Concrete beams
overhead had been hand-painted to  vaguely  resemble  blond  oak.  The
chairs,  like  the rest of the furniture in the Chateau's lobby,  were
oversized to the extent that whoever sat in them  seemed  built  to  a
smaller scale.

"Really?" Laney  asked,  keeping  up  the  pretense  that someone like
Rydell would know where he could still find work.

"Tokyo, Japan," Rydell said,  and sucked iced latte through a  plastic
straw.  "Guy I met in San Francisco last year.  Yamazaki. He's working
for 'em. Says they need a serious netrunner,"


Laney, who liked to think of himself as  a  researcher,  suppressed  a

"Contract job?"

"Guess so. Didn't say."

"I don't think I'd want to live in Tokyo."

Rydell used his straw to stir the foam and ice remaining at the bottom
of his tall plastic cup,  as though he were hoping to  find  a  secret
prize.  "He didn't say you'd have to." He looked up. "You ever been to


"Must be  an  interesting  place,  after  that  quake  and  all."  The
walkie-talkie  ticked and whispered.  "I gotta go on out and check the
gate by the bungalows now. Feel like coming?"

"No," Laney said. "Thanks."

Rydell stood,  automatically straightening the creases  in  his  khaki
uniform  trousers.  He  wore  a black nylon web-belt hung with various
holstered devices, all of them black, a short-sleeved white shirt, and
a peculiarly immobile black tie.  "I'll leave the number in your box,"
he said.

Laney watched the security man cross the terra cotta and  the  various
rugs,  to  vanish  past the darkly polished panels of the registration
desk. He'd had something going on cable once, Laney had gathered. Nice
guy. Loser.

Laney sat  there  until  dawn came edging in through the tall,  arched
windows, and Taiwanese stainless could be heard to rattle, but gently,
from  the  darkened cave of the breakfast room.  Immigrant voices,  in
some High Steppe dialect the Great Khans might well  have  understood.
Echoes  woke from the tiled floor,  from the high beams surviving from
an age that must  once  have  seen  the  advent  of  Laney's  kind  or
predecessors,   their  ecology  of  celebrity  and  the  terrible  and
inviolable order of that food chain.

Rydell left a folded sheet of Chateau  notepaper  in  Laney's  box.  A
Tokyo number.  Laney found it there the next afternoon,  along with an
updated estimate of his final bill from the lawyers.

He took them both up to the room he could no longer  even  pretend  to

A week  later  he  was  in Tokyo,  his face reflected in an elevator's
goldveined mirror for this  three-floor  ascent  of  the  aggressively
nondescript  0  My  Golly  Building.  To  be admitted to Death Cube K,
apparently a Franz Kafka theme bar.

Stepping from the.elevator into a long space announced in  acid-etched
metal  as  The  Metamorphosis.  Where  salarimen  in  white shirts had
removed their suit jackets and loosened their dark ties,  and sat at a
bar  of  artfully  corroded steel,  drinking,  the high backs of their
chairs molded from some brown and chitinous resin. Insectoid mandibles
curved above the drinkers' heads like scythes.

He moved  forward into brown light,  a low murmur of conversation.  He
understood no Japanese.  The walls,  unevenly transparent,  repeated a
motif of wing cases and bulbous abdomens, spikey brown limbs folded in
at regular intervals.  He increased his pace,  aiming  for  a  curving
stairway molded to resemble glossy brown carapaces.

The eyes  of Russian prostitutes followed him from tables opposite the
bar,  flat and  doll-like  in  this  roach-light.  The  Natashas  were
everywhere, working girls shipped in from Vladivostok by the Kombinat.
Routine plastic surgery lent them a hard assembly-line beauty.  Slavic
Barbies.  A  simpler  operation  implanted  a  tracking device for the
benefit of their handlers.

The stairway opened into The Penal Colony,  a disco,  deserted at this
hour,  pulses of silent red lightning marking Laney's steps across the
dance floor.  A machine of some kind was suspended from  the  ceiling.
Each of its articulated arms,  suggestive of antique dental equipment,
was tipped with sharp steel.  Pens,  he thought,  vaguely  remembering
Kafka's story. Sentence of guilt, graven in the flesh of the condemned
man's back.  Wincing at a memory of upturned eyes unseeing.  Pushed it
down. Moved on.

A second  stairway,  narrow,  more  steep,  and  he entered The Trial,
low-ceilinged and dark.  Walls the color of anthracite.  Small  flames
shivered behind blue glass. He hesitated, nightblind and jet-lagged.

"Cohn Laney, is it?"

Australian. Enormous.  Who  stood  behind  a  little table,  shoulders
sloping bearlike.  Something strange about the  shape  of  his  shaven
head.  And another,  much smaller figure, seated there. Japanese, in a
long-sleeved plaid shirt buttoned up to its oversized collar. Blinking
up at Laney through circular lenses.

"Have a seat, Mr. Laney," the big man said.

And Laney  saw  that  this  man's left ear was missing,  sheared away,
leaving only a convoluted stump.

When Laney had worked for Slitscan,  his supervisor  was  named  Kathy
Torrance.  Palest of pale blonds.  A pallor bordering on translucence,
certain angles of light suggesting not blood but some fluid the  shade
of  summer  straw.  On  her  left thigh the absolute indigo imprint of
something twisted and multibarbed,  an expensively savage  pictoglyph.
Visible  each  Friday,  when  she  made it her habit to wear shorts to

She complained,  always,  that the nature of celebrity  was  much  the
worse  for wear.  Strip-mined,  Laney gathered,  by generations of her

She propped her feet on the ledge of a hotdesk.  She  wore  meticulous
little reproductions of lineman's boots, buckled across the instep and
stoutly laced to the ankle.  He looked at her legs,  their taut  sweep
from  wooly sock tops to the sandpapered fringe of cut-off jeans.  The
tattoo looked like something from another planet,  a sign  or  message
burned  in  from  the  depths  of  space,  left  there  for mankind to

He asked her what she meant. She peeled a mint-flavored toothpick from
its  wrapper.  Eyes  he  suspected  were  gray  regarded  him  through
mint-tinted contacts.

"Nobody's really famous anymore, Laney. Have you noticed that?"


"I mean really famous.  There's not much fame left,  not  in  the  old
sense. Not enough to go around."

"The old sense?"

"We're the media,  Laney.  We make these assholes celebrities.  It's a
push-me,  pull-you routine.  They come to us to  be  created."  Vibram
cleats  kicked  concisely  off  the hotdesk.  She tucked her boots in,
heels against denim haunches, a white knees hiding her mouth. Balanced
there on the pedestal of the hotdesk's articulated Swedish chair.

"Well," Laney  said,  going  back  to his screen,  "that's still fame,
isn't it?"

"But is it real?"

He looked back at her.

"We learned to print money off this stuff," she  said.  "Coin  of  our
realm.  Now we've printed too much;  even the audience knows. It shows
in the ratings."

Laney nodded, wishing she'd leave him to his work.

"Except," she said,  parting her knees so he could  see  her  say  it,
"when we decide to destroy one."

Behind her,  past the anodyzed chainlink of the Cage, beyond a framing
rectangle of glass that filtered out every tint of pollution,  the sky
over Burbank was perfectly blank, like a sky-blue paint chip submitted
by the contractor of the universe.

The man's left ear was edged with pink tissue,  smooth as  wax.  Laney
wondered why there had been no attempt at reconstruction.

"So I'll remember," the man said, reading Laney's eyes.

"Remember what?"

"Not to forget. Sit down."

Laney sat   on   something   only  vaguely  chairlike,  an  attenuated
construction of black alloy rods and laminated Hexcel.  The table  was
round  and approximately the size of a steering wheel.  A votive flame
licked the air,  behind blue glass.  The Japanese man with  the  plaid
shirt  and  metal-framed glasses blinked furiously.  Laney watched the
large man settle himself,  another slender chair-thing lost alarmingly
beneath  a  sumo-sized  bulk  that appeared to be composed entirely of

"Done with the jet lag, are we?"

"I took pills." Remembering the SST's silence,  its lack of appar  ent
motion. "Pills," the man said. "Hotel adequate?"

"Yes," Laney said. "Ready for the interview."

"Well then,"  vigorously  rubbing his face with heavily scarred hands.
He lowered his hands and stared at Laney,  as if seeing  him  for  the
first time.  Laney, avoiding the gaze of those eyes, took in the man's
outfit, some sort of nanopore exercise gear intended to fit loosely on
a  smaller  but  still  very large man.  Of no particular color in the
darkness of the Trial.  Open  from  collar  to  breastbone.  Straining
against  abnormal mass.  Exposed flesh tracked and crossed by an atlas
of scars,  baffling in their variety  of  shape  and  texture.  "Well,

Laney looked up from the scars. "I'm here for a job interview."

"Are you?"

"Are you the interviewer?"

"Interviewer'?" The  ambiguous  grimace  revealing  an  obvious dental

Laney turned to the Japanese in the round glasses. "Cohn Laney."

"Shinya Yamazaki," the man said,  extending his hand.  They shook. "We
spoke on the telephone."

"You're conducting the interview?"

A flurry of blinks.  "I'm sorry,  no," the man said. And then, "I am a
student of existential sociology."

"I don't get it," Laney said.  The two opposite said  nothing.  Shinya
Yamazaki looked embarrassed. The one-eared man glowered.

"You're Australian," Laney said to the one-eared man.

"Tazzie," the man corrected. "Sided with the South in the Troubles."

"Let's start  over,"  Laney  suggested.  "Paragon-Asia  Dataflow.' You

"Persistent bugger."

"Goes with the territory," Laney said. "Professionally, I mean."

"Fair enough." The man raised his eyebrows,  one of which was bisected
by a twisted pink cable of scar tissue.  "Rez, then. What do you think
of him?"

"You mean the rock star?" Laney asked,  after struggling with a  basic
problem of context.

A nod. The man regarded Laney with utmost gravity.

"From Lo  Rez?  The  band?" Half Irish,  half Chinese.  A broken nose,
never repaired. Long green eyes.

"What do I think of him?"

In Kathy Torrance's system of things,  the singer had been reserved  a
special  disdain.  She had viewed him as a living fossil,  an annoying
survival from an earlier,  less evolved era.  He was at once massively
and  meaninglessly  famous,  she  maintained,  just  as  he  was  both
massively and meaninglessly wealthy.  Kathy thought of celebrity as  a
subtle  fluid,  a  universal  element,  like  the  phlogiston  of  the
ancients,  something  spread  evenly  at  creation  through  all   the
universe,  but prone now to accrete, under specific conditions, around
certain individuals and their  careers.  Rez,  in  Kathy's  view,  had
simply  lasted  far too long.  Monstrously long.  He was affecting the
unity of her theory.  He was defying the  proper  order  of  the  food
chain.  Perhaps  there  was  nothing  big enough to eat him,  not even
Slitscan.  And while Lo/Rez,  the band,  still extruded product on  an
annoyingly  regular  basis,  in  a  variety  of  media,  their  singer
stubbornly refused to destroy himself,  murder someone,  become active
in  politics,  admit  to  an interesting substance-abuse problem or an
arcane sexual addiction-indeed to do anything  at  all  worthy  of  an
opening   segment  on  Slitscan.  He  glimmered,  dully  perhaps,  but
steadily,  just beyond Kathy Torrance's reach.  Which was,  Laney  had
always assumed, the real reason for her hating him so.

"Well," Laney  said,  after  some  thought,  and  feeling  a  peculiar
compulsion to attempt a truthful  answer,  "I  remember  buying  their
first album. When it came out."

"Title?" The one-eared man grew graver still.

"Lo Rez  Skyline,"  Laney said,  grateful for whatever minute synaptic
event had allowed the recall.  "But  I  couldn't  tell  you  how  many
they've put out since."

"Twenty-six, not    counting   compilations,"   said   Mr.   Yamazaki,
straightening his glasses.

Laney felt the pills he'd  taken,  the  ones  that  were  supposed  to
cushion the jet lag,  drop out from under him like some kind of rotten
pharmacological scaffolding.  The walls of the Trial  seemed  to  grow

"If you  aren't  going  to tell me what this is about," he said to the
one-eared man, "I'm going back to the hotel. I'm tired."

"Keith Alan Blackwell," extending his hand.  Laney allowed his own  to
be  taken  and  briefly  shaken.  The  man's palm felt like a piece of
athletic equipment.  "Keithy.' We'll have a few drinks  and  a  little

"First you  tell  me  whether  or not you're from Paragon-Asia," Laney

"Firm in question's a couple of lines  of  code  in  a  machine  in  a
backroom in Lygon Street," Blackwell said. "A dummy, but you could say
it's our dummy, if that makes you feel better."

"I'm not sure it does," Laney said.  "You fly me over to interview for
a  job,  now  you're  telling  me  the  company  I'm  supposed  to  be
interviewing for doesn't exist."

"It exists," said Keith Alan Blackwell.  "It's on the machine in Lygon

A waitress  arrived.  She  wore a shapeless gray cotton boilersuit and
cosmetic bruises.

"Big draft. Kirin. Cold one. What's yours, Laney?"

"Iced coffee."

"Coke Lite,  please,"  said  the  one  who'd  introduced  himself   as

"Fine," said the earless Blackwell,  glumly,  as the waitress vanished
into the gloom.

"I'd appreciate it if you could explain to me what we're doing  here,"
Laney  said.  He  saw  that Yamazaki was scribbling frantically on the
screen of a small notebook, the lightpen flashing faintly in the dark.
"Are you taking this down?" Laney asked.

"Sorry, no. Making note of waitress' costume."

"Why?" Laney asked.

"Sorry," said  Yamazaki,  saving what he'd written and turning off the
notebook. He tucked the pen carefully into a recess on the side. "I am
a student of such things. It is my habit to record ephemera of popular
culture.  Her costume raises the question:  does it merely reflect the
theme  of  this  club,  or  does  it represent some deeper response to
trauma of earthquake and subsequent reconstruction?"

2. Lo Rez Skyline

They met in a jungle clearing.

Kelsey had done the vegetation:  big bright Rousseau  leaves,  car-won
orchids  flecked with her idea of tropical colors (which reminded Chia
of that mall chain that sold "organic"  cosmetic  products  in  shades
utterly unknown to nature).  Zona, the only one telepresent who'd ever
seen anything like a  real  jungle,  had  done  the  audio,  providing
birdcalis,  invisible  but realistically dopplering bugs,  and the odd
vegetational rustle artfully suggesting not snakes but some shy  furry
thing, soft-pawed and curious.

The light,  such  as  there  was,  filtered  down through high,  green
canopies,  entirely too Disneyesque for Chia-though there was no  real
need for "light" in a place that consisted of nothing else.

Zona, her blue Aztec death's-head burning bodiless, ghosts of her blue
hands flickering like strobe-lit doves: "Clearly, this dickless whore,
the   disembodied,  has  contrived  to  ensnare  his  soul."  Stylized
lightning zig-zags  rose  around  the  crown  of  the  neon  skull  in
deliberate emphasis.

Chia wondered what she'd really said. Was "dickless whore" an artifact
of instantaneous on-line translation, or was that really something you
could or would say in Mexican?

"Waiting hard  con-firm  from  Tokyo  chapter,"  Kelsey reminded them.
Kelsey's father was a Houston tax lawyer,  something of his particular
species  of  biz-speak  tending  to  enter his daughter around meeting
time;  also a certain ability to  wait  that  Chia  found  irritating,
particularly  as  manifested by a saucer-eyed nymph-figure out of some
old anime.  Which Chia was double damn sure Kelsey would not look like
realtime,  were  they  ever  to  meet  that  way.  (Chia  herself  was
presenting currently as an only slightly tweaked, she felt, version of
how the mirror told her she actually looked.  Less nose, maybe. Lips a
little fuller. But that was it. Almost.)

"Exactly," Zona said,  miniature stone calendars whirling  angrily  in
her eye-holes.  "We wait.  While he moves ever closer to his fate.  We
wait.  If my girls and I were to wait like this,  the Rats would sweep
us  from  the  avenues."  Zona  was,  she  claimed,  the  leader  of a
knife-packing chilanga girl gang.  Not the  meanest  in  Mexico  City,
maybe, but serious enough about turf and tribute. Chia wasn't sure she
believed it, but it made for some interesting attitude in meetings.

"Really?" Kelsey drew her nymph-self up with  elvin  dignity,  batting
manga-doe lashes in disbelief. "In that case, Zona Rosa, why don't you
just get yourself over to Tokyo and find out what's really going on? I
mean,  did Rez say that,  that he was going to marry her, or what? And
while you're at it, find out whether she exists or not, okay?"

The calendars stopped on a dime.

The blue hands vanished.

The skull seemed to recede some infinite distance yet remain perfectly
in focus, clear in every textural detail.

Old trick, Chia thought. Stalling.

"You know that I cannot do that," Zona said.  "I have responsibilities
here. Maria Conchita, the Rat warlord, has stated that-"

"As if we care,  right?" Kelsey  launched  herself  straight  up,  her
nymphness  a  pale blur against the rising tangle of green,  until she
hovered just below the canopy,  a  beam  of  sunlight  flattering  one
impossible cheekbone. "Zona Rosa's full of shit!" she bellowed, not at
all nymphlike.

"Don't fight," Chia said. "This is important. Please."

Kelsey descended, instantly. "Then you go," she said.


"You," Kelsey said.

"I can't," Chia said. "To Tokyo? How could I?"

"In an airplane."

"We don't have your kind of money, Kelsey."

"You've got a passport. We know you do. Your mother had to get one for
you when she was doing the custody thing. And we know that you are, to
put it delicately, 'between schools,' yes?"


"Then what's the prob?"

"Your father's a big tax lawyer!"

"I know," Kelsey said.  "And he flies back and  forth,  all  over  the
world, making money. But you know what else he earns, Chia?"


"Frequent-flyer points.   Big-ass   frequent-flyer   points.   On  Air

"Interesting," said the Aztec skull.  "Tokyo," said  the  mean  nymph.
Shit, Chia thought.

The wall  opposite  Chia's  bed  was decorated with a six-by-six laser
blowup of the cover of Lo Rez Skyline,  their first album. Not the one
you  got  if  you  bought it today,  but the original,  the group shot
they'd done for that crucial first  release  on  the  indie  Dog  Soup
label.  She'd  pulled  the  file  off  the  club's site the week she'd
joined,  found a place near the Market that could print  it  out  that
big.  It  was  still  her  favorite,  and not just,  as her mother too
frequently suggested,  because they all still  looked  so  young.  Her
mother  didn't  like  that the members of Lo/Rez were nearly as old as
she was. Why wasn't Chia into music by people her own age?

- Please, mother, who?

- That Chrome Koran, say.

- Gag, mother.

Chia suspected that her mother's perception of time differed from  her
own in radical and mysterious ways.  Not just in the way that a month,
to Chia's mother,  was not a very long time,  but in the way that  her
mother's  "now"  was  such a narrow and literal thing.  News-governed,
Chia believed.  Cable-fed. A present honed to whatever very instant of
a helicopter traffic report.

Chia's "now"   was   digital,  effortlessly  elastic,  instant  recall
supported by global systems she'd never have to bother comprehending.

Lo Rez Skyline had been released,  if you could call it that,  a  week
(well, six days) before Chia had been born. She estimated that no hard
copies would have reached Seattle in time for her  nativity,  but  she
liked  to  believe  there  had  been listeners here even then,  PacRim
visionaries netting new sounds from indies as obscure,  even,  as East
Teipei's Dog Soup. Surely the opening chords of "Positron Premonition"
had shoved molecules of actual Seattle air,  somewhere,  in somebody's
basement  room,  at  the  fateful moment of her birth.  She knew that,
somehow, just as she knew that "Stuck Pixel," barely even a song, just
Lo  noodling  around  on some pawnshop guitar,  must have been playing
somewhere when her mother,  who'd spoken very little English  at  that
point,  chose  Chia's name from something cycling past on the Shopping
Channel,  the phonetic caress of those syllables striking her there in
Postnatal  Recovery  as  some  optimally  gentle combination of sounds
Italian and English;  her baby,  red-haired  even  then,  subsequently
christened  Chia Pet McKenzie (somewhat,  Chia later gathered,  to the
amazement of her absent Canadian father).

These thoughts  arriving  in  the  pre-alarm  dark,  just  before  the
infrared  winkie  on her alarm clock stuttered silently to the halogen
gallery-spot,  telling it to illuminate Lo/Rez in all their  Dog  Soup
glory.  Rez  with his shirt open (but entirely ironically) and Lo with
his grin and a prototype mustache that hadn't quite grown in.

Hi, guys.  Fumbling for her remote. Zapping infrared into the shadows.
Zap: Espressomatic. Zap: cubic space heater.

Beneath her  pillow  the  unfamiliar  shape  of  her passport,  like a
vintage  game  cartridge,  hard  navy  blue  plastic,  textured   like
leatherette,  with  its stamped gold seal and eagle.  The Air Magellan
tickets in their limp beige plastic folder from the  travel  agent  in
the mall.

Going now.

She took a deep breath. Her mother's house seemed to take one as well,
but more tentatively,  its wooden bones creaking in the winter morning

The cab arriving as scheduled,  but magically nonetheless,  and no, it
didn't honk,  exactly as requested.  Kelsey having explained how these
things  were  done.  Just as Kelsey,  briskly interviewing Chia on the
circumstances of her life,  had devised the cover  for  her  impending
absence: ten days in the San Juans with Hester Chen, whose well-heeled
luddite mother so thoroughly feared electromagnetic radiation that she
lived phoneless,  in a sod-roofed castle of driftwood,  no electricity
allowed whatever. "Tell her you're doing a media fast, before your new
school thing comes together," Kelsey had said. "She'll like that." And
Chia's mother,  who felt that Chia spent entirely too much time gloved
and goggled, did.

Chia was  actually  fond of the gentle Hester,  who seemed to get what
Lo/Rez were about, though somehow without being quite as fundamentally
moved as could have been expected,  and Chia had in fact already tried
the pleasures of Mrs.  Chen's island retreat.  But Hester's mother had
made  them  both wear special baseball caps,  sewn from some EMR-proof
fabric,  so that their young brains  might  not  be  bathed  quite  so
constantly in the invisible soup of bad media.

Chia had  complained  to Hester that the caps made them both look like

- Don't be racist, Chia.

- I'm not.

- Classist, then.

- It's a matter of aesthetics.

And now in the overheated cab, her one bag beside her on the seat, she
felt  guilt at this deception,  her mother sleeping there behind those
darkened  windows  matted  with  frost,  under  the  weight   of   her
thirty-five   years   and  the  flowered  duvet  Chia  had  bought  at
Nordstrom's. When Chia had been small, her mother had worn her hair in
a  long braid,  its tip skewered with turquoise and abalone and carved
bits of bone,  like the magical tail of some mythical animal,  swaying
there  for  Chia  to  grab.  And the house looked sad,  too,  as if it
regretted her leaving, white paint peeling from the underlying gray of
ninety-year-old  cedar  clapboards.  Chia shivered.  What if she never
came back?

"Where to?" the driver said, a black man in a puffy nylon jacket and a
flat plaid cap.

"SeaTac," Chia said, and pushed her shoulders back into the seat.

Pulling out  past  the  old  Lexus  the  neighbors kept up on concrete
blocks in the driveway.

Airports were spooky  places,  early  in  the  morning.  There  was  a
hollowness  that  could settle on you there,  something sad and empty.
Corridors and people moving away down them.  Standing in  line  behind
people she'd never seen before and would never see again. Her bag over
her shoulder and her passport and  ticket  in  her  hand.  She  wanted
another  cup  of  coffee.  There  was  one  back  in her room,  in the
Espressomatic. Which she should've emptied and cleaned, because now it
would go moldy while she was away.

"Yes?" The man behind the counter wore a striped shirt, a tie with the
Air Magellan logo repeated down it diagonally, and a green jade labret
stud.  Chia  wondered  what  his lower lip looked like when he took it
out. She never would, she decided, if she had one of those. She handed
him  her ticket.  He sighed and removed them from the folder,  letting
her know that she should've done that herself.

She watched him run a scanner over her ticket.

"Air Magellan one-oh-five to Narita, economy return."

"That's right," Chia said,  trying to be helpful.  He didn't  seem  to
appreciate that. "Travel document."

Chia handed  him  her  passport.  He looked at it as though he'd never
seen one before,  sighed, and plugged it into a slot in the top of his
counter.  The slot had beat-up aluminum lips,  and someone had covered
these with transparent tape,  peeling  now  and  dirty.  The  man  was
looking at a monitor Chia couldn't see. Maybe he was going to tell her
she couldn't go. She thought about the coffee in her Espressomatic. It
would still be warm.

"Twenty-three D," he said, as a boarding-pass spooled from a different
slot.  He pulled her passport out and handed it to her, along with her
ticket  and  the  boarding  pass.  "Gate  fifty-two,  blue  concourse.
Checking anything?"

"Passengers who've cleared security may be subject to noninvasive  DNA
sampling,"  he  said,  the  words all run together because he was only
saying it because it was the law that he had to.

She put her passport and ticket away in the special pocket inside  her
parka.  She  kept the boarding pass in her hand.  She went looking for
the blue concourse.  She had to go downstairs to find it, and take one
of  those trains that was like an elevator that ran sideways.  Half an
hour later she was through security,  looking at the seals they'd  put
on the zippers of her carry-on.  They looked like rings of rubbery red
candy.  She hadn't expected them to do that;  she'd thought she  could
find a pay-station in the departure lounge, link up, and give the club
an update.  They never sealed her carry-on when she went to  Vancouver
to  stay  with  her uncle,  but that wasn't really international,  not
since the Agreement.

She was riding a rubber sidewalk toward Gate 52 when she saw the  blue
light flashing,  up ahead.  Soldiers there, and a little barncade. The
soldiers were lining people up as they came  off  the  sidewalk.  They
wore  fatigues  and  didn't seem to be much older than the guys at her
last school.

"Shit," she heard the woman in front of her say,  a  big-haired  blond
with  obvious extensions woven in.  Big red lips,  multilevel mascara,
padded shoulders out to here,  tiny little skirt,  white cowboy boots.
Like  that  country  singer her mother liked,  Ashleigh Modine Carter.
Kind of a meshback thing, but with money.

Chia stepped off the end of the rubber sidewalk and took her place  in
line behind the woman who looked like Ashleigh Modine Carter.

The soldiers were taking hair samples and slotting people's passports.
Chia assumed that was to prove you really were who you said you  were,
because your DNA was there in your passport,  converted into a kind of
bar code.

The sampler was a little silver wand  that  vacuumed  the  tips  of  a
couple  of  strands  in and clipped them off.  They'd wind up with the
world's biggest collection of split ends, Chia thought. Now it was the
blond's  turn.  There  were  two  boy-soldiers there,  one to work the
sampler and one to rattle off the line about how you'd already  agreed
to this by coming this far, and please produce your passport.

Chia watched  as the woman handed over her passport,  becoming somehow
instantly and up-front sexy,  like a lightbulb coming on,  with a  big
smile  for the soldier that made him blink and swallow and nearly drop
the passport.  Grinning,  he stuck the passport into a little  console
attached to the barricade. The other soldier raised his wand. Chia saw
the woman reach up and choose one of her hair-extensions, offering the
end of this for sampling.  The whole thing taking maybe eight seconds,
including the return of her passport,  and the first soldier was still
smiling now that it was Chia's turn.

The woman  moved  on,  having  just  committed  what  Chia felt fairly
certain would be a federal offense. Should she tell the soldier?

But she didn't,  and then they were handing back her passport and Chia
was  on her way to Gate 53.  Where she looked for the woman but didn't
see her.

She watched the ads cycle by on the walls,  until they were called  to
board  by  rows.  Seat  23E remained empty as Chia waited for takeoff,
sucking on a peppermint the flight attendant had given her.  The  only
empty  seat on the plane,  she figured.  If nobody arrived to take it,
she thought, she'd be able to fold the armrest away and curl up there.
She tried putting out a negative mental field,  a vibe that would keep
anyone from getting on at the last minute and sitting there. Zona Rosa
was  into that,  part of her whole girl-gang martial arts thing.  Chia
didn't see how you could seriously believe it would work.

And it didn't, because here came that blond down the aisle, and wasn't
that an eye-click of recognition Chia saw there?

3. Almost a Civilian

It had been a weeknight,  a Wednesday,  when Laney had last seen Kathy
Torrance,  and her tattoo had not been visible.  She'd stood there  in
the Cage,  screaming as he cleaned out his locker.  She was wearing an
Armani  blazer  cut  from  gun-metal  fustian,  its   matching   skirt
concealing  the  sign from outer space.  A single strand of pearls was
visible at the open throat of  her  white,  man-tailored  blouse.  Her
dress uniform. Called on the carpet for her subordinate's defection.

He knew  that  she  was screaming because her mouth was open,  but the
syllables of her rage couldn't penetrate the seamless hissing surf  of
the  white-noise generator provided by his lawyers.  He'd been advised
to wear the generator at all times,  during this  last  visit  to  the
Slitscan   offices.  He'd  been  instructed  to  make  no  statements.
Certainly he would hear none.

And later he would sometimes wonder exactly how she might have  framed
her  fury.  Some restatement of her theory of celebrity and the nature
of its price,  of Slitscan's place in that,  of Laney's  inability  to
function  there?  Or  would  she  have focused on his treason?  But he
hadn't heard;  he'd only put these things he didn't really want into a
corrugated  plastic  carton  that  still  smelled  faintly  of Mexican
oranges.  The notebook, screen cracked now, useless, that he'd carried
through  college.  Insulated  mug  with the Nissan County logo peeling
away.  Notes  he'd  made  on  paper,  counter  to  office  policy.   A
coffeestained  fax  from  a  woman he'd slept with in Ixtapa,  someone
whose  initials  couldn't  be  deciphered  now  and  whose  name  he'd
forgotten.  Pointless pieces of the self,  destined for a cannister in
the building's parking lot.  But he'd leave nothing  here,  and  Kathy
kept on screaming.

Now, in Death Cube K,  he imagined that she'd told him that he'd never
work in that town again, and indeed it seemed he might not. Disloyalty
to  one's  employers  being a particularly difficult notch on anyone's
ticket, and perhaps particularly so, in that town, when the act itself
had sprung from what Laney recalled had once been called scruples.

The word itself striking him now as singularly ridiculous.

"You smiled." Blackwell staring at him from across the tiny table.

"Seratonin depletion."

"Food," said Blackwell.

"I'm not really hungry."

"Need to   carbo-load,"   Blackwell  said,  standing.  He  took  up  a
remarkable amount of space.

Laney and Yamazaki got to their feet and followed Blackwell  down  out
of  Death  Cube K,  to descend the 0 My Golly Building itself.  Out of
roach-light, into the chrome and neon gulch of Roppongi Don. A reek of
putrid  fish  and  fruit  even in this chill damp night,  though muted
somewhat by the baking-sugar sweetness of  Chinese  gasohol  from  the
vehicles whirring past on the expressway. But there was comfort in the
steady voice of traffic,  and Laney found it  better  to  be  upright,

If he  kept  moving,  perhaps he could puzzle out the meaning of Keith
Alan Blackwell and Shinya Yamazaki.

Blackwell leading the way across a pedestrian overpass.  Laney's  hand
brushed  an  irregularity  on  the  alloy rail.  He saw that it was an
accidental fold or pucker in a bright little sticker;  a bare-breasted
girl  smiling  up  at  him from a palm-sized silvery hologram.  As his
angle of vision changed, she seemed to gesture at the telephone number
above her head.  The railing, end to end, was dressed with these small
ads,  though there were precise gaps where a few had been peeled  away
for later perusal.

Blackwell's bulk  parted  the  sidewalk  crowd  on the far side like a
freighter through a bobbing stream of pleasure craft. "Carbohydrates,"
he said, over a mountainous shoulder. He steered them down an alley, a
narrow maw of colored light,  past an all-night veterinary  clinic  in
whose  window  a  pair  of  white-gowned  surgeons  were performing an
operation on what Laney hoped was a cat.  A relaxed little tableau  of
pedestrians paused here, observing from the pavement.

Blackwell eased himself edgewise into a bright cave,  where steam rose
from cookers behind a counter of reconstituted granite.

Laney and Yamazaki followed him in, the counterman already ladling out
fragrant messes of broth-slick beige to the Australian's order.

Laney watched  Blackwell  raise  the  bowl to his mouth and apparently
inhale the bulk of his noodles,  severing them from the remainder with
a  neat  snap of his bright plastic teeth.  Muscles in the man's thick
neck worked mightily as he swallowed.

Laney stared.

Blackwell wiped his mouth  with  the  back  of  one  vast  and  pinkly
jigsawed hand.  He belched. "Give us one of those baby tubes of Dry He
downed the entire beer in a  single  swallow,  absently  crushing  the
sturdy  steel  can as though it were a paper cup.  "Similar," he said,
rattling his bowl for the counterman.

Laney, suddenly ravenous  in  spite  or  because  of  this  gluttonous
display, gave his attention to his own bowl, where dyed pink slices of
mystery meat, thin as paper, basked atop a sargasso of noodles.

Laney ate in silence, as did Yamazaki, Blackwell downing another three
beers  to no apparent effect.  As Laney drank off the remaining broth,
and put his bowl down on the counter,  he noticed  an  ad  behind  the
counter  for  something  called  Apple  Shires  Authentic  Fine  Fruit
Beverage. Misreading it initially as Alison Shires, once the object of
his scruples.

"Taste the wet warm life in Apple Shires," the ad advised.

Alison Shires,  glimpsed first as animated headshots, five months into
his time at Slitscan,  had been a rather  ordinarily  attractive  girl
murmuring  her stats to imagined casting directors,  agents,  someone,

Kathy Torrance had watched his face,  as he watched the screen. "Babed
out' yet,  Laney? Allergic reaction to cute? First symptoms are a sort
of underlying irritation, a resentment, a vague but persistent feeling
that you're being gotten at, taken advantage of.

"She isn't even as 'cute' as the last two."

"Exactly. She's almost normal-looking. Almost a civilian. Tag her."

Laney looked up. "What for?"

"Tag her. He could get off pretending she's a waitress or something."

"You think she's the one?"

"You've got  another  three  hundred  in  there easy,  Laney.  Picking
probables is a start."

"At random?"

"We call it 'instinct.' Tag her."

Laney cursor-clicked,  the pale blue arrow resting by  chance  in  the
shadowed  orbit  of  the  girl's  lowered eye.  Marking her for closer
examination as the  possible  sometime  partner  of  a  very  publicly
married  actor,  famous  in  a  way that Kathy Torrance understood and
approved of. One who must obey the dictates of the food chain. Not too
big  for  Slitscan to swallow.  But he or his handlers had so far been
very cautious. Or very lucky.

But no more.  A rumor had  reached  Kathy,  via  one  of  those  "back
channels" she depended on, and now the food chain must have its way.

"Wake up," Blackwell said.  "You're falling asleep in your bowl.  Time
you tell us how you lost your last job,  if we're going to  offer  you

"Coffee," Laney said.

Laney was  not,  he  was  careful  to  point out,  a voyeur.  He had a
peculiar knack with data-collection  architectures,  and  a  medically
documented  concentration-deficit that he could toggle,  under certain
conditions, into a state of pathological hyperfocus. This made him, he
continued  over  lattes  in  a  Roppongi branch of Amos 'n' Andes,  an
extremely  good  researcher.  (He  made  no  mention  of  the  Federal
Orphanage  in  Gainesville,  nor  of any attempts that might have been
made there to cure his concentration-deficit.  The 5-SB trials or  any
of that.)

The relevant data,  in terms of his current employability, was that he
was an intuitive fisher of patterns oi information:  of  the  sort  of
signature  a particular individual inadvertently created in the net as
he or she went about the mundane yet endlessly multiplex  business  of
life in a digital society.  Laney's concentration-deficit,  too slight
to register  on  some  scales,  made  him  a  natural  channel-zapper,
shifting  from  program  to program,  from database to database,  from
platform to platform, in a way that was, well, intuitive.

And that was the catch,  really,  when it came to finding  employment:
Laney  was  the equivalent of a dowser,  a cybernetic water-witch.  He
couldn't explain how he did what he did. He just didn't know.

He'd come to Slitscan from DatAmerica,  where  he'd  been  a  research
assistant  on a project code named TIDAL.  It said something about the
corporate culture of DatAmerica that Laney  had  never  been  able  to
discover whether or not TIDAL was an acronym,  or (even remotely) what
TIDAL  was  about.  He'd  spent  his  time  skimming  vast  floes   of
undifferentiated data, looking for "nodal points" he'd been trained to
recognize by a team of French scientists  who  were  all  keen  tennis
players,  and  none  of  whom had had any interest in explaining these
nodal points to Laney,  who came to feel that he served as a  kind  of
native guide. Whatever the Frenchmen were after, he was there to scare
it up for them.  And it beat Gainesville,  no  contest.  Until  TIDAL,
whatever  it  was,  had  been  cancelled,  and there didn't seem to be
anything else for Laney to do at DatAmerica.  The Frenchmen were gone,
and  when  Laney  tried to talk to other researchers about what they'd
been doing, they looked at him as though they thought he was crazy.

When he'd gone to interview for Slitscan,  the  interviewer  had  been
Kathy  Torrance.  He'd had no way of knowing that she was a department
head,  or that she would soon be his boss. He told her the truth about
himself. Most of it, anyway.

She was  the  palest  woman Laney had ever seen.  Pale to the point of
translucence. (Later he'd learned this had a lot to do with cosmetics,
and   in   particular   a   British  line  that  boasted  of  peculiar
light-bending properties.)

"Do you always wear  Malaysian  imitations  of  Brooks  Brothers  blue
oxford button-downs, Mr. Laney?"

Laney had looked down at his shirt, or tried to. "Malaysia?"

"The stitch-count's  dead  on,  but  they  still  haven't mastered the


"Never mind.  A little prototypic nerd  chic  could  actually  lend  a
certain  frisson,  around  here.  You  could  lose  the  tie,  though.
Definitely lose the tie.  And keep a collection of felt-tipped pens in
your pocket.  Unchewed, please. Plus one of those fat flat highliners,
in a really nasty fluorescent shade."

"Are you joking?"

"Probably, Mr. Laney. May I call you Cohn?"


She never did call him "Cohn," then or ever.  "You'll find that  humor
is  essential at Slitscan,  Laney.  A necessary survival tool.  You'll
find the type that's most viable here is fairly oblique."

"How do you mean, Ms. Torrance?"

"Kathy. I mean difficult to quote effectively in a memo. Or a court of

Yamazaki was a good listener.  He'd blink,  swallow,  nod, fiddle with
the top button of his plaid shirt,  whatever,  all of it  managing  to
somehow convey that he was getting it, the drift of Laney's story.

Keith Alan Blackwell was something else.  He sat there inert as a bale
of beef,  utterly motionless except when he'd raise his left hand  and
squeeze  and  twiddle the lobe-stump that was all that remained of his
left ear.  He did this without hesitation or embarrassment,  and Laney
formed  the  impression that it was affording him some kind of relief.
The scar tissue reddened slightly under Blackwell's ministrations.

Laney sat on an upholstered bench,  his back to the wall. Yamazaki and
Blackwell  faced  him across the narrow table.  Behind them,  over the
uniformly black-haired heads of late-night  Roppongi  coffee-drinkers,
the holographic features of the chain's namesake floated in front of a
lurid sunset vista of  snow-capped  Andean  peaks.  The  lips  of  the
'toon-Amos  were  like  inflated red rubber sausages,  a racial parody
that would've earned the place a  firebombing  anywhere  in  the  L.A.
basin.  He  was  holding up a steaming coffee cup,  white and smoothly
iconic, in a big, white-gloved, three-fingered urDisney hand.

Yamazaki coughed,  delicately. "You are telling us, please, about your
experiences at Slitscan?"

Kathy Torrance began by offering Laney a chance to net-surf,  Slitscan

She checked a pair of computers out of the Cage, shooed four employees
from an SBU,  invited Laney in,  and closed the door.  Chairs, a round
table,  a  large  softboard on the wall.  He watched as she jacked the
computers  into  dataports  and  called  up  identical  images  of   a
longhaired  dirty-blond  guy  in  his mid-twenties.  Goatee and a gold
earring.  The face meant nothing to Laney.  It might have been a  face
he'd  passed on the street an hour before,  the face of a minor player
in daytime soap,  or the face of someone whose  freezer  had  recently
been discovered to be packed with his victims' fingers.

"Clinton Hillman,"  Kathy  Torrance  said.  "Hairdresser,  sushi chef,
music  journalist,  extra  in  mid-budget  hardcore.  This  headshot's
tweaked,  of course." She tapped keys,  detweaking it. Clint Hillman's
eyes and chin,  on her screen,  grew several clicks smaller. "Probably
did  it himself.  With a professional job,  there'd be nothing to work
back from."

"He acts in porno?" Laney felt obscurely sorry for Hillman, who looked
lost and vulnerable without his chin.

"It isn't  the  size  of  his chin they're interested in," Kathy said.
"It's mainly motion-capture,  in porno.  Extreme  close.  They're  all
body-doubles.  Map on better faces in post. But somebody's still gotta
get down in the trenches and bump uglies, right?"

Laney shot her a sideways look. "If you say so."

She handed Laney an industrial-strength  pair  of  rubberized  Thomson
eyephones. "Do him."


"Him. Go  for  those  nodal  points you've been telling me about.  The
headshot's a gateway to everything we've got on  him.  Whole  gigs  of
sheer boredom.  Data like a sea of tapioca,  Laney. An endless vanilla
plane.  He's boring as the day is long,  and the day is long.  Do  it.
Make my day. Do it and you've got yourself a job."

Laney looked  at the tweaked Hillman on his screen.  "You haven't told
me what I'm looking for."

"Anything that might be of interest to  Slitscan.  Which  is  to  say,
Laney,  anything  that  might  be  of interest to Shitscan's audience.
Which is best visualized as  a  vicious,  lazy,  profoundly  ignorant,
perpetually   hungry  organism  craving  the  warm  god-flesh  of  the
anointed.  Personally I like to imagine something the size of  a  baby
hippo, the color of a week-old boiled potato, that lives by itself, in
the dark,  in a double-wide on the outskirts of Topeka.  It's  covered
with eyes and it sweats constantly. The sweat runs into those eyes and
makes them sting.  It has no mouth,  Laney,  no genitals, and can only
express  its  mute  extremes of murderous rage and infantile desire by
changing  the  channels  on  a  universal  remote.  Or  by  voting  in
presidential elections."

Yamazaki had  his notebook out,  hightpen poised.  Laney found that he
didn't mind. It made the man look so much more comfortable. "Strategic
Business  Unit,"  he said.  "A small conference room.  Shitscan's post

"Post office?"

"California plan.  People don't have their own desks. Check a computer
and  a phone out of the Cage when you come in.  Hotdesk it if you need
more peripherals.  The SBUs are for meetings, but it's hard to get one
when you need it.  Virtual meetings are a big thing there,  better for
sensitive topics. You get a locker to keep your personal stuff in. You
don't want them to see any printouts~ And they hate Post-its."


"Because you  might've  written  something down from the in-house net,
and it might get out.  That notebook of yours would  never  have  been
allowed out of the Cage.  If there was no paper,  they had a record of
every call, every image called up, every keystroke."

Blackwell nodded now,  his stubbled dome catching the  red  of  Amos's
inner-tube lips. "Security."

"And you were successful,  Mr. Laney?" Yamazaki asked. "You found the.
. . nodal points?"

4. Venice Decompressed

"Shut up now!" the woman in 23E said, and Chia hadn't said anything at
all. "Sister's going to tell you a story."

Chia looked up from the seatback screen,  where she'd been working her
way through the eleventh level of a  lobotomized  airline  version  of
Skull  Wars.  The blond was looking straight ahead,  not at Chia.  Her
screen was down so that she could use the back of it for a  tray,  and
she'd  finished another glass of the iced tomato juice she kept paying
the flight attendant to bring her.  They came,  for some reason,  with
squared-off  pieces  of  celery  stuck  up  in  them,  like a straw or
stir-stick,  but the blond didn't seem to want  these.  She'd  stacked
five  of  them in a square on the tray,  the way a kid might build the
walls of a little house, or a corral for toy animals.

Chia looked  down  at  her  thumbs  on  the  disposable  Air  Magellan
touchpad. Back up at the mascaraed eyes. Looking at her now.

"There's a  place  where it's always light," the woman said.  "Bright,
everywhere. No place dark. Bright like a mist, like something falling,
always,  every second.  All the colors of it. Towers you can't see the
top of, and the light falling. Down below, they pile up bars. Bars and
strip clubs and discos.  Stacked up like shoe boxes, one on top of the
other.  And no matter how far you worm your way in, no matter how many
stairs you climb,  how many elevators you ride,  no matter how small a
room you finally get to,  the light still finds you. It's a light that
blows in under the door,  like powder.  Fine,  so fine. Blows in under
your eyelids, if you find a way to get to sleep. But you don't want to
sleep there. Not in Shinjuku. Do you?"

Chia was  suddenly  aware of the sheer physical mass of the plane,  of
the terrible  unlikeliness  of  its  passage  through  space,  of  its
airframe  vibrating thiough frozen night somewhere above the sea,  off
the coast of Alaska now-impossible but true.

"No," Chia heard herself say,  as Skull Wars,  noting her inattention,
dumped her back a level.

"No," the woman agreed,  "you don't.  I know.  But they make you. They
make you. At the center of the world." And then she put her head back,
closed h~r eyes, and began to snore.

Chia exited  Skull  Wars  and  tucked  the touchpad into the seat-back
pocket. She felt like screaming. What had that been about?

The attendant came by,  scooped up the corral of celery  sticks  in  a
napkin, took the woman's glass, wiped the tray, and snapped it up into
position in the seatback.

"My bag?" Chia said. "In the bin?" She pointed.

He opened the hatch above her, pulled out her bag, and lowered it into
her lap.

"How do you undo these?" She touched the loops of tough red jelly that
held the Zip-tabs together.

He took a small black tool from a black holster on his belt. It looked
like something she'd seen a vet use to trim a dog's nails. He held his
other hand cupped,  to catch the little balls the loops became when he
snipped them with the tool.

"Okay to  run this?" She pulled a zip and showed him her Sand-benders,
stuffed in between four pairs of rolled-up tights.

"You can't port back here;  only in business or first," he said.  "But
you can access wha:  You've got. Cable to the seatback display, if you

"Thanks," she said. "Got gogs." He moved on.

The blond's snore faltered in mid-buzz as they jolted over a pocket of
turbulence.  Chia  dug  her  glasses  and tip-sets from their nests of
clean underwear,  putting them beside her,  between her  hip  and  the
armrest. She pulled the Sandbenders out, zipped the bag shut, and used
her free hand and both feet to wedge the bag under the seat  in  front
of her. She wanted out of here so bad.

With the  Sandbenders across her thighs,  she thumbed a battery check.
Eight hours on miser mode,  if she was lucky. But right now she didn't
care.  She uncoiled the lead from around the bridge of her glasses and
jacked it. The tip-sets were tangled, like they always were. Take your
time, she told herself. A torn sensor-band and she'd be here all night
with an Ashleigh Modine Carter clone.  Little silver  thimbles,  flexy
framework  fingers;  easy did it..  .  .  Plug for each one.  Jack and

The blond said something in her sleep.  If sleep was what  you  called

Chia picked up her glasses, slid them on, and hit big red.

"My ass out of here."

And it was.

There on  the  edge of her bed,  looking at the Lo Rez Skyline poster.
Until Lo noticed.  He stroked his half-grown mustache and  grinned  at

"Hey, Chia."

"Hey." Experience kept it subvocal, for privacy's sake.

"What's up, girl?"

"I'm on an airplane. I'm on my way to Japan."

"Japan? Kicky. You do our Budokan disk?"

"I don't  feel  like  talking,  Lo." Not to a software agent,  anyway,
sweet as he might be.

"Easy." He shot her that catlike  grin,  his  eyes  wrinkling  at  the
corners,  and  became  a  still  image.  Chia  looked around,  feeling
disappointed.  Things weren't quite the right size,  somehow, or maybe
she  should've  used  those  fractal  packets  that messed it all up a
little,  put dust in the corners and smudges around the light  switch.
Zona  Rosa  swore by them.  When she was home,  Chia liked it that the
construct was cleaner  than  her  room  ever  was.  Now  it  made  her
homesick; made her miss the real thing.

She gestured for the living room,  phasing past what would've been the
door to her mother's bedroom.  She'd barely wireframed it,  here,  and
there  was  no  there there,  no interiority.  The living room had its
sketchy angles as well,  and furniture she'd imported from a Playmobil
system  that  predated  her  Sandbenders.  Wonkily bitmapped fish swam
monotonously around in a glass coffee table she'd built when  she  was
nine.  The trees through the front window were older still:  perfectly
cylindrical Crayola-brown trunks, each supporting an acid-green cotton
ball of undifferentiated foliage.  If she looked at these long enough,
the Mumphalumphagus would appear outside,  wanting  to  play,  so  she

She positioned  herself  on  the  Playmobil  couch  and  looked at the
programs scattered across the top of the coffee table. The Sandbenders
system software looked like an old-fashioned canvas water bag,  a sort
of canteen (she'd had to consult What Things Are, her icon dictionary,
to figure that out).  It was worn and spectacularly organic, with tiny
beads of water bulging through the tight weave of fabric.  If you  got
in  super  close  you saw things reflected in the individual droplets:
circuitry that was like beadwork or the skin on a lizard's  throat,  a
long empty beach under a gray sky,  mountains in the rain, creek water
over different-colored stones.  She loved Sandbenders;  they were  the
best.  THE  SANDBENDERS,  OREGON,  was  screened  faintly  across  the
sweating canvas,  as though it had almost faded away  under  a  desert
sun.  SYSTEM 5.9.  (She had all the upgrades,  to 6.3. People said 6.4
was buggy.)

Beside the water bag lay her schoolwork,  represented by a  three-ring
binder suffering the indignities of artificial bit-rot, its wire-frame
cover festered with digital mung.  She'd have to reformat that  before
she started her new school, she reminded herself. Too juvenile.

Her Lo/Rez   collection,   albums,  compilations  and  bootlegs,  were
displayed as the original cased  disks.  These  were  stacked  up,  as
casually  as  possible,  beside the archival material she'd managed to
assemble since being accepted into the Seattle chapter.  This  looked,
thanks to a fortuitous file-swap with a member in Sweden, like a litho
graphed tin lunch box,  Rez and Lo peering stunned and fuzzy-eyed from
its  flat,  rectangular  lid.  The Swedish fan had scanned the artwork
from the five printed surfaces of the original,  then mapped  it  over
wireframe.  The original was probably Nepalese, definitely unlicensed,
and Chia appreciated the reverse cachet. Zona Rosa coveted a copy, but
so  far  all she'd offered were a set of cheesy tv spots for the fifth
Mexico Dome concert.  They weren't  nearly  cheesy  enough,  and  Chia
wasn't   prepared  to  swatp.  There  was  a  shadowy  Brazilian  tour
documentary supposed to have been made by a  public-access  subsidiary
of  Globo.  Chia  wanted  that,  and  Mexico was the same direction as

She ran a finger down the stacked  disks,  her  hand  wireframed,  the
finger  tipped  with  quivering mercury,  and thought about the Rumor.
There had been run~ors before,  there were  rumors  now,  there  would
always  be  rumors.  There had been the rumor about Lo and that Danish
model, that they were going to get married, and that had probably been
true,  ever~ though they never did. And there were always rumors about
Rez atid different people.  But that was people.  The Danish model was
people,  as  much  as  Chia  thought she was a snotbag.  The Rumor was
Sottiething else.

What, exactly, she was or her way to Tokyo to find out.

She selected Lo Rez Skyline.

The virtual Venice her father had sent  for  her  thirteenth  birthday
looked  like  an old dusty book with leather covers,  the smooth brown
leather scuffed in places mm a fine suede,  the digital equivalent  of
washing  denim  in  a  machine  full of golf balls.  It lay beside the
featureless,  textureless gray file that was her copy of  the  divorce
decree and the custody agreement.

She pulled the Venice tOward her, opened it. The fish flickered out of
phase, her system lauochmng a subroutine.

Venice decompressed.

The Piazza in  midwinter  monochrome,  its  facades  texturemapped  in
marble,  porphyry,  polished  granite,  jasper,  alabaster  (the  rich
mineral names scrolling at will in the menu of peripheral sion).  This
city of winged lions and golden horses.  This default hour of gray and
perpetual dawn.

She could be alone here, or visit with the Music Master.

Her father,  phoning from Singapore to wish her a happy birthday,  had
told  her  that Hitler,  during his first and only visit,  had slipped
away to range the streets  alone,  in  these  same  small  hours,  mad
perhaps, and trotting like a dog.

Chia, who  had only a vague idea who Hitler might have been,  and that
mainly from references in songs,  understood the urge.  The stones  of
the  Piazza  flowed  beneath  her like silk,  as she raised a silvered
finger and sped into the maze of bridges, water, arches, walls.

She had no idea what this place was meant to mean,  the how or why  of
it,  but  i~  fit  so perfectly into itself and the space it occupied,
water and stone slotting faultlessly into the mysterious whole.

The gnarliest piece of software ever, and here came the opening chords
of "Positron Premonition."

Clinton Emory Hiliman,  twenty-five:  hairdresser,  sushi chef,  music
journalist,  porno extra, reliable purveyor of proscribed fetal tissue
cultures  to  three  of  the more endomorphic members of the decidedly
meshbacked Dukes of Nuke 'Em,  whose "Gulf War Baby" was eighteen with
a  bullet  on  the  Billboard  chart,  in  heavy rotation on I (heart)
America,  and had already been the subject of diplomatic protests from
several Islamic states.

Kathy Torrance  looked  as though she might be prepared to be pleased.
"And the fetal tissue, Laney?"

"Well," Laney said,  putting the 'phones down beside the computer,  "I
think that might be the good part."


"It has  to  be  Iraqi.  They make a point of insisting on that.  They
won't shoot up any other kind."

"You're hired."

"I am?"

"You must have correlated  the  calls  to  Ventura  with  the  parking
charges  from the garage in the Beverly Center.  Although that running
gag about 'Gulf War babies' would've been hard to miss."

"Wait a minute," Laney said. "You knew."

"It's the top segment on Wednesday's show." She  closed  the  computer
without bothering to turn off Clint Hiliman's detweaked chin. "But now
I've had a chance to watch you work, Laney. You're a nat ural. I could
almost believe there might actually be something to

5. Nodal Points

that nodal  point  bullshit.  Some of your moves made no logical sense
whatever, but I've just wached 3ou hone in, cold, on something it took
three experienced researchers a month to excavate.  You did it in just
under half an hour."

"Some of that was illegal," Laney said.  "You're tied  into  parts  of
DatAmerican that you aren't supposed to be."

"Do you know what anondisclosure agreement is, Laney?"

Yamazaki looked up fromhis notebook. "Very good," he said, probably to
Blackwell. "This i~ very good."

Blackwell shifted his veight,  the chair's polycarbon  frame  creaking
faintly in protest. "But he didn't last there, did he?"

"A little over six morrhs," Laney said.

Six months could be a vety long time, at Slitscan.

He used most of his first month's salary to lease a micro-batchelor in
a retrofitted parking structure on Broadway Avenue,  Santa Monica.  He
bought  shirts  he  thought  were  more  like  the ones people wore at
Slitscan,  and kerr his l~alaysian button-downs to sleep in. He bought
an  expensive  pair  of sunglasses and made sure he never displayed as
much as a sirgle felt-pen in his shirt pocket.

Life at Slitscan had a certair.  focused quality.  Laney's  colleagues
limited  themselves  to  a ~articular bandwidth of emotion.  A certain
kind of humor,  as Kathy had said,  was highly valued,  but there  was
remarkably little laughter.  'Ihe expected response was eye contact, a
nod,  the edge of a smile.  Lives were destroyed here,  and  sometimes
re-created,  careers  crushed  or  made  anew  in  guises  surreal and
unexpected.  Because Slitscan's business ~as  the  titual  letting  of
blood,  and the blood it let was an aichemical fluid: celebrity in its
rawest, purest form.

Laney's ability to locate key data  in  apparently  random  wastes  of
incidental  information earned him the envy and grudging admiration of
more experiencec researchers.  He became  Kathy's  favorite,  and  was
almost  pleased  when  he discovered that a rumor had spread that they
were having an affair.

They weren't-except for that one time at her place  in  Sherman  Oaks,
and  that  hadn't  been a good idea.  Nothing either of them wanted to

But Laney was still  narrowing  down,  getting  focused,  pushing  the
envelope of whatever it was that manifested as this talent, his touch.
And Kathy liked that.  With his eyephones on and Slitscan's  dedicated
landline  feeding  him  the  bleak  reaches  of  DatAmerica,  he  felt
increasingly at home.  He went where Kathy suggested he go.  He  found
the nodal points.

Sometimes, falling  asleep  in  Santa  Monica,  he wondered vaguely if
there might be a  larger  system,  a  field  of  greater  perspective.
Perhaps  the  whole  of  DatAmerica  possessed  its  own nodal points,
info-faults that might be followed down to some other kind  of  truth,
another mode of knowing,  deep within gray shoals of information.  But
only if there were someone there to pose the right question. He had no
idea at all what that question might be, if indeed there were one, but
he somthow doubted it would ever be posed from an SBU at Slitscan.

Slitscan was descended from  "reality"  programming  and  the  network
tabloids of the late twentieth century,  but it resembled them no more
than some large,  swift,  bipedal carnivore  resembled  its  sluggish,
shallow-dwelling ancestors.  Slitscan was the mature form,  supporting
fully global franchises.  Slitscan's  revenues  had  paid  for  entire
satellites and built the building he worked in in Burbank.

Slitscan was a show so popular that it had evolved into something akin
to the old idea of a network.  It was flanked and buffered by spinoffs
and peripherals, each designed to shunt the viewer back to the crucial
core,  the familiar and reliably bloody  altar  that  one  of  Laney's
Mexican co-workers called Smoking Mirror.

It was  impossible  to  work  at  Slitscan  without  a  sense  of part
icipating in history,  or else in what Kathy Torrance would argue  had
replaced history.  Slitscan itself,  Laney suspected,  might be one of
those larger  nodal  points  he  sometimes  found  himself  trying  to
imagine,  an  informational  peculiarity opening into some unthinkably
deeper structure.

In his quest for lesser nodal pouts, the sort that Kathy sent him into
DatAmerica  to  locate,  Laney  hid  already  affected  the courses of
municipal elections,  the market in pitent gene futures, abortion laws
in the State of New Jersey, and the spin on an ecstatic pro-euthanasia
movement (or suicide cult,  depending) called Cease Upon The Midnight,
not  to  mention the lives and careers of several dozen celebrities of
various kinds.

Not always for the worst,  either,in terms of what the show's subjects
might have wished for themselves. Kathy's segment on the Dukes of Nuke
'Em,  exposing the  band's  exclusive  predilection  for  Iraqi  fetal
tissue,  had  sent  their subsequent release instant platinum (and had
resulted in  show-trials  and  public  hangings  in  Baghdad,  but  he
supposed life was hard there so begin with).

Laney had never been a Slitscan viewer, himself, and he suspected that
this had counted in his favor when he'd applied as  a  researcher.  He
had no strong opinion of the show either way.  He accepted it,  to the
extent that he'd thought of it atall,  as a fact of life. Slitscan was
how acertain kind of news was done. Slitscan was where he worked.

Slitscan allowed him to do the one thing he possessed a genuine talent
for,  so he'd managed to avoid thinking in terms of cause and  effect.
Even now,  attempting to e~plain himself to the attentive Mr.Yamazaki,
he found it difficult to feel any clear linkage of responsibility. The
rich  and  the  famous,  Kathy had once said,  were seldom that way by
accident.  It was possible to be one or the other,  but  very  seldom,
accidentally, to be both,

Celebrities who  were  neither  where something else again,  and Kathy
viewed these as crosses she must bear:  a mass-murderer, for instance,
or  his  most  recent  victim's  parents.  No star quality (though she
always held out hope for the murderers,  feeling  that  at  least  the
potential was there).

It was  the other kind that Kathy wanted,  directing the attentions of
Laney and as many as thirty other  researchers  to  the  more  private
aspects  of  the  lives  of  those  who were deliberately and at least
moderately famous.

Alison Shires wasn't famous at all,  but the man Laney  had  confirmed
she was having an affair with was famous enough.

And then something began to come clear to Laney.

Alison Shires knew,  somehow,  that he was there,  watching. As though
she felt him gazing down,  into the pool of data  that  reflected  her
life,  its  surface made of all the bits that were the daily record of
her life as it registered on the digital fabric of the world.

Laney watched a nodal point begin  to  form  over  the  reflection  of
Alison Shires.

She was going to kill herself.


Chia had programmed her Music Master to have an affinity for  bridges.
He appeared in her virtual Venice whenever she crossed one at moderate
speed:  a slender young man with pale blue eyes  and  a  penchant  for
long, flowing coats.

He'd been the subject oi a look-and-feel action,  in his beta release,
when lawyers representing a venerable  British  singer  had  protested
that  the  Music  Master's  designers  had  scanned in images of their
client as a much younger man.  This had been settled out of court, and
all  later  versions,  including  Chia's,  were  much  more  carefully
generic.  (Kelsey had told her that it  had  mainly  had  to  do  with
changing one of his eyes, but why only the one?)

She'd fed him into Venice on her second visit, to keep her company and
provide musical variety,  and keying his appearances to  moments  when
she  crossed  bridges had seemed like a good idea.  There were lots of
bridges in Venice,  some of them no more than a little  arc  of  stone
steps  spanning  the  narrowest of waterways.  There was the Bridge of
Sighs, which Chia avoided because she found it sad and creepy, and the
Bridge  of  Fists,  which  she liked mainly for its name,  and so many
others.  And there was the Rialto,  big and humped  and  fantastically
old,  where her father said men had invented banking,  or a particular
kind of banking.  (Her father worked for a bank,  which was why he had
to live in Singapore.)

She'd slowed  her  rush  through  the city now,  and was cruising at a
walking pace up the stepped incline of the Rialto,  the  Music  Master
striding elegantly beside her, his putty-colored trenchcoat Happing in
the breeze.  "DESFI," he said, triggered by her glance, "the I)iatonic
Elaboration  of  Static I larmony.  Also known as the Major Chord with
I)escending Bassline. Bach's 'Air on a G String,' 1730. Procol Harum's
'A  Whiter  Shade of Pale,' 1967." If she made eye contact now,  she'd
hear his samples,  directionless and at just the  right  volume.  Then
more  about  DESH,  and  more  samples.  She had him here for company,
though, and not for a lecture. But lectures were all there was to him,
aside  from  his iconics,  which were about being blond and fine-boned
and wearing clothes more beautifully than any  human  ever  could.  He
knew  everything  there  was to know about music,  and nothing else at
all. She didn't know how long she'd been in Venice, this visit. It was
still that minute-before-dawn that she liked best, because she kept it
that way. "Do you know anything about Japanese music?" she asked.

"What sort, exactly7"

"What people listen to."

"Popular music?"

"I guess so."

He paused,  turning,  hands in his trouser pockets and the trench-coat
swinging to reveal its lining.

"We could begin with a music called enka," he said,  "although I doubt
you'd like it." Software agents did that, learned what you liked. "The
roots  of  contemporary  Japanese  pop came later,  with the wholesale
creation of something called  'group  sounds.'  That  was  a  copy-cat
phenomenon,  flagrantly commercial.  Extremely watereddown Western pop
influences. Very bland and monotonous."

"But do they really have singers who don't exist?"

"The idol-singers," he said,  starting up the hump-backed  incline  of
the bridge. "The idoru. Some of them are enormously popular."

"Do people kill themselves over them?"

"I don't know. They could do, I suppose."

"Do people marry them?"

"Not that I know of."

"How about Rei loei? Wondering if that was how you proflounced it.

"I'm afraid  I  don't  know her," he said,  with the slight wince that
came when you asked him about music that had come out  since  his  own
release.  This always made Chia feel sorry for him, which she knew was

"Never mind," she said, and closed her eyes.

She removed her glasses.

After Venice,  the plane felt even more low-ceilinged  and  narrow,  a
claustrophobic tube packed with seats and people.

The blond was awake,  watching her,  looking a lot less like Ash-leigh
Modine Carter now that she'd removed most of her makeup. Her face only
inches away.

Then she smiled.  It was a slow smile,  modular,  as though there were
stages to it, each one governed by a separate shyness or hesitation.

"I like your computer," she said.  "It  looks  like  it  was  made  by
Indians or something."

Chia looked  down  at  her  Sandbenders.  Turned  off  the red switch.
"Coral," she said. "These are turquoise. The ones that look like ivory
are the inside of a kind of nut. Renewable."

"The rest is silver?"

"Aluminum," Chia  said.  "They melt old cans they dig up on the beach,
cast it in sand molds.  These panels are micarta.  That's  linen  with
this resin in it."

"I didn't know Indians could make computers," the woman said, reaching
out to touch the  curved  edge  of  the  Sandbenders.  Her  voice  was
hesitant, light, like a child's. The nail on the finger that rested on
her Sandbenders was  bright  red,  the  lacquer  chipped  through  and
ragged. A tremble, then the hand withdrew.

"I drank too much.  And with tequila in them,  too. 'Vitamin T,' Eddie
calls it. I wasn't bad, was I?"

Chia shook her head.

"1 can't always remember, if In bad."

"Do you know how much long it is to Tokyo?" Chia asked,  all she could
think of to say.

"Nine hours  easy," the blond sid,  and sighed.  "Subsonics just suck,
don't they?  Eddie had me bo~ed on a super, in full business, but then
he  said  something  went  wong  with  the ticket.  Eddie gets all the
tickets from this place in Os~a.  We went on Air  France  once,  first
class,  and  your  seat  turns  into  abed and they tuck you in with a
little quilt. And they have an open hr right there and they just leave
the  bottles  out,  and  champagne  and ust the best food." The memory
didn't seem to cheer her up.  "Aid they give you perfume and makeup in
its  own case,  from Herm~.  Real leather,  too.  Why are you going to

"Oh," Chia said. "Oh. Well. Myfriend. To see my friend."

"It's so strange. You know2 Sinc the quake."

"But they've built it all back nov. Haven't they?"

"Sure, but they did it all so fast,~nost1y with  that  nanotech,  that
just grows? Eddie got in there befor the dust had settled. Told me you
could see those towers growingat night. Rooms up top like a honeycomb,
and walls just sealing thmselves over,  one after another. Said it was
like watching a candle  rielt,  but  in  reverse.  That's  too  scary.
Doesn't make a sound. Machins too small to see. They can get into your
body, you know?"

Chia sensed an underlying edg of  panic  there.  "Eddie?"  she  asked,
hoping to change the subject.

"Eddie's like  a businessman,  Hewent to Japan to make money after the
earthquake. He says the iifa, infa, the structure was wide open, then.
He says it took the spin4 out of it, sort of, so you could come in and
root around, quick, befre it healed over and hardened up again. And it
healed  over  arounaEddie,  like he's an implant or something,  so now
he's part of the ma, the infa-"


"The structure. Yeah. So now hes plugged in, to all that juice.

He's a landlord,  and he OWfl5 these clubs, and has deals in music and
vids and things."

Chia leaned  over,  dragging  her  bag from beneath the seat in front,
putting away the Sandbenders. "Do you live there, in Tokyo?"

"Part of the time."

"Do you like it?"

"It's .  .  . I . . . well . . . Weird, right? It's not like anyplace.
This huge thing happened there, then they fixed it with what was maybe
even a huger  thing,  a  bigger  change,  and  everybody  goes  around
pretending  it  never  happened,  that nothing happened.  But you know


"Look at a map.  A map from before?  A lot of it's not even  where  it
used to be.  Nowhere near.  Well,  a few things are,  the Palace, that
expressway, and that big city hall thing in Shinjuku, but a lot of the
rest of it's like they just made it up. They pushed all the quake-junk
into the water,  like landfill, and now they're building that up, too.
New islands."

"You know," Chia said,  "I'm really sleepy.  I think I'll try to go to
sleep now."

"My name's Maryalice. Like it's one word."

"Mine's Chia."

Chia closed her eyes and tried to put her seat back a little more, but
that was as far as it could go.

"Pretty name," Maryalice said.

Chia thought  she  could hear the Music Master's DESH behind the sound
of the engines,  not so much a sound now as a part of her. That whiter
shade of something, but she could never quite make it out.

7. The Wet, Warm Life in Alison Shires

"Shell try to kill herself," Laney said.

"Why?" Kathy Torrance sipped espresso. A Monday afternoon in the Cage.

"Because she knows. She can feel me watching."

"That's impossible, Laney."

"She knows."

"You aren't 'watching' her.  You're examining the data she  generates,
like the data all our lives generate. She can't know that."

"She does."

The white  cup  clicking down into its saucer.  "Then how can you know
that she does?  You're looking at her phone records,  what she chooses
to watch and when, the music she accesses. How could you possibly know
that she's aware of your attention?"

The nodal point, he wanted to say. But didn't.

"I think you're working too hard, Laney. Five days off."

"No, I'd rather-"

"I can't afford to let you burn yourself out. I know the signs, Laney.
Recreational leave, full pay, five days."

She added a travel bonus. Laney was sent to Slitscan's in-house agency
and booked into a hollowed-out hilltop above Ixtapa, a hotel with vast
stone  spheres ranged across the polished concrete of its glass-walled
lobby.  Beyond the glass, iguanas regarded the registration staff with
an ancient calm, green scales bright against dusty brown branches.

Laney met  a woman who said she edited lamps for a design house in San
Francisco.  Tuesday evening. I-Ie'd been in Mexico three hours. Drinks
in the lobby bar.

lie asked  her  what  that  meant,  to edit lamps.  Laney had recently
noticed that the only people who had  titles  that  clearly  described
their jobs had jobs he wouldn't have wanted.  if people asked him what
he did,  he said he was a  quantitative  analyst.  He  didn't  try  to
explain   the   nodal  points,  or  Kathy  Torrance's  theories  about

The woman replied that her company produced  short-run  furniture  and
accessories,  lamps in particular. The actual manufacturing took place
at any number of different locations,  mainly in Northern  California.
Cottage  industry.  One maker might contract to do two hundred granite
bases,  another to lacquer and distress two hundred steel tubes  in  a
very specific shade of blue. She brought out a notebook and showed him
animated sketches.  All of the things had a thin, spiky look that made
him think of African insects he'd seen on the Nature Channel.

Did she design them?  No. They were designed in Russia, in Moscow. She
was the editor.  She selected the suppliers of components. She oversaw
manufacture,  transport  to  San Francisco,  assembly in what once had
been a cannery.  If the  design  documents  specified  something  that
couldn't be provided,  she either found a new supplier or negotiated a
compromise in material or workmanship.

Laney asked who they sold to.  People who wanted things  other  people
didn't have, she said. Or that other people didn't like? That too, she
said.  Did she enjoy it?  Yes.  Because she generally liked the things
the  Russians  designed,  and  she  tended  to  like  the  people  who
manufactured the components.  Best of all, she told him, she liked the
feeling  of  bringing  something  new into the world,  of watching the
sketches from Moscow finally become objects on the floor of the former

It's there,  one day,  she said, and you can look at it, and touch it,
and know whether or not it's good.

Laney considered this.  She seemed very calm.  Shadows lengthened with
almost visible speed across the floor of glossy concrete.  lie put his
hand over hers.

And touch it, and know whether or not it's good

Just before dawn,  the editor of lamps asleep in his bed,  he  watched
the curve of the bay from the suite's balcony, the moon a milky thing,
translucent, nearly gone.

In the night,  in the Federal District,  somewhere east of here, there
had been rocket attacks and rumors of chemical agents,  the latest act
in one of those  obscure  and  ongoing  struggles  that  made  up  the
background of his world.

Birds were  waking  in  the  trees  around  him,  a sound he knew from
Gainesville, from the orphanage and other mornings there.

Kathy Torrance announced herself satisfied with Laney's  recuperation.
He looked rested, she said.

He took  to  the  seas of DatAmerica without comment,  suspecting that
another leave might prove permanent.  She was watching him the way  an
experienced artisan might watch a valued tool that had shown the first
signs of metal-fatigue.

The nodal point was different  now,  though  he  had  no  language  to
describe  the  change.  He  sifted  the  countless  fragments that had
clustered around Alison Shires in his absence,  feeling for the source
of his earlier conviction. He called up the music she'd accessed while
he'd been in Mexico,  playing each song in the order of her selection.
He  found her choices had grown more life-affirming;  she'd moved to a
new provider, Upful Groupvine, whose relentlessly positive product was
the musical equivalent of the Good News Channel.

Cross-indexing her  charges  against the records of her creditprovider
and its client retailers,  he produced  a  list  of  everything  she'd
purchased in the jMtst week.  Six-pack,  blides, Tokkai carton opener.
Did she own a Tokkai carton opener?  But then  he  remembered  Kathy's
advice,  that  this  was  the  part  of  esearch most prone to produce
serious transference,  the point at vhich  the  researcher's  intimacy
with the subject could lead to los of per;pective. "It's often easiest
for us to identify at  the  retail  lev1,  Lane3'.  We're  a  shopping
species. Find yourself buying a different )rand of frozen peas because
the subject does, watch out."

The floor of Laney's apartment was terraed against the original  slope
of the parking garage. He slept at thedeep erd, on an inflatable guest
bed he'd ordered from the Shoppng Char~nel.  There  were  no  windows.
Regulations required a ugh-pump,  and reconstituted sunlight sometimes
fell from a panel inthe  ceiling,  but  he  was  seldom  there  during
daylight hours.

He sat on the slippery edge of the nflatable,  picturing Alison Shires
in her Fountain Avenue apartmen. Larger than this, he knew, but not by
much.  Windows. Her rent vas paid, Slitscan had finally determined, by
her married actor.  Via a fain) intricate series of blinds,  but  paid
nonetheless. "His reptiI~ fund," Kathy called it.

He could  hold Alison Shires' historyin his mind like a single object,
like the perfectly detailed scale  imdel  of  something  ordinary  but
miraculous,  made  luminous by the intensity of his focus.  He'd never
met her,  or spoken to her,  but he' come tD know her, he supposed, in
more  ways  than anyone ever ha~ or would.  Husbands didn't know their
wives this way,  or wives ther husbands. Stalkers might aspire to know
the objects of their obession this way, but never. could.

Until the  night  he  woke  after midiight,  head throbbing.  Too hot,
something wrong with the condiioning again. Florida. The blue shirt he
slept  in clinging to his back aid shoulders.  What would she be doing
now?  Was she staring up,  awake,  at faint bars of reflected light on
the ceiling, listening to Upful Groupvine?

Kathy suspected he might be cracking up.  He looked at his hands. They
could be anybody's.  lie looked at them as though he'd never seen them

He remembered the 5-SB in the orphanage.  The taste of it coming while
it was still being injected.  Rotting metal.  The placebo  brought  no
taste at all.

He got up. The Kitchen Korner, sensing him, woke. The fridge door slid
aside.  A single ancient leaf of lettuce sagged  blackly  through  the
plastic  rods  of  one  white  shelf.  A half-empty bottle of Evian on
another.  He held his cupped hands above the lettuce,  willing himself
to  feel  something radiating from its decay,  some subtle life force,
orgones, particles of an energy unknown to science.

Alison Shires was going to kill herself. He knew he'd seen it. Seen it
somehow  in  the  incidental  data  she generated in her mild-mannered
passage through the world of things.

"Hey there," the fnidge said. "You've left me open."

Laney said nothing.

"Well, do you want the door open, partner? You know it interferes with
the automatic de-frost .

"Be quiet." His hands felt better. Cooler.

He stood there until his hands were quite cold, then withdrew them and
pressed the tips of his fingers against his temples, the fnidge taking
this opportunity to close itself without further comment.

Twenty minutes  later  he  was on the Metro,  headed for Hollywood,  a
jacket over his sleep-creased Malaysian oxford shirt. Isolated figures
on  station platforms,  whipped sideways by perspective in the wind of
the train's passing.

"We're not talking conscious decision,  here?" Blackwell kneaded  what
was left of his right ear.

"No," Laney said, "I (lorit know what I thought I was doing.

"You were trying to save her. The girl."

"It felt like something snapped. A ruhher hand. It felt like gravity."

"That's what it feels like," Blackwell said, "when you decide."

Somewhere down  the  hill  from  the Sunset Metro exit he passed a man
watering his lawn,  a rectangle perhaps twice the size of a pooltahie,
illuminated  by the medicinal glow of a nearby streetlight.  Laney saw
the water beading  on  the  perfectly  even  blades  of  bright  green
plastic.  The plastic lawn was fenced back from the street with welded
steel,  upright prison bars supporting  bright  untarnished  coils  of
razor-wire.  The  man's  house was scarcely larger than his glittering
lawn;  a survival from a day when this slope to  the  hills  had  been
covered with bungalows and arbors.  There were others like it,  tucked
between the balconied,  carefully varied faces of condos and apartment
complexes, tiny properties dating from before the area's incorporation
into the city. There was a hint of oranges in the air, but he couldn't
see them.

The waterer looked up, and Laney saw that he was blind, eyes hidden by
the black lozenges of video units coupled directly to the optic nerve.
You never knew what they were watching.

Laney went on,  letting whatever drew him set his course through these
sleeping streets and the occasional scent of a blooming tree.  Distant
brakes sounded on Santa Monica.

Fifteen minutes  later  he  was  in  front of her building on Fountain
Avenue. Looking up. Fifth floor. 502.

The nodal point.

"You don't want to talk about it?"

Laney looked up from his empty cup,  meeting Blackwell's  eyes  across
the table.

"I've never really told this to anyone," he said, and it was true.

"Let's walk,"  Blackwell  said,  and  stood,  his hulk seeming to li't
effirtlessly,  as though  he  were  a  heliLim  Parade  float.  l.aney
wondered  what time it might be,  here or in L.A.  Yamazaki was taking
care of the bill.

He left Amos 'n' Andes with them,  out into a falling mist that wasn't
quite rain, the sidewalk a bobbing stream of black umbrellas. Yamazaki
produced a black object no  larger  than  a  business  card,  slightly
thicker,  and  flexed it sharply hetween his thumbs.  A black umbrella
flowered.  Yamazaki handed it to him.  The curve of the  black  handle
felt dry and hollow and very slightly warm.

"How do you fold it?"

"You don't,"  Yamazaki  said.  "It  goes  away." He opened another for
himself.  1-lairless Blackwell, in his micropore, was evidently immune
to rain. "Please continue with your account, Mr. Laney."

Through a  gap between two distant towers,  Laney glimpsed the side of
another,  taller building.  He saw vast faces there, vaguely familiar,
contorted in inexplicable drama.

The nondisclosure agreement Laney had signed was intended to cover any
incidences of Slitscan using its connections with DatAmerica  in  ways
that might be construed as violations of the law.  Such incidences, in
Laney's experience,  were frequent to the point of being constant,  at
least  at  certain  advanced levels of research.  Since DatAmerica had
been  Laney's  previous  employer,  he  hadn't  found  any   of   this
particularly startling.  DatAmerica was less a power than a territory;
in many ways it was a law unto itself.

Laney's protracted survey of Alison Shires had  already  involved  any
number of crjmiI~a1 violations, one of which had provided him with the
codes required to open the door into her  building's  foyer,  activate
the elevator, unlock the door of her fifth-floor apartment, and cancel
the private security alarm that would automatically warrant  an  armed
response  if  she did these things without keying in two extra digits.
This last was intended as insurance against endemic home  invasion,  a
crime  in which residents were accosted in parking garages and induced
to surrender their codes.  Alison Shires' code consisted of her month,
date,  and  year  of  birth,  something  any security service strongly
advised against.  Her back-up code was 23,  her age the  year  before,
when she'd moved in and become a subscriber.

Laney softly  reciting  these  as  he  stood before her building,  its
eight-story facade feinting toward someone's idea  of  Tudor  Revival.
Everything  looking so sharply and comprehensively detailed,  in these
first moments of an L.A. dawn.

"So," Blackwell supposed,  "you just walked in.  Punched up her  codes
and  bang,  there  you were." The three of them waiting to cross at an


No sound at all in the mirrored foyer.  A sense  of  vacuum.  A  dozen
Laneys reflected there as he crossed an expanse of new carpet. Into an
elevator smelling of something floral,  where he used part of the code
again.  It  took  him straight to five.  The door slid open.  More new
carpet.  Beneath a fresh coat of cream  enamel  the  corridor's  walls
displayed the faint irregularities of old-fashioned plaster.

"What do you think you're doing?" Laney asked aloud, though whether to
himself or to Alison Shires he did not nor would he ever know.

The brass round of an antique security fish-eye regarded him from  the
door, partially occluded by a cataract of pale paint.

The key-pad was set flush with the door's steel frame, not quite level
with the fish-eye. I-Ic watched his finger finding its way through the

But Alison Shires,  naked,  opened the door before the code could key,
Upful (iroupvine soaring joyfully behind  her  as  Laney  grabbed  her
blood-slick  wrists.  And  saw there in her eyes what he took then and
forever as a look of simple recognition, not even of blame.

"This isn't working," she said,  as though she were indicating a minor
appliance,  and  Laney  heard himself whimper,  a sound he hadn't made
since childhood.  He needed to see those wrists, but couldn't, holding
her.  He was walking her backward,  toward a wicker armchair he wasn't
even aware he'd seen.

"Sit," he said,  as if to a stubborn child,  and she did. He let go of
her  wrists.  Ran for where he guessed the bathroom had to be.  Towels
there and some kind of tape.

And discovered himself kneeling beside her where she sat,  red fingers
curled  in  toward  red palms,  as if in meditation.  He rolled a dark
green hand towel around her left wrist and whipped the tape around it,
some  rubbery  beige  product  meant to mask specific areas during the
application  of   aerosol   cosmetics.   He   knew   that   from   her
product-purchase data.

Were her  fingers turning blue,  beneath their coat of red?  He looked
up. Into that same recognition. One cheekbone brushed with blood.

"Don't," he said.

"It's slowing."

Laney wrapping her right forearm now,  the tape-roll dangling from his

"I missed the artery."

"Don't move," Laney said,  and sprang up,  tripping over his own feet,
crashing face-first into what he recognized,  just before it broke his
nose, as the work of the editor of lamps. The carpet seemed to whip up
and smack him playfully in the face.


Her ankle stepping past him, kitchenward. "Alison, sit down!"

'Sorry,' he thought he heard her say, and then the shot.

Blackwell's shoulders heaved as he sighed,  making a sound that  Laney
heard above the traffic, Yamazaki's glasses were filled with jittering
pastels,  the walls here all neon,  a  glare  to  shame  Vegas,  every
surface lit and jumping.

Blackwell was  staring  at Laney.  "This way," he said,  finally,  and
rounded a corner,  into relative darkness and an edge of urine.  Laney
followed,  Yamazaki behind him.  At the far end of the narrow passage,
they emerged into fairyland.

No neon here at all.  Ambient glow from the towers  overhead.  Austere
rectangles  of white frosted glass,  the size of large greeting cards,
were daubed with black ideograms,  each sign marking a tiny  structure
like some antique bathing cabin on a forgotten beach. Crowded shoulder
to shoulder down one side of the cobbled lane, their miniature facades
suggested   a  shuttered  sideshow  in  some  secret  urban  carnival.
Age-silvered cedar,  oiled paper, matting; nothing to pin the place in
time but the fact that the signs were electric.

Laney stared. A street built by leprechauns.

"Golden Street," said Keith Alan Blackwell.

Chia deplaned  behind  Maryalice,  who'd had a couple of those vitamin
drinks and then tied up one of the toilets for  twenty  minutes  while
she  teased  her  extensions  and  put  on lipstick and mascara.  Chia
couldn't say much for the result,  which  looked  less  like  Ashleigh
Mo-dine Carter than something Ashleigh Modine Carter had slept on.

When Chia stood up, she felt like she had to tell her body to do every
single thing she needed it to. Legs: move.

She'd gotten a few more  hours  sleep,  somewhere  back  there.  She'd
packed  her  Sandbenders back in her bag,  and now she was putting one
foot  in  front  of  the  other,  as  Maryalice,  in  front  of   her,
shuffle-swayed along the narrow aisle in her white cowboy boots.

It seemed to take forever to get out of the plane,  but then they were
breathing airport air in a corridor,  under big logos  that  Chia  had
known  all  her  life,  all  those Japanese companies,  and everything
crowded and moving in one direction.  "You check anything?"  Maryalice
asked, beside her.

'No,' Chiasaid.

Maryalice let  Chia  go  ahead of her through Passport Control,  where
Chia gave the  Japanese  policeman  her  passport  and  the  Cash-flow
smartcard Zona Rosa had forced Kelsey to come up with because this was
all Kelseys idea anyway. In theory, the amount in the card represented
the bulk of the Seattle chapter's treasury,  but Chia suspected Kelsey
would wind up footing the bill  for  the  whole  thing,  and  probably
wouldn't even care.

8. Narita

The policeman  pulled  her passport out of the counter-slot and handed
it back to her.  He hadn't bothered to check the smartcard.  "Two week
maximum stay," he said, and nodded her on.

Frosted glass  slid open for her.  It was crowded here,  way more than
SeaTac.  So many planes mustve come in at  once,  to  have  all  these
people  waiting  for  their  luggage.  She edged aside to let a little
robot stacked with suitcases pass.  It had dirty pink rubber tires and
big  cartoon  eyes that rolled morosely as it made its way through the

"Now, that was easy," said Maryalice,  behind her. Chia turned in time
to  see  her  take  a  long  deep  breath,  hold  it,  and let it out.
Maryalice's eyes looked pinched, like she was having a headache.

"Do you know which way I should go to get the train?" Chia asked.  She
had maps in her Sandbenders, but she didn't want to have to get it out

"This way,' Maryalice said.

Maryalice worked her way between people,  Chia following with her  bag
under her arm. Emerging in front of a carousel where bags were sliding
down a ramp, bumping, swinging past and away.

"Here's one," Maryalice said,  snagging a black one  and  sounding  so
forcefully  cheerful  that  it made Chia look at her.  "And ...  two."
Another one like it,  except this one had a sticker on the  side  from
Nissan County,  the third largest gated attraction in the Californias.
"Would you mind carrying this for me,  honey? My back goes our on long
plane  rides."  Passing  Chia the bag with the sticker.  It wasn't too
heavy,  like maybe it was only half-full of clothes.  But it  was  too
large for her;  she had to lean over in the opposite direction to keep
it off the ground.

"Thanks," Maryalice said.  "Here," and  she  handed  Chia  a  crumpled
square  of  sticky-backed  paper  with  a bar code on it.  "That's the
check. Now we just want to go this way.

It was even harder getting through  the  crowd,  lugging  Mary-alice's
bag. Chia had to concentrate on not stepping on people's feet, and not
bumping them too hard with the bag,  and the next thing she knew, shed
lost  Maryalice.  She  looked around,  expecting to see hairextensions
bobbing above the crowd,  who were mostly shorter than Maryalice,  but
Maryalice was nowhere in sight.


Chia watched the sign twist itself up into Japanese letters,  then pop
back out as English.

Well, that was the way to go.  She got in line behind a man in  a  red
leather  jacket  that  said Concept Collision" across the back in gray
chenille letters.  Chia stared at that,  imagining concepts colliding,
which she guessed was a concept in itself, but then she thought it was
probably just the name of a company that fixed cars,  or one of  those
slogans  the Japanese made up in English,  the ones that almost seemed
to mean something but didn't.  This trans-Pacific jet  lag  thing  was


They were  feeding  Concept Collision's suitcase through a machine the
size of a double bed,  but taller.  There was an official of some kind
in  a  video-helmet,  evidently  reading  feed  off the scanners,  and
another policeman, to take your passport, slot it in the machine, then
put your bags through. Chia let him take Maryalice's suitcase and flip
it up,  onto the conveyor.  Chia handed him her carry-on.  "There's  a
computer  in  there.  This scan okay for that?" He didn't seem to hear
her. She watched her carry-on follow Maryalice's bag into the machine.

The man in the helmet,  eyes hidden, was bobbing his head from side to
side as he accessed gaze-activated menus.

"Baggage check," the policeman said, and Chia remembered she had it in
her hand.  It struck her as strange,  handing it over,  that Maryalice
had  thought  to give her that.  The policeman ran a hand-scanner over

"You packed these bags yourself?" asked the man in the helmet.

He couldn't see her directly,  but she assumed he could see the  clips
stored in her passport,  and he could probably see her on live feed as
well. Airports were full of cameras.

"Yes," Chia said,  deciding it was easier than trying to explain  that
it was Maryalice's bag,  not hers. She tried to read the expression on
the helmeted man's lips, but it was hard to say if he even had one.

"You packed this?"

"Yes", Chia said, not sounding nearly as certain this time.

The helmet bobbed.

"Next," he said.

Chia went to the other end of the machine and collected  her  bag  and
the black suitcase,

Through another  sliding  wall  of frosted glass:  she was in a larger
hall, beneath a higher ceiling, bigger ads overhead but no thinning of
the  crowd,  Maybe this wasn't so much a matter of crowds as it was of
Tokyo, maybe of Japan in general: more people, closer together.

More of those robot baggage carts.  She wondered what it cost to  rent
one.  You could lie down on top of your luggage,  maybe, tell it where
you wanted to go,  and then just go to sleep.  Except she wasn't  sure
she  felt  sleepy,  exactly.  She transferred Maryalice's bag from her
left to her right hand,  wondering what to do with it  if  she  didn't
find Maryalice inside the next, say, five minutes. She'd had enough of
airports and the space between them,  and she wasn't even  sure  where
she was supposed to sleep tonight. Or if it was night, even.

She was looking up,  hoping to find some kind of time display,  when a
hand closed around her right wrist.  She looked down at the hand,  saw
gold  rings  and a watch to match,  fat links of a gold bracelet,  the
rings connected to the watch with little gold chains.

"That's my suitcase."

Chia's eyes followed the hand's wrist to  a  length  of  bright  white
cuff,  then up the arm of a black jacket. To pale eyes in a long face,
each cheek seamed vertically, as if with a modelling instrument. For a
second  she  took  him  for  her  Music Master,  loose somehow in this
airport.  But her Music Master would never wear a watch like that, and
this one's hair,  a darker blond, was swept back, long and wetlooking,
from his high forehead. He didn't look happy.

"Maryalice's suitcase," Chia said.

"She gave it to you? In Seattle?"

"She asked me to carry it."

"From Seattle?"

"No," Chia said. "Back there. She sat beside me on the plane."

"Where is she?"

"I don't know," Chia said.

He wore a black,  long-coated suit, buttoned high. Like something from
an old movie,  but new and expensive-looking. He seemed to notice that
he was still holding her wrist; now he let it go.

"I'll carry it for you," he said. "We'll find her."

Chia didn't know what to do. "Maryalice wanted me to carry it."

"You did. Now I'll carry it." He took it from her.

"Are you Maryalice's  boyfriend?  Eddie?"  The  corner  of  his  mouth

"You could say that," he said.

Eddie's car  was  a  Daihatsu Graceland with the steering wheel on the
wrong side.  Chia knew that because Rez had ridden in the back of  one
in a video,  except that that one had had a bath in it,  black marble,
big gold faucets shaped like tropical fish.  People  had  posted  that
that was an ironic take on money,  on the really ugly things you could
do with it if you had too much.  Chia had told her mother about  that.
Her  mothet said there wasn't much point in worrying what you might do
if you had too much,  because most people never even had  enough.  She
said it was better to try to figure out what "enough" actually meant.

But Eddie had one, a Graceland, all black and chrome. From the outside
it looked sort of like a cross between an RV and one  of  those  long,
wedge-shaped Hummer limousines.  Chia couldn't imagine there'd be much
of  a  Japanese  market;  the  cars  here  all  looked   like   little
candy-colored  lozenges.  The  Graceland was meshback pure and simple,
designed to sell to the kind of American who made a  point  of  trying
not to buy imports.  Which, when it came to cars, def initely narrowed
your options.  (Hester Chen's mother had  one  of  those  really  ugly
Canadian  trucks  that  cost a fortune but were guaranteed to last for
eighty-five years; that was supposed to be better for the ecology.)

Inside, the Graceland was all burgundy velour,  puffed up in diamonds,
with  little chrome nubs where the points of the diamonds met.  It was
about the tackiest thing Chia had ever seen, and she guessed Maryalice
thought so too,  because Maryalice, seated next to her, was explaining
that it was an "image" thing,  that Eddie  had  this  very  hot,  very
popular  country-music  club called Whiskey Clone,  so he'd gotten the
Graceland to go with that, and he'd also started dressing the way they
did in Nashville. Maryalice thought that look suited him, she said.

Chia nodded. Eddie was driving, talking in Japanese on a speakerphone.
They'd found Maryalice at a tiny little bar,  just  off  the  arrivals
area. It was the third one they'd looked in, Chia got the feeling that
Eddie wasn't very happy to see Maryalice,  but Maryalice hadn't seemed
to care.

It was  Maryalice's  idea  that they give Chia a ride into Tokyo.  She
said the train was too crowded and it cost a lot anyway.  She said she
wanted  to  do Chia a &vor,  because Chia had carried her bag for her.
(Chia had noticed that Eddie had put one bag in the Graceland's trunk,
but kept the one with the Nissan County sticker up front, next to him,
beside the driver's seat.)

Chia wasn't really listening to Maryalice now;  it was  some  time  at
night  and  the jet lag was too weird and they were on this big bridge
that seemed to be made out of neon, with however many lanes of traffic
around them, the little cars like strings of bright beads, all of them
shiny and new.  There were screens that kept blurring past,  tall  and
narrow,  with  Japanese  writing  jumping around on some of them,  and
people on others, faces, smiling as they sold something.

And then a woman's face: Itei Toei, the idoru Rez wanted to marry. And

"Rice Daniels,  Mr.  Laney.  Out  of control." Pressing a card of some
kind to the opposite side of the scratched  plastic  that  walled  the
room  called Visitors away from those who gave it its name.  Laney had
tried to read it,  but the attempt at focusing had driven an atrocious
spike  of pain between his eyes.  He'd looked at Rice Daniels instead,
through  tears  of  pain:  close-cropped  dark   hair,   close-fitting
sunglasses with small oval lenses, the black frames gripping the man's
head like some kind of surgical clamp.

Nothing at all about Rice Daniels appeared to be out of control.

"The series," he said. "'Out of Control.' As in: aren't the media? Out
of Control: the cutting edge of counter-investigative journalism."

Laney had  gingerly  tried  touching the tape across the bridge of his
nose: a mistake. "Counter-investigative?"

"You're a quant,  Mr.  Laney."  A  quantitative  analyst.  He  wasn't,
really, but that was technically his job description, "For Slitscan."

Laney didn't respond.

"The girl  was  the focus of intensive surveillance.  Slitscan was all
over her.  You know why.  We believe a  case  can  be  made  here  for
Slitscan's culpability in the death of Alison Shires."

Laney looked  down  at  his running shoes,  their laces removed by the
Deputies. "She killed herself," he said.

"But we know why."

9. Out of Control

"No," Laney said,  meeting  the  black  ovals  again,  "I  don't,  Not
exactly." The nodal point. Protocols of some other realm entirely.

"You're going  to  need  help,  Lane>'.  You  might  be  looking  at a
manslaughter charge.  Abetting a suicide. They'll want to know why you
were up there."

"I'll tell them why."

"Our producers  managed  to  get me in here first,  Lane>'.  It wasn't
easy. There's a spin-control team from Slitscan out there now, waiting
to talk with you. If you let them, they'll turn it all around. They'll
get you off,  because they have to,  in order to cover the show.  They
can do it,  with enough money and the right lawyers.  But ask yourself
this: do you want to let them do it?"

Daniels still had his business card thumbed up  against  the  plastic.
Trying  to  focus  on  it again,  Laney saw that someone had scratched
something in from the other side,  in small, uneven mirror-letters, so
that he could read it left to right:


"I've never heard of Out of Control."

"Our hour-long  pilot  is  in production as we speak,  Mr.  Lane>'." A
measured pause. "We're all very excited."


"Out of Control isn't just a series. We think of it as an entirely new
paradigm.  A  new  way  to  do  television.  Your story-Alison Shires'
story-is precisely what we intend to get out there.  Our producers are
people  who want to give something back to the audience.  They've done
well, they're established, they've proven themselves; now they want to
give something back-to restore a degree of honesty,  a new opportunity
for  perspective."  The  black  ovals  drew  slightly  closer  to  the
scratched  plastic.  "Our  producers  are  the  producers  of 'Cops in
Trouble' and 'A Calm and Deliberate Fashion."

"A what?"

"Factual accounts of  premeditated  violence  in  the  global  fashion

"Counter-investigative'?" Yamazaki's pen hovered over the notebook.

"It was a show about shows like Slitscan," Laney explained.  "Supposed
abuses." There were no stools at the bar,  which might have  been  ten
feet long. You stood. Aside from the bartender, in some kind of Kabuki
drag,  they had the place to themselves.  By  virtue  of  filling  it,
basically.  It  was  probably  the  smallest  freestanding  commercial
structure Lane>' had ever seen,  and it  seemed  to  have  been  there
forever,  like  a  survival  from  ancient Edo,  a city of shadows and
minute dark lanes.  The walls were shingled with faded postcards, gone
a  uniform  sepia  under  a  glaze of accumulated nicotine and cooking

"Ah," Yamazaki said at last, "a meta-tabloid.'"

The bartender was broiling two  sardines  on  a  doll's  hotplate.  He
flipped  them  with a pair of steel chopsticks,  transferred them to a
tiny plate,  garnished them with some kind of  colorless,  translucent
pickle, and presented them to Laney.

"Thanks," Laney said. The bartender ducked his shaven eyebrows.

In spite  of  the  modest  decor,  there  were  dozens  of  bottles of
expensive-looking whiskey arranged behind the bar,  each  one  with  a
hand-written  brown  paper  sticker:  the  owner's  name  in Japanese.
Yamazaki had explained that you bought one and they kept it there  for
you. Blackwell was on his second tumbler of the local vodka-analog, on
the rocks,  Yamazaki was sticking to Coke Lire. Laney had an untouched
shot  of  surrealistically expensive Kentucky srraight bourbon whiskey
in front of him,  and wondered vaguely what it would do to his jet lag
if he were actually to drink it.

"So," Blackwell said,  draining the tumbler,  ice clinking against his
prosthetic,  "they get you out so they can have a go  at  these  other

"That wu  it,  basically,"  Laney said,  They had their own Legal team
waiting,  to do that,  and another team to work on  the  nondisclosure
agreement I'd signed with Slirscan."

"And the second team had the bigger job," Blackwell said,  shoving his
empty glass toward the bartender,  who swept it smoothly out of sight,
producing a fresh replacement just as smoothly, as if from nowhere.

"That's true," Laney said.  He'd had no idea,  really, of what he'd be
getting into when he'd found himself agreeing to the general  outlines
of  Rice  Daniels'  offer.  But there was something in him that didn't
want to see Slitscan walk away from the sound of that one single  shot
from Alison Shires' kitchen. (Produced, the cops had pointed out, by a
Russian-made device that was hardly more than a cartridge,  a tube  to
contain  it,  and  the simplest possible firing mechanism;  these were
designed with suicide almost exclusively in mind;  there was no way to
aim  them  at  anything more than two inches away.  Laney had heard of
them, but had never seen one before; for some itason, they were called
Wednesday Night Specials.)

And Slitscan  would  walk away,  he knew;  they'd drop the sequence on
Alison's actor,  if they felt they had to,  and the whole thing  would
settle  to  the  sea  floor,  silting  over  almost instantly with the
world's steady accretion of data.

And Alison Shires' life,  as he'd known it in all that terrible, banal
intimacy, would lie there forever, forgotten and finally unknowable.

But if  he  went  with Out of Control,  her life might retrospectively
become something else,  and he wasn't sure,  exactly, sitting there on
the hard little chair in Visitors, what that might be.

He thought  of  coral,  of  the reefs that grew around sunken aircraft
carriers; perhaps she'd become something like that, the buried mystery
beneath  some  exfoliating  superstructure of supposition,  or even of

It seemed to him, in Visitors, that that might be a slightly less dead
way of being dead. And he wished her that.

"Get me  out  of  here,"  he  said to Daniels,  who smiled beneath his
surgical clamp, whipping the card triumphantly away from the plastic.

"Steady," said Blackwell,  laying his huge hand, with its silvery-pink
fretwork  of  scars,  over  Laney's wrist,  "You haven't even had your
drink yet."

Laney had met Rydell when the Out of Control team installed him  in  a
suite at the Chateau,  that ancient simulacrum of a still more ancient
original,  its quaint concrete eccentricities pinched between the twin
brutalities  of  a  particularly nasty pair of office buildings dating
from the final year of the previous century.  These reflected all  the
Millennial anxiety of the year of their creation,  while refracting it
through some other,  more  mysterious,  weirdly  muted  hysteria  that
seemed somehow more personal and even less attractive.

Laney's suite,  much  larger  than his apartment in Santa Monica,  was
like an elongated 1920s apartment following the long, shallow concrete
balcony  that faced Sunset,  this in turn overlooking a deeper balcony
on the floor below and the  tiny  circular  lawn  that  was  all  that
remained of the original gardens.

Laney thought it was a strange choice,  considering his situation.  He
would have imagined  they'd  choose  something  more  corporate,  more
fortified, more heavily wired, but Rice Daniels had explained that the
Chateau had advantages all its own.  It was a good choice in terms  of
image,  because  it  humanized  Laney;  it  looked  like a habitation,
basically,  something with walls and doors and  windows,  in  which  a
guest  could  be imagined to be living something akin to a life-not at
all the case with the geometric  solids  that  were  serious  business
hotels. It also had deeply rooted associations with the Hollywood star
system,  and with human tragedy as well.  Stars had lived here, in the
heyday of old Hollywood,  and, later, certain stars had died here. Out
of Control planned to frame the death of Alison Shires 3 as a  tragedy
in  a venerable Hollywood tradition,  but one that had been brought on
by Slitscan,  a very contemporary entity.  Besides, Daniels explained,
the  Chateau  was far more secure than it might at first look.  And at
this point Lane>' had been  introduced  to  Berry  Rydell,  the  night
security man.

Daniels and Rydell, it seemed to Laney, had known one another prior to
Rydell working at the Chateau,  though how, exactly, remained unclear.
Rydell  seemed  oddly  at  home  with the workings of the infotainment
industry,  and at  one  point,  when  they'd  found  themselves  alone
together, he'd asked Laney who was representing him.

"How do you mean?" Lane>' had said.

"You've got an agent, don't you?"

Laney said he didn't.

"You better  get  one,"  Rydell had said.  "Not that it'll necessarily
come out the way you'd wanted, but, hey, it's show business, right?"

It was indeed show business, to an extent that very quickly made Laney
wonder if he'd made the right decision.  There had been sixteen people
in his suite,  for a four-hour meeting,  and he'd only been out of the
lock-up for six hours.  When they'd finally gone,  Laney had staggered
the length of the place, mistakenly trying several closet doors in his
search  for  the  bedroom.  Finding it,  he'd crawled onto the bed and
fallen asleep in the clothes they'd sent Rydell to the Beverly  Center
to buy for him.

Which he  thought  he  might well do right here,  now,  in this Golden
Street bar,  thereby answering the question of what  the  bourbon  was
doing to his jet lag. But now, finishing the remainder of the shot, he
felt one of those tidal reversals begin,  perhaps less to do with  the
drink than with some in-built chemistry of fatigue and displacement.

"Was Rydell happy?" Yamazaki asked,

It seemed  a  strange  question,  to Lane>',  but then he'd remembered
Rydell  mentioning  someone  Japanese,  someone  he'd  known  in   San
Francisco, and that, of course, had been Yamazaki.

"Well," Lariey said,  "he didn't strike me as desperately unhappy, but
there was something sort of down about him.  You  could  say  that.  I
mean, I don't really know him well at all."

"It is too bad," Yamazaki said. "Rydell is a brave man."

"How about  you,  Laney," Blackwell said,  "you think of yourself as a
brave man?" The wormlike scar that bisected his eyebrow writhed into a
new degree of concentration.

"No," Laney said, "I don't."

"But you  went up against Slitscan,  didn't you,  because of what they
did to the girl?  You had a job,  you had food,  you had  a  place  to
sleep.  You got all that from Slitscan,  but they did the girl, so you
opted to do 'em back. Is that right?"

"Nothing's ever that simple," Laney said.

When Blackwell spoke,  Laney was unexpectedly aware of another sort of
intelligence,   something  the  man  must  ordinarily  conceal.  "No,"
Blackwell said,  almost gently,  "it fucking well isn't,  is it?"  One
large, pinkly jigsawed hand, like some clumsy animal in its own right,
began to root in the taut  breast  pocket  of  Blackwell's  micropore.
Producing a small, gray, metallic object that he placed on the bar.

"Now that's a nail," Blackwell said, "galvanized, one-and-a-half-inch,
roofing,  I've nailed men's hands to bars like this,  with nails  like
that.  And some of them were right bastards." There was nothing at all
of threat in Blackwell's voice. "And some of those, you nail their one
hand,  their  other  comes  up with a razor,  or a pair of needle-nose
pliers." Blackwell's forefinger absently found an  angry-looking  scar
beneath his right eye,  as though something had entered there and been
deflected along the cheekbone. "To have a go, right?"


"Bastards," Blackwell said.  "You have to kill 'em,  then,  Now that's
one  kind of 'brave,' Laney.  What I mean is,  how's that so different
from what you tried to do to Slitscan?"

"I just didn't want them to let it drop.  To let her ... settle to the
3  bottom.  Be fotgotten.  I didn't really care how badly Slitscan got
hurt,  or even if they were damaged  or  not.  I  wasn't  thinking  of
revenge, as much as of a way of. . . keeping her alive?"

"There's other men,  you nail their hand to a table, they'll sit there
and look at you. That's your true hard man, Laney. Do you think you're
one of those?"

Laney looked  from  Blackwell  to  the  empty  bourbon glass,  back to
Blackwell;  the bartender moved, as if to refill it, but Laney covered
it  with  his hand.  "If you nail my hand to the bar,  Blackwell," and
here he spread his other hand,  flat, palm down, on the dark wood, the
drink-ringed  varnish,  "I'll scream,  okay?  I don't know what any of
this is about.  You might be crazy.  But what I most definitely am not
is anybody's idea of a hero.  I'm not now,  and I wasn't back there in

Blackwell and Yamazaki exchanged glances.  Blackwell pursed his  lips,
gave a tiny nod.  "Good on you then," he said. "1 think you just might
be right for the job."

"No job," Laney said, but let the bartender pour him a second bourbon.
"I  don't  want  to hear about any job at all,  not until I know who's
hiring me."

"I'm chief of security for Lo/Rez," Blackwell said,  "and I  owe  that
silly  bastard  my  life.  The last five of which I'd've passed in the
punitive bowels of the State of fucking Victoria.  If it  hadn't  been
for him. Though I'd've topped myself first, no fear."

"The band? You're security for them?"

"Rydell spoke well of you,  Mr.  Laney." Yamazaki's neck bobbed in the
collar of his plaid shirt,

"I don't know Rydell," Laney said.  "He was just the night watchman at
a hotel I couldn't afford."

"Rydell has a good sense of people, I think," Yamazaki said.

To Blackwell: "Lo/Rez? They're in trouble?"

"Rez," Blackwell  said.  "He  says  he's going to marry this Jap twist
doesn't fucking exist!  And he  knows  she  doesn't,  and  says  we've
nofucking imagination! Now hear me," and Blackwell produced, from some
unspecific region of his clothing,  a mirror-polished rectangle with a
round hole through its uppermost,  leading corner.  Something not much
larger than a cashcard,  to see it in his big hand.  "Someone's got to
our boy,  hear?  Got to him.  Don't know how,  don't know who.  Though
personally  myself  I'd  bet  on  the  fucking  Kombinat.  Those  Russ
bastards,  But you, my friend, you're going to do your nodal thing for
us,  on our Rez, and you are going to find flicking out. Who." And the
rectangle came down with a concise little thunk,  to be left standing,
crosswise to the counter's grain,  and Laney saw that it  was  a  very
small meat cleaver,  with round steel rivets through its tidy rosewood

"And when you do," Blackwell  said,  "we  shall  sort  them  well  and
fucking out."

10. Whiskey Clone

Eddie's club  was  way  up  in something like an offke building.  Chia
didn't think there were music clubs on the upper floors  of  buildings
like that in Seattle,  but she wasn't sure. She'd fallen asleep in the
Graceland,  and only woke up  as  Eddie  was  driving  into  a  garage
entrance,  and then up into something vaguely like a Ferris wheel,  or
the cylinder of an old-fashioned revolver,  except  the  bullets  were
cars.  She  watched  out the windows as it swung them up and over,  to
stop at the top,  where Eddie drove forward into a parking garage that
might've been anywhere, except the cars were all big and black, though
none as big as the Graceland.

"Come on up with us and freshen up, honey," Maryalice said.

"You look wrecked."

"I have to port," Chia said. "Find my friend I'm staying with..

"Easy enough," Maryalice said,  sliding across the velour and  opening
the  door.  Eddie  got out the driver's side,  taking the bag with the
Nissan County sticker with him.  He still didn't look very happy. Chia
took  her  bag  with her and followed Maryalice.  They all got into an
elevator.  Eddie pressed his palm against a hand-shaped outline on the
wall and said something in Japanese. The elevator said something back,
then the door closed and they were going up.  Fast,  it felt like, but
they just kept going.

Being in the elevator didn't seem to be improving Eddie's mood.

He had to stand right up close to Maryalice,  and Chia could see a lit
tie muscle working,  in the hinge of his jaw,  as he  looked  at  her.
Maryalice  just  looked  right  back at him.  "You oughta lighten up,"
Maryalice said. "It's done."

The little muscle went into overdrive.  "That was not  the  deal,"  he
said, finally. "That was not the arrangement,"

Maryalice lifted   an  eyebrow.  'You  used  to  appreciate  a  little

Eddie glanced from Maryalice to Chia,  then, quick, back to Maryalice.
"You call that an innovation~"

"You used  to  have  a  sense of humor,  too," Maryalice said,  as the
elevator stopped and the door slid open.  Eddie glared,  then  stepped
out,  Chia and Maryalice following.  "Never mind him," Maryalice said.
"Just how he gets, sometimes."

Chia wasn't sure what she'd expected, but this definitely wasn't it. A
messy  room  jammed  with  shipping  cartons,  and  a bank of security
monitors.  The low ceiling was made of those fibery  tiles  that  were
hung  on  little  metal rails;  about half of them were missing,  with
wires and cables looping down from dusty-looking shadow.  There were a
couple  of small desk lamps,  one of them illuminating a stack of used
instant-noodle containers and a black coffee  mug  filled  with  white
plastic spoons.  A Japanese man in a black meshback that said "Whiskey
Clone" across the front was sitting in a swivel chair in front of  the
monitors,  pouring  himself a hot drink out of a big thermos with pink
flowers on the side.

"Yo, Calvin," Maryalice said, or that was what it sounded like.

"Hey," the man said.

"Calvin's from Tacoma," Maryalice said,  as Chia watched Eddie,  still
carrying  the  suitcase,  march  straight through the room,  through a
door, and out of sight.

"Boss looks happy," the man  said,  sounding  no  more  Japanese  than
Maryalice. He took a sip from his thermos cup.

"Yeah," Maryalice said, "He's so glad to see me, he's beside himself."

"This too  will  pass." Another sip.  Looking at Chia from beneath the
bill of the meshback.  The letters in "Whiskey Clone"  were  the  kind
they'd  use  in  a  mall  when  they  wanted  you to think a place was

"This is Chia," Maryalice said.  "Met her in SeaTac," and Chia noticed
that  she  hadn't  said  she'd  met  her on the plane.  Which made her
remember that business with the DNA sampling and the hair-extensions.

"Glad to hear it's still there," the man said. "Means there's some way
back out of this batshir."

"Now, Calvin," Maryalice said, "you know you love Tokyo."

"Sure. Had  a  place  in  Redmond had a bathroom the size of the whole
apartment I got here,  and it wasn't even a big bathroom.  I mean,  it
had a shower, No tub or anything."

Chia looked at the screens behind him,  Lots of people there,  but she
couldn't tell what they were doing.

"Looks like a good night," Maryalice said, surveying the screens.

"Just fair," he said. "Fair to middling."

"Quit talking like that," Maryalice said. "You'll have me doing it."

Calvin grinned. "But you're a good old girl, aren't you, Mary-alice?"

"Please," Chia said, "may I use a dataport?"

"There's one in Eddie's office," Maryalice said. "But he's probably on
the  phone  now.  Why  don't you go in the washroom there," indicating
another door,  closed,  "and have a  wash.  You're  looking  a  little
blurry. Then Eddie'll be done and you can call your friend."

The washroom   had   an   old   steel   sink  and  a  very  new,  very
complicated-looking toilet with at least a dozen buttons on top of the
tank.  These  were  labeled  in  Japanese.  The  polymer seat squirmed
slightly,  taking her weight,  and she almost jumped  up  again.  It's
okay,  she  reassured herself,  just foreign technology.  When she was
done,  she chose one of the controls at random,  producing a superfine
spray of warm, perfumed water that made her gasp and jump back.

She wiped  her eyes with the back of her hand,  then stood well to the
side and tried another button.  This one seemed to do the  trick:  the
toilet  flushed  with  a jetstream sound that reminded him of being on
the plane.

As she washed her hands,  and  then  her  face,  at  the  reassuringly
ordinary  sink,  using pale blue liquid soap from a pump-top dispenser
shaped like a one-eyed dinosaur,  she  heard  the  flushing  stop  and
another sound begin.  She looked back and saw a ring of purplish light
oscillating,  somewhere below  the  toilet  seat.  UV,  she  supposed,
sterilizing it.

There was  a  poster of the Dukes of Nuke 'Em taped on the wall,  this
hideous  'roidhead  metal  band.  They  were  sweaty  and  blank-eyed,
grinning,  and the drummer was missing his front teeth.  The lettering
was in Japanese.  She wondered why anyone in Japan would be into that,
because  groups  like  the  Dukes  were all about hating anything that
wasn't their idea of American.  But Kelsey,  who'd been to Japan lots,
with  her  father,  had  said that you couldn't tell what the Japanese
would make of anything.

There wasn't anything here to dry your hands on. She got a t-shirt out
of  her bag and used that,  although it didn't work very well.  As she
was kneeling to stuff the shirt back  in,  she  noticed  a  corner  of
something  she  didn't  recognize,  but  then  Calvin cracked the door
behind her.

"Excuse me," he said.

"It's okay," Chia said, zipping the bag shut.

"It's not," he said, looking back over his shoulder, then back at her.
"You really meet Maryalice at SeaTac?"

"On the plane," Chia said.

"You're not part of it?"

Chia stood up, which made her feel kind of dizzy. "Part of what?"

He looked  at  her  from beneath the brim of the black cap.  "Then you
really ought to get out of here. I mean right now."

"Why?" Chia asked, although it didn't strike her as a bad idea at all.

"Nothing you  want  to  know  anything  about."  There  was  a  crash,
somewhere  behind  him.  He  winced.  "It's okay.  She's just throwing
things.They hven't gotten serious yet. Come on,"and he grabbed her bag
by  the shoulder strap and lifted it up.  He was moving fast now,  and
she had to hustle to keep up with him.  Out past the  closed  door  of
Eddie's  office,  past  the bank of screens (where she thought she saw
people line-dancing in cowboy hats, but she was never sure).

Calvin slapped his hand on the  sensor-plate  on  the  elevator  door.
"Take you to the garage," he said, as the sound of breaking glass came
from Eddie's office.  "Hang a left, about twenty feet, there's another
elevator. Skip the lobby; we got cameras there. Bottom button gets you
the subway. Get on a train." He passed her her bag.

"Which one?" Chia asked.

Maryalice screamed. Like something really, really hurt.

"Doesn't matter," Calvin said,  and quickly said something in Japanese
to the elevator.  The elevator answered,  but he was already gone, the
door closing,  and then she was descending, her bag seeming to lighten
slightly in her arms.

Eddie's Graceland  was still there when the door slid open,  a hulking
wedge beside those other black can.  She  found  the  second  elevator
Calvin  had  told her to take,  its door scratched and dented.  It had
regular buttons,  and it didn't talk,  and it took her down  to  malls
bright as day, crowds moving through them, to escalators and platforms
and mag-levs and the eternal logos tethered overhead.

She was in Tokyo at last,

11. Collapse of New Buildings

Laney's room was high up in a narrow tower faced  with  white  ceramic
tile.  It was trapezoidal in cross section and dated from the eighties
boomtown,  the years of the Bubble.  That it had  survived  the  great
earthquake  was  testimony to the skill of its engineers;  that it had
survived the subsequent reconstruction testified to an  arcane  tangle
of  ownership and an ongoing struggle between two of the city's oldest
criminal organizations.  Yamazaki  had  explained  this  in  the  cab,
returning from New Golden Street.

"We were uncertain how you might feel about new buildings," he'd said.

"You mean  the  nanotech buildings?" Laney had been struggling to keep
his eyes open. The driver wore spotless white gloves.

"Yes. Some people find them disturbing." "I don't know.  I'd  have  to
see one."

"You can see them from your hotel, I think."

And he could.  He knew their sheer brutality of scale from constructs,
but virtuality had failed to convey the peculiarity of their  apparent
texture, a streamlined organicism. "They are like Giger's paintings of
New York," Yamazaki had said,  but the  reference  had  been  lost  on

Now he  sat  on  the  edge  of  his bed,  staring blankly out at these
miracles of the new technology,  as banal  and  as  sinister  as  such
miracles  usually  were,  and  they  were  only annoying:  the world's
largest inhabited structures. (The Chernobyl containment structure was
larger, but nothing human would ever live there.)

The umbrella  Yamazaki  had  given  him  was  collapsing  into itself,
shrinking. Going away.

The phone began to ring. He couldn't find it.

"Telephone," he said. "Where is it?"

A nub of ruby light,  timed to the rings,  began to pulse from a  flat
rectangle  of white cedar arranged on a square black tray on a bedside
ledge. He picked it up. Thumbed a tiny square of mother-of-pearl.

"Hey," someone said. "That Laney?"

"Who's calling?"

"Rydell. From the Chateau.  Hans let me use the phone." Hans  was  the
night manager. "1 get the time right? You having breakfast?"

Laney rubbed his eyes, looked out again at the new buildings. "Sure."

"I called Yamazaki," Rydell said. "Got your number."

"Thanks," Laney said, yawning, "but I"

"Yamazaki said you got the gig."

"I think so," Laney said. "Thanks. Guess I owe"

"Slitscan," Rydell said. "All over the Chateau,"

"No," Laney said, "that's over."

"You know any Katherine Torrance,  Laney?  Sherman Oaks address? She's
up in the suite you had,  with about two vans worth of  sensing  gear.
Hans  figures  they're  trying to get a read on what you were doing up
there, any dope or anything."

Laney stared out at the towers.  Part of a facade seemed to move,  but
it had to be his eyes.

"But Hans says there's no way they can sort the residual molecules out
in those rooms anyway. Place has too much of a history."

"Kathy Torrance? From Slitscan?"

"Not like they said they were,  but they've got all these  techs,  and
techs  always  t'alk too much,  and Ghengis down in the garage saw the
decals on some of the cases,  when they were unloading.  There's about
twenty of 'em, if you don't count the gophers. Got two suites and four
singles. Don't tip."

"But what are they doing?"

"That sensor stuff.  Trying to figure out what you got up  to  in  the
suite. And one of the bellmen saw them setting up a camera."

The entire  facade  of  one of the new buildings seemed to ripple,  to
crawl slightly.  Laney closed his eyes and pinched the bridge  of  his
nose, discovering a faint trace of pain residing there from the break.
He opened his eyes. "But I never got up to anything."

"Whatever." Rydell sounded slightly hurt. "I just thought you ought to
know, is all."

Something was  definitely happening to that facade.  "I know.  Thanks.

"I'll let you know if I hear anything," Rydell said.  "What's it  like
over there, anyway?"

Laney was watching a point of reflected light slide across the distant
structure,  a movement like osmosis or the sequential  contraction  of
some sea creature's palps. "It's strange."

"Bet it's interesting," Rydell said. "Enjoy your breakfast, okay? I'll
keep in touch."

"Thanks," Laney said, and Rydell hung up.

Laney put the phone back on the lacquer tray and stretched out on  the
bed,  fully  clothed.  He closed his eyes,  not wanting to see the new
buildings.  But they were still there,  in the darkness and the  light
behind his lids.  And as he watched, they slid apart, deliquesced, and
trickled away, down into the mazes of an older city.

He slid down with them.

12. Mitsuko

Cliia used a public dataport in the deepest level of the station.  The
Sandbenders sent the number they'd given her for Mitsuko  Mimura,  the
Tokyo  chapter's  "social secretary" (everyone in Tokyo chapter seemed
to have a formal title).  A girl's sleepy voice in Japanese  from  the
Sandbenders' speakers. The translation followed instantly:

"Hello? Yes? May I help you?"

"It's Chia McKenzie, from Seattle."

"You are still in Seattle?"

"I'm here. In Tokyo." She upped the scale on the Sandbenders' map. "In
a subway station called Shinjuku."

"Yes. Very good. Are you coming here now?"

"I'd sure like to. I'm really tired."

The voice began to explain the route.

"It's okay," Chia said,  "my computer can do  it.  Just  tell  me  the
station I have to get to." She found it on the map, set a marker. "How
long will it take to get there?"

"Twenty to thirty minutes,  depending on how crowded the trains are. I
will meet you there."

"You don't have to do that," Chia said. "Just give me your address."

"Japanese addresses are difficult."

"It's okay,"   Chia   said,   "I've   got   global  positioning."  The
Sandbenders,  working the Tokyo telco, was already showing her Mitsuko
Mimura's  latitude  and  longitude.  In Seattle,  that only worked for
business numbers.

"No," Mitsuko said, "I must greet you. Jam the social secretary.'

"Thanks," Chia said. "I'm on my way.'

With her bag over her shoulder,  left partly  unzipped  so  she  could
follow the Sandbenders' verbal prompts, Chia rode an escalator up, two
levels,  bought a ticket with her cashcard, and found her platform. It
was really crowded, as crowded as the airport, but when the train came
she let the crowd pick her up and squash her into the nearest car;  it
would've been harder not to get on.

As they pulled out,  she heard the Sandbenders announce that they were
leaving Shinjuku station.

The sky was like mother-of-pearl when Chia emerged from  the  station.
Gray  buildings,  pastel  neon,  a  streetscape  dotted  with  vaguely
unfamiliar shapes.  Dozens of bicycles  were  parked  everywhere,  the
fragile-looking  kind  with  paper-tube frames spun with carbon fiber.
Chia took a step back as an enormous turquoise garbage  truck  rumbled
past, its driver's white-gloved hands visible on the high wheel. As it
cleared her held of vision,  she saw a Japanese girl wearing  a  short
plaid skirt and black biker jacket. The girl smiled. Chia waved.

Mitsuko's second-floor  room  was  above  the  rear  of  her  father's
restaurant.  Chia could hear a steady thumping sound from  below,  and
Mitsuko  explained  that  that  was a food-prep robot that chopped and
sliced things.

The room was smaller than Chia's bedroom in Seattle, but much cleaner,
very near and organized. So was Mitsuko, who had a razor-edged coppery
diagonal bleached into her black bangs,  and wore sneakers with double
soles. She was thirteen, a year younger than Chia.

Mitsuko had   introduced  Chia  to  her  father,  who  wore  a  white,
short-sleeved shirt, a tie, and was supervising three white-gloved men
in blue coveralls,  who were cleaning his restaurant with great energy
and determination, Mitsuko's father had nodded, smiled, said something
in  Japanese,  and  gone  back  to  what  he  was doing.  On their way
upstairs, Mitsuko, who didn't speak much English, told Chia that she'd
told  her father that Chia was part of some cultural-exchange program,
short-term homestay, something to do with her school.

Mitsuko had the same poster on her wall,  the original cover shot from
the Dog Soup album.

Mitsuko went  downstairs,  returning  with a pot of tea and a covered,
segmented box that contained a California roll and  an  assortment  of
less  familiar things.  Grateful for the familiarity of the California
roll,  Chia ate everything except the one with the  orange  sea-urchin
goo  on  top.  Mirsuko  complimented her on her skill with chopsticks.
Chia said she was from Seattle and people there used chopsticks a lot.

Now they were both wearing wireless ear-clip headsets. The translation
was  generally  glitch-free,  except  when Mitsuko used Japanese slang
that was too new, or when she inserted English words that she knew but
couldnt pronounce.

Chia wanted to ask her about Rez and the idoru,  but they kept getting
onto other things.  Then Chia fell asleep,  sitting up cross-legged on
the  floor,  and  Mitsuko  must  have  managed to roll her onto a hard
little futon-thing that she'd unfolded from  somewhere,  because  that
was where Chia woke up, three hours later.

A rainy silver light was at the room's narrow window.

Mitsuko appeared  with  another  pot  of  tea,  and  said something in
Japanese. Chia found her ear-clip and put it on.

"You must have been exhausted," the ear-clip translated.  Then Mitsuko
said she was taking the day off from school, to be with Chia.

They drank  the  nearly colorless tea from little nubbly ceramic cups.
Mitsuko explained that she lived here with her father, her mother, and
a  brother,  Masahikth  Her  mother  was away,  visiting a relative in
Kyoto.  Mitsuko said that Kyoto was  very  beautiful,  and  that  Chia
should go there.

"I'm here  for my chapter," Chia said.  "I can't do tourist things.  I
have things to find out."

'I understand," Mitsuko said.

"So is it true? Does Rez really want to marry a software agent?"

Mirsuko looked uncomfortable.  "I am the social secretary," she  said.
"You must first discuss this with Hiromi Ogawa."

"Who's she?'

"Hiromi is the president of our chapter."

"Fine," Chia said. "When do I talk to her?"

"We are  erecting  a site for the discussion,  It will be ready soon."
Mitsuko still looked uncomfortable.

Chia decided to change the subject. "What's your brother like? How old
is he?"

"Masahiko is     seventeen,"     Mitsuko     said.     "He     is    a
'pathologicaltechno-.fetishist-with-social-deflcit,'"  this  last  all
strung  together  like  one word,  indicating a concept that taxed the
lexicon of the ear-clips.  Chia wondered briefly if it would be  worth
running  it  through  her  Sandbenders,  whose  translation  functions
updated automatically whenever she ported.

"A what?"

"Otaku," Mitsuko said carefully in Japanese.  The  translation  burped
its clumsy word string again.

"Oh," Chia said, "we have those, We even use the same word."

"I think that in America they are nor the same," Mitsuko said.

"Well," Chia said, "it's a boy thing, right? The otaku guys at my last
school were into, like, plastic anime babes, military simulations, and
trivia.  Bigtime  into  trivia."  She  watched  Mitsuko  listen to the

'Yes," Mitsuko said, "but you say they go to school. Ours do not go to
school.  They complete their studies on-line, and that is bad, because
they cheat easily.  Then they are tested,  later,  and are caught, and
fail, but they do not care, It is a social problem."

"Your brother's one?"

"Yes,' Mitsuko said. "He lives in Walled City."

"In where?"

"A multi-user domain.  It is his obsession. Like a drug. He has a room
here.  He seldom leaves it, All his waking hours he is in Walled City.
His dreams, too, I think."

Chia tried  to  get  more of a sense of Hiromi Ogawa,  before the noon
meeting,  but with mixed results.  She was older, seventeen (as old as
Zona  Rosa) and had been in the club for at least fIve years.  She was
possibly  overweight  (though  this  had  had  to   be   conveyed   in
intercultural girl-code, nothing overt) and favored elaborate iconics.
But overall Chia kept running up against Mitsuko's sense of  her  duty
to her chapter, and of her own position, and of Hiromi's position.

Chia hated club politics,  and she was beginning to suspect they might
pose a real problem here.

Mitsuko was getting her computer  out.  It  was  one  of  those  soft,
transparent  Korean  units,  the  kind  that looked like a flat bag of
clear white jelly  with  a  bunch  of  colored  jujubes  inside.  Chia
unzipped her bag and pulled her Sandbenders out.

"What is that?" Mitsuko asked.

"My computer."

Mitsuko was clearly impressed. "It is by Harley-Davidson?"

"It was  made by the Sandbenders," Chia said,  finding her goggles and
gloves.  "They're a commune,  down on the Oregon coast.  They do these
and they do software."

"It is American?"


"I had not known Americans made computers," Mitsuko said.

Chia worked  each  silver  thimble  over  the  tips of her fingers and
thumbs, fastened the wrist straps.

"I'm ready for the meeting," she said.

Mirsuko giggled nervously.

13. Character Recognition

Yamazaki phoned just before noon.  The day was dim and overcast. Laney
had  closed  the  curtains  in  order  to  avoid  seeing  the nanotech
buildings in that light.

He was watching an NHK show about champion top-spinners.  The star, he
gathered,  was  a  little  girl with pigtails and a blue dress with an
old-fashioned sailor's collar.  She was slightly  cross-eyed,  perhaps
from concentration. The tops were made of wood. Some of them were big,
and looked heavy.

'Hello, Mr. Laney," Yamazaki said. "You are feeling better now?"

Laney watched a purple-and-yellow top blur into  action  as  the  girl
gave  the carefully wound cord an expert pull.  The commentator held a
hand mike near the top to pick up the hum it was producing,  then said
something in Japanese.

"Better than last night," Laney said.

"It is being arranged for you to access the data that surrounds .  our
friend.  It is a complicated process,  as this data has been protected
in  many  different  ways.  There was no single strategy.  The ways in
which his privacy has been protected are complexly incremental."

"Does 'our friend' know about this?"

There was a  pause.  Laney  watched  the  spinning  top.  He  imagined
Yamazaki blinking. "No, he does not."

"I still  don't  know  who  I'll really be working for.  For him?  For

"Your employer is Paragon-Asia Dataflow, Melbourne. They are employing
me as well."

"What about Blackwell?"

"Blackwell is employed by a privately held corporation,  through which
portions of our friend's income pass.  In the course of  our  friend's
career,  a  structure  has  been  erected  to  optimize that flow,  to
minimize losses.  That structure now constitutes a corporate entity in
its own right."

"Management," Laney  said.  "His  management's scared because it looks
like he might do something crazy. Is that it?"

The purple-and-yellow top was starting to exhibit  the  first  of  the
oscillations  that would eventually bring it to a halt.  "I am still a
stranger to this business-culture,  Mr.  Laney. I find it difficult to
assess these things."

"What did  Blackwell  mean,  last night,  about Rez wanting to marry a
Japanese girl who isn't real?"

"Idoru," Yamazaki said.


"Idol-singer." She is Rei Toei.  She  is  a  personality-construct,  a
congeries  of software agents,  the creation of information-designers.
She  is  akin  to  what  I  believe  they  call  a  'synthespian,'  in

Laney closed his eyes, opened them. "Then how can he marry her?"

"I don't  know,"  Yamazaki said.  "But he has very forcefully declared
this to be his intention."

"Can you tell me what it is they've hired you to do?"

"Initially, I think,  they hoped I would be able to explain the  idotu
to them:  her appeal to her audience,  therefore perhaps her appeal to
him.  Also, I think that, like Blackwell, they remain unconvinced that
this is not the result of a conspiracy of some kind.  Now they want me
to acquaint you with the cultural background of the situation."

"Who are they?"

"I cannot be more specific now."

The top was starting to wobble. Laney saw something like terror in the
girl's eyes. "You don't think there's a conspiracy?"

"I will  try  to answer your questions this evening.  In the meantime,
while it is being arranged for you to access the  data,  please  study

"Hey," Laney  protested,  as  his top-spinning girl was replaced by an
unfamiliar logo:  a grinning cartoon bulldog with a spiked collar,  up
to its muscular neck in a big bowl of soup.

"Two documentary  videos on Lo/Rez," Yamazaki said.  "These are on the
Dog Soup label,  originally a small independent based in East  Taipei.
They  released  the band's first recordings LofRez later purchased Dog
Soup and  used  it  to  release  less  commercial  material  by  other

Laney stared  glumly  at  the grinning bulldog,  missing the girl with
pigtails. "Like documentaries about themselves?"

"The documentaries were not made subject to the band's approval,  They
are not Lo/Rez corporate documents."

"Well, I guess we've got that to be thankful for."

"You are welcome." Yamazaki hung up.

The virtual POV zoomed,  rotating in on one of the spikes on the dog's
collar:  in close-up, it was a shining steel pyramid. Reflected clouds
whipped  past  in  time-lapse  on  the towering triangular face as the
Universal Copyright Agreement warning scrolled into view.

Laney watched long enough to see that the video was  spliced  together
from   bits  and  pieces  of  the  band's  public  relations  footage,
"Art-warning," he said,  and went into the bathroom  to  decipher  the
shower controls.

He managed  to miss the first six minutes,  showering and brushing his
teeth.  He'd seen things like that before,  art videos, but he'd never
actually  tried to pay attention to one.  Putting on the hotel's white
terry robe,  he told himself he'd better try.  Yamazaki seemed capable
of  quizzing  him  on it later.  Why did people make things like this?
There was no narration,  no  apparent  structure;  some  of  the  same
fragments kept repeating throughout, at different speeds.

In Los  Angeles  there  were  whole  public-access channels devoted to
things like this,  and home-made  talkshows  hosted  by  naked  Encino
witches,  who sat in front of big paintings of the Goddess they'd done
in their garages.  Except you could watch that.  The  logic  of  these
cut-ups,  he  supposed,  was that by making one you could somehow push
back at the medium.  Maybe  it  was  supposed  to  be  something  like
treading  water,  a  simple repetitive human activity that temporarily
provided at least an illusion of parity with the sea.  But  to  Laney,
who  had  spent  many of his waking hours down in the deeper realms of
data that underlay the worlds of media,  it only looked hopeless.  And
tedious, too, although he supposed that that boredom was somehow meant
to be harnessed, here, another way of pushing back.

Why else would anyone have selected and edited all these  bits  of  Lo
and  Rez,  the  Chinese  guitarist  and the half-Irish singer,  saying
stupid things in dozens of different television spots,  most  of  them
probably  intended  for  translation?  Greetings seemed to be a theme.
"We're happy to be here in Vladivostok, We hear you've got a great new
aquarium!"  "We  congratulate  you  on  your  free  elections and your
successftil dengue-abatement campaign!" "We've always  loved  London!"
"New York, you're ...pragmatic!"

Laney explored  the  remains  of  his breakfast,  finding a half-eaten
slice of cold brown toast under a steel plate cover. There was an inch
of coffee lefr in the pot. He didn't want to think about the call from
Rydell or what it might mean.  He'd thought he was done with Slitscan,
done with the lawyers .

"Singapore, you're  beautiful!" Rez said,  Lo chiming in with "Hell-o,
Lion City!"

He picked up the remote and  hopefully  tried  the  last-forward,  No.
Mute? No. Yamazaki was having this stuff piped in for his bene fit. He
considered unplugging the console, but he was afraid they'd be able to

It was  speeding  up  now,  the  cuts  more  frequent,  the whole more
content-free,  a  numbing  blur.  Rez's  grin  was  starting  to  look
sinister,  something  with  an agenda of its own that jumped unchanged
from one cut to the next,

Suddenly it all slid away,  into handheld shadow, highlights on rococo
gilt.  There  was  a  clatter  of glassware.  The image had a peculiar
flattened  quality  that  he  knew   from   Slitscan:   the   smallest
lapel-cameras did that, the ones disguised as flecks of lint.

A restaurant?  Club?  Someone  seated  opposite  the camera,  beyond a
phalanx of green bottles.  The darkness and the bandwidth of the  tiny
camera  making  the  features  impossible  to  read.  Then  Rez leaned
forward,  recognizable in the new depth of focus.  He gestured  toward
the camera with a glass of red wine.

"If we could ever once stop talking about the music, and the industry,
and all the politics of that,  I think I'd probably tell you that it's
easier to desire and pursue the attention of tens of millions of total
strangers than it is to accept the love  and  loyalty  of  the  people
closest to us."

Someone, a woman, said something in French. Laney guessed that she was
the one wearing the camera.

"Ease up,  Rozzer.  She doesn't understand half you're saying."  Laney
sat forward. The voice had been Blackwell's.

"Doesn't she?" Rez receded, out of focus. "Because if she did, I think
I'd tell her about the loneliness of being misunderstood. Or is it the
loneliness of being afraid to allow ourselves to be understood?"

And the  frame  froze  on  the  singer's  blurred  face.  A  date  and
time-stamp. Two years earlier. The word "Misunderstood" appeared.

The phone rang.


"Blackwell says there is a window of  opportunity.  The  schedule  has
been moved up. You can access now." It was Yamazaki.

"Good," Laney  said.  "I  don't  think  I'm getting very far with this
first video."

"Rez's quest for renewed artistic meaning? Don't worry; we will screen
it for you again, later."

"I'm relieved," Laney said. "Is the second one as good?"

"Second documentary   is   more  conventionally  structured.  In-depth
interviews, biographical detail, BBC, three years ago."


"Blackwell is on his way to the hotel. Goodbye."

The site Mitsuko's chapter had erected for the meeting  reminded  Chia
ofJapanese  prints  she'd  seen  on  a  school  trip  to the museum in
Seattle;  there was a brownish light that  seemed  to  arrive  through
layers  of  ancient  varnish.  There  were  hills in the distance with
twisted trees,  their branches like quick black squiggles of ink.  She
came  vectoring  in,  beside Mitsuko,  toward a wooden house with deep
overhanging eaves,  its shape familiar from anime.  It was the sort of
house  that ninjas crept into in the dark,  to wake a sleeping heroine
and tell her that all was not as she thought,  that her uncle  was  in
league with the evil warlord.  She checked how she was presenting in a
small peripheral window; put a nudge more depth into her lips.

Nearing the house,  she saw that everything had been worked up out  of
club  archives,  so  that  the  whole environment was actually made of
Lo/Rez material.  You noticed it first in the wood-and-paper panels of
the  walls,  where faint image-fragments,  larger than life,  came and
went with the organic randomness of leaf-dappled sun and shadow: Rez's
cheekbone  and  half  a pair of black glasses,  La's hand chording the
neck of his guitar.  But these changed,  were replaced with a mothlike
flicker,  and  there  would be more,  all the way down into the site's
finest resolution, its digital fabric. She wasn't sure if you could do
that  with  enough  of  the  right kind of fractal packets,  or if you
needed some kind of special computer.  Her Sandbenders man aged a  few
effects  like that,  but mainly in its presentation of Sand- 3 benders

4. Tokyo Chapter

Screens slid aside as she and Mitsuko, seated crosslegged, entered the
house.  Coming to a neat halt side by  side,  still  seated,  floating
about  three  inches  off  the  tatami (which Chia avoided focusing on
after  she'd  seen  that  it  was  woven  from  concert-footage;   too
distracting).  It  was  a  nice  way to make an entrance.  Mitsuko was
wearing the kimono and the  wide  belt-thing,  the  whole  traditional
outfit,  except there was some low-key animation going on in the weave
of the fabric. Chia herself had downloaded this black Silke-Marie KoIb
blousonand-tights  set,  even  though  she  hated  paying  for virtual
designer stuff that they wouldn't even let you  keep  or  copy.  She'd
used  Kelsey's  cashcard number for that,  though,  which had made her
feel better about it.

There were seven girls waiting there,  all in  kimonos,  all  floating
just off the tatami. Except the one sitting by herself, at the head of
the imaginary table,  was a robot.  Not like any  real  robot,  but  a
slender, chrome-skinned thing like mercury constrained within the form
of a girl. The fice was smooth, only partially featured, eyeless, with
twin straight rows of small holes where a mouth should have been. That
would be Hiromi Ogawa,  and Chia immediately decided to  believe  that
she was overweight.

Hiromi's kimono  was  crawling  with  animated sepia-tone footage from
band interviews.

The introductions took a while,  and everyone there definitely  had  a
title,   but   Chia   had  stopped  paying  attention  after  Hiromi's
introduction,  except to bow when she thought she was supposed to. She
didn't like it that Hiromi would turn up that way for a first meeting.
It was rude, she thought, and it had to be deliberate, and the trouble
they'd gone to with the space just seemed to make it more deliberate.

"We are  honored  to  welcome  you,  Chia McKenzie.  Our chapter looks
forward to affording you every assistance.  We are proud to be a  part
of  the  ongoing global appreciation of Lo/Rez,  their music and their

"Thank you," Chia said, and sat there as a silence lengthened.

Mitsuko quietly cleared her throat.  Uh-oh, Chia thought. Speech time.
"Thank  you  for  offering  to  help,"  Chia  said.  "Thanks  for your
hospitality.  If any of you ever comes to Seattle, we'll find a way to
put  you  up.  But mainly thanics for your help,  because my chapter's
been really worried about this story that Rez claims he wants to marry
some  kind of software agent,  and since he's supposed to have said it
when he was over here,  we thought-" Chia had had the feeling that she
was  moving  along  a  little too abruptly,  and this was confirmed by
another tiny throat-clearing signal from Mitsuko.

"Yes," Hiromi Ogawa said,  "you are welcome,  and now Tomo Oshima, our
chapter's  historian,  will  favor  us  with  a  detailed and accurate
account of our chapter's story,  how we came,  from simple but sincere
beginnings,  to  be  the  most active,  the most respectful chapter in
Japan today."

Chia couldn't believe it.

The girl nearest Hiromi,  on Chia's right,  bowed and began to  recite
the chapter's history in what Chia immediately understood would be the
most excruciatingly boring detail.  The two boarding-school roommates,
best  friends and the most loyal of buddies,  who discovered a copy of
the Dog Soup album in a bin in Akihabara.  How they returned to school
with  it,  played it,  were immediate converts.  How their schoolmates
mocked them,  at one point  even  stealing  and  hiding  the  precious
recording..  .  And on,  and on, and Chia already felt like screaming,
but there was nothing for it but to sit there.  She pulled up a  clock
and stuck it on the mirrored robot's face,  where the eyes should have
been. Nobody else could see it, but it made her feel a little better.

Now they were into the  first  Japanese  national  Lo/Rez  convention,
snapshots flashing on the white paper walls, little girls in jeans and
t-shirts drinking Coca-Cola in some function room in an Osaka  airport
hotel, a few obvious parents standing around in the background.

Forty-five minutes later, by the red read-out stuck to Hiromi

Ogawa's blank metallic face, Tomo Oshima concluded: "Which 3 brings us
to  the  present,  and  the  historic  visit  of  Chia  McKenzie,  the
representative  of  our  sister  chapter  in Seattle,  in the State of
Washington.  And now I hope that she will honor us by  recounting  the
history  of  her  own  chapter,  how  it  was  founded,  and  the many
activities it has undertaken to honor the music of Lo/Rez

There was a soft burst of applause.  Chia didn't  join  in,  uncertain
whether it was for her or for Tomo Oshima.

"Sorry," Chia said.  "Our historian put all that together for you, but
it got corrupted when they ran my computer through that big scanner at
the airport."

"We are  very  sorry  to  hear  that,"  the  silver  robot said.  "How

"Yeah," Chia said,  "but I guess it gives us more time to discuss what
brings me here, right?"

"We had hoped-"

"To help  us understand this whole Rez thing,  right?  We know.  We're
glad you do.  Because we're  all  really  worried  about  this  rumor.
Because  it  seems  like it started here,  and this Rei Toei's a local
product, so if anybody can tell us what's going on, it's you."

The silver robot said nothing. It was expressionless as ever, but Chia
took the clock away just to be sure,

"That's why  I'm here," Chia said.  "To find out if it's true he wants
to marry her."

She sensed a general uneasiness.  The six girls were  looking  at  the
texture-mapped tatami,  unwilling to meet her eye.  She wanted to look
at Mitsuko, but it would have been too obvious.

"We are an official chapter," Hiromi  said.  "We  have  the  honor  of
working  closely  with actual employees of the band.  Their publicists
are also concerned with the rumor you mention, and they have requested
that we assist them in seeing that it not spread further."

"Spread? It's been on the net for a week!"

"It is rumor only."

"Then they should issue a denial."

"Denial would add weight to the rumor."

"The posting  said  that Rez had announced that he was in love with Rd
Toe~,  that he was going to marry her.  There was a long quote."  Chia
was  definitely  starting  to get the feeling that something was wrong
here. This was not what she'd come all this physical distance for; she
might as well have been sitting in her bedroom in Seattle.

"We think  that  the original posting was a hoax.  It would not be the

"You think? Doesn't that mean you don't know?"

"Our sources within the organization assure us there is no  cause  for

"Spin control," Chia said.

"You imply that Lo/Rez employees are lying to us?"

"Look," Chia said,  "I'm as into the band as anybody.  I came all this
way,  right? But the people who work for them are just people who work
for  them.  If  Rez gets up in a club one night,  takes the mike,  and
announces that he's in love with this idoru and swears he's  going  to
marry  her,  the  PR  people are going to say whatever they think they
have to say."

"But you have no evidence that any of this occurred. Only an anonymous
posting,  claiming to be a transcription of a recording made in a club
in Shinjuku."

"Monkey Boxing.' We looked it up; it's there."

"Really? Perhaps you should go there."


"There is no longer a club called Monkey Boxing."

"There isn't?"

"Clubs in Shinjuku are  extremely  short-lived.  There  is  no  Monkey
Boxing."  All  of  Hiromi's  smug  satisfaction  came  through  in the
Sandbenders' translation.

Chia stared at the smooth silver Ece.  Stonewalling bitch. What to do?
What  would  Zona  Rosa  do  if  she  were in Chia's place?  Something
symbolically violent, Chia decided. But that wasn't her style,

"Thank you," Chia said. "We just wanted to make sure it wasn't

happening. Sorry I hit on you that way,  but we had to be certain.  If
you say it's not happening,  we'll accept that.  We all care about Rez
and the rest of the band, and we know you do too." Chia added a bow of
her own, one that seemed to take Hiromi off guard.

Now it  was the robot's turn to hesitate.  She hadn't expected Chia to
just roll over that way.  "Our friends in the Lo/Rez organization  are
very  concerned  that  this  pointless  hoax  not  affect the public's
perception of Rez. You are aware that there has always been a tendency
to  portray  him  as  the most creative but least stable member of the

This last,  at least,  was true, though Rez's style of instability was
fairly mild,  compared with most of his pop-cultural forebears. He had
never been arrested, never spent a night in jail. But he was still the
one  most  likely to get into trouble.  It had always been part of his

"Sure," Chia said,  playing along,  relishing the uncertainty she  was
sure  she  was  causing Hirorni.  "And they try to make Lo out as some
kind of boring techie,  the practical one, but we know that isn't true
either." She tagged it with a smile.

"Yes," Hiromi said,  "of course. But you are satisfied, then? You will
explain to your chapter that this was all the result  of  some  prank,
and that all is well with Rez?"

"If you say so," Chia said,  "absolutely. And if that settles it, then
I've got three more days to kill in Japan."

"To kill?"

"Idiom," Chia said. "Free time. Mitsuko says I ought to see Kyoto.',

"Kyoto is very beautiful.

"I'm on my way," Chia said. "Thanks for putting this site together for
our  meeting.  It's really great,  and if you'll save it,  I'd love to
access it later with the rest of my chapter.  Maybe we could  all  get
together here when I'm back in Seattle, introduce our chapters."

"Yes Hiromi definitely didn't know what to make ofChia's attitude.

"So worry about it", Chia thought.

"You knew," Chia said. "You knew she'd do that."

Mitsuko was blushing,  bright red. Looking at the floor, her jelly-bag
computer on her lap. "I am sorry. It was her decision."

"They got to her, right? They told her to get rid of me, hush it up.

"She communicates with the Lo/Rez people privately.  It is one of  the
privileges of her position."

Chia still  had her tip-sets on.  "I have to talk with my chapter now.
Can you give me a few minutes alone?" She felt sorry for Mitsuko,  but
she was still angry. "I'm not angry with you, okay?"

"I will make tea," Mitsuko said.

When Mitsuko  had  closed  the door behind her,  Chia checked that the
Sandbenders was still ported,  put the goggles back on,  and  selected
the Seattle chapter's main site.

She never got there. Zona Rosa was waiting to cut her out.

15. Akihabara

Low gray cloud pressing down on the sheer gray city.  A glimpse of new
buildings,  through  the  scaled-down  limo's  tinted,  lace-curtained

They passed an Apple Shires ad,  a cobbled lane leading away into some
hologram  nursery  land,  where smiling juice bottles danced and sang.
Laney's jet lag was back,  in some milder  but  more  baroque  format.
Something  compounded  of  a pervasive sense of guilt and a feeling of
physical distance from his own body,  as though  the  sensory  signals
arrived  stale,  after too long a passage,  through some other country
that he himself was never privy to.

"I thought we'd done with all  of  that  when  we  got  rid  of  those
Siberian  neuropaths,"  Blackwell  said.  He  was  dressed entirely in
black, which had the effect of somewhat reducing his bulk. I-Ic wore a
soft,  smocklike garment sewn from very black denim,  multiple pockets
around its wide hem. Laney thought it looked vaguely Japanese, in some
medieval way.  Something a carpenter might wear. "Bent as a dog's hind
legs. Picked them up touring the Kombinat states."


"Filling Rez's head with their garbage. He's vulnerable to influences,
touring.  Combination of stress and boredom.  Cities start to look the
same. One hotel room after another. It's a syndrome, is what itis."

"Where are we going?"



"Where we're going."  Blackwell  consulted  an  enormous,  elaborately
dialed, steel-braceleted chronometer that looked as though it had been
designed to do double duty as brass knuckles.  "Took  a  month  before
they'd let me have a go, do what was needed. Then we got him over to a
clinic in Paris and they told us what those bastards had been  feeding
him had made a pig's breakf~st of his endocrine system. Put him right,
in the end, but it needn't have happened, none of it."

"But you got rid of them?"  Laney  had  no  idea  what  Blackwell  was
talking  about,  but  it  seemed  best  to  keep  up  the  illusion of

"Told them I was thinking about  putting  them  face-first  through  a
little  Honda  tree-shredder  I'd purchased,  just on the off chance,"
Blackwell said.  "Not necessary.  Showed them it,  though. In the end,
they were sent along with no more than a moderate touch-up.'

Laney looked  at  the back of the driver's head.  The right-hand drive
worried him.  He felt like there was nobody in the driver's seat. "How
long did you say you'd worked for the band?'

"Five years."

Laney thought  of  the video,  Blackwell's voice in the darkened club.
Two years ago. "Where are we going?"

"Be there, soon enough."

They entered an area of  narrower  streets,  of  featureless,  vaguely
shabby  buildings  covered with unlit,  inactivated advertising.  Huge
representations of media platforms Laney didn't recognize. Some of the
buildings  revealed what he assumed was quake damage.  Head-sized gobs
of a btownish,  glasslike substance protruded  from  cracks  that  ran
diagonally  across  one  facade,  like a cheap toy repaired badly by a
clumsy giant. The limo pulled to the curb.

"'Electric Town,'" Blackwell said.  "I'll page you," he  said  to  the
driver,   who  nodded  in  a  way  that  struck  Laney  as  being  not
particularly Japanese. Blackwell opened the door and got out with that
same unlikely grace Laney had noted before, the car bucking noticeably
with the departure of his  weight.  Laney,  sliding  across  the  gray
velour seat, felt tired and wooden.

"Somehow I  was  expecting  a  more  upscale  destination," he said to
Blackwell. It was true.

"Stop expecting," Blackwell said.

The building with the cracks and the brown,  saplike knobs opened into
a  white-and-pastel  sea  of kitchen appliances.  The ceiling was low,
laced  with  temporary-looking  pipes  and  conduits.  Laney  followed
Blackwell down a central aisle. A few figures stood along other aisles
to either side,  but he had no  way  of  knowing  whether  these  were
salespeople or potential customers.

An old-fashioned  escalator  was  grinding  away,  at  the  end of the
central aisle,  the rectilinear steel  teeth  at  the  edges  of  each
ascending   step  worn  sharp  and  bright.  Blackwell  kept  walking.
Levitated ahead of Laney,  climbing,  his feet barely seeming to move.
Laney mounted hard behind him.

They rose up to a second level,  this one displaying a less consistent
range of goods:  wallscreens,  immersion consoles,  automated rediners
with  massage-modules  bulging  from  their cushions like the heads of
giant mechanical grubs.

Along an aisle walled with corrugated plastic cartons,  Blackwell with
his scarred hands tucked deep in the pockets of his ninja smock.  Into
a maze of bright  blue  plastic  tarps,  slung  from  pipes  overhead.
Unfamiliar tools.  A worker's dented thermos standing on a red toolkit
that spanned a pair of aluminum sawhorses.  Blackwell holding a  final
tarp aside. Laney ducked, entering.

"We've been  holding  it  open for the past hour,  Blackwell," someone
said. "Not an easy thing."

Blackwell let the tarp fall into place behind him. "Had to collect him
from the hotel."

The space,  walled  off with the blue rarps on three sides,  was twice
the size of Laney's hotel room but considerably more crowded. A lot of
hardware  was  assembled there:  a collection of black consoles o were
cabled together in a white swamp of Styrofoam  packing-forms,  1  torn
corrugated plastic,  and crumpled sheets of bubble-pack. Two men and a
woman,  waiting.  It was the woman who had spoken.  As Laney  shuffled
forward,  ankle-deep through the packing materials,  the stuff creaked
and popped, slippery under the soles of his shoes.

Blackwell kicked at it. "You might have tidied up.'

"We aren't set-dressers," the woman said.  She  sounded  to  Laney  as
though she was from Northern California.  She had short brown hair cut
in bangs,  and something about her reminded  him  of  the  quants  who
worked  at  Slitscan.  Like the other two,  men,  one Japanese and one
red-haired, she wore jeans and a generic nylon bomber jacket.

"Hell of a job on short notice," the redhead said.

"No notice,"  the  other  corrected,  and  he  was   definitely   from
California.  His  hair  was  pulled straight back,  fastened high in a
little samurai ponytail.

"What you're paid for," Blackwell said.

"We're paid to tour," the redhead said.

"If you want to tour  again,  you'd  better  hope  that  these  work.'
Blackwell looked at the cabled consoles.

Laney saw a folding plastic table set up against the rear wall. It was
bright pink.  There was a gray computer there,  a pair of  eye-phones.
Unfamiliar   cables   ran   to   the  nearest  console:  flat  ribbons
candy-striped in different colors.  The wall behind was plastered with
an  overlay of old advertising;  a woman's eye was directly behind the
pink table,  a yard wide,  her laser-printed pupil the size of  Laneys

Laney moved toward the table, through the Styrofoam, sliding his feet,
a motion not unlike cross-country skiing.

"Let's do it," he said. "Let's see what you've got."

Zona Rosa kept a secret place,  a country carved from  what  once  had
been a corporate website.

It was  a  valley  lined  with  ruined swimming pools,  overgrown with
cactus and red Christmas flowers.  Lizards posed like  hieroglyphs  on
mosaics of shattered tile.

No houses  stood  in that valley,  though sections of broken wall gave
shade,  or rusting  rectangles  of  corrugated  metal  set  aslanr  on
weathered  wooden  uprights.  Sometimes  there were ashes of a cooking

She kept it early evening there.


"Someone is trying to find you." Zona in  her  ragged  leather  jacket
over a white t-shirt.  In that place she presented as a quick collage,
fragments torn from films,  magazines,  Mexican newspapers: dark eyes,
Aztec cheekbones, a dusting of acne scars, her black hair tangled like
smoke.  She kept the resolution down,  never let herself come entirely
into focus.

"My mother?"

"No. Someone with resources. Someone who knows that you are in Tokyo."
The narrow toes of her black boots were pale  with  the  dust  of  the
valley. There were copper zips down the outer seams of her faded black
jeans, waist to ankle. "Why are you dressed that way?"

Chia remembered that she was still presenting in the Silke-Marie

16. Zona

Kolb outfit. "There was a meeting. Very formal. Major butt-pain. I got
this with Kelsey's cashcard."

"Where were you ported, when you paid for it?"

"Where I'm ported now. Mitsuko's place."

Zona frowned. "What other purchases have you made?"



"A subway ticket."

Zona snapped her fingers and a lizard scurried from beneath a rock. It
ran  up her leg and into her waiting hand.  As she stroked it with the
fingers of the other hand, the patterns of its coloration changed. She
tapped  its  head and the lizard ran down her leg,  vanishing behind a
crumpled sheet of rusted roofing.  "Kelsey is  frightened,  frightened
enough to come to me."

"Frightened of what?"

"Someone contacted  her  about your ticket.  They were trying to reach
her father, because the points used to purchase it were his. But he is
traveling.  They  spoke  with Kelsey instead.  I think they threatened

"With what?'

"I don't know.  But she gave them your name  and  the  number  of  the

Chia thought about Maryalice and Eddie.

Zona Rosa  took a knife from her jacket pocket and squatted on a shelf
of pinkish rock.  Golden dragons swirled in the shallow depths of  the
knife's  pink plastic handles.  She thumbed a button of plated tin and
the  dragon-etched  blade  snapped  out,  its  spine  sawtoothed   and
merciless. "She has no balls, your Kelsey."

"She's not my Kelsey, Zona."

Zona picked up a length of green-barked branch and began to shave thin
curls from it with the edge of the switchblade. "She would not last an
hour,  in my world." On a previous visit, she'd told Kelsey stories of
the  war  with  the  Rats,  pitched   battles   fought   through   the
garbage-strewn  playgrounds  and  collapsing  parking  garages of vast
housing projects. How had that war begun? Over what? Zona never said.

"Neither would I."

"So who is looking for you?"

"My mother would be, if she knew I was here

"That was not your mother, the one who put the fear into Kelsey."

"If someone knew my seat number on the flight over,  they could get  a
ticket number and trace it back, right?"

"If they had certain resources, yes. It would be illegal."

"From there, they could go to Kelsey-"

"From there  they  are  in  the  frequent-flyer files of Air Magellan,
which implies very serious resources."

"There was a woman, on the plane... She had the seat beside me. Then I
had  to  carry her suitcase,  and she and her boyfriend gave me a ride
into Tokyo.

"You carried her suitcase?"


"Tell me this story. All of it. When did you first see this woman?"

"In the airport, SeaTac. They were doing noninvasive DNA samples and I
saw  her do this weird thing Chia began the story of Maryalice and the
rest of it,  while Zona Rosa sat and peeled and sharpened  her  stick,

"Fuck your mother," Zona Rosa said,  when Chia had finished her story.
The translation rendered her tone as either amazement or disgust, Chia
couldn't tell.

"What?" Chia's confusion was absolute.

Zona looked  at  her along the length of the peeled stick.  "An idiom.
Idioma.  Very rich and complicated.  It has nothing to  do  with  your
mother." She lowered the stick and did something to her knife, folding
the blade away with a triple click.  The lizard she'd adjusted earlier
came scurrying low across a narrow ledge of rock, clinging so close as
to appear two-dimensional.  Zona picked it up and stroked it into  yet
another color-configuration.

"What are you doing?"

"Harder encryption," Zona said, and put the lizard on the lapel of her
jacket,  where it clung like a brooch,  its eyes tiny spheres of onyx.
"Someone  is looking for you.  Probably they've already found you.  We
must try to insure that our conversation is secure."

"Can you do that, with him?" The lizards head moved.

"Maybe. He's new.  But those are better."  She  pointed  up  with  the
stick.  Chia  squinted  into  the evening sky,  dark cloud tinted with
streaks of sunset pink. She thought she saw a sweep of wings, so high.
Two things flying. Big. Not planes. But then they were gone. "Illegal,
in your country.  Colombian.  From  the  data-havens."  Zona  put  the
pointed  end of her stick on the ground and began to twirl it one way,
then the other,  between her palms.  Chia had seen a rabbit make -fire
that way, once, in an ancient cartoon. "You are an idiot."


"You carried a bag through customs? A stranger's bag?"



"I am not."

"She is a smuggler. You are hopelessly naive."

But you  went along with sending me here,  Chia thought,  and suddenly
felt like crying. "But why are they looking for me?"

Zona shrugged.  "In the District,  a cautious smuggler would not let a
mule go free.

Something silvery  and  cold  executed  a  tight little flip somewhere
behind and  below  Chia's  navel,  and  with  it  came  the  unwelcome
recollection  of  the  washroom  at  Whiskey Clone,  and the corner of
something she hadn't recognized.  In her bag. Stuffed down between her
t-shirts. When she'd used one to dry her hands.

"What's wrong?"

"I better  go.  Mitsuko  went to make tea.  .  .  Talking too quickly,
biting off the words.

"Go? Are you insane? We must-"

"Sorry. 'Bye."  Pulling  off  the  goggles  and  scrabbling   at   the

Her bag there, where she'd left it.

17. The Walls of Fame

"We had  no time to do this right," the woman said,  handing Laney the
eyephones.  He was sitting on a child-sized pink  plastic  bench  that
matched the table. "If there is a way to do it right."

There are areas we could not arrange access to," said the

Japanese-American with   the  ponytail.  "Blackwell  said  you've  had
experience with celebrities."

"Actors," Laney said. "Musicians, politicians .

"You'll probably find this different.  Bigger.  By a couple oi degrees
of magnitude.'

"What cant  you  access?"  Laney asked,  settling the 'phones over his

We don't know," he heard the woman say.  "You'll get a  sense  of  the
scale of things,  going in.  The blanks might be accountancy,  tax-law
stuff,  contracts .  .  . We're just tech support. He has other people
someone pays to make sure parts of it stay as private as possible."

"Then why not bring them in?" Laney asked.

He felt Blackwell's hand come down on his shoulder like a bag of sand.
"I'll discuss that with you later.  Now get in there and have a  look.
What we pay you for, isn't it?"

In the  week  following  Alison  Shires' death,  Laney had used Out of
Control's DatAmerica account to re-access the  site  of  her  personal
data.  The  nodal  point was gone,  and a certain subtle reduction had
taken place. Not a shrinkage so much as a tidying, a folding in.

But the  biggest  difference  was  simply  that  she  was  no   longer
generating  data.  There  was  no  credit  activity.  Even  her  Upful
Groupvine account had been canceled.  As her estate was executed,  and
various business affairs terminated,  her data began to take on a neat
rectilinearity.  Laney thought of the dead bundled squarely  in  their
graveclothes,  of coffins and cairns,  of the long straight avenues of
cemeteries in the days when the dead had been afforded their own  real

The nodal  point had formed where she had lived,  while she had lived,
in the messy, constantly proliferating interface with the ordinary yet
endlessly multiplex world. Now there was no longer an interface.

He'd looked, but only briefly, and very cautiously, to see whether her
actor might be undertaking tidying  activities  of  his  own.  Nothing
obvious  there,  but  he imagined Out of Control would have set a more
careful watch on that.

Her data was very still.  Only a faint,  methodical  movement  at  its
core:  something  to  do  with  the  ongoing  legal  mechanism  of the
execution of her estate.

A catalog of each piece of furniture in the bedroom of a guesthouse in
Ireland.    A   subcatalog   of   the   products   provided   in   the
seventeenth-century  walnut  commode  at  bedside  there:  toothbrush,
toothpaste,  analgesic tablets,  tampons,  razor, shaving gel. Someone
would check these periodically,  restock to the inventory.  (The  last
guest  had  taken  the  gel  but not the razor.) In the first catalog,
there was a powerful  pair  of  Austrian  binoculars,  tripod-mounted,
which also functioned as a digital camera.

Laney accessed its memory, discovering that the recording function had
been used exactly once,  on the day the  manufacturer's  warranty  had
been  activated.  The  warranty  was  now two months void,  the single
recorded image a view from a white-curtained balcony,  looking  toward
what Laney took to be the Irish Sea.  There was an unlikely palm tree,
a length of chainlink fence,  a railbed with  a  twin  dull  gleam  of
track,  a  deep expanse of grayish-btown beach,  and then the gray and
silver sea.  Closer to the sea,  partially  cut  off  by  the  image's
border,  there  appeared  to  be  a low,  broad fort of stone,  like a
truncated tower. Its stones were the color of the beach.

Laney tried to quit the bedroom,  the guesthouse,  and  found  himself
surrounded  by  archaeologically precise records of the restoration of
five vast ceramic stoves in an apartment in Stockholm. These were like
giant  chess  pieces,  towers  of brick faced with elaborately glazed,
lavishly molded ceramic.  They rose to the fourteen-foot ceilings, and
several  people  could  easily have stood upright in one.  There was a
record of  the  numbering,  disassembly,  cleaning,  restoration,  and
reassembly of each brick in each stove. There was no way to access the
rest of the apartment,  but the proportions of the stoves led Laney to
assume  that  it  was  very  large.  He  clicked  to  the  end  of the
stove-record and noted the final price of the work;  at current  rates
it was more than several times his former annual salary at Slitscan.

He clicked back, through points of recession, trying for a wider view,
a sense of form,  -but  there  were  only  walls,  bulking  masses  of
meticulously arranged information, and he remembered Alison Shires and
his apprehension of het data-death.

"The lights are on," Laney said,  removing the eyephones, "but there's
nobody  home."  He  checked the computer's clock:  he'd spent a little
over twenty minutes in there.

Blackwell regarded him dourly,  settled on an  injection-molded  crate
like a black-draped Buddha, the scars in his eyebrows knitted into new
configurations of concern.  The  three  technicians  looked  carefully
blank, hands in the pockets of their matching jackets.

"How's that, rheni" Blackwell asked.

"I'm not sure," Laney said. 'He doesn't seem to do anything."

"He doesn't bloody do anything but do things," Blackwell declared, "as
you'd know if you were orchestrating his bloody security!"

"Okay," Laney said, "then where'd he have breakfast?" Blackwell looked
uncomfortable. "In his suite."

"His suite where?'

"Imperial Hotel." Blackwell glared at the technicians.  "Which empire,

"Here. Bloody Tokyo"

"Here? He's in Tokyo?"

"You lot," Blackwell said, "outside,' The brown-haired woman shrugged,
inside her nylon jacket,  and went kicking through the Styrofoam, head
down,  the other two following in her  wake.  When  the  tarp  dropped
behind them, Blackwell rose from his crate.

"Don't think you can try me on for size."

"I'm telling  you  that I don't think this is going to work.  Your man
isn't in there."

"That's his bloody life."

"How did he pay for his breakfast?"

"Signed to the suite."

"Is the suite in his name?"

"Of course not."

"Say he needs to buy something, during the course of the day?"

"Someone buys it for him, don't they?"

"And pays with?"

"A card,"

"But not in his name."


"So if anyone were looking at the transaction data,  there'd be no way
to connect it directly to him, would there?"


"Because you're doing your job, right?"


"Then he's invisible.  To me. I can't see him. He isn't there. I can't
do what you want to pay me to do. It's impossible."

"But what about all the rest of it?"

Laney put the eyephones down on the keyboard  "That  isn't  a  person.
That's a corporation."

"But you've  got  it  all!  His  bloody houses!  His fiats!  Where the
gardeners put the bloody flowers in the rock wall! All of it!"

"But I don't know who he is.  I can't make him out against the rest of
it, He's not leaving the traces that make the patterns I need."

Blackwell sucked  in his upper lip and kept it there.  Laney heard the
dislodged prosthesis click against his teeth.

"I have to get some idea of who he really is," Laney said.

The lip re-emerged,  damp  and  gleaming.  "Christ,"  Blackwell  said,
"that~r a poser."

"I have to meet him."

Blackwell wiped  his  mouth  with  the  back of his hand.  "His music,
then?" He raised his eyebrows hopefully. "Or there's video-"

"I've got video, thanks. It really might help if I could meet him."

Blackwell touched his ear-stump.  "You meet him,  you think you'll  be
able to get his nodes, nodal, do that thing Yama's on about?"

"I don't know," Laney said. "I can try."

"Bloody hell," Blackwell said.  He plowed through the Styrofoam, swept
the tarp aside with his arm,  barked for the waiting technicians, then
turned back to Laney.  "Sometimes I'd as soon be back with my mates in
Jika Jika.  Get things sorted, in there, they'd bloody stay that way."
The  woman  with the brown bangs thrust her head in,  past the edge of
the tarp.  "Collect this business in the  van,"  Blackwell  told  her.
"Have it ready to use when we need it."

"We don't have a van, Keithy," the woman said.

"Buy one," Blackwell said.

18. The Otaku

Something rectangular,  yielding to the hrst touch but hard inside, as
she tugged it free.  Wrapped in a blue and yellow plastic bag from the
SeaTac duty-free,  crookedly sealed with  wrinkled  lengths  of  slick
brown tape. Heavy. Compact.


Chia very  nearly falling backward,  where she crouched above her open
bag, at the voice and the sight of this boy, who in that first instant
she  takes  to  be  an  older girl,  side-parted hair falling past her

"I am Masahiko." No translator.  He  wore  a  dark,  oversized  tunic,
vaguely military,  buttoned to its high,  banded collar,  loose around
his neck.  Old gray sweatpants bagging at  the  knees.  Grubby-looking
white paper slippers.

"Mitsuko made tea," indicating the tray,  the stoneware pot, two cups.
"But you were pcrted."

"Is she here?" Chia pushed the thing back down into her bag.

"She went out," Masahiko said. "May I look at your computer?"

"Computer?" Chia stood, confused.

"It is Sandbenders, yes?"

She poured some of the tea,  which was still steaming. "Sure. You want

"No," Masahiko said. "I drink coffee only." He squatted on the tatami,
beside the low table,  and ran an admiring fingertip along the edge of
the Sandbenders' cast aluminum.  "Beautiful.  I have seen a small disk
player by the same maker. It is a cult, yes?"

"A commune. Tribal people. In Oregon."

The boy's black hair was long and glossy  and  smoothly  brushed,  but
Chia saw there was a bit of noodle caught in it,  the thin, kinky kind
that came in instant ramen bowls.

"I'm sorry I was ported when Mitsuko came back.  She'll  think  I  was

"You are from Seattle." Not a question.

"You're her brother?"

"Yes. Why  are  you here?" His eyes large and dark,  his face long and

"Your sister and I are both into Lo/Rez."

"You have come because he wants to marry Rei Toei?"

Hot tea dribbled down Chia's chin. "She told you that?"

"Yes," Masahiko said.  "In Walled City,  some  people  worked  on  her
design." He was lost in his study of her Sandbenders,  turning it over
in his hands. His fingers were long and pale, the nails badly chewed.

"Where's that?"

"Netside," he said,  flipping the weight of his hair  back,  over  one

"What do they say about her?~'

"Original concept. Almost radical.' He stroked the keys. "This is very

"You learned English here?"

"In Walled City."

Chia tried another sip of tea,  then put the cup down.  "You have  any

"In my room," he said.

Masahiko's room,  at  the bottom of a short flight of concrete stairs,
to the rear of the restaurant's kitchen,  had probably been a  storage
closet. It was a boy-nightmare, the sort of environment Chia knew from
the brothers of friends,  its floor and ledgelike  bed  long  vanished
beneath  unwashed  clothes,  ramen-wrappers,  Japanese  magazines with
wrinkled covers.  A tower of empty foam ramen  bowls  in  one  corner,
their hologram labels winking from beyond a single cone of halogen.  A
desk or table forming a second,  higher ledge,  cut from some recycled
material  that  looked  as  though it had been laminated from shredded
juice cartons.  His  computer  there,  a  featureless  black  cube.  A
shallower  shelf  of  the  juice-carton  board  supported  a pale blue
microwave,  unopened ramen bowls,  and half a dozen tiny steel cans of

One of these,  freshly microwaved,  was hot in Chia's hand. The coffee
was strong,  sugary,  thickly creamed. She sat beside him on the lumpy
bed ledge, a padded jacket wadded up behind her for a cushion.

It smelled faintly of boy,  of ramen,  and of coffee. Though he seemed
very clean, now that she was this close, and she had a vague idea that
Japanese people generally were. Didn't they love to bathe? The thought
made her want a shower.

"I like this very much." Reaching  to  touch  the  Sandbenders  again,
which  he'd  brought from upstairs and placed on the work surface,  in
front of his black cube,  sweeping aside a litter of  plastic  spoons,
pens, nameless bits of metal and plastic.

"I low  do  you see to work yours?" Gesturing toward his computer with
the miniature can of coffee.

He said something in Japanese.  Worms and dots of pastel neon lit  the
faces of the cube, crawling and pulsing, then died.

The walls, from floor to ceiling, were thickly covered with successive
layers of posters,  handbills,  graphics files.  The wall directly  in
front  of  her,  above and behind the black computer,  was hung with a
large scarf,  a square of some silky material screened with a  map  or
diagram  in red and black and yellow.  Hundreds of irregular blocks or
rooms,  units of some kind,  pressing in around a central vacancy,  an
uneven vertical rectangle, black.

"Walled City,"   he  said,  following  her  eye.  He  leaned  forward,
fingertip finding a particular spot. 'This is mine. Eighth level.'

Chia pointed to the center of the diagram. "What's this?"

"Black hole.  In the original,  something like an airshaft." He looked
at her. "Tokyo has a black hole, too. You have seen this?"

"No," she said.

"The Palace.  No lights.  From a tall building, at night, the Imperial
Palace is a black hole. Watching, once, I saw a torch flare."

"What happened to it in the earthquake?"

He raised his eyebrows. "This of course would not be shown. All now is
as  before.  We  are  assured  of this." He smiled,  but only with the
corners of his mouth.

"Where did Mitsuko go?" He shrugged.

"Did she say when she'd be back?" "No."

Chia thought of Hiromi Ogawa, and then of someone phoning for Kelsey's
father.  Hiromi?  But then there was whatever it was,  upstairs in her
bag in Mitsuko's room.  She remembered Maryalice yelling  from  behind
the door to Eddie's office. Zona had to be right.

"You know a club called Whiskey Clone?"

"No." He stroked the buffed aluminum edges of her Sand-benders.

"How about Monkey Boxing?" He looked at her, shook his head.

"You probably  don't  get  out  much,  do you?" He held her gaze.  "In
Walled City."

"I want to go to this club,  Monkey  Boxing.  Except  maybe  it  isn't
called  that  anymore.  It's in a place called Shinjuku.  I was in the
station there, before."

"Clubs are not open, now."

"That's okay.  I just want you to show me where it is.  Then  I'll  be
able to find my own way back."

"No. I must return to Walled City.  I have responsibilities.  Find the
address of this place and I will explain to  your  computer  where  to

The Sandbenders could find its own way there, but Chia had decided she
didn't want to go alone.  Better to go with a boy  than  Mitsuko,  and
Mitsuko's allegiance to her chapter could be a problem anyway. Mainly,
though,  she just wanted to get out of here.  Zona's news had  spooked
her. Somebody knew she was here. And what to do about the thing in her

"You like this, right?" Pointing at her Sandbenders.

"Yes," hesaid.

"The software's even better.  I've got an emulator  in  there  that'll
install  a  virtual  Sandbenders  in your computer.  Take me to Monkey
Boxing and it's yours."

"Have you always lived here?"  Chia  asked,  as  they  walked  to  the
station. "In this neighborhood, I mean?"

Masahiko shrugged.  Chia  thought  the  street made him uncomfortable.
Maybe just being outside.  He'd traded his  gray  sweats  for  equally
baggy  black  cotton  pants,  cinched  at the ankle with elastic-sided
black nylon gaiters above black leather workshoes.  He still wore  his
black tunic, but with the addition of a short-billed black leather cap
that she thought might have once been part of a school uniform. If the
tunic was too big for him,  the cap was too small.  He wore it perched
forward at an angle,  the bill riding low. "I live in Walled City," he

"Mitsuko told me. That's like a multi-user domain,"

"Walled City is unlike anything."

"Give me the address when I give you the emulator. I'll check it out."
The sidewalk arched over  a  concrete  channel  running  with  grayish
water. It reminded her of her Venice. She wondered if there had been a
stream there once.

"It has no address," he said.

"That's impossible," Chia said.

He said nothing.

She thought about what  she'd  found  when  she'd  opened  the  SeaTac
duty-free bag.  Something flat and rectangular,  dark gray. Maybe made
from one of those weird plastics that had metal in them.  One end  had
rows of little holes,  the other had complicated shapes,  metal, and a
different kind of plastic. There didn't seem to be any way to open it,
no visible seams.  No markings. Didn't rattle when she shook it. Maybe
What Things Are,  the icon dictionary,  would recognize  it,  but  she
hadn't had time. Masahiko had been downstairs changing when she'd slit
the  blue  and  yellow  plastic  with  Mitsuko's  serially   numbered,
commemorative  Lo/Rez Swiss Army knife.  She'd glanced around the room
for a hiding place. Everything too neat and tidy.

Finally she'd put it back in her bag, hearing him coming up the stairs
from  the  kitchen.  Which  was  where  it  was  now,  along  with her
Sandbenders,  under her arm,  as they entered the station.  Which  was
probably not smart but she just didn't know.

She used Kelsey's cashcard to buy them both tickets.

There was  a  fax ftom Rydell waiting for Laney when Blackwell dropped
him at the hotel.  It  had  been  printed  on  expensive-looking  gray
letterhead  that  contrasted  drastically  with  the  body  of the fax
itself,  which had been sent  from  a  Lucky  Dragon  twenty-four-hour
convenience store on Sunset.  The smiling Lucky Dragon,  blowing smoke
from its nostrils, was centered just below the hotel's silver-embossed
logo,  something Laney thought of as the Droopy Evil Elf Hat. Whatever
it was supposed to be, the hotel's decorators were very fond of it. It
formed  a  repeating  motif  in the lobby,  and Laney was glad that it
didn't seem to have reached the guest rooms yet.

Rydell had hand-printed his  fax  with  a  medium-width  fiber-pen  in
scrupulously neat block capitals. Laney read it in the elevator.

It was addressed to C. LANEY, GUEST










19. Arleigh

"Okay," Laney said, and remembered how he'd walked to the Lucky Dragon
one night,  against Rydell's advice,  because he couldn't sleep. There
were scary-looking bionic  hookers  posted  every  block  or  so,  but
otherwise it hadn't felt too dangerous. Someone had painted a memorial
mural toJ.  D.  Shapely on one side  of  the  Lucky  Dragon,  and  the
management  had  had  the  good  sense  to leave it there,  culturally
integrating their score into the actual twenty-four-hour life  of  the
Strip.  You  could buy a burrito there,  a lottery ticket,  batteries,
tests for various diseases.  You could  do  voice-mail,  e-mail,  send
faxes.  It had occurred to Laney that this was probably the only store
for miles that sold anything  that  anyone  ever  really  needed;  the
others all sold things that he couldn't even imagine wanting.

He re-read the fax, walking down the corridor, and used the cardkey to
open his door.

There was a shallow wicker basket on the bed, spread with white tissue
and unfamiliar objects.  On closer inspection,  these proved to be his
socks and underwear,  freshly laundered and arranged in  little  paper
holders  embossed  with  the Elf Hat.  He opened the narrow,  mirrored
closet door,  activating a built-in light,  and discovered his  shirts
arranged  on  hangers,  including the blue button-downs Kathy Torrance
had made fun of.  They looked brand new. He touched one of the lightly
starched  cuffs.  "Stitch count," he said.  He looked down at Rydell's
folded fax.  He imagined Kathy Torrance headed straight for him, on an
SST  from  Los  Angeles.  He  discovered  that he couldn't imagine her
sleeping.  He'd never seen her asleep and somehow it didn't seem  like
something  she'd  willingly  do.  In  the weird vibrationless quiet of
supersonic flight,  she'd be staring at the gray blank of the  window,
or at the screen of her computer.

Thinking of him.

The screen  behind  him came on with a soft chime and he jumped,  four
inches,  straight up.  He turned and saw  the  BBC  logo.  Yarnazaki's
second video.

He was  a  third  of the way through it when the door chimed.  Ret was
strolling along a  narrow  trail  in  the  jungle  somewhere,  wearing
sun-bleached  khakis and rope-soled sandals.  He was singing something
as he went,  a wordless little melody, over and over, trying different
tones and stresses. His bare chest shone with sweat, and when the open
shirt swung aside you'd catch a corner of his I Ching tattoo. He had a
length  of  bamboo,  and  swung it as he walked,  swatting at dangling
vines.  Laney had a sneaking suspicion that the  wordless  melody  had
subsequently  turned into some global billion-seller,  but he couldn't
place it yet. The door chimed again.

He got up, crossed to the door, thumbed the speaker button. "Yes?"

"Hello?" A woman's voice.

He touched the card-sized screen set into  the  doorframe  and  saw  a
dark-haired woman.  Bangs.  The tech from the appliance warehouse.  He
unlocked the door and opened it.

"Yamazaki thinks we should talk," she said.

Laney saw that she was wearing a black suit with a narrow  skin,  dark

"Aren't you supposed to be shopping for a van?" He stepped back to let
her in.

"Got one," closing the door  behind  her.  "When  the  Lo/Rez  machine
decides to throw money at a problem,  money will be thrown. Usually in
the wrong direction." She looked at the screen,  where Rez  was  still
swinging  along,  swatting  flies  from  his  neck and chest,  lost in
composition. "Homework?"


"Arleigh McCrae,' she said, taking a card from a small black purse and
handing it to him. Her name there, then four telephone numbers and two
addresses, neither of them physical. "Do you have a card, Mr. Laney?"

"Cohn. No. I don't."

"They can make them up for you at the desk.  Everyone  has  a  card  3

He put  the  card in his shirt pocket.  "Blackwell didn't give me one.
Neither did Yamazaki."

"Outside the Lo/Rez organization, I mean. It's like not having socks."

"I have socks," Laney said,  indicating the basket on the bed. "Do you
feel like watching a BBC documentary on Lo/Rez?"


"I don't think I can turn it off. He'll know."

"Try lowering the volume. Manually." She demonstrated.

"A technician," Laney said.

"With a van. And umpti-million yen worth of equipment that didn't seem
to do much for you." She sat down in  one  of  the  room's  two  small
armchairs, crossing her legs.

Laney took the other chair.  "Not your fault. You got me in there just
fine. But it's not the kind of data I can work with."

"Yamazaki told me what you're supposed to be able to do," she said. "I
didn't believe him."

Laney looked  at  her.  '1  can't  help  you  there." There were three
smiling suns, like black woodblock prints, down the inside of her left

"They're woven into the stockings. Catalan."

Laney looked up. "I hope you're not going to ask me to explain what it
is people think they pay me to do," he said, "because I can't. I don't

"Don't worry," she said. "I just work here. But what I'm being paid to
do,  right now,  is determine what it is we could give you that  would
allow you to do whatever it is that you're alleged to be able to do."

Laney looked at the screen.  Concert footage now, and Rez was dancing,
a microphone in his hand.  "You've  seen  this  video,  right?  Is  he
serious  about  that  'Sino-Celtic' thing he was talking about in that

"You haven't met him yet, have you?"


"Its not the easiest thing, deciding what Re2 is serious about."

"But how can there be 'Sino-Celtic mysticism' when the Chinese and the
Celts don't have any shared history?"

"Because Rez  himself  is half Chinese and half Irish.  And if there's
one thing he's serious about


"It's Rez."

Laney stared glumly at the screen as the  singer  was  replaced  by  a
close-up  of  Lo's  playing,  his  hands  on  the black-bodied guitar.
Earlier,  a venerable British guitarist in wonderful tweeds had opined
as  how  they  hadn't  really expected the next Hendrix to emerge from
Taiwanese  Canto-pop,  but  then  again  they  hadn't  actually   been
expecting the first one, had they?

"Yamazaki told  me  the  story.  What happened to you," Arleigh McCrae
said. "Up to a certain point."

Laney closed his eyes.

"The show  never  aired,  Laney.  Out  of  Control  dropped  it.  What

He'd taken to having break&st beside the Chateau's  small  oval  pool,
past  the  homely  clapboard  bungalows  that Rydell said were a later
addition.  It was the one time of the day that felt like his  own,  or
did until Rice Daniels arrived, which was usually toward the bottom of
a three-cup pot of coffee, just prior to his eggs and bacon.

Daniels would cross the tern cotta to Laney's table  with  what  could
only  be described as a spring in his step.  Laney privately wished to
ascribe this to drug-use, of which he'd seen no evidence whatever, and
indeed  Daniels's  most potent public indulgence seemed to be multiple
cups of decaf espresso taken with curls  of  lemon  peel.  He  favored
loosely woven beige suits and collarless shirts.

This particular  morning,  however,  Daniels  had not been alone,  and
Laney had detected a lack of temper in  the  accustomed  spring;  a  0
certain  jangled  brittleness  there,  and the painful-hooking glasses
seeming to grip his head even more tightly than usual. Beside him came
a gray-haired man in a dark brown suit of Western cut,  hawk-faced and
wind-burnt,  the blade of his impressive nose protruding from  a  huge
black  pair  of  sunglasses.  He wore black alligator roping-boots and
carried a dusty-looking briefcase of  age-darkened  tan  cowhide,  its
handle mended with what Laney supposed had to be baling wire.

"Laney," Rice Daniels had said,  arriving at the table, "this is Aaron

'Don't get up,  son," Pursley said,  though Laney hadn't  thought  to.
"Fella's  just  bringing  you  your  breakfast."  One of the Mongolian
waiters was crossing with a tray, from the direction of the bungalows.
Pursley  put  his  battle-scarred  briefcase  down and took one of the
white-painted metal chairs.  The waiter  served  Laney's  eggs.  Laney
signed for them, adding a 15-percent tip. Purshey was flipping through
the contents of his case.  He wore half a dozen heavy silver rings  on
the fingers of either hand, some of them studded with turquoise. Laney
couldn't remember when he'd last seen anyone carry  around  that  much

"You're the lawyer," Laney said. "On television."

"In the  flesh  as  well,  son." Pursley was on "Cops in Trouble," and
before that he'd been famous for defending celebrity clients.  Daniels
hadn't  taken  a  seat,  and  stood behind Pursley now with a hunched,
uncharacteristic posture, hands in his trouser pockets. "Here we are,"
Pursley said.  He drew out a sheaf of blue paper. "Don't let your eggs
get cold."

"Have a seat," Laney  said  to  Daniels.  Daniels  winced  behind  his

"Now," Pursley said, "you were in a Federal Orphanage, in Gainesville,
it says here, from age twelve to age seventeen."

Laney looked at his eggs. "That's right."

"During that time,  you participated in a number of drug  trials?  You
were an experimental subject?"

"Yes," Laney  said,  his eggs looking somehow farther away,  or like a
picture in a magazine.

"This was voluntary on your part?"

"There were rewards."

"Voluntary," Pursley said. "You get on any of that 5-SB?"

"They didn't tell us what they were giving us," Laney said. "Sometimes
we'd get a placebo instead."

"You don't  mistake  5-SB for any placebo,  son,  but I think you know

Which was true, but Laney just sat there.

"Well?" Pursley removed his big heavy glasses.  His eyes were cold and
blue and set into an intricate topography of wrinkles.

"I probably had it," Laney said.

Pursley slapped  the blue papers on his thigh.  "Well,  there you are.
You almost  certainly  did.  Now,  do  you  know  how  that  substance
eventually affected many of the test subjects?"

Daniels unclamped  his  glasses  and  began to knead the bridge of his
nose. His eyes were closed.

"Stuff tends to turn males into fixated homicidal  stalkers,"  Pursley
said,  putting  his  glasses  back on and stuffing the papers into his
case.  "Comes  on  years  later,  sometimes.  Go  after  media  faces,
politicians.  .  .  .  That's  why  it's  now  one of the most illegal
substances,  any damn country you care to look.  Drug that makes folks
want to stalk and kill politicians,  well,  boy,  it'll get to be." He
grinned dryly.

"I'm not one," Laney said. "I'm not like that."

Daniels opened his eyes.  "It doesn't matter," he said.  "What matters
is  that  Slitscan  can  counter  all  our  material  by  raising  the
possibility, the merest shadow, however remote, that you are."

"You see,  son," Pursley said, "they'd just make out you got into your
line  of  work because you were predisposed to that,  spying on famous
people. You didn't tell them about any of it, did you?"

"No," Laney said, "I didn't."

"There you go," said Purshey.  "They'll say they hired you because you
were good at it, but you just got too damn good at it."

"But she wasn't &mous," Laney said.

"But he  is," Rice Daniels said,  "and they'll say you were after him.
They'll say the whole thing was your idea.  They'll wring their  hands
about   responsibility.   They'll   talk  about  their  new  screening
procedures for quantitative analysts. And nobody, Laney, nobody at a/l
will be watching us."

"That's about  the size of it," Pursley said,  standing.  He picked up
the briefcase. 'That real bacon there, like off a hog?"

"They say it is," Laney said.

"Damn," Pursley said, "these Hollywood hotels are fast-lane." He stuck
out his hand. Laney shook it. "Nice meeting you, son."

Daniels didn't even bother to say goodbye.  And two days later,  going
over the printout of his charges,  Laney  would  notice  that  it  all
began,  the  billing  in  his  own  name,  with a large pot of coffee,
scrambled eggs and bacon, and a 15-percent tip.

Arleigh McCrae was staring at him.

"Do they know that?" she asked. "Does Blackwell?"

"No," Laney said,  "not that part, anyway." He could see Rydell's fax,
folded on the bedside stand. They didn't know about that, either.

"What happened then? What did you do?"

"I found  out  I  was  paying  for at least some of the lawyers they'd
gotten for me. I didn't know what to do. I sat out there by the pool a
lot.  It  was  sort  of  pleasant,  actually.  I wasn't thinking about
anything in particular. Know what I mean?"

"Maybe," she said.

"Then I heard about this job from one of the security  people  at  the

She slowly shook her head.

"What?" he said.

"Never mind,"  she said.  "You make about as much sense as the rest of
it. Probably you'll fit right in."

"Into what?"

She looked at her watch,  black-faced stainless on a plain black nylon
band.  "Dinner's at eight,  but Rez will be late.  Come out for a walk
and a drink. I'll try to tell you what I know about it."

"If you want to," Laney said.

"They're paying me to do it," she said,  getting up.  "And it probably
beats  wrestling  large  pieces  of  high-end  electronics up and down

20. Monkey Boxing

Between stations  there  was  a gray shudder beyond the windows of the
silent train.  Not as of surfaces rushing past,  but as if particulate
matter  were being vibrated there at some crucial rate,  just prior to
the emergence of a new order of being.

Chia and Masahiko had found two seats, between a trio of plaid-skirted
schoolgirls  and  a  businessman who was reading a fat Japanese comic.
There was a woman on the cover with her breasts bound up like balls of
twine,  but conically, the nipples protruding like the popping eyes of
a cartoon victim.  Chia noticed that the artist had devoted much  more
time  to  drawing  the twine,  exactly how it was wrapped and knotted,
than to drawing the breasts themselves.  The woman had  sweat  running
clown  her  face and was trying to back away from someone or something
cut off by the edge of the cover.

Masahiko undid the top  two  buttons  of  his  tunic  and  withdrew  a
six-inch  square of something black and rigid,  no thicker than a pane
of glass.  He brushed it purposefully with the fingers  of  his  right
hand,  beaded  lines  of colored light appearing at his touch.  Though
these were fainter here,  washed  out  by  the  train's  directionless
fluorescents,  Chia  recognized  the square as the control-face of the
Computer she'd seen in his room.

He studied the display,  stroked it again,  and frowned at the result.
"Someone pays attention to my address," he said, 'and to Mitsukos

"The restaurant?"

"Our user addresses,"

"What kind of attention?"

"I do not know. We are not linked."

"Except by me."

"Tell me  about Sandbenders," Masahiko said,  putting the control-face
away and buttoning his tunic.

"It started with a woman who was an interface  designer,"  Chia  said,
glad to change the subject. "Her husband was a jeweller, and he'd died
of that nerve-attenuation thing,  before they saw how to fix  it.  But
he'd been a big green,  too, and he hated the way consumer electronics
were made,  a couple of little chips and boards inside  these  plastic
shells.  The  shells  were just point-of-purchase eye-candy,  he said,
made to wind up in the landfill if nobody  recycled  it,  and  usually
nobody did.  So,  before he got sick, he used to tear up her hardware,
the designer's,  and put the real parts into cases he'd  make  in  his
shop.  Say  he'd  make a solid bronze case for a minidisk unit,  ebony
inlays,  carve the control surfaces out of  fossil  ivory,  turquoise,
rock crystal. It weighed more, sure, but it turned out a lot of people
liked that,  like they had their music or their memory,  whatever,  in
something that felt like it was there. . . . And people liked touching
all that stuff:  metal,  a smooth stone.  .  .  . And once you had the
case,  when  the  manuEcturer  brought out a new model,  well,  if the
electronics were any better,  you just pulled the old ones out and put
the new ones in your case. So you still had the same object, just with
better functions."

Masahiko's eyes were closed,  and he seemed to  be  nodding  slightly,
though perhaps only with the motion of the train.

"And it  turned out some people liked that,  too,  liked it a lot.  He
started getting commissions to make these things. One of the first was
for  a keyboard,  and the keys were cut from the keys of an old piano,
with the numbers and letters in silver. But then he got sick . .

Masahiko's eyes opened,  and  she  saw  that  not  only  had  he  been
listening, but that he was impatient br more.

"So after  he  was dead,  the software designer started thinking about
all that,  and how she wanted to do something that took what he'd been
doing  into  something  else.  So  she cashed out her stock in all the
companies she'd worked for,  and she bought some land on the coast, in

And the train pulled into Shinjuku, and everyone stood up, heading for
the doors,  the  businessman  closing  his  breast-bondage  comic  and
tucking it beneath his arm.

Chia was  leaning  back  to  look at the strangest building she'd ever
seen.  It was shaped  like  the  old-fashioned  idea  of  a  robot,  a
simplified   human   figure,  its  legs  and  upraised  arms  made  of
transparent plastic over a framework of metal.  Its torso appeared  to
be  of brick,  in red,  yellow and blue,  arranged in simple patterns.
Escalators,  stairways,  and looping slides twisted through the hollow
limbs,  and puffs of white smoke emerged at regular intervals from the
rectangular mouth of the thing's enormous face.  Beyond it the sky all
gray and pressing down.

"Tetsujin Building," Masahiko said. "Monkey Boxing was not there."

"What is it?"

"Osaka Tin  Toy Institute," he said.  "Monkey Boxing this way." He was
consulting the swarming squiggles  on  his  control-face.  He  pointed
along the street,  past a fast-food franchise called California Reich,
its trademark a stylized stainless-steel  palm  tree  against  one  of
those twisted-cross things like the meshbacks had drawn on their hands
in her class on European history.  Which had pissed  the  teacher  off
totally,  but Chia couldn't remember them drawing any palm trees. Then
two of them had gotten into a fight over which way you  were  supposed
to  draw  the  twisted  parts on the cross,  pointing left or pointing
right,  and one of them had zapped the other with a stungun,  the kind
they were always making out of those disposable flashcameras,  and the
teacher had to call the police.

"Ninth floor,  Wet Leaves Fortune Building," he said.  He set off down
the  crowded  pavement.  Chia  followed,  wondering  how  long jet lag
lasted,  and how you were supposed to  separate  it  from  just  being

Maybe what she was feeling now was what her civics program at her last
school had called culture  shock.  She  felt  like  everything,  every
little detail of Tokyo,  was just different enough to create a kind of
pressure,  something that built up against her eyes,  as though they'd
grown tired of having to notice all the differences: a little sidewalk
tree that was dressed up in a sort of  woven  basketwork  jacket,  the
neon-avocado  color  of a payphone,  a serious-looking girl with round
glasses and a gray sweatshirt that  said  "Free  Vagina."  She'd  been
keeping  her eyes extra-wide to take all these things in,  like they'd
be  processed  eventually,  but  now  her  eyes  were  tired  and  the
differences were starting to back up.  At the same time, she felt that
if she squinted,  maybe,  just the right way,  she could make all this
turn  back into Seattle,  some downtown part she'd walked through with
her mother.  Homesick.  The strap of her bag digging into her shoulder
each time her left foot came down.

Masahiko turned a corner. There didn't seem to be alleys in Tokyo, not
in the sense that there were smaller streets behind the  big  streets,
the  places  where  they  put  out the garbage,  and there weren't any
stores. There were smaller streets, and smaller ones behind those, but
you  couldn't  guess  what you'd find there:  a shoe-repair place,  an
expensive-looking hair salon,  a  chocolate-maker,  a  magazine  stand
where  she noticed a copy of that same creepy comic with the woman all
wrapped up like that.

Another corner and they were back on  what  she  took  to  be  a  main
street.  Cars here,  anyway.  She watched one turn into a street-level
opening and vanish.  Her scalp prickled.  What if that were the way up
to  Eddie's  club,  that  Whiskey  Clone?  That was right around here,
wasn't it?  How big was this  Shinjuku  place,  anyway?  What  if  the
Graceland  pulled up beside her?  What if Eddie and Maryalice were out
looking (hr her?

They were passing the opening the car had disappeared into. She looked
in  and  saw  chat  it  was a kind of gas station.  "Where is it?" she

"Wet Leaves Fortune," he said, pointing up.

Tall and narrow,  square signs jutting out  at  the  corners  of  each
floor.  It looked like almost all the others,  but she thought Eddie's
had been bigger. "How do we get up there?"

He led her into a kind of lobby, a ground-floor arcade lined with tiny
stall-like  shops.  Too  many lights,  mirrors,  things for sale,  all
blurring together.  Into a cramped  elevator  that  smelled  of  stale
smoke. He said something in Japanese and the door closed. The elevator
sang them a little song to tinkling music. Masahiko looked irritated.

At the ninth floor the door opened on a dust-covered man with a  black
headband sagging over his eyes.  He looked at Chia. "If you're the one
from the magazine," he said,  "you're three days early." He pulled the
headband  off  and wiped his face with it.  Chia wasn't sure if he was
Japanese or not,  or what age  he  might  be.  His  eyes  were  brown,
spectacularly bloodshot under deep brows,  and his black hair,  pulled
straight back and secured by the band, was streaked with gray.

Behind him there was a constant banging and confusion,  men yelling in
Japanese.  Someone  pushing  a  high-sided orange plastic cart crammed
with folded,  plaster-flecked cables,  shards of plastic painted  with
gold  gilt and Chinese red.  Part of a suspended ceiling let go with a
twanging of wires, crashed to the floor. More cries.

"I'm looking for Monkey Boxing," Chia said.

"Darling," the man said,  "you're a bit late." He wore a  black  paper
coverall,  its sleeves torn off at the elbows,  revealing arms tracked
with blobby blue  lines  and  circles,  some  kind  of  faux-primitive
decoration.  He  wiped his eyes and squinted at her.  "You aren't from
the magazine in London?"

"No," Chia said.

"No," he agreed. "You seem a bit young even for them."

"This is Monkey Boxing?"

Another section of ceiling came down.  The dusty man squinted at  her.
"Where did you say you were from?"


"You heard about Monkey Boxing in Seattle?"


He smiled wanly.  "That's fin: heard about it in Seattle You're on the
club scene yourself, dear?'

"I'm Chia McKenzie-"

"Jun. I'm called Jun,  dear. Owner, designer, DJ. But you're too late.
Sorry.  All  that's  left  of  Monkey  Boxing's  going  out  in  these
gomi-carts.  Landfill now. Like every other broken dream. Had a lovely
run while it lasted,  better part of three months. You heard about our
Shaolin Temple  theme?  That  whole  warrior-monk  thing?"  He  sighed
extravagantly.  "It  was  heaven.  Every  instant of it.  The Okinawan
bartenders shaved their heads,  after  the  first  three  nights,  and
started to wear the orange robes. I surpassed myself, in the booth. It
was a vision,  you understand?  But that's the nature of the  floating
world,  isn't it? 'We are in the water trade, after all, and one tries
to be philosophical. But who is your friend here? 1 like his hair.

"Masahiko Mimura," Chia said.

"I like that black-clad  boho  butch  bedsit  thing,"  the  man  said.
"Mishima and Dietrich on the same halfshell, if it's done right."

Masahiko frowned.

"If Monkey Boxing is gone," Chia said, "what will you do now?"

Jun retied his headband.  He looked less pleased. "Another club, but I
won't be designing.  They'll say I've sold out.  Suppose I have.  I'll
still  be managing the space,  very nice salary and an apartment along
with it, but the concept .." He shrugged.

"Were you here the night Rez told them he wanted to marry the idoru?"

His brow creased,  behind the headband. "I had to sign agreements," he
said, "You aren't from the magazine?"


"If he  hadn't come in that night,  I suppose we might still be up and
running.  And really he wasn't the sort of  thing  we'd  cried  to  be
about.  We'd  had  Maria  Paz,  just  after  she'd  split  up with her
boyfriend,  the public relations monster,  and the press were thick as
flies.  She's  huge here,  did you know that?  And we'd had Blue Ahmed
from Chrome Koran and the press scarcely noticed. Rez and his friends,
though, press was not a problem. Sent in this big minder who looked as
though he'd been using his face as a chopping block. Came up to me and
said Rez had heard about the place and was about to drop in with a few
friends,  and could we arrange a table with a bit of privacy.  .  .  .
Well, really, I had to think: Rez who? Then it clicked, of course, and
I said fine, absolutely, and we put three tables together in the back,
and  even  borrowed  a purple cordon from the gumi boys in the hostess
place upstairs."

"And he came? Rez?"

"Absolutely. An hour later,  there  he  is.  Smiling,  shaking  hands,
signing things if you asked him to,  though there wasn't too burning a
demand,  actually.  Four women with him,  two other men if you  didn't
count the minder. Very nice black suit. Yohji. Bit the worse for wear.
Rez, I mean. Been out to dinner, it looked like. Had a few drinks with
it.  Certain amount of laughter, if you follow me.' He turned and said
something to one of the workmen,  who wore shoes like  two-toed  black
leather socks.

Chia, who  had  no  idea  what  Monkey Boxing had actually been about,
imagined Rez at a table with some other people,  behind a purple rope,
and  in  the  foreground  a  crowd  of  Japanese people doing whatever
Japanese people did at a club like that. Dancing?

"Then our boy gets up,  he's going to the toilet. The big minder makes
as if he's getting up to go too, but our boy waves him back. Big laugh
from the table,  big minder not too happy.  Two of the women start  to
get up,  like they're going with him; he'll have none of it, waves 'em
back,  more laughter.  Not that anyone else was paying him  that  much
attention,  I was going into the booth in five minutes,  with a set of
extremely raw North African;  had to judge the crowd,  get on it  with
them,  know just when to drop it in.  But there he went, right through
them, and only one or two even noticed, and they

didn't stop dancing.'

What kind of club was it, where nobody would stop dancing for Rez?

"So I was thinking about my set,  the order of it,  and suddenly  he's
right in front of me. Big grin. Eyes funny, though I wouldn't swear it
was anything he'd done in the toilet-if you know what I mean."

Chia nodded her head. What did he mean?

"And would I mind,  he said,  hand on my shoulder,  if he  just  spoke
briefly  to  the crowd?  Said he'd been thinking about something for a
long time, and now he'd made up his mind and he wanted to tell people.
And the big minder just materialized there,  wanting to know was there
any problem?  None at all, Rez says, giving my shoulder a squeeze, but
he was just going to have a word with the crowd."

Chia looked at Jun's shoulders,  wondering which one had been squeezed
by Rca's actual hand. "So he did," Jun said.

"But what did he say?" Chia asked.

"A load of bollocks, dear. Evolution and technology and passion; man's
need to find beauty in the emerging order; his own burning need to get
his end in with some software dolly wank toy. Balls, Utter." He pushed
his headband up with his thumb,  but it fell back. "And because he did
that,  opened his mouth up himy club,  Lo slash bloody Rez  bought  my
club.  Bought me as well, and I've signed agreements that I won't talk
to any of you about any of that.  And now if  you  and  your  charming
friend will excuse me, darling, I have work to do."

There was  a  man on stilts at the intersection nearest the hotel.  He
wore a hooded white paper suit,  agas mask,  and a pair of rectangular
sign-boards.  Messages  scrolled  down  the  boards  in Japanese as he
shifted his weight to maintain balance.  Streams of pedestrian traffic
flowed around and past him.

"What's that?" Laney asked, indicating the man on stilts.

"A sect,"  Arleigh  McCrae said.  "New Logic.' They say the world will
end when the combined weight of all the human nervous  tissue  on  the
planet reaches a specific figure."

A very long multi-digit number went scrolling down.

"Is that it?" Laney asked.

"No," she  said,  "that's  their  latest estimate of the current total
weight." She'd gone back to her room for the black coat she now  wore,
leaving Laney to change into clean socks,  underwear, a blue shirt. He
didn't have a tie,  so he'd buttoned the shirt at the collar  and  put
his  jacket  back on.  He'd wondered if everyone who worked for Lo/Rez
stayed in that same hotel.

Laney saw the man's eyes through the transparent visor as they passed.
A look of grim patience.  The stilts were the kind workers wore to put
up ceilings,  articulated alloy sprung with steel. "What's supposed to
happen when there's enough nervous tissue?"

"A new order of being.  They don't talk about it.  Rez was inter ested
in them, apparently. He tried to arrange an audience with the hunder."

21. Standower Man


'the founder declined.  He said that Rn made his  living  through  the
manipulation   of  human  nervous  tissue,  and  that  that  made  him

"Rez was unhappy?"

"Not according to Blackwell.  Blackwell said it seemed to cheer him up
a little."

"He's not cheerful,  ordinarily?" Laney sidestepped to avoid a bicycle
someone was wheeling in the opposite direction.

"Let's say that the things that bother  Rez  aren't  the  things  that
bother most people."

Laney noticed   a  dark  green  van  edging  along  beside  them.  Its
wraparound windows were mirrored,  its neon license plates framed with
animated   tubes   of  mini-Vegas  twinklers.  "I  think  we're  being
followed," he said.

"We'd better be.  I wanted the kind with the weird chrome curb-feelers
that  make  them look like silverfish,  but I had to settle for custom
license-plate trim.  Where you go,  it goes. And parking, around here,
is probably more of a challenge than anything you'll be expected to do
tonight. Now," she said, "down here."

Steep, narrow  stairs,  walled  with  an  alarming  pink   mosaic   of
glistening tonsil-like nodules.  Laney hesitated, then saw a sign, the
letters made up  of  hundreds  of  tiny  pastel  oblongs:  LE  CHICLE.
Stepping down, he lost sight of the van.

A chewing-gum theme-bar, he thought, and then: I'm getting too used to
this.  But he still avoided touching the wall  of  chewed  gum  as  he
followed her down.

Into powdery  pinks  and  grays,  but these impersonating the unchewed
product,  wall-wide slabs of it,  hung with archaic signage  from  the
nation   of  his  birth.  Screen-printed  steel,  Framed  and  ancient
cardboard,  cunningly  lit.  Icons  of  gum.  Bazooka   Joe   featured
centrally, a figure unknown to Laney but surely no more displaced.

"Come here often?" Laney asked, as they took stools with bul

I bous  cushions in a particularly lurid bubble-gum pink.  The bar was
laminated with thousands of rectangular chewing-gum wrappers.

"Yes," she  said,  "but  mainly  because  it's  unpopular.  And   it's
nonsmoking, which is still kind of special here."

"What's 'Black  Black'?"  Laney  asked,  looking  at  a  framed poster
depicting a stylized  l940s  automobile  hurtling  through  the  faint
suggestion of city streets.  Aside from "Black Black," it was lettered
in a sort of Art Deco Japanese.

"Gum. You can still buy it," she said.  "The cab drivers all chew  it.
Lots of caffeine."

"In gum?"

"They sell pick-me-ups here full of liquid nicotine."

"I think I'll have a beer instead."

When the waitress,  in tiny silver shorts and a prehensile pink angora
top,  had taken their orders,  Arleigh opened her purse and removed  a
notebook. "These are linear topographies of some of the structures you
accessed earlier today." She passed Laney the notebook.  "They're in a
format called Realtree 7.2."

Laney clicked through a series of images: abstract geometrics arranged
in vanishing linear perspective.  "I don't know how to read them,"  he

She poured her sake. "You really were trained by DatAmerica?"

"I was trained by a bunch of Frenchmen who liked to play tennis."

"Realtree's from  DatAmerica.  The best quantitative analysis software
they've got." She closed the notebook, put it back in her purse.

Laney poured his beer. "Ever hear of something called TIDAL?"


"Acronym. Maybe."

"No." She lifted the china cup and blew, like a child cooling tea.

"It was another DatAmerica tool, or the start of one. I don't think it
reached  the  market.  But  that  was  how I learned to find the nodal

"Okay,' she said."What are the nodal points?" I Laney  looked  at  the
bubbles  on  the  surface  of  his  beer.  "It's like seeing things in
clouds," Laney said. "Except the things you see are really there."

She put her sake down. "Yamazaki promised me you weren't crazy."

"It's not crazy It's something to do with  how  I  process  low-level,
broad-spectrum input. Something to do with pattern-recognition."

"And Slitscan hired you on the basis of that?"

"They hired me when I demonstrated that it works,  But I can't do that
with the kind of data you showed me today"

"Why not?"

Laney raised his beer.  "Because it's like trying to have a drink with
a bank.  It's not a person.  It doesn't drink. There's no place for it
to sit." He drank.  "Rez doesn't generate patterns I can read, because
everything  he  does is at one remove.  It's like looking in an annual
report for the personal habits of the chairman of the board.  It's not
going to be there.  From the outside, it just looks like that Realtree
stuff.  If I enter a specific area,  I don't get any sense of how  the
data there relates to the rest of it, see? It's got to be relational."
He drummed his fingers on the laminated gum  wrappers.  "Somewhere  in
Ireland. Guesthouse with a beach view. Nobody there. Records of how it
was kept stocked: stuff for the bathroom, toothpaste, shaving foam.

"I've been there," she said.  "That's on an estate he bought  from  an
older musician, an Irishman. It's beautiful. Like Italy, in a way."

"You think he'll take this idoru back there, when they get hitched?"

"Nobody has  any idea what he's talking about when he says he wants to
'marry' her."

"Then an apartment in Stockholm.  Huge. Great big stoves in each room,
made of glazed ceramic bricks."

"I don't know that one.  He has places all over,  and some of them are
kept very quiet. There's another country place in the south of France,
a house in London,  apartments in New York,  Paris, Barcelona. . . . I
was working out of the Catalan office,  reformatting all  their  stuff
and  Spain's as well,  when this idoru thing hit,  I've been here ever

"But you know him? You knew him before?"

"He's the navel of the world I work in,  Laney.  That  has  a  way  of
making people unknowable."

"What about Lo?"

"Quiet. Very.  Bright.  Very." She frowned at her sake. "I don't think
any of it's ever really gotten to Lo.  He seems to regard their entire
career as some freak event unrelated to anything else."

"Including his partner deciding to marry a software agent?"

"Lo cold me a story once,  about a job he'd had.  He worked for a soup
vendor in Hong Kong,  a wagon on the sidewalk.  He said the wagon  had
been  in  business  for  over  fifty years,  and their secret was that
they'd never cleaned the kettle. In fact, they'd never stopped cooking
the  soup.  It was the same seafood soup they'd been selling for fifty
years, but it was never the same, because they added fresh ingredients
every day,  depending on what was available. He said that was what his
career as musician felt like,  and he liked that about  it.  Blackwell
says if Rez were more like Lo, he'd still be in prison."


"Blackwell was   serving   a  nine-year  sentence,  in  an  Australian
maximum-security prison,  when Rez  talked  his  way  in.  To  give  a
concert.  Just  Rez.  Lo  and the others thought it was too dangerous.
They'd been warned that it could turn into a hostage-taking situation.
The  prison  authorities refused to take any responsibility,  and they
wanted it in writing.  Rez signed anything they put in front  of  him.
His security people resigned on the spot. He went in with two guitars,
a wireless mike,  and a very basic amplification  system.  During  the
concert,  a riot broke out.  Apparently it was orchestrated by a group
of Italian prisoners from Melbourne.  Five of them took Rez  into  the
prison  laundry,  which  they'd  chosen  because it was windowless and
easily defended. They informed Rez they were going to kill him if they
couldn't  negotiate their release in exchange for his.  They discussed
cutting off at least one of his fingers to demonstrate that they meant
business.  Or possibly some more intimate part, though that may simply
have been to make him more anxious.  Which it did." She  signaled  the
pink angora waitress for more sake.  "Black-well, who'd evidently been
extremely irritated at the interruption of  the  concert,  which  he'd
been enjoying enormously,  appeared in the laundry approximately forty
minutes after Rez was taken prisoner. Neither Rez nor the Italians saw
him  arrive,  and  the Italians definitely hadn't been expecting him."
She paused.  "He killed three of them, with a tomahawk. Put the end of
it into their heads:  one,  two,  three,  Rez says, like that. No fuss

'A tomahawk?"

"Sort of narrow-bladed hatchet,  with  a  spike  opposite  the  blade.
Extends  the reach,  imparts terrific force,  and with practice can be
thrown with considerable accuracy.  Blackwell swears by it.  The other
two fled, although they both seem to have died in the aftermath of the
riot.  Personally,  I'm sure Blackwell or  his  'mates'  killed  them,
because  he was never charged with the murder of the other three.  The
sole surviving  witness  was  Rez,  whom  Blackwell  escorted  to  the
barricade  the  guards  had  erected  in  the exercise yard." Her sake
arrived.  "It took Rez's  lawyers  three  months  to  get  Blackwell's
sentence  reversed  on  a  technicality.  They've  been  together ever

"What was Blackwell in for?"

"Murder," she said. "Do you know what a standover man is?"


"It's a peculiarly Australian concept.  I'm tempted to think it  could
only have grown out of a culture comprised initially of convicts,  but
my Australian friends don't buy that.  The standover man is a loner, a
predator   who  preys  on  other,  more  prosperous  criminals,  often
extremely dangerous ones.  He captures them and 'stands over' them. To
extort money."

"What's that mean?"

"He tortures them until they tell him where their money is.  And these
are often fhirly serious operators,  with people paid to take care  of
them, specifically to prevent this sort of thing

"Tortures them?"

"Toe-cutter' is  a  related term.  When they tell him what he needs to
know, he kills them."

And Blackwell was suddenly and  noiselessly  and  simply  there,  very
black,  and matte,  in an enormous waxed-cotton drover's coat.  Behind
him the faded American advertising and the grays  and  pinks  of  gum.
Flis  fretted  scalp  concealed  by  the waxed-cotton crown of a broad
black hat.

"Arleigh, dear, you wouldn't take the name in vain, would you?"

But he smiled at her.

"I'm explaining your earlier career to Mr.  Laney, Blackwell. I'd only
just gotten up to the massage parlor, and now you've ruined it."

"Never mind. Dinner's been moved up, at the request of his Rozzer. I'm
here to take you. Change of venue as well. Hope you don't mind."

"Where?" Arleigh asked, as if not yet prepared to move.

"The Western World," said Blackwell.

"And me in my good shoes," she said.

22. Gomi Boy

The trains more crowded now,  standing room only,  everyone pressed in
tight,  and somehow the eye-contact rules were different here, but she
wasn't sure how.  Her hag with the Sandbenders was jammed  up  against
Masahiko's back.  He was looking at the control-face again, holding it
up the way a commuter woLild hold a strategically folded newspaper.

On their way back to  Mitsuko's  father's  restaurant,  and  then  she
didn't  know what.  She'd done the thing that Hiromi hadn't wanted her
to do.  And gotten nothing for it but a vaguely unpleasant idea of Rez
as someone capable of being boring.  And where did it leave her? She'd
gone ahead and used Kelsey's cashcard,  to pay for the train, and floW
another  train  back.  And Zona had said somebody was looking for her;
they could track her when she used the cashcard. Maybe there was a way
to cash it in, but she doubted it.

None of this had gone the way she'd tried to imagine it, back in

Seattle, hut then you couldn't be expected to imagine anyone like

Maryalice, could you? Or Eddie, or even Hiromi.

Masahiko frowned at the control-face.  Chia saw the dots and squiggles

That thing Maryalice had stuck in her bag.  Right here under her  arm.
She should've left it at Mitsuko's.  Or thrown it away,  but then what
would she say if Eddie or Maryalice showed up?  What if it was full of

In Singapore they hung people, right in the mall, for that. Her father
didn't like it and he said that  was  one  of  the  reasons  he  never
invited  her  there.  They put it on television,  too,  so that it was
really hard to avoid seeing it,  and he didn't want her to see it. Now
she wondered how far Singapore was from Tokyo? She wished she could go
there and  keep  her  eyes  closed  until  she  was  in  her  father's
apartment,  and never turn the rv on, just be there with him and smell
his shaving smell and put her face against his  scratchy  wool  shirt,
except  she  guessed you didn't wear those in Singapore because it was
hot there.  She'd keep her eyes closed anyway,  and listen to him talk
about  his work,  about the arbitrage engines shuttling back and forth
through the world's markets like invisible  dragons,  fast  as  light,
shaving  fragments  of  advantage for traders like her father Masahiko
turned, accidentally knocking her bag aside, as the train stopped at a
station-not theirs.  A woman with a yellow shopping bag said something
in Japanese. Masahiko took Chia's wrist and pulled her toward the open

"This isn't where we get off-"

"Come! Come!" Out onto the platform. A different smell here; something
chemical and sharp.  The walls not so clean, somehow. A broken tile in
the ceramic ceiling.

"What's the matter? Why are we getting off?"

He pulled  her  into  the  corner  formed by the tiled wall and a huge
vending machine.  "Someone is at the restaurant,  waiting for you." He
looked down at her wrist, as if amazed to find that he was holding it,
and instantly released her.

"How do you know?"

"Walled City. There have been inquiries, in the last hour."




"There are many from the Kombinat here,  since  the  earthquake.  They
forge relationships with the gumi."

"What's gumi?'

"Mafia, you call it Yakuza. My father has arrangement with local gumi.
Necessary,  in order to operate restaurant.  GuS representatives spoke
about you to my father.'

Your neighborhood  mafia is Russian?" Behind his head,  on the side of
the machine, the animated logo of something called Apple Shires.

"No. Yamaguchi-gumi franchise. My father knows these men. They tell my
father  Russians  ask  about  you,  and this is not good.  They cannot
guarantee usual safety. Russians not reliable."

"I don't know any Russians," Chia said.

"We go now."


He led her along the crowded platform,  its pavement wet from hundreds
of  furled umbreUas.  It must be raining now,  she thought.  Toward an

"When Walled City saw attention was being paid to  our  addresses,  my
sister's and mine, a friend was sent to remove my computer.


"Because I   have   responsibility.   For   Walled  City.  Distributed

"You've got a MUD in your computer?"

"Walled City is not anywhere," he  said,  as  they  stepped  onto  the
escalator.  "My friend has my computer. And he knows about men who are
waiting for you."

Masahiko said his friend was called Gomi Boy.

He was very small,  and wore an  enormous,  balloon-bottomed  pair  of
padded fatigue pants covered with at least a dozen pockets. These were
held up with three-inch-wide Day-Gb orange suspenders,  over  a  ratty
cotton  sweater with the cuffs rolled back.  His shoes were pink,  and
looked like the shoes babies wore,  but bigger.  He was perched on  an
angular  aluminum  chair now and the baby shoes didn't quite touch the
floor.  His hair looked as though it had been sculpted with a spatula,
gleaming  swirls  and  dips,  like  your hand might stick there if you
touched it. It was the way they painted

J. D.  Shapely's hair on those murals in Pioneer Square, and Chia knew
from school that that had something to do with that whole Elvis thing,
though she couldn't remember exactly what.

He was talking with Masahiko in Japanese, over the crashing sound-surf
of this gaming arcade.  Chia wished she was wearing a translator,  but
she'd have to open her bag,  find one,  turn the Sand-benders on.  And
Gomi  Boy  looked  like  he'd  be  just  as happy knowing she couldn't
understand him.

He was drinking a can of something called Pocari Sweat,  and smoking a
cigarette.  Chia  watched the blue smoke settling out in layers in the
air,  lit by the glare of the games.  There was cancer  in  that,  and
they'd  arrest  you  in  Seattle  if you did it.  Gomi Boy's cigarette
looked like it had been made in a factory: a perfect white tube with a
brown  tip  he  put  to  his lips.  Chia had seen those in old movies;
sometimes,  the ones they hadn't gone through yet to  digitally  erase
them,  but  the  only  other cigarettes she'd seen were the twisted-up
paper ones they sold on the street in Seattle,  or  you  could  buy  a
little  baggie  of the tobacco stuff and the white squares of paper to
roll it up in. Meshbacks in school did it.

The rain was still coming down.  Through the arcade's streaming window
she could make out another arcade,  across the street, one of the ones
with the machines the silver balls poured through.  The neon  and  the
rain  and  the  silver  balls ran all together,  and she wondered what
Masahiko and Gomi Boy were talking about.

Gomi Boy had Masahiko's computer in a  plaid  plastic  carry-bag  with
quilted  pink  International  Biohazard  symbols on the sides.  It was
sitting on the little table beside the can of Pocari Sweat. What was a
Pocari?  She  imagined  a kind of wild pig,  with bristles,  turned-up
tusks, like she'd seen on the Nature Channel.

Gomi Boy sucked on his cigarette,  making the end  glow.  He  squinted
through  the smoke at Masahiko and said something.  Masahiko shrugged.
There was a fresh mini-can of microwaved espresso in front of him, and
Chia  had  another  Coke Lire.  In Tokyo there was nowhere to sit down
unless you bought something,  and it was quicker to buy a  drink  than
something  to  eat.  And  it  cost less.  Except she wasn't paying for
these.  Gomi Boy was,  because he and Masahiko didn't want her to  use
Kelsey's cashcard.

Gomi Boy spoke again. "He wishes to talk with you," Masahiko said.

Chia bent over,  unzipped her bag,  found the ear-clips.  She only had
the two,  so she handed one to Gomi Boy, put the other on herself, and
hit  power.  He  put  his on.  "I am from Walled City," he said.  "You

"A MUD, right? Multi user domain."

"Not in the sense you mean,  but approximately,  yes.  Why are you  in

"To gather information about Rez's plan to marry the idotu, Rei Toei."

Gomi Boy  nodded.  Being  an  otaku  was  about  caring  a  lot  about
information; he understood being a fan. "Do you have dealings with the
Combine?"  Chia  knew  he  had  said Kombinat,  and the translator had
covered it. He meant that mafia government in Russia.

"No," Chia said.

"And you came to be at Masahiko's because. . .

"Mitsuko's the social secretary of the Tokyo  chapter  of  the  Lo/Rez
group I belong to in Seattle."

"How many times did you port, from the restaurant?"

"Three times." The Silke-Marie KoIb outfit. The meeting. Zona Rosa. "I
paid for presentation software,  Mitsuko and  I  did  the  meeting,  I
linked home."

"You paid for the software with your cashcard?"

"Yes." She looked from Gomi Boy to Masahiko.  Between and behind them,
the rain.  The endless racketing cascade of the little  silver  balls,
through the glass across the street. Players hunched there on integral
stools,  manipulating the flood of metal.  Masahiko's expression  told
her nothing at all.

"Masahiko's computer  maintains  certain aspects of Walled City," Gomi
Boy said.  "Contingency plans were in place for its removal to safety.
When  it  became  obvious  that  both Masahiko's and his sister's user
addresses were attracting unusual attention,  I was sent to secure his
machine. We frequently exchange hardware. I am a dealer in second-hand
equipment.  That is why I am called Gomi Boy.  I have my own  keys  to
Masahiko's  room.  His father knows I am allowed to enter.  His tither
does not care.  I came and took the computer.  Nearby is a small civic
recreation  area.  The  restaurant is visible from it.  Seeing Oakland
Overbombers, I crossed the street and spoke with them."

"Seeing what?"

"A skateboard group.  They are named for the California soccer club. I
asked  them if there had been unusual activity.  They told me they had
seen a very large vehicle, an hour before .

"A Graceland."

"A Daihatsu Graceland. There are fewer here than in America, I think."

Chia nodded.  Her stomach did that cold flip-thing again.  She thought
she might throw up.

Gomi Boy leaned sideways with his cigarette,  which was short now, and
mashed the lit end into a little chrome bowl that was fastened to  the
side of a game console. Chia wondered what this was actually used for,
and why he did that, but she supposed he had to put it somewhere or it
would burn his fingers. "The Graceland parked near the restaurant. Two
men got out .

"What did they look like?'

"Gumi representatives."


"Yes. They went into  the  restaurant.  The  Graceland  waited.  After
fifteen  minutes,  they  returned,  got into the Graceland,  and left.
Masahiko's father appeared.  He looked in all directions, studying the
street. He took his phone from his pocket and spoke with someone.

He went  back  into the restaurant." Gomi Boy looked at the carry-bag.
"I did not want to remain  in  the  recreation  area  with  Masahiko's
computer.  I  told  the  leader  of the Overbombers I would give him a
better telephone, later, if he would remain there and phone me if more
activity occurred.  The Overbombers do nothing anyway, so he agreed. I
left.  He phoned twenty minutes later to report a gray Honda van.  The
driver is Japanese, but the other three are foreigners. He thinks they
are Russian."


"Because they are very large,  and dress in a style he associates with
the Combine. They are still there."

"How do you know?"

"If they leave, he must call me. He wants his new phone."

"Can I port from here? I have to talk to Air Magellan right away about
changing my reservations.  I want to go home," And  leave  Maryalice's
package in that trash cannister she could see behind Gomi Boy.

"You must  not port," Masahiko said.  "You must not use the cash-card.
If you do, they will find you."

"But what else am I supposed to do?" she said,  startled  by  her  own
voice, which sounded like someone else's. "I just want to go home!"

"Let me  see the card," Gomi Boy said.  It was in her parka,  with her
passport and her ticket home. She took it out and handed it to him. He
opened  a pocket on his fatigue pants and took out a small rectangular
device that seemed to be held together with multiple layers of fraying
silver  tape.  He  swiped  Chia's  card along a slot and peered into a
peephole reader like the one on a fax-beeper. "This is nontransferable
and cannot be used to obtain cash. It is also very easy to trace."

"My friend's  pretty  sure  they've got the number anyway," Chia said,
thinking of Zona.

Gomi Boy began to tap the edge of the cashcard on the rim of  his  can
of  Pocari Swear.  'There is a place where you can use this and not be
traced," he said,  Tap tap. "Where Masahiko could access Walled City."
Tap tap. "Where you could phone home."

"Where's that?"

"A love hotel." Tap. "Do you know what that is?"

"No," Chia said. Tap.

Emerging from  Le  Chicle's pink mosaic gullet into the start of rain,
Laney saw that the stilt-walking New Logic disciple was still  at  his
post,  his animated sandwich-board illuminated against the evening. As
Blackwell held the door of a mini-limo for Arleigh,  Laney looked back
at  the scrolling numerals and wondered how much the planet's combined
weight of human nervous tissue had increased while they'd been in  the

Laney got in after her,  noticing those Catalan suns again,  the three
of them, decreasing in size down her inner calf. Blackwell thunked the
door behind him,  then opened the front, should've-beeri driver's side
door and seemed  to  pour  himself  into  the  car,  a  movement  that
simultaneously  suggested  the  sliding  of  a ball of mercury and the
settling of hundreds of pounds of liquid concrete. The car waddled and
swayed as its shocks adjusted to accommodate his weight.

Laney saw  how  the brim of Blackwell's black-waxed hat drooped low in
back,  but not far enough to conceal a crisscrossing of fine red welts
decorating the back of his neck,

Their driver,  to  judge by the back of his head,  might have been the
same one who'd driven them  to  Akihabara.  He  pulled  out  into  the
mirror-image  traffic.  The  rain  was  running  and pooling,  tugging
reflected neon out of the perpendicular and spreading  it  in  wriggly
lines across sidewalk and pavement.

Arleigh McCrae was wearing perfume, and it made Laney wish

23. Here at the Western World

that Blackwell wasn't there, and that they were on their way somewhere
other  than wherever it was they were going now,  and in another city,
and that quite a lot of the last seven months of Laney's  life  hadn't
happened  at  all,  or had happened differently,  or maybe even as far
back  as  DatAmerica  and  the  Frenchmen,  but  as  it  became   more
complicated, it became depressing.

"I'm not sure you're going to enjoy this place," she said.

"How's that?"

"You don't seem like the type."

"Why not?"

"I could be wrong.  Lots of people do enjoy it.  I suppose if you take
it as a very elaborate joke

"What is it?"

"A club.  Restaurant.  An environment.  If we turned up there  without
Blackwell, I doubt they'd let us in. Or even admit it's there."

Laney was  remembering  the Japanese restaurant in Brentwood,  the one
Kathy Torrance had taken him to.  Not  Japanese  Japanese.  Owned  and
operated.  Its theme an imaginary Eastern European country.  Decorated
with folk art from that country,  and everyone who worked  there  wore
native garb from that country,  or else a sort of metallic-gray prison
outfit and these big black shoes.  The men who worked  there  all  had
these haircuts, shaved high on the sides, and the women had big double
braids,  rolled up like wheels of cheese.  Laney's entree had had  all
kinds of different little sausages in it, the smallest he'd ever seen,
and some kind of pickled cabbage on the side,  and  it  hadn't  tasted
like  it had come from anywhere in particular,  but maybe that was the
point.  And then they'd gone back to her apartment,  decorated like  a
sort of deluxe version of the Cage at Slitscan. And that hadn't worked
out either,  and sometimes he wondered whether that had made her  even
angrier, when he'd gone over to Out of Control.


"Sorry This place-Rez likes it?"

Past ambient  forests  of  black  umbrellas,  waiting  to  cross at an

"I think he just likes to brood there," she said.

The Western World occupied the top two floors of  an  office  building
that hadn't quite survived the quake. Yamazaki might have said that it
represented a response to trauma and subsequent reconstruction. In the
days   (some  said  hours)  immediately  following  the  disaster,  an
impromptu bar and disco had come into being in the former offices of a
firm that had brokered shares in golf-club memberships.  The building,
declared structurally unsound, had been sealed by emergency workers at
the  ground  floor,  but  it  was  still possible to enter through the
ruined sublevels.  Anyone willing to climb eleven  flights  of  mildly
fissured concrete stairs found the Western World, a bizarrely atypical
(but some said mysteriously crucial) response  to  the  upheaval  that
had,  then,  so  recently  killed  eighty-six thousand of the region's
thirty-six million inhabitants.  A Belgian journalist,  struggling  to
describe  the  scene,  had  said  that  it resembled a cross between a
permanent mass wake,  an ongoing grad  night  for  at  least  a  dozen
subcultures unheard of before the disaster,  the black market cafes of
occupied Paris,  and Goya's idea of a dance party (assuming  Goya  had
been  Japanese  and smoked freebase methamphetamine,  which along with
endless quantities of alcohol was the early Western World's  substance
of  choice).  It  was,  the Belgian said,  as though the city,  in its
convulsion and grief, had spontaneously and necessarily generated this
hidden  pocket universe of the soul,  its few unbroken windows painted
over with black rubber aquarium paint.  There would be no view of  the
ruptured city.  As the reconstruction began around it,  it had already
become a benchmark in Tokyos psychic history, an open secret, an urban

But now,  Arleigh  was explaining,  as they climbed the first of those
eleven flights of stairs,  it was  very  definitely  a  commercial  op
eration,  the  damaged  building  owing  its continued survival to the
unlicensed penthouse club that was its sole occupant.  If in  fact  it
continued to be unlicensed,  and she had her doubts about that. "There
isn't a lot of slack here," she said,  climbing,  "not for things like
that. Everybody knows the Western World's here, I think there's a very
quiet agreement,  somewhere,  to allow them to operate  the  place  as
though  it  were still unlicensed.  Because that's what people want to
pay for."

"Who owns the building?" Laney asked,  watching Blackwell float up the
stairs in front of them,  his arms,  in the matte black sleeves of the
drover's coat, like sides of beef dressed for a funeral. The stairwell
was lit with irregular loops of faintly bioluminescent cable.

"Rumor has it, one of the two groups who can't quite agree on who owns
our hotel."


"Local equivalent, but only very approximately equivalent. Real estate
was baroque, here, before the quake; now it's more like occult."

Laney, glancing down as they passed one of the glowing loops, noticed,
on the treads of the  stairs,  hardened  trickles  of  something  that
resembled greenish amber. "There's stuff on the stairs," he said.

"Urine," Arleigh said.


"Solidified, biologically neutral urine."

Laney took the next few steps in silence.  His calves were starting to
ache. Urine?

"The plumbing didn't work,  after the quake," she said. "They couldn't
use the toilets.  People just started going,  down the stairs.  Pretty
horrible, by all accounts, although some people actually get nostalgic
about it."

"It's solid?"

"There's a product here,  a powder, looks like instant soup. Some kind
of enzyme. They sell it mainly to mothers with young kids. The kid has
to  pee,  you can't get them to a toilet in time,  they pee in a paper
cup,  an empty juice box.  You  drop  in  the  contents  of  a  handy,
purse-sized  sachet  of  this  stuff,  zap,  it's  a  solid.  Neutral,
odorless, completely hygienic. Pop it in the trash, it's landfill."

They passed another loop of light and Laney saw miniature  stalactites
suspended from the edges of a step. "They used that stuff.

"Lots of it.  Constantly.  Eventually they had to start sawing off the

"They still ... ?"

"Of course not.  But they kept the Grotto."  Another  flight.  Another
loop  of ghostly undersea light.  "What did they do about the solids?"
he asked.  "I'd rather not  know."  Winded,  his  ankles  sore,  Laney
emerged  from the Grotto.  Into a black-walled and indeterminate space
defined by blue light  and  the  uprights  of  gilded  girders.  After
chemically frozen frescoes of piss,  the Western World disappointed. A
gutted office block dressed with mismatched  couches  and  nondescript
bars.  Something looming in the middle foreground. He blinked. A tank.
American, he thought, and old.

"How did they get that up here?" he asked Arleigh, who was passing her
black coat to someone. And why hadn't the floor collapsed?

"It's resin," she said. "Membrane sculpture. Stereo lithogtaphy. Otaku
thing: they bring them in in sections and glue them together."

Blackwell had given up his drover's  coat,  exposing  a  garment  that
resembled  a  suit  jacket but seemed to have been woven from slightly
tarnished aluminum.  Whatever this fabric was,  there was enough of it
there  for a double bedspread.  He moved forward,  through the maze of
couches and low tables, with that same effortless determination, Laney
and Arleigh drawn along in his wake.

"That's a  Sherman  tank,"  Laney  said,  remembering  a  CD-ROM  from
Gainesville, one about the history of armored vehicles, Arleigh didn't
seem  ro  have  heard  him,  But then she'd probably never played with
CD-ROMs,  either, Time in a Federal Orphanage had a way of acquainting
you with dead media platforms.

If Arleigh  were right,  and the Western World were being kept on as a
kind of tourist attraction,  Laney wondered what the crowd would  have
been  like in the early days,  when the sidewalks below were buried in
six feet of broken glass.

These people on the couches,  now,  hunched over the low  tables  that
supported  their  drinks,  seemed unlike any crowd he'd seen so far in
Tokyo.  There was a definite edged-out quality  there,  and  prolonged
eye-contact  might  have been interesting in some cases,  dangerous in
others.  Distinct impression that the room's combined  mass  of  human
nervous  tissue would have been found to be freighted with the odd few
colorants. Or else these people were somehow preselected for a certain
combination of facial immobility and intensity of glance?

"Laney," Blackwell  said,  dropping  a  hand  on  Laney's shoulder and
twirling him into the gaze of a pair of long green eyes, "this is Rez.
Rez, Cohn Laney. He's working with Arleigh."

"Welcome to  the Western World," smiling,  and then the eyes slid past
him to Arleigh. "Evenin', Miz MacCrae."

Laney noticed something then that he knew  from  his  encounters  with
celebs at Slitscan:  that binary flicker in his mind between image and
reality, between the mediated face and the face there in front of you.
He'd noticed how it always seemed to speed up, that alternation, until
the two somehow merged, the resulting composite becoming your new idea
of  the  person.  (Someone  at  Slitscan had told him that it had been
clinically  proven  that  celebrity-recognition  was  handled  by  one
particular area in the brain,  but he'd never been sure whether or not
they were joking.)

Those had been tame celebrities,  the ones Kathy had already  had  her
way with. In the building (but never the Cage) to have various aspects
of their public lives scripted,  per whatever agreements were  already
in place.  But Rez wasn't tame,  and was a much bigger deal in his own
way,  although Laney had only been aware of his later  career  because
Kathy had hated him so.

Rez had his arm around Arleigh now,  gesturing with the other into the
relative darkness beyond the  Sherman  tank,  saying  something  Laney
couldn't hear.

"Mr. Laney,   good  evening."  It  was  Yamazaki,  in  a  green  plaid
sportscoat that sat oddly on his narrow shoulders. He blinked rapidly,


"You have met Rez,  yes?  Good,  very good.  A table is  prepared,  to
dine." Yamazaki put two fingers inside the oversized,  buttoned collar
of his cheap-looking white dress shirt and tugged,  as though it  were
far too tight. '1 understand initial attempts to identi~' nodal points
did not meet with success." He swallowed,

"I can't pull a personal fix out of something textured like  corporate
data. He's just not there."

Rez was moving in the direction of whatever lay beyond the tank.

"Come," Yamazaki    said,   then   lowered   his   voice.   "Something
exrraordinary. She is here. She dines with Rez. Rei Toei."

The idoru.

24. Hotel Di

In this tiny cab now with Masahiko and Gomi Boy, Masahiko up front, on
what  should've  been  the  driver's side,  Gomi Boy beside her in the
back.  Gomi Boy had so many pockets in his fatigue pants,  and so many
things  in  them,  that  he had trouble getting comfortable.  Chia had
never been in a car this small, let alone a cab. Masahiko's knees were
folded  up,  almost  against  his  chest.  The driver had white cotton
gloves and a hat like the hats cab drivers wore in 1940s movies. There
were  little  covers  made  of  starched  white  lace fixed to all the
headrests with special clips.

She guessed it was such a small cab because Gomi Boy was going  to  be
paying, cash money, and he made it clear he didn't have a lot of that.

Somehow they had ascended out of the rain into this crazy, impressive,
but  old-fashioned-looking  multilevel  expressway,  its  steel  bones
ragged  with  bandages  of  Keviar,  and were whipping past the middle
floors of tall buildings--maybe that  Shinjuku  again,  because  there
went that Tin Toy Building,  she thought,  glimpsed through a gap, but
far away and from another direction-and here,  gone so  fast  she  was
never sure she'd seen him, through one window like all the rest, was a
naked man,  crosslegged on an office desk,  his mouth open as wide  as
possible, as if in a silent scream.

Then she began to notice other buildings,  through sheets of rain, and
these were illuminated to a degree excessive even by local stan dards,
like Nissan County attractions in a television ad, isolated theme-park
elements thrusting up out of a strata of more featureless  structures,
unmarked and unlit. Each bright building with its towering sign: HOTEL
KING MIDAS with its twinkling crown and scepter,  FREEDOM SHOWER BANFE
with  blue-green  mountains  flanking a waterfall of golden light.  At
least six more in rapid succession,  then Gomi Boy said  something  in
Japanese. The drivers shiny black bill dipped in response.

They swung onto an off-ramp,  slowing.  From the ramp's curve,  in the
Hat,  ugly  flare  of  sodium  floods,  she  saw  a   rainy,   nowhere
intersection,  no  cars in sight,  where pale coarse grass lay wet and
dishevelled up a short steep slope.  No place at all, like it could as
easily  have  been  on  the  outskirts  of  Seattle,  the outskirts of
anywhere, and the homesickness made her gasp.

Gomi Boy shot her a sidewise glance,  engaged  in  the  excavation  of
something from another of his pockets,  this one apparently inside his
pants.  From somewhere well below the level of his crotch he fished up
a wallet-sized fold of paper money,  secured with a wide black elastic
band. In the passing glare of another road light Chia saw him snap the
elastic back and peel off three bills. Bigger than American money, and
on one she made out the comfortingly familiar logo of a company  whose
name  she'd  known  all  her life.  He tucked the three bills into the
sleeve of his sweater and set about replacing the rest wherever it was
he kept it.

'There soon,"  he  said,  withdrawing  his  hand  and  refastening his

'Where soon?"

They took a right and stopped,  alL around them a strange white  fairy
glow,  falling  with  the  rain to oil-stained conctete neatly painted
with two  big  white  arrows,  side  by  side,  pointing  in  opposite
directions.  The  one  pointing  in  the  direction  they  were headed
indicated a square opening in a  featureless,  white-painted  concrete
wall. Five-inch-wide ribbons of shiny pink plastic hung from its upper
edge to  the  concrete  below,  concealing  whatever  was  behind  and
reminding  Chia  of  streamers  at  a school dance.  Gomi Boy gave the
driver the three bills. He sat patiently, waiting for change.

Her legs cramping,  Chia reached for the  door  handle,  but  Masahiko
quickly  reached  across  from the front,  stopping her.  "Driver must
open," he said.  "If you open,  mechanism breaks, very expensive." The
driver gave Gomi Boy change.  Chia thought Gomi Boy would tip him, but
he didn't.  The driver reached down and did something,  out of  sight,
that made the door beside Chia open.

She climbed out into the rain,  dragging her bag after her, and looked
up at the source of the white glow:  a building like a  wedding  cake,
HOTEL  DI  spelled out in white neon script edged with clear twinkling
bulbs.  Masahiko beside her now,  urging her toward the pink  ribbons.
She  heard  the  cab  pull away behind her.  "Come." Gomi Boy with the
plaid bag, ducking through the wet ribbons.

Into an almost empty parking area,  two small cars, one gray, one dark
green,  their  license  plates concealed by rectangles of smooth black
plastic. A glass door sliding aside as Gomi Boy approached.

A disembodied voice said something in  Japanese.  Gomi  Boy  answered.
"Give him your card," Masahiko said. Chia took out the card and handed
it to Gomi Boy,  who seemed  to  be  asking  the  voice  a  series  of
questions.  Chia looked around.  Pale blues,  pink, light gray. A very
small space that managed to suggest a  hotel  lobby  without  actually
offering  a  place to sit down.  Pictures cycling past on wallscreens:
interiors of very strange-looking  rooms.  The  voice  answering  Gomi
Boy's questions.

"He asks  for  a  room  with  optimal porting capacity," Masahiko said

Gomi Boy and the voice seemed to reach agreement.  He  slotted  Chia's
card above something that looked like a small pink water fountain. The
voice thanked him.  A narrow hatch opened and a key slid down into the
pink  bowl.  Gorni Boy picked it up and handed it to Masahiko.  Chia's
card emerged from the slot;  Gomi Boy pulled it out and passed  it  to
Chia.  He handed Masahiko the plaid bag,  turned,  and walked out, the
glass door hissing open for him.

"He isn't coming with us?"

"Only two people  allowed  in  room.  He  is  busy  elsewhere.  Come."
Masahiko pointed toward an elevator that opened as they approached.

"What kind  of hotel did you say this is?" Chia got into the elevator.
He stepped in behind her and the door closed.

He cleared his throat. "Love hotel," he said.

"What's that?" Going up.

"Private rooms. For sex. Pay by the hour."

"Oh," Chia said,  as though that explained  everything.  The  elevator
stopped  and the door opened.  He got out and she followed him along a
narrow corridor lit with ankle-high light-strips.  He stopped in front
of  a  door  and inserted the key they'd been given.  As he opened the
door, lights came on inside.

"Have you been to one of these before?" she asked,  and  felt  herself
blush. She hadn't meant it that way.

"No," he  said.  He closed the door behind her and examined the locks.
He pushed two buttons.  "But people who come here  sometimes  wish  to
port.  There  is a reposting service that makes it very hard to trace.
Also for phoning, very secure."

Chia was looking at the  round  pink  frirry  bed.  It  seemed  to  be
upholstered in what they made stuffed animals out oil The wall-to-wall
was shaggy and white as snow,  the  combination  reminding  her  of  a
particularly nasty-looking sugar snack called a Ring-Ding.

Velcro made  that  ripping sound.  She turned to see Masahiko removing
his nylon gaiters.  He took off his black workshoes (the toe was  out,
in  one  of  his  thin  gray socks) and slid his feet into white paper
sandals.  Chia looked down at her own wet shoes on the white shag  and
decided she'd better do the same. "Why does this place look the way it
does?" she asked, kneeling to undo her laces.

Masahiko shrugged.  Chia  noticed  that  the   quilted   International
Biohazard  symbol on the plaid bag was almost exactly the color of the
fur on the bed.

Spotting what was obviously the bathroom through  an  open  door,  she
carried her own bag in there and closed the door behind her. The walls
were upholstered with something black and shiny,  and  the  floor  was
checkered  with black and white tiles.  Complicated mood-lighting came
on and she was surrounded  by  ambient  birdsong.  This  bathroom  was
nearly  as  big  as  the  bedroom,  with a bath like a miniature black
swimming pool and something else that Chia only  gradually  recognized
as a toilet.  Remembering the one back in Eddie's office,  she put her
bag down and approached the thing with extreme caution.  It was black,
and  chrome,  and  had  arms  and a back,  sort of like a chair at the
stylist's.  There was a display cycling, on a little screen beside it,
with  fragments  of English embedded in the Japanese.  Chia watched as
"(A) Pleasure" and "(B) Super Pleasure" slid past. "Uh-uh," she said.

After studying the seat and the ominous black bowl,  she  lowered  her
pants,  positioned  herself  strategically  over the toilet,  squatted
carefully,  and urinated without sitting down.  She'd let someone else
flush that one,  she decided, while she washed her hands at the basin,
but then she heard it flush itself.

There was a glossy pink paper bag beside  the  basin  with  the  words
"Teen Teen Toiletry Bag" printed on it in swirly white script.  It was
sealed at the top with a silver stick-on bow.  She removed the bow and
looked  inside.  Lots  of  different little give-away cosmetics and at
least a dozen different kinds of condoms,  everything packaged to look
more or less like candy.

There was  a  shiny  black cabinet to the left of the mirror above the
basin,  the only thing in  the  toom  that  looked  Japanese  in  that
old-fashioned way.  She opened it;  a light came on inside,  revealing
three glass shelves arranged with  shrink-wrapped  plastic  models  of
guy's  dicks,  all  different  sizes of them,  molded in weird colors.
Other objects she didn't recognize at  all:  knobby  balls,  something
that  looked  like a baby's pacifier,  miniature inner-tubes with long
rubbery whiskers.  In the middle of it all stood a little black-haired
doll in a pretty kimono made of bright paper and gold cloth.  But when
she tried to pick it up, the wig and the kimono came off in one piece,
revealing yet another shrink-wrapped replica, this one with delicately
painted eyes and a Cupid's-bow mouth.  When she tried to put  the  wig
and  kimono  back  on,  it fell over,  knocking over everything on its
shelf, so she closed the cabinet, Then she washed her hands again.

Back in the Ring-Ding room,  Masahiko was cabling his  computer  to  a
black console on a shelf full of entertainment gear.  Chia put her bag
on the bed.  Something chimed softly,  twice,  and then the surface of
the  bed began to ripple,  slow osmotic waves centering in on the bag,
which began to rise slightly, and fall .

"Ick," she said,  and pulled the bag off the bed,  which chimed  again
and began to subside.

Masahiko glanced  in  her direction,  but went back to whatever he was
doing with the equipment on the shelf.

Chia found that the room had a window,  but it was hidden be-hind some
kind of softscreen.  She tried the clips that held the screen in place
until she got the one that let her slide the screen  aside  on  hidden
tracks.  The  window  looked out on a chainlinked parking lot beside a
low,  beige building sided with corrugated plastic.  There were  three
trucks  parked  there,  the  first  vehicles  she'd seen in Japan that
weren't new or particularly clean. A wet-looking gray cat emerged from
beneath  one of the trucks and sprang into the shadow beneath another.
It was still raining.

"Good," she heard Masahiko say,  evidently satisfied. "We go to Walled

"How do you mean, she's 'here'?" Laney asked Yamazaki, as they rounded
the rear of the Sherman tank.  Clots of dry clay clung to the segments
of its massive steel treads.

"Mr. Kuwayama is here," Yamazaki whispered. "He represents her-"

Laney saw that several people were already seated at a low table.

Two men. A woman. The woman must be Rei Toei.

If he'd    anticipated   her   at   all,   it   had   been   as   some
industrial-strength synthesis of Japan's last three dozen  top  female
media  faces.  That was usually the way in Hollywood,  and the formula
tended  to  be  even   more   rigid,   in   the   case   of   software
agents-.eigenheads,  their  features algorithmically derived from some
human mean of proven popularity.

She was nothing like that.

Her black hair,  rough-cut and shining, brushed pale bare shoulders as
she turned her head. She had no eyebrows, and both her lids and lashes
seemed to have been dusted with  something  white,  leaving  her  dark
pupils in stark contrast.

And now her eyes met his.

He seemed  to  cross  a  line.  In the very structure of her face,  in
geometries of underlying bone, lay coded histories of dynastic flight,
privation,  terrible  migrations.  He  saw stone tombs in steep alpine
meadows, their lintels traced with snow. A line of shaggy pack ponies,
their breath white with cold, followed a trail above a canyon.

25. The Idoru

The curves of the river below were strokes  of  distant  silver.  Iron
harness bells clanked in the blue dusk.

Laney shivered. In his mouth a taste of rotten metal.

The eyes  of  the  idoru,  envoy  of some imaginary country,  met his.
"We're  here."  Arleigh  beside  him,  hand  at  his  elbow.  She  was
indicating  two  places at the table.  "Are you all right?" she asked,
under her breath. "Take your shoes off."

Laney looked at Blackwell,  who was staring at  the  idoru,  something
like pain in his face, but the expression vanished, sucked away behind
the mask of his scars.

Laney did as he was told,  kneeling and removing his shoes,  moving as
if he were drunk,  or dreaming, though he knew he was neither, and the
idoru smiled, lit from within.


The table was set above  a  depression  in  the  floor.  Laney  seated
himself, arranging his feet beneath the table and gripping his cushion
with both hands. "What?"

"Are you okay?"


"You looked.., blind."

Rez was taking his place now at the head of the table,  the  idoru  to
his  right,  someone else-Laney saw that it was I.o,  the guitarist-to
his left.  Next to the idoru sat a dignified older  man  with  rimless
glasses,  gray  hair brushed back from his smooth forehead.  He wore a
very simple,  very expensive-looking suit  of  some  lusterless  black
material,   and  a  high-collared  white  shirt  that  buttoned  in  a
complicated way. When this man turned to address Rei Toei, Laney quite
clearly saw the light of her face reflect for an instant in the almost
circular lenses.

Arleigh's sharp intake of breath. She'd seen it too.

A hologram. Something generated, animated, projected. He felt his grip
relax slightly, on the edges of the cushion,

But then  he  remembered the stone tombs,  the river,  the ponies with
their iron bells.


Laney had once asked Gerrard  Delouvrier,  the  most  patient  of  the
tennis-playing Frenchmen of TIDAL, why it was that he, Laney, had been
chosen as the first (and,  as it would happen,  the only) recipient of
the  peculiar ability they sought to impart to him.  He hadn't applied
for the job,  he said,  and had no reason to believe the position  had
even  been  advertised.  He had applied,  he told Delouvrier,  to be a
trainee service rep.

Delouvrier, with short,  prematurely gray hair  and  a  suntable  tan,
leaned  back  in  his  articulated workstation chair and stretched his
legs.  He seemed to be studying his crepe-soled suede shoes.  Then  he
looked  out  the  window,  to  rectangular beige buildings,  anonymous
landscaping,  February snow. "Do you not see? How we do not teach you?
We watch. We wish to learn from you."

They were  in a DatAmerica research park in Iowa.  There was an indoor
court  for  Delouvrier  and  his  colleagues,  but   they   complained
constantly about its surface.

"But why me?"

Delouvrier's eyes looked tired. "We wish to be kind to the orphans? We
are an unexpected warmth at the heart of DatAmerica?"  He  rubbed  his
eyes.  "No.  Something was done to you, Laney. In our way, perhaps, we
seek to redress that. Is that a word, 'redress'?"

"No," Laney said.

"Do not question good fortune.  You are here with us,  doing work that
matters.  It is winter in this Iowa,  true,  but the work goes on." He
was looking at Laney now. "You are our only proof," he said.

"Of what?"

Delouvrier closed his eyes.  "There  was  a  man,  a  blind  man,  who
mastered echo-location.  Clicks with the tongue, you understand?" Eyes
closed,  he demonstrated. "Like a bat. Fantastic," He opened his eyes.
"He could perceive his inirnediate environment in great detail, Ride a
bicycle in traffic.  Always making the :1k,  :1k. The ability was his,
was absolutely real.  And he could never explain it, never teach it to
another.  He wove his long fingers together and cracked his  knuckles.
"We must hope that this is not the case with you."

Don't think  of  a purple cow.  Or was it a brown one?  Laney couldn't
remember.  Don't look at the idoru's face.  She is not flesh;  she  is
information.  She  is  the tip of an iceberg,  no,  an Antarctica,  of
information.  Looking at her face would trigger it again: she was some
unthinkable  volume  of  information.  She induced the nodal vision in
some unprecedented way; she induced it as narrative.

He could watch her hands. Watch the way she ate.

The meal was  elaborate,  many  small  courses  served  on  individual
rectangular plates.  Each time a plate was placed before Rei Toei, and
always  within  the  field  of  whatever   projected   her,   it   was
simultaneously veiled with a flawless copy, holo food on a holo plate.

Even the  movement of her chopsticks brought on peripheral flickers of
nodal vision. Because the chopsticks were information too, but nothing
as dense as her features, her gaze. As each "empty" plate was removed,
the untouched serving would reappear.

But when the flickering began,  Laney would  concentrate  on  his  own
meal,  his clumsiness with his own chopsticks, conversation around the
table.  Kuwayama,  the man with the  rimless  glasses,  was  answering
something  Rez  had asked,  though Laney hadn't been able to catch the
question itself. "-the result of an array of elaborate constructs that
we  refer  to  as  'desiring  machines." Rez's green eyes,  bright and
attentive. "Not in any literal sense," Kuwayama continued, "but please
envision  aggregates  of  subjective  desire.  It was decided that the
modular array would ideally constitute an architecture of  articulated
longing  The  man's  voice  was  beautifully  modulated,  his  English
accented in a way that Laney found impossible to place.

Rez smiled then,  his eyes going to the face  of  the  idoru.  As  did
Laney's as well, automatically.

He fell  through  her eyes.  He was staring up at a looming cliff face
that seemed to consist entirely of small rectangular  balconies,  none
set  at  quite  the  same level or depth.  Orange sunset off a tilted,
steel-framed window. Oilslick colors crawling in the sky.

He closed his eyes,  looked down,  opened them.  A fresh plate  there,
more food.

"You're really into your meal," Arleigh said.

A concentrated  effort  with  the chopsticks and he managed to capture
and swallow something that was like a one-inch cube  of  cold  chutney
omelet.  "Wonderful. Don't want any of that fugu though. Blowfish with
the neurotoxins? Heard about that?"

"You've already had seconds," she said. "Remember the big plate of raw
fish arranged like the petals of a chrysanthemum?"

"You're kidding," Laney said.

"Lips and tongue feel faintly numb? That's it."

Laney ran  his  tongue  across  his lips.  Was she kidding?  Yamazaki,
seated to his left,  leaned close.  "There may be  a  way  around  the
problem  you face with Rez's data.  You are aware of Lo/Rez global fan

"Of what?"

"Many fans.  They report each sighting of  Rez,  Lo,  other  musicians
involved. There is much incidental detail."

Laney knew   from   his   day's   video  education  that  Lo/Rez  were
theoretically a duo,  but that there were always at  least  two  other
"members," usually more. And Rez had been adamant from the start about
his dislike of drum machines; the current drummer, "Blind" Willy Jude,
seated  opposite  Yamazaki,  had  been with them for years.  He'd been
turning his enormous black glasses in the idoru's direction throughout
the  meal;  now he seemed to sense Laney's glance.  The black glasses,
video units,  swung around.  "Man," Jude said,  "Rozzer's sittin' down
there makin' eyes at a big aluminum thermos bottle."

"You can't see her?"

"Holos are hard,  man," the drummer said,  touching his glasses with a
fingertip "Take my kids to Nissan  County,  I'll  call  ahead,  get'em
tweaked  around  a  little.  Then I can see 'em.  But this lady's on a
funny frequency or something.  All I can see's the projector and  this
kinda, kinda ectoplastic, right? Glow, like,"

The man  seated between Jude and Mr.  Kuwayama,  whose name was Ozaki,
bobbed apologetically injude's direction.  "We regret this very  much.
We  regret deeply.  A slight adjustment is required,  but it cannot be
done at this time,"

"Hey," Jude said,  "no big problem.  I seen her already. I get all the
music  channels with these.  That one where she's a Mongol princess or
something, up in the mountains.

Laney lost a chopstick.

"The most recent single," Ozaki said.

"Yeah," Jude said, "that's pretty good. She wears that gold mask? Okay
shit." He popped a section of maki into his mouth and chewed.

Chia and  Masahiko  sat  facing  one another on the white carpet.  The
room's only chair was a fragile-looking thing with twisted  wire  legs
and  a  heart-shaped  seat  upholstered  in  pink metal-flake plastic.
Neither of them wanted to sit on the bed.  Chia  had  her  Sandbenders
across  her  knees  and  was  working  her  fingers into her tip-sets.
Masahiko's computer was on the carpet in front of him;  he'd  put  its
control-face back on and peeled a very compact pair of tip-sets out of
the back of the cube,  along with two small black oval  cups  on  fine
lengths  of  optical  cable.  Another length of the cable ran from his
computer to a small open hatch at the back of the Sandbenders.

"Okay," Chia said,  settling the last of her tips, "let's go. I've got
to get hold of somebody.

"Yes," he said.  He picked up the black cups,  one in either hand, and
placed them over his eyes.  When he let  go,  they  stayed  there.  It
looked uncomfortable.

Chia reached  up and pulled her own glasses down,  over her eyes "What
do I-"

Something at the core  of  things  moved  simultaneously  in  mutually
impossible directions. It wasn't even like porting. Software conflict?
Faint 'impression of light through a fluttering of rags.

And then the thing before her:  building  or  biomass  or  cliff  face
looming there, in countless unplanned strata, nothing about it even or
regular.  Accreted patchwork of shallow random balconies, thousands of
small windows throwing back blank silver rectangles of fog.

26. HakNani

Stretching either way to the periphery of vision,  and  on  the  high,
uneven  crest  of  that  ragged  facade,  a black (hr of twisted pipe,
antennas sagging under vine growth of cable.  And past this  scribbled
border a sky where colors crawled like gasoline on water.

"Flak Nam," he said, beside her.

"What is it?"

"'City of darkness.' Between the walls of the world."

She remembered  the scarf she'd seen,  in his room behind the kitchen,
its intricate map of something chaotic and compacted,  tiny  irregular
segments  of  red  and  black  and  yellow.  And then they were moving
forward,  toward a narrow opening. "It's a MUD, right?" Something like
a larger,  permanent version of the site the Tokyo chapter had erected
for the meeting,  or the tropical forest Kelsey and Zona had  put  up.
But  people  played  games  in  MUDs;  they  made  up  characters  for
themselves and pretended. Little kids did it, and lonely people.

"No," he  said,  "not  a  game."  They  were  inside   now,   smoothly
accelerating,  and  the  squirming  density of the thing was continual
visual impact, an optical drumming. "Tai Chang Street." Walls scrawled
and  crawling with scrolling messages,  spectral doorways passing like
cards in a shuffled deck.

And they were not alone:  others there,  ghost-figures whipping  past,
and everywhere the sense of eyes .

Fractal filth,  bit-rot,  the  corridor  of  their passage tented with
crazy swoops of faintly flickering lines of  some  kind.  "Alms  House
Backstreet." A sharp turn. Another. Then they were ascending a maze of
twisting stairwells,  still accelerating,  and Chia took a deep breath
and  closed  her  eyes.  Retinal  fireworks  bursting  there,  but the
pressure was gone.

When she opened her eyes,  they were in a much cleaner but  no  larger
version  of  his  room behind the kitchen in the restaurant.  No empty
ramen bowls,  no piles of clothing.  He was beside her on the sleeping
ledge,   staring   at   the   shifting   patterns  on  his  computer's
control-face.  Beside it on the  work-surface,  her  Sandbenders.  The
texture-mapping  was  rudimentary,  everything a little too smooth and
glossy.  She looked at him,  curious to see how he'd present.  A basic
scan job,  maybe a year out of date: his hair was shorter. He wore the
same black tunic.

On the wall behind the  computers  was  an  animated  version  of  the
printed scarf,  its red,  black,  and yellow bits pulsing slightly.  A
bright green line traced a route  in  from  the  perimeter;  where  it
ended,  bright  green,  concentric  rings radiated from one particular
yellow square.

She looked back at him, but he was still staring at the control-face.

Something chimed.  She glanced at the door,  which  was  mapped  in  a
particularly  phoney-looking wood-grain effect,  and saw a small white
rectangle slide under the door. And keep sliding, straight toward her,
across the floor,  to vanish under the sleeping ledge. She looked down
in time to see it rise,  at exactly the same rate,  up the edge of the
striped  mattress  and  over,  coming to a halt when it was in optimum
position to be read.  It was in that same font they'd used at  Whiskey
Clone,  or one just like it.  It said "Ku Klux Klan Kollectibles," and
then some letters and numbers  that  didn't  look  like  any  kind  of
address she knew.

Another chime. She looked at the door in time to see a gray blur scoot
from under it. Flat, whirling, &st. It was on the white rectangle now,
something  like  the  shadow of a crab or spider,  two-dimensional and
multi-legged. It swallowed it, shot for the door.

"I have completed  responsibility  to  Walled  City,"  Masahiko  said,
turning from the control-face.

"What were those things?" Chia asked him.

"What things?"

"Like a  business  card,  Crawled under the door.  Then another thing,
like a gray cut-out crab, that ate it."

"An advertisement," he decided,  "and  a  sub-program  that  of  fered

"It didn't offer criticism; it ate it."

"Perhaps the  person  who  wrote the sub-program dislikes advertising.
Many do.  Or dislikes the advertiser.  Political,  aesthetic, personal
reasons, all are possible."

Chia looked  around  at the reproduction of his tiny room.  "Why don't
you have a bigger site?" Instantly worried that it was because he  was
Japanese,  and  maybe  they  were just used to that.  But still it was
about the smallest virtual space she could remember  having  been  in,
and  it  wasn't like a bigger one cost more,  not unless you were like
Zona and wanted yourself a whole country.

"The Walled City is a concept  of  scale.  Very  important.  Scale  is
place,   yes?   Thirty-three   thousand   people  inhabited  original.
Two-point-seven hectares. As many as fourteen stories,"

None of which made any sense to Chia. "I have to port, okay?"

"Of course," he said, and gestured toward her Sandbenders.

She was braced for that two-directions-at-once thing,  but  it  didn't
happen.  The  bit-mapped fish were swimming around in the glass coffee
table.  She looked out the window at the  crayon  trees  and  wondered
where the Mumphalumpagus was.  She hadn't seen it for a while.  It was
something her father had made for her when she was a baby,  a big pink
dinosaur with goof~y eyelashes.

She checked the table for mail, but there was nothing new.

She could phone from here. Call her mother. Sure.

"Hi, I'm  in  Tokyo.  In  a  "love hotel." People are after me because
somebody put something in my bag. So, uh, what do you think I should I

She tried  porting  to  Kelsey's address instead,  but all she got was
that annoying marble anteroom and the voice,  not Kelsey's,  that said
that  Kelsey  Van Troyer wasn't in at the moment.  Chia exited without
leaving a message.  The next address she tried was Zona's,  but Zona's
provider was down. That happened a lot, in Mexico, and particularly in
Mexico City, where Zona lived. She decided to try Zona's secret place,
because  it  was on a mainframe in Arizona and it was never down.  She
knew Zona didn't like people  just  showing  up  there,  because  Zona
didn't want the company that had built the original website,  and then
forgotten about it, to discover that Zona had gotten in and set up her
own country.

She asked  the  Sandbenders where she was porting from now and it said
Helsinki,  Finland.  So that re-porting capability at  the  hotel  was
working, at least.

Just before twilight at Zona's, like always. Chia scanned rhe floor of
a dry swimming pool,  looking for Zona's lizards,  but she didn't  see
them.  Usually  they were right there,  waiting for you,  bur not this
rime. "Zona?"

Chia looked up, wondering if she'd see those spooky condor-things that
Zona  kept.  The sky was beautiful but empty.  Originally that sky had
been the most important part of this place,  and no expense  had  been
spared.  Serious  sky:  deep  and clean and a crazy Mexican shade like
pale turquoise.  They'd brought people here to  sell  them  airplanes,
corporate jets,  when the jets were still in the design phase. There'd
been a white concrete landing strip,  but Zona had folded it up into a
canyon and mapped over it.  All the local color was Zona's stuff:  the
cooking fires and the dead poois and the broken walls.  She'd imported
landscape  files,  maybe  even  real  stuff she knew from somewhere in
Mexico. "Zona?"

Something rattled,  up the nearest ridge,  like pebbles on a sheet  of

"It's okay.  One  of  the  lizards.  She's  just not here now.  A twig
snapped. Closer."

"Don't hick around, Zona".

But she exited.

The bit-mapped fish swam back and forth.

That had been very creepy.  She wasn't sure why,  exactly,  but it had
been.  Still was,  kind of.  She looked at the door to her bedroom and
found herself wondering what she'd find there if she gestured for  it.
The  bed,  her Lo Rez Skyline poster,  the agent of Lo greeting her in
his mindless friendly way. But what if she found something else?

Something waiting.  Like she could still  hear  that  rattle,  up  the
slope.  Or what if she went to the wire-framed door where her mother's
room would have been?  What if she opened it and her mother's room was
there after all, and not her mother, waiting, but something else?

She was creeping herself out, that was all. She looked at her stack of
Lo/Rez albums beside the lithographed lunch box,  her  virtual  Venice
beside  that.  Even her Music Master would seem like company now.  She
opened  it,  watching  the  Piazza  decompress  like  some  incredibly
intricate  paper  pop-up book on fast-forward,  facades and colonnades
springing up around her,  with the hour before  a  winter's  dawn  for

Turning from the water,  where the prows of black gondolas bobbed like
marks in some lost system of musical notation,  she lifted her  finger
and  shot  forward into the maze,  thinking as she did that this place
had been as strange,  in its way,  as Masahiko's Walled City, and what
was that all supposed to be about anyway?

And it  was only as she crossed her third bridge that she noticed that
he wasn't there.


She stopped. A shop window displayed the masks of Carnival, the really
ancient ones.  Black,  penis-nosed leather,  empty eye-holes. A mirror
draped with yellowed crepe.

Checking the Sandbenders to make sure she hadn't turned him  off.  She

Chia closed  her  eyes  and  counted  to three.  Made herself feel the
carpeted floor she sat on in the Hotel Di. She opened her eyes.

At the end of the narrow Venetian street,  down  the  tilted,  stepped
cobbles,  where  it  opened  out  into  a  small  square or plaza,  an
unfamiliar figure stood beside the central fountain.

She pulled the goggles off without bothering to close Venice

Masahiko sat opposite her,  his legs crossed, the black cups sucked up
against his eyes.  His lips were moving,  silently,  and his hands, on
his knees,  in their black tip-sets, traced tiny fingerpatterns in the

Maryalice was sitting on the furry pink bed with an unlit cigarette in
her mouth. She had a little square gray gun in her hand, and

Chia saw how the freshly glossed red of her nails contrasted with  the
pearly plastic of the handle.

"Started again," Maryalice said,  around the cigarette. She pulled the
trigger,  causing a small golden flame to spring up from  the  muzzle,
and  used it to light her cigarette.  "Tokyo.  I'll tell you.  Does it
every time."

27. That Physical Thing

Laney was at a black rubber urinal in the Men's when  he  noticed  the
Russian combing his hair in the mirror.

Ar least it looked like black rubber,  with sort of flOPPY edges. They
obviously had the plumbing working, but he wondered what they'd say if
you asked to make your own contribution to the Grotto? On his way here
he'd noticed that one of the bars was topped with a slab of  something
murky  green  and  translucent,  lit  from below,  and he'd hoped they
hadn't made that from what they'd sawn our of the stairwell.

Dinner was over and he'd probably had too mLich sake with it.  He  and
Arleigh  and  Yamazaki had watched Rez meeting this new version of the
idoru,  the one Willy Jude saw as a big silver thermos.  And Blackwell
was  having  to  get  used  to  that,  because  Laney guessed that the
bodyguard hadn't had any idea she'd be here,  not until he'd walked in
and Rez had told him.

Arleigh had  talked  with  Lo  through  most of it,  mainly about real
estate.  Different properties he owned around  the  world.  Laney  had
listened  to  more  of  Yamazaki's  ideas about accessing this teenage
fan-club sruff~ and there might actually be  something  to  that,  but
they'd have to try it to 6nd oLit.  Blackwell hadn't said two words to
anybody,  drinking lager instead of sake and packing his food away  as
though  he  were  trying to plug something,  some gap in security that
could be taken care of if you  stuffed  it  methodically  with  enough
sashimi. The Australian was an ace with chopsticks; he could probarbly
stick one in your eye at fifty paces.  But the main show had been  Rez
and the idoru,  and to a lesser extent Kuwayama, who'd carried on long
conversations with them both.  The other one,  Ozaki, seemed to be the
guy  they brought along in case someone had to change the batteries in
the silver thermos. And Willy Jude was amiable enough, but in about as
content-free a way as possible.

Techs were supposed to be an easy source of whatever passed for gossip
in a given company,  so  Laney  had  tried  a  few  openings  in  that
direction,  but Ozaki hadn't said any more than he'd had to. And since
Laney couldn't get  Rei  Toei  within  his  field  of  vision  without
starting  to  slide  over  into  nodal  mode,  he'd had to conduct his
evening's eavesdropping with whatever pick-up visuals were  available.
Arleigh wasn't too bad for that. There was something about the line of
her jaw that he particularly liked, and kept coming back to.

Laney zipped up and went to wash his hands,  the basin  made  of  that
same  floppy-looking  black  stuff,  and  noticed that the Russian was
still combing his hair.  Laney had no way of knowing if  the  man  was
literally  Russian  or not,  but he thought of him that way because of
the black patent paratrooper boots with contrasting  white  stitching,
the  pants  with  the  black silk ribbon down the side,  and the white
leather evening jacket.  Either Russian or one of those related  jobs,
but  very  definitely  Kombinat-infiected,  that  mutant commiemafioso

The Russian was combing his hair with a total concentration that  made
Laney think of a fly grooming itself with its front feet,  He was very
large,  and had a large head,  though it was mainly in  the  vertical,
quite tall from the eyebrows up, seeming to taper very slightly toward
the crown.  For all the attention being given to the combing,  the man
didn't  actually  have  much  hair,  not on top anyway,  and Laney had
thought these guys all went in  for  implants.  Rydell  had  told  him
Kombinat  types  were  all  over Tokyo.  Rydell had seen a documentary
about it, how they were so singularly and surrealistically brutal that
nobody  wanted to mess with them.  Then Rydell had started to tell him
about two Russians, San Francisco cops of some kind, who he'd had some
sort of run-in with, but Laney had to take a meeting with Rice Daniels
and a make-up artist, and never heard the end of it.

Laney checked to see that he didn't have anything stuck in  his  teeth
from dinner.

As he went out, the Russian was still combing.

He saw  Yamazaki,  blinking  and  looking lost.  "It's back there," he

"What is?"

"The can."


"Men's. The toilet."

"But I was looking for you."

"You found me."

"I observed,  as we ate,  that you avoided  looking  directly  at  the


"I surmise  that  density  of information is sufficient to allow nodal

"You got it."

Yamazaki nodded.  "Ah.  But this would not be the case with one of her
videos, or even with a 'live' performance."

"Why not?" Laney had started back in the direction of their table.

"Bandwidth," Yamazaki    said,    "The   version   here   tonight   is
high-bandwidth prototype."

"Are we compensated for beta-testing?"

"Can you describe the nature of  nodal  apprehension,  please?"  "Like
memories,"  Laney  said,  "or  clips  from a movie.  But something the
drummer said made me think I was just seeing her latest video."

Someone shoved Laney out of the way,  from behind,  and he fell across
the nearest table,  breaking a glass.  He felt the glass shatter under
him and found himself staring straight down,  for a second,  into  the
taut  gray  latex  lap of a woman who screamed explosively just before
the table gave way.  Something, probably her knee, clipped him hard in
the side of the head.

He managed  to get to his knees,  holding his head,  and found himself
recalling an experiment they'd done in Science,  back in  Gainesville.
Surface  tension.  You  sprinkled  pepper  over  the water in a glass.
Brought the tip of a needle close to the film of  pepper.  Watched  it
spring  back  from  the  needle  like  a  live thing.  And he saw that
happening here,  his head ringing,  but instead of pepper it  was  the
crowd  in  the  Western  World,  and  he  knew that the needle must be
pointed at Rez's table.

The back of a white leather  evening  jacket.  But  then  he  saw  the
Sherman  tank  come  unmoored on the shoulders of the recoiling crowd,
spinning toward him, huge and weightless, and the lights went out.

The crowd had been screaming anyway, but the dark twisted the communal
pitch  up  into something that had Laney covering his ears.  Or trying
to,  because someone stumbled into him and  he  went  over,  backward,
instinctively  curling  into a tight fetal knot and clamping his hands
across the back of his neck.

"Hey," said a voice,  very close to his ear, "get on up. You gonna get
stepped on." It was Willy Jude,  "I can see." A hand around his wrist.
"Got infrared."

Laney let the drummer pull him  to  his  feet.  "What  is  it?  What's

"Dunno, but come on. Gonna get worse-" As if on cue, a terrible squeal
of raw animal pain cut through the  frenzied  crowd-noise.  "Blackwell
got one," Willy Jude said,  and Laney felt the drummer's hand grip his
belt.  He stumbled as he was  pulled  along.  Someone  ran  into  him,
shouted  in  Japanese.  After  that  he  kept his hands up,  trying to
protect his face, and went where the drummer pulled him,

Suddenly they were in a cove or pocket of relative quiet.  "Where  are
we?" Laney asked.

"This way  Something  clipped  Laney across the shins.  "Stool," Willy
Jude said. "Sorry." Glass snapped beneath Laney's shoes.

A curve of greenish light, broken cursive hanging in the dark. Another
few steps and he saw the Grotto.  Willy Jude let go of his belt.  "You
can see here, right? That bioluminescent stuff?"

"Yeah," Laney said. "Thanks,"

"It doesn't register on my glasses.  I get infrared off  warm  bodies,
but  I can't make out the steps.  Walk me down." He took Laney's hand.
They started down the stairs together.  A black-clad trio of  Japanese
shot  past  them,  leaving a high-heeled pump on the encrusted stairs,
and vanished around the landing.  Laney kicked the shoe out  of  Willy
Jude's  way  and  kept  going.  When  they  rounded  the corner at the
landing,  Arleigh was there,  a green champagne bottle cocked over her
shoulder.  There  was  a  smear  of  blood at the corner of her mouth,
darker than her lipstick.  When she saw Laney, she lowered the bottle.
"Where were you?" she said.

"The Men's," Laney said.

"You missed the show."

"What happened?"

"Damn it," she said, "my coat's up there."

"Keep moving,  keep  moving,"  Willy  Jude  said,  More  stairs,  more
landings,  the rippling walls of the Grotto giving  way  to  concrete.
People  kept rushing down,  past them,  knots and singles,  taking the
stairs too fast.  Laney rubbed his ribs where he'd come  down  on  the
glass. It hurt, but somehow he hadn't been cut.

"They looked  like  Kombinat,"  Arleigh  said.  "Big  ugly  guys,  bad
outfits.  I couldn't tell if they were after Rez or  the  idoru.  Like
they just thought they could walk in and do it."

"Do what?"

"Don't know,"  she  said.  "Kuwayama  had  at least a dozen of his own
security people at the two  closest  tables.  And  Blackwell  probably
prays  for  a  scene  like that every night before he goes to bed.  He
reached into hi~ jacket, then the lights went out."

"He put 'em out," Willy Jude said.  "Some kinda  remote.  He  can  see
better in the dark than I can with these infrareds. Dunno how that is,
but he can."

"How'd you get out?" Laney asked Arleigh.

"Flashlight. In my purse."


Looking back to see Yamazaki,  one sleeve  of  his  green  plaid  coat
pulled free at the shoulder,  his glasses missing a lens.  Arleigh had
taken a phone from her purse and was cursing softly as  she  tried  to
get it to work.

Yamazaki caught  up  with  them at the next landing.  The four of them
continued down togerher, Laney still holding the blind drummer's hand.

When they reached the street,  the  Western  World's  sullen  crew  of
doorpeople  were  nowhere in sight.  A single policeman with a plastic
rain-cover on his cap was  muttering  frantically  into  a  microphone
clipped to the front of his rain-cape. He was walking in tight circles
as he did this,  gesturing dramatically with a white baton at  nothing
in  particular.  Several  kinds  of alien siren were converging on the
Western World, and Laney thought he could hear a helicopter.

Willy Jude dropped Laney's hand and adjusted his video-goggles to  the
street's light-level. "Where's my car?"

Arleigh lowered  her phone,  which apparently was working now.  "You'd
better come with us, Willy. Some kind of tactical unit is on the way.

"Nothing like it," Rez said,  and Laney  turned,  to  see  the  singer
emerging  from  the  Western World,  brushing something white from his
dark jacket.  "That physical thing.  Too much time in the virtual,  we
forget that, don't we? You're Leyner?" Extending his hand.

"Laney," Laney  said,  as  Arleigh's  dark  green van pulled up beside

Maryalice opened a curved drawer that was built into  the  pink  bed's
headboard.  She  was  wearing  a black skin-suit with big red Ashleigh
Modine Carter-style sequin roses on the lapels.  She took out a little
blue  glass  dish and balanced it on her knee.  "I hate these places,"
she said.  "There's lots of ways to make sex ugly,  but it's  kind  of
hard  to  make  it look this ridiculous." She knocked the gray end off
her cigarette, into the blue saucer. "How old are you, anyway?"

"Fourteen," Chia said.

"About what 1 told 'em. You're fourteen, fifteen, for real, and no way
you were on to me.  I was on to you,  right? It was my move. I planted
on you.  But they don't believe me.  Say you're some kind of operator,
say  I'm  just stupid,  say that Rez guy sent you to SeaTac to get the
stuff.  Say you're a set-up and I'm crazy to believe a kid couldn't do
that."  She  sucked  on the cigarette,  squinting.  "Where is it?" She
looked down at Chia's bag, open on the white carpet. "There?"

"I didn't mean to take it. I didn't know it was there."

"I know that," Maryalice said.  "What I told 'em.  I meant to  get  it
back off you at the club."

"I don't understand any of this," Chia said. "It just scares me."

"Sometimes I  bring  stuff back for Eddie.  Party favors for the club.
It's illegal, but it's not all that illegal, you know? Not hard stuff,
really.  But  this  time  he  was  doing  something  else on the side,
something with the Russians,  and I didn't like it. That's what scares
me, that stulf Like its alive."

28. A Matter of Credit

"What stuff?"

"That. Assemblers, they're called."

Chia looked  at  her  bag.  "That  thing  in  my  bag  is  a  nanotech

"More like what you start with.  Kind of an egg,  or a little factory.
You  plug that thing into another machine that programs 'em,  and they
start building themselves out of whatever's handy.  And  when  there's
enough of 'em, they start building whatever it was you wanted them to.
There's some kind of law against selling that stuff to  the  Kombinat,
so they want it bad.  But Eddie worked out a way to do it. I met these
two creepy German guys in the SeaTac Hyatt. They'd flown in there from
wherever,  I  figured  maybe  Africa."  She  mashed the lit end of the
cigarette into the little blue dish, making it smell even worse. "They
didn't want to give it to me,  because they were expecting Eddie.  Lot
of back and forth on the phone.  Finally they did.  I was supposed  to
put  it in the suitcase with the other stuff,  but it made me nervous.
Made me wanna self-medicate." She looked around the room.  She put the
blue  dish with the crushed cigarette on a square black side table and
did something that made the front of it open.  It was a  refrigerator,
filled with little bottles. Maryalice bent over, peering in there. The
pistol-shaped lighter slid off the pink bed.  "No tequila,"  Maryalice
said.  "You  tell  me  why  anybody'd  name a vodka 'Come Back Salmon'
Removing a little square bottle with a fish  on  its  side.  "Japanese
would,  though." She looked down at the lighter. "Like a Russian would
make a cigarette lighter that looks like a pistol."

Chia saw that Maryalice didn't have her  hair-extensions  in  anymore.
"When they were taking DNA samples,  in SeaTac," Chia said, "you stuck
the end of your extension in there.

Maryalice cracked the seal on the little bottle, opened it, drained it
in  a  single  gulp,  and  shivered.  "Those extensions are all my own
hair," she said.  "Grew 'em out when I was on sort of a  health  diet,
understand?  They  catch  people  doing recreationals,  when they take
those hair samples.  Some recreationals, they stay in your hair a long
time."  Maryalice  put  the  empty  bottle  down beside the blue dish.
"What's he doing?" Pointing at Masahiko.

"Porting," Chia said,  unable to think of a quick way to  explain  the
Walled City.

"I can see that. You came here 'cause these places'll re-post, right?"

"But you found us anyway."

"I got  connections with a cab company.  I figured it was worth a try.
But the Russians'll think of it, too, if they haven't already."

"But how'd you get in? It was all locked."

"I know my way around these places,  honey. 1 know my way entirely too

Masahiko removed the black cups that covered his eyes,  saw Maryalice,
looked down at the cups, then back up at Chia.

"Maryalice," Chia said.

Gomi Boy presented like a life-size anime of himself,  huge  eyes  and
even taller hair. "Who drank the vodka?" he asked.

"Maryalice," Chia said. "Who's Maryalice?"

"She's in the room at the hotel," Chia said.

"That was  the  equivalent  of twenty minutes porting," Gomi Boy said.
"How can there be someone in your room at the Hotel Di?"

"It's complicated," Chia said.  They were back in Masahiko's  room  in
the Walled City.  They'd just clicked back,  none of that maze-running
like the first time.  Past an icon reminding her she'd left her Venice
open, but too late for that. Maybe once you were in here, you got back
fast.  But Masahiko'd said they had  to,  quick,  there  was  trouble.
Maryalice  had  said  she didn't mind,  but Chia didn't like it at all
that Maryalice was in the room with them while they were porting.

"Your cash card is good for twenty-six  more  minutes  of  room-time,"
Gomi  Boy  said.  "Unless your friend hits the mini-bar again.  Do you
have an account in Seattle?"

"No," Chia said, "just my mother.

"We've already looked at that," Masahiko said.  "Your mother's  credit
would  not  sustain  rental  of  the  room plus porting charges.  Your

"My father?

"Has an expense account with his employer  in  Singapore,  a  merchant

"How do you know that?"

Gomi Boy shrugged.  "Walled City. We find things out. There are people
here who know things."

"You can't tap into my father's account," Chia  said.  "It's  for  his

"Twenty-five minutes remaining," Masahiko said.

Chia pulled  her  goggles off.  Maryalice was taking another miniature
bottle from the little fridge. "Don't open that!"

Maryalice gave a guilty little shriek and dropped  the  bottle.  "Just
maybe some rice crackers," she said.

"Nothing," Chia  said.  "It's  too  expensive!  We're  running  out of

"Oh," Maryalice said,  blinking.  "Right.  I don't have  any,  though.
Eddie's  cut  my cards off,  for sure,  and the first time I plug one,
he'll know exactly where I am.'

Masahiko spoke to Chia without removing the  eyecups.  "We  have  your
father's expense account on line.

Maryalice smiled. "What we like to hear, right?"

Chia was  pulling off her tip-sets.  "You'll have to take it to them,"
she said to Maryalice,  "the nano-thing.  I'll give it to you now, you
take it to them, give it to them, tell them it was all a mistake." She
scooted on her hands and knees over to where her bag sat open  on  the
floor.  She dug for the thing,  found it,  held it out to Maryalice in
what was left of the blue and yellow bag from  the  SeaTac  duty-free.
The  dark  gray plastic and the rows of little holes made it look like
some kind of deformed designer pepper grinder.  "Take it.  Explain  to
them. Tell them it was just a mistake."

Maryalice cringed.  "Put  it  back,  okay?" She swallowed.  "See,  the
problem isn't whether or not there's been  a  mistake.  The  problem's
they'll kill us now anyway, because we know about it. And Eddie, he'll
let 'em.  'Cause he has to. And 'cause he's just sort of generally fed
up  with  me,  the  ungrateful  little  greasy  shithead  motherfucker
Maryalice  shook  her  head  sadly.  "It's  about  the  end   of   our
relationship, you ask me."

"Account accessed," Masahiko said. "Join us here now, please. You have
another visitor."

29. Her Bad Side

Arleigh's van smelled of long-chain monomers and warm electronics. The
rear  seats  had been removed to make room for the collection of black
consoles,  cabled together and wedged into place with creaking wads of

Rez rode   up  front,  beside  the  driver,  the  ponytailed  Japanese
Californian from Akihabara.  Laney  squatted  on  a  console,  between
Ar-leigh and Yamazaki,  with Willy Jude and the red-haired tech behind
them.  Laney's ribs hurt,  where he'd come down on the table, and that
seemed  to be getting worse.  He'd discovered that the top of his left
sock was sticky with blood,  but he wasn't sure where it had come from
or even if it was his own.

Arleigh had  her  phone pressed to her ear.  'Option eight," she said,
evidently to the driver, who touched the pad beside the dashboard map.
Laney glimpsed Tokyo grid-segments whipping past on the screen. "We're
taking Rez back with us."

"Take me to the Imperial," Rez said.

"Blackwell's orders," Arleigh said.

"Let me talk to him." Reaching back for the phone.

They swung left, into a wider street, their lights picking out a small
crowd speedwalking away from the Western World,  all of them trying to
look as though they just happened to be there, out for a brisk stroll.
The neighborhood was nondescript and generically urban and, aside from
the guilty-looking speedwalkers,  quite deserted.  "Keithy," Rez said,
"I  want  to  go  back  to the hotel." The terrible white daystar of a
police helicopter swept over them,  carbon-black shadows speeding away
actoss  concrete.  Rez  was  listening  to  the phone.  They passed an
all-night noodle  wagon,  its  interior  ghostly  behind  curtains  of
yellowed  plastic.  Images  flicking past on a small screen behind the
counter.  Arleigh nudged Laney's knee,  pointed past Rez's shoulder. A
trio  of white armored cars shot through the approaching intersection,
blue lights  flashing  on  their  rectangular  turrets,  and  vanished
without a sound.  Rez turned, handing the phone back to her. "Keithy's
being his para self.  He wants me to go to your  hotel  and  wait  for

Arleigh took the phone. "Does he know what it was about?

"Autograph-hunters?" Rez started to turn back around in his seat.

"What happened to the idoru?" Laney asked.

Rez peered  at him.  "If you kidnapped that new platform-and I thought
it was wonderful-what exactly would you have?"

"I don't know."

"Rei's only reality is the realm  of  ongoing  serial  creation,"  Rez
said.  "Entirely process; infinitely more than the combined sum of her
various selves.  The platforms sink beneath her, one after another, as
she  grows  denser and more complex The long green eyes seemed to grow
dreamy,  in the light of passing  storefronts,  and  then  the  singer
turned away.

Laney watched  Arleigh  dab  at  the  cut  corner  of her mouth with a

"Laney-san Yamazaki,  a whisper.  Putting something into his  hand.  A
cabled set of eyephones. "We have global fin-activity database

His ribs hurt. Was his leg bleeding? "Later, okay?"

Arleigh's suite  was  at least twice as large as Laney's room.  It had
its own miniature sitting room,  separated from the bedroom  and  bath
with gilded French doors. The four chairs in the sitting room had very
tall,  very narrow backs,  each one tapering to a rendition of the elf
hat,  done  in  sandblasted  steel.  These chairs were quite amazingly
uncomfortable,  and  Laney  was  hunched  forward  on  one   now,   in
considerable pain, hugging his bruised ribs. The blood in his sock had
turned out to be his own,  from a skinned patch on his left shin. He'd
plastered  it  over  with  rnicropore  from  the  professional-looking
first-aid kit in Arleigh's bathroom.  He doubted  there  was  anything
there  for  his  ribs,  but  he  was wondering if some kind of elastic
bandage might help.

Yamazaki was on the chair to his right,  reattaching the sleeve of his
plaid  jacket  with  bright  gold  safety  pins  from  an Evil Elf Hat
emergency sewing kit. Laney had never actually seen anyone use a hotel
room's  emergency  sewing  kit for anything.  Yamazaki had removed his
damaged glasses and was working with the  jacket  held  close  to  his
face.  This  made  him look older,  and somehow calmer.  To Yamazaki's
right,  the red-haired technician, who was called Shannon, was sitting
up very straight and reading a complimentary style magazine.

Rez was  sprawled  on  the  bed,  propped  up on the maximum available
number of pillows,  and Willy Jude sat at  its  foot,  channel-surfing
with his video units. The panic at the Western World apparently hadn't
made the news yet,  although the drummer said he'd caught  an  oblique
reference on one of the clubbing channels.

Arleigh was  standing  by the window,  pressing an ice cube in a white
washcloth against her swollen lip.

Did he give you any idea of when he might turn up?" Rez, from the bed.

"No," Arleigh said, "but he made it clear he wanted you to wait."

Rez sighed.

"Let the people take care of you,  Rez," Willy Jude said.  "It's  what
they're paid for."

Laney had taken it for granted that all of them were expected to wait,
along with Rez,  for Blackwell. Now he decided to try to return to his
room. All they could do was stop him.

Blackwell opened  the  door  from  the  corridor,  pocketing something
black, something that definitely wasn't your standard-issue hotel key.
There  was  a pale X of micropore across his right cheek,  the longest
arm reaching the tip of his chin.

"Evening, Keithy," Rez said.

"You really mustn't piss off like that," the  bodyguard  said.  "Those
Russians are a serious crew.  Massive triers,  those boys. Wouldn't do
if they got hold of you, Rozzer. Not at an. You wouldn't like it."

"Kuwayama and the platform?"

"Have to tell you, Rez." Blackwell stood at the foot of the bed. "I've
seen  you  go  with  women  I  wouldn't take to a shit-fight on a dark
night, but at least they were human. Hear what I'm saying?"

"I do,  Keithy," the singer said.  "I know how you feel about her. But
you'll come around.  It's the way of things,  Keithy. The new way. New

"I don't know anything about that.  My  old  dad  was  a  Painter  and
Docker;  had  a docky's brief Broke his heart I turned out the sort of
crim I did. Died before you'd got me out of B Division. Would've liked
him to see me assume responsibility,  Rez.  For you.  For your safety.
But now I don't know. Might not impress him so. Might tell me I'm just
minding a fool with a bloated sense of himself"

Rez came   up  off  the  bed,  surprising  Laney  with  his  speed,  a
performer's grace, and then he was in front of Blackwell, his hands on
the huge shoulders.  "But you don't think that,  do you,  Keithy?  You
didn't in Pentridge.  Not when you came for me.  And not when  I  came
back for you."

Blackwell's eyes  glistened.  He  was  about  to  say  something,  but
Yamazalci suddenly  stood  up,  blinking,  and  put  his  green  plaid
sportscoat on.  He craned his neck,  peering nearsightedly at the pins
he'd used to mend it,  then seemed to realize  that  everyone  in  the
suite was looking at him. He coughed nervously and sat back down.

A silence  followed.  "Out  of line,  I was,  Rozzer," Blackwell said,
breaking it.

Rez clapped the bodyguard's  shoulder,  releasing  him.  "Stressed.  I
know." Rez smiled. "Kuwayama? The platform?"

"Had his own team there,"

"And our crashers?"

"That's a bit odd," Blackwell said,  "Kombinat,  Rez. Say we've stolen
something of theirs.  Or at least that's  all  the  one  I  questioned

Rez looked puzzled, but seemed to put whatever it was out of his mind.
"Take me back to the hotel," he said.

Blackwell checked his huge steel watch.  "We're still sweeping, there.
Another twenty minutes and I'll check with them."

Laney took  this  as  his  opportunity,  standing up and stepping past
Blackwell to the door.  "I'm going to take a  hot  shower,"  he  said.
"Cracked  my  ribs up there." No one said anything.  "Call if you need
me." Then he opened the door,  stepped out,  closed it behind him, and
limped in what he hoped was the direction of the elevator.

It was.  In  it,  he  leaned against the mirrored wall and touched the
button for his floor.

It said something in a soothing tone, Japanese.

The door closed. He shut his eyes.

He opened his eyes as the door opened.  Stepped out,  turned the wrong
way,  then the right way.  Fishing for his wallet,  where he'd put his
key. Still there. Bath, hot shower, these concepts more theoretical as
he approached his room.  Sleep.  That was it. Undress and lie down and
not be conscious.

He swiped the key down the slot. Nothing. Again. Click.

Kathy Torrance,  sitting on the edge of his bed.  She smiled  at  him.
Pointed  at  the moving figures on the screen.  One of whom was Laney,
naked, with a larger erection than he recalled ever having had. 3

The girl vaguely familiar,  but whoever she was,  he  didn't  remember
doing that with het

"Don't just stand there," Kathy said. "You have to see this."

"That's not me," Laney said.

"I know," she said,  delighted. "He's way too big. And I'd love to see
you try to prove it."

Chia worked the tips back on,  regoggled, let Masahiko take her co his
room.  That same instant transition, the virtual Venice icon strobing.
.  .  .  Gomi Boy was there,  and someone else,  though at  first  she
couldn't  see  him.  Just  this glass tumbler on the work-surface that
hadn't been there before,  mapped to a higher resolution than the rest
of  the  room:  filthy,  chipped at the rim,  something crusted at the

"That woman," Gomi Boy began,  but  someone  coughed.  A  strange  dry

"You are an interesting young woman," said a voice unlike any Chia had
heard,  a weird,  attenuated rasp that might have been compiled from a
library  of  faint,  dry,  random sounds.  So that a word's long vowel
might be wires in the wind,  or the click of a consonant the rattle of
a dead leaf against a window.  "Young woman," it said again,  and then
there was something indescribable,  which she  guessed  was  meant  as

"This is  the  Etruscan,"  Masahiko said.  "The Etruscan accessed your
father's expense account for us. He is most skilled."

Something there for a second.  Skull-like.  Above the dirty glass. The
mouth drawn and petulant. "It was nothing, really.

She told  herself  it was all presentation.  Like when Zona presented,
you could never quite focus on her.  This  was  like  that,  but  more
extreme.  And a lot of work put into the audio.  But she didn't I like

30. The Etruscan

"You brought me here to meet him?" she asked Masahiko.

"Oh, no," said the Etruscan,  the Oh a  polyphonic  chorale,  "I  just
wanted a look, dear." The thing like laughter.

"The woman," Gomi Boy said.  "Did you arrange for her to meet you,  at
Hotel Di?"

"No," Chia said. "She checked the taxi cabs, so you aren't as smart as
you think."

"Well put."  The  p#:  the sound of a single pebble falling into a dry
marble fountain.  Chia focused on the  glass.  A  huge  centipede  lay
curled at its bottom,  a thing the color of dead cuticle. She saw that
it had tiny,  pink hands- The glass was gone.  "Sorry," Masahiko said.
"He wished only to meet you."

"Who is  the woman in Hotel Di?" Gomi Boy's anime eyes were bright and
eager, but his tone was hard.

"Maryalice," Chia said.  "Her boyfriend's  with  those  Russians.  The
thing they're after's in my bag there."

"What thing?" "Maryalice says it's a nano-assembler." "Unlikely," Gomi
Boy said,  "Tell it to the Russians." "But you have contraband? In the
room?"  "I've  got something they want." Gomi Boy grimaced,  vanished.
"Where'd he go?"

"This changes the situation," Masahiko said.  "You did not tell us you
have contraband."

"You didn't ask! You didn't ask why they were looking for me.

Masahiko shrugged,  calm as ever. "We were not certain that it was you
they were interested in.  The Kombinat would be  very  eager  for  the
skills of someone like the Etruscan, for instance. Many people know of
Hak Nam,  but few know  how  to  enter.  We  reacted  to  protect  the
integrity of the city."

"But your  computer's in the hotel room.  They can just come there and
get it."

"It no  longer  matters,"  he  said.  "I  am  no  longer  engaged   in
processing. My duties are assumed by others. Gomi Boy is concerned now
for his safety outside,  you understand?  Penalties for possession  of
contraband are harsh.  He is particularly vulnerable, because he deals
in second-hand equipment."

"I don't think it's the police you want to worry about,  right now.  I
think  we  want  to call the police.  Maryalice says those Russians'll
kill us, if they find us."

"The police would not be a good idea.  The Etruscan has accessed  your
father's account in Singapore. That is a crime."

"I think I'd rather get arrested than killed."

Masahiko considered  that.  "Come with me," he said.  "Your visitor is

"Not the centipede," Chia said. "Forget it."

"No," he said, "not the Etruscan. Come."

And they were out of his room,  fast-forward through the maze  of  Hak
Nam,  up  twisted  stairwells  and  through  corridors,  the  strange,
compacted world flickering past What is this place?  A communal  site,
right? But what are you so worried about? Why's it all a secret?"

"Walled City  is  of the net,  but not on it.  There are no laws here,
only agreements."

"You can't be on the net and not be on the net," Chia  said,  as  they
shot up a final flight of stairs.

"Distributed processing,"  he  said.  "Interstitial,  It  began with a
shared killfile-"

"Zona!" There   across   this   uneven   roofscape,   overgrown   with

"Touch nothing.  Some are traps.  I come to you." Zona,  presenting in
that quick, fragmentary way, moved forward.

To Chia's right, a kind of ancient car lay tilted in a drift of tandom
textures,  something  like  a Christmas tree growing from its unbroken
windshield. Beyond that.

She guessed that the rooftops of the  Walled  City  were  its  dumping
ground,  but  the  things  abandoned  there were like objects out of a
dream, bit-mapped fantasies discarded by their creators, their jumbled
shapes and textures baffling the eye, the attempt to sort and decipher
them inducing a kind of vertigo. Some were moving.

Then a movement high in  the  gasoline  sky  caught  her  eye.  Zona's

"I went to your site," Chia said. "You weren't there, something-"

"I know.  Did  you  see  it?"  As Zona passed the Christmas tree,  its
round,  silver ornaments displayed black eye-holes,  each pair turning
to follow her.

"No. I thought I heard it."

"I do  not  know what it is." Zona's presentation was even quicker and
more Jumpy than usual.  "I came here for advice. They told me that you
had been to my site, and that now you were here .

"You know this place?"

"Someone here  helped  me establish my site.  It is impossible to come
here without an invitation,  you understand?  My name is  on  a  list.
Although I cannot go below, into the city itself, unaccompanied."

"Zona, I'm  in  so  much  trouble  now!  We're hiding in this horrible
hotel, and Maryalice is there-"

"This bitch who made you her mule, yes? She is where?"

"In the room at this hotel.  She said she broke up with her boyfriend,
and it's his, the nano-thing-"

"The what?"

"She says it's some kind of nano-assembler thing."

Zona Rosa's features snapped into focus as her heavy eyebrows shot up.

"This is in your bag?" Masahiko asked.

"Wrapped in plastic."

"One moment." He vanished.

"Who is that?" Zona asked.

"Masahiko. Mitsuko's brother. He lives here."

"Where did he go?"

"Back to the hotel we're porting from,"

"This shit you are in, it is crazy," Zona said.

"Please, Zona, help me! I don't think I'll ever get home!"

Masahiko reappeared, the thing in his hand minus the duty-free bag. "I
scanned  it,"  he  said.  "Immediate  identification  as Rodel-van Erp
primary biomolecular programming module  C-slash-7A.  This  is  a  lab
prototype.  We are unable to determine its exact legal status, but the
production model,  C-slash-9E,  is Class 1 nanotechnology,  proscribed
under   international   law.   Japanese  law,  conviction  of  illegal
possession of Class 1 device carries automatic life sentence."

"Life?" Chia said.

"Same for thermonuclear device," he said, apologetically, "poison gas,
biological   weapon"   He  held  up  the  scanned  object  for  Zona's

Zona looked at it.  "Fuck your mother," she  said,  her  tone  one  of
somber respect.

31. The Way Things Work

"See how things work, Laney? 'What goes around, comes around 7 You can
run,  but  you can't hide'?  Know those expressions,  Laney?  How some
things get to be c1ich~s because they touch on certain truths,  Laney?
Talk to me, Laney."

Laney lowered himself into one of the miniature armchairs, hugging his

"You look like shit, Laney. Where have yOU been?"

"The Western World," he said. He didn't like watching himself do those
things on the screen, but he found he couldn't look away. He knew that
wasn't him,  there.  They'd mapped his face onto someone else.  But it
was  his face.  He remembered hearing something someone had said about
mirrors,  a long time  ago,  that  they  were  somehow  unnatural  and

"So you're trying your hand at the Orient now?"

She hadn't understood,  he thought,  which meant she didn't know where
he'd been,  earlier.  Which meant they hadn't been watching him  here.
"That's that guy," he said,  "that Hillman. From the day I met you. My
job interview. He was a porno extra."

"Don't you think he's being awfully rough with her?"

"Who is she, Kathy?"

"Think back. If you can remember Clinton Hiliman, Laney . .

Laney shook his head.

"Think actor, Laney. Think Alison Shires . . ."

"His daughter," Laney said, no doubt at all.

"I definitely think that's too rough.  That borders  on  rape,  Laney.
Assault. I think we could make a case for assault."

"Why would  she  do  that?  How could you get her to do that?" Turning
from the screen to Kathy. "I mean, unless it really is rape.'

"Let's hear the soundtrack, Laney. See what you're saying, there. Cast
some light on motive.

"Don't,' he said. "I don't want to hear it."

"You're talking  about  her  father  the  whole time,  Laney.  I mean,
obsession is one thing,  but just droning on about him that way, right
through a white-knuckle skull-luck-"

He almost  fell,  coming  up  out  of the chair.  He couldn't find the
manual controls.  Wires back there.  He pulled out the first three  he
found. Third did it.

"Put it on the Lo/Rez tab,  Laney? Rock and roll lifestyle? Aren't you
supposed to throw them out the window, though?"

"What's it about, Kathy? You want to just tell me now?"

She smiled at him.  Exactly the  smile  he  remembered  from  his  job
interview. "May I call you Cohn?"

"Kathy: fuck you."

She laughed. "We may have come full circle, Laney."

"How's that?"

"Think of this as a job interview."

"I've got a job."

"We're offering you another, Laney. You can moonlight."

Laney made  it  back  to  the  chair.  Lowered himself in as slowly as
possible. The pain made him gasp.

"What's wrong?"

"Ribs. Hurt." He found a way to settle back that seemed to help.

"Were you in a fight? Is that blood?"

"I went to a club."

"This is Tokyo, Laney. They don't have fights in clubs."

"That was really her, the daughter?"

"It certainly is.  And she'll be more than happy to talk about  it  on
Slitscan, Laney. Seduced into sadistic sex games by a stalker obsessed
with her famous,  her loving dad. Who has come around, by the way. Who
is one of ours now."

"Why? Why would she do that? Because he told her to?"

"Because," Kathy  said,  looking  at  him as though she were concerned
that he might have sustained brain damage as well,  "she's an aspiring
actress  in  her  own right,  Laney." She looked at him hopefully,  as
though he might suddenly start to process. "The big break."

"That is going to be her big break?"

"A break," Kathy Torrance said,  "is a break.  And you know something?
I'm  trying,  I'm trying really hard,  to give you one instead.  Right
now. And it wouldn't be the first, would it?"

The phone began to ring.  "You'd better take this," she said,  passing
him the white slab of cedar.


"The fan-activity  data-base."  It  was Yamazaki.  "You must access it

"Where are you?"

"In hotel garage. With van."

"Look, I'm in kind of rough shape, here. Can it wait?"

"Wait?" Yamazaki sounded horrified.

Laney looked at Kathy Torrance.  She was wearing something  black  and
not  quite short enough to show her tattoo.  Her hair was shorter now.
"I'll be down when I can.  Keep it open for me."  He  hung  up  before
Yamazaki could reply.

"What was that about?"


"You're lying."

"What do you want, Kathy? What's the deal?"

"Him, I want him.  I want a way in.  I want to know what he's doing. I
want to know what he thinks he's doing,  trying to screw  a  piece  of
Japanese software,"

"Marry," Laney said.

Her smile vanished. "You don't correct me, Laney." "You want me to spy
on him."



"You wish."

"If I got anything you could use,  you'd want me to ser him  up."  The
smile returned. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

"And lget?"

"A life. A life in which you haven't been branded an obsessive stalker
who preyed on the attractive daughter of the object of your obsession.
A  life in which it isn't public knowledge that a series of disastrous
pharmaceutical trials permanently  and  hideously  rewired  you.  Fair

"What about her?  The daughter.  She do all that with the Hill-man guy
for nothing?"

"Your call,  Laney. Work for us, get me what I need, she's shit out of

"That easy?  She'd go along with that?  After what she had to do?" "If
she wants even the remotest hope of having a career eventually-yes."

Laney looked at her. "That isn't me. It's a morph. If I could prove it
was a morph, I could sue you."

"Really? You could afford that,  could you?  It takes years.  And even
then,  you might not win. We've got a lot of money and talent to throw
at problems like that, Laney. We do it all the time." The door chimed.
"That'll be mine," she said. She got up, went to the door, touched the
security screen.  Laney glimpsed part of a man's face.  She opened the
door.  It was Rice Daniels,  minus his trademark sunglasses.  "Rice is
with  us now,  Laney," she said.  "He's been a terrific help with your

"Out of Control didn't work out?" Laney asked Daniels.

Daniels showed Laney a lot of very white teeth.  "I'm  sure  we  could
work  together,  Laney.  I  hope you don't have any issues around what

"Issues," Laney said.

Kathy walked back,  handed Laney a blank white card with  a  pencilled
number. "Call me. Before nine tomorrow. Leave a message. Yes or no."

"You're giving me a choice?"

"It's more  fun  that way.  I want you to think about it." She reached
down and flicked the collar  of  Laney's  shirt.  "Stitch-count,"  she
said.  Turned  and  walked  out,  Daniels pulling the door shut behind

Laney sat there,  staring at the closed door, until the phone began to

It was Yamazaki.

32. The Uninvited

'We must attack," said Zona Rosa, punctuating it with a quick shift to
Aztec death's-head mode.  They were with Masahiko and  Gomi  Boy  now,
back  in  Masahiko's  room in the Walled City,  away from the hypnotic
chaos of the crawling roofscape.

'Attack?" Gomi Boy's huge eyes bulged as brightly  as  ever,  but  his
voice betrayed his tension. "Who will you attack?"

"We will  find a way to carry the fight to the enemy," Zona Rosa said,
gravely. "Passivity is death."

Something that looked to Chia like a bright orange drink coaster  came
gliding  in  under  Masahiko's  door  and  across  the floor,  but the
shadow-thing gobbled it before she could get a closer look.

"You.' said Gomi Boy to Zona Rosa,  "are in Mexico City.  You are  not
physically or legally endangered by any of this!"

"Physically?" said Zona Rosa,  snapping back into a furious version of
her previous presentation.  "You want physically, son of a bitch? I'll
fucking kill you, physically! You think I can't do that? You think you
live on Mars or something?  I fly here Aeronaves direct with my girls,
we  find  you,  we  cut  your Japanese balls offl You think I can't do
that?"  The  saw-toothed,  dragon-handled  switchblade  was  out  now,
quivering, in front of Gomi Boy's face.

"Zona, please," Chia begged.  "He hasn't done anything so far hut help
me! Don't!"

Zona snorted.  The blade reversed, vanishing. "You don't push me," she
said to Gomi Boy. "My friend, she is in some bad shit, and I have some
ghost-bastard thing on my site

"It's in the software on my Sandbenders, too,' Chia said. "I saw it in

"You saw it?" The fractured images cycling faster.

"I saw something"

What? You saw what?"

"Someone. By the fountain at the end of a street. It might have been a
woman. I was scared. I bailed. I left my Venice open-"

"Show me," Zona said. "In my site I could not see it. My lizards could
not see it eithet,  but they grew agitated.  The birds flew lower, but
could find nothing. Show me this thing!"

"But Zona..."

"Now!" Zona said. "It is part of this shit you are in. It must be."

"My God," Zona said, staring up at St. Mark's. "Who wrote this?"

"It's a city in Italy," Chia said.  "It used to  be  a  country.  They
invented banking.  That's St.  Mark's.  Thete's a module where you can
see what they do at Easter,  when the Patriarch brings out  all  these
bones and things, set into gold, parts of saints."

Zona Rosa  crossed herself.  "Like Mexico ...  this is where the water
comes up to the bottoms of  the  doors,  and  the  streets,  they  are

"I think a lot of this is under water now," Chia said.

"Why is it dark?"

"I keep  it  that way Chia looked away,  searching the shadows beneath
archways. "That Walled City, Zona, what is that?"

"They say it began as a shared killfile. You know what a killfile is?"


"It is an old expression.  A way to avoid incoming messages.  With the
killfile  in  place,  it  was like those messages never existed.  They
never reached you. This was when the net was new, understand?"

Chia knew that when her mother was born, there had been no net at all,
or  almost  none,  but as her teachers in school were fond of pointing
out, that was hard to imagine. "How could that become a city? And whys
it all squashed in like that?"

"Someone had  the  idea  to turn the killfile inside out.  This is not
really how it happened,  you understand,  but this is how the story is
told:  that the people who founded Hak Nam were angry, because the net
had been very free,  you could  do  what  you  wanted,  but  then  the
governments  and  the companies,  they had different ideas of what you
could,  what you couldn't do.  So these people,  they found a  way  to
unravel  something.  A little place,  a piece,  like cloth.  They made
something like a killfile of everything,  everything they didn't like,
and   they  turned  that  inside  out."  Zona's  hands  moved  like  a
conjurer's. 'And they pushed it through, to the other side

'The other side of what?"

"This is not how they did it," Zona said  impatiently,  "this  is  the
story.  How they did it, I don't know. But that is the story, how they
tell it.  They went there to get away from the laws- To have no  laws,
like when the net was new."

"But why'd they make it look like that?"

"That I  know,"  Zona  said.  "The  woman who came to help me build my
country, she told me. There was a place near an airport, Kowloon, when
Hong Kong wasn't China, but there had been a mistake, a long time ago,
and that place,  very small,  many people, it still belonged to China.
So there was no law there.  An outlaw place.  And more and more people
crowded in;  they built it up,  higher.  No rules, just building, just
people  living.  Police  wouldn't  go  there.  Drugs  and  whores  and
gambling.  But people living,  too. Factories, restaurants. A city. No

"Is it still there?"

"No," Zona said,  "they tore it down before it all became China again.
They made a park with concrete.  But these people,  the ones they  say
made a hole in the net,  they found the data. The history of it. Maps.
Pictures. They built it again."


"Don't ask me.  Ask them.  They are all crazy." Zona was scanning  the
Piazza. "This place makes me cold ..."Chia considered bringing the sun
up, but then Zona pointed. "Who is that?"

Chia watched her Music Master,  or something  that  looked  like  him,
stroll  toward  them  from  the  shadows of the stone arches where the
cafes were,  a dark greatcoat flapping to reveal a lining the color of
polished lead.

"I've got  a software agent that looks like that," Chia said,  "but he
isn't supposed to be there unless I cross a  bridge.  And  I  couldn't
find him, when I was here before."

"This is not the one you saw?"

"No," Chia said.

An aura  bristled around Zona,  who grew taller as the spikey cloud of
light increased  in  resolution.  Shifting,  overlapping  planes  like
ghosts of broken glass. Iridescent insects whirling there.

As the  figure  in  the greatcoat drew toward them across the Piazza's
patchworked stone, snow resolved behind it; it left footprints.

Zona's aura  bristled  with  gathering  menace,   a   thunderhead   of
flickering darkness forming above the shattered sheets of light. There
was a sound that reminded Chia of one of those blue-light  bug-zappers
popping a particularly juicy one,  and then vast wings cut the air, so
close:  Zona's Colombian condors,  things from  the  data-havens.  And
gone.  Zona  spat a stream of Spanish that overwhelmed translation,  a
long and liquid curse.

Behind the advancing figure of her Music Master,  Chia saw the facades
of the great square vanish entirely behind curtains of snow.

Zona's switchblade  seemed  the  size  of a chainsaw now,  its toothed
spine rippling,  alive.  The golden dragons from the  plastic  handles
chased  their  fire-maned double tails around her brown fist,  through
miniature clouds of Chinese embroidery. dijill take you out,"

Zona said, as if savoring each word.

Chia saw the world of snow that  had  swallowed  her  Venice  abruptly
contract,  shrinking,  following  the  line  of  footprints,  and  the
features of the Music Master became those of Rei Toei, the idoru.

"You already have," said the idoru.

33. Topology

Arleigh was waiting for him by the elevator,  on the fifth and  lowest
of  the  hotel's  parking  levels.  She'd  changed  back into the work
clothes he'd first seen her in.  Despite the patch of micropore on her
swollen  lip,  the  jeans  and  nylon  bomber  jacket  made  her  look
wide-awake and competent,  two things Laney felt  he  might  never  be

"You look terrible," she said.

The ceiling  here  was  very low,  and flocked with something drab and
wooly,  to reduce noise.  Lines of bioluminescent cable were bracketed
to  it,  and  the  unmoving  air  was  heavy  with the sugary smell of
exhausted gasohol.  Spotless ranks of small  Japanese  cars  glittered
like bright wet candy.  "Yamazaki seemed to feel it was urgent," Laney

"If you don't do it now," she said, "we don't know how long it'll

take to get it all up and running again."

"So we'll do it."

"You don't look like you should even be walking."

He started  walking,  unsteadily,  as  if  by  way  of  demonstration.
"Where's Rez~"

"Blackwell's taken  him back to his hotel.  The sweep team didn't find
anything.  This way." She led him along a  line  of  surgically  clean
grills and bumpers.  He saw the green van parked with its front to the
wall,  its hatch and doors open.  It was fenced behind orange  plastic
barricades,   and  surrounded  by  the  black  modules.  Shannon,  the
redhaired tech,  was doing something to a red and black cube  centered
on a folding plastic table.

"What's that?" Laney asked.

"Espresso," he  said,  his  hand inside the housing,  "but I think the
gasket's warped."

"Sit here,  Laney," Arleigh said, indicating the van's front passenger
seat. "It reclines."

Laney climbed  up into the seat.  "Don't try it," he said.  "You might
not be able to wake me up."

Yamazaki appeared, over Arleigh's shoulder, blinking. "You will access
the  Lo/Rez  data  as before,  Laney-san,  but you will simultaneously
access the fan-activity  base.  Depth  of  field.  Dimensionabty.  The
fan-activity data providing the degree of personalization you requite.
Parallax, yes?"

Arleigh handed Laney the eyephones.  "Have a look," she said.  "If  it
doesn't work,  to hell with it." Yamazaki flinched. "Either way, we'll
go and find you the hotel doctor, after.'

Laney settled his neck against the seat's headrest and put the 'phones

Nothing. He  closed his eyes.  Heard the 'phones power up.  Opened his
eyes to those same faces of data  he'd  seen  earlier,  in  Akihabara.
Characterless. Institutional in their regularity.

"Here comes the fan club," he heard Arleigh say,  and the barren faces
were suddenly translucent, networked depths of postings and commentary
revealed there in baffling organic complexity.

"Something's" he started to say, but then he was back in the apartment
in Stockholm,  with the huge ceramic stoves.  But it was a place  this
time,  not  just  a  million tidily filed factoids.  Shadows of flames
danced behind the narrow mica panes of the stove's ornate iron door.

Candlelight. The floors were wooden  planks,  each  one  as  broad  as
Laney's  shoulders,  spread  with  the  soft  tones  of  old  carpets.
Something directed his point of  view  into  the  next  room,  past  a
leather  sofa  spread  with more and smaller rugs,  and showed him the
black window beyond the open drapes,  where snowflakes, very large and
ornate, fell with a deliberate gravity past the frosted panes.

"Getting anything?" Arleigh. Somewhere far away.

He didn't answer, watching as his view reversed. To be maneuvered down
a central hallway, where a tall oval mirror showed no reflection as he
passed.  He thought of CD-RUMs he'd explored in the orphanage: haunted
castles,  monstrously infested spacecraft abandoned in orbit.  .  ,  .
Click  here.  Click there.  And somehow he'd always felt that he never
found the central marvel,  the thing that would  have  made  the  hunt
worthwhile.  Because it wasn't there,  he'd finally decided;  it never
quite was, and so he'd lost interest in those games.

But the central marvel here-click on bedroom-was Rei Toei.  Propped on
white  pillows  at  the  head  of a sea of white,  her head and gowned
shoulders showing above eyelet lace and the glow of fine cottons.

"You were our guest tonight," she said.  "I wasn't able to speak  with
you. I am sorry. It ended badly, and you were injured."

He looked at her,  waiting for the mountain valleys and the bells, but
she only looked back,  nothing came,  and he remembered what  Yamazaki
had said about bandwidth.

A stab of pain in his side. "How do you know? That I was injured?"

"The preliminary  Lo/Rez  security  report.  Technician  Paul  Shannon
states that you appeared to have been injured."

"Why are you here?" ("Laney," he heard Arleigh say, "are you okay?")

"I found it," the idoru said. "Isn't it wonderful? But he has not been
here since the renovations were completed. So, realty, he's never been
here.  But you've been here before,  haven't you? I think that's how I
found it." She smiled.  She was very beautiful here,  floating in this
whiteness.  He hadn't been able to really look at her in  the  Western

"I accessed it earlier," he said, "but it wasn't like this."

"But then it.  .  .  rounded out, didn't it? It became so much better.
Because one of the artisans who reassembled  the  stoves  had  made  a
record of it all, when it was done. Just for herself, for her friends,
but you see what it's done. It was in the data from the fan club." She
gazed  in delight at a single taper,  banded horizontally in cream and
indigo,  that burned in a candlestick of burnished brass. Beside it on
the  bedside  table  were a book and an orange.  "I feel very close to
him, here."

"I'd feel closer to him if you'd put me back, outside."

"In the street?  It's snowing.  And I'm  not  certain  the  street  is

"In the general data-construct, Please. So I can do my job

"Oh," she said, and smiled at him, and he was staring into the tangled
depths of the data-faces.

"Laney?" Arleigh said,  touching his shoulder.  "Who are  you  talking

"The idoru," Laney said.

"In nodal manifestation?" Yamazaki.

"No. She was there in the data,  I don't know how.  She was in a model
of his place in Stockholm.  Said she got there because I'd cruised  it
before. Then I asked her to put me back out here.

"Out where?" Arleigh asked.

"Where I can see," Laney said, staring down into intricately overgrown
canyons,  dense  with  branchings  that  reminded  him  of  Ar-leigh's
Realtree 7.2,  but organic somehow, every segment thickly patched with
commentary. "Yamazaki was right. The fan stuff seems to do it."

He heard Gerrard Delouvrier,  back in the TIDAL labs,  urge him not to
focus.  What  you  4 it is opposite of the concentration,  but we will
learn to direct it.  Drift. Down through deltas of former girlfriends,
degrees  of confirmation of girlfriendhood,  personal sightings of Rez
or Lo together with whichever woman in  whatever  public  place,  each
account illuminated with the importance the event had held for whoever
had posted it.  This being for Laney the most peculiar aspect of  this
data, the perspective in which these two loomed. Human in every detail
but  then  not  so.  Everything  scrupulously,  fanatically  accurate,
probably,   but   always  assembled  around  the  hollow  armature  of
celebrity.  He could see celebrity here,  not like Kathy's idea  of  a
primal  substance,  but  as  a  paradoxical  quality  inherent  in the
substance of the world.  He saw that the quantity of data  accumulated
here  by  the  band's  fans  was much greater than everything the band
themselves had ever generated. And their actual art, the music and the
videos, was the merest fragment of that.

"But this is my favorite," Laney heard the idoru say,  and then he was
watching Rez mount a low  stage  in  a  crowded  club  of  some  kind,
everything psychedelic Korean pinks, hypersaturated tints like cartoon
versions of the flesh of tropical melons.  "It is what we  feel."  Rez
raised  a  microphone  and  began  to speak of new modes of being,  of
something he called "the alchemical marriage."

And somewhere Arleigh's hand was on his arm,  her voice tense. "Laney?
Sorry. We need you back here now. Mr. Kuwayama is here."

34. Casino

Chia looked  out  between the dusty slats,  to the street where it was
raining.  The idoru had done that.  Chia had never made  it  rain,  in
Venice,  but she didn't mind the way it looked.  It seemed to fit.  It
was like Seattle.

The idoru said this apartment was  called  a  casino.  Chia  had  seen
casinos on television and they hadn't looked anything like this.  This
was  a  few  small  rooms  with  flaking  plaster   walls,   and   big
old-fashioned furniture with gold lion-feet. Everything worked up with
fractals so you could almost smell it.  It would've smelled dusty, she
thought,  and  also  like  perfume.  Chia hadn't been to many of these
modules,  the insides of her Venice,  because they were  all  sort  of
creepy. They didn't give her the feeling she got in the streets.

Zona's head,  on the lion-footed table, made that bug-zap sound. She'd
reduced herself to that,  Zona: this little blue neon miniature of her
Aztec  skull,  about the size of a small apple.  Because Chia had told
her to shut up and put the switchblade away.  And that had pissed  her
off,  and maybe hurt her feelings,  but Chia hadn't known what else to
do.  Chia had wanted to hear what the idoru had had to say, and Zona's
I'm-dangerous  act  totally  got in the way.  And that was all it was,
just acting out,  because people couldn't really hurt each other  when
they were ported.  Not physically,  anyway. And that had always been a
problem,  with Zona.  That whole swelling-up thunderhead macho  thing.
Kelsey  and  the  others  would  make  fun of it,  hut Zona was fierce
enough,  verbally,  that they'd only do it behind her back.  Chia  had
never  known  what  to make ofiq it was like Zona's personality wasn't
together, around acting like that.

Now Zona wasn't talking, just making the bug-zap sound every so often,
to remind Chia she was still there and still pissed off.

The idoru was talking,  though,  telling Chia the old Venetian meaning
of the word casino,  not some giant sort of malt  place  where  people
went  to gamble and watch shows,  but something that sounded more like
what Masahiko had said about love hotels. Like people had houses where
they lived,  but these casinos, these secret little apartments, hidden
around town,  were where they went to be with other people.  But  they
hadn't  been  too  comfortable there,  not to judge by this one,  even
though the idoru kept adding more and more candles. The idoru said she
loved candles.

The idoru had the Music Master's haircut now;  it made her look like a
girl pretending to be a boy.  She seemed to like his  greatcoat,  too,
because  she  kept  turning on her heel-his heel-to twirl the hem out.
"I've seen so many new places," she said,  smiling at Chia,  "so  many
different people and things"

"So have I, but..."

"He told me it would be this way,  but I had no idea,  really." Twirl.
"Having seen all this, I'm so much more ... Does it feel like that for
you, when you travel?"

The death's-head  emitted  a  burst  of  blue light and a sound like a
short,  sharp fart.  "Zona!" Chia hissed.  Then all in a rush,  to the
idoru,  "I  haven't  traveled much and so far I don't think I like it,
but we just came here to see what you were,  because we  didn't  know,
be-cause  you're in my software,  and maybe in Zona's site,  too,  and
that bothers her because it's supposed to be private."

"The country with the beautiful sky?"

"Yeah," Chia said.  "You aren't really supposed to be able to go there
unless she asks you."

"I didn't know.  I'm sorry." The idoru looked sad.  "I thought I could
go anywhere-except where you come from."


"The hive of dreams," said the idoru, "windows heaped against the sky.
I can see the pictures, but there is no path. I know you've conic from
there, but it's there , . . isn't there!"

"The Walled City?" It had to be,  because that was where she and  Zona
were  coming  from now.  'We're only ported through.  Zona's in Mexico
City and I'm in this hotel,  okay?  And we really better go back  now,
'cause I don't know what's happening-"

The blue skull expanded and went Zonaform,  grim and sullen,  "Finally
you say something worthwhile. Why do you speak with this thing? She is
nothing,  only  a  mote  expensive  version of this toy of yours she's
stolen and taken over. Now that I have seen her, I can only think that
Rez is crazy, pathetically deluded

"But he isn't crazy," the idoru said. "It is what we feel together. He
has told me that we will not be understood,  not at first,  and  there
will be resistance,  hostility.  But we mean no harm,  and he believes
that in the end only good can come from our union."

"You synthetic bitch," Zona said.  "You think we don't see what you're
doing?  You  aren't  real!  You  aren't as real as this imitation of a
drowned city! You're a made-up thing, and you want to suck what's real
out  of him!" Chia saw the thunderhead,  the aura,  starting to build.
"This girl crossed the ocean to find you out,  and now her  uS  is  in
danger, and she is too stupid to see that you are the cause!"

The idoru looked at Chia. "Your life?"

Chia had to swallow. "Maybe," she said. "I don't know. I'm scared."

And the idoru was gone, draining from Chia's Music Master like a color
that had no name.  He stood there in the light of twenty candles,  his
expression unreadable.  "I'm sorry," he said, "but what exactly was it
we were discussing?"

"We weren't," said Chia, then her goggles were lifted away, taking the
Music Master and the room in Venice and Zona with them, and two of the
fingers of the hand that held the goggles was ringed with  gold,  each
ring  linked  to  a  gold  watch's  massive bracelet with its own fine
length of chain. Pale eyes looked into hers.

Eddie smiled.

Chia drew her breath in to scream,  and another hand, not Eddie's, but
large and white,  smelling of metallic perfume,  covered her mouth and
nose.  And a hand on her shoulder,  pressing down,  as  Eddie  stepped
back, letting the goggles fall to the white carpet.

Holding her  gaze,  Eddie raised one finger to his lips,  smiled,  and
said "Shhhh." Then stepped aside,  turning  away,  so  that  Chia  saw
Masahiko sitting there on the floor, the black cups over his eyes, his
fingers moving in their tip-sets.

Eddie took something black from his pocket and reached Masahiko in two
silent,  exaggerated  steps.  He  did something to the black thing and
bent down with it. She saw it touch Masahiko's neck.

Masahiko's muscles all seemed to jerk at once, his legs straightening,
throwing  him sideways,  where he lay on the white carpet,  twitching,
his mouth open.  One of the black cups had come off.  The other  still
covered his right eye.

Eddie turned back, looking at her.

"Where is it?" he said.

Shannon offered  Laney  a tall foam cup with half an inch of very hot,
very black coffee in it. Beyond him, past the orange barricades, was a
long  white  Land-Rover  with  integral  crash-bars  and  green-tinted
windows.  Kuwayama waited there,  in a dark  gray  suit,  his  rimless
glasses  glinting  in  the  greenish light from the cable overhead.  A
black-suited driver stood beside him.

"What's he want?" Laney asked Arleigh,  tasting Shannon's espresso. It
left grit on his tongue.

"We don't  know," said Arleigh,  "But apparently Rez told him where to
find us."

"That's what he said."

Yamazaki appeared  at  Laney's  elbow.  His  glasses  had  either been
repaired or replaced,  but two of the pins holding the sleeve  of  his
green jacket had come undone.  "Mr. Kuwayama is Rei Toei's creator, in
a sense.  He is the founder and  chief  executive  officer  of  Famous
Aspect,  her corporate entity. He was the initiator of her project. He
asks to speak with you."

"I thought it was so urgent that I access the combined data for you."

"It is,  yes," said Yamazaki,  "but I  think  you  should  speak  with
Kuwayama now, please."

Laney followed  him through the black modules and past the barricades,
and watched as the two exchanged bows. "This is Mr. Cohn

35. The Testhed of Futurity

"Laney," Yamazaki said,  "our special  researcher."  Then,  to  Laney:
"Michio Kuwayama, Chief Executive Officer of Famous Aspect."

No one  would have guessed that Kuwayama had so recently been up there
in the dark at the Western World,  the  crowd  heaving  and  screaming
around him.  How had he gotten out,  Laney wondered,  and wouldn't the
idoru have been lit up like a Christmas tree?  Blood had  seeped  down
into  Laney's shoe;  it was sticky between his toes.  How much had the
combined weight  of  all  the  human  nervous  tissue  on  the  planet
increased  since  he  and  Arleigh  had  left  the bubble-gum bar with
Blackwell?  He felt  like  he'd  acquired  more  himself,  all  of  it
uncomfortable. "I'm sorry," he said. "I don't have a card."

"It doesn't  matter,"  Kuwayama said,  in his precise,  oddly accented
English.  He shook Laney's hand.  "I know that you are very  busy.  We
appreciate  your  taking  the time to meet with us." The plural caused
Laney to glance at the driver,  who wore the kind of shoes that Rydell
had worn at the Chateau, flexible-looking black lace-ups with cleated,
rubbery soles,  but it didn't seem as though the driver was the  other
half  of  that  "we."  "Now," Kuwayama said to Yamazaki,  "if you will
excuse us Yamazaki bowed quickly and walked back toward the van, where
Arleigh, pretending to be doing something to the espresso machine, was
watching out  of  the  corner  of  her  eye.  The  driver  opened  the
Land-Rover's rear door for Laney, who got in. Kuwayama got in from the
other side. When the door closed behind him, they were alone.

Something that looked like a large silver thermos bottle  was  mounted
between the two seats, in a rack with padded clamps.

"Yamazaki tells  us  that  you  had band-width difficulties during the
dinner," Kuwayama said.

"That's true," Laney said.

"We have adjusted the band-width ,.."And the  idoru  appeared  between
them,  smiling.  Laney  saw that the illusion even provided a seat for
her,  melding the two buckets in which he  and  Kuwayama  sat  into  a

"Did you  find  what  you  were  looking  for,  when  you  left  me in
Stockholm, Mr, Laney?"

He looked into her eyes.  What sort of computing power did it take  to
create  something  like  this,  something that looked back at you?  He
remembered phrases from Kuwayama's  conversation  with  Rez:  desiring
machines,   aggregates   of  subjective  desire,  an  architecture  of
articulated longing...."I started to," he said.

"And what was it that you saw,  that made you unable to  look  at  me,
during our dinner?"

"Snow," Laney  said,  and was startled to feel himself begin to blush.
"Mountains But I think it was only a video you've made."

"We don't 'make' Rei's videos,"  Kuwayama  said,  "not  in  the  usual
sense,  They emerge directly from her ongoing experience of the world.
They are her dreams, if you will."

"You dream as well,  don't you,  Mr.  Laney?" the idoru said. "That is
your  talent.  Yamazaki  says  it  is like seeing faces in the clouds,
except that the faces are really there.  I cannot  see  the  faces  in
clouds,  but Kuwayama-san tells me that one day I will. It is a matter
of plectics.

Yamazaki says?  "I  don't  understand  it,"  Laney  said.  "It's  just
something I can do."

"An extraordinary talent," Kuwayama said.  "We are most fortunate. And
we are fortunate as well in Mr.  Yamazaki,  who,  though hired by  Mr.
Blackwell, has an open mind."

"Mr. Blackwell  is  not  too  pleased about Rez and.,." Nodding toward
her. "Mr. Blackwell might be unhappy that I'm talking with you."

"Blackwell loves Rez in his own way," she said. "It is concern that he
feels.  But  he  does  not understand that our union has already taken
place. Our 'marriage' will be gradual, ongoing. We wish simply to grow
together. When Blackwell and the others can see that our union is best
for both of us,  all will be well.  And you can do that  for  us,  Mr.

"I can?"

"Yamazaki has explained what you are attempting with the data from the
Lo/Rez fan archives," Kuwayama said.  "But that data says nothing,  or
very  little,  about Rei.  We propose the addition of a third level of
information:  we will add Rei to the mix, and the pattern that emerges
will be a portrait of their union."

But you're just information yourself,  Laney thought,  looking at her.
Lots of it,  running through God knows how many machines. But the dark
eyes looked back at him,  filled with something for all the world like
hope. "Will you do it, Mr. Laney? Will you help us?"

"Look," Laney said, "I only work here. I'll do it if Yamazaki tells me
to.  If  he  takes  the  responsibility.  But  I  want  you to tell me
something, okay?"

"What is it that you wish to know?" asked Kuwayama.

"What is all this about?" The question  surprised  Laney,  who  hadn't
quite known what it was he was about to ask.

Kuwayama's mild  eyes regarded him through the rimless lenses.  "It is
about fliturity, Mr. Lane>'."


"Do you know that our word for 'nature' is of quite recent coinage? It
is  scarcely  a hundred years old.  We have never developed a sinister
view of technology,  Mr.  Laney.  It is an aspect of the  natural,  of
oneness.  Through  our  efforts,  oneness  perfects  itself"  Kuwayama
smiled.  "And popular culture,"  he  said,  "is  the  testbed  of  our

Arleigh made a better espresso than Shannon.  Laney,  squatting in the
back of the green van,  on  popping  shreds  of  bubble-pack,  watched
Yamazaki over the rim of a foam cup with a fresh double shot. "What do
you think you're doing,  Yamazaki? You want us both to wind up wearing
smaller  shoes,  or  what?  Blackwell  likes to nail people's hands to
tables,  and you're making deals with the idoru and her  boss?"  Laney
had  insisted  that  they  climb  in  back here for privacy.  Yamazaki
squatted opposite him,  blinking.  "I am not the  one  making  deals,"
Yamazaki  said.  "Rez and Rei Toei are in almost constant contact now,
and recent improvements allow her new degrees of freedom.  Rez let her
into the data, all that you first tried to access. He did this without
informing Blackwell." He shrugged.  "Now she accesses the fan data  as
well.  And  what  they  propose  may  well allow us to bring this to a
conclusion.  Blackwell is more  than  ever  convinced  there  is  some
conspiracy. The attack in the nightclub.

"Which was about?"

"I do not know.  An attempted kidnapping?  They wished to harm Rez? To
abduct the idoru's peripheral? It was handled with amazing clumsiness,
but Blackwell says that is the earmark of the Kombinat.  . . . Is that
the word, 'earmark'?"

"I don't know," Laney said. "Hallmark'?"

"You don't think Blackwell's going to cut  our  toes  off,  if  we  do

"No. We are employed by a Lo/Rez shell corporation-" "Paragon-Asia?"

"--but Blackwell  is employed by the Lo/Rez Partnership.  If Rez tells
us to do something, we must do it,"

"Even if Blackwell thinks it endangers Rez's security?"

Yamazaki shrugged.  Past his shoulder,  through the van's rear window,
Lane>'  could  see  Shannon  trundling the gray module they'd unloaded
from the rear of Kuwayama's Land-Rover.  It was twice the size of  the
black ones that Arleigh used.

He watched Shannon push it past the orange barricades.

36. Maryalice

"Not yelling, please," said the one who held her, and then he took his
hand away from her mouth.

"Where is it?" Eddie's pale eyes.

"There," Chia  said,  pointing.  She could see the ragged edge of blue
and yellow plastic sticking up out of her open bag.  Then she saw that
Maryalice was asleep on the pink bed,  cLirled up with her high-heeled
shoes still on,  clutching a pillow to her face. The top of the little
fridge was covered with empty, miniature bottles.

Eddie took  a  black-and-gold pen from his coat pocket and went to the
bag.  He bent over it and used his pen as a probe,  moving the plastic
aside so he could see. "It's here," he said.

"Is there?"  The  other  hand  was still holding Chia's shoulder down,
where she sat on the carpet.

"This is it," Eddie said.

'Stay putting." The hand left her shoulder and the  man,  who  must've
been kneeling behind her, got up and joined Eddie, peering into Chia's
bag.  He was taller,  and wore a tan suit and fancy Western boots. Big
bones in his face,  his hair a lighter blond than Eddie's,  a reddish,
crescent-shaped birthmark high on his right cheekbone.  "How  you  are
being sure?"

"Jesus, Yevgeni"

The man in the tan suit straightened up,  looked at Maryalice, bent to
pull the pillow away from her face. "How is your woman sleeping on bed
in this room, Eddie?"

Eddie saw that it was Maryalice. "Fuck," he said.

'You are  telling  us  girl  and your woman,  is 'incidental.' You are
telling us they meet on plane,  is only  accident.  Is  accident  your
woman is here? We do not like accident.'

Eddie looked  from  Maryalice  to the man-he must be Russian- to Chia.
"What the flick is this bitch doing here?" Like it had  to  be  Chia's

'She found  us,"  Chia  said.  She  said  she knew somebody at the cab

"No,' said the Russian,  "we know somebody at cab company. Is too much

"We've got  it,  okay?"  Eddie  said.  'Why  do you want to complicate

The Russian rubbed his cheek,  as though the birthmark might come  off
on his hand.  "Please consider," he said.  "We are giving you isotope.
You want to know is isotope, you can test. You are giving us this." He
poked  the  sharp  toe of his cowboy boot into the side of Chia's bag.
"How are we sure?"

"Yevgeni," Eddie said,  very calmly,  "you must know that  deals  like
this require a certain basis of trust.'

The Russian  considered  that.  "No,"  he said,  "basis not good.  Our
people trace this girl to big rocker band.  What is she  working  for,
Eddie?  Tonight  we send people to talk to them,  they fall on us like
fucking wolfs. One man I am still losing."

"I don't work for Lo/Rez!" Chia said. "I'm just in the club! Maryalice
put that thing in my bag when I was asleep on the plane!"

Masahiko groaned, sighed, and seemed to go back under. Eddie still had
the stungun in his hand.  "You  ready  for  another  jolt?"  he  asked
Masahiko, super-tense and angry.

"Eddie,' Maryalice  said  from the bed,  "you ungrateful piece of shit
Sitting up on the edge of the bed with her cigarette lighter  held  in
both hands, pointing it straight at Eddie.

Eddie stiffened. You could see something run through him, freezing him

"Some basis," said the Russian.

"Jesus, Maryalice," Eddie said. "Whered you get that? You got any idea
how illegal that is, here?'

"Off a  Russian  boy,"  she  said.  "Exit-holes the size of grapefruit
Maryalice didn't sound drunk, exactly, but something about the look in
her  reddened  eyes told Chia she was.  Some very scary kind of drunk.
"You think you can just use people up, Eddie? Use 'em up and throw 'em
away?"  She  used the toe of one shoe to get the other off,  then used
her toe to get the first shoe off.  She stood up in her stocking feet,
swaying just a little bit,  but the gun-shaped lighter stayed straight
out from her shoulders, the way cops did it on television.

Eddie still had the stungun in his hand.  "Make him throw  that  black
thing away, Maryalice!" Chia urged.

"Drop it,"  Maryalice said,  and it seemed to give her pleasure to say
it, something she'd been hearing people say on shows all her life, and
now she was getting to say it herself,  and mean it. Eddie dropped it.
"Now kick it away.'

That's the other half of the line, Chia thought.

The stungun wound up a few feet from Chia's knee,  beside her goggles,
which were upside down on the carpet, still cabled to her Sandbenders.
She could see the twin  flat  rectangles  on  the  opaque  lens-faces,
simple  video  units;  if  Zona  went  to  Chia's systems software and
activated those,  now,  she'd get a  bug's-eye  view  of  Mary-alice's
stocking feet,  Eddie's shoes,  the Russian's cowboy boots,  and maybe
the side of Masahiko's head.

"Ungrateful," Maryalice said. "Ungrateful shit. Get in that bathroom."
She  came around so the lighter was pointing at Eddie and the Russian,
but with the open bathroom door behind them.

"I know you're upset"

"Shit. Shit goes in the toilet, Eddie Get in the bathroom."

Eddie took a step backward,  his palms up in what he probably  thought
looked like an appeal to reasonableness and understanding. The Russian
took a step back too.

"Seven flicking years," Maryalice said.  "Seven. You weren't shit when
I met you. God. You and that uppity-mobile talk. You make me sick. Who
paid the fucking rent?  Who bought the  meals?  Who  bought  you  your
fucking  clothes,  you vain piece of shit?  You and your uppity-mobile
and your image and you gotta have a smaller  fucking  phone  than  the
next guy because I'm telling you, honey, you sure as fuck don't have a
bigger dick!" Maryalice's hands were  shaking  now,  but  really  just
enough to make the lighter look even more dangerous.

"Maryalice," Eddie  said,  "you know I know everything you've done for
me,  everything you've contributed to my career.  It doesn't leave  my
mind for a minute, baby, believe me, it never does, and all of this is
a misunderstanding,  baby,  just a rough patch on the highway of life,
and  if  you will only just put down that flicking gun and have a nice
drink like a civilized person-"

"Shut the fuck up!" Maryalice screamed,  at the top of her lungs,  the
words all run together.

Eddie's mouth snapped shut like a puppet's.

"Seven flicking  years,"  Maryalice  said,  making  it sound like some
children's charm, "seven fucking years and two of 'em here, Eddie, two
of  'em here,  and flying back and fucking forth for you,  Eddie,  and
coming back.  And  it's  always  light,  here  Tears  came,  streaking
Maryalice's  makeup.  "Everywhere.  Couldn't  sleep for all the light,
like a fog over the city. . . . Get in the bathroom." Maryalice taking
a step forward, Eddie and the Russian taking one back.

Chia reached over and picked up the stungun,  she wasn't sure why.  It
had a pair of blunt chrome fangs on one end, a red, ridged stud on one
edge.  She was surprised at how little it weighed.  She remembered the
ones  the  boys  at  her  school  had  made  from   those   disposable

"And it  always  finds me,  that light," Maryalice said.  "Always.  No
matter what I drink,  what I take on top of that,  It finds me and  it
wakes me up.  It's like powder, blows in under the door. Nothing to do
about it. Gets in your eyes. And all that brightness, falling.

Eddie was half back through the doorway now,  the Russian behind  him,
actually  in  the  bathroom,  and  Chia  didn't  like that because she
couldn't see the Russian's hands. She heard the ambient birdsong start
as the bathroom sensed the Russian, "And you put me there, Eddie. That
Shinjuku.  You put me where that light could get me, and I could never
get away."

And then Maryalice pulled the trigger.

Eddie screamed,  a weird shrill sound bouncing off the black and white
tiles.  That must've covered the click of the  lighter,  which  hadn't
even produced a flame.

Maryalice didn't panic.

She held her aim and calmly pulled the trigger again.

She got a light,  that time,  but Eddie,  with a howl of rage, swatted
the lighter aside,  grabbed  Maryalice  by  the  throat,  and  started
pounding  her  in  the  face  with  his fist,  the howl resolving into
"Bitch! Bitch! Bitch!" in sync with each blow.

And that was when Chia, without really thinking about it, came up from
where  she'd been sitting for so long that,  she found,  her legs were
asleep,  and didn't work,  so that she had to turn her  lunge  into  a
roll,  and  roll  again,  before  she could jam the chrome tips of the
stun-gun against Eddie's ankle and push the red stud.

She wasn't sure it would work on an ankle, or through his sock. But it
did. Maybe because Eddie wore those really thin socks.

But it  got  Maryalice,  too,  so  that  they seemed to jerk together,
toppling into each other's arms.

And the dark blur that flew past Chia then was  Masahiko,  who  pulled
the  door  shut  on the Russian,  grabbed the knob with both hands and
jumped up,  jamming one paper-slippered foot  against  the  wall,  the
other against the door,  and hung there.  "Run," he said, his arms and
legs straining.  Then his hands slipped off the round chrome knob  and
he landed on his ass.

Chia saw the knob start to turn.

She put  the  fangs of the stungun against the doorknob and pushed the
stud. And kept pushing it.

37. Work Experience

Laney sat in the van's front passenger seat again,  the 'phones on his
lap,  waiting for Arleigh to connect Kuwayama's gray module, He looked
through  the  windshield  at  the concrete wall.  His side didn't hurt
quite as much now,  but the meeting with Kuwayama and the  idoru,  and
then  his huddle in the van with Yamazaki,  had left him more confused
than ever. If Rez and Rei Toei were making decisions in tandem, and if
Yamazaki had decided to go along with them,  where did that leave him?
He couldn't see that Blackwell was going  to  wake  up  to  find  some
innate  wonderfulness  in the idea of Rez and Rei together.  As far as
Blackwell was concerned, Rez was still just trying to marry a software
agent-whatever that might turn out to mean.

But Laney  knew  now  that the idoru was more complex,  more powerful,
than any Hollywood synthespian.  Particularly if Kuwayama were telling
the  truth  about  the  videos  being  her "dreams." All he knew about
artificial intelligence came from work he'd done on a Slitscan episode
docLimenting  the  unhappy personal life of one of the field's leading
researchers,  but he knew that true Al was assumed never to have  been
achieved,  and that current attempts to achieve it were supposed to be
in directions quite opposite the creation of software that was good at
acting like beautiful young women.

If there  were going to be genuine Al,  the argument ran,  it was most
likely to evolve in ways that had least to do with  pretending  to  be
human.  Laney  remembered  screening  a  lecture in which the Slitscan
episode's subject had suggested that Al might be created accidentally,
and that people might not initially recognize it for what it was.

Arleigh opened the door on the driver's side and got in. Sorry this is
taking so long," she said.

"You weren't expecting it," Laney said.

"It isn't the software, it's an optical valve. A cable-tip. They use a
different gauge,  one the French use." She curled her hands around the
top of the wheel and rested her chin on them.  "So we're dealing  with
these huge volumes of information,  no problem,  but we don't have the
right cable to pour it through."

"Can you fix it?"

"Shannon's got one in his room,  Probably on a porno  outfit,  but  he
won't  admit it." She looked at him sideways.  "Shannon's got a friend
on the security team.  His friend says that Blackwell 'questioned' one
of the men who tried to grab Rez tonight."

"That's who they were after? Rez?"

"Seems like  it.  They're  Kombinat,  and  they claim Rez has hijacked
something of theirs."

"Hijacked what?"

"He didn't know." She closed her eyes.

"What do you think happened to him, the one Blackwell questioned?"

"I don't know," She opened her eyes,  straightened up.  "But somehow I
don't think we'll find out."

"Can he do that? Torture people? Kill them?"

She looked  at  Laney.  "Well,"  she  said,  finally,  "he does have a
certain advantage,  making us think he might. It's an established fact
that he did that in his previous line of work. You know what scares me
most about Blackwell?"


"Sometimes I find myself getting used to him." Shannon rapped  on  the
door beside her. Held up a length of cable.

"Ready when you are," she said to Laney,  opening the door and sliding
from behind the wheel.

Laney looked through the tinted windshield at the  concrete  wall  and
remembered   policing   the  steps  outside  the  Municipal  Court  in
Gainesville with Shaquille and Kenny,  two others from the  orphanage.
Shaquille  had  gone  on  to the drug-testing program with Laney,  but
Kenny had been transferred to another facility, near Denver. Laney had
no  idea what had become of either of them,  but it had been Shaquille
who'd pointed out to Laney that when the injection had the real  stuff
in it, your mouth filled with a taste like corroded metal, aluminum or
something.  Pl-ceeb-o,  Shaquille had said,  don't taste.  And it  was
true. You could tell right away.

The three  of  them had had Work Experience there,  five or six times,
picking up the offerings people left before their day in court.  These
were  considered  to  be  a health hazard,  and were usually carefully
hidden,  and you often found them by the  smell,  or  the  buzzing  of
flies.  Parts of chickens,  usually,  tied up with colored yatn.  What
Shaquille said was the head of a goat, once. Shaquille said the people
who  left  these things were drug dealers,  and they did it because it
was their religion.  Laney and the others wore pale green latex gloves
with orange Kevlar thimbles on the tips that gave you heat rash.  They
put the offerings in a white snap-top bucket  with  peeling  Biohazard
stickers.  Shaquille had claimed to know the names of some of the gods
these things were offered up to,  but Laney  hadnt  been  fooled.  The
names Shaquille made up, like O'Gunn and Sam Eddy, were obviously just
that,  and even Shaquille,  dropping a white ball of chicken  feathers
into the bucket, had said an extra lawyer or two was probably a better
investment. 'But they do it while they waitin'. Hedge they bet.' Laney
had   actually   preferred  this  to  Work  Experiences  at  fast-food
franchises, even though it meant they got body-searched for drugs when
they got back.

He'd told  Yamazaki and Blackwell about knowing that Alison Shires was
going to try to commit suicide,  and now they must think he could  see
the future.  But he knew he couldn't. That would be like those chicken
parts the dealers hid around the courthouse steps  changing  what  was
going to happen.  What would happen in the future came out of what was
happening now.  Laney knew he couldn't predict it, and something about
the experience of the nodal points made him suspect that nobody could.
The nodal points seemed to form  when  something  might  be  about  to
change. Then he saw a place where change was most likely, if something
triggered it.  Maybe something as small as Alison  Shires  buying  the
blades  for a box-cutter.  But if an earthquake had come,  that night,
and pitched her apartment down into Fountain Avenue. . . . Or if she'd
lost the pack of blades,  .  .  . But if she'd used credit to buy that
Wednesday Night Special, which she couldn't do because it was illegal,
and  required cash,  then it would've been obvious to anybody what she
might be on the verge of doing.

Arleigh opened the passenger door. "You okay?"

"Sure," Laney said, picking up the eyephones.


"Let's do it." He looked at the 'phones.

"It's up to you." She touched his arm, "We'll get you a doctor, after,

"Thanks," Laney said,  and put the 'phones on,  the taste flooding his
mouth- The Lo/Rez data, translucent and intricately interpenetrated by
the  archives of the band's fan-base,  was crawling with new textures,
maps that resolved,  when he focused on them,  into- Shaquille, in his
federal-issue  sweats,  showing  Laney  the  goat's head.  It had been
skinned,  and nails had been driven into it,  and Shaquille had  pried
open the jaw to show where the missing tongue had been replaced with a
blood-soaked piece of brown paper with writing on it,  That  would  be
the name of the prosecutor, Shaquille had explained.

Laney shut his eyes, but the image remained.

He opened  them on the idoru,  her features rimmed with flit.  She was
looking at him. She wore some kind of embroidered, fur-lined hat, with
earfiaps,  and  snow was swirling around her,  but then she flattened,
dwindling into the texture-maps that ran  down  through  the  reef  of
data,  and he let himself go,  go with that,  and he felt himself pass
through the core of it, the very center, and out the other side.

"Wait" he said,  and there seemed to be a lag before he heard his  own

"Perspective," the idoru said. "Yamazaki's parallax." Something seemed
to turn him around,  so that he looked directly at the data,  but from
some new angle,  and from a great distance.  And all around it,  there
was . . . nothing at all.

But through the data,  like some infinitely more  complex  version  of
Arleigh's  Realtree,  ran two vaguely parallel armatures.  Rez and the
idoru. They were sculpted in duration, Rez's beginning, at the far end
of it all, as something very minor, the first hints of his career. And
growing,  as it progressed, to something braided, multistranded. . . .
But  then  it  began  to  get  smaller again,  Laney saw,  the strands
loosening.  .  .  . And that would be the point, he thought, where the
singer began to become the thing that Kathy hated, the one who took up
celebrity space just because he was a celebrity,  because he was of  a
certain order of magnitude .

The idoru's data began somewhere after that, and it began as something
smoothly formed, deliberate, but lacking complexity. But at the points
where  it had swerved closest to Rez's data,  he saw that it had begun
to acquire a sort of complexity.  Or randomness, he thought. The human
thing. That's how she learns.

And both these armatures,  these sculptures in time,  were nodal,  and
grew more so toward the point, the present, where they intertwined , .

He stood beside the idoru on the  beach  he'd  seen  recorded  on  the
binoculars in the bedroom of the guesrhouse in Ireland.  Brownishgreen
sea flecked with whitecaps, stiff wind catching at the earfiaps of her
hat.  He  couldn't feel that wind,  but he could hear it,  so loud now
that he had trouble hearing her over  it.  "Can  you  see  them?"  she

"See what?"

"The faces  in the clouds!  The nodal points!  I can see nothing!  You
must indicate them to me!"

And she was gone, the sea with her, Laney staring into the data again,
where  the  digitized  histories  of Rez and Rei Toei mingled,  on the
verge of something else.  If he had tried,  in Los Angeles,  would the
box-cutter blade have emerged from Alison Shires' nodal point?

He tried.

He was looking out across a fuzzy,  indistinct white plain.  Not snow.
To where a pair of vast and very ornate brown-on-brown  Western  boots
swung  past  against  a cliff-like backdrop of violent pink.  Then the
image was gone,  replaced by the rotating form of a  three-dimensional
object,  though Laney had no idea what it was supposed to be.  With no
clues as to scale,  it looked vaguely like a Los Angeles bus with  the
wheels removed.

"Suite 17," the idoru said. "Hotel Di."

"Die?" Bus vanished, apparently taking boots with it.

"What is a 'love hotel'?"


"Love. Hotel."

"Where people go to make love-I think.

"What is   'Rodel-van  Erp  primary  biomolecular  programming  module

"I don't know," Laney said.

"But you have just shown it to me!  It is our union, out intersection,
that from which the rest must unfold!"

"Wait," Laney said,  "wait,  you've got another one here; they sort of
overlap-" The trying made his side hurt,  but there were hills in  the
distance,  twisted trees,  the low roofline of a wooden house- But the
idoru was gone,  and the house,  its  fabric  eaten  from  within,  wu
shimmering,  folding.  And  then  a  glimpse  of  something  towering,
mismatched windows and a twisting, moire sky.

Then Arleigh pulled the  'phones  off.  "Stop  screaming,"  she  said.
Yamazaki was beside her. "Stop it, Laney."

He took a long, shuddering breath, braced his palms against the padded
cowling of the dash,  and closed his  eyes.  He  felt  Arleigh's  hand
against his neck.

'We have to go there," he said.

"Go where?"

"Suite 17. We'll be late, for the wedding . .

38. Star

When the stungun quit making that zapping sound,  Chia dropped it. The
doorknob  wasn't  turning.  No  sound  from the bathroom but the faint
recorded cries of tropical birds.  She whipped  around.  Masahiko  was
trying  to get his computer into the plaid carrier-bag.  She dived for
her Sandbenders, grabbed it up, still trailing her goggles, and turned
to the pink bed. Her bag was beside it on the floor, with the blue and
yellow SeaTac plastic showing. She pulled that out, the thing still in
it,  and tossed it on the bed.  She bent to shove her Sandbenders into
her bag,  but glanced back at the bathroom door when she  thought  she
heard something.

The knob was turning again.

The Russian opened the door.  When he let go of the knob, she saw that
his  hand  was  inside  something  that  looked  like  a  Day-Gb  pink
hand-puppet.  One of the sex toys from the black cabinet. He was using
it as insulation. He peeled it off his fingers and tossed it back over
his shoulder. The bird sounds faded as he stepped out.

Masahiko, who'd  been  trying  to  get one of his feet into one of his
black shoes,  was looking at the Russian too.  He still  had  a  paper
slipper on the other foot.

"You are going?" the Russian said.

"It's on the bed," Chia said. "We didn't have anything to do with it."

The Russian noticed the stungun on the carpet,  beside the pointed toe
of his boot.  He raised the boot and brought his heel down. Chia heard
the  plastic  case crack.  "Artemi,  my friend of Novokuznetskaya,  is
doing himself great indignity with this." He prodded the fragments  of
the  stungun  with  his  toe.  "Is  wearing very tight jeans,  Artemi,
leather,  is fashion.  Putting in front pocket,  trigger  is  pressing
accident. Artemi is shocking his manhood." The Russian showed Chia his
large, uneven teeth. "Still we are laughing, yes?"

"Please," Chia said. "We just want to go."

The Russian stepped past Eddie and Maryalice,  who lay tangled on  the
carpet.  "You  are accident like Artemi to his manhood,  yes?  You are
only happening to this owner of  fine  nightclub."  He  indicated  the
unconscious   Eddie.   "Who   is   smuggler  and  other  things,  very
complicated, but you, you are only accident?"

"That's right," Chia said.

"You are of LoiRez." It sounded like Lor-ess.  He  stepped  closer  to
Chia and looked down into the bag. "You are knowing what this is."

"No," Chia lied. "I'm not."

The Russian  looked  at her.  "We are not liking accident,  ever.  Not
allowing accident." His hands came up, then, and she saw that the back
of  the  third  joint of each of his fingers was pink with those dots,
each one the size of the end of a pencil eraser.  She'd seen those  at
her  last school and knew they meant a laser had recently been used to
remove a tattoo.

She looked up at his face.  He looked like someone who was about to do
something that he might not want to do, but that he knew he had to.

But then she saw his eyes slide past her, narrowing, and she turned in
time to see the door to the corridor swing inward.  A man  wider  than
the  doorway  seemed  to  flow  into  the  room.  There was a big X of
flesh-colored tape across one side of his f~tce,  and he was wearing a
coat  the  color of dull metal.  Chia saw one huge,  scarred hand slip
into his coat;  the  other  held  something  black  that  ended  in  a
mag-strip tab.

"Yob tvoyu mat," said the Russian, soft syllables of surprise.

The stranger's  hand  emerged,  holding  something that looked to Chia
like a very large pair of chrome-plated scissors,  but then  Unfolded,
with a series of small sharp clicks, and apparently of its own accord,
into a kind of glittering,  skeletal axe,  its leading edge  hawk-like
and lethal, the head behind it tapering like an icepick.

"My mother?"  said the stranger,  who sounded somehow delighted.  "Did
you say my mother?" His face was shiny with scar  tissue.  More  scars
crisscrossed his shaven, stubbled skull.

"Ah, no,"  the  Russian  said,  lifting  his  hands  so that the palms
showed. "Figuring of speech, only."

Another man stepped in,  around the man with the axe, and this one had
dark  hair and wore a loose black suit.  The headband of a monocle-rig
crossed his forehead,  the unit covering his right eye.  The  eye  she
could  see  was wide and bright and green,  but still it took a second
before she recognized him.

Then she had to sit down on the pink bed.

"Where is it?" this man who looked like Rez asked.  (Except he  looked
thicker, somehow, his cheeks unhollowed.)

Neither the  Russian  nor the man with the axe answered.  The man with
the axe closed the door behind him with his heel.

The green eye and the video-monocle looked at Chia. "Do you know where
it is?"


"The biomech  primer  module,  or  whatever  it is you call it...." He
paused,  touching the phone in his right ear,  listening.  "Excuse me:
'Rodel-van  Erp  primary  biomolecular  programming module Cslash-7A.'
Ilove you."

Chia stared.

"Rei Toei," he explained,  touching the headband, and she knew that it
had to be him.

"It's here. In this bag."

He reached  into  the  blue and yellow plastic and drew the thing out,
turning it over in his hands. "This? This is our future, the medium of
our marriage?"

"Excuse, please,"  the  Russian  said,  'hut  you  must  know  this is
helonging to mc." Lie sounded genuinely sorry.

Rez looked up,  the nanotech unit held casually in  his  hands.  "It's
yours?" Rez tilted his head,  like a bird, curious. "Where did you get

The Russian coughed. "An exchange. This gentleman on floor."

Rez saw Eddie and Maryalice. "Are they dead?"

"Volted, yes? Being most-time nonlethal. Your girl on bed."

Rez looked at Chia. "Who are you?"

"Chia Pet McKenzie," she said automatically. "I'm from Seattle. I'm. .
. I'm in your fan club." She felt her face burning.

The brow  above  the  green eye went up.  He seemed to be listening to
something.  "Oh," he  said,  and  paused.  "She  did?  Really?  That's
wonderful."  He smiled at Chia.  "Rei says you've been totally central
to everything, and that we have a great deal to thank you for."

Chia swallowed. "She does?"

But Rez had turned to the Russian.  "We have to have this." He  raised
the nanotech unit. "We'll negotiate now. Name your price."

"Rozzer," the man at the door said, "you can't do that. This bastard's

Chia saw the green eye close, as if Rez were making a conscious effort
to calm himself. When it opened, he said: "But they're the government,
aren't they, Blackwell? We've negotiated with governments before."

"It's for the legals," the scarred man said, but now there was an edge
of worry in his voice.

The Russian seemed to hear it too.  He slowly lowered his hands. "What
were you planning to do with this?" Rez asked him.  The Russian looked
down at the thing in Rez's hands,  as if considering,  then raised his
eyes.  A muscle was jumping,  in his cheek.  He seemed to  come  to  a
decision. "We are developing ambitious public works project," he said.

"O jesus,"  Maryalice said from the carpet,  so hoarsely that at first
Chia couldn't identify the source.  "They  must've  put  something  in
that. They did. I swear to God they did. And then she threw up.

Yamazaki lost  his balance as the van shot up the narrow ramp,  out of
the hotel. Laney, holding Arleigh's phone to the dashboard map, toning
the  number  of  the  Hotel  Di,  heard him crash down on the shredded
bubble-pack.  The display  bleeped  as  Laney  completed  the  number;
grid-segments clicked across the screen. "You okay, Yamazaki?"

"Thank you,"  Yamazaki  said.  "Yes."  Getting to his knees again,  he
craned around the headrest of Laney's  seat.  "You  have  located  the

"Expressway," Arleigh  said,  glancing  at the display,  as they swung
right, up an entrance ramp. "Hit speed-dial three. Thanks. Gimme." She
took the phone.  "McCrae.  Yeah.  Priority?  Fuck you,  Alex.  Ring me
through to him." She listened.  "Di?  Like D,  I?  Shit.  Thanks." She
clicked off.

"What is  it?"  Laney  asked,  as they swung onto the expressway,  the
giant bland brow of an enormous articulated freight-hauler pulling  up
behind and then past them, quilted stainless steel flashing in Laney's
peripheral vision. The van rocked with the big truck's passage.

"I tried to get Rez.  Alex says he left  the  hotel,  with  Blackwell.
Headed the same place we are."


"Just about the time you were having your screaming fit, when

39. Trans

you had the 'phones on," Arleigh said.  She looked grim.  "Sorry," she

Laney had had to argue with  her  for  fifteen  minutes,  back  there,
before she'd agreed to this. She'd kept saying she wanted him to see a
doctor.  She'd said that she was a technician,  not a researcher,  not
security, and that her first responsibility was to stay with the data,
the modules, because anyone who got those got almost the entire Lo/Rez
Partnership business plan,  plus the books, plus whatever Kuwayama had
entrusted them with in the gray module.  She'd  only  given  in  after
Yamazaki  had  sworn  to take Full responsibility for everything,  and
after Shannon and the man with the ponytail had promised not to  leave
the modules.  Not even,  Arleigh said,  to piss. "Go against the wall,
God damn it," she'd said,  'and get half a dozen of  Blackwell's  boys
down here to keep you :ompany."

"He knows," Laney said. "She told him it's there."

"What is there, Laney-san?" asked Yamazaki, around the headrest.

"I don't  know.  Whatever  it  is,  they  think it'll facilitate their

"Do you think so?" Arleigh asked,  passing a string of  bright  little

"I guess it must be capable of it," Laney said, as something under her
seat began to clang,  loudly and insistently.  "But I don't think that
means it'll necessarily happen. What the hell is that?"

"I'm exceeding the speed limit," she said.  "Every vehicle in Japan is
legally required to be equipped with one of these devices.  You speed,
it dings."

Laney turned to Yamazaki. "Is that true?"

"Of course," Yamazaki said, over the steady clanging.

"And people don't just disconnect them?"

"No," Yamazaki said, looking puzzled. "Why would they?"

Arleigh's phone rang. "McCrae. Willy?" Silence as she listened.

Then Laney  felt  the van sway slightly.  It slowed until the clanging
suddenly stopped. She lowered the phone.

"What is it?" Laney asked.

"Willy Jude," she said.  "He.  .  .  He was just watching one  of  the
clubbing channels.  They said Rez is dead. They said he was dead. In a
love hotel."

40. The Business

When nobody did anything to help Maryalice,  Chia got up from the bed,
squeezed past the  Russian  and  into  the  bathroom,  triggering  the
ambient  bird  track.  The black cabinet was open,  its light on,  and
there were Day-Gb penis-things scattered across the  black  and  white
tile floor. She took a black towel and a black washcloth from a heated
chrome rack, wet the washcloth at the black and chrome basin, and went
back to Maryalice. She folded the towel, put it down over the vomit on
the white carpet, and handed Maryalice the washcloth.

Nobody said anything, or tried to stop her. Masahiko had sat back down
on  the carpet,  with his computer between his feet.  The scarred man,
who seemed to take up as much space  as  anything  in  the  room,  had
lowered  his  axe.  He  held it down,  along a thigh wider than Chia's
hips, with the spike jutting from beside his knee.

Maryalice, who'd managed to sit up  now,  wiped  her  mouth  with  the
cloth, taking most of her lipstick with it. When Chia straightened up,
a whiff of the Russian's cologne made her stomach heave.

"You're a developer, you say?" Rez still held the nanotech unit.

"You are asking many questions,"  the  Russian  said.  Eddie  groaned,
then, and the Russian kicked him. "Basis," the Russian said.

"A public works project?" Rez raised his eyebrow.  "A water filtration
plant, something like that?"

The Russian kept his eye on the big man's axe.  "In Tallin," he  said,
"we  soon  are  building exclusive mega-mall,  affluent gated suburbs,
plus world-class pharmaceutical manufakura.  We  are  unfairly  denied
most  advanced  means  of production,  but we are desiring one hundred
percent modern operation."

"Rez," the man with the axe said, "give it up. This hoon and his mates
need  that thing to build themselves an Estonian drug factory.  Time I
took you back to the hotel."

"But wouldn't they be more interested in . . . Tokyo real estate?"

The big man's eyes bulged, the scars on his forehead reddening. One of
the  upper  arms  of the micropore X had come loose,  revealing a deep
scratch. "What bulishit is that? You don't have any real estate here!"

"Famous Aspect," Rez said.  "Rei's management company. They invest for

"You are  discussing  nanotech  exchanged  for Tokyo real estate?" The
Russian was looking at Rez.

"Exactly," Rez said.

"What kind real estate?"

"Undeveloped landfill in the Bay.  An island.  One of two.  Off one of
the  old 'Toxic Necklace' sites,  but that's been cleaned up since the

"Wait a minute," Maryalice said, from the floor. "I know you. You were
in that band, the one with the skinny Chinese, the guitar player, wore
the hats. I know you. You were huge."

Rez stared at her.

"I think is not good, here to discuss the business," the Russian said,
rubbing  his birthmark.  "But I am Starkov,  Yevgeni." He extended his
hand, and Chia noticed the laser-scars again. Rez shook it.

Chia thought she heard the big man groan.

"I used to watch him in Dayton," Maryalice said,  as  if  that  proved

The big  man  took  a  small phone from his pocket with his free hand,
squinted at the call-display,  and put it to his left ear.  Which Chia
now saw was missing.  I-Ic listened.  "Ta," lie said,  and lowered the
phone.  He moved to the window,  the one  (ha  had  found  behind  the
waliscreen,  and  stood  looking  out.  "Better  have  a look at this,
Rozzer," he said.

Rez joined him.  She saw Rez touch the monocle.  "What are they doing,
Keithy? What is it?"

"It's your funeral," the big man said.

41. Candlelight and Tears

Office windows   flickered    past,    very    close,    beyond    the
earthquake-bandaged uprights of the expressway.  Taller buildings gave
way to a lower sprawl,  then something bright in the middle  distance:
HOTEL KING MIDAS. The dashboard map began to bleep.

"Third exit  right,"  Laney  said,  watching  the cursor.  He felt her
accelerate  and  heard  the  speed-limit  warning  kick  in.   Another
glittering sign: FREEDOM SHOWER BANFF.

"Laney-san," Yamazaki asked,  around the headrest.  "Did you apprehend
any suggestion of Rez's death or other misfortune?"

"No, but I wouldn't,  not unless there was a degree of  intentionality
that  would  emerge  from the data.  Accidents,  actions by anyone who
isn't  represented.  .  ."  The  clanging  stopped  as   she   slowed,
approaching  the  exit indicated on the map.  "But I saw their data as
streams,  merging,  and whatever it was merging around  seemed  to  be
where we're going."

Arleigh made the exit. They were on the off-ramp now, swinging through
a curve,  and Laney saw three young girls,  their shoes  clumped  with
mud,  descending  a  sharp  slope planted with some kind of pale rough
grass.  One of them seemed to be wearing a school  uniform:  kneesocks
and a short plaid skirt. They looked unreal, in the harsh sodium light
of the intersection, but then Arleigh stopped the van and Laney turned
to  see  the  road  in  front  of them completely blocked by a silent,
unmoving crowd.

"Jesus," Arleigh said. "The fans."

If there were boys in the crowd, Laney didn't see them. It was a level
sea  of  glossy black hair,  every girl facing the white building that
rose there,  with its white,  brilliantly illuminated sign  framed  by
something meant to represent a coronet: HOTEL DI. Arleigh powered down
her window and Laney heard the distant wail of a siren.

"We'll never get through," Laney said. Most of the girls held a single
candle,  and  the  combined glow danced among the tear-streaked faces.
They  were  so  young,  these  girls:  children.  Kathy  Torrance  had
particularly  loathed  that  about Lo/Rez,  the way their fan-base had
refreshed itself over the years with a constant  stream  of  pubescent
recruits,  girls  who  fell in love with Rez in the endless present of
the net,  where he could still be the twenty-year-old of his  earliest

"Pass me  that  black  case,"  Arleigh said,  and Laney heard Yamazaki
scrabbling through the bubble-pack.  A flat rectangular carrying  case
appeared between the seats.  Laney took it. "Open it," she said. Laney
undid the zip, exposing something flat and gray. The Lo/Rez logo on an
oblong  sticker.  Arleigh  pulled  it  from  its  case,  put it on the
dashboard,  and ran her finger around its edge,  looking for a switch.
LO/REZ,  mirror-reversed in large, luminous green letters, appeared on
the windshield.

**TOUR SUPPORT VEHICLE**. The asterisks began to flash.

Arleigh let the van roll forward a few inches.  The girls directly  in
front  turned,  saw  the  windshield,  and  stepped  aside.  Silently,
gradually, a few feet at a time, the crowd parted for the van.

Laney looked out across the black, center-parted heads of the grieving
fans and saw the Russian, the one from the Western World, still in his
white leather evening jacket, struggling through the crowd. The girls'
heads came barely to his waist, and he looked as though he were wading
through black hair and candle-glow.  The expression on  his  face  was
OflC  Of  confusion,  almost  of terror,  but when he saw Laney at the
window of the green van,  he  grima'ed  and  changed  course,  heading
straight for them.  Chia looked out and saw that the rain had stopped.
Beyond the chainlink  fence,  the  parking  lot  was  full  of  small,
unmoving  figures holding candles.  A few of them were standing on the
tops of the trucks parked there,  and there seemed to be more  on  the
roof of the low building behind.  Girls.  Japanese girls.  All of them
seemed to be staring at the Hotel Di.

The big man was telling Rez that someone had announced that he'd died,
that he'd been found dead in this hotel, and it was out on the net and
was being treated like it had really happened.

The Russian had produced his own phone now and was talking to  someone
in  Russian.  "Mr.  Lor-ess,"  he  said,  lowering the phone,  "we are
hearing police  come.  This  nanotech  being  heavily  proscribed,  is
serious problem."

"Fine," Rez said. "We have a car in the garage."

Someone nudged  Chia's  elbow.  It was Masahiko,  handing her her bag.
He'd put her Sandbenders in it and zipped it up; she could tell by the
weight. He had his computer in the plaid bag. "Put your shoes on now,"
he said. His were already on.

Eddie was curled into a knot on the carpet;  he'd been like that since
the  Russian  had  kicked him.  Now the Russian took a step toward him
again and Chia saw Maryalice cringe, where she sat beside Eddie on the

"You are lucky man," the Russian said to Eddie. "We are honor

42. Checking Out

ing our agreement. Isotope to be delivered. But we are wanting no more
the business with you."

There was a click,  and another,  and Chia watched as the big man with
no left ear folded his axe, collapsing it smoothly into itself without
looking at it.  'That thing you're holding is a heavy  crime,  Rozzer.
Your  fan-club  turnout's  bringing  the  police.  Better let me be in

Rez looked at the big man. "I'll carry it myself, Keithy."

Chia thought she saw a sudden sadness in the  big  man's  eyes.  "Well
then," he said.  "Time to go." He slipped the folded weapon inside his
jacket.  "Come on,  then. You two." Gesturing Chia and Masahiko toward
the  door.  Rez followed Masahiko,  the Russian close behind him,  but
Chia saw that the room key was on top of the little  fridge.  She  ran
over and grabbed it. Then she stopped, looking down at Maryalice.

Maryalice's mouth,  with her lipstick gone, looked old and sad. It was
a mouth that must've been hurt a lot,  Chia thought.  "Come with  us,"
Chia said.

Maryalice looked at her.

"Come on," Chia said. "The police are coming."

"I can't," Maryalice said. "I have to take care of Eddie."

"Tell your Eddie," Blackwell said,  reaching Chia in two steps,  "that
if he whines to anyone about any of this,  he'll be  grabbed  and  his
shoe size shortened."

But Maryalice didn't seem to hear,  or if she did, she didn't look up,
and the big man pulled Chia out of the room, closed the door, and then
Chia  was following the back of the Russian's tan suit down the narrow
corridor,  his  fancy  cowboy  boots  illuminated  by  the  ankle-high

Rez was  stepping into the elevator with Masahiko and the Russian when
the big man caught his shoulder.  "You're staying with me,"  he  said,
shoving Chia into the elevator.

Masahiko pushed  the  button.  "You  are  having vehicle?" the Russian
asked Masahiko.

"No," Masahiko said.

The Russian grunted.  His cologne was making Chia's stomach turn over.
The  door  opened  on  the little lobby.  The Russian pushed past her,
looking around.  Chia and Masahi~o followed. The elevator door closed.
"Looking  for  vehicle,"  the Russian said.  "Come." They followed him
through the sliding glass door,  into the parking area,  where Eddie's
Graceland seemed to take up at least half the available space.  Beside
it was a silver-gray Japanese sedan,  and Chia wondered  if  that  was
Rez's.  Someone  had  put  black  plastic  rectangles over the license
plates of both cars.

She heard the glass door hiss open again and turned to see Rez  coming
out, the nanotech unit tucked beneath his arm like a football. The big
man was behind him.

Then a really angry man in a shiny white tuxedo burst through the pink
plastic  strips  that hung down across the entrance.  He had a smaller
man by the collar of his jacket, and the smaller man was trying to get
away. Then the smaller man saw them there and shouted "Blackwell!" and
actually managed to slip right out of his jacket,  but the man in  the
white  tuxedo  reached  out  with the other hand and caught him by the

The Russian was yelling in Russian now and the man in the white tuxedo
seemed  to  see  him for the first time.  He let go of the other man's

"We've got the van," the other man said.

The big man with the missing ear stepped up really close to the man in
the  white  tuxedo,  glared  at him,  and took the other man's jacket.
"Okay, Rozzer," he said, turning to Rez. "You know the drill this one.
Old  hat.  Same  as  leaving that house in St.  Kilda with the bastard
Melbourne tabs outside,  right?" He draped the jacket over Rez's  head
and shoulders,  slapped him encouragingly on the upper arm.  He walked
over to the pink strips and drew  one  aside,  looking  out.  "Fucking
hell,"  he  said.  "Right  then,  all  of  you.  It's move fast,  stay
together, Rez in the center, and into the van. On my count of three."

43. Toecutters Breakfast

"You aren't eating," Blackwell said,  after he'd  cleared  his  second
plate of links and eggs.  He'd appropriated this dining room on one of
the Elf Hat's executive floors,  and insisted Laney join him. The view
was  similar  to  the  one  from Laney's room,  six floors below,  and
sunlight was glinting from the distant parapets of the new buildings.

"Who put out the word that Rez was dead, Blackwell? The idoru?"

"Her? Why d'you think she would?" He was using the edge of a  triangle
of toast to squeegee his plate.

"I don't know," Laney said, "but she seems to like to do things.

And they aren't necessarily that easy to understand."

"It wasn't  her,"  Blackwell  said.  "We're checking it out.  Looks as
though some fan of his  in  Mexico  went  berserk;  used  some  fairly
drastic  sort  of 'ware-weapon on the Tokyo club's central site.  Took
that over from a converted corporate website in the States and  issued
the bulletin. Called on every fan local to Tokyo to get up immediately
and go to that love hotel."  He  popped  the  toast  into  his  mouth,
swallowed, and wiped his lips with a thick white napkin.

"But Rez was there," Laney said.

Blackwell shrugged.  "We're looking into it.  We have more than enough
on our hands,  now.  Have to dissociate Lo/Rez from this  death  hoax,
reassure his audience.  Legal's flying in from London and New York for
talks with Starkov and his people.  Her people too," he added.  "Going
to be busy."

"Who were  those  kids?"  Laney  asked.  "The  little  redhead and the
Japanese hippie?"

"Rez says they're okay.  Have 'em here in the hotel. Arleigh's sorting
it out."

"Where's the nanotech unit?"

"You didn't  say that," Blackwell said.  "Now don't say it again.  The
official truth of the night's events is  currently  being  formulated,
rnd that will never be a part of it. Am I understood?"

Laney nodded.  He  looked  out at the new buildings again.  Either the
angle of light had changed or that parapet had  shifted  slightly.  He
looked  at Blackwell.  "Is it my imagination,  or has your attitude on
all this undergone some kind of change?  I thought you were  adamantly
opposed to Rez and the idoru getting together."

Blackwell sighed.  "I was. But it's starting to look like something of
a done deal now,  isn't it?  De facto relationship,  really. I suppose
I'm old-fashioned, but I'd hoped that he might eventually wind up with
a bit of the ordinary.  Someone to polish his gun,  pick up his socks,
have a baby or two. But it isn't going to happen, is it?"

"I guess not."

"In which case," Blackwell said,  "I have two options.  Either I leave
the silly bastard to his own resources,  or I stay and I do my job and
try  to  adjust to whatever it is this is going to become.  And at the
end of the bloody day, Laney, regardless, I have to remember where I'd
be  if  he hadn't come behind the walls at Pentridge to give that solo
concert.  Aren't you going to eat that?" Looking at the scrambled eggs
going cold on Laney's plate.

"My job's done," Laney said. "It didn't work out the way you wanted it
to, but I did it. Agreed?"

"No question."

"Then I'd better go. Get me paid off, I'm out of here today."

Blackwell looked at him with new interest. "That fast, eh? What's your
hurry? Don't find us agreeable?'

"No," Laney said. "It's just that that way's better all round.

"Not what  Yama's saying.  Rez either.  Not to mention her other ness,
who no doubt will voice an opinion in that regard.  I'd say  you  were
set to become the court prognosticator, Laney. Unless, of course, that
whole business with the Kombinat turns out to  be  absolute  bollocks,
and  it's discovered that you simply make that nodal nonsense up-which
I for one would actually find quite amusing. But no, your services are
very  much  desired now,  you might even say required,  and none of us
would currently be happy to see you go."

"I have to," Laney said. "I'm being blackmailed."

This brought  Blackwell's  lids  to  half-mast.  He  leaned   slightly
forward.  The  pink worm of scar tissue squirmed in his eyebrow.  "Are
you?" he said softly,  as though Laney had just  ventured  to  confess
some unusual sexual complication. "And may I ask who by?"

"Slitscan. Kathy Torrance. It's sort of personal, for her."

"Tell me about it. Tell me all about it. Do."

And Laney  did,  including  the  5-SB  trials  and  their  record  for
eventually  turning  the  participants  into  homicidal  stalkers   of
celebrities.  "I  didn't  want to bring that up,  before," Laney said,
"because I was afraid you might think I was at risk.  That I might  go
that way."

"Not that I haven't had experience with the type," Blackwell said. "We
have a young man in Tokyo right now who is the author of  all  of  the
songs  Lo  and  Rez  have  ever  written,  not to mention Blue Ahmed's
complete output for Chrome Koran. And he's an explosives expert. Watch
him closely.  But we have that capacity,  you see. So the safest place
for you,  Laney,  in the event you go werewolf on us,  would be  right
here, at the watchful heart of our security apparatus."

Laney thought about it.  It almost made sense.  "But you won't want me
around if Slitscan runs that footage.  I won't want myself  around.  I
don't  have  any family,  nobody else for it to damage,  but I'm still
going to have to live with it."

"And how do you propose to do that?"

"I'll go somewhere where people don't watch that shit."

"Well," said Blackwell, "when you find that fair land, I will go there
with  you  myself.  We'll live Ofl fruit and nuts,  commune with o all
that's left of bloody nature.  But 'til then, Laney, I'm going to have
a conversation with your Kathy Torrance. I will explain certain things
to her.  Nothing complicated.  Simple,  simple protocols of cause  and
effect.  And she will never allow Slitscan to run that footage of your

"Blackwell," Laney said,  "she dislikes me,  she has  her  motive  for
revenge,  but  she  wants,  she  needs,  to destroy Rez.  She's a very
powerful woman in a very powerful,  fully  global  organization.  Some
simple threat of violence on your part isn't going to stop her.  It'll
only up the ante; she'll go to her security people"

"No," said Blackwell, "she won't, because that would be a violation of
the  very  personal terms I will have established in our conversation.
That's the key word here,  Laney, 'personal.' 'Up close, and.' We will
not  meet,  we  will not carve out this deep and meaningful and bloody
unforgettable episode of mutual face-time as  representatives  of  our
respective faceless corporations. Not at all. It's one-on-one time for
your Kathy and I,  and it may well prove to be as intimate,  and I may
hope  enlightening,  as  any she ever had.  Because I will bring a new
certainty into her life,  and we all need certainties. They help build
character.  And  I  will  leave  your  Kathy with the deepest possible
conviction that if she crosses me,  she will die-but only after  she's
been made to desire that,  absolutely." And Black-well's smile,  then,
giving Laney the full benefit of his dental prosthesis,  was  hideous.
"Now how was it exactly you were supposed to contact her,  to give her
your decision?"

Laney found his wallet,  produced the blank card  with  the  pencilled
number.  Blackwell took it.  "Ta." He stood up. "Shame to waste a good
breakfast that way.  Ring the hotel doctor  from  your  room  and  get
yourself sorted.  Sleep. I'll deal with this." He tucked the card into
the breast pocket of his aluminum jacket.

And as Blackwell  left  the  room,  Laney  noticed,  centered  on  the
bodyguard's  squeegeed  plate  and  standing upright on its broad flat
head, a one-and-a-half-inch galvanized roofing-nail.

Laney's ribs,  an ugly patchwork of  yellow,  black,  and  blue,  were
sprayed with various cool liquids and tightly bound with micropore. He
took the hypnotic the doctor had offered,  showered at  great  length,
climbed into bed,  and was suggesting the light turn itself off when a
fax was delivered.

It was addressed to C. LANEY, GUEST:






"Good night," Laney said,  putting the fax on the bedside module,  and
fell instantly and very deeply asleep.

And stayed  that  way until Arleigh phoned from the lobby to suggest a
drink.  Nine in the evening,  by the blue clock in the corner  of  the
module-screen.  Laney  put  on  freshly ironed underwear and his other
blue Malaysian button-down.  He discovered that White  Leather  Tuxedo
had sprung a few seams in his only jacket,  but then the boss Russian,
Starkov,  hadn't let the man come with  them  in  the  van,  so  Laney
figured they were even.

Crossing the lobby,  he encountered a frantic-looking Rice Daniels, so
tense that he'd reverted to the black head-clamp of his Out of Control
days. "Laney! Jesus! Have you seen Kathy?"

"No. I've been asleep."

Daniels did a strange little jig of anxiety, rising on the toes of his
brown calfskin loafers.  "Look,  this is too  fiicking  weird,  but  I
swear- I think she's been abducted."

"I lave you called the police?"

"We did,  we did,  but it's all flicking Martian, all these forms they
tick through on their notebooks,  and what blood type was she.  .  . .
You don't know what blood type she is, do you, Laney?"

"Thin," Laney said. "Sort of straw-colored."

But Daniels didn't seem to hear. He seized Laney's shoulder and showed
him teeth,  a rictus intended somehow to indicate friendship.  "I have
real respect for you, man. How you don't have any issues."

Laney saw Arleigh wave to him from the entrance to the lounge. She was
wearing something short and black.

"You take care,  Rice." Shaking the man's cold hand.  "She'll turn up.
I'm sure of it."

And then he was walking toward Arleigh,  smiling,  and he saw that she
was smiling back.  Chia was on the bed,  watching television.  It made
her feel more normal. It was like a drug, that way. She remembered how
much television her mother had watched, after her father had left.

But this was Japanese television,  where girls  who  could  have  been
Mitsuko,  only  a  little younger,  wearing sailor-suit dresses,  were
spinning huge wooden tops at a long  table.  They  could  really  spin
them,  too;  keep them up forever. It was a contest. The console could
translate,  but it was even more relaxing not to know what  they  were
saying.  The most relaxing parts of all were the close-ups of the tops

She'd used the translation to check out the NHK coverage of the  death
hoax on the net and the candlelight vigil at the Hotel Di.

She'd seen a very satisfyingly pudgy Hiromi Ogama denying she knew who
had nuked her chapter's site and then issued the call to mourning from
its ruins.  It had not been a member of the club, Hiromi had stressed,
either locally or internationally. Chia knew Hiromi was lying, because
it  had to have been Zona,  but the Lo/Rez people would be telling her
what to say.  Arleigh had told Chia the whole thing had been  launched
out  of  a  disused  website  that belonged to an aerospace company in
Arizona.  Which meant that Zona had blown her country, because now she
wouldn't be able to go back there. (Nice as Arleigh seemed to be, Chia
hadn't told her anything about Lona.)

And she'd seen the helicopter shots of the vigil, afld of the baf- 0

44. La Puirissima

fled tactical squads facing an estimated twenty-five hundred tearyeyed
girls.  The  injury count was low,  everything fairly minor except for
one girl who'd slid down a freeway  embankment  and  broken  both  her
ankles.  The  real  problem  had  been  getting everyone out of there,
because a lot of them had arrived five or six to a cab, and had no way
of  getting home.  Some had taken the family car and then abandoned it
in their hurry to reach the vigil,  and that had created another  kind
of mess. There had been a few dozen arrests, mostly for trespassing.

And she'd  seen  the message Rez had recorded,  assuring people he was
alive and well,  and regretting the whole thing,  which of course he'd
had nothing to do with.  He wasn't wearing the monocle-rig,  for this,
but he had on the same black suit  and  t-shirt.  He  looked  thinner,
though;  someone  had  tweaked  it.  He'd  played it light,  at first,
grinning, saying he'd never been to the Hotel Di and in fact had never
visited  a  love  hotel,  but  now  maybe he should.  Then he'd turned
serious and said how sorry he was that people had been  inconvenienced
and  even  hurt by someone's irresponsible prank.  And he'd capped it,
smiling, by saying that the whole thing had been quite uniquely moving
for him, because how often do you get to watch your own funeral?

And she'd  seen  the  people  who  owned  and  managed  the  Hotel Di,
expressing their regret.  They had no idea, they said, how any of this
had  happened.  She  got  the feeling that expressing regret was a big
thing here,  but the owners of the Di had also managed to explain  how
there  was  no  on-site  staff at their hotel,  in the interest of the
guests' greater privacy.  Arleigh,  watching this,  had said that that
was the commercial,  and that she bet the place was going to be booked
solid for the next two months. It was famous, now.

All in all,  the coverage seemed to treat the whole thing as some kind
of  silly-season item that might have had serious repercussions if the
police hadn't acted as calmly and as  skillfully  as  they  eventually
had, bringing in electric buses from the suburbs to ferry the girls to
collection-points around the city.

Arleigh was from San l~ranc1sc() and she worked for  Lo/Rez  and  knew
Rez  personally,  and she was the one who'd driven the van out through
the crowd.  And then she'd lost a police helicopter by doing something
completely  crazy on that expressway,  a kind of u-turn right over the
concrete bumper-thing down the middle.

She'd brought Chia and Masahiko to this hotel,  and put them in  these
adjoining  rooms  with  weirdly angled corners,  where they each had a
private bath.  She'd asked them both to please stay there,  and not to
port  or  use the phone without telling her,  except for room service,
and then she'd gone out.

Chia had had a shower right away.  It was the best shower  she'd  ever
had, and she felt like she never wanted to wear those clothes again as
long as she lived.  She didn't even want to have to look at them.  She
found  a  plastic  bag  you were supposed to put your clothes in to be
laundered,  and she put them in that and put it in the wastebasket  in
the  bathroom.  Then  she'd  put  on  all  clean clothes from her bag,
everything kind of wrinkled but it felt great,  and  she'd  blow-dried
her  hair  with  the machine built into the bathroom wall.  The toilet
didn't talk and it only had three buttons to figure out.

Then she lay down on the bed and fell asleep, but not for long.

Arleigh kept popping in to make sure Chia was okay,  and  telling  her
news,  so  that  Chia  felt like she was part of it,  whatever it was.
Ar-leigh said Rez was back at his own hotel now,  but that  he'd  come
later to spend some time with her and thank her for all she'd done.

That made Chia feel strange.  Now she'd seen him in real life, somehow
that had taken over from all the other ways she'd  known  him  before,
and she felt kind of funny about him.  Confused.  Like all of this had
pegged him in realtime for her,  and she kept thinking of  her  mother
complaining that Lo and Rez were nearly as old as she was.

And there  was  something else to it,  too,  that came from what she'd
seen when she was crouched down in the back of that van,  between  the
little  Japanese  guy with the sleeve of his jacket hanging down,  and
Masahiko:  she'd looked out the window and seen the faces,  as the van
inched  away.  None  of them knowing that that was Rez hunched down in
there,  under a jacket, but maybe sensing it somehow. And something in
Chia  letting her know she'd never quite be like that again.  Never as
comfortably a face in that crowd.  Because now  she  knew  there  were
rooms they never saw,  or even dreamed of, where crazy things, or even
just boring things,  happened, and that was where the stars came from.
And  it  was something like that that worried her now when she thought
of Rez coming to see her. That and how he really was her mother's age.

And all of that made her wonder what she was going to tell the others,
back in Seattle.  How could they understand it? She thought Zona would
understand.  She really wanted to talk with Zona, but Arleigh had said
it was better not to try to reach her now.

The longest-running top was starting to teeter,  and they were cutting
from that to the eyes of the girl who'd spun it.

Masahiko opened the door that connected their rooms.

The top gave a last wobble and kicked over. The girl covered her mouth
with her hands, her eyes filled with the pain of defeat.

"You must come with me to Walled City now," Masahiko said.

Chia used the manual remote to turn the television off. "Arleigh asked
us not to port."

"She knows," Masahiko said.  "I've been there all day." He was wearing
the same clothes but everything had been cleaned and pressed,  and the
legs of his baggy black pants looked strange  with  creases  in  them.
"And on the phone with my father."

"Is he pissed off at you because those gumi guys came?"

"Arleigh McCrae  asked  Starkov  to  have  someone speak with our gumi
representative.  They have apologized to my father.  But  Mitsuko  was
arrested  near  Hotel  Di.  That  has  caused  him  embarrassment  and


"l~or trespassing.  She went to take part in the vigil.  She climbed a
fence,  triggering  an alarm.  She could not climb back out before the
police came."

"Is she okay?

"My father has arranged her release. But he is not pleased."

"I feel like it's my fault," Chia said.

He shrugged and went back through the door.

Chia got up.  Her Sandbenders was beside her bag on the luggage  rack,
with  her  goggles and tip-sets on top of it.  She carried it into the
other room.

It was a mess. Somehow he'd managed to turn it into something like his
room  at  home.  The sheets were tangled on the bed.  Through the open
bathroom door,  she saw towels crumpled  up  on  the  tiled  floor,  a
spilled bottle of shampoo on the counter beside the sink.  He'd set up
his computer on the desk,  with his student cap beside it.  There were
opened   mini-cans   of   espresso  everywhere,  and  at  least  three
room-service trays with half-empty ceramic bowls of ramen.

"Has anyone there seen Zona?" she asked,  shoving a pillow and an open
magazine  aside  on  the  foot  of  the  bed.  She  sat  down with her
Sandbenders on her lap and started putting her tip-sets on.

She thought he gave her a strange look,  then.  "I don't think so," he

"Take me in the way you did the first time," she said.  "I want to see
it again."

Hak Nam.  Tai Chang Street.  The walls alive with shifting messages in
the characters of every written language. Doorways flipping past, each
one hinting at its own secret world.  And this time she was more aware
of the countless watching ghosts.  That must be how  people  presented
here,  when  you weren't in direct communication with them.  A city of
ghost-shadows.  But this time Masahiko took another  route,  and  they
weren't  climbing  the  twisted  labyrinth of stairs but winding in at
what would have been ground level  in  the  original  city,  and  Chia
remembered the black hole, the rectangular vacancy he'd pointed out on
the printed scarf in his room at the restaurant.

"I must leave you now," he said, as they burst from the maze into that
vacancy. "They wish privacy."

He was gone, and at first Chia thought there was nothing there at all,
only the faint grayish light filtering down from somewhere high above.
When she looked up at this, it resolved into a vast, distant skylight,
very far above her,  but  littered  with  a  compost  of  strange  and
discarded shapes.  She remembered the city's rooftops,  and the things
abandoned there.

"It is strange,  isn't it?" The idoru stood before her in  embroidered
robes,  the tiny bright patterns lit from within,  moving. "Ho!low and
somber. But he insisted we meet you here."

"Who insisted? Do you know where Zona is?"

And there was a small table or  four-legged  stand  in  front  of  the
idoru, very old, its dragon-carved legs thick with flaking, pale green
paint.  A single dusty glass stood centered  there,  something  coiled
inside it. Someone coughed.

"This is the heart of Hak Nam," the Etruscan said,  that same creaking
voice  assembled  from  a  million  samples   of   dry   old   sounds.
"Traditionally a place of serious conversation."

"Your friend  is gone," the idoru said.  "I wished to tell you myself.
This  one,"  indicating  the  glass,  "volunteers  details  I  do  not

"But they've only shut down her website," Chia said.  "She's in Mexico
City, with her gang."

"She is nowhere," the Etruscan said.

"When you were taken from her," the idoru said,  "taken from the  room
in Venice,  your friend went to your system software and activated the
video units in your goggles.  What she saw there indicated to her that
you  were in grave danger.  As I believe you were.  She must then have
decided on a plan.  Returning to her secret country,  she  linked  her
site  with that of the Tokyo chapter of the Lo/Rez group.  She ordered
Ogawa,  the president of the group,  to post  the  message  announcing
Rez's  death at Hotel Di.  She threatened her with a weapon that would
shatter the Tokyo chapter's site. .

"The knife," Cliia said. "It was real?"

"And extremely illegal," the Etruscan said.

"When Ogawa refused," the idoru said, "your friend used her weapon.

"A serious crime," the Etruscan said, "under the laws of every country

"She then   posted  her  message  through  what  remained  of  Ogawa's
website," the idoru said.  "It seemed official,  and it had the effect
of quickly surrounding Hotel Di with a sea of potential witnesses."

"Whatever the  next  stage  of her plan," the Etruscan said,  "she had
exposed her presence in her website.  The original owners became aware
of her.  She abandoned her site.  They pursued her.  She was forced to
discard her persona."

"What 'persona'?" Chia felt a sinking feeling.

"Zona Rosa," said the Etruscan, "was the persona of Mercedes Purissima
Vargas-Gutierrez.  She  is  twenty-six  years old and the victim of an
environmental  syndrome  occurring  most  frequently  in  the  Federal
District of Mexico." His voice was like rain on a thin metal roof now.
"Her father is an extremely successful criminal lawyer."

"Then I can find her," Chia said.

"But she would not wish this," the idoru said.  "Mercedes Punssima  is
severely  deformed  by  the syndrome,  and has lived for the past five
years in almost complete denial of her physical self."

Chia was sitting there crying.  Masahiko removed the black  cups  from
his eyes and came over to the bed.

"Zona's gone," she said.

"I know," he said. He sat down beside her. "You never finished telling
me the story of the Sandbenders," he said.  "It was  very  interesting

So she began to tell it to him.

45. Lucky

"Laney," he heard her say, her voice blurred with sleep. "What are you

The illuminated face of the cedar telephone. "I'm calling the

Lucky Dragon, on Sunset."

"The what?"

"Convenience store. Twenty-four hours."

"Laney, it's three in the morning .

"Have to thank Rydell,  tell him the job worked out.  She groaned  and
rolled over,  pulling the pillow over her head.  Through the window he
could see  the  translucent  amber,  the  serned  cliffs  of  the  new
buildings, reflecting the lights of the city.

46. Fables of the Reconstruction

Chia dreamed  of  a  beach  pebbled with crushed fragments of consumer
electronics;  crab-things  scuttling  low,  their  legs  striped  like
antique  resistors.  Tokyo Bay,  shrouded in fog from an old movie,  a
pale gray blanket meant to  briefly  conceal  first-act  terrors:  sea
monsters or some alien armada.

Hak Nam rose before her as she waded nearer,  but with a dream's logic
it grew no closer.  Backwashing sea, sucking at her ankles. The Walled
City is growing.  Being grown. From the fabric of the beach, wrack and
wreckage of the world  before  things  changed.  Unthinkable  tonnage,
dumped  here  by  barge  and  bulk-lifter  in  the course of the great
reconstruction.  The minuscule bugs of  Rodel-van  Erp  seethe  there,
lifting  the  iron-caged balconies that are sleeping rooms,  countless
unplanned windows throwing blank silver rectangles  back  against  the
fog.  A thing of random human accretion,  monstrous and superb,  it is
being reconstituted here, retranslated from its later incarnation as a
realm of consensual fantasy.

The alarm's  infrared  stutter.  Sunbright  halogen  illuminating  the
printed scarf,  at its center the rectangle representing an emptiness,
an address unknown:  the kilifile of legend. Zapping the Espressomatic
to life with her remote, she curls back into the quilt's dark, waiting
for the building hiss of steam.  Most mornings,  now,  she checks into
the City, hears the gossip in a favorite barbershop in Sai Shing Road.
The Etruscan is there,  sometimes,  with Klaus and the Rooster and the
other ghosts he hangs with, and they tolerate her.

She's proud of that, because they'll clam up around Masahiko. Are they
old,  incredibly ancient, or do they just act that way? Whatever, they
tend to know things first,  and she's learned to value that.  And  the
Etruscan  has been hinting at a vacancy,  something really small,  but
with a window. Looking down into what would have been Lung Chun Road.

He likes her,  the Etruscan.  It's weird.  They say  he  doesn't  like
anybody,  really,  but he fixed her father's credit, even though she'd
forgotten to leave the key.  (She keeps the  key  to  Suite  17  in  a
watered-silk cosmetics case they gave her on the JAL flight home: it's
made of white plastic, molded to look like an old-fashioned mechanical
key,  with  a  mag-strip  down the long part and the flat thing shaped
like the crown a princess wears.  She gets it  out  and  looks  at  it
sometimes, but it just looks like a cheap white piece of plastic.)

The Etruscan  and  the others spy on the Project all the time.  That's
what they call it.  Through them,  Chia knows that the idoru's  island
isn't  finished  yet.  It's there but it isn't stable;  something they
have to do it before they build,  even with nanotech,  in case another
earthquake  comes.  She wonders what the Russians will do with theirs,
and sometimes she wonders about Maryalice,  and Eddie, and Calvin, the
guy  at  Whiskey  Clone who got her out of there,  for no reason other
than he thought he should.  But it seems like a long time ago, between
the Walled City and school.

She figures  her mother knows by now that she wasn't with Hester,  but
her mother's never said anything about it, except to talk to her twice
about contraceptives and safe sex.  And, really, she wasn't there much
more than forty-eight hours,  if you  didn't  count  the  travel-time,
because Rez hadn't been able to make it over to thank her, and Arleigh
had said that,  all in all,  it was better  if  she  got  home  before
anybody started asking any questions,  but they'd send her first class
on Japan Air Lines.  So Arleigh had driven her back out to Narita that
night,  but  not  in her green van because she said it was a writeoff.
And she'd still felt SO bad about Zona,  and  it  made'  her  feel  SO
stupid,  because  she  felt  like her friend was dead,  but her friend
hadn't even really existed,  and there was this other girl  in  Mexico
City,  with terrible problems, and so she wound up telling all that to
Arleigh and just cryin~g.

And Arleiigh said she should just wait.  Because that girl  in  Mexico
City,  more  than  anything else,  needed to be somebody else.  And it
didn't matter that she hadn't been Zona,  because she'd made Zona  up,
and that was just as real.  Just wait,  Arleigh said, because somebody
else would turn up,  somebody new,  and it would be like they  already
knew you.  And Chia had sat and thought about that,  beside Arleigh in
heir fast little car.

-But I couldn't ever tell her I knew?

-That would spoil it.

When they'd gotten to the airport,  Arleigh checked  her  in  at  JAL,
found  somebody  to  take  her to the lounge (which was sort of like a
cross between a bar and really fancy business office),  and gave her a
bag  with  a  roadie-grade Lo/Rez tour jacket in it.  The sleeves were
made of transparent rayon,  and the lining that  showed  through  that
looked  like  liquid  mercury.  Arleigh said it was really tacky,  but
maybe she had a friend who'd like it. It was from their Kombinat tour,
and  it  had  all  the  tour  dates  embroidered  on the back in three
different languages.

She hadn't ever worn it,  and she'd never really shown it  to  anybody
either.  It  was hanging in her closet,  under a piece of drycleaner's
plastic.  She hadn't really been that active in  the  chapter  lately.
(Kelsey  had  dropped right out.) Chia didn't really feel that anybody
in the chapter would get it,  if she  tried  to  tell  them  what  had
happened, plus there were all the bits she couldn't tell them anyway.

But mainly  it  was  the City taking up her time,  because Rez and Rei
were there,  shadows among the other shadows but still you could tell.
Working on their Project.

Plenty there  who  didn't  like  the  idea,  but  plenty who did.  The
Erruscan did.  He said it was the craziest thing since  they'd  turned
that first kilifile inside out.

Sometimes Chia  wondered  if they all weren't just joking,  because it
just seemed impossible that anyone could ever do that.  Build that, on
an island in Tokyo Bay.

But the  idoru said that that was where they wanted to live,  now that
they were married. So they were going to do it.

And if they do,  Chia thought,  hearing the hiss of the Espressomatic,
I'll go there.