William Gibson: Mona Lisa Overdrive

Damaged version...

blacked cards
new chapter
The Smoke
The Smoke
The Smoke
The ghost was her father's parting gift, presented by a black-clad secretary in a departure lounge at Narita.
	For the first two hours of the flight to London it lay forgotten in her purse, a smooth dark oblong, one side impressed with the ubiquitous Maas-Neotek logo, the other gently curved to fit the user's palm.
	She sat up very straight in her seat in the first-class cabin, her features composed in a small cold mask modeled after her dead mother's most characteristic expression. The surrounding seats were empty; her father had purchased the space. She refused the meal the nervous steward offered. The vacant seats frightened him, evidence of her father's wealth and power. The man hesitated, then bowed and withdrew. Very briefly, she allowed the mask her mother's smile.
	Ghosts, she thought later, somewhere over Germany, staring at the upholstery of the seat beside her. How well her father treated his ghosts.
	There were ghosts beyond the window, too, ghosts in the stratosphere of Europe's winter, partial images that began to form if she let her eyes drift out of focus. Her mother in Ueno Park, face fragile in September sunlight. "The cranes, Kumi! Look at the cranes!" And Kumiko looked across Shinobazu Pond and saw nothing, no cranes at all, only a few hopping black dots that surely were crows. The water was smooth as silk, the color of lead, and pale holograms flickered indistinctly above a distant line of archery stalls. But Kumiko would see the cranes later, many times, in dreams; they were origami, angular things folded from sheets of neon, bright stiff birds sailing the moonscape of her mother's madness. . . .
	Remembering her father, the black robe open across a tattooed storm of dragons, slumped behind the vast ebony field of his desk, his eyes flat and bright, like the eyes of a painted doll. "Your mother is dead. Do you understand?" And all around her the planes of shadow in his study, the angular darkness. His hand coming forward, into the lamp's circle of light, unsteadily, to point at her, the robe's cuff sliding back to reveal a golden Rolex and more dragons, their manes swirling into waves, pricked out strong and dark around his wrist, pointing. Pointing at her. "Do you understand?" She hadn't answered, but had run instead, down to a secret place she knew, the warren of the smallest of the cleaning machines. They ticked around her all night, scanning her every few minutes with pink bursts of laser light, until her father came to find her, and, smelling of whiskey and Dunhill cigarettes, carried her to her room on the apartment's third floor.
	Remembering the weeks that followed, numb days spent most often in the black-suited company of one secretary or another, cautious men with automatic smiles and tightly furled umbrellas. One of these, the youngest and least cautious, had treated her, on a crowded Ginza sidewalk, in the shadow of the Hattori clock, to an impromptu kendo demonstration, weaving expertly between startled shop girls and wide-eyed tourists, the black umbrella blurring harmlessly through the art's formal, ancient arcs. And Kumiko had smiled then, her own smile, breaking the funeral mask, and for this her guilt was driven instantly, more deeply and still more sharply, into that place in her heart where she knew her shame and her unworthiness. But most often the secretaries took her shopping, through one vast Ginza department store after another, and in and out of dozens of Shinjuku boutiques recommended by a blue plastic Michelin guide that spoke a stuffy tourist's Japanese. She purchased only very ugly things, ugly and very expensive things, and the secretaries marched stolidly beside her, the glossy bags in their hard hands. Each afternoon, returning to her father's apartment, the bags were deposited neatly in her bedroom, where they remained, unopened and untouched, until the maids removed them.
	And in the seventh week, on the eve of her thirteenth birthday, it was arranged that Kumiko would go to London.
"You will be a guest in the house of my kobun ," her father said.
	"But I do not wish to go," she said, and showed him her mother's smile.
	"You must," he said, and turned away. "There are difficulties," he said to the shadowed study. "You will be in no danger, in London."
	"And when shall I return?"
	But her father didn't answer. She bowed and left his study, still wearing her mother's smile.
The ghost woke to Kumiko's touch as they began their descent into Heathrow. The fifty-first generation of Maas-Neotek biochips conjured up an indistinct figure on the seat beside her, a boy out of some faded hunting print, legs crossed casually in tan breeches and riding boots. "Hullo," the ghost said.
	Kumiko blinked, opened her hand. The boy flickered and was gone. She looked down at the smooth little unit in her palm and slowly closed her fingers.
	" 'Lo again," he said. "Name's Colin. Yours?"
	She stared. His eyes were bright green smoke, his high forehead pale and smooth under an unruly dark forelock. She could see the seats across the aisle through the glint of his teeth. "If it's a bit too spectral for you," he said, with a grin, "we can up the rez. . . ." And he was there for an instant, uncomfortably sharp and real, the nap on the lapels of his dark coat vibrating with hallucinatory clarity. "Runs the battery down, though," he said, and faded to his prior state. "Didn't get your name." The grin again.
	"You aren't real," she said sternly.
	He shrugged. "Needn't speak out loud, miss. Fellow passengers might think you a bit odd, if you take my meaning. Subvocal's the way. I pick it all up through the skin. . . ." He uncrossed his legs and stretched, hands clasped behind his head. "Seatbelt, miss. I needn't buckle up myself, of course, being, as you've pointed out, unreal."
	Kumiko frowned and tossed the unit into the ghost's lap. He vanished. She fastened her seatbelt, glanced at the thing, hesitated, then picked it up again.
	"First time in London, then?" he asked, swirling in from the periphery of her vision. She nodded in spite of herself. "You don't mind flying? Doesn't frighten you?"
	She shook her head, feeling ridiculous.
	"Never mind," the ghost said. "I'll look out for you. Heathrow in three minutes. Someone meeting you off the plane?"
	"My father's business associate," she said in Japanese.
	The ghost grinned. "Then you'll be in good hands, I'm sure." He winked. "Wouldn't think I'm a linguist to look at me, would you?"
	Kumiko closed her eyes and the ghost began to whisper to her, something about the archaeology of Heathrow, about the Neolithic and the Iron ages, pottery and tools. . . .
"Miss Yanaka? Kumiko Yanaka?" The Englishman towered above her, his gaijin bulk draped in elephantine folds of dark wool. Small dark eyes regarded her blandly through steel-rimmed glasses. His nose seemed to have been crushed nearly flat and never reset. His hair, what there was of it, had been shaved back to a gray stubble, and his black knit gloves were frayed and fingerless. "My name, you see," he said, as though this would immediately reassure her, "is Petal."
Petal called the city Smoke.
	Kumiko shivered on chill red leather; through the ancient Jaguar's window she watched the snow spinning down to melt on the road Petal called M4. The late afternoon sky was colorless. He drove silently, efficiently, his lips pursed as though he were about to whistle. The traffic, to Tokyo eyes, was absurdly light. They accelerated past an unmanned Eurotrans freight vehicle, its blunt prow studded with sensors and banks of headlights. In spite of the Jaguar's speed, Kumiko felt as if somehow she were standing still; London's particles began to accrete around her. Walls of wet brick, arches of concrete, black-painted ironwork standing up in spears.
	As she watched, the city began to define itself. Off the M4, while the Jaguar waited at intersections, she could glimpse faces through the snow, flushed gaijin faces above dark clothing, chins tucked down into scarves, women's bootheels ticking through silver puddles. The rows of shops and houses reminded her of the gorgeously detailed accessories she'd seen displayed around a toy locomotive in the Osaka gallery of a dealer in European antiques.
	This was nothing like Tokyo, where the past, all that remained of it, was nurtured with a nervous care. History there had become a quantity, a rare thing, parceled out by government and preserved by law and corporate funding. Here it seemed the very fabric of things, as if the city were a single growth of stone and brick, uncounted strata of message and meaning, age upon age, generated over the centuries to the dictates of some now-all-but-unreadable DNA of commerce and empire.
	"Regret Swain couldn't come out to meet you himself," the man called Petal said. Kumiko had less trouble with his accent than with his manner of structuring sentences; she initially mistook the apology for a command. She considered accessing the ghost, then rejected the idea.
	"Swain," she ventured. "Mr. Swain is my host?"
	Petal's eyes found her in the mirror. "Roger Swain. Your father didn't tell you?"
	"Ah." He nodded. "Mr. Kanaka's conscious of security in these matters, it stands to reason. . . . Man of his stature, et cetera . . ." He sighed loudly. "Sorry about the heater. Garage was supposed to have that taken care of. . . ."
	"Are you one of Mr. Swain's secretaries?" Addressing the stubbled rolls of flesh above the collar of the thick dark coat.
	"His secretary?" He seemed to consider the matter. "No," he ventured finally, "I'm not that." He swung them through a roundabout, past gleaming metallic awnings and the evening surge of pedestrians. "Have you eaten, then? Did they feed you on the flight?"
	"I wasn't hungry." Conscious of her mother's mask.
	"Well, Swain'll have something for you. Eats a lot of Jap food, Swain." He made a strange little ticking sound with his tongue. He glanced back at her.
	She looked past him, seeing the kiss of snowflakes, the obliterating sweep of the wipers.
Swain's Notting Hill residence consisted of three interconnected Victorian townhouses situated somewhere in a snowy profusion of squares, crescents, and mews. Petal, with two of Kumiko's suitcases in either hand, explained to her that number 17 was the front entrance for numbers 16 and 18 as well. "No use knocking there," he said, gesturing clumsily with the heavy cases in his hand, indicating the glossy red paint and polished brass fittings of 16's door. "Nothing behind it but twenty inches of ferroconcrete."
	She looked down the crescent, nearly identical facades receding along its shallow curve. The snow fell more thickly now, and the featureless sky was lit with a salmon glow of sodium lamps. The street was deserted, the snow fresh and unmarked. There was an alien edge to the cold air, a faint, pervasive hint of burning, of archaic fuels. Petal's shoes left large, neatly defined prints. They were black suede oxfords with narrow toes and extremely thick corrugated soles of scarlet plastic. She followed in his tracks, beginning to shiver, up the gray steps to number 17.
	"It's me then," he said to the black-painted door, "innit." Then he sighed, set all four suitcases down in the snow, removed the fingerless glove from his right hand, and pressed his palm against a circle of bright steel set flush with one of the door panels. Kumiko thought she heard a faint whine, a gnat sound that rose in pitch until it vanished, and then the door vibrated with the muffled impact of magnetic bolts as they withdrew.
	"You called it Smoke," she said, as he reached for the brass knob, "the city. . . ."
	He paused. "The Smoke," he said, "yes," and opened the door into warmth and light, "that's an old expression, sort of nickname." He picked up her bags and padded into a blue-carpeted foyer paneled in white-painted wood. She followed him, the door closing itself behind her, its bolts thumping back into place. A mahogany-framed print hung above the white wainscoting, horses in a field, crisp little figures in red coats. Colin the chip-ghost should live there , she thought. Petal had put her bags down again. Flakes of compacted snow lay on the blue carpet. Now he opened another door, exposing a gilt steel cage. He drew the bars aside with a clank. She stared into the cage, baffled. "The lift," he said. "No space for your things. I'll make a second trip."
	For all its apparent age, it rose smoothly enough when Petal touched a white porcelain button with a blunt forefinger. Kumiko was forced to stand very close to him then; he smelled of damp wool and some floral shaving
	"We've put you up top," he said, leading her along a narrow corridor, "because we thought you might appreciate the quiet." He opened a door and gestured her in. "Hope it'll do. . . ." He removed his glasses and polished them energetically with a crumpled tissue. "I'll get your bags."
	When he had gone, Kumiko walked slowly around the massive black marble tub that dominated the center of the low, crowded room. The walls, angled sharply toward the ceiling, were faced with mottled gold mirror. A pair of small dormer windows flanked the largest bed she'd ever seen. Above the bed, the mirror was inset with small adjustable lights, like the reading lamps in an airliner. She stood beside the tub to touch the arched neck of a gold-plated swan that served as a spout. Its spread wings were tap handles. The air in the room was warm and still, and for an instant the presence of her mother seemed to fill it, an aching fog.
	Petal cleared his throat in the doorway. "Well then," he said, bustling in with her luggage, "everything in order? Feeling hungry yet? No? Leave you to settle in . . ." He arranged her bags beside the bed. "If you should feel like eating, just ring." He indicated an ornate antique telephone with scrolled brass mouth and earpieces and a turned ivory handle. "Just pick it up, you needn't dial. Breakfast's when you want it. Ask someone, they'll show you where. You can meet Swain then. . . ."
	The sense of her mother had vanished with his return. She tried to feel it again, when he said goodnight and closed the door, but it was gone.
	She remained a long time beside the tub, stroking the smooth metal of the swan's cool neck.
new chapter
Kid Afrika
Kid Afrika
Kid Afrika
Kid Afrika came cruising into Dog Solitude on the last day in November, his vintage Dodge chauffeured by a white girl named Cherry Chesterfield.
	Slick Henry and Little Bird were breaking down the buzzsaw that formed the Judge's left hand when Kid's Dodge came into view, its patched apron bag throwing up brown fantails of the rusty water that pooled on the Solitude's uneven plain of compacted steel.
	Little Bird saw it first. He had sharp eyes, Little Bird, and a 10X monocular that dangled on his chest amid the bones of assorted animals and antique bottleneck cartridge brass. Slick looked up from the hydraulic wrist to see Little Bird straighten up to his full two meters and aim the monocular out through the grid of unglazed steel that formed most of Factory's south wall. Little Bird was very thin, almost skeletal, and the lacquered wings of brown hair that had earned him the name stood out sharp against the pale sky. He kept the back and sides shaved high, well above his ears; with the wings and the aerodynamic ducktail, he looked as though he were wearing a headless brown gull.
	"Whoa," said Little Bird, "motherfuck."
	"What?" It was hard to get Little Bird to concentrate, and the job needed a second set of hands.
	"It's that nigger."
	Slick stood up and wiped his hands down the thighs of his jeans while Little Bird fumbled the green Mech-5 microsoft from the socket behind his ear  instantly forgetting the eight-point servo-calibration procedure needed to unfuck the Judge's buzzsaw. "Who's driving?" Afrika never drove himself if he could help it.
	"Can't make out." Little Bird let the monocular clatter back into the curtain of bones and brass.
	Slick joined him at the window to watch the Dodge's progress. Kid Afrika periodically touched up the hover's matte-black paint-job with judicious applications from an aerosol can, the somber effect offset by the row of chrome-plated skulls welded to the massive front bumper. At one time the hollow steel skulls had boasted red Christmas bulbs for eyes; maybe the Kid was losing his concern with image.
	As the hover slewed up to Factory, Slick heard Little Bird shuffle back into the shadows, his heavy boots scraping through dust and fine bright spirals of metal shavings.
	Slick watched past a last dusty dagger of window glass as the hover settled into its apron bags in front of Factory, groaning and venting steam.
	Something rattled in the dark behind him and he knew that Little Bird was behind the old parts rack, fiddling the homemade silencer onto the Chinese rimfire they used for rabbits.
	"Bird," Slick said, tossing his wrench down on the tarp, "I know you're an ignorant little redneck Jersey asshole, but do you have to keep goddamn reminding  me of it?"
	"Don't like that nigger," Little Bird said, from behind the rack.
	"Yeah, and if that nigger'd bother noticing, he wouldn't like you either. Knew you were back here with that gun, he'd shove it down your throat sideways."
	No response from Little Bird. He'd grown up in white Jersey stringtowns where nobody knew shit about anything and hated anybody who did.
	"And I'd help him, too." Slick yanked up the zip on his old brown jacket and went out to Kid Afrika's hover.
	The dusty window on the driver's side hissed down, revealing a pale face dominated by an enormous pair of amber-tinted goggles. Slick's boots crunched on ancient cans rusted thin as old leaves. The driver tugged the goggles down and squinted at him; female, but now the amber goggles hung around her neck, concealing her mouth and chin. The Kid would be on the far side, a good thing in the unlikely event Little Bird started shooting.
	"Go on around," the girl said.
	Slick walked around the hover, past the chrome skulls, hearing Kid Afrika's window come down with that same demonstrative little sound.
	"Slick Henry," the Kid said, his breath puffing white as it hit the air of the Solitude, "hello."
	Slick looked down at the long brown face. Kid Afrika had big hazel eyes, slitted like a cat's, a pencil-thin mustache, and skin with the sheen of buffed leather.
	"Hey, Kid." Slick smelled some kind of incense from inside the hover. "How y ' doin'?"
	"Well," the Kid said, narrowing his eyes, "recall you sayin' once, if I ever needed a favor . . ."
	"Right," Slick said, feeling a first twinge of apprehension. Kid Afrika had saved his ass once, in Atlantic City; talked some irate brothers out of dropping him off this balcony on the forty-third floor of a burned- out highstack. "Somebody wanna throw you off a tall building?"
	"Slick," the Kid said, "I wanna introduce you to somebody."
	"Then we'll be even?"
	"Slick Henry, this fine-looking girl here, this is Miss Cherry Chesterfield of Cleveland, Ohio." Slick bent down and looked at the driver. Blond shockhead, paintstick around her eyes. "Cherry, this is my close personal friend Mr. Slick Henry. When he was young and bad he rode with the Deacon Blues. Now he's old and bad, he holes up out here and pursues his art , understand. A talented  man, understand."
	"He's the one builds the robots," the girl said, around a wad of gum, "you said."
	"The very one," the Kid said, opening his door. "You wait for us here, Cherry honey." The Kid, draped in a mink coat that brushed the immaculate tips of his yellow ostrich boots, stepped out onto the Solitude, and Slick caught a glimpse of something in the back of the hover, eyeblink ambulance flash of bandages and surgical tubing. . . .
	"Hey, Kid," he said, "what you got back there?" The Kid's jeweled hand came up, gesturing Slick back as the hover's door clanked shut and Cherry Chesterfield hit the window buttons.
	"We have to talk about that, Slick."
"I don't think it's much to ask," Kid Afrika said, leaning back against a bare metal workbench, wrapped in his mink. "Cherry has a med-tech's ticket and she knows she'll get paid. Nice girl, Slick." He winked.
	"Kid . . ."
	Kid Afrika had this guy in the back of the hover who was like dead, coma or something, had him hooked up to pumps and bags and tubes and some kind of simstim rig, all of it bolted to an old alloy ambulance stretcher, batteries and everything.
	"What's this?" Cherry, who'd followed them in after the Kid had taken Slick back out to show him the guy in the back of the hover, was peering dubiously up at the towering Judge, most of him anyway; the arm with the buzzsaw was where they'd left it, on the floor on the greasy tarp. If she has a med tech  's  ticket , Slick thought, the med-tech probably hasn  't  noticed it   's  missing yet . She was wearing at least four leather jackets, all of them several sizes too big.
	"Slick's art, like I told you."
	"That guy's dying. He smells like piss."
	"Catheter came loose," Cherry said. "What's this thing supposed to do , anyway?"
	"We can't keep him here, Kid, he'll stiff. You wanna kill him, go stuff him down a hole on the Solitude."
	"The man's not dying," Kid Afrika said. "He's not hurt, he's not sick. . . ."
	"Then what the fuck's wrong with him?"
	"He's under , baby. He's on a long trip . He needs peace and quiet ."
	Slick looked from the Kid to the Judge, then back to the Kid. He wanted to be working on that arm. Kid said he wanted Slick to keep the guy for two weeks, maybe three; he'd leave Cherry there to take care of him.
	"I can't figure it. This guy, he's a friend of yours?"
	Kid Afrika shrugged inside his mink.
	"So why don't you keep him at your place?"
	"Not so quiet. Not peaceful enough."
	"Kid," Slick said, "I owe you one, but nothing this weird. Anyway, I gotta work, and anyway, it's too weird. And there's Gentry, too. He's gone to Boston now; be back tomorrow night and he wouldn't like it. You know how he's funny about people. . . . It's mostly his place , too, how it is. . . ."
	"They had you over the railing, man," Kid Afrika said sadly. "You remember?"
	"Hey, I remember, I . . ."
	"You don't remember too good," the Kid said. "Okay, Cherry. Let's go. Don't wanna cross Dog Solitude at night." He pushed off from the steel bench.
	"Kid, look . . ."
	"Forget it. I didn't know your fucking name, that time in Atlantic City, just figured I didn't wanna see the white boy all over the street, y'know? So I didn't know your name then, I guess I don't know it now."
	"Kid . . ."
	"Okay. He stays. Two weeks max. You gimme your word, you'll come back and get him? And you gotta help me square it with Gentry."
	"What's he need?"
	     Little Bird reappeared as the Kid's Dodge wallowed away across the Solitude. He came edging out from behind an outcropping of compacted cars, rusty pallets of crumpled steel that still showed patches of bright enamel.
	Slick watched him from a window high up in Factory. The squares of the steel frame had been fitted with sections of scavenged plastic, each one a different shade and thickness, so that when Slick tilted his head to one side, he saw Little Bird through a pane of hot-pink Lucite.
	"Who lives here?" Cherry asked, from the room behind him.
	"Me," Slick said, "Little Bird, Gentry . . ."
	"In this room, I mean."
	He turned and saw her there beside the stretcher and its attendant machines. "You do," he said.
	"It's your place?" She was staring at the drawings taped to the walls, his original conceptions of the Judge and his Investigators, the Corpsegrinder and the Witch.
	"Don't worry about it."
	"Better you don't get any ideas," she said.
	He looked at her. She had a large red sore at the corner of her mouth. Her bleached hair stood out like a static display. "Like I said, don't worry about it."
	"Kid said you got electricity."
	"Better get him hooked up," she said, turning to the stretcher. "He doesn't draw much, but the batteries'll be getting low."
	He crossed the room to look down at the wasted face. "You better tell me something," he said. He didn't like the tubes. One of them went into a nostril and the idea made him want to gag. "Who is this guy and what exactly the fuck is Kid Afrika doing to him?"
	"He's not," she said, tapping a readout into view on a biomonitor panel lashed to the foot of the stretcher with silver tape. "REM's still up, like he dreams all the time . . ." The man on the stretcher was strapped down in a brand-new blue sleeping bag. "What it is, he  whoever  he's paying Kid for this."
	There was a trode-net plastered across the guy's forehead; a single black cable was lashed along the edge of the stretcher. Slick followed it up to the fat gray package that seemed to dominate the gear mounted on the superstructure. Simstim? Didn't look like it. Some kind of cyberspace rig? Gentry knew a lot about cyberspace, or anyway he talked about it, but Slick couldn't remember anything about getting unconscious and just staying jacked in. . . . People jacked in so they could hustle. Put the trodes on and they were out there, all the data in the world stacked up like one big neon city, so you could cruise around and have a kind of grip on it, visually anyway, because if you didn't, it was too complicated, trying to find your way to a particular piece of data you needed. Iconics, Gentry called that.
	"He paying the Kid?"
	"Yeah," she said.
	"What for?"
	"Keep him that way. Hide him out, too."
	"Who from?"
	"Don't know. Didn't say."
	In the silence that followed, he could hear the steady rasp of the man's breath.
new chapter
There was a smell in the house; it had always been there.
	It belonged to time and the salt air and the entropic nature of expensive houses built too close to the sea. Perhaps it was also peculiar to places briefly but frequently uninhabited, houses opened and closed as their restless residents arrived and departed. She imagined the rooms empty, flecks of corrosion blossoming silently on chrome, pale molds taking hold in obscure corners. The architects, as if in recognition of eternal processes, had encouraged a degree of rust; massive steel railings along the deck had been eaten wrist-thin by years of spray.
	The house crouched, like its neighbors, on fragments of ruined foundations, and her walks along the beach sometimes involved attempts at archaeological fantasy. She tried to imagine a past for the place, other houses, other voices. She was accompanied, on these walks, by an armed remote, a tiny Dornier helicopter that rose from its unseen rooftop nest when she stepped down from the deck. It could hover almost silently, and was programmed to avoid her line of sight. There was something wistful about the way it followed her, as though it were an expensive but unappreciated Christmas gift.
	She knew that Hilton Swift was watching through the Dornier's cameras. Little that occurred in the beach house escaped Sense/Net; her solitude, the week alone she'd demanded, was under constant surveillance.
	Her years in the profession had conveyed a singular immunity to observation.
At night she sometimes lit the floods mounted beneath the deck, illuminating the hieroglyphic antics of huge gray sandfleas. The deck itself she left in darkness, and the sunken living room behind her. She sat on a chair of plain white plastic, watching the Brownian dance of the fleas. In the glare of the floods, they cast minute, barely visible shadows, fleeting cusps against the sand.
	The sound of the sea wrapped her in its movement. Late at night, as she slept in the smaller of the two guest bedrooms, it worked its way into her dreams. But never into the stranger 's invading memories.
	The choice of bedrooms was instinctive. The master bedroom was mined with the triggers of old pain.
	The doctors at the clinic had used chemical pliers to pry the addiction away from receptor sites in her brain.
She cooked for herself in the white kitchen, thawing bread in the microwave, dumping packets of dehydrated Swiss soup into spotless steel pans, edging dully into the nameless but increasingly familiar space from which she'd been so subtly insulated by the designer 's dust.
	"It's called life," she said to the white counter. And what would Sense/Net's in-house psychs make of that, she wondered, if some hidden microphone caught it and carried it to them? She stirred the soup with a slender stainless whisk, watching steam rise. It helped to do things, she thought, just to do things yourself; at the clinic, they'd insisted she make her own bed. Now she spooned out her own bowl of soup, frowning, remembering the clinic.
She'd checked herself out a week into the treatment. The medics protested. The detoxification had gone beautifully, they said, but the therapy hadn't begun. They pointed out the rate of relapse among clients who failed to complete the program. They explained that her insurance was invalid if she terminated her treatment. Sense/Net would pay, she told them, unless they preferred she pay them herself. She produced her platinum MitsuBank chip.
	Her Lear arrived an hour later; she told it to take her to LAX, ordered a car to meet her there, and canceled all incoming calls.
	"I'm sorry, Angela," the jet said, banking over Montego Bay seconds after they'd taken off, "but I have Hilton Swift on executive override."
	"Angie," Swift said, "you know I'm behind you all the way. You know that, Angie."
	She turned to stare at the black oval of the speaker. It was centered in smooth gray plastic, and she imagined him crouching back there, his long runner's legs folded painfully, grotesquely, behind the Lear's bulkhead.
	"I know that, Hilton," she said. "It's nice of you to phone."
	"You're going to L.A., Angie."
	"Yes. That's what I told the plane."
	"To Malibu."
	"That's right."
	"Piper Hill is on her way to the airport."
	"Thank you, Hilton, but I don't want Piper there. I don't want anybody. I want a car."
	"There's no one at the house, Angie."
	"Good. That's what I want, Hilton. No one at the house. The house, empty."
	"Are you certain that's a good idea?"
	"It's the best idea I've had in a long time, Hilton."
	There was a pause. "They said it went really well, Angie, the treatment. But they wanted you to stay."
	"I need a week," she said. "One week. Seven days. Alone."
After her third night in the house, she woke at dawn, made coffee, dressed. Condensation stippled the broad window facing the deck. Sleep had been simply that; if dreams had come, she couldn't recall them. But there was something  a quickening, almost a giddiness. She stood in the kitchen, feeling the cold of the ceramic floor through thick white sweatsocks, both hands around the warm cup.
	Something there. She extended her arms, raising the coffee like a chalice, the gesture at once instinctive and ironic.
	It had been three years since the loa had ridden her, three years since they had touched her at all. But now?
	Legba? One of the others?
	The sense of a presence receded abruptly. She put the cup down on the counter too quickly, coffee slopping over her hand, and ran to find shoes and a coat. Green rubber boots from the beach closet, and a heavy blue mountain jacket she didn't remember, too large to have been Bobby's. She hurried out of the house, down the stairs, ignoring the hum of the toy Dornier's prop as it lifted off behind her like a patient dragonfly. She glanced north, along the jumble of beach houses, the confusion of rooflines reminding her of a Rio barrio, then turned south, toward the Colony.
The one who came was named Mamman Brigitte, or Grande Brigitte, and while some think her the wife of Baron Samedi, others name her "most ancient of the dead."
	The dream architecture of the Colony rose to Angie's left, a riot of form and ego. Frail-looking neon-embedded replicas of the Watts Towers lifted beside neo-Brutalist bunkers faced with bronze bas-reliefs.
	Walls of mirror, as she passed, reflected morning banks of Pacific cloud.
	There had been times, during the past three years, when she had felt as though she were about to cross, or recross, a line, a subtle border of faith, to find that her time with the loa had been a dream, or, at most, that they were contagious knots of cultural resonance remaining from the weeks she'd spent in Beauvoir 's New Jersey oumphor. To see with other eyes: no gods, no Horsemen.
	She walked on, comforted by the surf, by the one perpetual moment of beach-time, the now-and-always of it.
	Her father was dead, seven years dead, and the record he'd kept of his life had told her little enough. That he'd served someone or something, that his reward had been knowledge, and that she had been his sacrifice.
	Sometimes she felt as though she'd had three lives, each walled away from the others by something she couldn't name, and no hope of wholeness, ever.
	There were the child's memories of the Maas arcology, carved into the summit of an Arizona mesa, where she'd hugged a sandstone balustrade, face into the wind, and felt as though the whole hollowed tableland was her ship, that she could steer out into those sunset colors beyond the mountains. Later, she'd flown away from there, her fear a hard thing in her throat. She could no longer recall her last glimpse of her father's face. Though it must have been on the microlight deck, the other planes tethered against the wind, a row of rainbow moths. The first life ended, that night; her father's life had ended too.
	Her second life had been a short one, fast and very strange. A man called Turner had taken her away, out of Arizona, and had left her with Bobby and Beauvoir and the others. She remembered little about Turner, only that he was tall, with hard muscles and a hunted look. He'd taken her to New York. Then Beauvoir had taken her, along with Bobby, to New Jersey. There, on the fifty-third level of a mincome structure, Beauvoir had taught her about her dreams. The dreams are real, he'd said, his brown face shining with sweat. He taught her the names of the ones she'd seen in dreams. He taught her that all dreams reach down to a common sea, and he showed her the way in which hers were different and the same. You  alone sail the old sea and the new , he said.
	She was ridden by gods, in New Jersey.
	She learned to abandon herself to the Horsemen. She saw the loa Linglessou enter Beauvoir in the oumphor, saw his feet scatter the diagrams outlined in white flour. She knew the gods, in New Jersey, and love.
	The loa had guided her, when she'd set out with Bobby to build her third, her current life. They were well matched, Angie and Bobby, born out of vacuums, Angie from the clean blank kingdom of Maas Biolabs and Bobby from the boredom of Barrytown. . . .
Grande Brigitte touched her, without warning; she stumbled, almost fell to her knees in the surf, as the sound of the sea was sucked away into the twilit landscape that opened in front of her. The whitewashed cemetery walls, the gravestones, the willows. The candles.
	Beneath the oldest willow, a multitude of candles, the twisted roots pale with wax.
	Child , know me .
	And Angie felt her there, all at once, and knew her for what she was, Mamman Brigitte, Mademoiselle Brigitte, eldest of the dead.
	I have no cult , child , no special altar .
	She found herself walking forward, into candleglow, a buzzing in her ears, as though the willow hid a vast hive of bees.
	My blood is vengeance .
	Angie remembered Bermuda, night, a hurricane; she and Bobby had ventured out into the eye. Grande Brigitte was like that. The silence, the sense of pressure, of unthinkable forces held momentarily in check. There was nothing to be seen, beneath the willow. Only the candles.
	"The loa . . . I can't call them. I felt something . . . I came looking. . . ."
	You are summoned to my  reposoir. Hear me . Your father drew  vvs in your head: he drew them in a flesh that was not flesh . You were consecrated to Ezili Freda. Legba led you into the world to serve his own ends. But you were sent poison , child , a   coup-poudre . . .
	Her nose began to bleed. "Poison?"
	Your father  's    vvs are altered ,  partially erased , redrawn. Though you have ceased to poison yourself ,    still the Horsemen cannot reach you . I am of a different order.
	There was a terrible pain in her head, blood pounding in her temples. . . . "Please . . ."
	Hear me . You have enemies .  They plot against you . Much is at stake , in this. Fear poison , child!
	She looked down at her hands. The blood was bright and real. The buzzing sound grew louder. Perhaps it was in her head. "Please! Help me! Explain . . ."
	You cannot remain here .  It is death .
	And Angie fell to her knees in the sand, the sound of the surf crashing around her, dazzled by the sun. The Dornier was hovering nervously in front of her, two meters away. The pain receded instantly. She wiped her bloodied hands on the sleeves of the blue jacket. The remote's cluster of cameras whirred and rotated.
	"It's all right," she managed. "A nosebleed. It's only a nosebleed. . . ." The Dornier darted forward, then back. "I'm going back to the house now. I'm fine." It rose smoothly out of sight.
	Angie hugged herself, shaking. No , don 't  let them see . They  'll know something happened , but not what . She forced herself to her feet, turned, began to trudge back up the beach, the way she'd come. As she walked, she searched the mountain jacket's pockets for a tissue, anything, something to wipe the blood from her face.
	When her fingers found the corners of the flat little packet, she knew instantly what it was. She halted, shivering. The drug. It wasn't possible. Yes, it was. But who? She turned and stared at the Dornier until it slid away.
	The packet. Enough for a month.
	Coup-poudre .
	Fear poison, child.
new chapter
Mona dreamed she was dancing the cage back in some Cleveland juke, naked in a column of hot blue light, where the faces thrusting up for her through the veil of smoke had blue light snagged in the whites of their eyes. They wore the expression men always wore when they watched you dance, staring real hard but locked up inside themselves at the same time, so their eyes told you nothing at all and their faces, in spite of the sweat, might have been carved from something that only looked like flesh.
	Not that she cared how they looked, when she was in the cage, high and hot and on the beat, three songs into the set and the wiz just starting to peak, new strength in her legs sending her up on the balls of her feet . . .
	One of them grabbed her ankle.
	She tried to scream, only it wouldn't come, not at first, and when it did it was like something ripped down inside her, hurt her, and the blue light shredded, but the hand, the hand was still there, around her ankle. She came up off the bed like a pop-up toy, fighting the dark, clawing hair away from her eyes.
	"Whatsa matter, babe?"
	He put his other hand against her forehead and shoved her back, down into the pillow's hot depression.
	"Dream . . ." The hand was still there and it made her want to scream. "You got a cigarette, Eddy?" The hand went away, click and flare of the lighter, the planes of his face jumping out at her as he lit one, handed it to her. She sat up quickly, drew her knees up under her chin with the army blanket over them like a tent, because she didn't feel like anybody touching her then at all.
	The scavenged plastic chair's broken leg made a warning sound as he leaned back and lit his own cigarette. Break , she thought, pitch him on his ass so he gets to hit me a few times . At least it was dark, so she didn't have to look at the squat. Worst thing was waking up with a bad head, too sick to move, when she'd come in crashing and forgotten to retape the black plastic, hard sun to show her all the little details and heat the air so the flies could get going.
	Nobody ever grabbed her, back in Cleveland; anybody numb enough to reach through that field was already too drunk to move, maybe to breathe. The tricks never grabbed her either, not unless they'd squared it with Eddy, paid extra, and that was just pretend.
	Whichever way they wanted it, it got to be a kind of ritual, so it seemed to happen in a place outside your life. And she'd gotten into watching them, when they lost it. That was the interesting part, because they really did lose it, they were totally helpless, maybe just for a split second, but it was like they weren't even there.
	"Eddy, I'm gonna go crazy, I gotta sleep here anymore."
	He'd hit her before, for less, so she put her face down, against her knees and the blanket, and waited.
	"Sure," he said, "you wanna go back to the catfish farm? Wanna go back to Cleveland?"
	"I just can't make this anymore. . . ."
	"Tomorrow what?"
	"That soon enough for you? Tomorrow night, private fucking jet? Straight up to New York? Then  you gonna quit giving me this shit?"
	"Please, baby," and she reached out for him, "we can take the train. . . ."
	He slapped her hand away. "You got shit for brains."
	If she complained any more, anything about the squat, anything that implied he wasn't making it, that all his big deals added up to nothing, he'd start, she knew he'd start. Like the time she'd screamed about the bugs, the roaches they called palmetto bugs, but it was because the goddamn things were mutants, half of them; someone had tried to wipe them out with something that fucked with their DNA, so you'd see these screwed-up roaches dying with too many legs or heads, or not enough, and once she'd seen one that looked like it had swallowed a crucifix or something, its back or shell or whatever it was distorted in a way that made her want to puke.
	"Baby," she said, trying to soften her voice, "I can't help it, this place is just getting to me. . . ."
	"Hooky Green's," he said, like he hadn't heard her, "I was up in Hooky Green's and I met a mover . He picked me out , you know? Man's got an eye for talent." She could almost feel his grin through the dark. "Outa London, England. Talent scout. Come into Hooky's and it was just You, my man!' "
	"A trick?" Hooky Green's was where Eddy had most recently decided the action was, thirty-third floor of a glass highstack with most of the inside walls knocked down, had about a block of dancefloor, but he'd gone off the place when nobody there was willing to pay him much attention. Mona hadn't ever seen Hooky himself, "lean mean Hooky Green," the retired ballplayer who owned the place, but it was great for dancing.
	"Will you fucking listen?   Trick? Shit . He's the man , he's a connection, he's on the ladder and he's gonna pull me up. And you know what? I'm gonna take you  with me."
	"But what's he want?"
	"An actress. Sort of an actress. And a smart boy to get her in place and keep her there."
	"Actress? Place? What place?"
	She heard him unzip his jacket. Something landed on the bed, near her feet. "Two thou."
	Jesus. Maybe it wasn't a joke. But if it wasn't, what the hell was it?
	"How much you pull tonight, Mona?"
	"Ninety." It had really been one-twenty, but she'd figured the last one for overtime. She was too scared to hold out on him, usually, but she'd needed wiz money.
	"Keep it. Get some clothes. Not like work stuff. Nobody wants your little ass hanging out, not this trip."
	"Tomorrow, I said. You can kiss this place goodbye."
	When he said that, it made her want to hold her breath.
	The chair creaked again. "Ninety, huh?"
	"Tell me."
	"Eddy, I'm so tired. . . ."
	"No," he said.
	But what he wanted wasn't the truth or anything like it. He wanted a story, the story that he'd taught her to tell him. He didn't want to hear what they talked about (and most of them had some one thing they wanted real bad to tell you, and usually they did), or how they got around to asking to see your bloodwork tickets, or how every other one made that same joke about how what they couldn't cure they could put in remission, or even what they wanted in bed.
	Eddy wanted to hear about this big guy who treated her like she didn't matter. Except she had to be careful, when she told it, not to make the trick too rough, because that was supposed to cost more than she'd actually been paid. The main thing was that this imaginary trick had treated her like she was a piece of equipment he'd rented for half an hour. Not that there weren't plenty like that, but they mostly spent their money at puppet parlors or got it on stim. Mona tended to get the ones who wanted to talk, who tried to buy you a sandwich after, which could be bad in its own way but not the kind of bad Eddy needed. And the other thing Eddy needed was for her to tell him how that wasn't what she liked but she'd found herself wanting it anyway, wanting it bad.
	She reached down in the dark and touched the envelope full of money.
	The chair creaked again.
	So she told him how she was coming out of a BuyLow and he'd hit on her, this big guy, just asked how much, which had embarrassed her but she told him anyway and she'd said okay. So they went in his car, which was old and big and kind of damp-smelling (cribbing detail from her Cleveland days), and he'd sort of flipped her over the seat 
	"In front of the BuyLow?"
	"In back."
	Eddy never accused her of making any of it up, even though she knew he must have taught her the general outline somehow and it was always basically the same story. By the time the big guy had her skirt up (the black one, she said, and I had on my white boots) and his pants down, she could hear Eddy's beltbuckle jingling as he peeled off his jeans. Part of her was wondering, when he slid into bed beside her, whether the position she was describing was physically possible, but she kept on going, and anyway it was working on Eddy. She remembered to put in how it hurt, when the guy was getting it in, even though she'd been really wet. She put in how he held her wrists, though by now she was pretty confused about what was where, except that her ass was supposed to be up in the air. Eddy had started to touch her, stroking her breasts and stomach, so she switched from the offhand brutality of the trick's moves to how it was supposed to have made her feel.
	How it was supposed to have made her feel was a way she hadn't ever felt. She knew you could get to a place where doing it hurt a little but still felt good, but she knew that wasn't it. What Eddy wanted to hear was that it hurt a lot and made her feel bad, but she liked it anyway. Which made no sense at all to Mona, but she'd learned to tell it the way he wanted her to.
	Because anyway it worked, and now Eddy rolled over with the blanket bunched up across his back and got in between her legs. She figured he must be seeing it in his head, like a cartoon, what she was telling him, and at the same time he got to be that faceless pumping big guy. He had her wrists now, pinned above her head, the way he liked.
	And when he was done, curled on his side asleep, Mona lay awake in the stale dark, turning the dream of leaving around and around, bright and wonderful.
	And please let it be true.
new chapter
Kumiko woke in the enormous bed and lay very still, listening. There was a faint continuous murmur of distant traffic.
	The air in the room was cold; she drew the rose duvet around her like a tent and climbed out. The small windows were patterned with bright frost. She went to the tub and nudged one of the swan's gilded wings. The bird coughed, gargled, began to fill the tub. Still huddled in the quilt, she opened her cases and began to select the day's garments, laying the chosen articles out on the bed.
	When her bath was ready, she let the quilt slide to the floor and climbed over the marble parapet, stoically lowering herself into the painfully hot water. Steam from the tub had melted the frost; now the windows ran with condensation. Did all British bedrooms contain tubs like this? she wondered. She rubbed herself methodically with an oval bar of French soap, stood up, sluiced the suds off as best she could, wrapped herself in a large black towel, and, after some initial fumbling, discovered a sink, toilet, and bidet. These were hidden in a very small room that might once have been a closet, its walls fitted with dark veneer.
	The theatrical-looking telephone chimed twice.
	"Petal here. Care for breakfast? Roger's here. Eager to meet you."
	"Thank you," she said. "I'm dressing now."
	She pulled on her best and baggiest pair of leather slacks, then burrowed into a hairy blue sweater so large that it would easily have fit Petal. When she opened her purse for her makeup, she saw the Maas-Neotek unit. Her hand closed on it automatically. She hadn't intended to summon him, but touch was enough; he was there, craning his neck comically and gaping at the low, mirrored ceiling.
	"I take it we aren't in the Dorchester?"
	"I'll ask the questions," she said. "What is this place?"
	"A bedroom," he said. "In rather dubious taste."
	"Answer my question, please."
	"Well," he said, surveying the bed and tub, "by the decor, it could be a brothel. I can access historical data on most buildings in London, but there's nothing notable about this one. Built in 1848. Solid example of the prevalent classical Victorian style. The neighborhood's expensive without being fashionable, popular with lawyers of a certain sort." He shrugged; she could see the edge of the bed through the burnished gleam of his riding boots.
	She dropped the unit into her purse and he was gone.
She managed the lift easily enough; once in the white-painted foyer, she followed the sound of voices. Along a sort of hallway. Around a corner.
	"Good morning," said Petal, lifting the silver cover from a platter. Steam rose. "Here's the elusive Mr. Swain, Roger to you, and here's your breakfast."
	"Hello," the man said, stepping forward, his hand extended. Pale eyes in a long, strong-boned face. Lank mouse-colored hair was brushed diagonally across his forehead. Kumiko found it impossible to guess his age; it was a young man's face, but there were deep wrinkles under the grayish eyes. He was tall, with the look of an athlete about his arms and shoulders. "Welcome to London." He took her hand, squeezed and released it.
	"Thank you."
	He wore a collarless shirt, very fine red stripes against a pale blue ground, the cuffs fastened with plain ovals of dull gold; open at the neck, it displayed a dark triangle of tattooed flesh. "I spoke with your father this morning, told him you'd arrived safely."
	"You are a man of rank."
	The pale eyes narrowed. "Pardon?"
	"The dragons."
	Petal laughed.
	"Let her eat," someone said, a woman's voice.
	Kumiko turned, discovering the slim dark figure against tall, mullioned windows; beyond the windows, a walled garden sheathed in snow. The woman's eyes were concealed by silver glasses that reflected the room and its occupants.
	"Another of our guests," said Petal.
	"Sally," the woman said, "Sally Shears. Eat up, honey. If you're as bored as I am, you feel like a walk." As Kumiko stared, her hand came up to touch the glasses, as though she were about to remove them. "Portobello Road's a couple blocks. I need some air." The mirrored lenses seemed to have no frames, no earpieces.
	"Roger," Petal said, forking pink slices of bacon from a silver platter, "do you suppose Kumiko will be safe with our Sally?"
	"Safer than I'd be, given the mood she's in," Swain said. "I'm afraid there isn't much here to amuse you," he said to Kumiko, leading her to the table, "but we'll try to make you as comfortable as possible and arrange for you to see a bit of the city. It isn't Tokyo, though."
	"Not yet, anyway," said Petal, but Swain seemed not to hear.
	"Thank you," Kumiko said, as Swain held her chair.
	"An honor," Swain said. "Our respect for your father "
	"Hey," the woman said, "she's too young to need that bullshit. Spare us."
	"Sally's in something of a mood, you see," Petal said, as he put a poached egg on Kumiko's plate.
Sally Shears's mood, it developed, was one of barely suppressed rage, a fury that made itself known in her stride, in the angry gunshot crack of her black bootheels on icy pavement.
	Kumiko had to scramble to keep up, as the woman stalked away from Swain's house in the crescent, her glasses flashing coldly in directionless winter sunlight. She wore narrow trousers of dark brown suede and a bulky black jacket, its collar turned up high; expensive clothing. With her short black hair, she might have been taken for a boy.
	For the first time since leaving Tokyo, Kumiko felt fear.
	The energy pent in the woman was almost tangible, a knot of anger that might slip at any moment.
	Kumiko slid her hand into her purse and squeezed the Maas-Neotek unit; Colin was instantly beside her, strolling briskly along, his hands tucked in the pockets of his jacket, his boots leaving no imprint in the dirty snow. She released the unit then, and he was gone, but she felt reassured. She needn't fear losing Sally Shears, whose pace she found difficult; the ghost could certainly guide her back to Swain's. And if I run from her , she thought, he will help me . The woman dodged through moving traffic at an intersection, absently tugging Kumiko out of the path of a fat black Honda taxi and somehow managing to kick the fender as it slid past.
	"You drink?" she asked, her hand around Kumiko's forearm.
	Kumiko shook her head. "Please, you're hurting my arm."
	Sally's grip loosened, but Kumiko was steered through doors of ornate frosted glass, into noise and warmth, a sort of crowded burrow lined in dark wood and worn fawn velour.
	Soon they faced each other across a small marble table that supported a Bass ashtray, a mug of dark ale, the whiskey glass Sally had emptied on her way from the bar, and a glass of orange squash.
	Kumiko saw that the silver lenses met the pale skin with no sign of a seam.
	Sally reached for the empty whiskey glass, tilted it without lifting it from the table, and regarded it critically. "I met your father once," she said. "He wasn't as far up the ladder, back then." She abandoned the glass for her mug of ale. "Swain says you're half gaijin. Says your mother was Danish." She swallowed some of the ale. "You don't look it."
	"She had them change my eyes."
	"Suits you."
	"Thank you. And your glasses," she said, automatically, "they are very handsome."
	Sally shrugged. "Your old man let you see Chiba yet?"
	Kumiko shook her head.
	"Smart. I was him, I wouldn't either." She drank more ale. Her nails, evidently acrylic, were the shade and sheen of mother-of-pearl. "They told me about your mother." Her face burning, Kumiko lowered her eyes.
	"That's not why you're here. You know that? He didn't pack you off to Swain because of her. There's a war on. There hasn't been high-level infighting in the Yakuza since before I was born, but there is now." The empty pint clinked as Sally set it down. "He can't have you around, is all. You'd be too easy to get to. A guy like Swain's pretty far off the map, far as Kanaka's rivals are concerned. Why you got a passport with a different name, right? Swain owes Kanaka. So you're okay, right?"
	Kumiko felt the hot tears come.
	"Okay, so you're not okay." The pearl nails drummed on marble. "So she did herself and you're not okay. Feel guilty, right?"
	Kumiko looked up, into twin mirrors.
Portobello was choked Shinjuku-tight with tourists. Sally Shears, after insisting Kumiko drink the orange squash, which had grown warm and flat, led her out into the packed street. With Kumiko firmly in tow, Sally began to work her way along the pavement, past folding steel tables spread with torn velvet curtains and thousands of objects made of silver and crystal, brass and china. Kumiko stared as Sally drew her past arrays of Coronation plate and jowled Churchill teapots. "This is gomi ," Kumiko ventured, when they paused at an intersection. Rubbish. In Tokyo, worn and useless things were landfill. Sally grinned wolfishly. "This is England. Gomi  's  a major natural resource. Gomi  and talent. What I'm looking for now. Talent."
The talent wore a bottle-green velvet suit and immaculate suede wingtips, and Sally found him in another pub, this one called the Rose and Crown. She introduced him as Tick. He was scarcely taller than Kumiko, and something was skewed in his back or hip, so that he walked with a pronounced limp that heightened an overall impression of asymmetry. His black hair was shaved close at the back and sides, but piled into an oily loaf of curls above his forehead.
	Sally introduced Kumiko: "My friend from Japan and keep your hands to yourself." Tick smiled wanly and led them to a table.
	"How's business, Tick?"
	"Fine," he said glumly. "How's retirement?"
	Sally seated herself on a padded bench, her back to the wall. "Well," she said, "it's sort of on again, off again."
	Kumiko looked at her. The rage had evaporated, or else been expertly concealed. As Kumiko sat down, she slid her hand into her purse and found the unit. Colin popped into focus on the bench beside Sally.
	"Nice of you to think of me," Tick said, taking a chair. "Been two years, I'd say." He cocked an eyebrow in Kumiko's direction.
	"She's okay. You know Swain, Tick?"
	"Strictly by reputation, thank you."
	Colin was studying their exchange with amused fascination, moving his head from side to side as though he were watching a tennis match. Kumiko had to remind herself that only she could see him.
	"I want you to turn him over for me. I don't want him to know."
	He stared at her. The entire left half of his face contorted in a huge slow wink. "Well then," he said, "you don't half want much, do you?"
	"Good money, Tick. The best."
	"Looking for something in particular, or is it a laundry run? Isn't as though people don't know he's a top nob in the rackets. Can't say I'd want him to find me on his manor. . . ."
	"But then there's the money, Tick."
	Two very rapid winks.
	"Roger's twisting me, Tick. Somebody's twisting him. I don't know what they've got on him, don't much care. What he's got on me is enough. What I want to know is who, where, when. Tap in to incoming and outgoing traffic. He's in touch with somebody, because the deal keeps changing."
	"Would I know it if I saw it?"
	"Just have a look, Tick. Do that for me."
	The convulsive wink again. "Right, then. We'll have a go." He drummed his fingers nervously on the edge of the table. "Buy us a round?"
	Colin looked across the table at Kumiko and rolled his eyes.
"I don't understand," Kumiko said, as she followed Sally back along Portobello Road. "You have involved me in an intrigue. . . ."
	Sally turned up her collar against the wind.
	"But I might betray you. You plot against my father's associate. You have no reason to trust me."
	"Or you me, honey. Maybe I'm one of those bad people your daddy's worried about."
	Kumiko considered this. "Are you?"
	"No. And if you're Swain's spy, he's gotten a lot more baroque recently. If you're your old man's spy, maybe I don't need Tick. But if the Yakuza's running this, what's the point of using Roger for a blind?"
	"I am no spy."
	"Then start being your own. If Tokyo's the frying pan, you may just have landed in the fire."
	"But why involve me?"
	"You're already involved. You're here. You scared?"
	"No," Kumiko said, and fell silent, wondering why this should be true.
Late that afternoon, alone in the mirrored garret, Kumiko sat on the edge of the huge bed and peeled off her wet boots. She took the Maas-Neotek unit from her purse.
	"What are they?" she asked the ghost, who perched on the parapet of the black marble tub.
	"Your pub friends?"
	"Criminals. I'd advise you to associate with a better class, myself. The woman's foreign. North American. The man's a Londoner. East End. He's a data thief, evidently. I can't access police records, except with regard to crimes of historical interest."
	"I don't know what to do. . . ."
	"Turn the unit over."
	"On the back. You'll see a sort of half-moon groove there. Put your thumbnail in and twist. . . ."
	A tiny hatch opened. Microswitches.
	"Reset the A/B throw to B. Use something narrow, pointed, but not a biro."
	"A what?"
	"A pen. Ink and dust. Gum up the works. A toothpick's ideal. That'll set it for voice-activated recording."
	"And then?"
	"Hide it downstairs. We'll play it back tomorrow. . . ."
new chapter
Morning Light
Morning Light
Morning Light
Slick spent the night on a piece of gnawed gray foam under a workbench on Factory's ground floor, wrapped in a noisy sheet of bubble packing that stank of free monomers. He dreamed about Kid Afrika, about the Kid's car, and in his dreams the two blurred together and Kid's teeth were little chrome skulls.
	He woke to a stiff wind spitting the winter's first snow through Factory's empty windows.
	He lay there and thought about the problem of the Judge's buzzsaw, how the wrist tended to cripple up whenever he went to slash through something heavier than a sheet of chipboard. His original plan for the hand had called for articulated fingers, each one tipped with a miniature electric chainsaw, but the concept had lost favor for a number of reasons. Electricity, somehow, just wasn't satisfying; it wasn't physical  enough. Air was the way to go, big tanks of compressed air, or internal combustion if you could find the parts. And you could find the parts to almost anything, on Dog Solitude, if you dug long enough; failing that, there were half-a-dozen towns in rustbelt Jersey with acres of dead machines to pick over.
	He crawled out from under the bench, trailing the transparent blanket of miniature plastic pillows like a cape. He thought about the man on the stretcher, up in his room, and about Cherry, who'd slept in his bed. No stiff neck for her. He stretched and winced.
	Gentry was due back. He'd have to explain it to Gentry, who didn't like having people around at all.
Little Bird had made coffee in the room that served as Factory's kitchen. The floor was made of curling plastic tiles and there were dull steel sinks along one wall. The windows were covered with translucent tarps that sucked in and out with the wind and admitted a milky glow that made the room seem even colder than it was.
	"How we doing for water?" Slick asked as he entered the room. One of Little Bird's jobs was checking the tanks on the roof every morning, fishing out windblown leaves or the odd dead crow. Then he'd check the seals on the filters, maybe let ten fresh gallons in if it looked like they were running low. It took the better part of a day for ten gallons to filter down through the system to the collection tank. The fact that Little Bird dutifully took care of this was the main reason Gentry would tolerate him, but the boy's shyness probably helped as well. Little Bird managed to be pretty well invisible, as far as Gentry was concerned.
	"Got lots," Little Bird said.
	"Is there any way to take a shower?" Cherry asked, from her seat on an old plastic crate. She had shadows under her eyes, like she hadn't slept, but she'd covered the sore with makeup.
	"No," Slick said, "there isn't, not this time of year."
	"I didn't think so," Cherry said glumly, hunched in her collection of leather jackets.
	Slick helped himself to the last of the coffee and stood in front of her while he drank it.
	"You gotta problem?" she asked.
	"Yeah. You and the guy upstairs. How come you're down here? You off duty or something?"
	She produced a black beeper from the pocket of her outermost jacket. "Any change, this'll go off."
	"Sleep okay?"
	"Sure. Well enough."
	"I didn't. How long you work for Kid Afrika, Cherry?"
	" 'Bout a week."
	"You really a med-tech?"
	She shrugged inside her jackets. "Close enough to take care of the Count."
	"The Count?"
	"Count, yeah. Kid called him that, once."
	Little Bird shivered. He hadn't gotten to work with his styling tools yet, so his hair stuck out in all directions. "What if," Little Bird ventured, "he's a vampire?"
	Cherry stared at him. "You kidding?"
	Eyes wide, Little Bird solemnly shook his head.
	Cherry looked at Slick. "Your friend playing with a full deck?"
	"No vampires," Slick said to Little Bird, "that's not a real thing, understand? That's just in stims. Guy's no vampire, okay?"
	Little Bird nodded slowly, looking not at all reassured, while the wind popped the plastic taut agains

Brought to you
The Cyberpunk Project