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     First  published  in the  USA  by  Bantam Books,  a division  of Bantam
Doubleday Dell
     Published Group. inc. 1992
     First published in Great Britain by Roc 1993
     7 9 10 8 6

     Copyright ~ Neal Stephenson, 1992
     All rights reserved

     (iratefui acknowledgement is made  for permission  to reprint a drawing
     The Origin  of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind  by
Julian Jaynes.
     Copyright ~ Julian Jaynes, 1976. Reprinted by permission of
     Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

     Roe is a trademark of Penguin Books Ltd.

     Printed in England by Clays Ltd. St ives plc

     Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject
     to the  condition that it shall not,  by way of  trade or otherwise, be
     re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's
     prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in
     which it is published and without a similar condition including this
     condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
     snow  n...  2.a.  Anything  resembling snow.  b. The  white specks on a
television screen resulting from weak reception.

     crashv.., .-infr.. . . 5, To fail suddenly,as abusiness or an economy.
     -The Amencan I-Ientizge Dictionary

     virus.. . . [L.  virus slimy liquid, poison, offensive odour or taste.]
1. Venom, such as is emitted by  a poisonous animal.  2. Path.  a.  A morbid
principle or poisonous substance produced in the  body as the result of some
disease,  esp. one capable of being introduced into other persons or animals
by inoculations or otherwise and of developing the same disease in  them.. .
. 3. fIg. A moral or intellectual poison, or poisonous influence.
     -The Oxford English Dictionary

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     The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed subcategory. He's
got  esprit up to here. Right now,  he is preparing to carry  out  his third
mission of the night. His uniform  is black as activated charcoal, filtering
the very light out of the air. A bullet will  bounce  off  its  arachnofiber
weave  like  a  wren hitting  a  patio  door, but excess perspiration  wafts
through it  like a breeze through a freshly napalmed  forest. Where his body
has  bony extremities,  the suit  has sintered armorgel:  feels like  gritty
jello, protects like a stack of telephone books.
     When they gave him the job, they gave him a gun. The  Deliverator never
deals in cash, but someone might come after him anyway - might want his car,
or his cargo. The gun is tiny, aero-styled, lightweight, the kind of a gun a
fashion designer would carry; it fires teensy  darts that fly  at five times
the velocity of an SR-71 spy plane, and when you get done using it, you have
to plug it into the cigarette lighter, because it runs on electricity.
     The Deliverator never pulled that gun in anger,  or in fear.  He pulled
it once in Gila Highlands. Some punks in Gila  Highlands, a fancy Burbclave,
wanted themselves a delivery, and they didn't want to  pay for  it.  Thought
they would impress the Deliverator with a baseball bat. The Deliverator took
out his gun, centered its laser doohickey on that poised Louisville Slugger,
fired it. The  recoil was immense, as  though the weapon had blown up in his
hand. The middle third of  the baseball bat  turned into a column of burning
sawdust  accelerating in all directions like a bursting star. Punk  ended up
holding this bat handle with milky smoke pouring out the end. Stupid look on
his face. Didn't get nothing but trouble from the Deliverator.
     Since then the Deliverator  has kept the  gun in the  glove compartment
and  relied, instead, on a matched set of samurai  swords, which have always
been his weapon of choice anyhow. The punks in Gila Highlands weren't afraid
of the  gun, so  the Deliverator was forced  to use  it.  But swords need no
     The Deliverator's car  has enough  potential  energy  packed  into  its
batteries  to fire a pound of bacon into  the Asteroid Belt. Unlike a  bimbo
box or  a  Burb  beater, the Deliverator's car unloads  that  power  through
gaping, gleaming, polished sphincters. When the  Deliverator puts the hammer
down, shit happens. You want to talk contact patches?  Your car's tires have
tiny contact patches, talk  to  the asphalt in four places the size  of your
tongue. The Deliverator's car has big  sticky tires with contact patches the
size of  a  fat lady's  thighs.  The Deliverator is in  touch with the road,
starts like a bad day, stops on a peseta.
     Why is the Deliverator so equipped? Because people rely on him. He is a
role  model.  This is  America. People do whatever  the  fuck they feel like
doing,  you got a  problem with  that?  Because  they have a right  to.  And
because they  have guns and no one  can fucking stop them. As a result, this
country has one of the worst economies in the world. When it gets down to it
- talking trade balances here - once we've brain-drained all  our technology
into other  countries, once  things have evened  out, they're making cars in
Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here - once our
edge in natural resources has been made  irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships
and dirigibles that  can ship North Dakota all the way  to New Zealand for a
nickel -  once the Invisible Hand has taken all those  historical inequities
and  smeared  them  out  into  a  broad global layer  of  what  a  Pakistani
brickmaker would consider to be prosperity -  y'know what? There's only four
things we do better than anyone else
     microcode (software)
     high-speed pizza delivery
     The Deliverator used  to  make software. Still does, sometimes. But  if
life were a  mellow  elementary school run by well-meaning education Ph.D.s,
the Deliverator's report card would say: "Hiro is so bright and creative but
needs to work harder on his cooperation skills."
     So  now  he has this other job. No brightness  or creativity involved -
but no cooperation either. Just  a  single principle: The Deliverator stands
tall, your pie in thirty minutes or you can have it free, shoot the  driver,
take his  car, file  a class-action suit. The Deliverator  has  been working
this job for six months, a rich and lengthy tenure by his standards, and has
never delivered a pizza in more than twenty-one minutes.
     Oh, they used to argue over times, many corporate driver-years  lost to
it: homeowners, red-faced  and  sweaty with their  own lies, stinking of Old
Spice and job-related  stress,  standing  in  their glowing yellow  doorways
brandishing  their Seikos and waving at the clock  over  the kitchen sink, I
swear, can't you guys tell time?
     Didn't happen anymore. Pizza  delivery is a major industry.  A  managed
industry.  People went  to  CosaNostra Pizza University  four  years just to
learn it.  Came  in  its  doors unable to write  an English  sentence,  from
Abkhazia, Rwanda, Guanajuato, South Jersey, and came  out knowing more about
pizza  than  a Bedouin knows about sand.  And they had studied this problem.
Graphed  the frequency  of doorway  delivery-time  disputes. Wired the early
Deliverators to record, then analyze, the debating tactics, the voice-stress
histograms,  the  distinctive   grammatical  structures  employed  by  white
middle-class Type  A Burbclave  occupants  who against all logic had decided
that  this was  the place to take their personal Custerian stand against all
that was  stale  and deadening  in their lives: they were  going to lie,  or
delude themselves, about the time of their phone call  and  get themselves a
free pizza; no, they  deserved  a free pizza along with their life, liberty,
and pursuit of whatever, it was fucking inalienable. Sent  psychologists out
to these  people's houses, gave them a free TV set to submit to an anonymous
interview,  hooked  them  to  polygraphs, studied their  brainwaves  as they
showed them choppy,  inexplicable movies of porn  queens and  late-night car
crashes and Sammy Davis, Jr., put them in sweet-smelling, mauve-walled rooms
and  asked  them  questions  about  Ethics  so perplexing that even a Jesuit
couldn't respond without committing a venial sin.
     The analysts at CosaNostra Pizza University concluded that  it was just
human nature and you couldn't  fix it, and so  they went for  a quick  cheap
technical  fix:  smart  boxes.  The pizza box  is a  plastic  carapace  now,
corrugated  for stiffness, a little LED readout glowing on the side, telling
the  Deliverator how many trade imbalance-producing minutes have ticked away
since the fateful phone call. There are chips and stuff in there. The pizzas
rest, a short stack of them,  in  slots  behind the Deliverator's head. Each
pizza  glides into a slot like a circuit board into a  computer, clicks into
place  as  the  smart  box  interfaces  with   the  onboard  system  of  the
Deliverator's car. The address of the caller has already been inferred  from
his phone number and poured  into the smart box's builtin RAM. From there it
is communicated to the car, which computes and projects the optimal route on
a heads-up  display, a glowing colored map traced out against the windshield
so that the Deliverator does not even have to glance down.
     If the thirty-minute deadline expires, news of the disaster  is flashed
to  CosaNostra Pizza Headquarters  and  relayed  from  there  to  Uncle Enzo
himself - the Sicilian  Colonel Sanders,  the  Andy Griffith of Bensonhurst,
the straight razor-swinging figment of many  a Deliverator's nightmares, the
Capo and prime figurehead of CosaNostra Pizza, Incorporated - who will be on
the phone  to  the  customer within five minutes, apologizing profusely. The
next day,  Uncle Enzo will  land  on the customer's yard in a jet helicopter
and apologize some more and give him a free trip to Italy - all he has to do
is sign  a bunch of releases that  make him a public figure and spokesperson
for CosaNostra Pizza and basically end his private life as he knows  it.  He
will come away from the whole thing feeling that, somehow, he owes the Mafia
a favor.
     The Deliverator  does not know for sure what  happens to the  driver in
such cases, but  he has heard some  rumors. Most pizza deliveries happen  in
the evening hours,  which  Uncle Enzo considers to  be his private time. And
how would you feel if  you had to interrupt dinner with your family in order
to  call some obstreperous dork in a Burbclave and grovel for a late fucking
pizza?  Uncle  Enzo has not put in fifty years serving  his family  and  his
country so  that, at the  age when most are playing golf and  bobbling their
granddaughters, he can get  out of the bathtub dripping wet and lie down and
kiss  the  feet  of  some sixteen-year-old skate  punk whose  pepperoni  was
thirty-one  minutes in coming. Oh, God.  It  makes the Deliverator breathe a
little shallower just to think of the idea.
     But he wouldn't drive for CosaNostra Pizza any other way. You know why?
Because  there's something  about having your  life on the line.  It's  like
being  a kamikaze pilot.  Your mind is clear. Other  people -  store clerks,
burger  flippers,  software engineers,  the whole vocabulary of  meaningless
jobs that  make up Life in  America - other people just  rely on  plain  old
competition. Better flip your burgers or  debug your  subroutines faster and
better than your high school classmate two blocks down the strip is flipping
or  debugging, because  we're in  competition  with those guys,  and  people
notice these things.
     What  a fucking rat race that  is.  CosaNostra Pizza  doesn't  have any
competition. Competition goes against the Mafia ethic. You don't work harder
because you're competing against  some identical operation down  the street.
You  work harder because everything is on the  line.  Your name, your honor,
your  family,  your  life. Those  burger flippers might  have  a better life
expectancy - but what kind of life  is it anyway, you have  to ask yourself.
That's  why nobody,  not  even the  Nipponese,  can move pizzas  faster than
CosaNostra. The Deliverator is proud to wear the uniform, proud to drive the
car, proud  to march up  the front walks  of  innumerable Burbclave homes, a
grim vision in ninja black, a pizza on  his shoulder, red LED digits blazing
proud numbers into the night: 12:32 or 15:15 or the occasional 20:43.
     The Deliverator is  assigned to CosaNostra Pizza  #3569 in the  Valley.
Southern California doesn't know whether to  bustle or just strangle  itself
on the spot. Not enough roads for the number of people.  Fairlanes,  Inc. is
laying new ones all the  time.  Have to bulldoze lots of neighborhoods to do
it,  but  those  seventies and eighties developments  exist to be bulldozed,
right? No  sidewalks, no  schools, no nothing. Don't have  their  own police
force - no immigration  control  -  undesirables  can  walk right in without
being frisked or even harassed. Now a Burbclave, that's the place to live. A
city-state with its own constitution, a border, laws, cops, everything.
     The Deliverator  was  a corporal in the  Farms  of Men  Merryvale State
Security Force for a while once. Got himself fired for pulling a sword on an
acknowledged perp. Slid  it right  through  the  fabric of the perp's shirt,
gliding the flat of  the blade along the base of his neck, and pinned him to
a warped  and bubbled expanse of vinyl siding on the  wall of the house that
the perp  was  trying to break into. Thought it was a pretty righteous bust.
But they fired him anyway  because the perp turned out to be the son  of the
vice-chancellor  of the Farms of Merryvale. Oh,  the  weasels had an excuse:
said that a thirty-six-inch samurai sword was not on their Weapons Protocol.
Said that  he had violated the SPAC, the Suspected Perpetrator  Apprehension
Code. Said that the perp had suffered psychological trauma. He was afraid of
butter knives now; he had to spread his jelly  with  the back of a teaspoon.
They said that he had exposed them to liability.
     The Deliverator had to borrow some  money to pay for  it. Had to borrow
it  from  the  Mafia,  in  fact. So he's in  their  database now  -  retinal
patterns, DNA,  voice  graph,  fingerprints, footprints, palm  prints, wrist
prints, every fucking part of  the body  that had  wrinkles on it  almost  -
those bastards rolled in  ink and  made  a print and digitized it into their
computer. But it's their money - sure they're careful about loaning  it out.
And  when he applied for the Deliverator job they  were happy  to  take him,
because they knew him. When he got  the loan, he had to deal personally with
the assistant  vice-capo of the Valley, who later  recommended him  for  the
Deliverator  job. So it was like being in a family. A really scary, twisted,
abusive family.
     CosaNostra Pizza #3569 is on Vista Road just down from Kings Park Mall.
Vista  Road  used to  belong to the  State of  California and  now is called
Fairlanes, Inc. Rte. CSV-5. Its main competition used to  be  a U.S. highway
and is now called  Cruiseways,  Inc. Rte. Cal-12. Farther up the Valley, the
two competing  highways actually cross. Once there had been bitter disputes,
the intersection  closed by  sporadic sniper fire.  Finally, a big developer
bought the entire intersection and turned it  into a drive-through mall. Now
the  roads just  feed into a parking  system - not a lot,  not a ramp, but a
system - and lose their identity.  Getting through the intersection involves
tracing  paths  through  the  parking  system,  many  braided  filaments  of
direction  like the Ho  Chi  Minh  trail.  CSV-5 has better  throughput, but
Cal-12  has  better  pavement. That is  typical - Fairlanes roads  emphasize
getting  you  there,  for  Type  A drivers,  and  Cruiseways  emphasize  the
enjoyment of the ride, for Type B drivers.
     The Deliverator is a Type A driver with rabies. He is zeroing in on his
home  base,  CosaNostra Pizza #3569, cranking up the left lane of CSV-5 at a
hundred and twenty kilometers. His car is an invisible black lozenge, just a
dark place that reflects the tunnel of franchise signs - the loglo. A row of
orange lights burbles and churns across the front, where the grille would be
if this  were an air-breathing car. The orange  light looks like a  gasoline
fire. It comes in through people's rear windows, bounces  off their rearview
mirrors,  projects  a fiery mask  across  their  eyes,  reaches  into  their
subconscious,  and unearths terrible fears of being pinned, fully conscious,
under a detonating  gas  tank, makes them want  to  pull  over and  let  the
Deliverator overtake them in his black chariot of pepperoni fire.
     The loglo, overhead, marking out CSV-5 in twin contrails, is  a body of
electrical light made of innumerable cells, each cell designed in  Manhattan
by imageers  who make more for designing  a  single logo  than a Deliverator
will make in his entire lifetime.  Despite their efforts  to stand out, they
all smear together, especially at a hundred and twenty kilometers per  hour.
Still, it  is easy to see  CosaNostra Pizza  #3569 because of the billboard,
which is wide  and tall,  even by current  inflated standards. In  fact, the
squat franchise itself looks like nothing more than a low-slung base for the
great  aramid fiber  pillars that thrust the billboard up into the trademark
firmament. Marca Registrada, baby.
     The billboard is a classic, a chestnut, not a figment of some  fleeting
Mafia promotional campaign. It is  a statement, a monument  built to endure.
Simple  and  dignified.  It shows Uncle  Enzo  in one of  his spiffy Italian
suits.  The  pinstripes  glint and flex  like sinews.  The pocket  square is
luminous. His hair is perfect, slicked back with something  that never comes
off,  each strand cut off straight and  square at  the end  by  Uncle Enzo's
cousin,  Art  the  Barber,  who  runs the second-largest  chain  of  low-end
haircutting establishments in the world. Uncle  Enzo  is standing there, not
exactly smiling, an avuncular glint in his eye  for sure, not posing  like a
model but standing there like your uncle would, and it says
     The Mafia
     you've got a friend in The Family!
     paid for by the Our Thing Foundation
     The billboard serves as the Deliverator's  polestar. He knows that when
he gets to the place  on CSV-5 where the bottom  corner  of the billboard is
obscured by  the  pseudo-Gothic stained-glass  arches of the local  Reverend
Wayne's Pearly Gates franchise, it's time for him to get over into the right
lanes where the retards and the bimbo boxes poke  along, random, indecisive,
looking at each passing franchise's driveway like they don't know if it's  a
promise or a threat.
     He cuts off a bimbo box - a family minivan - veers past the Buy 'n' Fly
that  is next door, and pulls  into CosaNostra  Pizza  #3569. Those  big fat
contact patches complain, squeal a  little bit, but  they  hold  on  to  the
patented  Fairlanes,  Inc. high-traction pavement  and  guide  him into  the
chute.  No other Deliverators  are waiting  in the chute. That is good, that
means  high turnover  for  him, fast  action,  keep  moving that 'za.  As he
scrunches to a stop,  the electromechanical hatch on the flank of his car is
already  opening to reveal  his empty  pizza slots,  the  door clicking  and
folding back  in on itself like the wing of a beetle. The slots are waiting.
Waiting for hot pizza.
     And waiting.  The  Deliverator honks his  horn. This  is not a  nominal
     Window  slides  open.  That  should never  happen. You can  look at the
three-ring  binder from  CosaNostra  Pizza  University,  cross-reference the
citation  for window,  chute,  dispatcher's,  and it  will give you all  the
procedures for that window - and it should never be opened. Unless something
has gone wrong.
     The window slides open and - you sitting  down? smoke comes out  of it.
The Deliverator hears a discordant beetling over  the metal hurricane of his
sound  system and realizes that it is a smoke alarm,  coming from inside the
     Mute button on the stereo. Oppressive silence - his eardrums uncringe -
the  window  is buzzing  with the cry  of  the  smoke  alarm. The car idles,
waiting.  The hatch  has been  open too  long,  atmospheric  pollutants  are
congealing on the electrical  contacts in the back of the pizza slots, he'll
have to clean them ahead of schedule, everything is going exactly the way it
shouldn't go in the three-ring binder that spells out all the rhythms of the
pizza universe.
     Inside, a  football-shaped Abkhazian man is running to and fro, holding
a three-ring  binder open, using his spare tire  as a ledge to  keep it from
collapsing shut; he runs with the gait of a man  carrying an egg on a spoon.
He  is shouting in the Abkhazian dialect; all the people  who run CosaNostra
pizza franchises in this part of the Valley are Abkhazian immigrants.
     It does not look  like a serious  fire. The Deliverator saw a real fire
once,  at the Farms of  Merryvale, and  you  couldn't  see anything for  the
smoke. That's all it was: smoke, burbling out of nowhere, occasional flashes
of orange light down at the bottom, like heat lightning in tall clouds. This
is not that kind of fire. It is the kind of fire  that just barely  puts out
enough smoke to detonate the  smoke alarms.  And he is  losing time for this
     The Deliverator holds the horn button down. The Abkhazian manager comes
to  the window. He is  supposed to use  the intercom to talk to drivers,  he
could  say  anything  he wanted  and it  would  be piped straight  into  the
Deliverator's car, but no, he has to talk face to face, like the Deliverator
is some kind of  fucking ox cart driver. He is red-faced, sweating, his eyes
roll as he tries to think of the English words.
     "A fire, a little one," he says.
     The  Deliverator says  nothing.  Because  he knows  that all of this is
going  onto  videotape.  The tape is  being  pipelined, as  it  happens,  to
CosaNostra Pizza University, where it will be analyzed in a pizza management
science  laboratory. It will be shown to Pizza  University students, perhaps
to the  very students who will replace this man when  he  gets  fired, as  a
textbook example of how to screw up your life.
     "New employee  -  put  his  dinner in the  microwave - had foil  in  it
-boom!" the manager says.
     Abkhazia had  been  part of the Soviet fucking  Union.  A new immigrant
from Abkhazia  trying to operate a microwave  was like a deep-sea tube  worm
doing brain surgery.  Where  did  they  get  these guys?  Weren't there  any
Americans who could bake a fucking pizza?
     "Just give me one pie," the Deliverator says.
     Talking about  pies snaps the guy into the current century.  He gets  a
grip.  He slams the  window shut,  strangling the relentless  keening of the
smoke alarm.
     A Nipponese robot arm  shoves  the pizza out and into the top slot. The
hatch folds shut to protect it.
     As  the Deliverator  is pulling  out of the  chute, building  up speed,
checking the address that is flashed across his windshield, deciding whether
to turn right or left, it happens. His stereo cuts out again - on command of
the  onboard system.  The  cockpit lights go red.  Red. A repetitive  buzzer
begins to sound. The LED readout  on his windshield, which echoes the one on
the pizza box, flashes up: 20:00.
     They have just  given  the Deliverator  a  twenty-minute-old pizza.  He
checks the address; it is twelve miles away.

     The Deliverator lets  out an involuntary roar and puts the hammer down.
His emotions tell  him to go back and kill that manager, get  his swords out
of the trunk, dive in through the little sliding window  like a ninja, track
him down through the  roiling chaos of the microwaved franchise and confront
him in a climactic thick-crust apocalypse. But he thinks the same thing when
someone cuts him off on the freeway, and he's never done it - yet.
     He can  handle  this. This  is doable. He cranks up  the orange warning
lights to maximum brilliance, puts his headlights on autoflash. He overrides
the  warning buzzer, jams the stereo over to Taxiscan, which cruises all the
taxi-driver frequencies listening  for interesting traffic. Can't understand
a  fucking word.  You could buy tapes, learn-while-you-drive, and  learn  to
speak Taxilinga. It was essential, to  get a job in that business. They said
it was based on English but not  one  word in  a  hundred  was recognizable.
Still, you could get an idea. If  there was trouble on  this road, they'd be
babbling about  it in  Taxilinga,  give him  some warning, let  him take  an
alternate route so he wouldn't get
     he grips the wheel
     stuck in traffic
     his eyes get big, he can feel the pressure driving
     them back
     into his skull
     or caught behind a mobile home
     his bladder is very full
     and deliver the pizza
     Oh, God oh, God
     22:06 hangs  on the windshield; all he  can see, all he can think about
is 30:01.
     The taxi  drivers are buzzing about something. Taxilinga is mellifluous
babble with  a  few harsh foreign  sounds, like butter  spiced  with  broken
glass.  He  keeps  hearing  "fare." They are  always  jabbering  about their
fucking fares. Big deal. What happens if you deliver your fare
     you don't get as much of a tip? Big deal.
     Big  slowdown at  the intersection of CSV-5 and  Oahu Road,  per usual,
only way to avoid it is to cut through The Mews at Windsor Heights.
     TMAWHs  all have the same layout. When creating a new Burbclave,  TMAWH
Development  Corporation will chop down  any mountain ranges and divert  the
course of  any  mighty  rivers that threaten to interrupt this street plan -
ergonomically  designed  to encourage  driving safety. A  Deliverator can go
into a Mews at Windsor Heights  anywhere from Fairbanks to Yaroslavl  to the
Shenzhen special economic zone and find his way around.
     But once  you've delivered a pie to every single house in a TMAWH a few
times, you get to know its little secrets. The Deliverator is such a man. He
knows  that  in  a standard TMAWH  there  is only one yard  - one  yard that
prevents you  from driving straight  in one entrance, across the  Burbclave,
and  out the other. If you  are squeamish about driving on grass,  it  might
take you ten  minutes to meander through TMAWH. But if you have the balls to
lay  tracks  across that  one yard, you  have a  straight  shot through  the
     The Deliverator knows that yard. He has delivered pizzas  there. He has
looked at  it,  scoped it out, memorized  the location of the  shed and  the
picnic table, can find them even in the dark - knows that if it ever came to
this, a twenty-three-minute pizza, miles to  go, and a slowdown at CSV-5 and
Oahu  -  he  could  enter  The  Mews  at  Windsor  Heights  (his  electronic
delivery-man's  visa  would  raise  the  gate  automatically),  scream  down
Heritage  Boulevard,  rip the turn onto Strawbridge Place (ignoring the DEAD
END sign and the speed limit  and  the CHILDREN PLAYING ideograms  that  are
strung so  liberally  throughout  TMAWH), thrash  the  speed bumps with  his
mighty radials, blast up the driveway of Number 15 Strawbridge Circle, cut a
hard  left  around the backyard shed, careen into  the backyard of Number 84
Mayapple Place, avoid its picnic table (tricky), get into their driveway and
out  onto  Mayapple, which takes him to Bellewoode Valley  Road, which  runs
straight  to  the  exit of  the  Burbclave.  TMAWH security  police might be
waiting for  him  at the  exit, but their STDs,  Severe Tire Damage devices,
only point one way - they can keep people out, but not keep them in.
     This car can go so fucking fast that if a cop took a bite of a doughnut
as the  Deliverator was entering Heritage Boulevard, he probably wouldn't be
able to swallow it until  about the time  the Deliverator was  shrieking out
onto Oahu.
     Thunk. And more red lights come up  on  the windshield:  the  perimeter
security of the Deliverator's vehicle has been breached.
     No. It can't be.
     Someone is shadowing  him. Right  off  his left flank.  A  person  on a
skateboard, rolling down the highway right behind  him, just as he is laying
in his approach vectors to Heritage Boulevard.
     The Deliverator,  in  his  distracted state, has allowed himself to get
pooned.  As in harpooned. It is a big round  padded electromagnet on the end
of  an  arachnofiber  cable.  It has  just  thunked  onto  the  back of  the
Deliverator's car, and stuck. Ten  feet behind him, the owner of this cursed
device is surfing, taking him  for a ride, skateboarding along  like a water
skier behind a boat.
     In the rearview, flashes of orange and blue. The parasite is not just a
punk out  having a good time. It  is a businessman making  money. The orange
and blue  coverall, bulging all over with sintered armorgel padding,  is the
uniform of a Kourier. A Kourier from RadiKS, Radikal Kourier Systems. Like a
bicycle  messenger, but a hundred  times more irritating because  they don't
pedal under their own power - they just latch on and slow you down.
     Naturally.  The  Deliverator  was  in  a  hurry, flashing  his  lights,
squealing his contact patches. The fastest thing on the road. Naturally, the
Kourier would choose him to latch onto.
     No  need  to get rattled. With the shortcut through TMAWH, he will have
plenty of time. He  passes a slower car in the middle  lane, then cuts right
in front of him. The Kourier will have to unpoon or else be slammed sideways
into the slower vehicle.
     Done.  The  Kourier isn't  ten  feet behind him anymore - he  is  right
there,  peering in the rear window.  Anticipating the  maneuver, the Kourier
reeled  in his cord, which  is attached to a handle with a power reel in it,
and  is  now  right on  top of  the pizza  mobile,  the front  wheel of  his
skateboard actually underneath the Deliverator's rear bumper.
     An orange-and-blue-gloved hand reaches forward,  a transparent sheet of
plastic draped over it, and slaps his  driver's side window. The Deliverator
has just been  stickered. The  sticker is a foot  across and  reads,  in big
orange block letters,  printed  backward so  that he  can read  it from  the

     He almost misses the turnoff for The Mews at Windsor Heights. He has to
jam the brakes, let  traffic  clear, cut across the curb lane  to enter  the
Burbclave. The  border post  is well lighted,  the  customs agents  ready to
frisk all comers - cavity-search them if they are the wrong kind of people -
but  the gate flies open  as  if by magic as the security system senses that
this is a CosaNostra Pizza vehicle, just  making a delivery,  sir. And as he
goes  through, the Kourier -  that tick  on  his ass  - waves to the  border
police! What a prick! Like he comes in here all the time!
     He probably does come in here all the time. Picking  up  important shit
for   important   TMAWH   people,   delivering    it   to    other   FOQNEs,
Franchise-Organized  Quasi-National Entities,  getting  it through  customs.
That's what Kouriers do. Still.
     He's going too slow, lost all his momentum,  his timing is off. Where's
the Kourier?  Ah,  reeled  out some line,  is following  behind  again.  The
Deliverator knows that this jerk  is in for a big  surprise. Can he  stay on
his fucking skateboard while he's being hauled over the flattened remains of
some kid's  plastic tricycle at  a  hundred kilometers? We're going  to find
     The Kourier  leans  back  - the Deliverator can't help watching  in the
rearview - leans  back like a water skier, pushes off against his board, and
swings  around  beside  him,  now  traveling abreast  with him  up  Heritage
Boulevard and slap another sticker  goes up, this  one on the windshield! It

     The Deliverator has heard of these stickers. It takes hours to get them
off. Have to take the car into a detailing place, pay trillions of  dollars.
The Deliverator has two things on his agenda now: He is going  to shake this
street  scum,  whatever it takes, and deliver the fucking  pizza all  in the
space of

     the next five minutes and thirty-seven seconds.
     This is it - got to pay more attention to the road - he swings into the
side street, no warning, hoping maybe to whipsaw the Kourier into the street
sign on the  corner. Doesn't work. The  smart  ones watch your front  tires,
they see when you're turning,  can't surprise them. Down Strawbridge  Place!
It  seems  so long,  longer  than  he remembered  - natural when you're in a
hurry.  Sees  the glint of  cars  up  ahead,  cars parked  sideways  to  the
road-these  must be parked in the circle. And  there's the house. Light blue
vinyl clapboard two-story with one-story  garage to the  side. He makes that
driveway the center of his universe, puts the Kourier out of his mind, tries
not to think  about Uncle Enzo,  what  he's doing  right now - in the  bath,
maybe,  or taking  a crap,  or  making love  to  some  actress,  or teaching
Sicilian songs to one of his twenty-six granddaughters.
     The slope of the driveway slams his  front suspension halfway  up  into
the engine compartment,  but  that's what suspensions are for. He evades the
car in the driveway -must have visitors tonight, didn't remember that  these
people drove a Lexus - cuts through the hedge, into the side yard, looks for
that shed, that shed he absolutely must not run into
     it's not there, they took it down
     next problem, the picnic table in the next yard
     hang on, there's a fence, when did they put up a fence?
     This is no time to put on the brakes. Got to build up some speed, knock
it  down  without blowing  all this  momentum. It's  just a four-foot wooden
     The fence goes down easy, he  loses maybe ten percent of his speed. But
strangely, it looked like an old fence, maybe he made a wrong turn somewhere
- he realizes, as he catapults into an empty backyard swimming pool.
     If it had been full of water, that wouldn't have been so bad, maybe the
car would have been saved, he  wouldn't owe  CosaNostra Pizza a new car. But
no, he does a  Stuka into the far wall of  the  pool, it sounds more like an
explosion than a crash. The airbag inflates, comes back down a  second later
like a  curtain revealing the structure  of his new  life: he is  stuck in a
dead car in an empty pool in a TMAWH, the sirens of the Burbclave's security
police are approaching, and  there's a  pizza behind his head, resting there
like the blade of a guillotine, with 25:17 on it.
     "Where's it going?" someone says. A woman.
     He looks up through the distorted frame of the window, now rimmed  with
a fractal pattern of crystallized safety glass. It is the Kourier talking to
him. The Kourier is not a man, it is a young woman. A fucking teenaged girl.
She is pristine, unhurt. She has skated right down into the pool,  she's now
oscillating back and forth from one side  of the pool to  the other, skating
up one bank,  almost to the lip, turning around, skating down and across and
up  the  opposite  side. She  is  holding  her poon  in her  right hand, the
electromagnet reeled up  against the handle so it looks like some kind  of a
strange  wide-angle  intergalactic death  ray.  Her  chest glitters  like  a
general's with a hundred little ribbons and medals, except each rectangle is
not a ribbon, it is a bar  code.  A bar code with an ID number that gets her
into a different business, highway, or FOQNE.
     "Yo!" she says. "Where's the pizza going?"
     He's going to die and she's gamboling.
     "White Columns. 5 Oglethorpe Circle," he says.
     "I can do that. Open the hatch."
     His heart expands to twice its normal  size. Tears come to his eyes. He
may live. He presses a button and the hatch opens.
     On  her next orbit across the bottom of the pool, the Kourier yanks the
pizza  out  of  its  slot. The  Deliverator winces, imagining  the  garlicky
topping  accordioning  into  the  back wall of  the box.  Then  she  puts it
sideways under her arm. It's more than a Deliverator can stand to watch.
     But she'll get it there. Uncle Enzo doesn't have to apologize for ugly,
ruined, cold pizzas, just late ones.
     "Hey," he says, "take this."
     The Deliverator sticks his black-clad arm  out the shattered  window. A
white  rectangle glows  in the  dim backyard light:  a  business  card.  The
Kourier snatches it from him on her next orbit, reads it. It says

     Last of the freelance hackers
     Greatest sword fighter in the world
     Stringer, Central Intelligence Corporation
     Specializing in software-related intel
     (music, movies & microcode)
     On the back is gibberish  explaining how he may be reached: a telephone
number. A  universal voice phone locator  code. A P.O.  box. His address  on
half  a  dozen  electronic  communications  nets.  And  an  address  in  the
     "Stupid name," she says, shoving the card into one  of a hundred little
pockets on her coverall.
     "But you'll never forget it," Hiro says.
     "If you're a hacker. . . "
     "How come I'm delivering pizzas?"
     "Because  I'm a freelance hacker.  Look, whatever your  name is - I owe
you one."
     "Name's Y.T.," she says, shoving at the pool a few times with one foot,
building up  more energy. She flies out  of the pool  as if  catapulted, and
she's gone. The smartwheels of her skateboard, many,  many  spokes extending
and retracting to fit the shape of the ground, take her across the lawn like
a pat of butter skidding across hot Teflon.
     Hiro, who as  of thirty seconds ago is  no longer the Deliverator, gets
out of the car and pulls his swords out of the trunk, straps them around his
body,  prepares  for  a  breathtaking  nighttime  escape  run  across  TMAWH
territory. The border with Oakwood Estates is only minutes  away, he has the
layout  memorized (sort of), and he  knows how these Burbclave cops operate,
because he used to  be one. So he has a good chance of making  it. But  it's
going to be interesting.
     Above  him,  in the house that  owns the pool, a light has come on, and
children are looking down at him through their bedroom windows, all warm and
fuzzy in their Li'l  Crips and Ninja Raft  Warrior pajamas, which can either
be flameproof  or  noncarcinogenic but not  both at the same  time.  Dad  is
emerging  from  the back door, pulling on  a jacket. It is  a nice family, a
safe family in a house full of light, like the family he was a part of until
thirty seconds ago.

     Hiro Protagonist and Vitaly Chernobyl, roommates, are  chilling  out in
their home, a spacious 20-by-30 in a U-Stor-It in Inglewood, California. The
room  has a concrete slab  floor, corrugated steel walls separating  it from
the  neighboring units, and - this is a mark  of  distinction and luxury - a
roll-up steel door that faces northwest, giving them a few red rays at times
like this, when  the sun is setting over LAX. From time to time, a 777 or  a
Sukhoi/Kawasaki Hypersonic Transport will taxi in front of the sun and block
the sunset with  its  rudder,  or just mangle the  red  light with  its  jet
exhaust, braiding the parallel rays into a dappled pattern on the wall.
     But there are  worse places to live.  There are much worse places right
here  in this U-Stor-It.  Only the  big units like  this one have their  own
doors. Most of them are accessed via a communal loading dock that leads to a
maze of wide corrugated-steel hallways and freight elevators. These are slum
housing, 5-by-10s and 10-by-10s where Yanoama  tribespersons cook beans  and
parboil fistfuls of coca leaves over heaps of burning lottery tickets.
     It is whispered that in the old days, when the  U-Stor-It  was actually
used for its intended purpose  (namely, providing cheap  extra storage space
to Californians with too many material goods), certain entrepreneurs came to
the front office, rented  out 10-by-10s using fake IDs, filled them  up with
steel drums full of toxic chemical waste, and  then  abandoned them, leaving
the  problem  for  the  U-Stor-It  Corporation to handle. According to these
rumors,  U-Stor-It just  padlocked  those units and wrote them off. Now, the
immigrants  claim, certain units remain haunted by this chemical specter. It
is a story they tell their children, to  keep them from trying to break into
padlocked units.
     No one has  ever tried to break into  Hiro  and  Vitaly's unit  because
there's nothing in there to steal, and at this point in their lives, neither
one of them is important enough to kill, kidnap, or interrogate. Hiro owns a
couple of nice  Nipponese swords, but he  always  wears  them, and the whole
idea of stealing fantastically dangerous weapons presents  the would-be perp
with  inherent  dangers  and  contradictions:  When  you are  wrestling  for
possession of a sword, the man with the handle always wins. Hiro also  has a
pretty nice computer that he  usually  takes with him when he goes anywhere.
Vitaly  owns  half  a  carton  of Lucky Strikes, an  electric  guitar, and a
     At the moment, Vitaly Chernobyl is stretched out on a futon, quiescent,
and Hiro Protagonist is sitting crosslegged at a low table, Nipponese style,
consisting of a cargo pallet set on cinderblocks.
     As the sun sets, its red light is supplanted by the light  of many neon
logos  emanating from the franchise ghetto that constitutes this U-Stor-It's
natural habitat.  This light, known as loglo, fills in the shadowy comers of
the unit with seedy, oversaturated colors.
     Hiro has cappuccino skin and spiky, truncated dreadlocks. His hair does
not cover as  much of his  head as it used to, but he is a young  man, by no
means bald or balding,  and the  slight retreat of  his hairline only  makes
more of his high cheekbones.  He is wearing shiny goggles that  wrap halfway
around  his head; the bows  of  the goggles have  little  earphones that are
plugged into his outer ears.
     The earphones have some built-in noise cancellation features. This sort
of thing works best on steady noise. When jumbo jets make their takeoff runs
on the runway across the street, the sound is reduced to a low doodling hum.
But when Vitaly Chernobyl thrashes out an experimental guitar solo, it still
hurts Hiro's ears.
     The  goggles throw  a  light,  smoky haze across his eyes and reflect a
distorted wide-angle view of a brilliantly lit boulevard that  stretches off
into an infinite blackness.  This boulevard  does not  really exist; it is a
computer-rendered view of an imaginary place.
     Beneath  this image, it is  possible  to  see Hiro's  eyes,  which look
Asian. They are from his mother, who is Korean by way of Nippon. The rest of
him looks  more like his father, who  was African by way of Texas  by way of
the  Army  - back  in  the days  before it got  split  up into  a number  of
competing organizations such  as  General Jim's  Defense System and  Admiral
Bob's National Security.
     Four things are on  the cargo pallet: a bottle of expensive  beer  from
the Puget Sound area, which Hiro cannot really afford; a long sword known in
Nippon as  a  katana and a short sword  known as a wakizashi - Hiro's father
looted these from Japan after World War II went atomic - and a computer.
     The computer is a  featureless  black wedge.  It  does not have a power
cord, but there  is a narrow  translucent plastic tube emerging from a hatch
on  the rear, spiraling across the cargo pallet and the  floor, and  plugged
into a crudely installed fiber-optics socket above the head of the  sleeping
Vitaly  Chernobyl.  In  the  center  of  the  plastic tube  is  a  hair-thin
fiber-optic cable. The cable is carrying a lot of information back and forth
between Hiro's computer and the rest of the world. In order to transmit  the
same amount of information on  paper, they would  have  to arrange for a 747
cargo freighter packed with telephone books  and encyclopedias to power-dive
into their unit every couple of minutes, forever.
     Hiro can't really afford the computer either, but  he has to  have one.
It is  a tool of his trade. In the worldwide community of hackers, Hiro is a
talented drifter. This is the kind of lifestyle that sounded romantic to him
as recently as five years ago.  But  in the  bleak light  of full adulthood,
which is to one's early twenties as Sunday  morning is to Saturday night, he
can clearly see what  it really amounts to: He's broke and unemployed. And a
few short weeks ago, his  tenure as a  pizza  deliverer - the only pointless
dead-end job  he  really enjoys  - came to an  end.  Since then,  he's  been
putting a lot more emphasis on his auxiliary emergency backup job: freelance
stringer  for  the CIC, the Central  Intelligence  Corporation  of  Langley,
     The business is a simple one. Hiro  gets information. It may be gossip,
videotape, audiotape, a fragment of a computer disk, a  xerox of a document.
It can even be a joke based on the latest highly publicized disaster.
     He uploads it to the CIC database -  the Library, formerly  the Library
of  Congress, but no one calls it that anymore. Most people are not entirely
clear on what the word  "congress" means.  And  even the  word  "library" is
getting hazy. It used to be  a place full  of books, mostly  old  ones. Then
they began to include  videotapes, records, and magazines.  Then  all of the
information got converted into machine-readable form,  which is to say, ones
and zeroes. And as the number of media grew, the material became more up  to
date,  and  the  methods  for  searching the  Library  became  more and more
sophisticated,  it  approached  the  point where there  was  no  substantive
difference between  the Library of  Congress  and  the Central  Intelligence
Agency. Fortuitously, this happened just as the government was falling apart
anyway. So they merged and kicked out a big fat stock offering.
     Millions  of  other  CIC  stringers  are  uploading millions  of  other
fragments  at  the same  time. CIC's clients, mostly  large corporations and
Sovereigns, rifle through the Library looking for useful information, and if
they find a use for something that Hiro put into it, Hiro gets  paid. A year
ago,  he uploaded an entire first-draft film script  that  he stole  from an
agent's wastebasket in Burbank. Half a  dozen studios wanted  to see it.  He
ate and vacationed off of that one for six months.
     Since then, times have  been leaner. He  has been learning the hard way
that 99 percent of the information in the Library never gets used at all.
     Case in point: After a certain Kourier  tipped him off to the existence
of Vitaly  Chernobyl, he  put  a few intensive weeks into researching  a new
musical phenomenon - the  rise  of Ukrainian nuclear fuzz-grunge collectives
in  L.A. He has  planted  exhaustive  notes  on this  trend in  the Library,
including  video  and audio. Not  one single  record  label, agent, or  rock
critic has bothered to access it.
     The top surface of the computer is smooth except for  a fisheye lens, a
polished glass dome with a purplish optical coating. Whenever  Hiro is using
the machine, this  lens emerges  and clicks into  place, its base flush with
the  surface  of   the  computer.  The  neighborhood  loglo  is  curved  and
foreshortened on its surface.
     Hiro finds it erotic. This  is partly  because he hasn't been  properly
laid  in several  weeks.  But  there's  more  to it. Hiro's  father, who was
stationed in  Japan  for  many  years, was obsessed with  cameras.  He  kept
bringing  them back  from  his  stints  in  the  Far East,  encased in  many
protective  layers, so that when he took them  out to show Hiro, it was like
watching an exquisite striptease as they emerged from all that black leather
and nylon, zippers  and straps. And once the lens  was finally exposed, pure
geometric equation made real, so powerful and vulnerable at once, Hiro could
only think it was like  nuzzling through skirts and lingerie and outer labia
and inner labia.... It made him feel naked and weak and brave.
     The lens can see half  of  the  universe  - the half that is  above the
computer,  which includes most of  Hiro.  In this way, it can generally keep
track of where Hiro is and what direction he's looking in.
     Down inside the computer are three lasers - a red one, a green one, and
a blue one. They are powerful enough to make a bright light but not powerful
enough to burn through the  back  of your eyeball and broil  your brain, fry
your  frontals, lase your  lobes. As everyone  learned in elementary school,
these three  colors of light can be combined, with different intensities, to
produce any color that Hiro's eye is capable of seeing.
     In this way, a narrow beam of any color  can be shot out of the innards
of the computer, up through that fisheye lens, in any direction. Through the
use of electronic  mirrors inside the computer, this beam  is  made to sweep
back and forth across the lenses of Hiro's goggles, in much the  same way as
the electron beam in  a television paints the inner surface of the eponymous
Tube. The resulting image hangs in space in front of Hiro's view of Reality.
     By drawing a slightly different image  in front of  each eye, the image
can  be made  three-dimensional. By changing  the image seventy-two  times a
second,  it  can be made to move.  By drawing  the moving  three-dimensional
image at a resolution of 2K  pixels on a side, it can be as sharp as the eye
can  perceive,  and  by  pumping stereo  digital  sound  through  the little
earphones,  the  moving  3-D  pictures   can  have  a   perfectly  realistic
     So  Hiro's  not  actually here at  all.  He's  in a computer  generated
universe that his computer is drawing onto  his goggles and pumping into his
earphones. In the  lingo, this  imaginary place is known  as  the Metaverse.
Hiro  spends a lot of  time in the Metaverse. It beats the shit  out  of the

     Hiro is approaching the  Street. It is the Broadway, the Champs Elysees
of  the Metaverse.  It is  the brilliantly lit boulevard that  can be  seen,
miniaturized and backward, reflected  in the lenses of his goggles.  It does
not really exist. But right now, millions of people  are walking up and down
     The dimensions of  the Street are fixed  by a protocol, hammered out by
the computer-graphics ninja  overlords  of  the  Association  for  Computing
Machinery's Global Multimedia Protocol Group. The Street seems to be a grand
boulevard  going  all  the  way around the equator of a black sphere with  a
radius of  a bit more than ten  thousand  kilometers. That makes  it  65,536
kilometers around, which is considerably bigger than Earth.
     The number 65,536 is an awkward figure to everyone except a hacker, who
recognizes it more readily than his own mother's date  of birth: It  happens
to be a power of  2 - 2^16 power to  be exact - and even the exponent  16 is
equal  to  2^4  , and  4  is  equal  to  2^2. Along  with  256; 32,768;  and
2,147,483,648;  65,536  is  one  of the  foundation  stones  of  the  hacker
universe, in which  2 is the only really important number because that's how
many  digits  a computer can recognize.  One of those digits is 0,  and  the
other is 1. Any number that can be created by fetishistically multiplying 2s
by  each  other,  and  subtracting  the  occasional  1,  will  be  instantly
recognizable to a hacker.
     Like any  place  in  Reality,  the Street  is  subject to  development.
Developers can  build their own  small streets feeding  off of the main one.
They can build buildings, parks, signs,  as well as things that do not exist
in   Reality,  such  as  vast  hovering   overhead   light  shows,   special
neighborhoods where the rules of  three-dimensional spacetime  are  ignored,
and free-combat zones where people can go to hunt and kill each other.
     The only difference  is  that since the Street does not really exist  -
it's just  a computer-graphics  protocol  written down on  a piece of  paper
somewhere -  none  of  these things  is  being physically  built. They  are,
rather, pieces of software, made available to the  public over the worldwide
fiber-optics network. When Hiro goes  into the Metaverse and  looks down the
Street  and  sees buildings  and  electric  signs  stretching  off into  the
darkness, disappearing over  the curve of the globe, he is actually  staring
at the graphic representations - the user interfaces - of a myriad different
pieces of software that have been engineered by major corporations. In order
to place these things on the Street, they have  had to get approval from the
Global Multimedia Protocol  Group, have had  to buy frontage  on the Street,
get zoning  approval,  obtain permits, bribe inspectors,  the whole bit. The
money these corporations pay  to build things on the Street all goes  into a
trust fund  owned and  operated  by the GMPG, which  pays for developing and
expanding the machinery that enables the Street to exist.
     Hiro has  a  house in a  neighborhood just  off the busiest part of the
Street.  It is a very old neighborhood by Street standards. About  ten years
ago,  when  the Street  protocol was  first written,  Hiro and  some of  his
buddies pooled their money and bought one of the first development licenses,
created a little neighborhood of hackers. At the time, it  was just a little
patchwork of light amid a vast blackness. Back  then, the  Street was just a
necklace of streetlights around a black ball in space.
     Since then, the neighborhood hasn't changed  much, but  the Street has.
By getting  in on it  early,  Hiro's buddies  got a head start on the  whole
business. Some of them even got very rich off of it.
     That's why Hiro has a nice big  house in the Metaverse but has to share
a 20-by-30 in Reality.  Real estate acumen does  not  always  extend  across
     The sky and the  ground are black, like a  computer screen that  hasn't
had anything drawn into it yet; it is always nighttime in the Metaverse, and
the  Street  is  always  garish  and  brilliant, like Las  Vegas  freed from
constraints of  physics and finance.  But  people in Hiro's neighborhood are
very good programmers, so it's  tasteful. The houses look  like real houses.
There  are  a  couple of Frank Lloyd  Wright  reproductions  and some  fancy
     So it's always a shock to  step out onto the  Street, where  everything
seems to be a mile high. This is Downtown, the most  heavily developed area.
If  you  go  a  couple  of  hundred  kilometers  in  either  direction,  the
development  will  taper  down  to  almost  nothing, just  a  thin chain  of
streetlights casting white pools on the black velvet ground. But Downtown is
a dozen Manhattans, embroidered with neon and stacked on top of each other.
     In the real world - planet Earth, Reality - there are somewhere between
six and ten billion people. At any given time, most of them are  making  mud
bricks or fieldstripping their AK-47s. Perhaps a billion of them have enough
money to own a computer; these people have more money than all of the others
put together. Of these billion potential computer owners, maybe a quarter of
them actually bother to own computers, and a quarter of  these have machines
that are powerful enough to handle the Street protocol. That makes for about
sixty million  people who can  be on the Street  at  any given time. Add  in
another sixty million or so who can't really afford it but  go there anyway,
by  using public  machines,  or  machines  owned  by  their school  or their
employer,  and  at  any  given time  the  Street  is  occupied  by twice the
population of New York City.
     That's why the damn  place  is so overdeveloped.  Put in  a  sign  or a
building   on  the  Street   and  the  hundred   million  richest,  hippest,
best-connected people on earth will see it every day of their lives.
     It is a hundred meters wide, with a narrow monorail track running  down
the  middle. The  monorail is a free piece of public  utility  software that
enables users to change their location on the Street rapidly and smoothly. A
lot of people just ride  back and forth on  it, looking  at the sights. When
Hiro first saw this place, ten years ago,  the  monorail hadn't been written
yet; he and his buddies had to write car and motorcycle software in order to
get around. They  would take their software out and  race it  in  the  black
desert of the electronic night.

     Y.T. has been privileged to watch many a  young Clint  plant his  sweet
face in an empty Burbclave pool during an unauthorized night run, but always
on  a skateboard, never  ever in a car. The landscape of  the suburban night
has much weird beauty if you just look.
     Back on the paddle again. It rolls across the  yard  on a set of RadiKS
Mark IV  Smartwheels.  She  upgraded to said  magical  sprockets  after  the
following ad appeared in Thrasher magazine.
     CHISELED SPAM is what you will see in the mirror
     if you surf on a weak plank with dumb, fixed wheels
     and interface with a muffler, retread, snow turd, road
     kill, driveshaft, railroad tie, or unconscious pedestrian.
     If you think this is unlikely, you've been surfing too
     many ghost malls. All of these obstacles and more
     were recently observed on a one-mile stretch of the
     New Jersey Turnpike. Any surfer who tried to groove
     that 'vard on a stock plank would have been sneezing
     Don't listen to so-called purists who claim any obstacle
     can be jumped. Professional Kouriers know: If you
     have pooned a vehicle moving fast enough for fun and
     profit, your reaction time is cut to tenths of a second -
     even less if you are way spooled.
     Buy a set of RadiKS Mark II Smartwheels - it's cheaper
     than a total face retread and a lot more fun. Smartwheels
     use sonar, laser rangefinding, and millimeter-wave radar
     to identify mufflers and other debris before you even
     get honed about them.
     Don't get Midasized - upgrade today!
     These were words of wisdom. Y.T.  bought the wheels. Each  one consists
of a hub with  many stout spokes. Each spoke telescopes in five sections. On
the end  is a squat foot, rubber tread on the bottom,  swiveling on  a  ball
joint. As the wheels roll,  the feet plant  themselves one at a time, almost
glomming into  one  continuous tire. If  you  surf over  a bump, the  spokes
retract to pass over it. If you surf over a chuckhole, the robo-prongs plumb
its asphalty depths. Either  way,  the shock  is thereby absorbed, no thuds,
smacks,  vibrations,  or clunks  will make their way  into the plank  or the
Converse hightops with which you tread it. The ad was right -you cannot be a
professional road surfer without smartwheels.
     Prompt delivery of  the pizza will be a trivial matter. She glides from
the dewy turf over the lip of the driveway without a bump, picks up speed on
the 'crete, surfs  down its slope  into the  street. A  twitch  of the  butt
reorients the plank, now  she is cruising down  Homedale Mews looking  for a
victim. A black car, alive with nasty lights, whines past her the other way,
closing in on the hapless Hiro Protagonist. Her RadiKS Knight Vision goggles
darken strategically  to cut  the noxious glaring  of same,  her pupils feel
safe to remain  wide  open,  scanning  the road  for signs  of movement. The
swimming  pool was at  the crest of this Burbclave, it's downhill from here,
but not downhill enough.
     Half a block away, on a side street, a bimbo box, a minivan, grinds its
four  pathetic  cylinders into  action.  She sees it  catercorner  from  her
present coordinates. The white backup lights flash  instantly  as the driver
shifts into D by way of R and N. Y.T. aims herself at the curb, hits it at a
fast running  velocity, the  spokes  of the smartwheels  see it  coming  and
retract in the right way so that she  glides from  street to lawn  without a
hitch.  Across the lawn,  the  feet leave a  trail of  hexagonal padmarks. A
stray dog turd, red with meaty  undigestible food coloring, is embossed with
the RadiKS logo,  a mirror image of which  is printed  on the tread  of each
     The  bimbo  box  is  pulling away  from the  curb,  across the  street.
Squirrelly scrubbing noises squirm from its sidewalls as they grind  against
the curb; we are in the Burbs, where it is  better to take a thousand clicks
off the lifespan of your  Goodyears by invariably grinding  them up  against
curbs  than  to risk social ostracism and  outbreaks  of  mass  hysteria  by
parking several inches away, out in the middle of the  street  (That's okay,
Mom,  I  can walk  to  the  curb from  here),  a menace to traffic, a deadly
obstacle to uncertain young bicyclists. Y.T.  has pressed the release button
on her poon's  reel/handle unit, allowing  a  meter of cord  to  unwind. She
whips  it  up and around her head like a  bolo on the austral range.  She is
about  to  lambada this trite conveyance. The  head of the  poon, salad-bowl
size, whistles as it orbits around; this is unnecessary but sounds cool.
     Pooning  a bimbo box takes more  skill than a ped  would  ever imagine,
because  of their very road-unworthiness, their congenital lack  of steel or
other  ferrous  matter for  the MagnaPoon to  bite down on.  Now  they  have
superconducting  poons  that  stick  to aluminum bodywork  by  inducing eddy
currents in  the  actual  flesh  of the car, turning  it into  an  unwilling
electromagnet, but Y.T.  does not have one of these. They are the  trademark
of  the   hardcore   Burbclave   surfer,  which,   despite   this  evening's
entertainment, she  is not.  Her  poon  will only stick to  steel,  iron, or
(slightly) to nickel. The only steel  in a bimbo box of this make  is in the
     She makes  a  low-slung approach.  Her poon's  orbital plane is  nearly
vertical, it almost grinds on  the  twinkly suburban macadam  on the forward
limb of each orbit. When she pounds the release button, it takes off from an
altitude  of  about  one  centimeter, angling slightly  upward,  across  the
street, under the floor of the bimbo box, and sucks steel. It's a solid hit,
as solid as  you can get  on  this  nebula  of  air, upholstery, paint,  and
marketing known as the family minivan.
     The reaction  is  instantaneous, quick-witted  by  Burb standards. This
person wants Y.T. gone. The van takes off like a hormone-pumped bull who has
just been nailed  in the ass by the barbed probe of a picador. It's  not Mom
at the wheel. It's young Studley, the teenaged boy, who like every other boy
in  this  Burbclave  has been taking intravenous shots of horse testosterone
every afternoon  in  the high school locker room since he was fourteen years
old. Now he's bulky, stupid, thoroughly predictable.
     He steers erratically, artificially pumped muscles not fully  under his
control. The molded,  leather-grained, maroon-colored steering wheel  smells
like his mother's hand  lotion; this drives  him into a rage. The bimbo  box
surges and slows, surges and  slows,  because he is  pumping the gas  pedal,
because  holding  it to the floor doesn't seem to have any effect. He  wants
this car to be like his muscles: more power than he knows what  to  do with.
Instead, it  hampers him.  As  a compromise, he hits  the button  that  says
POWER. Another button that says ECONOMY  pops out  and goes dead,  reminding
him, like an educational demonstration, that the two are mutually exclusive.
The van's  tiny  engine downshifts,  which makes  it feel more powerful.  He
holds  his foot steady on the gas and, making the run  down  Cottage Heights
Road, the minivan's speed approaches one hundred kilometers.
     Approaching the  terminus of Cottage Heights Road,  where  it tees into
Bellewoode Valley  Road, he espies a fire hydrant. TMAWH  fire  hydrants are
numerous, for safety, and highly  designed,  for property  values,  not  the
squat iron things  imprinted  with  the name of  some godforsaken Industrial
Revolution foundry and furry from a hundred variously flaked layers of cheap
city paint. They are brass, robot-polished every Thursday morning, dignified
pipes rising  straight up from the perfect,  chemically induced turf  of the
Burbclave lawns, flaring out to present potential firefighters  with  a menu
of three possible hose connections.  They were designed on a computer screen
by the same aesthetes who designed the DynaVictorian houses and the tasteful
mailboxes and the immense marble street signs that sit at each  intersection
like headstones. Designed  on a computer screen, but  with an eye toward the
elegance of  things past and forgotten  about. Fire  hydrants  that tasteful
people are proud to have on their front  lawns. Fire hydrants  that the real
estate people don't feel the need to airbrush out of pictures.
     This fucking Kourier is about to die,  knotted around one of those fire
hydrants. Studley the Testosterone Boy will see to  it.  It is a maneuver he
has witnessed on television - which tells no lies - a trick he has practiced
many times  in  his head. Building up maximum speed on Cottage  Heights,  he
will  yank the  hand brake  while  swinging the wheel. The  ass end  of  the
minivan will snap around.  The pesky Kourier will be cracked like a  whip at
the end of her unbreakable cable. Into the fire hydrant she will go. Studley
the  Teenager will be victorious,  free to cruise in triumph down Bellewoode
Valley and out  into the greater world of adult men in cool cars, free to go
return his overdue videotape, Raft Warriors IV: The Final Battle.
     Y.T. does not know any of this for a fact, but she suspects it. None of
this is  real.  It  is her  reconstruction of the  psychological environment
inside of that bimbo  box. She sees  the hydrant  coming  a mile  away, sees
Studley reaching down to rest  one hand on  the  parking brake. It is all so
obvious. She feels  sorry for  Studley and his  ilk.  She  reels out,  gives
herself lots of slack. He whips the wheel, jerks the brake. The minivan goes
sideways, overshooting its mark,  and doesn't quite snap her around  the way
he  wanted; she has to help it. As its  ass is rotating around, she reels in
hard,  converting that gift  of angular momentum into forward velocity,  and
ends up shooting right past the van going well over a mile a minute.  She is
headed for a marble gravestone that  says BELLEWOODE  VALLEY ROAD. She leans
away  from it,  leans into a vicious turn, her spokes  grip the pavement and
push her away from that gravestone, she can touch the pavement with one hand
she is heeled  over  so hard, the  spokes push  her onto the desired street.
Meanwhile,  she  has  clicked  off the  electromagnetic force that held  her
pooned to the van. The poon head comes loose, caroms off the pavement behind
her as it  is  automatically reeled in to reunite with  the  handle.  She is
headed straight for the exit of the Burbclave at fantastic speed.
     Behind her, an explosive crash sounds, resonating  in her gut,  as  the
minivan slides sideways into the gravestone.
     She ducks under the security gate and plunges into traffic on Oahu. She
cuts between  two veering,  blaring, and screeching  BMWs. BMW drivers  take
evasive  action  at the drop  of a  hat, emulating  the  drivers in  the BMW
advertisements - this is how they convince themselves they didn't get ripped
off. She drops into a fetal position to pass  underneath a  semi, headed for
the Jersey  barrier in the median strip like she's  going to die, but Jersey
barriers are easy  for  the smartwheels. That lower  limb of the barrier has
such a  nice bank to it,  like  they designed it for road surfers. She rides
halfway up the barrier, angles  gently back down to the  lane  for a  smooth
landing, and  she's  in traffic. There's a  car right there and  she doesn't
even have to throw the poon, just reaches out and plants it right on the lid
of the trunk.
     This driver's  resigned to  his fate, doesn't care, doesn't hassle her.
He takes her as far as the entrance to the next Burbclave, which is  a White
Columns.  Very southern,  traditional, one of the  Apartheid Burbclaves. Big
ornate  sign above the main gate: WHITE PEOPLE ONLY. NON-CAUCASIANS MUST  BE
     She's  got a White  Columns visa. Y.T. has  a  visa to everywhere. It's
right there on her chest, a little bar code. A laser scans it as she careens
toward the entrance and the immigration gate  swings  open for her.  It's an
ornate ironwork number, but harried White Columns  residents don't have time
to sit idling at the  Burbclave entrance watching the gate slowly roll aside
in  Old  South  majestic  turpitude,  so  it's   mounted  on  some  kind  of
electromagnetic railgun.
     She is  gliding down  the antebellum tree-lined lanes of White Columns,
one microplantation  after another,  still coasting on the residual  kinetic
energy boost that originated in the fuel in Studley the Teenager's gas tank.
The  world  is  full of power  and energy and a person  can go  far by  just
skimming off a tiny bit of it.
     The LEDs on the pizza box say: 29:32, and the guy who  ordered it - Mr.
Pudgely and  his  neighbors, the Pinkhearts and the Roundass clan -  are all
gathered   on   the  front  lawn  of  their   microplantation,   prematurely
celebrating.  Like  they had  just bought the  winning lottery ticket.  From
their front door they have  a clear view all the way down to  Oahu Road, and
they can  see that  nothing is  on  its way  that  looks  like  a CosaNostra
delivery car. Oh, there is curiosity - sniffing interest -  at  this Kourier
with the big square thing under her arm - maybe a portfolio, a new ad layout
for some Caucasian supremacist marketing honcho in the next plat over, but -
     The Pudgelys and the Pinkhearts and  the Roundasses are all staring  at
her,  slackjawed.  She has just enough residual  energy  to swing into their
driveway.  Her momentum  carries  her  to the  top. She stops  next  to  Mr.
Pudgely's Acura and Mrs.  Pudgely's  bimbo box and steps  off her plank. The
spokes, noting her departure,  even themselves out, plant themselves on  the
top of the driveway, refuse to roll backward.
     A blinding  light from  the  heavens shines down upon them. Her  Knight
Visions keep  her from being blinded, but the customers bend their knees and
hunch  their shoulders  as though  the light were heavy. The  men hold their
hairy forearms up against their brows, swivel their great  tubular bodies to
and  fro, trying to find the  source of the illumination, muttering  clipped
notations to each  other, brief theories about its source, fully in  control
of the unknown phenomenon. The women coo and flutter. Because of the magical
influence of the  Knight Visions, Y.T. can still  see the  LEDs:  29:54, and
that's what it says when she drops the pizza on Mr. Pudgely's wing tips.
     The mystery light goes off.
     The  others are still blinded,  but Y.T. sees into the  night  with her
Knight Visions, sees all the way into near infrared, and she sees the source
of it, a double-bladed stealth helicopter thirty  feet above  the neighbor's
house. It  is tastefully black and unadorned, not a news crew though another
helicopter,   an   old-fashioned  audible  one,  brightly   festooned   with
up-to-the-minute  logos, is thumping  and  whacking  its  way  across  White
Columns airspace at  this very moment, goosing the plantations  with its own
spotlight,  hoping  to be the first to obtain  this major scoop: a pizza was
delivered late tonight,  film at eleven.  Later, our personality  journalist
speculates on where  Uncle Enzo will stay when he  makes his compulsory trip
to our Standard Metropolitan  Statistical  Area. But  the black  chopper  is
running dark, would be nearly invisible if not for the infrared trail coming
out of its twin turbojets.
     It  is a Mafia  chopper, and all they  wanted to  do was  to record the
event on videotape so that Mr. Pudgely would not have a leg to hop around on
in court,  should  he decide to take  his case down to Judge Bob's  Judicial
System and argue for a free pizza.
     One  more thing. There's  a  lot of  shit  in the  air tonight,  a  few
megatons of topsoil  blowing down  from Fresno,  and so when the  laser beam
comes on it is startlingly visible, a tiny geometric line, a million blazing
red  grains  strung  on  a fiber-optic thread, snapping  into life instantly
between the chopper and Y.T.'s chest. It appears to widen into a narrow fan,
an acute triangle of red light whose base encompasses all of Y.T.'s torso.
     It takes half a second. They are scanning the many bar codes mounted on
her chest.  They are finding out who she is. The  Mafia now knows everything
about Y.T. - where she lives,  what she does, her eye color,  credit record,
ancestry, and blood type.
     That done,  the chopper tilts and vanishes into the night like a hockey
puck  sliding  into  a bowl  of India ink. Mr. Pudgely  is saying something,
making a joke about how close  they  came,  the others eke out a laugh,  but
Y.T. cannot hear them  because they are buried under the thunderwhack of the
news  chopper,  then flash-frozen and  crystalized under its  spotlight. The
night  air is  full of bugs,  and now Y.T. can see all of them,  swirling in
mysterious formations,  hitching  rides  on people and on  currents  of air.
There is one on her wrist, but she doesn't slap at it.
     The spotlight lingers for a minute. The broad  square of the pizza box,
bearing the CosaNostra logo,  is mute testimony. They hover, shoot  a little
tape just in case.
     Y.T.  is  bored. She  gets on her plank.  The wheels blossom and become
circular. She guides a tight wobbly course around the cars, coasts down into
the street. The  spotlight follows her  for  a moment, maybe picking up some
stock  footage. Videotape  is cheap. You never  know when something will  be
useful, so you might as well videotape it.
     People  make  their  living  that way -  people in the  intel business.
People like Hiro Protagonist. They just know stuff,  or they  just go around
and videotape  stuff. They put it  in the Library.  When people want to know
the  particular things  that they know or watch  their video tapes, they pay
them money and check it out of the Library, or just buy it outright. This is
a weird  racket, but Y.T. likes the idea  of it. Usually, the  CIC won't pay
any attention to  a Kourier. But apparently Hiro has a deal with them. Maybe
she can  make a deal  with  Hiro. Because Y.T. knows  a  lot  of interesting
little things.
     One little thing she knows is that the Mafia owes her a favor,

     As  Hiro approaches  the Street, he  sees  two young  couples, probably
using their parents' computers  for a double date in the Metaverse, climbing
down out of Port Zero, which is the local port of entry and monorail stop.
     He is not seeing real people,  of  course.  This is  all a  part of the
moving illustration drawn by his computer according to specifications coming
down  the  fiber-optic  cable.  The  people are  pieces  of  software called
avatars. They are the audiovisual bodies that people use to communicate with
each other in the Metaverse. Hiro's avatar is now on the Street, too, and if
the couples coming off the monorail look over in his direction, they can see
him, just as he's seeing them. They could strike up a conversation:  Hiro in
the U-Stor-It in L.A. and the four teenagers probably on a couch in a suburb
of Chicago, each with their own laptop. But they probably won't talk to each
other, any  more than they would in Reality. These are nice  kids,  and they
don't want to talk to a solitary crossbreed with a slick custom avatar who's
packing a couple of swords.
     Your avatar can look any way you  want it  to, up to the limitations of
your equipment.  If you're  ugly,  you can make your  avatar  beautiful.  If
you've just gotten out of bed, your avatar can still  be  wearing  beautiful
clothes and professionally applied makeup. You can look  like a gorilla or a
dragon or a giant talking penis in the Metaverse. Spend five minutes walking
down the Street and you will see all of these.
     Hiro's avatar just looks like Hiro, with  the difference that no matter
what  Hiro is wearing in Reality, his avatar  always  wears  a black leather
kimono. Most hacker types don't go in for garish avatars, because they  know
that it takes a lot  more sophistication  to render  a  realistic human face
than a talking  penis.  Kind of  the way people who really know clothing can
appreciate the fine  details that  separate a cheap  gray wool suit  from an
expensive handtailored gray wool suit.
     You can't just materialize anywhere in the Metaverse, like Captain Kirk
beaming down from  on high.  This  would be confusing and  irritating to the
people around you. It would break the metaphor. Materializing out of nowhere
(or vanishing back into Reality) is considered to be a private function best
done  in  the  confines  of  your  own  House.  Most  avatars  nowadays  are
anatomically correct, and naked as a babe when they are first created, so in
any  case,  you have  to  make yourself  decent  before you emerge  onto the
Street. Unless you're something intrinsically indecent and you don't care.
     If you are some peon who does not  own a House, for  example, a  person
who  is coming in  from a public terminal, then you materialize in  a  Port.
There  are  256  Express  Ports on  the street,  evenly  spaced  around  its
circumference at  intervals of 256 kilometers. Each  of  these intervals  is
further subdivided 256 times  with Local Ports, spaced exactly one kilometer
apart  (astute  students  of  hacker  serniotics  will  note  the  obsessive
repetition  of  the number 256,  which is 2^8 power-and  even  that 8  looks
pretty juicy, dripping with 2^2 additional  2s).  The Ports serve a function
analogous  to airports:  This  is  where you  drop into the  Metaverse  from
somewhere else. Once you have materialized  in a Port, you can walk down the
Street or hop on the monorail or whatever.
     The couples coming off the monorail can't afford to have custom avatars
made and don't know how to  write their own. They  have to buy off-the-shelf
avatars. One  of  the girls has a pretty nice  one. It  would be  considered
quite the fashion  statement among the K-Tel set. Looks  like she has bought
the Avatar Construction  Set (tm) and put together her own, customized model
out of miscellaneous parts. It might even look something like its owner. Her
date doesn't look half bad himself.
     The other girl is a Brandy. Her date is  a Clint. Brandy and Clint  are
both popular, off-the-shelf models. When white-trash high school  girls  are
going  on a date in the  Metaverse, they invariably run down to the computer
games section of the local Wal-Mart and buy a copy of Brandy.  The user  can
select three breast sizes: improbable, impossible, and ludicrous. Brandy has
a limited repertoire of facial expressions: cute and pouty; cute and sultry;
perky and interested; smiling and receptive; cute  and spacy. Her  eyelashes
are half  an inch long, and the  software is so cheap that they are rendered
as solid ebony chips. When  a Brandy flutters her eyelashes, you  can almost
feel the breeze.
     Clint is just the male counterpart of Brandy. He is craggy and handsome
and has an extremely limited range of facial expressions.
     Hiro  wonders, idly,  how  these two couples  got  together.  They  are
clearly  from disparate social classes. Perhaps older  and younger siblings.
But then  they  come down the  escalator and disappear  into  the crowd  and
become  part  of the Street,  where  there are enough  Clints and Brandys to
found a new ethnic group.
     The Street is fairly busy. Most  of the  people here are Americans  and
Asians  -  it's  early  morning  in   Europe   right  now.  Because  of  the
preponderance of Americans, the crowd has a  garish and  surreal look  about
it. For the Asians, it's  the middle of the day, and  they are in their dark
blue  suits. For the  Americans, it's  party time, and they are looking like
just about anything a computer can render.
     The moment Hiro steps across the line separating  his neighborhood from
the Street,  colored shapes  begin to swoop down on him from all directions,
like buzzards on  fresh  road kill. Animercials are  not  allowed in  Hiro's
neighborhood. But almost anything is allowed in the Street.
     A  passing  fighter  plane  bursts   into  flames,  falls  out  of  its
trajectory, and zooms directly toward  him at twice the  speed  of sound. It
plows into  the  Street  fifty feet  in front  of  him,  disintegrates,  and
explodes,  blooming  into  a tangled cloud of wreckage and flame  that skids
across the  pavement  toward him, growing to envelop  him so that all he can
see is turbulent flame, perfectly simulated and rendered.
     Then  the display freezes, and a man materializes  in front of Hiro. He
is  a classic  bearded, pale, skinny  hacker, trying  to beef himself  up by
wearing  a  bulky silk windbreaker blazoned with the logo of one of  the big
Metaverse  amusement parks. Hiro  knows the guy; they used to run into  each
other at  trade  conventions all the time. He's been trying to hire Hiro for
the last two months.
     "Hiro, I  can't  understand why you're holding out on me.  We're making
bucks here - Kongbucks and yen - and we can  be flexible on pay and bennies.
We're putting together  a swords-and-sorcery  thing, and we can use a hacker
with your skills. Come on down and talk to me, okay?"
     Hiro walks  straight through  the display, and  it vanishes.  Amusement
parks  in the  Metaverse  can  be  fantastic, offering  a wide  selection of
interactive three-dimensional movies.  But in the end, they're still nothing
more than video games. Hiro's not so  poor, yet, that  he would go and write
video games for this company. It's  owned by the Nipponese, which  is no big
deal. But  it's also  managed by the  Nipponese, which  means  that  all the
programmers have to wear white shirts  and show up at eight in  the  morning
and sit in cubicles and go to meetings.
     When Hiro learned how to do this, way back fifteen years ago, a  hacker
could sit down and write an entire piece of software by himself. Now, that's
no  longer possible. Software comes out of factories,  and hackers are, to a
greater or lesser extent, assembly-line  workers. Worse yet, they may become
managers who never get to write any code themselves.
     The  prospect  of  becoming  an assembly-line  worker  gives Hiro  some
incentive to go out and find some really good intel tonight. He tries to get
himself psyched up,  tries to  break out of  the  lethargy  of the long-term
underemployed. This intel thing can be a great racket, once you get yourself
jacked into the grid. And with his connections, it shouldn't be any problem.
He  just has  to get serious about it. Get serious. Get serious. But it's so
hard to get serious about anything.
     He owes  the Mafia the cost of a new car.  That's a good reason  to get
     He cuts straight across  the Street and under the monorail line, headed
for a large, low-slung black building. It is extraordinarily somber for  the
Street, like a parcel that someone forgot  to develop.  It's  a  squat black
pyramid  with  the top cut off.  It has one single door - since this  is all
imaginary, there are no regulations dictating the number of emergency exits.
There are  no guards,  no signs,  nothing  to bar people from  going in, yet
thousands of  avatars mill around, peering inside,  looking for a glimpse of
something. These  people  can't  pass through  the door because they haven't
been invited.
     Above the door is a matte  black hemisphere about a  meter in diameter,
set into the front wall of the building. It is  the closest  thing the place
has  to decoration. Underneath  it, in letters carved into the  wall's black
substance, is the name of the place: THE BLACK SUN.
     So it's not an architectural masterpiece. When Da5id and  Hiro and  the
other  hackers wrote The Black  Sun, they  didn't have enough money  to hire
architects or designers,  so they just went in for  simple geometric shapes.
The avatars milling around the entrance don't seem to care.
     If these avatars were real people in a  real  street, Hiro wouldn't  be
able to  reach  the entrance.  It's way too crowded. But the computer system
that  operates the  Street has  better things  to do than to  monitor  every
single one  of  the millions  of  people there,  trying to prevent them from
running into each  other. It doesn't bother trying  to solve this incredibly
difficult  problem. On  the  Street, avatars  just  walk right  through each
     So when Hiro cuts through the crowd, headed for the entrance, he really
is cutting through  the  crowd.  When things get  this  jammed together, the
computer  simplifies  things  by  drawing  all of  the avatars  ghostly  and
translucent  so  you  can  see  where  you're going.  Hiro  appears solid to
himself, but everyone else looks like a ghost. He walks through the crowd as
if it's a fogbank, clearly seeing The Black Sun in front of him.
     He steps over the property  line, and he's in the doorway. And  in that
instant he becomes solid and visible to all the avatars milling outside.  As
one,  they all begin screaming. Not that they have any idea  who the hell he
is - Hiro is just a  starving CIC stringer who  lives  in a U-Stor-It by the
airport. But in the entire world  there are only a couple of thousand people
who can step over the line into The Black Sun.
     He  turns and looks back  at ten thousand  shrieking groupies. Now that
he's all  by himself  in  the entryway, no  longer  immersed in  a flood  of
avatars, he can see  all of the people in the  front row of  the  crowd with
perfect clarity. They are all done up in their wildest and fanciest avatars,
hoping  that Da5id - The Black Sun's owner and hacker-in-chief - will invite
them  inside.  They flicker  and  merge  together  into a  hysterical  wall.
Stunningly beautiful women, computer-airbrushed and retouched at seventy-two
frames  a second,  like Playboy pinups turned three-dimensional -  these are
would-be   actresses  hoping  to  be  discovered.  Wild-looking   abstracts,
tornadoes of gyrating light -  hackers who are hoping that Da5id will notice
their talent, invite them inside, give them a  job. A  liberal sprinkling of
black-and-white people-persons who are accessing the Metaverse through cheap
public  terminals, and who are rendered in jerky, grainy black  and white. A
lot  of these are run-of-the-mill  psycho fans,  devoted  to the  fantasy of
stabbing some particular actress  to  death; they can't  even  get  close in
Reality, so they goggle into  the Metaverse  to stalk their prey.  There are
would-be rock stars done up in laser light, as though they  just stepped off
the  concert stage, and  the avatars  of Nipponese businessmen,  exquisitely
rendered by their  fancy equipment, but utterly reserved and boring in their
     There's one black-and-white who stands out because he's taller than the
rest. The Street protocol states that  your avatar can't be any  taller than
you are. This is to prevent people from walking around a mile high. Besides,
if  this  guy's  using a pay terminal  -which he must be, to judge from  the
image quality - it can't jazz up  his  avatar. It just  shows him the way he
is, except not as well. Talking to a black-and-white  on  the Street is like
talking to a person who has his  face stuck in a  xerox machine,  repeatedly
pounding the copy button,  while you stand  by  the output  tray pulling the
sheets out one at a time and looking at them.
     He  has long hair,  parted in the  middle like a  curtain  to  reveal a
tattoo on  his forehead. Given the shitty resolution, there's no way to  see
the tattoo clearly, but it  appears to consist  of words. He has  a wispy Fu
Manchu mustache.
     Hiro realizes that the guy has noticed him and is staring back, looking
him up and down, paying particular attention to the swords.
     A grin spreads across the black-and-white guy's face. It is a satisfied
grin.  A grin of  recognition. The  grin of a  man who  knows something Hiro
doesn't.  The black-and-white guy  has been standing  with his  arms  folded
across his chest, like a man who is bored, who's been waiting for something,
and now his  arms drop to his sides, swing loosely at the shoulders, like an
athlete limbering up. He steps as close as he can and leans forward; he's so
tall that  the  only thing  behind him  is empty  black  sky,  torn with the
glowing vapor trails of passing animercials.
     "Hey, Hiro," the black-and-white guy says, "you want  to  try some Snow
     A  lot of people hang around in  front of  The  Black Sun  saying weird
things. You ignore them. But this gets Hiro's attention.
     Oddity the first: The guy knows Hiro's name.  But people have  ways  of
getting that information. It's probably nothing.
     The second: This sounds like  an  offer from a drug pusher. Which would
be  normal in front  of  a Reality bar. But this  is the Metaverse. And  you
can't sell  drugs in the Metaverse, because you can't get high by looking at
     The third: The name of  the drug. Hiro's never heard  of a  drug called
Snow Crash before.  That's  not unusual - a thousand new  drugs get invented
each year, and each of them sells under half a dozen brand names.
     But "snow crash" is computer lingo. It means a system crash -  a  bug -
at such  a  fundamental  level that  it frags  the part of the computer that
controls the electron beam in the monitor, making it spray wildly across the
screen, turning the perfect  gridwork of pixels  into  a gyrating  blizzard.
Hiro has seen it happen a million times. But it's a very peculiar name for a
     The thing that really gets Hiro's attention is his confidence.  He  has
an utterly calm,  stolid presence.  It's like talking  to an asteroid. Which
would be okay if he were doing something that made the tiniest little bit of
sense. Hiro's trying to read some clues in the guy's face, but the closer he
looks,  the more his shitty black-and-white avatar  seems to  break  up into
jittering,  hard-edged  pixels. It's like putting his nose against the glass
of a busted TV. It makes his teeth hurt.
     "Excuse me," Hiro says. "What did you say?"
     "You want to try some Snow Crash?"
     He has a crisp accent that Hiro can't  quite place. His audio is as bad
as his video. Hiro  can hear cars  going past the guy in  the background. He
must be goggled in from a public terminal alongside some freeway.
     "I don't get this," Hiro says. "What is Snow Crash?"
     "It's a drug, asshole," the guy says. "What do you think?"
     "Wait  a  minute. This is a new  one on me,"  Hiro  says. "You honestly
think I'm going to give you some money here? And then what do I do, wait for
you to mail me the stuff?"
     "I  said try,  not buy," the guy says. "You don't  have to give  me any
money. Free sample. And you don't  have to wait for no mail. You can have it
     He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a hypercard.
     It looks like a business card. The hypercard is an avatar of  sorts. It
is used  in the Metaverse to  represent a chunk  of data. It might  be text,
audio,  video,  a  still  image,  or  any  other  information  that  can  be
represented digitally.
     Think of a baseball card, which carries a picture, some text, and  some
numerical data. A baseball hypercard  could contain a highlight  film of the
player   in  action,  shown  in  perfect  high-def  television;  a  complete
biography,  read  by  the  player  himself, in  stereo digital sound; and  a
complete statistical  database along  with  specialized software to help you
look up the numbers you want.
     A hypercard can carry a  virtually infinite amount of information.  For
all Hiro knows, this hypercard might contain all the books in the Library of
Congress, or every episode of  Hawaii Five-O that  was ever  filmed, or  the
complete recordings of Jimi Hendrix, or the 1950 Census.
     Or -  more likely - a wide variety  of  nasty computer viruses. If Hiro
reaches out  and  takes the hypercard, then the  data  it represents will be
transferred from  this guy's system into  Hiro's computer. Hiro,  naturally,
wouldn't touch  it  under any  circumstances, any more than you would take a
free syringe from a stranger in Times Square and jab it into your neck.
     And  it doesn't  make sense anyway.  "That's a hypercard. I thought you
said Snow Crash was a drug," Hiro says, now totally nonplussed.
     "It is," the guy says. "Try it."
     "Does it fuck up your brain?" Hiro says. "Or your computer?"
     "Both. Neither. What's the difference?"
     Hiro finally realizes that he has just wasted sixty seconds of his life
having a  meaningless conversation  with a  paranoid schizophrenic. He turns
around and goes into The Black Sun.

     At  the exit  of White Columns  sits a  black  car,  curled up  like  a
panther, a burnished steel lens reflecting the loglo of  Oahu Road.  It is a
Unit. It is a Mobile Unit of MetaCops Unlimited. A silvery badge is embossed
on  its door, a chrome-plated cop badge the size  of a dinner plate, bearing
the name of said private peace organization and emblazoned

     All Major Credit Cards
     MetaCops Unlimited is the official peacekeeping force of White Columns,
and also of The Mews  at Windsor Heights, The  Heights at Bear Run, Cinnamon
Grove,  and The Farms of Cloverdelle. They  also enforce traffic regulations
on  all  highways and  byways  operated by  Fairlanes, Inc. A few  different
FOQNEs also  use them: Caymans Plus and The Alps, for example. But franchise
nations prefer to have their own security force. You can bet  that Metazania
and  New South  Africa handle their own  security;  that's  the only  reason
people become citizens, so they can get drafted. Obviously, Nova Sicilia has
its own security, too. Narcolombia doesn't need security because people  are
scared just to drive past the franchise at less than a hundred miles an hour
(Y.T.  always  snags  a  nifty  power  boost  in  neighborhoods  thick  with
Narcolombia consulates),  and Mr. Lee's Greater  Hong Kong, the grandaddy of
all FOQNEs, handles it in a typically Hong Kong way, with robots.
     MetaCops'  main  competitor,  WorldBeat  Security,  handles  all  roads
belonging  to   Cruiseways,   plus   has  worldwide   contracts  with  Dixie
Traditionals,  Pickett's  Plantation, Rainbow Heights (check  it  out  - two
apartheid Burbclaves and  one for black  suits), Meadowvale on  the  [insert
name of  river]  and Brickyard Station. WorldBeat is  smaller than MetaCops,
handles  more  upscale contracts, supposedly  has  a bigger espionage arm  -
though if that's what people want, they just  talk  to an account rep at the
Central Intelligence Corporation.
     And then there's  The Enforcers  - but they  cost a lot and  don't take
well  to supervision.  It  is  rumored that, under their uniforms, they wear
T-shirts  bearing the  unofficial  Enforcer coat of  arms: a fist  holding a
nightstick, emblazoned with the words SUE ME.
     So Y.T. is coasting down a gradual slope toward  the heavy iron gate of
White Columns, waiting for it to roll aside, waiting, waiting - but the gate
does not seem  to be opening. No laser pulse has shot out of the guard shack
to find out who Y.T.  is. The system  has  been  overridden.  If  Y.T. was a
stupid ped she would go up to the MetaCop and ask him why. The MetaCop would
say, "The security of the  city-state," and nothing  more. These Burbclaves!
These city-states! So small, so  insecure,  that just about everything, like
not mowing your lawn, or  playing your stereo too  loud, becomes  a national
security issue.
     No  way to  skate around the fence;  White Columns has eight-foot iron,
robo-wrought, all the way around.  She rolls up to the gate, grabs the bars,
rattles it, but it's too big and solid to rattle.
     MetaCops aren't allowed  to lean against their  Unit -  makes them look
lazy  and  weak. They  can  almost lean, look like they're leaning, they can
even brandish  a  big  leaning-against-the-car  'tude  like  this particular
individual,  but  they can't  lean.  Besides, with  the  complete,  glinting
majesty of their Personal Portable Equipment Suite hanging on their Personal
Modular Equipment Harness, they would scratch the finish of the Unit.
     "Jack this barrier to  commerce, man, I  got deliveries to  make," Y.T.
announces to the MetaCop.
     A wet, smacking burst, not loud enough to be an explosion,  sounds from
the  back  of the Mobile  Unit.  It is the soft thup  of a  thick wrestler's
loogie  being propelled  through a  rolled-up  tongue.  It is  the  distant,
muffled splurt of  a baby having a big one. Y.T.'s  hand, still gripping the
bars of  the gate, stings for a moment, then feels cold and hot at  the same
time. She can barely move it. She smells vinyl.
     The MetaCop's  partner climbs out of the back  seat of the Mobile Unit.
The window of the back door is open, but everything on the Mobile Unit is so
black and shiny  you can't  tell that until  the door moves.  Both MetaCops,
under their glossy black helmets and night-vision goggles, are grinning. The
one  getting  out  of  the  Mobile  Unit is carrying a  Short-Range Chemical
Restraint  Projector  -  a loogie  gun. Their  little plan has worked.  Y.T.
didn't  think  to aim her Knight Visions into the back seat  to check  for a
goo-firing sniper.
     The loogie, when expanded into the air like this, is about the  size of
a football. Miles and miles of eensy but strong fibers, like spaghetti.  The
sauce on the  spaghetti is sticky,  goopy stuff  that  stays  fluid  for  an
instant, when the loogie gun is fired, then sets quickly.
     MetaCops have to tote this kind of gear  because when each  franchulate
is so small, you can't be chasing people around. The perp - almost always an
innocent thrasher  -  is  always a  three-second skateboard ride  away  from
asylum  in the  neighboring  franchulate.  Also, the incredible bulk of  the
Personal Modular Equipment  Harness  - the chandelier o' gear - and all that
is clipped onto it slows  them down so  bad  that whenever they  try to run,
people  just start laughing at them. So instead of  losing some pounds, they
just clip more stuff onto their harnesses, like the loogie gun.
     The  snotty, fibrous drop  of stuff has wrapped all the way  around her
hand and forearm and lashed  them onto the bar of  the gate.  Excess goo has
sagged and run down the bar a short  ways, but is setting  now, turning into
rubber. A few loose strands have also whipped forward  and gained  footholds
on  her shoulder,  chest,  and lower face. She backs  away and  the adhesive
separates  from  the  fibers,  stretching  out  into long,  infinitely  thin
strands, like hot  mozzarella. These set instantly, become  solid,  and then
break, curling away like smoke. It is not  quite so grotendous, now that the
loogie is off her face, but her hand is still perfectly immobilized.
     "You are hereby warned that  any movement  on your part not  explicitly
endorsed by verbal authorization on my part may pose a direct physical  risk
to  you, as  well as  consequential psychological and possibly, depending on
your  personal  belief  system,  spiritual risks  ensuing from your personal
reaction  to said  physical  risk. Any movement  on your part constitutes an
implicit and irrevocable acceptance of  such  risk," the first MetaCop says.
There  is a little speaker on  his belt,  simultaneously  translating all of
this into Spanish and Japanese.
     "Or as we used to say," the other MetaCop says, "freeze, sucker!"
     The untranslatable  word resonates from  the little speaker, pronounced
"esucker" and "saka" respectively.
     "We are authorized Deputies of MetaCops Unlimited. Under Section 24.5.2
of the  White Columns Code, we  are authorized to carry out the actions of a
police force on this territory."
     "Such as hassling innocent thrashers," Y.T. says.
     The  MetaCop  turns  off  the  translator.  "By  speaking  English  you
implicitly and irrevocably agree  for  all  our  future conversation to take
place in the English language," he says.
     "You can't even rez what Y.T. says," Y.T. says.
     "You have  been identified as an  Investigatory Focus  of a  Registered
Criminal  Event that  is alleged to have taken  place on another  territory,
namely, The Mews at Windsor Heights."
     "That's another country, man. This is White Columns!"
     "Under  provisions  of  The  Mews  at  Windsor  Heights  Code,  we  are
authorized to enforce law, national  security concerns, and societal harmony
on said  territory  also. A treaty between  The Mews at Windsor  Heights and
White  Columns authorizes us to place you in temporary  custody  until  your
status as an Investigatory Focus has been resolved."
     "Your ass is busted," the second MetaCop says.
     "As  your  demeanor  has  been  nonaggressive and you carry  no visible
weapons, we are not authorized  to employ heroic  measures  to  ensure  your
cooperation," the first MetaCop says.
     "You stay cool and we'll stay cool," the second MetaCop says.
     "However, we are equipped  with  devices,  including but not limited to
projectile weapons, which, if used, may pose an extreme and immediate threat
to your health and well-being."
     "Make one funny move and we'll blow  your head off," the second MetaCop
     "Just unglom  my  fuckin'  hand," Y.T. says.  She has heard all this  a
million times before.
     White Columns, like most Burbclaves, has no jail, no police station. So
unsightly. Property values. Think of the liability exposure.  MetaCops has a
franchise just down the road  that serves as  headquarters.  As  for a jail,
some place to habeas the occasional  stray  corpus, any halfdecent franchise
strip has one.
     They are  cruising in the Mobile Unit. Y.T.'s hands are cuffed together
in front of her.  One hand is still half-encased in rubbery goo, smelling so
intensely of vinyl fumes that  both MetaCops have rolled down their windows.
Six  feet of loose fibers trail into her lap, across the floor  of the Unit,
out the  door, and drag on the  pavement. The  MetaCops are taking  it easy,
cruising down the middle lane, not above  issuing a speeding ticket here and
there as long as they're in their jurisdiction.  Motorists around them drive
slowly and sanely, appalled by the thought of having to pull over and listen
to half an hour of disclaimers, advisements, and tangled justifications from
the  likes of these. The occasional CosaNostra delivery boy whips past  them
in the left lane, orange lights aflame, and they pretend not to notice.
     "What's  it  gonna  be,  the Hoosegow or The  Clink?" the first MetaCop
says. From the way he is talking, he must be talking to the other MetaCop.
     "The Hoosegow, please," Y.T. says.
     "The  Clink!" the other MetaCop  says, turning  around, sneering at her
through the antiballistic glass, wallowing in power.
     The whole interior of the car  lights  up as they  drive past a Buy 'n'
Fly. Loiter in the parking lot of a Buy 'n' Fly and you'd get a suntan. Then
WorldBeat Security would  come and  arrest you.  All that  security-inducing
light makes the Visa  and MasterCard stickers  on  the  driver's-side window
glow for a moment.
     "Y.T. is card-carrying," Y.T. says. "What does it cost to get off?"
     "How  come you keep calling yourself Whitey?" the second  MetaCop says.
Like many people of color, he has misconstrued her name.
     "Not whitey. Y.T.," the first MetaCop says.
     "That's what Y.T. is called," Y.T. says.
     "That's what I said," the second MetaCop says. "Whitey."
     "Y.T.," the first one says, accenting the  T so brutally that he throws
a glittering burst of saliva against the windshield. "Let me guess - Yolanda
     "Yvonne Thomas?"
     "Whatsit stand for?"
     Actually, it stands for Yours Truly, but if they can't figure that out,
fuck 'em.
     "You can't afford it," the first MetaCop says. "You're going up against
TMAWH here."
     "I don't have to officially get off. I could just escape."
     "This is a class  Unit. We don't  support escapes," the  first  MetaCop
     "Tell you what," the second one says. "You pay  us a trillion bucks and
we'll take you to a Hoosegow. Then you can bargain with them."
     "Half a trillion," Y.T. says.
     "Seven  hundred and  fifty  billion," the MetaCop  says. "Final.  Shit,
you're wearing cuffs, you can't be bargaining with us."
     Y.T. unzips a pocket on the  thigh of her coverall,  pulls out the card
with  her clean hand, runs it through  a slot on the back of the front seat,
puts it back in her pocket.
     The Hoosegow looks like  a nice new one. Y.T. has seen hotels that were
worse places to sleep. Its logo sign, a saguaro  cactus with  a black cowboy
hat resting on top of it at a jaunty angle, is brand-new and clean.

     Premium incarceration and restraint services
     We welcome busloads!
     There  are a couple of  other MetaCop cars in the lot, and an  Enforcer
paddybus parked  across the back, taking  up  ten  consecutive spaces.  This
draws much attention  from the MetaCops. The Enforcers are  to the  MetaCops
what the Delta Force is to the Peace Corps.
     "One  to  check in," says the  second MetaCop. They are standing in the
reception area. The walls are lined with illuminated signs, each one bearing
the image  of some Old West  desperado. Annie Oakley stares  down blankly at
Y.T.,  providing a role  model.  The check-in counter  is faux  rustic;  the
employees  all  wear  cowboy  hats and  five-pointed stars  with their names
embossed on them. In back is a door  made of hokey, old-fashioned iron bars.
Once you  got  through there, it would look like an operating room. A  whole
line of  little cells, curvy and white like  prefab shower stalls - in fact,
they double as shower stalls,  you bathe  in the middle of  the room. Bright
lights that turn themselves off at eleven o'clock. Coin-operated TV. Private
phone line. Y.T. can hardly wait.
     The cowboy behind the  desk aims a  scanner at Y.T., zaps her bar code.
Hundreds of pages about Y.T.'s personal life zoom up on a graphics screen.
     "Huh," he says. "Female."
     The  two  MetaCops look  at each other like,  what a genius - this  guy
could never be a MetaCop.
     "Sorry, boys, we're full up. No space for females tonight."
     "Aw, c'mon."
     "See that  bus  in back? There was a riot at Snooze  'n'  Cruise.  Some
Narcolombians  were  selling  a bad  batch  of  Vertigo.  Place  went  nuts.
Enforcers  sent in a  half  dozen squads, brought in  about thirty. So we're
full up. Try The Clink, down the street."
     Y.T. does not like the looks of this.
     They put her  back in the car,  turn on the noise  cancellation  in the
back seat, so she can't hear anything except squirts and gurgles coming from
her own empty  tummy,  and  the  glistening crackle whenever she  moves  her
glommed-up  hand.  She  was  really  looking  forward to a  Hoosegow  meal -
Campfire Chili or Bandit Burgers.
     In the front  seat,  the  two  MetaCops are talking to each other. They
pull  out into traffic. Up in front of  them is a square illuminated logo, a
giant Universal  Product Code in black-on-white with  BUY 'N' FLY underneath
     Stuck  onto  the same  signpost, beneath  the Buy  'n'  Fly  sign, is a
smaller one, a narrow strip in generic lettering: THE CLINK.
     They are taking her to The Clink. The bastards. She pounds on the glass
with  cuffed-together  hands, leaving  sticky handprints. Let these bastards
try to wash the stuff off.  They turn around and look right through her, the
guilty scum, like they heard something but they can't imagine what.
     They enter the Buy 'n' Fly's nimbus of radioactive blue security light.
Second  MetaCop goes in, talks to the  guy behind the counter. There's a fat
white  boy purchasing a monster trucks magazine, wearing a New South  Africa
baseball cap with a Confederate flag, and overhearing  them he peers out the
window, wanting to lay his eyes on a real perp. A second man comes  out from
back,  same ethnicity as the  guy behind the counter, another dark  man with
burning eyes and a bony neck. This one  is carrying a three-ring binder with
the Buy 'n'  Fly logo. To find  the manager of a  franchise, don't strain to
read his title off the name tag, just look for the one with the binder.
     The manager talks to  the MetaCop, nods his head, pulls a  keychain out
of a drawer.
     Second MetaCop comes out,  saunters to the car, suddenly whips open the
back door.
     "Shut  up," he  says,  "or next  time I  fire the  loogie gun into your
     "Good thing  you like The Clink," Y.T.  says, "cause that is where  you
will be tomorrow night, loogie-man."
     "'Zat right?"
     "Yeah. For credit card fraud."
     "Me  cop,  you  thrasher.  How you gonna  make  a  case at judge  Bob's
judicial System?"
     "I work for RadiKS. We protect our own."
     "Not tonight you  don't.  Tonight you took  a pizza from the scene of a
car wreck. Left  the scene  of an accident. RadiKS  tell you to deliver that
     Y.T. does not  return fire. The MetaCop  is right; RadiKS did  not tell
her to deliver that pizza. She was doing it on a whim.
     "So RadiKS ain't gonna help you. So shut up."
     He jerks her arm, and the  rest of her follows. The three-ringer  gives
her a quick  look, just long enough to make sure she is really a person, not
a sack of flour or an engine block or a  tree stump. He leads them around to
the fetid rump of the Buy 'n' Fly, dark realm of wretched refuse in  teeming
dumpsters. He unlocks the back door, a boring steel number with jimmy  marks
around the edges like steel-clawed beasts have been trying to get in.
     Y.T. is taken  downstairs  into  the basement. First  MetaCop  follows,
carrying her  plank, banging  it  heedlessly  against  doorways  and stained
polycarbonate bottle racks.
     "Better take her uniform - all that gear," the second MetaCop suggests,
not unlewdly.
     The  manager looks at Y.T.,  trying not to let his gaze travel sinfully
up and  down her  body. For thousands of years  his  people have survived on
alertness: waiting for Mongols  to come galloping  over the horizon, waiting
for repeat offenders  to swing sawed-off  shotguns  across  their  check-out
counters.  His alertness  right now is palpable  and painful;  he's  like  a
goblet of hot nitroglycerin.  The added  question of sexual misconduct makes
it even worse. To him it's no joke.
     Y.T. shrugs,  trying to think of something unnerving and wacky. At this
point, she is supposed to squeal  and shrink,  wriggle  and whine, swoon and
beg. They  are threatening  to take her clothes. How awful. But she does not
get upset because she knows that they are expecting her to.
     A  Kourier  has  to   establish  space  on  the  pavement.  Predictable
law-abiding behavior lulls drivers. They mentally assign you to a little box
in the lane, assume you will stay there, can't handle it when you leave that
little box.
     Y.T. is not fond of boxes. Y.T. establishes her  space on  the pavement
by  zagging mightily from lane  to  lane, establishing  a precedent of scary
randomness. Keeps people  on their toes, makes them react to her, instead of
the other way round. Now these men are  trying to put her in a box, make her
follow rules.
     She unzips her coverall all the way down below her navel. Underneath is
naught but billowing pale flesh.
     The MetaCops raise their eyebrows.
     The manager jumps back, raises both  hands up to form a visual  shield,
protecting himself from the damaging input. "No, no, no!" he says.
     Y.T. shrugs, zips herself back up.
     She's not afraid; she's wearing a dentata.
     The  manager handcuffs her to a cold-water pipe. Second MetaCop removes
his newer, more cybernetic  brand of handcuffs, snaps  them  back  onto  his
harness. First  MetaCop  leans her plank  against the wall, just out of  her
reach.  Manager kicks  a  rusty  coffee can  across the floor,  caroming  it
expertly off her skin, so she can go to the bathroom.
     "Where you from?" Y.T. asks.
     "Tadzhikistan," he says.
     A jeek. She should have known.
     "Well, shitcan soccer must be your national pastime."
     The manager doesn't get it. The MetaCops emit rote, shallow laughter.
     Papers  are  signed. Everyone else goes  upstairs. On his  way  out the
door, the manager turns  off  the lights; in  Tadzhikistan,  electricity  is
quite the big deal.
     Y.T. is in The Clink.

     The Black Sun  is as big as  a couple of football  fields laid  side by
side. The decor consists of black,  square tabletops hovering in the air (it
would be pointless to  draw in legs),  evenly  spaced across the  floor in a
grid. Like pixels. The only exception is in the middle, where the bar's four
quadrants come together (4  = 2^2).  This part is occupied by a circular bar
sixteen  meters across.  Everything is matte black, which  makes  it  a  lot
easier for the computer system to draw things in  on top  of it - no worries
about filling in a complicated background. And that way all attention can be
focused on the avatars, which is the way people like it.
     It doesn't  pay  to have  a nice  avatar on  the Street,  where it's so
crowded and all the avatars merge and flow into  one another.  But The Black
Sun is a much classier piece of software. In The Black  Sun, avatars are not
allowed to collide. Only so many people can be  here at once, and they can't
walk  through  each other. Everything is solid and opaque and realistic. And
the clientele has a lot more class - no talking penises in here. The avatars
look like real people. For the most part, so do the daemons.
     "Daemon"  is  an  old  piece of jargon from the UNIX  operating system,
where it referred to a  piece of low-level utility software,  a  fundamental
part of the operating system. In The Black  Sun, a daemon is like an avatar,
but it does not represent  a human being.  It's a robot that  lives  in  the
Metaverse. A  piece of software, a kind of spirit that inhabits the machine,
usually with some particular role to carry out. The  Black Sun  has a number
of daemons that serve imaginary drinks to the patrons and run little errands
for people.
     It even has bouncer  daemons that get rid of undesirables - grab  their
avatars and  throw them out  the door, applying certain  basic principles of
avatar physics. Da5id has even enhanced the physics of The Black Sun to make
it a little cartoonish, so that  particularly  obnoxious people can  be  hit
over the  head with giant mallets  or crushed under plummeting  safes before
they are ejected. This happens to people who are being disruptive, to anyone
who is pestering or taping a celebrity, and  to anyone who seems contagious.
That is, if your personal computer is infected with viruses, and attempts to
spread them via The Black Sun, you had better keep one eye on the ceiling.
     Hiro  mumbles  the  word  "Bigboard."  This is  the name  of a piece of
software he wrote, a power  tool  for a CIC stringer. It digs into The Black
Sun's operating  system, rifes it for information, and then throws up a flat
square map  in front of his face, giving  him a quick overview of who's here
and  whom  they're  talking to. It's all unauthorized data that Hiro  is not
supposed to have.  But Hiro is not some bimbo actor coming  here to network.
He  is a hacker. If he wants some information, he steals it right out of the
guts of the system - gossip ex machina.
     Bigboard shows him that Da5id is ensconced  in his usual place, a table
in the Hacker Quadrant near the bar.  The Movie Star  Quadrant has the usual
scattering of Sovereigns and  wannabes. The Rock  Star Quadrant is very busy
tonight; Hiro can see that a Nipponese rap star named Sushi K has stopped in
for a visit. And there  are a lot of record-industry types hanging around in
the  Nipponese Quadrant  - which looks like the  other quadrants except that
it's  quieter, the  tables  are closer to the floor, and it's full of bowing
and fluttering geisha daemons. Many of these people probably belong to Sushi
K's retinue of managers, flacks, and lawyers.
     Hiro  cuts  across  the  Hacker  Quadrant, headed for Da5id's table. He
recognizes many  of the  people  in here,  but as usual,  he's surprised and
disturbed  by the number he doesn't recognize - all those  sharp, perceptive
twenty-one-year-old faces. Software development,  like  professional sports,
has a way of making thirty-year-old men feel decrepit.
     Looking  up the aisle toward Da5id's table, he sees Da5id talking  to a
black-and-white person. Despite  her lack  of  color  and shitty resolution,
Hiro recognizes her by the way she  folds  her arms  when she's talking, the
way  she tosses her hair when she's listening to Da5id.  Hiro's avatar stops
moving and  stares at her, adopting  just the  same facial  expression  with
which he used to stare at this woman years  ago. In  Reality, he reaches out
with one  hand,  picks up his beer, takes a  pull on the bottle, and lets it
roll around in his mouth, a bundle of waves clashing inside a small space.
     Her name is Juanita  Marquez. Hiro  has  known her ever since they were
freshmen together  at Berkeley,  and they were in the  same lab section in a
freshman physics  class. The first time he saw her, he formed  an impression
that did  not change for many years: She was a dour, bookish, geeky type who
dressed like she  was interviewing for a job as  an accountant at  a funeral
parlor. At  the same time, she had a flamethrower tongue that she would turn
on people at the oddest  times, usually  in  some grandiose, earth-scorching
retaliation for  a slight  or  breach of  etiquette that  none of the  other
freshmen had even perceived.
     It  wasn't  until a number of  years  later,  when they both  wound  up
working  at  Black  Sun Systems, Inc.,  that he put the  other  half  of the
equation together. At the time, both of them were working on avatars. He was
working on  bodies, she was working  on faces. She was the face  department,
because nobody  thought that faces  were all that important - they were just
flesh-toned  busts  on top  of  the avatars. She was just in the process  of
proving them all desperately wrong. But at this phase, the all-male  society
of bitheads that made up the power structure of Black Sun Systems  said that
the face problem was  trivial and  superficial.  It was, of  course, nothing
more  than sexism, the especially virulent type espoused by male techies who
sincerely believe that they are too smart to be sexists.
     That first impression, back at the  age of seventeen, was  nothing more
than that - the gut  reaction of a postadolescent Army brat who had been  on
his own for about three weeks. His mind was good, but he only understood one
or two things in the whole world - samurai movies and the Macintosh - and he
understood them  far,  far too  well.  It  was a  worldview with no room for
someone like Juanita.
     There is a certain kind of small town that grows like a boil on the ass
of  every  Army base  in  the world. In a long series  of  such places, Hiro
Protagonist was speedraised  like a mutant hothouse orchid flourishing under
the glow  of a thousand Buy 'n' Fly  security spotlights. Hiro's  father had
joined the  army in 1944, at the  age of  sixteen,  and  spent a year in the
Pacific, most of it as a prisoner of war. Hiro was  born when his father was
in his late middle age. By  that time,  Dad could  long  since have quit and
taken  his  pension,  but he  wouldn't have known  what  to do  with himself
outside of  the service, and  so he stayed  in until they finally kicked him
out in the late  eighties.  By the time Hiro made it out to Berkeley, he had
lived in Wrightstown, New  Jersey;  Tacoma,  Washington; Fayetteville, North
Carolina; Hinesville,  Georgia; Killeen, Texas; Grafenwehr, Germany;  Seoul,
Korea;  Ogden, Kansas; and Watertown,  New  York. All  of these  places were
basically the same, with the same franchise  ghettos, the same strip joints,
and  even the  same people  -  he kept  running into school chums he'd known
years before, other Army brats who happened  to wind  up at the same base at
the same time.
     Their skins were  different colors  but they all  belonged  to the same
ethnic group: Military.  Black kids didn't talk  like black kids. Asian kids
didn't bust their asses to excel in school. White kids, by and large, didn't
have any problem getting along with the black and Asian kids. And girls knew
their place.  They all had the same moms  with the same generous buttocks in
stretchy slacks and  the  same frosted-and-curling-ironed  hairdos, and they
were all basically sweet and  endearing and conforming and, if they happened
to be smart, they went out of their way to hide it.
     So the  first time  Hiro saw Juanita, or  any other girl like  her, his
perspectives were bent  all out of  shape. She had  long, glossy black  hair
that  had never been  subjected to any  chemical process other than  regular
shampooing.  She didn't  wear blue  stuff on  her  eyelids. Her clothing was
dark, tailored, restrained. And she  didn't take  shit from anyone, not even
her professors, which seemed shrewish and threatening to him at the time.
     When he saw her again after an absence of several years -a period spent
mostly in Japan, working among real grown-ups  from a  higher  social  class
than he was used to, people of substance  who wore real clothes and did real
things with their lives  - he  was  startled to  realize that Juanita was an
elegant, stylish  knockout. He thought at first  that she had undergone some
kind of radical changes since their first year in college.
     But  then  he went  back to visit his father in one of those Army towns
and  ran into the high  school prom queen. She had grown up  shockingly fast
into an  overweight dame with loud hair  and loud clothes  who speedread the
tabloids at the check-out line in the commissary because she didn't have the
spare money to buy them, who popped her gum and had two kids that she didn't
have the energy or the foresight to discipline.
     Seeing this woman at the commissary, he finally went through a belated,
dim-witted  epiphany,  not a brilliant light shining down from  heaven, more
like the  brown  glimmer  of  a half-dead  flashlight  from  the  top  of  a
stepladder: Juanita hadn't really changed much at all since those days, just
grown into herself. It was he who had changed. Radically.
     He came into her office once, strictly on a business matter. Until this
point, they had seen each other around  the office a lot but acted like they
had never met before.  But  when he came  into her office that day, she told
him to close  the door  behind him, and she  blacked  out  the screen on her
computer and started twiddling a pencil between her hands  and eyed him like
a plate of day-old sushi. Behind  her on the wall was an amateurish painting
of an old lady,  set in an ornate antique frame. It was the  only decoration
in Juanita's  office. All  the  other  hackers had color photographs  of the
space shuttle lifting off, or posters of the starship Enterprise.
     "It's my late grandmother, may God have mercy on  her  soul," she said,
watching him look at the painting. "My role model."
     "Why? Was she a programmer?"
     She  just looked at him over the rotating  pencil  like, how slow can a
mammal be and still have respiratory  functions? But instead of lowering the
boom on  him, she just gave  a simple answer:  "No."  Then  she gave a  more
complicated answer.  "When  I  was fifteen years old,  I missed a period. My
boyfriend and I were  using a  diaphragm, but I  knew it was fallible. I was
good at math, I had the failure  rate memorized, burnt into my subconscious.
Or maybe it was my conscious, I can never keep them straight. Anyway,  I was
terrified. Our family dog started treating me differently - supposedly, they
can smell a pregnant woman. Or a pregnant bitch, for that matter."
     By this point, Hiro's face was  frozen in a wary,  astonished  position
that Juanita later  made extensive use of in  her work. Because, as she  was
talking  to him, she was watching,  his  face, analyzing  the way the little
muscles in his forehead pulled his brows up and made his eyes change shape.
     "My  mother was  clueless. My  boyfriend was  worse than clueless -  in
fact,  I ditched him on  the spot, because  it made me realize what an alien
the guy was - like many members of your species." By this, she was referring
to males.
     "Anyway, my grandmother  came to visit," she continued,  glancing  back
over her shoulder at the painting.  "I avoided her until we all sat down for
dinner. And then she figured out the whole situation in, maybe, ten minutes,
just by watching my face across the dinner table. I didn't say more than ten
words  -  'Pass  the tortillas.' I don't  know  how  my  face  conveyed that
information,  or  what  kind of  internal  wiring  in  my grandmother's mind
enabled her  to accomplish this incredible  feat. To condense  fact from the
vapor of nuance."
     Condense  fact from the vapor of nuance. Hiro has  never  forgotten the
sound of her  speaking those  words, the feeling  that came  over  him as he
realized for the first time how smart Juanita was.
     She continued. "I didn't even really appreciate all of this until about
ten years later, as.  a grad student, trying to build a user  interface that
would  convey  a lot  of data  very  quickly, for  one of these  baby-killer
grants." This was her term for  anything related to the Defense  Department.
"I was coming up with all kinds of elaborate technical fixes like  trying to
implant electrodes directly into the brain. Then I remembered my grandmother
and realized, my  God, the  human mind can  absorb and process an incredible
amount  of  information  -  if it comes  in  the  right  format.  The  right
interface. If you put the right face on it. Want some coffee?"
     Then he had an alarming thought: What had he been like back in college?
How  much  of an  asshole had  he  been? Had he  left  Juanita  with  a  bad
     Another young man would  have worried about it in silence, but Hiro has
never been restrained by thinking about things too hard, and so he asked her
out for dinner and, after having a couple of drinks (she drank club  sodas),
just popped the question: Do you think I'm an asshole?
     She  laughed.  He smiled, believing  that he had  come up  with a good,
endearing, flirtatious bit of patter.
     He did not realize until  a  couple of  years later  that this question
was, in effect,  the cornerstone of  their  relationship. Did  Juanita think
that Hiro was an asshole? He always had some reason to think that the answer
was yes, but nine times out of  ten she insisted the answer was no. It  made
for some great arguments and some great sex, some dramatic failings out  and
some passionate reconciliations, but in  the  end  the wildness was just too
much for them - they were exhausted by work - and they backed away from each
other. He was emotionally worn out from wondering what she really thought of
him, and confused by the fact that he cared so deeply about her opinion. And
she,  maybe, was beginning to think that if Hiro was so convinced in his own
mind that he was unworthy of her, maybe he knew something she didn't.
     Hiro would have chalked it all up to class differences, except that her
parents  lived in a house in Mexicali with a dirt floor, and his father made
more money than  many college professors. But the class idea still held sway
in  his mind, because class is more than income - it has to do with  knowing
where you stand in a web of social relationships. Juanita and her folks knew
where they stood  with  a certitude  that bordered  on dementia.  Hiro never
knew. His father was a  sergeant  major, his mother was a Korean woman whose
people had been mine slaves in  Nippon, and  Hiro didn't know whether he was
black or Asian or just plain Army, whether  he was rich or poor, educated or
ignorant,  talented or lucky.  He didn't even have a  part of the country to
call home until he moved to California, which is about as specific as saying
that you live in  the Northern Hemisphere. In the end,  it was  probably his
general disorientation that did them in.
     After the  breakup, Hiro went out with a long succession of essentially
bimbos who (unlike Juanita) were  impressed that he worked  for  a high-tech
Silicon Valley firm. More recently, he has had to go searching for women who
are even easier to impress.
     Juanita went celibate for a while and then started going out with Da5id
and eventually got married to him. Da5id had no  doubts whatsoever about his
standing  in the world. His  folks were  Russian Jews from Brooklyn  and had
lived in the same brownstone for seventy  years  after coming from a village
in Latvia where they had  lived for five hundred years; with a  Torah on his
lap, he could trace his bloodlines all the way back to Adam and  Eve. He was
an only child who had always been first in his class in everything, and when
he  got his  master's in  computer science from  Stanford,  he went  out and
started his  own  company  with about  as  much  fuss as Hiro's dad used  to
exhibit in renting out a new P.O. box when they moved. Then he got rich, and
now he runs The Black Sun. Da5id has always been certain of everything.
     Even when he's totally wrong.  Which is why Hiro quit his job at  Black
Sun Systems, despite  the promise of future riches, and why Juanita divorced
Da5id two years after she married him.
     Hiro did  not attend Juanita and Da5id's wedding; he was languishing in
jail, into which he had been thrown a few hours before the rehearsal. He had
been  found  in  Golden Gate  Park,  lovesick, wearing nothing  but a thong,
taking  long pulls from a  jumbo bottle of  Courvoisier and practicing kendo
attacks  with  a  genuine  samurai  sword,  floating  across  the  grass  on
powerfully muscled  thighs to slice other picnickers'  hurtling Frisbees and
baseballs  in  twain. Catching a long fly ball with the  edge of your blade,
neatly  halving it like a grapefruit, is not an insignificant feat. The only
drawback is that the owners of the baseball may misinterpret your intentions
and summon the police.
     He  got  out of it by paying for  all the  baseballs and  Frisbees, but
since that episode, he has never even bothered to ask Juanita whether or not
she thinks he's an asshole. Even Hiro knows the answer now.
     Since then, they've gone very different ways. In the early years of The
Black Sun  project, the only way  the hackers  ever got paid was  by issuing
stock to themselves. Hiro tended to sell his off almost as quickly as he got
it. Juanita  didn't. Now she's rich, and  he isn't. It would be  easy to say
that Hiro is a stupid investor and Juanita a smart one, but  the facts are a
little  more complicated  than  that: Juanita put her  eggs in  one  basket,
keeping all her money in Black Sun stock; as it turns out, she made a lot of
money that  way, but she could have gone broke, too. And Hiro  didn't have a
lot of choice in some ways.  When his father got sick, the Army and the V.A.
took care  of most of his medical bills, but they ran into a lot of expenses
anyway, and Hiro's mother - who could barely speak English - wasn't equipped
to make or handle  money on  her own. When Hiro's  father died, he cashed in
all of his Black  Sun stock  to  put Mom in a nice  community  in Korea. She
loves it there. Goes  golfing every day. He could have kept his money in The
Black  Sun and made  ten  million  dollars about a year  later when it  went
public, but his mother would have been a street person.  So when his  mother
visits him in the Metaverse, looking tan and happy in her golfing duds, Hiro
views that as his personal fortune. It won't pay the rent, but that's okay -
when you  live  in  a shithole,  there's always the  Metaverse,  and  in the
Metaverse, Hiro Protagonist is a warrior prince.

     His tongue is  stinging;  he realizes that, back  in  Reality,  he  has
forgotten to swallow his beer.
     It's  ironic  that  Juanita has come  into  this place  in  a low-tech,
black-and-white  avatar.  She  was  the one who figured  out  a  way to make
avatars show something close to real emotion. That  is a fact Hiro has never
forgotten,  because  she did most of her work when  they  were together, and
whenever an avatar looks surprised or angry or passionate in the  Metaverse,
he sees an  echo of himself or Juanita - the Adam and Eve  of the Metaverse.
Makes it hard to forget.
     Shortly after Juanita and Da5id got divorced, The Black Sun really took
off. And once they got done  counting their money,  marketing the  spinoffs,
soaking up the adulation of others in the hacker community, they all came to
the  realization   that  what  made  this  place  a   success  was  not  the
collision-avoidance algorithms or the  bouncer daemons or  any of that other
stuff. It was Juanita's faces.
     Just ask the businessmen  in the  Nipponese Quadrant. They come here to
talk turkey with  suits from around  the world, and they consider it just as
good as a face-to-face. They  more or  less ignore  what is  being saida lot
gets  lost in  translation,  after all.  They  pay  attention to  the facial
expressions and body language of the  people they are talking to. And that's
how they know  what's going  on inside a person's head  - by condensing fact
from the vapor of nuance.
     Juanita refused to analyze this process, insisted that it was something
ineffable,   something  you   couldn't  explain  with   words.   A  radical,
rosary-toting Catholic,  she has no problem with that kind of thing. But the
bitheads didn't like it. Said  it  was irrational mysticism. So she quit and
took  a job  with some Nipponese  company. They don't have  any problem with
irrational mysticism as long as it makes money.
     But Juanita never comes to The Black Sun anymore.  Partly, she's pissed
at Da5id  and  the other hackers who never appreciated her work. But she has
also decided that the whole thing is  bogus. That no matter  how good it is,
the Metaverse is distorting the way people talk to each other, and she wants
no such distortion in her relationships.
     Da5id notices Hiro, indicates with a flick of his eyes that this is not
a good time. Normally, such subtle gestures are lost  in the system's noise,
but  Da5id has a very good personal computer,  and Juanita helped design his
avatar - so the message comes through like a shot fired into the ceiling.
     Hiro turns away, saunters around  the big circular bar in a slow orbit.
Most  of  the sixty-four bar  stools are  filled  with lower-level  Industry
people, getting together in twos and threes, doing what they do best: gossip
and intrigue.
     "So I get together with the director  for a story  conference. He's got
this beach house - "
     "Don't get me started."
     "I heard. Debi was there for a party when Frank and Mitzi owned it."
     "Anyway, there's  this scene,  early, where the main character wakes up
in a dumpster. The idea is to show how, you know, despondent he is - "
     "That crazy energy - "
     "I like it. Well, he wants to replace it with a scene where the guy  is
out  in  the  desert with  a bazooka,  blowing up old cars in  an  abandoned
     "You're kidding!"
     "So we're sitting there on  his fucking patio over  the beach  and he's
going, like, whoom! whoom! imitating  this goddamn bazooka. He's thrilled by
the idea. I mean, this is a man who wants to put a bazooka  in a movie. So I
think I talked him out of it."
     "Nice scene. But you're right. A bazooka doesn't do the same thing as a
     Hiro  pauses  long  enough to  get this down, then  keeps  walking.  He
mumbles "Bigboard" again, recalls the magic map, pinpoints his own location,
and then reads off the name of this nearby screenwriter. Later on, he can do
a search  of industry  publications to find  out  what  script  this guy  is
working on, hence  the name  of  this  mystery director  with  a fetish  for
bazookas. Since this whole conversation has come to him  via  his  computer,
he's just taken an  audio  tape of the whole thing. Later, he can process it
to  disguise the voices,  then upload it to  the  Library,  cross-referenced
under the director's name. A hundred struggling screenwriters will call this
conversation up, listen to it over and over until they've got  it memorized,
paying Hiro for  the privilege, and within a few weeks, bazooka scripts will
flood the director's office. Whoom!
     The Rock Star Quadrant  is  almost too  bright to  look  at. Rock  star
avatars have the hairdos that rock stars can only wear in their dreams. Hiro
scans it briefly to see if any of his friends are in there, but it's  mostly
parasites  and  has-beens. Most  of the  people Hiro  knows are will-bes  or
     The Movie Star Quadrant is easier to look at.  Actors love to come here
because in The Black Sun, they always look as good as they do in the movies.
And  unlike a  bar or club in  Reality, they can get into this place without
physically having to leave their mansion,  hotel suite,  ski lodge,  private
airline cabin, or whatever. They can strut their stuff and  visit with their
friends without  any  exposure to  kidnappers,  paparazzi,  script-flingers,
assassins,  ex-spouses,  autograph  brokers,  process  servers, psycho fans,
marriage proposals, or gossip columnists.
     He gets up off the bar  stool and  resumes his slow orbit, scanning the
Nipponese Quadrant. It's a lot of guys in suits, as  usual. Some of them are
talking to gringos from  the Industry.  And a large part of the quadrant, in
the back corner, has been screened off by a temporary partition.
     Bigboard again. Hiro figures out which tables are behind the partition,
starts  reading off the names.  The only one he recognizes immediately is an
American: L. Bob Rife, the  cable-television monopolist. A  very big name to
the Industry, though he's rarely  seen. He seems to be  meeting with a whole
raft of big Nipponese honchos. Hiro has his computer memorize their names so
that, later, he can check them against  the CIC database  and  find  out who
they are. It has the look of a big and important meeting.
     "Secret Agent Hiro! How are you doing?"
     Hiro turns  around. Juanita  is right behind  him, standing  out in her
black-and-white avatar, looking good anyway. "How are you?" she asks.
     "Fine. How are you?"
     "Great.  I hope  you don't mind talking to me in this  ugly fax-of-life
     "Juanita, I would rather look at a fax of  you than most other women in
the flesh."
     "Thanks,  you  sly bastard. It's been  a long time since we've talked!"
she observes, as though there's something remarkable about this.
     Something's going on.
     "I hope you're not going to mess around with  Snow  Crash,"  she  says.
"Da5id won't listen to me."
     "What am I,  a model of self-restraint? I'm exactly the kind of guy who
would mess around with it."
     "I know you better than that. You're impulsive. But you're very clever.
You have those sword-fighting reflexes."
     "What does that have to do with drug abuse?"
     "It  means  you can see bad things  coming  and  deflect them.  It's an
instinct, not a learned thing. As soon as you turned around and saw me, that
look came over your face, like, what's going on? What the hell is Juanita up
     "I didn't think you talked to people in the Metaverse."
     "I do if I want to  get through to someone in a hurry," she  says. "And
I'll always talk to you."
     "Why me?"
     "You know. Because of us.  Remember? Because of our relationship - when
I  was writing  this thing - you and I are the only two people  who can ever
have an honest conversation in the Metaverse."
     "You're just the same mystical crank you always were," he says, smiling
so as to make this a charming statement.
     "You can't imagine how mystical and cranky I am now, Hiro."
     "How mystical and cranky are you?"
     She eyes him warily. Exactly the same way she did when he came into her
office years ago.
     It comes  into his mind  to wonder  why she  is always so alert  in his
presence. In college, he used to think that she was afraid of his intellect,
but he's known for years that this is the last of her worries. At Black  Sun
Systems,  he figured  that  it was just typical female guardedness - Juanita
was afraid he was trying to get her into the sack.  But this, too, is pretty
much out of the question.
     At this late date in his romantic career,  he  is just canny enough  to
come  up with a new  theory: She's being careful because she likes  him. She
likes  him in spite of  herself.  He  is exactly  the  kind  of tempting but
utterly wrong romantic choice that a smart girl  like  Juanita must learn to
     That's definitely it. There's something to be said for getting older.
     By way of answering his  question, she says,  "I have an associate  I'd
like you to meet. A  gentleman and a scholar named Lagos. He's a fascinating
guy to talk to."
     "Is he your boyfriend?"
     She thinks this one over rather than  lashing out instantaneously.  "My
behavior at The  Black Sun to the contrary, I don't fuck every male  I  work
with. And even if I did, Lagos is out of the question."
     "Not your type?"
     "Not by a long shot."
     "What is your type, anyway?"
     "Old, rich, unimaginative blonds with steady careers."
     This one almost slips by him. Then he catches it. "Well, I could dye my
hair. And I'll get old eventually."
     She  actually  laughs.  It's  a  tension-releasing  kind  of  outburst.
"Believe me, Hiro, I'm the last person you  want to be involved with at this
     "Is this part  of your church  thing?" he asks. Juanita has  been using
her  excess money to  start her  own  branch  of the Catholic church  -  she
considers herself a missionary to the intelligent atheists of the world.
     "Don't be  condescending," she says. "That's exactly the  attitude  I'm
fighting. Religion is not for simpletons."
     "Sorry. This  is unfair, you know - you can read every expression on my
face, and I'm looking at you through a fucking blizzard."
     "It's  definitely related  to  religion,"  she says. "But  this  is  so
complex, and  your  background in  that area is  so deficient,  I don't know
where to begin."
     "Hey, I went to church every week in high school. I sang in the choir."
     "I know. That's exactly the problem. Ninety-nine percent  of everything
that goes on in  most Christian  churches has  nothing whatsoever to do with
the actual religion. Intelligent people all notice this sooner or later, and
they conclude that the entire  one hundred percent is bullshit, which is why
atheism is connected with being intelligent in people's minds."
     "So none of that stuff I learned in church has anything to do with what
you're talking about?"
     Juanita thinks for  a while, eyeing him. Then she pulls a hypercard out
of her pocket. "Here. Take this."
     As Hiro pulls  it from  her hand,  the hypercard changes from a jittery
two-dimensional figment  into  a realistic,  cream-colored, finely  textured
piece of stationery. Printed  across its face in glossy black  ink is a pair
of words

     (I n f o c a l y p s e)

     The world freezes and  grows dim for a second. The  Black Sun loses its
smooth animation  and begins  to move  in  fuzzy  stop-action.  Clearly, his
computer has just taken a major hit; all of its circuits are busy processing
a huge bolus of  data - the contents of the hypercard - and don't  have time
to redraw the image of The Black Sun in its full, breathtaking fidelity.
     "Holy shit!" he says,  when The Black Sun pops back into full animation
again.  "What the hell is in this card? You must have half of the Library in
     "And a librarian to boot," Juanita says, "to  help you sort through it.
And  lots of videotapes  of L. Bob Rife  -  which accounts for most  of  the
     "Well, I'll try to have a look at it," he says dubiously.
     "Do. Unlike Da5id, you're just smart enough  to benefit  from this. And
in the meantime, stay away from Raven. And stay away from Snow Crash. Okay?"
     "Who's Raven?" he asks. But Juanita is already on her way out the door.
The fancy  avatars all  turn around to watch her as she goes past  them; the
movie  stars give her drop-dead looks, and the hackers purse  their lips and
stare reverently.

     Hiro  orbits  back  around  to the Hacker Quadrant.  Da5id's  shuffling
hypercards around on his table - business stats on  The Black Sun, film  and
video clips, hunks of software, scrawled telephone numbers.
     "There's  a little blip in the operating system that hits me  right  in
the gut every time you come in the  door," Da5id  says.  "I always have this
premonition that The Black Sun is headed for a crash."
     "Must be Bigboard," Hiro says. "It has one routine that patches some of
the traps in low memory, for a moment."
     "Ah, that's it. Please, please throw that thing away," Da5id says.
     "What, Bigboard?"
     "Yeah. It was  totally rad at one point,  but now it's  like trying  to
work on a fusion reactor with a stone ax."
     "I'll give you all the  headers  you need if you  want to  update it to
something a  little  less  dangerous," Da5id says. "I  wasn't impugning your
abilities. I'm just saying you need to keep up with the times."
     "It's  fucking hard,"  Hiro says. "There's  no  place  for a  freelance
hacker anymore. You have to have a big corporation behind you."
     "I'm aware  of that. And I'm aware that you  can't stand to  work for a
big corporation. That's why I'm saying,  I'll  give  you the stuff you need.
You're always  a part  of The Black Sun  to  me, Hiro,  even since we parted
     It is classic Da5id. He's talking with  his heart again, bypassing  his
head. If Da5id  weren't  a hacker,  Hiro  would  despair of his  ever having
enough brains to do anything.
     "Let's  talk   about   something   else,"   Hiro   says.  "Was  I  just
hallucinating, or are you and Juanita on speaking terms again?"
     Da5id gives him an indulgent smile. He has been very kind to  Hiro ever
since  The  Conversation,  several years back.  It  was a  conversation that
started out  as  a friendly chat over beer  and oysters between a  couple of
longtime comrades-in-arms.  It was  not  until  three-quarters  of  the  way
through The Conversation that it dawned on  Hiro that he was, in fact, being
fired, at  this very moment. Since The Conversation, Da5id has been known to
feed Hiro useful bits of intel and gossip from time to time.
     "Fishing  for  something  useful?"  Da5id  asks  knowingly.  Like  many
bitheads, Da5id is utterly guileless, but at times like this, he thinks he's
the reincarnation of Machiavelli.
     "I got news for you, man," Hiro says. "Most of the stuff you give me, I
never put into the Library."
     "Why  not? Hell,  I give  you all  my best gossip.  I  thought you were
making money off that stuff."
     "I  just  can't  stand  it," Hiro  says,  "taking parts of  my  private
conversations and whoring them out. Why do you think I'm broke?"
     There's  another thing  he  doesn't mention, which  is that he's always
considered  himself  to  be Da5id's  equal, and he can't  stand the  idea of
feeding off Da5id's little crumbs and  tidbits, like a dog  curled up  under
his table.
     "I was glad to see Juanita come in here  - even as  a black-and-white,"
Da5id says. "For her not  to  use The Black Sun - it's like Alexander Graham
Bell refusing to use the telephone."
     "Why did she come in tonight?"
     "Something's bugging her,"  Da5id says. "She wanted to know if I'd seen
certain people on the Street."
     "Anyone in particular?"
     "She's worried about a really  large guy with  long black hair,"  Da5id
says. "Peddling something called - get this - Snow Crash."
     "Has she tried the Library?"
     "Yeah. I assume so, anyway."
     "Have you seen this guy?"
     "Oh, yeah. It's not hard to find him," Da5id says.  "He's right outside
the door. I got this from him."
     Da5id scans the table, picks up one  of the hypercards, and shows it to

     tear this card in half to
     release your free sample
     "Da5id," Hiro  says, "I  can't believe  you took  a  hypercard  from  a
black-and-white person."
     Da5id laughs.  "This  is not the old days,  my friend. I've got so much
antiviral  medicine in my  system  that nothing could  get through. I get so
much contaminated shit from all the hackers who come through here, it's like
working  in a  plague  ward.  So  I'm  not  afraid  of  whatever's  in  this
     "Well, in that case, I'm curious," Hiro says.
     "Yeah. Me, too." Da5id laughs.
     "It's probably something very disappointing."
     "Probably an animercial," Da5id agrees. "Think I should do it?"
     "Yeah.  Go  for it. It's not every day  you get to try out a new drug,"
Hiro says.
     "Well, you can try one every day if you want to," Da5id says, "but it's
not every day you find  one  that can't hurt you." He picks up the hypercard
and tears it in half.
     For a second, nothing happens. "I'm waiting," Da5id says.
     An avatar  materializes  on  the  table in front of Da5id, starting out
ghostly  and  transparent, gradually becoming  solid  and three-dimensional.
It's a really trite effect; Hiro and Da5id are already laughing.
     The  avatar  is  a  stark  naked Brandy. It doesn't even  look like the
standard  Brandy;  this  looks  like  one  of  the  cheap  Taiwanese  Brandy
knockoffs. Clearly,  it's just a daemon.  She is holding a pair of  tubes in
her hands, about the size of paper-towel rolls.
     Da5id is leaning back in  his chair, enjoying  this. There is something
hilariously tawdry about the entire scene.
     The Brandy leans forward, beckoning Da5id toward  her. Da5id leans into
her face, grinning broadly. She puts her crude, ruby-red lips  up by his ear
and mumbles something that Hiro can't hear.
     When  she  leans  back away  from Da5id, his face has changed. He looks
dazed and expressionless. Maybe  Da5id really  looks  that  way;  maybe Snow
Crash has  messed up his  avatar  somehow  so  that  it's no longer tracking
Da5id's  true facial  expressions.  But he's  staring  straight ahead,  eyes
frozen in their sockets.
     The Brandy holds  the pair  of tubes up in front of Da5id's immobilized
face  and spreads them  apart. It's  actually a scroll. She's  unrolling  it
right  in  front  of   Da5id's  face,  spreading  it  apart   like  a   flat
two-dimensional screen in front  of  his  eyes. Da5id's  paralyzed face  has
taken on a bluish tinge as it reflects light coming out of the scroll.
     Hiro walks  around  the  table to look. He  gets a brief glimpse of the
scroll before the Brandy  snaps it shut again. It is a living wall of light,
like  a flexible, flatscreened television set, and it's not showing anything
at all. just static. White noise. Snow.
     Then she's gone, leaving no trace behind. Desultory, sarcastic applause
sounds from a few tables in the Hacker Quadrant.
     Da5id's back  to  normal,  wearing a grin that's  part  snide  and part
     "What was it?" Hiro says. "I just glimpsed some snow at the very end."
     "You  saw  the  whole  thing,"  Da5id   says.  "A   fixed   pattern  of
black-and-white pixels, fairly  high-resolution. Just a few hundred thousand
ones and zeroes for me to look at."
     "So in other words, someone just  exposed your  optic  nerve to,  what,
maybe a hundred thousand bytes of information," Hiro says.
     "Noise, is more like it."
     "Well, all information looks like noise until you break the code," Hiro
     "Why  would  anyone show  me  information  in  binary code?  I'm not  a
computer. I can't read a bitmap."
     "Relax, Da5id, I'm just shitting you," Hiro says.
     "You know what it was? You know how hackers are  always  trying to show
me samples of their work?"
     "Some  hacker  came  up  with this scheme to  show  me  his stuff.  And
everything worked fine until  the  moment the Brandy opened the scroll - but
his code was buggy,  and it  snow-crashed at the wrong moment, so instead of
seeing his output, all I saw was snow."
     "Then why did he call the thing Snow Crash?"
     "Gallows humor. He knew it was buggy."
     "What did the Brandy whisper in your ear?"
     "Some  language  I didn't  recognize,"  Da5id  says. "Just a  bunch  of
     Babble. Babel.
     "Afterward, you looked sort of stunned."
     Da5id  looks  resentful.  "I  wasn't  stunned.  I just found  the whole
experience so weird, I guess I just was taken aback for a second."
     Hiro is giving  him an  extremely  dubious  look.  Da5id notices it and
stands up. "Want to go see what your competitors in Nippon are up to?"
     "What competitors?"
     "You used to design avatars for rock stars, right?"
     "Still do."
     "Well, Sushi K is here tonight."
     "Oh, yeah. The hairdo the size of a galaxy."
     "You can see the  rays from here," Da5id  says,  waving toward the next
quadrant, "but I want to see the whole getup."
     It does look as though the sun is rising somewhere in the middle of the
Rock Star Quadrant. Above  the heads of the milling avatars, Hiro  can see a
fan of orange beams radiating outward from some  point in the middle of  the
crowd. It keeps moving, turning around,  shaking from side to side,  and the
whole universe seems  to move with it. On the  Street, the  full radiance of
Sushi  K's  Rising  Sun  hairdo  is  suppressed  by  the  height  and  width
regulations. But  Da5id allows free expression inside The Black Sun,  so the
orange rays extend all the way to the property lines.
     "I wonder  if  anyone's told him yet that Americans won't buy rap music
from a Japanese person," Hiro says as they stroll over there.
     "Maybe you  should  tell  him,"  Da5id suggests,  "charge him  for  the
service. He's in L.A. right now, you know."
     "Probably staying in a hotel full of bootlickers telling him what a big
star he's going to be. He needs to be exposed to some actual biomass."
     They  inject themselves  into  a stream  of  traffic, winding  a narrow
channel through a rift in the crowd.
     "Biomass?" Da5id says.
     "A body of living stuff.  It's an ecology term. If you take an  acre of
rain forest or a cubic mile of ocean or a square block of Compton and strain
out all the unliving stuff - dirt and water - you get the biomass."
     Da5id, ever the bithead, says, "I do not understand." His  voice sounds
funny; there's a lot of white noise creeping into his audio.
     "Industry  expression,"  Hiro  says. "The Industry  feeds off the human
biomass of America. Like a whale straining krill from the sea."
     Hiro  wedges himself  between a couple of Nipponese businessmen. One is
wearing a uniform blue, but  the other is a neo-traditional, wearing  a dark
kimono.  And, like Hiro,  he's wearing two swords  - the long  katana on his
left hip and the one-handed wakizashi stuck diagonally  in his waistband. He
and Hiro glance cursorily at each  other's armaments. Then  Hiro  looks away
and  pretends  not to  notice, while the neo-traditional is freezing  solid,
except  for the  corners  of his mouth which  are curling downward. Hiro has
seen this kind of thing before. He knows he's about to get into a fight.
     People  are  moving out of the way;  something  big and  inexorable  is
plunging through  the crowd, shoving avatars  this  way and  that.  Only one
thing has the ability to shove people around like that inside The Black Sun,
and that's a bouncer daemon.
     As they  get closer, Hiro sees that  it's a whole flying wedge of them,
gorillas in tuxedos. Real gorillas. And they seem to be headed toward Hiro.
     He tries to back away, but  he quickly runs  into something. Looks like
Bigboard finally got him in trouble; he's on his way out of the bar.
     "Da5id," Hiro says. "Call them off, man, I'll stop using it."
     All of the people  in his vicinity  are  staring over  Hiro's shoulder,
their faces illuminated by a stew of brilliant colored lights.
     Hiro turns around to look at Da5id. But Da5id's not there anymore.
     Instead of Da5id, there is just a jittering cloud of bad digital karma.
It's so bright and fast and meaningless that it hurts to look at. It flashes
back  and forth from color  to black  and  white, and when it's in color, it
rolls wildly around the color wheel as though being strafed with highpowered
disco  lights.  And it's  not staying within  it's own body space; hair-thin
pixel  lines  keep shooting off to one side, passing all the way  across The
Black Sun and out through  the wall. It is  not so much an organized body as
it is a centrifugal cloud of lines and polygons whose  center  cannot  hold,
throwing bright bits of  body  shrapnel all over  the room, interfering with
people's avatars, flickering and disappearing.
     The  gorillas  don't mind. They shove their long furry fingers into the
midst of the  disintegrating  cloud and latch  onto it somehow  and carry it
past Hiro, toward  the exit. Hiro  looks down  as it goes  past him and sees
what looks very much like Da5id's face as viewed through a pile of shattered
glass. It's  just a momentary glimpse. Then  the  avatar is  gone,  expertly
drop-kicked  out the front door, soaring out over the Street  in a long flat
arc that takes it  over the horizon. Hiro looks  up the aisle to see Da5id's
table, empty, surrounded by stunned hackers. Some  of them are shocked, some
are trying to stifle grins.
     Da5id Meier, supreme hacker  overload, founding father of the Metaverse
protocol,  creator and proprietor  of the world-famous  Black Sun,  has just
suffered  a  system  crash.  He's been thrown out of his own bar  by his own

     About the second or third thing they learned how to do when studying to
become Kouriers was how to shiv open a pair  of handcuffs. Handcuffs are not
intended as longterm restraint devices, millions of Clink franchisees to the
contrary. And the  longtime  status of skateboarders as an  oppressed ethnic
group means that by now all of them are escape artists of some degree.
     First things first. Y.T. has many a thing hanging  off her uniform. The
uniform has  a  hundred pockets,  big flat pockets for deliveries and  eensy
narrow  pockets for  gear, pockets  sewn  into sleeves,  thighs, shins.  The
equipment  stuck  into these multifarious pockets tends to be small, tricky,
lightweight:  pens,  markers,  penlights,  penknives,  lock picks,  bar-code
scanners,  flares,  screwdrivers,   Liquid  Knuckles,  bundy  stunners,  and
lightsticks. A  calculator is stuck upside-down to her right thigh, doubling
as a taxi meter and a stopwatch.
     On the other thigh is  a personal phone. As the manager is  locking the
door upstairs, it begins to ring. Y.T. unhooks it with  her free hand. It is
her mother.
     "Hi, Mom. Fine, how are you? I'm at Tracy's house. Yeah, we went to the
Metaverse. We were just fooling around at this arcade  on the Street. Pretty
bumpin'. Yes, I used a nice avatar. Nah, Tracy's  mom  said she'd give me  a
ride home later.  But  we  might  stop  off at the  joyride on Victory for a
while, okay? Okay,  well, sleep tight, Mom. I will. I love you, too. See you
     She punches the flash button, killing the chat with Mom  and giving her
a fresh dial tone in the space of about half a second. "Roadkill," she says.
     The telephone remembers and dials Roadkill's number.
     Roaring sounds. This is the sound of air peeling over the microphone of
Roadkill's  personal phone at  some terrifying velocity.  Also the competing
whooshes  of  many   vehicles'  tires   on  pavement,  broken  by  chuckhole
percussion; sounds like the crumbling Ventura.
     "Yo, Y.T.," Roadkill says, "'sup?"
     "'Sup with you?"
     "Surfing the Turf. 'Sup with you?"
     "Maxing The Clink."
     "Whoa! Who popped you?"
     "MetaCops. Affixed me to the gate of White Columns with a loogie gun."
     "Whoa, how very! When you leaving?"
     "Soon. Can you swing by and give me a hand?."
     "What do you mean?"
     Men.  "You  know,  give me  a  hand.  You're  my boyfriend," she  says,
speaking very  simply and plainly. "If I get popped, you're supposed to come
around and help bust me  out."  Isn't everyone supposed to know this  stuff?
Don't parents teach their kids anything anymore?
     "Well, uh, where are you?"
     "Buy 'n' Fly number 501,762."
     "I'm on my way to Bernie with a super-ultra."
     As in San Bernardino. As in  super-ultra-high-priority delivery. As in,
you're out of luck.
     "Okay, thanks for nothing."
     "Surfing safety," Y.T. says, in the traditional sarcastic sign off.
     "Keep breathing," Roadkill says. The roaring noise snaps off.
     What a jerk. Next date, he's really going to have to grovel. But in the
meantime,  there's  one other person who  owes her one.  The only problem is
that he might be a spaz. But it's worth a try.
     "Hello?" he says into his  personal phone.  He's  breathing  hard and a
couple of sirens are dueling in the background.
     "Hiro Protagonist?"
     "Yeah, who's this?"
     "Y.T. Where are you?"
     "In the  parking lot of a Safeway on  Oahu," he says.  And he's telling
the truth;  in the  background she can  hear the  shopping carts  performing
their clashy, anal copulations.
     "I'm kind of busy now, Whitey - but what can I do for you?"
     "It's Y.T.," she says, "and you can help bust me out of The Clink." She
gives him the details.
     "How long ago did he put you there?"
     "Ten minutes."
     "Okay,  the  three-ring  binder for  Clink franchises  states  that the
manager is supposed to check on the detainee half an hour after admission."
     "How do you know this stuff?" she says accusingly.
     "Use your  imagination.  As  soon as the manager  pulls  his  half-hour
check, wait for another five minutes, and then make  your move. I'll  try to
give you a hand. Okay?"
     "Got it."

     At half an hour on the dot, she hears the back door being unlocked. The
lights come on. Her Knight Visions save her from wracking eyeball pains. The
manager thunks down  a  couple of  steps,  glares at her, glares at her  for
rather a long time. The manager, clearly, is tempted. That momentary glimpse
of flesh has been ricocheting  around in his brain for half  an hour.  He is
wracking his mind with vast cosmological  dilemmas. Y.T.  hopes that he does
not try anything, because the dentata's effects can be unpredictable.
     "Make up your fucking mind," she says.
     It works. This fresh burst of culture shock rattles the jeek out of his
ethical  conundrum. He gives Y.T.  a disapproving  glower - she, after  all,
forced him to be  at-tracted to her, forced him to get horny, made his  head
swim  - she  didn't have  to  get arrested,  did she?  -  and  so on  top of
everything else he's angry with her. As if he has a right to be.
     This is the gender that invented the polio vaccine?
     He turns, goes back up the steps, kills the light, locks the door.
     She  notes the time, sets her alarm watch for  five minutes from now  -
the  only  North American  who actually knows  how to set  the  alarm on her
digital wristwatch  - pulls her  shiv kit from  one of the narrow pockets on
her  sleeve.  She  also hauls out a lightstick and  snaps it so  she can see
'sup. She finds one piece of  narrow, flat spring  steel,  slides it up into
the manacle's innards, depresses the spring-loaded pawl.  The cuff, formerly
a  one-way ratchet that  could only  get tighter,  springs  loose  from  the
cold-water pipe.
     She could take it off her wrist, but she has decided she likes the look
of it.  She cuffs the loose manacle onto her wrist,  right next to the other
one, forming a double bracelet. The  kind of thing her mom used  to do, back
when she was a punk.
     The  steel  door is locked, but  Buy  'n'  Fly  safety  regs mandate an
emergency  exit from the  basement  in  case of fire. Here, it's  a basement
window with mondo bars and a big red multilingual fire alarm bolted onto it.
The red  looks black in the green glow  of  the  lightstick.  She reads  the
instructions that are in English, runs through it once or twice in her mind,
then waits for the  alarm to go off. She whiles away the time by reading the
instructions in all the  other languages,  wondering which is  which. It all
looks like Taxilinga to Y.T.
     The window is almost too grungy to see  through, but she sees something
black walking past it. Hiro.
     About  ten  seconds later, her wristwatch  goes  off.  She punches  the
emergency exit. The  bell rings. The  bars  are  trickier than she thought -
good thing  it's not a real fire -  but eventually  she gets them  open. She
throws  her  plank outside onto the parking lot, drags her body through just
as she hears the rear door  being unlocked. By the time the three-ringer has
found that all-important light switch, she  is banking a sharp turn into the
front lot - which has turned into a jeek festival!
     Every jeek  in  Southern  Cal is here, it seems,  driving their  giant,
wrecked taxicabs with alien livestock  in the back seat, reeking  of incense
and sloshing neon-hued Airwicks! They have set up a giant eight-tubed hookah
on  the trunk of one  of  the  cabs and  are slurping  up great mountain-man
lungfuls of choking smoke.
     And they're  all  staring at Hiro Protagonist, who is just staring back
at them. Everyone in the parking lot looks completely astounded.
     He must have  made his approach from the rear - didn't realize that the
front lot was full of jeeks. Whatever he  was  planning isn't going to work.
The plan is screwed.
     The  manager comes running around from the back  of  the  Buy  'n' Fly,
sounding a bloodcurdling Taxilinga  tocsin. He's got missile lock on  Y.T.'s
     But  the jeeks  around  the  hookah don't  care about Y.T. They've  got
missile lock on  Hiro. They carefully hang  the ornate  silver nozzles on  a
rack built into the neck  of the mega-bong.  Then they  start moving  toward
him,  reaching into  the  folds  of their  robes, the inner pockets of their
     Y.T. is  distracted by a sharp hissing  noise. Her eyes  glance back at
Hiro, and she sees that he has withdrawn a  three-foot,  curved sword from a
scabbard,  which she did not notice before. He has dropped into a squat. The
blade of the sword  glitters painfully under  the killer security  lights of
the Buy 'n' Fly.
     How sweet!
     It would  be an understatement to  say  that the hookah boys  are taken
aback. But  they  are  not scared  so  much  as they  are  confused.  Almost
undoubtedly,  most of them have  guns. So  why is this  guy trying to bother
them with a sword?
     She remembers that one of the multiple  professions on Hiro's  business
card is Greatest sword fighter in  the world. Can he really take out a whole
clan of armed jeeks?
     The manager's hand clenches  her  upper arm - like this is really going
to stop her. She  reaches  across her body with  the other hand and lets him
have it with a brief squirt of  Liquid Knuckles. He makes a muffled, distant
grunt, his head snaps back, he lets  go of her arm and  staggers back wildly
until he sprawls against another taxi, jamming the heels  of both hands into
his eye sockets.
     Wait a sec. There's nobody in that particular taxi. But she  can see  a
two-foot-long macrame keychain dangling from the ignition.
     She tosses her plank through the window of the taxi, dives in after  it
(she's small, opening the door is optional),  climbs in  behind the driver's
seat, sinking into a deep nest  of  wooden beads and  air fresheners, grinds
the motor, and takes off. Backward. Headed for the rear parking lot. The car
was  pointed  outward, in  taxicab  style, ready  for a quick getaway, which
would be fine if she were by herself -  but there  is Hiro to think  of. The
radio is  screaming, alive with hollered bursts of Taxilinga. She  backs all
the way around behind the Buy 'n' Fly.  The back lot is  strangely quiet and
     She shifts  into drive  and blasts  back the  way  she came.  The jeeks
haven't quite had time to react, were  expecting  her to come out  the other
way. She screams it to a halt right next to Hiro,  who has  already had  the
presence of mind to  put his  sword  back in its  scabbard.  He dives in the
passenger-side  window. Then she stops paying  attention  to him.. She's got
other stuff to look at, such as whether she's going to get broadsided as she
pulls out onto the road.
     She doesn't get broadsided, though a car has to squeal  around her. She
guns it out onto the highway. It responds as only an ancient taxicab will.
     The only problem being that half a dozen other ancient taxicabs are now
following them.
     Something is pressing against Y.T.'s left thigh. She looks down. It  is
a remarkably huge revolver in a net bag hanging on the door panel.
     She has  to  find someplace  to  pull into. If  she  could  find a Nova
Sicilia  franchulate,  that would do it -  the Mafia owes  her one. Or a New
South  Africa, which she hates. But the  New South Africans hate  jeeks even
     Scratch that;  Hiro is black, or  at least part black. Can't  take  him
into  New  South  Africa.  And  because  Y.T. is a  Cauc,  they can't  go to
     "Mr. Lee's  Greater Hong Kong," Hiro says.  "Half  mile  ahead  on  the
     "Nice  thinking - but  they won't let  you  in with  your swords,  will
     "Yes," he says, "because I'm a citizen."
     Then she sees it. The  sign stands out because  it is a rare one. Don't
see  many of these. It is  a green-and-blue sign,  soothing and  calm  in  a
glare-torn franchise ghetto. It says:
     Explosive  noise  from  in  back. Her  head  smacks into  the  whiplash
arrestor. Another taxi rear-ended them.
     And she screams into the parking lot of Mr.  Lee's  doing seventy-five.
The security system doesn't even have time to rez her visa and drop the STD,
so it's Severe Tire Damage all the way,  those bald radials are left  behind
on  the spikes. Sparking along on four  naked rims, she shrieks to a stop on
the  lawngrid,  which  doubles  as carbon dioxide-eating turf and impervious
parking lot.
     She and Hiro climb out of the car.
     Hiro is grinning wildly, pinioned in the crossfire of a dozen red laser
beams  scanning  him from  every  direction  at  once.  The Hong  Kong robot
security  system is checking him out. Her, too;  she looks down  to see  the
lasers scribbling across her chest.
     "Welcome to Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong, Mr. Protagonist," the security
system says through a P.A. speaker. "And welcome to your guest, Ms. Y.T."
     The  other taxis have stopped  in formation along the curb.  Several of
them overshot  the Hong Kong franchise and had to back up a block  or  so. A
barrage of  doors thunking shut. Some of  them don't  bother, just leave the
engines running and the doors wide open. Three jeeks linger on the sidewalk,
eyeing the tire shreds impaled on spikes: long streaks of neoprene sprouting
steel  and fiberglass hairs, like ruined toupees. One of them has a revolver
in his hand, pointed straight down at the sidewalk.
     Four more jeeks run up to join them. Y.T. counts two more revolvers and
a pump  shotgun. Any  more  of these  guys  and  they'll be  able  to form a
     They  step  carefully  over the spikes  and  onto  the  lush Hong  Kong
lawngrid. As  they do,  the lasers appear once  more. The jeeks turn all red
and grainy for a second.
     Then  something different happens. Lights  come on. The security system
wants better illumination on these people.
     Hong Kong franchulates are famous for their lawngrids -  whoever  heard
of a lawn you  could park  on? - and for their antennas. They all look  like
NASA  research facilities with their  antennas. Some  of them are  satellite
uplinks,  pointed at the sky. But some  of  them,  tiny little antennas, are
pointed at the ground, at the lawngrid.
     Y.T.  does  not   really   get  this,  but  these  small  antennas  are
millimeter-wave radar transceivers.  Like any other radar,  they are good at
picking up  metallic objects. Unlike  the  radar  in an air traffic  control
center, they can rez  fine details. The  rez of  a system is only as fine as
its wavelength; since the wavelength of this radar is about a millimeter, it
can see the fillings in your teeth, the grommets in your Converse high-tops,
the rivets in your Levi's. It can calculate the value of your pocket change.
     Seeing guns is not a problem. This thing can even tell  if the guns are
loaded, and with what sort of  ammunition.  That is  an important  function,
because guns are illegal in Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong.

     It  doesn't  seem polite to hang around  and gawk  over  the fact  that
Da5id's computer crashed. A lot of the younger hackers  are doing just that,
as a way of showing all the other  hackers how  knowledgeable they are. Hiro
shrugs it off and turns back in the direction of the Rock  Star Quadrant. He
still wants to see Sushi K's hairdo.
     But  his   path  is   being  blocked  by  the   Nipponese  man   -  the
neo-traditional.  The guy with the  swords. He's facing  off  against  Hiro,
about two sword-lengths apart, and it doesn't look like he intends to move.
     Hiro does the polite thing. He bows at the waist, straightens up.
     The businessman  does the much less polite thing. He  looks Hiro rather
carefully up and down, then returns the bow. Sort of.
     "These - " the businessman says. "Very nice."
     "Thank  you, sir. Please  feel  free to  converse  in Nipponese if  you
     "This is what  your  avatar  wears. You  do  not carry  such weapons in
Reality," the businessman says. In English.
     "I'm  sorry to be  difficult, but in  fact, I do carry  such weapons in
Reality," Hiro says.
     "Exactly like these?"
     "These are ancient weapons, then," the businessman says.
     "Yes, I believe they are."
     "How did  you come  to  be  in  possession  of  such  important  family
heirlooms from Nippon?" the businessman says.
     Hiro knows  the subtext  here: What do you use those swords  for,  boy,
slicing watermelon?
     "They are now my family heirlooms," Hiro says. "My father won them."
     "Won them? Gambling?"
     "Single combat.  It  was  a struggle between my  father and a Nipponese
officer. The story is quite complicated."
     "Please excuse me if I have misinterpreted your story," the businessman
says, "but I was under the impression that men of your race were not allowed
to fight during that war."
     "Your  impression  is  correct,"  Hiro says. "My  father  was  a  truck
     "Then how  did he come  to be  in hand-to-hand  combat with a Nipponese
     "The incident  took  place outside a prisoner-of-war  camp," Hiro says.
"My father  and  another  prisoner tried  to  escape. They were pursued by a
number of Nipponese soldiers and the officer who owned these swords."
     "Your  story is  very  difficult to  believe,"  the  businessman  says,
"because your  father could not have survived such  an escape long enough to
pass the swords on to his son. Nippon is an island  nation. There is nowhere
he could have escaped to."
     "This happened very late in  the war,"  Hiro  says,  "and this camp was
just outside of Nagasaki."
     The businessman chokes, reddens, nearly loses it. His left hand reaches
up to grip the scabbard of  his sword. Hiro looks around; suddenly they  are
in the center of an open circle of people some ten yards across.
     "Do you think that the manner in which you came to possess these swords
was honorable?" the businessman says.
     "If I did not, I would long since have returned them," Hiro says.
     "Then you will not  object to  losing them in  the  same  fashion," the
businessman says.
     "Nor will you object to losing yours," Hiro says.
     The businessman reaches across his body with his right hand,  grips the
handle  of his sword just below the guard, draws it out, snaps it forward so
it's pointing  at Hiro, then places his left hand on the grip just below the
     Hiro does the same.
     Both of them bend their knees, dropping into  a low squat while keeping
the torso  bolt upright, then stand up again and shuffle their feet into the
proper stance - feet parallel, both pointed  straight  ahead,  right foot in
front of the left foot.
     The businessman turns  out to have  a  lot of zanshin. Translating this
concept into English is  like translating "fuckface" into  Nipponese, but it
might  translate  into "emotional  intensity" in football lingo. He  charges
directly at  Hiro, hollering at the top of his lungs.  The movement actually
consists of a very  rapid  shuffling motion  of  the feet, so that  he stays
balanced at  all times. At the last moment, he draws the  sword up  over his
head  and snaps it down toward Hiro. Hiro  brings his own sword up, rotating
it around sideways so that the handle is  up high, above and to  the left of
his face, and the blade slopes down and to the right, providing a roof above
him. The businessman's blow bounces off  this roof like  rain, and then Hiro
sidesteps to let  him  go by and snaps the sword down toward his unprotected
shoulder. But the businessman is moving too fast, and Hiro's timing  is off.
The blade cuts behind and to the side of the businessman.
     Both men wheel to face each other, back up, get back into the stance.
     "Emotional intensity" doesn't convey  the half of it, of course.  It is
the kind  of coarse and disappointing translation that makes the dismembered
bodies  of samurai warriors spin  in  their  graves. The  word  "zanshin" is
larded down with a lot  of other folderol that you have to be  Nipponese  to
     And Hiro thinks, frankly, that most  of  it is pseudomystical  crap, on
the same  level  as his old high school  football coach exhorting his men to
play at 110 percent.
     The   businessman   makes   another   attack.   This  one   is   pretty
straightforward: a  quick shuffling  approach and then a snapping cut in the
direction of Hiro's ribcage. Hiro parries it.
     Now Hiro knows something about this businessman, namely, that like most
Nipponese sword fighters, all he knows is kendo.
     Kendo  is  to  real samurai sword  fighting  what fencing  is  to  real
swashbuckling:  an attempt to take a highly disorganized,  chaotic, violent,
and brutal conflict and turn it into a cute game. As in fencing, you're only
supposed to attack certain parts of the body - the parts that  are protected
by armor. As in  fencing,  you're not allowed to kick your  opponent in  the
kneecaps  or  break  a  chair  over  his head.  And  the  judging is totally
subjective.  In  kendo, you can  get a good  solid hit on  your opponent and
still not  get credit for it, because the judges feel you didn't possess the
right amount of zanshin.
     Hiro doesn't have any zanshin at all. He just wants this over with. The
next time  the  businessman  sets up his ear-splitting  screech and shuffles
toward Hiro, cutting and snapping his blade, Hiro  parries the attack, turns
around, and cuts both of his legs off just above the knees.
     The businessman collapses to the floor.
     It  takes a  lot  of  practice  to make  your avatar  move through  the
Metaverse  like a real person. When your avatar has just lost its legs,  all
that skill goes out the window.
     "Well,  land  sakes!"  Hiro says. "Lookee  here!"  He  whips his  blade
sideways, cutting off both of the businessman's forearms, causing  the sword
to clatter onto the floor.
     "Better fire up the ol' barbecue, Jemima!" Hiro continues, whipping the
sword around sideways, cutting the businessman's body in half just above the
navel. Then he leans down so he's looking right into the businessman's face.
"Didn't anyone  tell  you," he  says,  losing  the  dialect,  "that I was  a
     Then he  hacks  the  guy's  head off.  It falls  to the  floor, does  a
half-roll,  and comes to rest  staring straight  up  at the ceiling. So Hiro
steps back a couple of paces and mumbles, "Safe."
     A largish  safe, about a meter on  a side, materializes  just below the
ceiling, plummets, and lands directly on the businessman's head. The  impact
drives both  the safe and the  head straight  down through the  floor of The
Black Sun, leaving a square  hole in the floor,  exposing  the tunnel system
underneath.  The rest of the  dismembered body  is  still strewn  around the
     At this moment, a  Nipponese businessman somewhere, in a nice  hotel in
London or an office in Tokyo or even in the first-class lounge of the  LATH,
the Los Angeles/Tokyo  Hypersonic,  is  sitting in  front of  his  computer,
red-faced and sweating, looking at The Black Sun Hall  of Fame. He has  been
cut off from contact with The Black Sun itself, disconnected as it were from
the Metaverse, and  is  just seeing a two-dimensional display.  The top  ten
swordsmen of all  time are shown along  with their photographs. Beneath is a
scrolling list of numbers and names,  starting with #11. He can scroll  down
the list if he wants  to find his own ranking. The screen  helpfully informs
him that  he is currently ranked number  863 out of 890 people who have ever
participated in a sword fight in The Black Sun.
     Number One, the name and the photograph on the top of the list, belongs
to Hiroaki Protagonist.

     Ng  Security Industries Semi-Autonomous  Guard Unit #A-367  lives in  a
pleasant black-and-white  Metaverse  where porterhouse steaks grow on trees,
dangling  at head level from  low  branches, and blood-drenched Frisbees fly
through the crisp, cool air for no reason at all, until you catch them.
     He has a little yard all to himself. It has a fence around it. He knows
he can't jump over the fence. He's  never actually tried to jump it, because
he  knows be can't.  He doesn't go into the yard unless he has  to. It's hot
out there.
     He has an important job: Protect the yard. Sometimes people come in and
out of the yard.  Most  of the time, they  are good people,  and he  doesn't
bother them. He  doesn't know why  they  are good people.  He just knows it.
Sometimes  they are bad  people, and he has to do bad things to them to make
them go away. This is fitting and proper.
     Out  in  the  world beyond his yard,  there are other yards  with other
doggies just like him. These aren't nasty dogs. They are all his friends.
     The closest  neighbor doggie is far away, farther  than he can see. But
he  can hear this  doggie bark  sometimes, when  a bad person approaches his
yard. He  can  hear  other  neighbor  doggies,  too, a  whole pack  of  them
stretching  off  into the distance, in  all directions.  He belongs to a big
pack of nice doggies.
     He and the other nice doggies bark whenever a stranger comes into their
yard,  or even near it. The  stranger  doesn't hear  him, but all  the other
doggies  in the pack do. If they live nearby, they get excited. They wake up
and get ready to  do bad things  to that stranger if he should  try  to come
into their yard.
     When  a neighbor  doggie barks  at a stranger,  pictures and sounds and
smells come into his mind along with the bark. He  suddenly  knows what that
stranger looks  like.  What  he smells  like.  How  he sounds. Then, if that
stranger should come anywhere near his  yard, he will recognize him. He will
help spread the bark along to other nice doggies so that the entire pack can
all be prepared to fight the stranger.
     Tonight, Semi-Autonomous Guard Unit  #A-367 is barking. He is  not just
passing some other doggie's bark to the pack. He is barking because he feels
very excited about things that are happening in his yard.
     First,  two people come in. This made  him excited because they came in
very fast. Their hearts are  beating quickly and they are sweating  and they
smell scared. He looked at these two people to see if they were carrying bad
     The little  one is carrying things that are a  little  naughty, but not
really  bad. The big one is carrying some  pretty  bad things. But he knows,
somehow, that the big one is okay. He belongs  in  this  yard. He  is not  a
stranger; he lives here. And the little one is his guest.
     Still,  he senses there is  something  exciting happening. He starts to
bark.  The people in the yard don't hear him barking. But all the other nice
doggies  in the pack, far away, hear him,  and when they do, they see  these
two scared, nice people, smell them, and hear them.
     Then more people come into his yard. They are also excited; he can hear
their  hearts beating. Saliva floods  his mouth as he  smells the  hot salty
blood pumping through their arteries. These people are excited and angry and
just  a little  bit scared.  They don't live here;  they  are  strangers. He
doesn't like strangers very much.
     He looks at them and sees that they are carrying three revolvers, a .38
and two .357 magnums; that the  .38 is loaded with hollow-points, one of the
.357s is loaded with Teflon bullets and has also  been cocked; and that  the
pump shotgun is loaded with buckshot and already has a shell chambered, plus
four more shells in its magazine.
     The  things that the strangers are carrying  are bad.  Scary things. He
gets excited. He gets angry. He gets a little bit scared, but he likes being
scared,  to him it is the  same  thing as being excited. Really, he has only
two emotions: sleeping and adrenaline overdrive.
     The bad stranger with the shotgun is raising his weapon!
     It is an  utterly terrible thing. A  lot of  bad, excited strangers are
invading his yard with evil things, come to hurt the nice visitors.
     He barely  has  time  to bark  out a warning to the other nice  doggies
before he launches  himself  from his doghouse, propelled on a white-hot jet
of pure, feral emotion.

     In Y.T.'s  peripheral vision she sees a brief  flash, hears a  clunking
noise. She looks over in that  direction to see that the source of the light
is a sort of doggie door built into the side of the Hong Kong franchise. The
doggie door has  in the  very recent  past  been  slammed  open by something
coming  from  the  inside,  headed  for  the  lawngrid  with  the speed  and
determination of a howitzer shell.
     As all  of  this  registers on Y.T.'s  mind,  she  begins  to  hear the
shouting of the jeeks. This shouting is not angry and not  scared either. No
one has had  time to get scared  yet.  It is the shouting of someone who has
just had a bucket of ice water dumped over his head.
     This shouting is still getting underway, she is still turning  her head
to look at the jeeks, when the doggie door emits another burst of light. Her
eyes  flick that-a-way; she  thinks that she  saw  something, a  long  round
shadow cross-sectioned  in  the  light for a blurry instant as the door  was
being slammed inward. But when her eyes focus on it, she sees nothing except
the oscillating door, same as before. These are the only impressions left on
her mind, except for one more detail:  a train of  sparks that danced across
the lawngrid from the  doggie door to the jeeks and  back again  during this
one-second event, like a skyrocket glancing across the lot.
     People say that the Rat Thing runs  on four legs. Perhaps the  claws on
its robot legs made those sparks as they were digging into the  lawngrid for
     The jeeks are all  in motion. Some of them have  just been body-slammed
into the lawngrid and are still bouncing and rolling.  Others  are  still in
mid-collapse.  They are unarmed.  They are  reaching to grip their gun hands
with the opposite hands, still hollering, though now their voices are tinged
with a certain amount  of  fear.  One of them has had his trousers torn from
the waistband all the way  down  to  the ankle,  and a strip  of  fabric  is
trailing out across the lot, as though he had his pocket picked by something
that was in too  much of  a hurry to  let  go of the actual pocket before it
left. Maybe this guy had a knife in his pocket.
     There is no blood anywhere. The Rat Thing  is precise.  Still they hold
their hands and holler. Maybe it's true what  they say, that  the Rat  Thing
gives you an electrical shock when it wants you to let go of something.
     "Look out," she hears herself saying, "they got guns."
     Hiro turns and grins at her. His teeth are  very white and straight; he
has a  sharp grin, a carnivore's grin. "No, they don't. Guns are illegal  in
Hong Kong, remember?"
     "They  had guns just a second  ago,"  Y.T. says,  bulging her eyes  and
shaking her head.
     "The Rat Thing has them now," Hiro says.
     The jeeks all decide they better leave. They run out and get into their
taxis and take off, tires asqueal.
     Y.T. backs the taxi on its  rims out over the STD  and into the street,
where she  grindingly parallel parks it.  She goes  back into the  Hong Kong
franchise, a nebula of  aromatic freshness trailing behind her like the tail
of a  comet. She is thinking, oddly enough, about  what it  would be like to
climb into the  back  of the car with  Hiro  Protagonist for a while. Pretty
nice, probably. But she'd  have to take  out the dentata, and this isn't the
place. Besides, anyone  decent enough to come help her escape from The Clink
probably has some kind of scruples about boffing fifteen-year-old girls.
     "That was nice  of you," he  says, nodding at the parked taxi. "Are you
going to pay for his tires, too?"
     "No. Are you?"
     "I'm having some cash flow problems."
     She stands  there in the middle  of the  Hong Kong lawngrid.  They look
each other up and down, carefully.
     "I called my boyfriend. But he flaked out on me," she says.
     "Another thrasher?"
     "The same."
     "You made the same mistake I made once," he says.
     "What's that?"
     "Mixing  business with pleasure. Going out with  a colleague.  It  gets
very confusing."
     "Yeah.  I see what you mean." She's  not exactly sure what  a colleague
     "I was thinking that we should be partners," she says.
     She's expecting him to laugh at her.  But instead he grins and nods his
head slightly.  "The same thing occurred to me. But  I'd have to think about
how it would work."
     She is astounded that he would actually be thinking this. Then she gets
the sap factor under  control and realizes:  He's waffling. Which means he's
probably lying. This is probably  going  to end with him  trying to get  her
into bed.
     "I gotta go," she says. "Gotta get home."
     Now  we'll see how fast  he loses  interest in the partnership concept.
She turns her back on him.
     Suddenly, they are impaled on Hong Kong robot spotlights one more time.
     Y.T. feels a sharp bruising pain in her ribs, as though someone punched
her. But it  wasn't Hiro. He is an  unpredictable  freak who carries swords,
but she can smell chick-punchers a mile off.
     "Ow!" she says, twisting away from the impact. She looks down  to see a
small heavy object bouncing on  the ground at their feet. Out in the street,
an ancient taxi squeals its tires,  getting the hell out of there. A jeek is
hanging out the rear window, shaking his fist at them. He must have thrown a
rock at her.
     Except it's not  a  rock. The heavy  thing  at her feet, the thing that
just bounced off of Y.T.'s  ribcage, is  a  hand  grenade. She stares for  a
second, recognizing it, a well-known cartoon icon made real.
     Then her feet get knocked out from under her, too fast  really to hurt.
And  just when  she's getting  reoriented to that, there is a painfully loud
bang from another part of the parking lot.
     And  then  everything   finally  stops  long  enough  to  be  seen  and
     The Rat  Thing  has stopped. Which  they  never  do. It's part of their
mystery that you never get to see them, they move so fast. No one knows what
they look like.
     No one except for Y.T. and Hiro, now.
     It's bigger than she imagined. The body is Rottweiler-sized,  segmented
into overlapping  hard plates like those of a rhinoceros. The legs are long,
curled way  up to deliver power, like a cheetah's.  It must be the tail that
makes  people refer  to it  as a Rat Thing, because  that's the only ratlike
part-incredibly long and flexible. But it looks  like  a rat's tail with the
flesh eaten away by acid, because it just consists of  segments, hundreds of
them neatly plugged together, like vertebrae.
     "Jesus H. Christ!" Hiro says. And she knows, from that, that he's never
seen one either.
     Right  now,  the  tail  is coiled and  piled  around on top of  the Rat
Thing's  body like a rope that  has  fallen out  of a tree. Parts of  it are
trying  to move, other parts of it look  dead and inert. The legs are moving
one by one, spasmodically, not acting in concert. The whole thing just looks
terribly wrong, like footage of an airplane that has had its tail blown off,
trying to maneuver  for a landing. Even  someone who  is not an engineer can
see that it has gone all perverse and twisted.
     The  tail writhes and lashes like a snake, uncoils itself, rises up off
the Rat Thing's body, gets out of  the way of its legs. But  still the  legs
have problems; it can't get itself up
     "Y.T.," Hiro is saying, "don't."
     She does. One footstep at a time, she approaches the Rat Thing.
     "It's dangerous, in case you hadn't noticed,"  Hiro says, following her
a few paces behind. "They say it has biological components."
     "Biological components?"
     "Animal parts. So it might be unpredictable."
     She likes animals. She keeps walking.
     She's seeing it better now. It's not all armor and muscle. A lot of  it
actually  looks  kind  of  flimsy.  It  has  short  stubby  winglike  things
projecting from its body: A big one from each shoulder  and a row of smaller
ones down the length of its spine, like on a stegosaurus. Her Knight Visions
tell her  that  these  things  are hot enough  to  bake pizzas  on.  As  she
approaches, they seem to unfold and grow.
     They are blooming like flowers in  an educational  film,  spreading and
unfolding to reveal  a fine complicated internal structure that has been all
collapsed together inside. Each stubby wing splits off into little miniature
copies of itself,  and each of  those in turn  splits  off into more smaller
copies  and so on forever. The smallest  ones are just tiny bits of foil, so
small that, from a distance, the edges look fuzzy.
     It  is continuing  to get hotter. The  little wings are almost red  hot
now. Y.T. slides her goggles up onto her forehead and cups her hands  around
her  face to block out the surrounding lights,  and sure enough she can  see
them beginning to make a dull brownish glow,  like an electric stove element
that  has  just  been turned  on.  The  grass underneath  the  Rat  Thing is
beginning to smoke.
     "Careful. Supposedly they have really nasty isotopes inside," Hiro says
behind her. He has come up  a  little closer now, but he's still hanging way
     "What's an isotope?"
     "A radioactive substance that makes heat. That's its energy source."
     "How do you turn it off?"
     "You don't. It keeps making heat until it melts."
     Y.T. is only a  few feet away from the Rat  Thing now, and she can feel
the  heat on her checks.  The wings have unfolded as far as  they can go. At
their  roots  they are a bright  yellow-orange, fading  out through red  and
brown to  their delicate edges, which are still dark. The acrid smoke of the
burning grass obscures some of the details.
     She  thinks:  The edges  of  the  wings look like something  I've  seen
before. They  look like  the thin metal vanes that run up the  outside  of a
window  air conditioner, the ones that you can write your name in by mashing
them down with your finger.
     Or like the radiator on a car. The fan blows air  over  the radiator to
cool off the engine.
     "It's got  radiators," she says. "The  Rat Thing has  got  radiators to
cool off." She's gathering intel right at this very moment.
     But it's not cooling off. It's just getting hotter.
     Y.T. surfs  through  traffic jams for  a  living.  That's  her economic
niche: beating the traffic.  And she knows that a car doesn't boil over when
it is speeding down an open freeway.  It boils over  when  it is stopped  in
traffic. Because when it sits still, not enough air is being blown over  the
     That's  what's  happening  to the Rat  Thing right now. It has to  keep
moving, keep forcing air  over its radiators, or else it overheats and melts
     "Cool," she says. "I wonder if it's going to blow up or what."
     The body converges to a sharp nose. In the front it bends down sharply,
and there is a black  glass canopy,  raked sharply like the windshield  of a
fighter plane. If the Rat Thing has eyes, this is where it looks out.
     Under that,  where the jaw should be are the remains  of  some  kind of
mechanical  stuff that has  been mostly  blown  off by the explosion of  the
     The black glass windshield - or facemask, or whatever you call it - has
a hole blown through it. Big enough that Y.T. could put her hand through. On
the other side of that hole, it's dark and she can't see much, especially so
close to the  bright orange glare coming from the radiators. But she can see
that red stuff is coming out from inside. And it ain't no Dexron II. The Rat
Thing is hurt and it's bleeding.
     "This thing is real,"  she says.  "It's got  blood in its veins." She's
thinking: This is intel.  This is  intel. I can make money off this  with my
pardner - my pod - Hiro.
     Then she thinks: The poor thing is burning itself alive.
     "Don't do it. Don't touch it, Y.T.," Hiro says.
     She steps right up  to it, flips her goggles  down to protect her  face
from  the  heat.  The Rat  Thing's legs stop their spasmodic  movements,  as
though waiting for her.
     She bends down  and grabs its front legs. They react, tightening  their
pushrod muscles against  the pull of her hands. It's exactly like grabbing a
dog by the front legs and asking it to dance. This thing is alive. It reacts
to her. She knows.
     She looks up at Hiro, just to make sure he's taking this all in. He is.
     "Jerk!"  she  says. "I stick my  neck  out  and say  I want to  be your
partner,  and you say  you want  to think about it? What's your problem, I'm
not good enough to work with you?"
     She leans back and  begins dragging the Rat Thing  backward  across the
lawngrid. It's  incredibly light. No wonder it can run  so fast.  She  could
pick it up, if she felt like burning herself alive.
     As she drags it backward toward the doggie door, it brands a blackened,
smoking trail  into the  lawngrid.  She can  see steam rising  up out of her
coverall, old sweat  and stuff boiling out of the fabric. She's small enough
to fit through the doggie  door - another  thing she can do and Hiro can't .
Usually these things are locked, she's tried to mess with them. But this one
is opened.
     Inside, the  franchise is  bright,  white, robot-polished floors. A few
feet from the doggie door is what  looks like a black washing machine.  This
is  the  Rat  Thing's hutch, where it lurks in darkness and privacy, waiting
for a job to do. It is wired into the franchise by a  thick cable coming out
of the wall. Right now,  the hutch's door is  hanging open, which is another
thing she's never seen before. And steam is rolling out from inside of it.
     Not steam. Cold stuff. Like when you open your freezer door on a  humid
     She pushes  the Rat  Thing  into its  hutch.  Some kind  of cold liquid
sprays out of all the walls and bursts into steam before it even reaches the
Rat Thing's body, and the steam comes blasting out the front of the hutch so
powerfully that it knocks her on her ass.
     The  long tail  is strung out the front of the hutch, across the floor,
and  out  through the doggie door.  She picks  up  part  of  it,  the  sharp
machine-tooled edges of its vertebrae pinching her gloves.
     Suddenly it tenses, comes alive, vibrates  for a second. She jerks  her
hands back. The  tail shoots  back  inside  the  hutch  like a  rubber  band
snapping. She  can't even see it move.  Then the hutch  door slams  shut.  A
janitor  robot, a  Hoover with a brain, hums out of another doorway to clean
the long streaks of blood off the floor.
     Above her, hanging on the  foyer  wall facing the main entrance,  is  a
framed poster with a garland of  well-browned  jasmine blossoms  hung around
it. It consists of a photo of  the wildly  grinning Mr.  Lee, with the usual
statement underneath:

     It is my  pleasure  to welcome all quality  folks to  visiting  of Hong
Kong. Whether seriously in business or on a fun-loving hijink, make yourself
totally  homely  in this meager  environment. If any  aspect is not  utterly
harmonious, gratefully bring it to my notice and I shall strive to earn your
     We  of  Greater  Hong  Kong  take  many  prides  in our  tiny  nation's
extravagant  growth. The  ones who saw our  isle  as a morsel of Red China's
pleasure  have  struck  their faces in  keen astonishment to see many  great
so-called  powers of  the  olden  guard  reel in  dismay  before our leaping
strides and  charged-up  hustling, freewheeling idiom of high-tech  personal
accomplishment and betterment  of all peoples.  The potentials of all ethnic
races and anthropologies to merge  under a banner of the Three Principles to
     1. Information, information, information!
     2. Totally fair marketeering!
     3. Strict ecology!
     have been peerless in the history of economic strife.
     Who would disdain  to subscribe under this flowing banner? If  you have
not attained your Hong Kong citizenship, apply for  a passport now!  In this
month,  the  usual fee of HK$100 will be kindly neglected. Fill out a coupon
(below) now. If coupons are lacking, dial 1-800-HONG KONG instantly to apply
from the help of our wizened operators.
     Mr.  Lee's  Greater Hong  Kong is  a private, wholly  extraterritorial,
sovereign, quasi-national entity not recognized by  any other  nationalities
and in no way affiliated with the former Crown Colony of Hong Kong, which is
part  of  the  People's Republic of China.  The People's  Republic of  China
admits or accepts no  responsibility for  Mr. Lee, the Government of Greater
Hong Kong, or  any of the citizens thereof,  or for any violations  of local
law,   personal  injury,  or  property  damage   occurring  in  territories,
buildings, municipalities, institutions, or real estate owned, occupied,  or
claimed by Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong.
     Join us instantly!
     Your enterprising partner,
     Mr. Lee

     Back  in  his cool little house, Semi-Autonomous Guard Unit  #A-367  is
howling. Outside  in the yard, it was very hot and he felt  bad. Whenever he
is out in the yard, he gets  hot unless he  keeps running. When he  got hurt
and had to lie down for  a long time, he felt hotter than he  had  ever been
     Now  he doesn't feel hot  anymore. But he is still hurt. He is  howling
his injured howl. He is telling all the neighbor doggies that he needs help.
They  feel sad and  upset and repeat  his howl and pass it along to  all the
rest of the doggies.
     Soon  he hears the vet's car approaching.  The  nice  vet will come and
make him feel better.
     He starts barking again. He is telling all the  other doggies about how
the bad strangers came and hurt him. And how hot it was out in the yard when
he had to lie down.  And how the nice  girl helped him and took him  back to
his cool house.

     Right in front of  the Hong Kong franchise, Y.T. notices a  black  Town
Car that  has  been sitting there for a while. She doesn't have to  see  the
plates to know it's Mafia. Only the Mafia drives cars like that. The windows
are blackened, but she  knows someone's in there keeping an eye  on her. How
do  they  do it? You see these Town Cars everywhere, but  you never see them
move, never see them get anyplace. She's not  even sure they have engines in
     "Okay.  Sorry," Hiro  says. "I keep my  own  thing going, but we have a
partnership for any intel you can dig up. Fifty-fifty split."
     "Deal," she says, climbing onto her plank.
     "Call me anytime. You have my card."
     "Hey,  that  reminds  me. Your card said you're into  the  three  Ms of
     "Yeah. Music, movies, and microcode."
     "You heard of Vitaly Chernobyl and the Meltdowns?"
     "No. Is that a band?"
     "Yeah.  It's the greatest band. You should check it  out, homeboy, it's
going to be the next big thing."
     She coasts  out onto  the road and poons an  Audi with  Blooming Greens
license plates. It ought to take her home. Mom's probably in bed, pretending
to sleep, being worried.
     Half a block from the entrance to Blooming Greens, she unpoons the Audi
and coasts  into a McDonald's. She  goes into  the  ladies'. It has  a  hung
ceiling. She  stands on the seat  of the third  toilet, pushes up one of the
ceiling tiles, moves  it aside.  A  cotton sleeve  tumbles  out,  bearing  a
delicate floral  print. She pulls on  it and  hauls down the whole ensemble,
the  blouse, the pleated skirt,  underwear from Vicky's, the leather  shoes,
the  necklace and earrings, even a  fucking purse. She takes off her  RadiKS
coverall, wads it up,  sticks it into the ceiling, replaces the  loose tile.
Then she puts on the ensemble.
     Now she looks just like she did  when she  had breakfast  with Mom this
     She  carries her plank down  the  street to Blooming Greens, where it's
legal to carry  them  but  not to put them  on  the  'crete. She flashes her
passport  at the border post,  walks  a quarter  of a  mile  down crisp  new
sidewalks, and up to the house where the porch light is on.
     Mom's sitting in the den, in front of her computer, as usual. Mom works
for the  Feds.  Feds don't make much  money, but they have to  work hard, to
show their loyalty.
     Y.T.  goes in and  looks at her  mother,  who  has slumped down in  her
chair, put her hands around  her  face almost like she's vogueing,  put bare
stockinged feet up. She wears these  awful cheap Fed stockings that are like
scouring cloth,  and  when she walks, her thighs rub together underneath her
skirt and make a  rasping noise. There  is a heavy-duty Ziploc  bag  on  the
table, full  of water that used to be ice a couple of  hours ago. Y.T. looks
at Mom's left arm. She  has rolled up her sleeve to expose the fresh bruise,
just  above her elbow,  where  they put the blood-pressure cuff. Weekly  Fed
polygraph test.
     "Is that you?" Mom shouts, not realizing that Y.T.'s in the room.
     Y.T. retreats into the kitchen so she won't surprise her mother. "Yeah,
Mom," she shouts back. "How was your day?"
     "I'm tired," Mom says. It's what she always says.
     Y.T. pinches a beer from  the fridge and  starts running a hot bath. It
makes  a roaring sound that  relaxes her,  like the white-noise generator on
Morn's nightstand.

     The  Nipponese businessman lies  cut in segments  on  The  Black  Sun's
floor. Surprisingly (he looks so real when  he's in  one  piece),  no flesh,
blood, or organs are visible through  the new crossections that Hiro's sword
made through his body. He is nothing more than a thin shell of epidermis, an
incredibly complex inflatable doll. But the air does not rush out of him, he
fails to collapse,  and you can  look into the aperture  of a sword  cut and
see, instead of bones and meat, the back of the skin on the other side.
     It breaks the metaphor. The avatar is  not acting like  a real body. It
reminds all The Black Sun's patrons that they are living in a fantasy world.
People hate to be reminded of this.
     When Hiro wrote The  Black Sun's sword-fighting  algorithms - code that
was later picked up and adopted by the entire Metaverse - he discovered that
there was no  good way  to handle the aftermath. Avatars are not supposed to
die. Not  supposed to fall apart. The creators of the Metaverse had not been
morbid enough  to  foresee a demand for this  kind  of  thing. But the whole
point of a sword fight  is  to cut someone up and  kill them. So Hiro had to
kludge something together, in order that the Metaverse would not, over time,
become littered with inert, dismembered avatars that never decayed.
     So the first  thing that happens, when someone loses  a sword fight, is
that  his computer gets disconnected from  the global  network  that is  the
Metaverse.  He  gets chucked  right  out of  the system. It  is the  closest
simulation  of death that the Metaverse can offer, but all it really does is
cause the user a lot of annoyance.
     Furthermore,  the user finds that he can't get  back into the Metaverse
for a  few  minutes. He  can't  log  back  on. This is because  his  avatar,
dismembered, is  still in  the Metaverse, and it's  a  rule that your avatar
can't exist in two places  at once.  So the user can't get back in until his
avatar has been disposed of.
     Disposal of hacked-up avatars is taken care of by Graveyard Daemons,  a
new Metaverse feature that Hiro had  to invent. They are small lithe persons
swathed in  black, like ninjas, not even their eyes showing. They are  quiet
and efficient. Even as Hiro is  stepping back from the hacked-up body of his
former  opponent,  they are emerging from  invisible trapdoors in  The Black
Sun's floor, climbing up out of  the  netherworld, converging on  the fallen
businessman. Within  seconds, they  have stashed the  body  parts into black
bags. Then they climb back  down through their secret  trapdoors and  vanish
into  hidden tunnels beneath  The Black Sun's floor.  A  couple  of  curious
patrons  try to  follow  them, try  to  pry  open  the trapdoors, but  their
avatars'  fingers find nothing but smooth matte black. The tunnel  system is
accessible only to the Graveyard Daemons.
     And, incidentally, to Hiro. But he rarely uses it.
     The Graveyard  Daemons  will take the avatar to  the Pyre, an  eternal,
underground bonfire beneath  the  center  of The  Black Sun, and burn it. As
soon as the flames consume  the  avatar, it  will vanish from the Metaverse,
and then its owner will be able to sign on as  usual,  creating a new avatar
to run around in. But, hopefully, he  will  be  more cautious and polite the
next time around.

     Hiro looks  up  into  the circle of applauding, whistling, and cheering
avatars and  notes that they are fading out.  The entire Black Sun now looks
like it is being projected on gauze. On the other side of that gauze, bright
lights shine through, overwhelming the image. Then it disappears entirely.
     He peels off his goggles. and finds himself standing in the parking lot
of the U-Stor-It, holding a naked katana.
     The sun has  just gone  down. A  couple  of  dozen people are  standing
around  him at  a great distance, shielding themselves  behind parked  cars,
awaiting his next  move. Most of them are pretty scared,  but a few  of them
are just plain excited.
     Vitaly  Chernobyl is  standing in the open door  of their 20-by-30. His
hairdo  is backlighted. It has  been petrified  by means  of  egg whites and
other proteins. These substances refract the light and throw off tiny little
spectral  fragments, a cluster-bombed rainbow. Right  now, a miniature image
of The Black Sun is being projected onto Vitaly's ass by Hiro's computer. He
is rocking unsteadily from foot to foot, as though  standing on both of them
at the same time is too complicated to deal with this early in the day,  and
he hasn't decided which one to use.
     "You're blocking me," Hiro says.
     "It's time to go," Vitaly says.
     "You're telling me it's time to go? I've been  waiting for  you to wake
up for an hour."
     As Hiro approaches, Vitaly watches his sword uncertainly. Vitaly's eyes
are dry and red, and on his lower lip he is sporting a chancre the size of a
     "Did you win your sword fight?"
     "Of course I won the fucking sword fight," Hiro says. "I'm the greatest
sword fighter in the world."
     "And you wrote the software."
     "Yeah. That, too," Hiro says.

     After Vitaly Chernobyl and  the Meltdowns arrived  in Long Beach on one
of those  hijacked  ex-Soviet  refugee  freighters, they  fanned  out across
southern California looking for expanses of reinforced concrete that were as
vast and barren as  the  ones  they  had  left behind in  Kiev. They weren't
homesick. They needed such environments in order to practice their art.
     The  L.A.  River  was a  natural  site. And  there were plenty  of nice
overpasses. All they had to do was follow skateboarders to the secret places
they  had  long  since   discovered.   Thrashers  and   nuclear  fuzz-grunge
collectives thrive in the same environment. That's where Vitaly and Hiro are
going right now.
     Vitaly  has a really old VW Vanagon, the kind with a pop-top that turns
it into a makeshift camper. He used to live in it, staying on the street  or
in  various  Snooze  'n'  Cruise  franchises, until  he  met  up  with  Hiro
Protagonist.  Now,  the ownership of  the  Vanagon is  subject  to  dispute,
because  Vitaly owes Hiro more  money than  it is technically worth. So they
share it.
     They  drive  the Vanagon  around to the  other side  of  the U-Stor-It,
honking the horn and flashing  the lights  in order to shoo a hundred little
kids away from the loading dock. It's not a playground, kids.
     They  pick their way  down a broad  corridor, excusing themselves every
inch  of  the way as they step over  little  Mayan  encampments and Buddhist
shrines  and white trash stoned on Vertigo, Apple Pie, Fuzzy Buzzy, Narthex,
Mustard, and the like. The floor needs sweeping: used syringes, crack vials,
charred  spoons, pipe  stems.  There are also many little tubes, about thumb
sized,  transparent plastic with a red cap  on  one end. They might be crack
vials,  but the  caps  are  still  on  them,  and pipeheads  wouldn't  be so
fastidious as to replace the lid on an empty vial. It must  be something new
Hiro  hasn't  heard of before, the McDonald's styrofoam burger box  of  drug
     They  push through  a fire door into another section  of the U-Stor-It,
which looks the  same as the last one (everything looks the same in America,
there are no transitions  now). Vitaly owns the third locker on the right, a
puny 5-by-10 that he is actually using for its intended purpose: storage.
     Vitaly  steps  up to  the  door and commences  trying  to remember  the
combination  to  the  padlock, which  involves a  certain  amount of  random
guessing. Finally, the lock snaps and pops  open. Vitaly shoots the bolt and
swings  the  door  open,  sweeping a  clean  half-circle  through  the  drug
paraphernalia.  Most  of the  5-by-10  is  occupied  by  a  couple  of large
four-wheeled flatbed handcarts piled high with speakers and amps.
     Hiro and Vitaly wheel the carts down to the loading dock, put the stuff
into  the  Vanagon,  and  then  return  the  empty  carts  to  the  5-by-10.
Technically, the carts are community property, but no one believes that.
     The drive to the scene of the concert is long, made longer by  the fact
that Vitaly, rejecting  the technocentric L.A. view of the universe in which
Speed  is  God, likes to  stay on the surface and drive at about thirty-five
miles per hour. Traffic  is  not great,  either. So Hiro  jacks his computer
into the cigarette lighter and goggles into the Metaverse.
     He  is no longer connected to the network by a fiberoptic cable, and so
all his communication  with the  outside  world has  to take place via radio
waves,  which are  much slower  and less  reliable. Going into The Black Sun
would not be practical  - it  would look and sound terrible,  and  the other
patrons would look at him as if he were some kind of black-and-white person.
But there's no problem with going into his  office, because that's generated
within the guts of his  computer, which is sitting on  his  lap; he  doesn't
need any communication with the outside world for that.
     He  materializes  in his  office, in his nice  little house in  the old
hacker neighborhood  just off the Street. It  is all quite Nipponese: tatami
mats  cover  the floor.  His  desk is  a  great, ruddy  slab  of  rough-sawn
mahogany. Silvery  cloud-light filters through  ricepaper  walls. A panel in
front  of him  slides open to reveal a garden, complete with babbling  brook
and steelhead trout jumping out from time to time to grab flies. Technically
speaking,  the pond should  be  full of carp, but Hiro is American enough to
think of carp as inedible dinosaurs that sit on the bottom and eat sewage.
     There  is  something new: A globe about the  size  of a  grapefruit,  a
perfectly  detailed rendition  of  Planet Earth, hanging in  space at  arm's
length in front of his eyes. Hiro has heard about this but never seen it. It
is a piece of CIC software  called, simply, Earth. It is  the user interface
that CIC uses to keep track of every bit of spatial information that it owns
-  all   the  maps,   weather  data,  architectural  plans,   and  satellite
surveillance stuff.
     Hiro has been  thinking that in a few years,  if he does really well in
the intel biz, maybe he will make enough money to subscribe to Earth and get
this thing in his office. Now it is suddenly here, free of charge.  The only
explanation he can come up with is that Juanita must have given it to him.
     But  first things  first. The Babel/Infocalypse  card is still  in  his
avatar's pocket. He takes it out.
     One  of  the rice-paper panels  that make  up  the  walls of his office
slides open. On the other  side of it, Hiro can see a large, dimly  lit room
that  wasn't there  before;  apparently  Juanita  came  in and made a  major
addition to his house as well. A man walks into the office.
     The  Librarian daemon looks  like a pleasant,  fiftyish, silver-haired,
bearded man  with  bright  blue  eyes, wearing  a V-neck sweater over a work
shirt, with a coarsely woven, tweedy-looking wool tie. The  tie is loosened,
the  sleeves  pushed up. Even though he's just  a piece of software, he  has
reason to  be  cheerful; he can move  through  the nearly infinite stacks of
information  in  the Library  with the agility of a spider dancing across  a
vast web of crossreferences. The Librarian is the only piece of CIC software
that costs even more than Earth; the only thing he can't do is think.
     "Yes, sir," the Librarian says.  He is eager without  being obnoxiously
chipper; he clasps his hands behind his back, rocks forward slightly  on the
balls of his feet, raises his eyebrows expectantly over his half-glasses.
     "Babel's a city in Babylon, right?"
     "It was  a legendary city,"  the  Librarian  says. "Babel is a Biblical
term for Babylon. The word is Semitic; Bab means gate and  El  means God, so
Babel means  'Gate of God.' But  it  is probably also somewhat onomatopoeic,
imitating someone  who speaks  in  an incomprehensible tongue. The Bible  is
full of puns."
     "They built a tower to Heaven and God knocked it down."
     "This is an anthology of common misconceptions. God did not do anything
to  the Tower itself. 'And  the LORD said, "Behold, they are one people, and
they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will
do; and nothing that they propose  to  do will now  be impossible  for them.
Come, let  us  go down, and there confuse their language, that they  may not
understand one  another's  speech." So the LORD  scattered them  abroad from
there  over the face of all the earth, and they left off  building the city.
Therefore  its name was called  Babel, because there  the LORD  confused the
language of all the earth.' Genesis 11:6-9, Revised Standard Version."
     "So the tower wasn't knocked down. It just went on hiatus."
     "Correct. It was not knocked down."
     "But that's bogus."
     "Provably  false.  Juanita  believes that nothing  is  provably true or
provably false in the Bible. Because  of it's provably false, then the Bible
is a lie, and if it's provably true, then the existence of God is proven and
there's no  room for faith. The Babel  story  is provably  false, because if
they built  a tower to Heaven and  God didn't knock it  down,  then it would
still be around somewhere, or at least a visible remnant of it."
     "In assuming  that it  was very  tall,  you  are relying on an obsolete
reading. The tower is described, literally, as 'its top with  the  heavens.'
For  many  centuries,  this was interpreted to mean that its top was so high
that it was in the  heavens.  But in  the  last century  or  so,  as  actual
Babylonian ziggurats have  been excavated, astrological diagrams -  pictures
of the heavens - have been found inscribed into their tops."
     "Oh. Okay, so the real  story is that  a tower  was built with heavenly
diagrams carved into its  top. Which is far more plausible than a tower that
reaches to the heavens."
     "More than plausible," the Librarian reminds him. "Such structures have
actually been found."
     "Anyway, you're saying that when God got angry  and came down on  them,
the tower itself wasn't affected. But  they had  to stop building  the tower
because of an informational disaster - they couldn't talk to each other."
     "'Disaster' is an astrological term meaning 'bad star,"'  the Librarian
points out.  "Sorry - but due to my internal structure, I'm a sucker for non
     "That's  okay, really,"  Hiro says.  "You're  a  pretty decent piece of
ware. Who wrote you, anyway?"
     "For  the most part I write myself," the  Librarian says. "That  is,  I
have the  innate  ability  to  learn from experience.  But this ability  was
originally coded into me by my creator."
     "Who  wrote you?  Maybe  I know  him,"  Hiro  says.  "I  know a  lot of
     "I was not coded by a professional hacker, per se, but by  a researcher
at the Library of Congress who  taught himself  how to  code," the Librarian
says. "He devoted  himself  to the  common  problem of sifting  through vast
amounts  of  irrelevant   detail  in  order  to  find  significant  gems  of
information. His name was Dr. Emanuel Lagos."
     "I've heard the name," Hiro says. "So  he was kind of a meta-librarian.
That's funny, I guessed he was one  of those old CIA spooks who hangs around
in the CIC."
     "He never worked with the CIA."
     "Okay.  Let's  get  some  work  done.  Look  up  every  piece  of  free
information  in the Library  that  contains L. Bob Rife and  arrange  it  in
chronological order. The emphasis here is on free.''
     "Television and newspapers, yes, sir. One moment,  sir,"  the Librarian
says. He  turns around and exits on crepe soles. Hiro turns his attention to
     The level of detail is fantastic. The resolution, the clarity, just the
look of it, tells Hiro, or  anyone else who knows computers, that this piece
of software is some heavy shit.
     It's  not  just  continents and oceans. It looks exactly like the earth
would look  from  a  point  in  geosynchronous  orbit directly  above  L.A.,
complete  with  weather systems - vast spinning galaxies of clouds, hovering
just  above  the surface of the globe, casting gray  shadows on the oceans -
and polar ice caps, fading and fragmenting  into  the sea. Half of the globe
is  illuminated by  sunlight,  and  half  is dark. The terminator - the line
between  night  and  day - has just swept across  L.A. and  is now  creeping
across the Pacific, off to the west.
     Everything  is going  in  slow motion. Hiro  can  see the clouds change
shape if he  watches  them long enough. Looks like a clear night on the East
     Something catches his attention, moving rapidly over the surface of the
globe. He thinks it must be a gnat. But there are no gnats in the Metaverse.
He  tries to focus on  it. The computer, bouncing low-powered lasers off his
cornea, senses this change in emphasis,  and then Hiro gasps as  he seems to
plunge downward  toward the  globe, like a space-walking  astronaut who  has
just  fallen  out  of his  orbital  groove. When  he  finally gets  it under
control, he's  just a few hundred  miles above  the earth, looking down at a
solid bank of clouds, and  he can see the gnat gliding along below him. It's
a low-flying CIC satellite, swinging north to south in a polar orbit.
     "Your information, sir," the Librarian says.
     Hiro startles and glances up. Earth swings down and out of his field of
view and there is the Librarian, standing in  front of the desk, holding out
a  hypercard. Like  any  librarian in Reality, this  daemon can move  around
without audible footfalls.
     "Can you make a little more noise when you  walk? I'm easily startled,"
Hiro says.
     "It is done, sir. My apologies."
     Hiro reaches out for the  hypercard.  The Librarian  takes  half a step
forward and leans toward  him. This time, his foot makes a soft noise on the
tatami mat, and Hiro can hear the white noise of  his trousers sliding  over
his leg.
     Hiro takes the hypercard and looks at it. The front is labeled
     Results of Library search on:
     Rife, Lawrence Robert, 1948-
     He flips  the  card  over.  The back  is  divided  into  several  dozen
fingemail-sized icons. Some of them are little snapshots of  the front pages
of  newspapers.  Many of  them  are  colorful, glowing rectangles: miniature
television screens showing live video.
     "That's impossible,"  Hiro says. "I'm sitting  in a  VW van,  okay? I'm
jacked in over a cellular link. You couldn't have moved that much video into
my system that fast."
     "It  was not  necessary  to move  anything,"  the  Librarian says. "All
existing video on L. Bob Rife was collected by Dr. Lagos  and placed  in the
Babel/Infocalypse stack, which you have in your system."

     Hiro stares at the miniature TV in the upper left comer of the card. It
zooms  toward  him  until  it's  about  the  size  of a twelve-inch  low-def
television set at  arms' length. Then the  video image begins to play.  It's
very  poor eight-millimeter film  footage of a high school football  game in
the sixties. No soundtrack.
     "What is this game?"
     The Librarian says, "Odessa, Texas,  1965.  L. Bob  Rife is a fullback,
number eight in the dark uniform."
     "This  is more  detail than  I need. Can you summarize  some  of  these
     "No. But  I can list the contents  briefly.  The stack  contains eleven
high school  football  games. Rife was on the second-string Texas  all-state
team  in  his  senior year.  Then  he  proceeded  to  Rice  on  an  academic
scholarship and walked onto the football  team,  so  there are also fourteen
tapes of college games. Rife majored in communications."
     "Logically enough, considering what he became."
     "He became a television sports reporter in the Houston market, so there
are  fifty hours of  footage  from this period - mostly outtakes, of course.
After  two  years  in  this line of  work, Rife went  into business with his
great-uncle, a financier with  roots in the oil business. The stack contains
a  few newspaper stories to that effect, which, as I note from reading them,
are all textually related - implying that they came from the same source."
     "A press release."
     "Then there are no stories for five years."
     "He was up to something."
     "Then we  begin to  see more stories, mostly from the Religion sections
of  Houston   newspapers,   detailing   Rife's   contributions  to   various
     "That sounded like summary to me. I thought you couldn't summarize."
     "I can't really. I was quoting a summary that Dr. Lagos made to Juanita
Marquez recently, in my presence, when they were reviewing the same data."
     "Go on."
     "Rife contributed $500 to the Highlands Church of  the Baptism by Fire,
Reverend  Wayne Bedford, head  minister;  $2,500  to  the  Pentecostal Youth
League  of Bayside, Reverend  Wayne  Bedford,  president;  $150,000  to  the
Pentecostal Church of the  New Trinity, Reverend Wayne Bedford, founder  and
patriarch;  $2.3  million to  Rife Bible  College, Reverend  Wayne  Bedford,
President  and  chairman of  the theology  department;  $20  million to  the
archaeology  department  of Rife Bible  College,  plus  $45  million to  the
astronomy department and $100 million to the computer science department."
     "Did these donations take place before hyperinflation?"
     "Yes, sir. They were, as the expression goes, real money."
     "That Wayne Bedford guy - is this the same Reverend Wayne who  runs the
Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates?"
     "The same."
     "Are you telling me that Rife owns the Reverend Wayne?"
     "He owns  a  majority  share  in  Pearlgate Associates,  which  is  the
multinational that runs the Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates chain."
     "Okay, let's keep sifting through this," Hiro says.
     Hiro Peeps out over his goggles to confirm that Vitaly is still nowhere
near the concert. Then he dives back in and  continues to go over the  video
and the news stories that Lagos has compiled.
     During the same years that Rife makes his contributions to the Reverend
Wayne,  he's showing up  with increasing  frequency in the business section,
first in the local papers and later in The  Wall Street  Journal and The New
York Times. There is a big flurry of  publicity - obvious PR  plants - after
the  Nipponese tried  to  use their old-boy  network to shut him out of  the
telecommunications market  there, and he took  it to  the  American  public,
spending $10 million of  his own money on a campaign  to convince  Americans
that the  Nipponese  were  duplicitous schemers. A triumphal  cover  on  The
Economist after the  Nipponese finally knuckled under and let him corner the
fiber-optics market in that country and, by extension, most of East Asia.
     Finally,  then, the lifestyle  pieces start  coming in. L. Bob Rife has
let his publicist know that he wants to show a  more human side.  There is a
personality journalism program that  does a puff piece on Rife after he buys
a new yacht, surplus, from the U.S. Government.
     L. Bob  Rife,  last  of  the nineteenth-century  monopolists,  is shown
consulting with his decorator in the captain's quarters. It looks nice as it
is, considering that Rife bought this ship from the Navy, but it's not Texan
enough  for  him.  He  wants  it  gutted and  rebuilt.  Then, shots of  Rife
maneuvering  his  steerlike  body  through  the  narrow  passages  and steep
staircase of the  ship's interior - typical  boring gray  steel  Navy scape,
which,  he  assures  the  interviewer,  he  is  going  to  have  spruced  up
     "Y'know, there's a  story that when Rockefeller bought himself a yacht,
he bought a pretty small one, like a  seventy-footer or  something. Small by
the standards of the day. And when someone asked him why he  went and bought
himself such a dinky little yacht, he just looked at the guy and said, 'What
do  you think I am, a  Vanderbilt?' Haw!  Well,  anyway, welcome  aboard  my
     L. Bob  Rife  says  this while  standing on a  huge  open-air  platform
elevator along with  the interviewer and the whole camera crew. The elevator
is going up. In the background is the Pacific Ocean. As Rife is speaking the
last part  of the  line, suddenly  the elevator rises up to the top and  the
camera turns around, and we are looking out across the deck  of the aircraft
carrier Enterprise, formerly of  the U.S. Navy, now the personal yacht of L.
Bob Rife, who beat out both General Jim's Defense  System and Admiral  Bob's
Global Security in a furious bidding war. L. Bob Rife proceeds to admire the
vast, flat open spaces of the carrier's flight deck, likening  it to certain
parts of  Texas.  He suggests that it would be  amusing to  cover part of it
with dirt and raise cattle there.
     Another  profile, this one shot for a business network, apparently made
somewhat later: Back on the Enterprise, where  the captain's office has been
massively reworked. L. Bob Rife, Lord  of  Bandwidth, is sitting behind  his
desk, having his mustache waxed. Not in the sense that women have their legs
waxed. He's having the curl smoothed out  and restored. The waxer  is a very
short  Asian woman who does it so delicately  that it doesn't even interfere
with his talking, mostly  about his  efforts to extend  his cable TV network
throughout Korea and  into China and  link  it  up  with his big fiber-optic
trunk line that runs across Siberia and over the Urals.
     "Yeah, you know, a monopolist's work is never done. No  such thing as a
perfect  monopoly. Seems like you can never  get that last one-tenth of  one
     "Isn't the government still strong in Korea? You must have more trouble
with regulations there."
     L. Bob Rife  laughs. "Y'know, watching government regulators  trying to
keep up with the world is my favorite sport. Remember when they busted up Ma
     "Just barely." The reporter is a woman in her twenties.
     "You know what it was, right?"
     "Voice communications monopoly."
     "Right. They were in the same business as me. The information business.
Moving phone conversations  around  on little  tiny copper  wires, one at  a
time. Government busted them up - at the same time when I was starting cable
TV franchises in thirty states. Haw! Can you believe that? It's like if they
figured out a  way to regulate horses at the  same time the Model T and  the
airplane were being introduced."
     "But a cable TV system isn't the same as a phone system."
     "At  that stage it  wasn't, cause it was just a local system. But  once
you get  local systems  all over the world,  all you got to do  is  hook 'em
together and it's a global network. Just as big as the  phone system. Except
this one carries information ten  thousand times faster.  It carries images,
sound, data, you name it."
     A naked PR plant,  a  half-hour  television  commercial with no purpose
whatsoever  other  than to let  L.  Bob  Rife tell his  side of a particular
issue. It seems that a number of Rife's programmers, the people who made his
systems run, got together and formed a union - unheard of, for hackers - and
filed a suit against Rife, claiming that he had placed  audio and video bugs
in  their  homes,  in  fact  placed  all  of  them  under   twenty-four-hour
surveillance, and harassed  and threatened some programmers who were  making
what  he called "unacceptable lifestyle choices." For  example,  when one of
his programmers and her husband engaged in oral sex in their own bedroom one
night, the next  morning  she was called into Rife's office, where he called
her a slut and  a  sodomite  and  told  her  to clean out  her desk. The bad
publicity from  this so annoyed  Rife that he  felt  the need  to blow a few
million on some more PR.
     "I   deal  in   information,"   he   says  to   the  smarmy,   toadying
pseudojournalist  who  "interviews"  him.  He's sitting  in  his  office  in
Houston, looking slicker than normal. "All television going out to consumers
throughout the world goes through me. Most of the information transmitted to
and from the CIC database  passes through my networks.  The Metaverse  - the
entire Street - exists by virtue of a network that I own and control.
     "But that means,  if  you'll just follow  my reasoning for a  bit, that
when I  have  a  programmer  working  under  me  who is  working  with  that
information, he is wielding enormous  power. Information is going  into  his
brain. And it's staying there. It travels  with him  when he  goes  home  at
night. It  gets all  tangled up into his dreams, for Christ's sake. He talks
to his  wife  about  it.  And, goddamn it, he doesn't have any right to that
information. If I was running a  car factory, I wouldn't  let  workers drive
the cars home or  borrow tools. But that's what I do  at  five  o'clock each
day, all over the world, when my hackers go home from work.
     "When they used to hang rustlers in the old  days, the last thing  they
would do is piss their pants. That was the ultimate sign, you see, that they
had  lost control over their own bodies, that  they were about  to die. See,
it's  the first function of any organization to control  its own sphincters.
We're not even doing that.  So  we're  working on  refining  our  management
techniques so that we can control that information no matter  where it is  -
on  our hard disks or  even inside the programmers' heads.  Now, I can't say
more  because I got competition to worry  about. But  it is my fervent  hope
that in five or ten years, this kind of thing won't even be an issue."
     A  half-hour  episode  of  a science news  program,  this  one  on  the
controversial  new subject  of  infoastronomy, the  search for radio signals
coming from other  solar systems. L. Bob Rife has taken a  personal interest
in  the  subject;  as   various  national  governments  auction   off  their
possessions, he  has  purchased  a string of  radio observatories and hooked
them together, using his fabled fiber-optic net,  to turn them into a single
giant  antenna  as big  as  the  whole  earth.  He  is  scanning  the  skies
twenty-four hours a day, looking for radio waves that mean something - radio
waves  carrying information  from  other  civilizations.  And  why, asks the
interviewer  - a celebrity professor from MIT - why would a simple oilman be
interested in such a high-flown, abstract pursuit?
     "I just about got this planet all sewn up."
     Rife delivers this line  with an  incredibly sardonic  and contemptuous
twang, the  exaggerated  accent  of a cowboy who suspects  that  some Yankee
pencilneck is looking down his nose at him.
     Another  news piece, this one apparently done a few years later.  Again
we are on  the Enterprise, but this time the atmosphere is different  again.
The  top deck has been turned into an open-air  refugee camp. It is swarming
with  Bangladeshis that  L. Bob Rife plucked out of the  Bay of Bengal after
their country washed into the ocean in a series of massive floods, caused by
deforestation  farther upstream  in India - hydrological warfare. The camera
pans to  look out over the edge of the flight deck,  and down  below, we see
the first  beginnings of  the Raft:  a relatively small collection of a  few
hundred boats that have glommed onto  the Enterprise, hoping for a free ride
across to America.
     Rife's walking among the people, handing out Bible comics and kisses to
little kids. They cluster  around  with broad  smiles, pressing their  palms
together and bowing. Rife bows back, very  awkwardly,  but there's no gaiety
on his face. He's deadly serious.
     "Mr. Rife, what's your opinion of the people who say  you're just doing
this as a self-aggrandizing publicity stunt?"  This interviewer is trying to
be more of a Bad Cop.
     "Shit,  if  I  took  time  out to  have an  opinion about everything, I
wouldn't get  any work done," L. Bob Rife says. "You should ask these people
what they think."
     "You're telling  me that this refugee assistance program has nothing to
do with your public image?"
     "Nope. L-"
     There's an edit and they cut away to the journalist, pontificating into
the camera. Rife was  on the verge  of delivering a sermon, Hiro senses, but
they cut him off.
     But  one of the true glories  of the  Library  is  that it  has so many
outtakes.  Just  because  a  piece  of videotape  never  got edited  into  a
broadcast  program doesn't  mean it's  devoid of  intel  value. CIC long ago
stuck  its fingers  into  the  networks' videotape  libraries. All  of those
outtakes - millions of hours of footage - have not actually been uploaded to
the Library in digital form yet. But you can send in a request, and CIC will
go and pull that videotape off the shelf for you and play it back.
     Lagos has already done it. The tape is right there.
     "Nope.  Look. The Raft  is a media event. But in a much  more profound,
general sense than you can possibly imagine."
     "It's created by  the media in that without  the media, people wouldn't
know it  was here, Refus wouldn't come out and glom onto it the way they do.
And it sustains the media. It  creates a lot  of  information flow - movies,
news reports - you know."
     "So  you're  creating  your  own  news  event  to  make  money  off the
information  flow that it creates?" says the journalist,  desperately trying
to follow. His tone of voice says that this is all a waste of videotape. His
weary attitude suggests that this is not the first  time  Rife has flown off
on a bizarre tangent.
     "Partly. But that's only a very crude explanation. It really goes a lot
deeper than  that. You've  probably  heard the expression that  the Industry
feeds off of biomass, like a whale straining krill from the ocean."
     "I've heard the expression, yes."
     "That's my expression. I made  it up. An  expression like  that is just
like  a virus, you know  -  it's a piece of  information - data that spreads
from one person to the next. Well, the function of the Raft is to bring more
biomass. To renew America. Most countries are static, all they need to do is
keep having  babies.  But  America's  like  this big old  clanking,  smoking
machine  that  just lumbers  across  the  landscape scooping up  and  eating
everything  in sight. Leaves  behind a trail of  garbage a mile wide. Always
needs more fuel. Ever read the story about the labyrinth and the minotaur?"
     "Sure.  That was on  Crete, right?" The journalist only  answers out of
sarcasm; he can't believe he's here  listening to this, he wants to fly back
to L.A. yesterday.
     "Yeah.  Every year, the Greeks  had to  pony up  a few virgins and send
them to Crete as tribute. Then the king put them into the labyrinth, and the
minotaur ate them up. I used to read that story when I was a  kid and wonder
who the hell these guys were,  on Crete, that everyone else was so scared of
them that they would just  meekly give up their children to be eaten,  every
year. They must have been some mean sons of bitches.
     "Now I have  a different perspective on it. America must look, to those
poor little buggers down there, about the same as Crete looked to those poor
Greek suckers. Except that there's no coercion  involved.  Those people down
there give up their children willingly. Send  them into the labyrinth by the
millions to  be eaten up. The Industry feeds on  them and spits back images,
sends out movies and TV programs, over my  networks, images  of  wealth  and
exotic things beyond their  wildest dreams,  back  to  those people, and  it
gives them something to dream about, something to aspire to. And that is the
function of the Raft. It's just a big old krill carrier."
     Finally  the journalist gives  up on being a journalist, just starts to
slag L. Bob  Rife  openly. He's had it with  this guy. "That's disgusting. I
can't believe you can think about people that way."
     "Shit, boy,  get down off your  high horse.  Nobody really  gets eaten.
It's just  a figure of  speech. They come here, they  get decent  jobs, find
Christ, buy a  Weber  grill, and  live happily ever after. What's wrong with
     Rife is  pissed. He's yelling. Behind him, the Bangladeshis are picking
up on his emotional  vibes and  becoming upset themselves. Suddenly,  one of
them, an incredibly gaunt  man with a long  drooping mustache, runs in front
of the camera and begins to shout: "a ma la ge zen ba dam gal nun ka aria su
su na  an  da..." The sounds  spread  from him  to  his neighbors, spreading
across the flight deck like a wave.
     "Cut," the journalist says, turning  into  the  camera. "Just  cut. The
Babble Brigade has started up again."
     The soundtrack  now consists of a thousand  people  speaking in tongues
under the high-pitched, shit-eating chuckles of L. Bob Rife.
     "This is the miracle of tongues," Rife shouts above the tumult. "I  can
understand every word these people are saying. Can you, brother?"

     "Yo! Snap out of it, pod!"
     Hiro looks up  from  the  card. No one  is in his office except for the
     The  image loses focus and veers upward and out of his field  of  view.
Hiro is looking out  the windshield of the Vanagon. Someone  has just yanked
his goggles off his face-not Vitaly.
     "I'm out here, gogglehead!"
     Hiro looks out the window. It's Y.T., hanging onto  the side of the van
with one hand, holding his goggles in the other.
     "You spend too much  time goggled in," she says. "Try a little Reality,
     "Where we are going,"  Hiro says, "we're going to get more Reality than
I can handle."

     As Hiro and  Vitaly approach the vast freeway overpass where  tonight's
concert is to take place, the solid ferrous quality of the  Vanagon attracts
MagnaPoons  like  a  Twinkie  draws  cockroaches.  If they knew that  Vitaly
Chernobyl  himself was in the van,  they'd go  crazy, they'd stall the van's
engine. But right now, they'll poon anything that might be headed toward the
     When they get closer to the overpass, it becomes a lost cause trying to
drive at all, the thrashers  are so thick and numerous. It's like putting on
crampons and trying to  walk  through a room full  of  puppies. They have to
nose their way along, tapping the horn, flashing the lights.
     Finally,  they get to the flatbed semi that  constitutes  the stage for
tonight's concert.  Next to it is another semi, full of amps and other sound
gear.  The drivers  of  the trucks,  an  oppressed  minority  of  two,  have
retreated  into  the cab of  the sound  truck  to smoke cigarettes and glare
balefully at  the swarm of thrashers, their sworn enemies in  the food chain
of  the highways.  They will not  voluntarily  come out  until five  in  the
morning, when the way has been made plain.
     A couple of the other Meltdowns are standing around smoking cigarettes,
holding them between two fingers in the Slavic style, like darts. They stomp
the cigarettes out on  the  concrete with their cheap vinyl shoes, run up to
the  Vanagon, and  begin to haul  out the  sound equipment.  Vitaly puts  on
goggles, hooks himself into a computer on the sound truck, and begins tuning
the system. There's a 3-D model of the overpass already in memory. He has to
figure out how to  sync the delays on all the different  speaker clusters to
maximize the number of nasty, clashing echoes.

     The warm-up band, Blunt  Force Trauma,  gets rolling at about 9:00 P.M.
On the first power chord,  a whole stack  of  cheap preowned speakers shorts
out; its  wires throw sparks into the air,  sending an  arc of chaos through
the  massed skateboarders. The  sound truck's  electronics  isolate  the bad
circuit and shut it off before  anything or  anyone  gets hurt.  Blunt Force
Trauma   play  a   kind  of  speed  reggae   heavily   influenced   by   the
antitechnological ideas of the Meltdowns.
     These guys will probably play for an hour, then there  will be a couple
of  hours of  Vitaly Chernobyl and the Meltdowns to look  forward to. And if
Sushi K shows up, he's welcome to make a guest appearance at the mike.
     Just in case that actually happens, Hiro pulls back  from the delirious
center of  the crowd and begins to orbit back and forth along  its  fringes.
Y.T.'s  in  there somewhere,  but no point in trying to track her down.  She
would be embarrassed, anyway, to be seen with an oldster like Hiro.
     Now  that  the concert  is up and running, it will take care of itself.
There's  not much more for Hiro to  do.  Besides, interesting  things happen
along borders -  transitions  - not in the  middle  where  everything is the
same. There may be something happening along the border  of the crowd,  back
where the lights fade into the shade of the overpass.
     The  fringe crowd looks  pretty typical for the wrong side  of an  L.A.
overpass in the middle  of  the night.  There's a good-sized  shantytown  of
hardcore Third World unemployables, plus a scattering of schizophrenic first
worlders who have long ago burned their brains to ash in the radiant heat of
their  own  imaginings. A lot  of  them  have emerged from their  overturned
dumpsters and refrigerator boxes to stand on tiptoe at the edge of the crowd
and peer  into the  noise and light. Some  of them look sleepy and awed, and
some  -  stocky  Latino  men  -  look  amused by  the whole  thing,  passing
cigarettes back and forth and shaking their heads in disbelief.
     This is Crips  turf. The Crips wanted  to provide security, but Hiro, a
student of Altamont, decided to take the risk of snubbing them. He hired The
Enforcers to do it instead.
     So every  few dozen feet there's a large man with erect posture wearing
an  acid green windbreaker  with ENFORCER spelled out  across the back. Very
conspicuous,   which   is  how  they  like  it.  But  it's  all   done  with
electropigment, so if there's trouble, these  guys can turn themselves black
by flipping a lapel switch. And they can make themselves bulletproof just by
zipping the  windbreakers up  the front. Right now, it's a warm  night,  and
most of  them are leaving their  uniforms open  to the cool breezes. Some of
them  are just coasting, but most of them  are attentive, keeping their eyes
on the crowd, not the band.
     Seeing all of those soldiers, Hiro looks for the general and soon finds
him: a small, stout  black guy, a pint-sized weightlifter type. He's wearing
the  same windbreaker  as  the others, but there's  an  additional  layer of
bulletproof  vest  underneath,  and  clipped  onto  that  he's  got  a  nice
assortment  of  communications  gear and small,  clever devices  for hurting
people. He's doing a  lot of jogging back and forth, swiveling his head from
side to side, mumbling quick  bursts into his headset like a  football coach
on the sidelines.
     Hiro  notices a  tall  man in his  late thirties, distinguished goatee,
wearing a very nice charcoal gray suit. Hiro can see the diamonds in his tie
pin flashing from a hundred feet away. He knows that if he gets up closer he
will be able to see the word "Crips" spelled out in blue sapphires,  nestled
among those diamonds. He's got his own security detail of half a dozen other
guys in  suits. Even though  they aren't doing security,  they couldn't help
sending along a token delegation to show the colors.

     This is a  non sequitur that has  been  nibbling on the edges of Hiro's
mind for  the last ten minutes: Laser light has a particular kind of  gritty
intensity, a molecular purity reflecting its origins. Your eye notices this,
somehow knows that it's  unnatural. It stands  out anywhere,  but especially
under  a  dirty  overpass in  the  middle of the night.  Hiro  keeps getting
flashes  of it in his  peripheral vision, keeps glancing over to  track down
it's source. It's obvious to him, but no one else seems to notice.
     Someone  in this  overpass, somewhere,  is bouncing  a  laser  beam off
Hiro's face.
     It's annoying. Without being  too  obvious  about  it,  he  changes his
course slightly,  wanders  over to  a point downwind of a  trash fire that's
burning  in  a steel drum.  Now he's standing in  the middle of  a plume  of
diluted smoke that he can smell but can't quite see.
     But  the next  time the laser darts  into  his  face, it scatters off a
million tiny,  ashy particulates and reveals itself as a pure geometric line
in space, pointing straight back to its source.
     It's a gargoyle, standing in the dimness next to a shanty. Just in case
he's  not  already  conspicuous  enough, he's wearing  a suit.  Hiro  starts
walking toward him.
     Gargoyles represent the embarrassing side  of the  Central Intelligence
Corporation. Instead of  using laptops,  they wear  their computers on their
bodies, broken up into separate modules that hang on the waist, on the back,
on  the  headset.  They  serve  as  human  surveillance  devices,  recording
everything that happens  around  them. Nothing looks stupider;  these getups
are the modern-day equivalent of the  slide-rule scabbard or  the calculator
pouch  on the belt, marking the user as belonging to a class that is at once
above  and far  below human  society.  They are a boon  to Hiro because they
embody  the  worst stereotype of the  CIC  stringer. They  draw all  of  the
attention. The payoff for this self-imposed ostracism is  that you can be in
the Metaverse all the time, and gather intelligence all the time.
     The CIC brass  can't stand these  guys  because  they upload staggering
quantities of useless information  to  the database, on the  off chance that
some of it will eventually  be useful.  It's like  writing  down the license
number of every car you see on your way  to work each morning,  just in case
one  of  them  will  be  involved in a  hit-and-run  accident.  Even the CIC
database  can  only  hold  so  much  garbage.  So,  usually, these  habitual
gargoyles get kicked out of the CIC before too long.
     This  guy hasn't been kicked out yet. And to judge from the quality  of
his equipment - which is very expensive - he's been at it for a while. So he
must be pretty good.
     If so, what's he doing hanging around this place?
     "Hiro  Protagonist," the gargoyle says as Hiro finally  tracks him down
in  the  darkness  beside  a  shanty.  "CIC   stringer  for  eleven  months.
Specializing  in  the  Industry.  Former   hacker,   security  guard,  pizza
deliverer,  concert  promoter." He sort  of mumbles it, not  wanting Hiro to
waste his time reciting a bunch of known facts.
     The laser that  kept jabbing Hiro in the eye was shot out of this guy's
computer, from a peripheral device that sits above his goggles in the middle
of  his forehead. A long-range retinal  scanner. If you turn toward him with
your eyes open,  the  laser shoots out,  penetrates your iris,  tenderest of
sphincters, and  scans your retina. The  results are shot back to CIC, which
has a database of  several tens of millions of scanned retinas. Within a few
seconds, if you're in the database already, the owner finds out who you are.
If you're not already in the database, well, you are now.
     Of  course,  the user has to have access  privileges.  And once he gets
your identity, he  has to  have more access privileges to find  out personal
information about you. This guy, apparently, has a lot of access privileges.
A lot more than Hiro.
     "Name's Lagos," the gargoyle says.
     So this is the guy. Hiro considers  asking him what the hell he's doing
here. He'd love  to  take him out  for  a  drink, talk to him  about how the
Librarian was  coded.  But  he's  pissed off. Lagos is  being  rude  to  him
(gargoyles are rude by definition).
     "You here on the Raven thing? Or  just that fuzz-grunge tip you've been
working on for the last, uh, thirty-six days approximately?" Lagos says.
     Gargoyles are no fun to talk to. They never finish a sentence. They are
adrift in  a laser-drawn  world, scanning retinas  in  all directions, doing
background checks on everyone within  a thousand yards, seeing everything in
visual light, infrared, millimeter-wave  radar, and ultrasound  all at once.
You  think  they're talking  to  you,  but they're  actually poring over the
credit record of some stranger on the other side of the room, or identifying
the make and model of airplanes flying overhead. For all he knows, Lagos  is
standing there measuring the  length of  Hiro's  cock  through  his trousers
while they pretend to make conversation.
     "You're the guy who's working with Juanita, right?" Hiro says.
     "Or she's working with me. Or something like that."
     "She said she wanted me to meet you."
     For several seconds Lagos  is  frozen. He's ransacking more data.  Hiro
wants to throw a bucket of water on him.
     "Makes  sense,"  he says.  "You're as familiar  with  the Metaverse  as
anyone. Freelance hacker - that's exactly right."
     "Exactly right for what? No one wants freelance hackers anymore."
     "The corporate assembly-line hackers are suckers for infection. They're
going to go down by the thousands,  just like Sennacherib's army before  the
walls of Jerusalem," Lagos says.
     "Infection? Sennacherib?"
     "And you can defend yourself in  Reality, too -  that'll be good if you
ever go up against Raven. Remember, his  knives are as sharp as  a molecule.
They'll go through a bulletproof jacket like lingerie."
     "You'll probably see him tonight. Don't mess with him."
     "Okay," Hiro says. "I'll look out for him."
     "That's not what I said," Lagos says. "I said, don't mess with him."
     "Why not?"
     "It's a dangerous world,"  Lagos says. "Getting more dangerous  all the
time. So we don't want to upset the balance of terror. Just think about  the
Cold War."
     "Yup."  All  Hiro wants to  do  now is walk away and never see this guy
again, but he won't wind up the conversation.
     "You're  a hacker. That means you have deep structures to worry  about,
     "Deep structures?"
     "Neurolinguistic pathways in your  brain. Remember  the first  time you
learned binary code?"
     "You were forming pathways in your brain.  Deep structures. Your nerves
grow new connections  as you  use them - the axons split and push  their way
between the dividing glial cells - your bioware self-modifies - the software
becomes part  of the  hardware.  So now you're  vulnerable - all hackers are
vulnerable - to a nam-shub. We have to look out for each other."
     "What's a nam-shub? Why am I vulnerable to it?"
     "Just don't stare into any bitmaps. Anyone try to show you a raw bitmap
lately? Like, in the Metaverse?"
     Interesting. "Not to me personally, but  now that you mention  it, this
Brandy came up to my friend - "
     "A cult prostitute of Asherah.  Trying to spread the  disease. Which is
synonymous  with  evil.  Sound  melodramatic? Not really.  You know, to  the
Mesopotamians, there  was  no independent concept of evil. Just  disease and
ill health. Evil was a synonym for disease. So what does that tell you?"
     Hiro walks  away, the same  way  he walks  away  from  psychotic street
people who follow him down the street.
     "It tells you that evil is  a virus!" Lagos calls after him. "Don't let
the nam-shub into your operating system!"
     Juanita's working with this alien?

     Blunt  Force Trauma play  for a solid hour, segueing from one song into
the next with no chink or crevice in  the wall  of noise.  All a part of the
aesthetic. When the music stops, their set is over. For the first time, Hiro
can hear  the exaltation  of  the crowd. It's  a blast of high-pitched noise
that he feels in his head, ringing his ears.
     But there's a  low thudding sound,  too,  like someone pummeling a bass
drum, and for  a  minute  he  thinks maybe it's  a  truck rolling by  on the
overpass above them. But it's too steady for that, it doesn't die away.
     It's behind him. Other  people have noticed it,  turned to look  toward
the sound, are scurrying out of the way. Hiro sidesteps, turning to see what
it is.
     Big and black, to begin with. It  does not seem as though  such a large
man could perch on a motorcycle, even a big chortling Harley like this one.
     Correction.  It's a Harley with  some kind of a sidecar  added, a sleek
black projectile hanging off to the right, supported on  its own  wheel. But
no one is sitting in the sidecar.
     It does not seem as though a man could be this bulky without being fat.
But he's not fat at all, he's wearing tight stretchy clothes - like leather,
but not quite - that show bones and muscles, but nothing else.
     He is riding  the Harley so slowly that he would certainly fall over if
not for the sidecar. Occasionally he gooses it  forward with a  flick of the
fingers on his clutch hand.
     Maybe one reason he  looks so big - other than the  fact that he really
is  big - is the fact that he appears totally neckless. His head starts  out
wide and just keeps  getting wider until it  merges with  his  shoulders. At
first Hiro  thinks it must be some kind of avant-garde helmet. But when  the
man rolls past him, this great shroud moves and flutters and  Hiro sees that
it  is  just  his  hair, a thick  mane of black  hair  tossed  back over his
shoulders, trading down his back almost to his waist.
     As he is  marveling at  this, he  realizes that the man has  turned his
head to look back at him. Or to look in his general direction,  anyway. It's
impossible  to tell exactly  what  he's looking at because of his goggles, a
smooth convex shell over the eyes, interrupted by a narrow horizontal slit.
     He is looking  at  Hiro. He  gives him the same fuck-you  smile that he
sported earlier tonight, when Hiro was standing in the entryway to The Black
Sun, and he was in a public terminal somewhere.
     This is the guy. Raven.  This is the guy that Juanita is  looking  for.
The  guy Lagos told  him  not  to mess with. And Hiro  has  seen him before,
outside the  entrance  to The Black  Sun. This is  the guy who gave the Snow
Crash card to Da5id.
     The  tattoo  on his forehead consists of  three words, written in block
     Hiro startles and actually jumps into the air  as Vitaly  Chernobyl and
the  Meltdowns launch into their opening number,  "Radiation Burn."  It is a
tornado of mostly high-pitched noise and distortion, like being flung bodily
through a wall of fishhooks.
     These days, most states are franchulates  or Burbclaves, much too small
to have anything like a jail, or even  a judicial system.  So  when  someone
does something bad,  they try to  find  quick  and  dirty  punishments, like
flogging, confiscation of property, public humiliation, or,  in  the case of
people  who  have  a high potential  of going  on to  hurt others, a warning
tattoo on a prominent body  part. POOR IMPULSE CONTROL. Apparently, this guy
went to such a place and lost his temper real bad.
     For an  instant, a glowing red gridwork is  plotted against the side of
Raven's  face.  It rapidly shrinks,  all sides converging inward  toward the
right  pupil. Raven shakes  his head, turns  to  look  for the source of the
laser light, but it's already gone. Lagos has already got his retinal scan.
     That's  why  Lagos  is here. He's not  interested  in  Hiro  or  Vitaly
Chernobyl. He's interested in  Raven. And somehow,  Lagos  knew  that he was
going to be here. And Lagos  is somewhere nearby, right now, videotaping the
guy, probing the contents of his pockets with radar, recording his pulse and
     Hiro picks up his personal phone. "Y.T.,"  he says, and it dials Y.T.'s
     It rings for a long time before she picks it up. It's almost impossible
to hear anything over the sound of the concert.
     "What the fuck do you want?"
     "Y.T.,  I'm  sorry about this. But something's going on. Something  big
time. I'm keeping one eye on a big biker named Raven."
     "The problem with you hackers is you never stop working."
     "That's what a hacker is," Hiro says.
     "I'll keep an eye  on this Raven guy, too,"  she says, "sometime when I
am working." Then she hangs up.

     Raven makes a  couple of broad, lazy sweeps along  the perimeter of the
crowd, going very slowly, looking in all directions.  He  is annoyingly calm
and unhurried.
     Then  he  cuts farther out  into the darkness,  away from the crowd. He
does  a little  more  looking  around,  checking  out  the perimeter of  the
shantytown.  And finally,  he swings  the big Harley around in  a trajectory
that brings him back to  the big important Crip.  The guy  with the sapphire
tie clip and the personal security detail.
     Hiro begins weaving through the crowd in that direction,  trying not to
be too obvious about it. This looks like it's going to be interesting.
     As Raven approaches,  the bodyguards converge on  the head Crip, form a
loose protective ring around him. As he comes nearer, all of them back  away
a step or  two, as though the man is surrounded by an invisible force field.
He finally comes to a stop, deigns to put his feet on  the ground. He flicks
a few switches on the handlebars before he steps away from his Harley. Then,
anticipating what's next, he stands with his feet apart and his arms up.
     One Crip approaches from  each side.  They don't look real happy  about
this particular duty, they keep casting sidelong glances at  the motorcycle.
The head Crip keeps goading them forward with his voice, shooing them toward
Raven with his hands. Each one of them has a hand-held metal-detecting wand.
They swirl the wands around his body and  find nothing at all, not even  the
tiniest speck of metal, not even coins in his pocket. The man is 100 percent
organic.  So if nothing else, Lagos's warning about Raven's knife has turned
out to be bullshit.
     These  two Crips walk rapidly  back to the  main group. Raven begins to
follow them. But the head Crip takes a step back, holds both of his hands up
in  a "stop" motion. Raven stops,  stands  there,  the grin returning to his
     The head  Crip turns away and  gestures back  toward his black BMW. The
rear door  of  the BMW opens up and a man gets out, a younger, smaller black
man  in  round  wire-rims, wearing jeans  and big  white athletic shoes  and
typical studentish gear.
     The  student walks  slowly  toward Raven,  pulling  something from  his
pocket. It's a hand-held device, but much too bulky to be a calculator. It's
got a keypad on  the top and a sort of  window on one end, which the student
keeps aiming toward Raven. There's an LED readout above the keypad and a red
flashing light underneath that. The student is wearing a  pair of headphones
that are jacked into a socket on the butt of the device.
     For starters, the student aims the window  at the ground,  then  at the
sky,  then  at Raven, keeping his eye  on the flashing red light and the LED
readout. It has the feel of some  kind  of religious rite, accepting digital
input from the sky spirit and then the ground spirit and then from the black
biker angel.
     Then he begins to walk  slowly toward  Raven,  one step at a time. Hiro
can see the red light flashing intermittently,  not following any particular
pattern or rhythm.
     The student gets to within a yard of Raven and then orbits him a couple
of times, always  keeping the device  aimed inward.  When  he's finished, he
steps back  briskly, turns,  and  aims it toward  the  motorcycle. When  the
device is aimed at the motorcycle, the red light flashes much more quickly.
     The student walks up to the head Crip, pulling off his  headphones, and
has a short conversation with him. The Crip listens to the student but keeps
his eyes fixed on Raven, nods his head a few times, finally pats the student
on his shoulder and sends him back to the BMW.
     It was a Geiger counter.

     Raven strolls  up  to the  big Crip. They shake hands, a standard plain
old Euro-shake, no fancy variations. It's  not a real friendly get-together.
The Crip  has his eyes a little too  wide open, Hiro can  see the furrows in
his  brow, everything about his posture and  his face screaming  out: Get me
away from this Martian.
     Raven goes  back  to  his radioactive hog, releases a few bungee cords,
and picks up a metal briefcase. He hands it to the head Crip, and they shake
hands again.  Then  he  turns  away,  walks  slowly  and calmly back to  the
motorcycle, gets on, and putt-putts away.
     Hiro  would love to  stick  around and watch  some more, but he has the
feeling  that Lagos has this particular  event covered. And besides, he  has
other  business.  Two limousines are fighting their  way through the  crowd,
headed for the stage.
     The  limousines  stop,  and  Nipponese  people  start  to   climb  out.
Dark-clad,  unfunky,  they  stand  around awkwardly  in the  middle  of  the
party/riot,  like a handful of  broken nails  suspended in  a colorful jello
mold.  Finally, Hiro makes bold enough to go up  and  look  into one of  the
windows to find out if this is who he thinks it is.
     Can't see through the smoked glass.  He bends down, puts his face right
near the window, trying to make it real obvious.
     Still no response. Finally, he knocks on the window.
     Silence. He looks  up  at the entourage. They are all watching him. But
when  he  looks  up they  glance  away, suddenly remember to drag  on  their
cigarettes or rub their eyebrows.
     There is  only one  source of light  inside the limousine that's bright
enough to  be visible through  the smoked glass, and that is the distinctive
inflated rectangle of a television screen.
     What the hell. This  is America, Hiro is half American, and there's  no
reason to take this politeness  thing  to an unhealthy extreme. He hauls the
door open and looks into the back of the limousine.
     Sushi K  is  sitting  there wedged in between a  couple  of other young
Nipponese men, programmers on his imageering team. His hairdo is turned off,
so it just looks like an orange Afro. He is wearing a partly assembled stage
costume,  apparently expecting  to be performing  tonight. Looks  like  he's
taking Hiro up on his offer.
     He's  watching a well-known television program called  Eye  Spy.  It is
produced by  CIC  and syndicated through one  of  the  major  studios. It is
reality television: CIC  picks  out one of their agents who is involved in a
wet operation - doing some actual cloak-and-dagger work - and has him put on
a gargoyle rig so that everything  he sees and  hears is transmitted back to
the  home  base  in  Langley.  This material is then  edited  into  a weekly
hour-long program.
     Hiro  never watches it. Now that he works for CIC, he  finds it kind of
annoying. But  he  hears  a lot of gossip about the show, and  he knows that
tonight they are showing  the second-to-last episode in a five-part arc. CIC
has smuggled  a guy onto the Raft, where he is trying to  infiltrate  one of
its many colorful and sadistic pirate bands: the Bruce Lee organization.
     Hiro enters the limousine and gets a look at the TV just in time to see
Bruce  Lee  himself, as seen  from the point of view of the hapless gargoyle
spy,  approaching down some dank corridor on a Raft ghost ship. Condensation
is dripping from the blade of Bruce Lee's samurai sword.
     "Bruce Lee's men have trapped the spy in an old Korean factory  ship in
the Core,"  one  of  Sushi  K's henchmen says, a  rapid hissing explanation.
"They are looking for him now."
     Suddenly, Bruce Lee is pinioned under a brilliant  spotlight that makes
his trademark diamond grin flash like the arm of a galaxy. In  the middle of
the screen, a pair of cross  hairs swing into place, centered on Bruce Lee's
forehead. Apparently, the  spy has decided he must fight his way out of this
mess and is bringing some powerful CIC weapons system to bear on Bruce Lee's
skull.  But  then a blur  comes in from  the side,  a mysterious dark  shape
blocking our view of Bruce Lee. The cross hairs are now centered  on - what,
     We'll have to wait until next week to find out.
     Hiro sits down across  from Sushi  K and the programmers,  next to  the
television set, so that he can get a TV's-eye view of the man.
     "I'm Hiro Protagonist. You got my message, I take it."
     "Fabu!"  Sushi  K  cries,  using  the  Nipponese  abbreviation  of  the
all-purpose Hollywood adjective "fabulous."
     He  continues,  "Hiro-san,  I  am  deeply  indebted  to  you  for  this
once-in-a-lifetime  chance   to  perform  my  small  works  before  such  an
audience."   He   says   the   whole   thing   in   Nipponese   except   for
"once-in-a-lifetime chance."
     "I must  humbly apologize for  arranging the whole thing so hastily and
haphazardly," Hiro says.
     "It pains me deeply that you should feel the need to apologize when you
have  given me an opportunity  that any Nipponese rapper would give anything
for - to perform my humble works before actual homeboys  from the ghettos of
     "I am profoundly embarrassed  to reveal that these fans are not exactly
ghetto  homeboys, as I must  have carelessly  led you to  believe. They  are
thrashers. Skateboarders who like both rap music and heavy metal."
     "Ah. This is fine, then," Sushi  K says. But his tone of voice suggests
that it's not really fine at all.
     "But there are representatives  of the Crips here," Hiro says, thinking
very,  very  fast even by his  standards, "and if your  performance  is well
received,  as I'm quite certain  it  will  be,  they  will  spread the  word
throughout their community."
     Sushi  K rolls  down  the window.  The decibel  level quintuples in  an
instant. He stares at the  crowd,  five  thousand potential  market  shares,
young people with  funkiness  on their  minds. They've never heard any music
before  that wasn't  perfect.  It's either studio-perfect digital sound from
their CD players or  performance-perfect fuzz-grunge from the best people in
the  business,  the  groups  that  have  come  to L.A. to  make a  name  for
themselves and have actually survived the gladiatorial combat environment of
the clubs. Sushi K's  face lights up  with a combination of  joy and terror.
Now he  actually  has to  go up there and  do  it. In front of  the seething
     Hiro  goes out and  paves the way for  him. That's easy enough. Then he
bails. He's done  his  bit.  No  point in wasting time on this  puny Sushi K
thing when Raven is out there, representing a  much larger source of income.
So he wanders back out toward the periphery.
     "Yo! Dude with the swords," someone says.
     Hiro turns  around,  sees a green-jacketed  Enforcer motioning  to him.
It's  the short,  powerful guy  with the headset, the  guy in charge  of the
security detail.
     "Squeaky," he says, extending his hand.
     "Hiro," Hiro  says, shaking it, and handing  over his business card. No
particular reason  to  be  coy  with these guys.  "What  can  I  do for you,
     Squeaky reads the card. He has a kind of exaggerated politeness that is
kind of like a military man. He's calm, mature, role-modelesque, like a high
school football coach. "You in charge of this thing?"
     "To the extent anyone is."
     "Mr.  Protagonist, we  got a call  a few minutes ago from  a friend  of
yours named Y.T."
     "What's wrong? Is she okay?"
     "Oh, yes, sir, she's  just fine. But you know that bug you were talking
to earlier?"
     Hiro's never heard  the  term "bug"  used this way, but he reckons that
Squeaky is referring to the gargoyle, Lagos.
     "Well, there's a situation  involving that gentleman that Y.T.  sort of
tipped us off to. We thought you might want to have a look."
     "What's going on?"
     "Uh. why don't you  come with me. You know,  some things  are easier to
show than to explain verbally."
     As Squeaky  turns,  Sushi K's first rap  song begins. His  voice sounds
tight and tense.
     I'm Sushi K and I'm here to say
     I like to rap in a different way
     Look out Number One in every city
     Sushi K rap has all most pretty
     My special talking of remarkable words
     Is not the stereotyped bucktooth nerd
     My hair is big as a galaxy
     Cause I attain greater technology
     Hiro  follows Squeaky away  from the  crowd, into the dimly lit area on
the edge of the shantytown. Up above them on the overpass embankment, he can
dimly  make  out  phosphorescent  shapes - green-jacketed Enforcers orbiting
some strange attractor.
     "Watch your  step,"  Squeaky  says  as  they  begin  to  climb  up  the
embankment. "It's slippery in places."
     I like to rap about sweetened romance
     My fond ambition is of your pants
     So here is of special remarkable way
     Of this fellow raps named Sushi K
     The Nipponese talking phenomenon
     Like samurai sword his sharpened tongue
     Who raps the East Asia and the Pacific
     Prosperity Sphere, to be specific
     It's a typical loose slope of  dirt and stones that looks like it would
wash away in  the first rainfall. Sage and cactus  and tumbleweeds  here and
there, all looking scraggly and half-dead from air pollution.
     It's hard to see anything clearly, because  Sushi K is  jumping  around
down  below them  on the stage, the brilliant  orange  rays of  his sunburst
hairdo  are sweeping back and  forth across  the embankment  at a speed that
seems to be supersonic, washing grainy, gritty light  over the weeds and the
rocks and throwing everything into weird,  discolored, high-contrast  freeze
     Sarariman on subway listen
     For Sushi K like nuclear fission
     Fire-breathing lizard Gojiro
     He my always big-time hero
     His mutant rap burn down whole block
     Start investing now Sushi K stock
     It on Nikkei stock exchange
     Waxes; other rappers wane
     Best investment, make my day
     Corporation Sushi K
     Squeaky  is  walking straight  uphill, paralleling  a fresh  motorcycle
track that has cut deeply into the loose yellow soil. It consists of a deep,
wide track with a narrower one  that runs parallel, a couple of feet  to the
     The track  gets  deeper the  farther up  they go. Deeper and darker. It
looks less and less  like  a motorcycle rut  in loose dirt and more  like  a
drainage ditch for some sinister black effluent.
     Coming to America now
     Rappers trying to start a row
     Say "Stay in Japan, please, listen!
     We can't handle competition!"
     U.S. rappers booing and hissin'
     Ask for rap protectionism
     They afraid of Sushi K
     Cause their audience go away
     He got chill financial backin'
     Give those U.S. rappers a smackin'
     Sushi K concert machine
     Fast efficient super clean
     Run like clockwork in a watch
     Kick old rappers in the crotch
     One of The Enforcers up the hill is carrying a flashlight. As he moves,
it sweeps across the ground at a flat angle, briefly illuminating the ground
like  a searchlight. For an instant, the light  shines  into  the motorcycle
rut, and Hiro perceives that it has become a river of bright red, oxygenated
     He learn English total immersion
     English/Japanese be mergin'
     Into super combination
     So can have fans in every nation
     Hong Kong they speak English, too
     Yearn of rappers just like you
     Anglophones who live down under
     Sooner later start to wonder
     When they get they own rap star
     Tired of rappers from afar
     Lagos  is lying on the  ground, sprawled  across the tire track. He has
been slit open like a  salmon, with a single smooth-edged cut that begins at
his anus and runs up his belly,  through  the middle of his sternum, all the
way up  to the  point  of  his jaw.  It's not  just a superficial slash.  It
appears  to go all the  way to his spine in  some  places.  The black  nylon
straps that hold his computer system  to his body have been neatly cut where
they cross the midline, and half of the stuff has fallen off into the dust.
     So I will get big radio traffic
     When you look at demographic
     Sushi K research statistic
     Make big future look ballistic
     Speed of Sushi K growth stock
     Put U.S. rappers into shock

     Jason  Breckinridge  wears  a terracotta  blazer.  It  is  the color of
Sicily. Jason Breckinridge has never been to  Sicily. He may get to go there
someday, as a premium. In order to get the  free cruise to Sicily, Jason has
to accumulate 10,000 Goombata. Points.
     He begins this quest in  a favorable position. By opening  up  his  own
Nova Sicilia franchise, he started out with an automatic 3,333 points in the
Goombata  Point bank. Add  to that a one-time-only Citizenship Bonus of  500
points and the balance is starting to look pretty good. The number is stored
in the big computer in Brooklyn.
     Jason grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago, one of the most highly
franchised regions in the  country.  He attended the University of  Illinois
business school, racking  up a GPA of 2.9567, and did a senior thesis called
"The Interaction of the Ethnographic, Financial, and Paramilitary Dimensions
of Competition in Certain Markets." This was  a case study  of turf struggle
between Nova  Sicilia and Narcolombia franchises in  his old neighborhood in
     Enrique Cortazar ran the failing Narcolombia franchise upon which Jason
had hinged his argument. Jason interviewed him several times over the phone,
briefly, but never saw Mr. Cortazar face to face.
     Mr.   Cortazar   celebrated  Jason's  graduation  by   firebombing  the
Breckinridges'  Omni Horizon van in  a parking lot  and  then  firing eleven
clips of automatic rifle ammunition through the front wall of their house.
     Fortunately, Mr.  Caruso,  who ran  the local  string  of  Nova Sicilia
franchulates that  was  in  the process of beating the pants  off of Enrique
Cortazar,  got  wind of  these attacks  before they  happened,  probably  by
intercepting signal intelligence from Mr. Cortazar's fleet of poorly secured
cellular phones and CB  radios. He was able to warn Jason's family in  time,
so that when all of those  bullets flew through their house in the middle of
the night, they were enjoying complimentary champagne in an Old  Sicilia Inn
five miles down Highway 96.
     Naturally, when the B-school  held  its end-of-the-year job fair, Jason
made a  point of swinging by the Nova Sicilia  booth to thank Mr. Caruso for
saving everyone in his family from certain death.
     "Hey, y'know, it was  just, like a neighbor  kinda thing, y'know, Jasie
boy?"  Mr.  Caruso said,  whacking  Jason  across  the  shoulder  blades and
squeezing  his deltoids, which were  the size of  cantaloupes. Jason did not
hit the steroids as hard as he had when he was fifteen,  but he was still in
great shape.
     Mr. Caruso was from New York. He had one of the most popular  booths at
the job fair. It was being held in a big exhibition space  in the Union. The
hall  had been done up  with  an  imaginary  street pattern. Two  "highways"
divided  it  up   into  quadrants,  and  all  the  franchise  companies  and
nationalities  had their  booths along the highways.  Burbclaves  and  other
companies  had  booths  hidden  among  the  suburban  "streets"  within  the
quadrants. Mr. Caruso's Nova Sicilia booth  was right at the intersection of
the  two  highways. Dozens of  scrubby  B-school  grads were  lined up there
waiting to interview, but Mr. Caruso noticed Jason standing in line and went
right up and plucked him out of line and grabbed his deltoids. All the other
B-school grads stared at  Jason enviously. That made Jason feel good, really
special.  That  was the  feeling  he got about  Nova  Sicilia:  personalized
     "Well,  I was going  to interview  here, of course,  and  at  Mr. Lee's
Greater Hong Kong, because I'm real interested in high tech," Jason said, in
response to Mr. Caruso's fatherly questioning.
     Mr. Caruso gave him an  especially hard squeeze. His voice said that he
was painfully surprised, but  that  he didn't necessarily think any  less of
Jason for it, not yet anyway. "Hong Kong? What would  a smart white kid like
you want with a fuckin' Nip operation?"
     "Well,  technically they're not  Nips - which is short  for  Niponese,"
Jason said. "Hong Kong is a predominantly Catonese - "
     "They're  all Nips," Mr. Caruso said,  "and y'know why  I say that? Not
because  I'm a fuckin' racist, because I'm not.  Because to them  - to those
people, y'know, the Nips - we're  all  foreign devils. That's what they call
us. Foreign devils. How d'ya like that?"
     Jason just laughed appreciatively.
     "After all the good things we did for them. But here in  America, Jasie
boy,  we're all foreign devils, ain't we? We all came from someplace - 'cept
for  the fuckin'  Indians. You ain't  gonna  interview  over  at  the Lakota
Nation, are ya?"
     "No, sir, Mr. Caruso," Jason said.
     "Good thinkin'. I agree with that. I'm gettin' away from my main point,
which  is that since  we  all  have  our  own  unique  ethnic  and  cultural
identities, we have to get a job with an organization that uniquely respects
and  seeks to  preserve those distinctive identities - forging them together
into a functionin' whole, y'know?"
     "Yes, I see your point, Mr. Caruso," Jason said.
     By  this  point, Mr. Caruso  had  led  him some distance  away and  was
strolling  with him down one  of the metaphorical  Highways  o' Opportunity.
"Now,  can you think of some  business  organizations that fill that fuckin'
bill, Jasie boy?"
     "Well ..."
     "Not fuckin' Hong Kong. That's for white people who want to be Japs but
can't, didja know that? You don't wanta be a Jap, do ya?"
     "Ha ha. No, sir, Mr. Caruso."
     "Y'know what I heard?"  Mr. Caruso let go of  Jason, turned, and  stood
close to  him,  chest to chest, his cigar zinging past  Jason's  ear like  a
flaming  arrow as  he  gesticulated.  This was a confidential portion of the
chat, a little anecdote between the two men. "In Japan, if you screw up? You
gotta cut off one a  your fingers. Chop. Just like that. Honest to  God. You
don't believe me?"
     "I believe you. But that's not all of  Japan, sir. Just in  the Yakuza.
The Japanese Mafia."
     Mr. Caruso threw back his head and laughed, put his arm  around Jason's
shoulders  again. "Y'know, I  like you, Jason, I really  do," he  said. "The
Japanese Mafia.  Tell me something, Jason, you ever hear anyone describe our
thing as 'The Sicilian Yakuza'? Huh?"
     Jason laughed. "No, sir."
     "Y'know  why that  is?  Y'know?" Mr. Caruso had come  to  the  serious,
meaningful part of his speech.
     "Why is that, sir?"
     Mr. Caruso wheeled Jason around so that both of them  were staring down
the length of the highway  to the tall  effigy of Uncle Enzo, standing above
the intersection like the Statue of Liberty.
     "Cause there's only one, son. Only one. And you could be a part of it."
     "But it's so competitive - "
     "What?  Listen  to  this! You got a three-point  grade average!  You're
gonna kick butt, son!"
     Mr. Caruso,  like  any other  franchisee,  had  access to  Turfnet, the
multiple listing service  that Nova  Sicilia used to keep  track of what  it
called  "opportunity zones." He took Jason back  to the booth-right past all
of those poor dorks waiting in line, Jason really liked that-and signed onto
the network. All Jason had to do was pick out a region.
     "I  have an uncle  who owns a car  dealership  in southern California,"
Jason said, "and I know that's a rapidly expanding area, and - "
     "Plenty of opportunity zones!" Mr.  Caruso said,  pounding  away on the
keyboard with a flourish. He wheeled the monitor around to show Jason  a map
of the L.A. area blazing with red splotches that  represented unclaimed turf
sectors. "Take your pick, Jasie boy!"

     Now Jason Breckinridge  is the  manager  of Nova Sicilia  #5328 in  the
Valley. He puts on his smart terracotta  blazer every  morning and drives to
work in his Oldsmobile. Lots of young entrepreneurs would be driving BMWs or
Acuras, but the organization of which Jason is now a part puts a premium  on
tradition and  family values and  does not go in for flashy foreign imports.
"If an American car is good enough for Uncle Enzo... "
     Jason's  blazer has the Mafia logo embroidered on the breast  pocket. A
letter  "G"  is  worked  into the  logo, signifying  Gambino,  which is  the
division  that  handles  accounts  for the L.A. Basin. His  name is  written
underneath:  "Jason  (The Iron Pumper)  Breckinridge." That is  the nickname
that he and Mr. Caruso came up with a year ago at the  job fair in Illinois.
Everyone gets to have a nickname, it is a tradition and a mark of pride, and
they like you to pick something that says something about you.
     As manager  of a  local office, Jason's job  is to portion work  out to
local contractors. Every morning, he parks his Oldsmobile out front and goes
into the office, ducking quickly  into the armored doorway to foil  possible
Narcolombian  snipers.  This does  not  prevent them from  taking occasional
potshots at the big Uncle Enzo that rises  up above the franchise, but those
signs can take an amazing amount of abuse before they start looking seedy.
     Safely   inside,  Jason  signs  onto  Turfnet.   A  job  list   scrolls
automatically  onto the screen.  All Jason has to do  is find contractors to
handle all of those jobs before he goes home  that night, or else he has  to
take care  of them himself.  One way or another,  they have to get done. The
great majority of the jobs  are simple deliveries, which he  portions out to
Kouriers. Then there are  collections from  delinquent  borrowers  and  from
franchisees who depend  on Nova Sicilia for their  plant security. If it's a
first notice, Jason  likes to drop by in person, just to show the  flag,  to
emphasize  that his organization  takes  a  personal, one-to-one,  hands-on,
micromanaged  approach to debt-related  issues.  If it's a  second or  third
notice,  he usually writes  a  contract  with  Deadbeaters International,  a
high-impact collection agency with whose work he has always been very happy.
Then there is the occasional Code H. Jason hates to deal with Code Hs, views
them as  symptoms of a  breakdown in the system of mutual  trust  that makes
society  work.  But usually these  are  handled directly from  the  regional
level, and all Jason has to do is aftermath management and spin control.
     This morning, Jason is looking especially crisp, his Oldsmobile freshly
waxed  and  polished.  Before he  goes inside, he plucks a  couple of burger
wrappers off the parking lot, snipers  be  damned. He  has heard that  Uncle
Enzo is  in the area, and  you never knew when  he might pull  his  fleet of
limousines and war wagons into a neighborhood franchise and pop  in to shake
hands  with the rank  and  file.  Yes, Jason  is  going  to be  working late
tonight, burning the oil until he receives word that  Uncle Enzo's  plane is
safely out of the area.
     He  signs onto Turfnet. A list of jobs scrolls up as usual,  not a very
long list.  Interfranchise  activity is  way down  today, as  all the  local
managers gird, polish, and  inspect for the possible arrival of  Uncle Enzo.
But one of the jobs scrolls up in red letters, a priority job.
     Priority jobs are a little unusual. A symptom of bad morale and general
slipshoddity. Every  job should be a priority job. But every so often, there
is something that absolutely can't be delayed or screwed up. A local manager
like  Jason can't  order up  a priority job;  it has to  come from  a higher
     Usually, a  priority job is a  Code H. But Jason notes with relief that
this one is a simple delivery. Certain documents are to be hand carried from
his office to Nova Sicilia #4649, which is south of downtown.
     Way south.  Compton.  A war  zone, longtime stronghold of Narcolombians
and Rastafarian gunslingers.
     Compton. Why  the hell would  an office  in Compton need  a  personally
signed copy of  his financial records? They should be spending all  of their
time doing Code Hs on the competition, out there.
     As  a  matter  of  fact, there is a very active Young Mafia  group on a
certain block in Compton that has just  succeeded in driving away all of the
Narcolombians  and turning the whole area into  a Mafia Watch  neighborhood.
Old  ladies  are  walking  the  streets  again.  Children  are  waiting  for
schoolbuses and  playing  hopscotch  on sidewalks that recently were stained
with blood. It's a  fine example; if it can be done on this block, it can be
done anywhere.
     As a  matter  of fact,  Uncle Enzo is  coming to congratulate  them  in
     This afternoon.
     And #4649 is going to be his temporary headquarters.
     The implications are stunning.
     Jason has been given a priority job to deliver his  records to the very
franchise where Uncle Enzo will be taking his espresso this afternoon!
     Uncle Enzo is interested in him.
     Mr. Caruso claimed he had connections higher  up, but could they really
go this high?
     Jason sits  back  in his color-coordinated  earth-tone swivel  chair to
consider  the very real possibility that  in a few  days, he's going  to  be
managing a whole region - or even better.
     One thing's for sure - this is not  a delivery  to be  entrusted to any
Kourier, any punk on a skateboard.  Jason is going to trundle his Oldsmobile
into Compton personally to drop this stuff off.

     He's there an hour ahead of schedule.  He was shooting for half an hour
early, but once  he gets a load  of Compton -  he's heard  stories about the
place, of course, but my God - he starts driving like a maniac. Cheap, nasty
franchises all tend to adopt logos  with a lot of bright,  hideous yellow in
them, and so  Alameda Street is  clearly marked  out before him, a  gout  of
radioactive urine ejected south  from  the  dead center  of L.A.  Jason aims
himself right  down  the middle, ignoring lane markings and red lights,  and
puts the hammer down.
     Most  of  the  franchises  are  yellow-logoed, wrong-side-of-the-tracks
operations like Uptown, Narcolombia, Caymans Plus, Metazania, and The Clink.
But  standing  out like rocky  islands  in this  swamp  are the Nova Sicilia
franchulates   -   beachheads  for  the  Mafia's  effort   to   outduel  the
overwhelmingly strong Narcolombia.
     Shitty lots that even The Clink wouldn't buy always tend to  get picked
up by economy-minded three-ringers  who have just  shelled out a million yen
for a Narcolombia license and  who  need some real  estate, any real estate,
that  they  can throw  a  fence around  and extraterritorialize. These local
franchulates send most  of their gross to  Medellin  in franchising fees and
keep barely enough to pay overhead.
     Some of them try to scam, to sneak a few bills into  their pocket  when
they think the  security camera isn't watching, and run down the  street  to
the nearest Caymans Plus or The Alps franchulate, which hover in these areas
like  flies  on  road  kill.  But  these  people  rapidly  find out  that in
Narcolombia, just about  everything is a  capital offense, and  there  is no
judicial system to  speak of, just flying justice squads that have the right
to blow into your franchulate any time of day or night  and fax your records
back to the notoriously picky computer in Medellin. Nothing sucks  more than
being  hauled  in  front  of  a  firing squad against  the  back wall of the
business that you built with your own two hands.
     Uncle Enzo  reckons  that with  the  Mafia's  emphasis on  loyalty  and
traditional  family  values, they can sign up a lot of these entrepreneurs -
before they become Narcolombian citizens.
     And that explains the billboards that Jason sees with growing frequency
as he drives into Compton. The smiling face of Uncle Enzo seems to beam down
from every  comer.  Typically, he's got  his  arm around the  shoulders of a
young  wholesome-looking black kid, and there's  a catch  phrase above:  THE
     This last one usually accompanies a picture of Uncle Enzo  with his arm
around some teenager's shoulders, giving  him a stern  avuncular talking-to.
It  is  an allusion to the fact  that the Colombians and Jamaicans kill just
about everyone.
     NO WAY, JOSE! Uncle  Enzo  holding up  one hand to stop  an  Uzi-toting
Hispanic  scumbag;  behind him  stands  a  pan-ethnic  phalanx  of kids  and
grannies, resolutely gripping baseball bats and frying pans.
     Oh, sure,  the Narcolombians still have a  lock on coca leaves, but now
that  Nippon  Pharmaceuticals  has  its  big  cocaine-synthesis  facility in
Mexicali  nearly complete, that  will cease  to  be  a factor. The  Mafia is
betting  that any smart  youngster going into the business these  days  will
take note of these billboards and  think twice.  Why end  up  suffocating on
your  own  entrails out  in back of some  Buy 'n' Fly  when you can put on a
crisp  terracotta  blazer  instead  and  become part of  a  jovial  familia?
Especially now  that they have black,  Hispanic, and  Asian  capos who  will
respect your cultural identity? In the  long term, Jason  is bullish  on the
     His black Oldsmobile is a fucking bullseye  in a place like  this. It's
the  worst thing he has ever  seen, Compton. Lepers  roasting  dogs on spits
over tubs of flaming kerosene. Street people pushing wheelbarrows piled high
with  dripping  clots  of  million- and billion-dollar bills that  they have
raked up out of storm sewers. Road kills - enormous road kills  - road kills
so big that they could only be human beings, smeared out into chunky  swaths
a  block  long.  Burning roadblocks  across  major  avenues.  No  franchises
anywhere.  The Oldsmobile  keeps popping. Jason can't  think  of  what it is
until  he  realizes that people are  shooting at him. Good thing he  let his
uncle talk  him into springing for full armor! When he figures that one out,
he  actually gets psyched. This is the real  thing, man! He's driving around
in his Olds and the bastards are shooting at him, and it just don't matter!
     Every street for three  blocks around the  franchise is blocked off  by
Mafia war wagons. Men lurk on top of burned tenements carrying six-foot-long
rifles  and  wearing  black  windbreakers  with  MAFIA across  the  back  in
five-inch fluorescent letters.
     This is it, man, this is the real shit.
     Pulling up to the checkpoint, he  notes that his Olds is now straddling
a portable claymore mine. If he's  the wrong guy, it'll turn the car  into a
steel doughnut. But he's not the wrong guy. He's the  right guy. He's got  a
priority job, a heap of documents on the seat next  to him, wrapped up tight
and pretty.
     He rolls the window down and a  top-echelon Mafia  guardsman nails  him
with the retinal scanner. None of this ID card nonsense. They know who he is
in  a microsecond. He  sits  back against  his  whiplash arrestor, turns the
rear-view mirror to face himself, checks his hairstyle. It's not half bad.
     "Bud," the guard says, "you ain't on the list."
     "Yes, I am," Jason says. "This is  a priority  delivery. Got the papers
right here."
     He hands a hard copy  of the  Turfnet job order to the guard, who looks
at it, grunts, and goes into his war wagon,  which is richly  festooned with
     There is a very, very long wait.
     A man is approaching on foot, walking across the  emptiness between the
Mafia franchise and the perimeter. The vacant lot is a wilderness of charred
bricks and twisted electrical conduit, but this gentleman is walking  across
it like Christ on the Sea of Galilee. His suit is perfectly black. So is his
hair. He  doesn't  have any  guards with him. The perimeter security is that
     Jason notices that  all the guards at  this  checkpoint  are standing a
little  straighter, adjusting their  ties, shooting their cuffs. Jason wants
to  climb  out  of  his  bulletpocked Oldsmobile to show  proper  respect to
whoever this guy is, but he can't get  the door open  because a big guard is
standing right there, using the roof as a mirror.
     All too quickly, he's there.
     "Is this him?" he says to a guard.
     The guard looks at Jason for  a  couple of  seconds, as though he can't
quite believe it, then  looks at the  important man  in the  black suit  and
     The man  in  the black suit nods back,  tugs on his cuffs a little bit,
squints  around  him for  a  few moments, looking at the  snipers up  on the
roofs, looking everywhere but at Jason. Then  he steps forward one pace. One
of his eyes is made  of glass and doesn't point in the same direction as the
other one.  Jason thinks he's looking elsewhere. But he's looking  at  Jason
with his good eye. Or maybe he isn't. Jason can't tell which eye is the real
one. He shudders and stiffens like a puppy in a deep freeze.
     "Jason Breckinridge," the man says.
     "The Iron Pumper," Jason reminds him.
     "Shut up. For  the rest of  this conversation,  you don't say anything.
When I tell  you what you  did  wrong, you don't say you're sorry, because I
already know you're  sorry.  And when you drive outta here  alive, you don't
thank me for being alive. And you don't even say goodbye to me."
     Jason nods.
     "I don't  even want  you  to nod,  that's  how much  you annoy me. Just
freeze and shut up. Okay, here we  go.  We gave  you  a  priority  job  this
morning. It was real easy. All you had to do was read the fucking job sheet.
But you didn't  read it.  You just took it upon yourself to make the fuckin'
delivery on your own. Which the job sheet explicitly tells you not to do."
     Jason's eyes flick in the  direction  of the bundle of documents on the
     "That's crap," the man says. "We don't want your  fucking documents. We
don't care about you and your fucking franchise out in the middle a nowhere.
All we  wanted was the  Kourier. The  job sheet said that this  delivery was
supposed to be made by one particular Kourier  who works your  area, name of
Y.T. Uncle Enzo happens to like Y.T. He wants to meet her.  Now, because you
screwed up, Uncle Enzo don't get his wish. Oh, what a terrible outcome. What
an embarrassment. What an incredible fuckup, is what it is. It's too late to
save your franchise,  Jason The Iron Pumper, but it might not be too late to
keep the sewer rats from eating your nipples for dinner."

     "This  wasn't done with a sword," Hiro says. He  is beyond astonishment
as  he stands and stares at Lagos's  corpse. All the emotions  will probably
come piling in on him later, when he goes home and tries to sleep. For  now,
the thinking part of his  brain seems cut loose  from his body, as if he has
just ingested a great deal of drugs, and he's just as cool as Squeaky.
     "Oh, yeah? How can you tell?" Squeaky says.
     "Swords make quick cuts, all the way through. Like, you  cut off a head
or an arm. A person who's been killed with a sword doesn't look like this."
     "Really? Have you killed a lot of people with swords, Mr. Protagonist?"
     "Yes. In the Metaverse."
     They stand for a while longer, looking at it.
     "This doesn't look like a speed move. This looks like a strength move,"
Squeaky says.
     "Raven looks strong enough."
     "That he does."
     "But  I don't think he was carrying  a weapon.  The Crips  frisked  him
earlier, and he was clean."
     "Well, then he must have borrowed one," Squeaky says. "This bug was all
over the place, you know. We were  keeping  an eye  on him, because  we were
afraid he was  going to  piss Raven off. He kept  going around looking for a
vantage point."
     "He's loaded with surveillance gear," Hiro  says.  "The higher he gets,
the better it works."
     "So he ended up here on this embankment. And apparently the perpetrator
knew where he was."
     "The dust," Hiro says. "Watch the lasers."
     Down below, Sushi K pirouettes spastically as a beer  bottle caroms off
his  forehead.  A bundle  of lasers  sweeps  across  the embankment, clearly
visible in the fine dust being drawn out of it by the wind.
     "This guy - this bug - was using lasers. As soon as he came up here - "
     "They betrayed his position," Squeaky says.
     "And then Raven came after him."
     "Well, we're not saying it's him," Squeaky says. "But I need to know if
this  character" - he  nods at the  corpse -  "might have done anything that
would have made Raven feel threatened."
     "What is this, group therapy? Who cares if Raven felt threatened?"
     "I do," Squeaky says with great finality.
     "Lagos was  just a gargoyle. A big  hoover  for intel. I don't think he
did wet operations - and if he did, he wouldn't do it in that get-up."
     "So why do you think Raven was feeling so jumpy?"
     "I guess he doesn't like being under surveillance," Hiro says.
     "Yeah." Squeaky says. "You should remember that."
     Then Squeaky  puts one hand over his ear, the better to  hear voices on
his headset radio.
     "Did Y.T. see this happen?" Hiro says.
     "No," Squeaky mumbles,  a few seconds later. "But she saw  him  leaving
the scene. She's following him."
     "Why would she want to do that!?"
     "I guess you told her to, or something."
     "I didn't think she'd take off after him."
     "Well,  she  doesn't know that he killed the guy,"  Squeaky says.  "She
just  phoned  in a sighting - he's riding his Harley into Chinatown." And he
begins  running up the embankment. A couple of Enforcers' cars are parked on
the shoulder of the highway up there, waiting.
     Hiro tags along. His legs are in incredible shape  from sword fighting,
and he manages to  catch up  to Squeaky by the time he reaches his car. When
the driver undoes the electric door locks, Hiro scoots into the back seat as
Squeaky is going into the front. Squeaky turns around and  gives him a tired
     "I'll behave," Hiro says.
     "Just one thing - "
     "I know. Don't fuck around with Raven."
     "That's right."
     Squeaky holds  his  glare for  another second  and  then turns  around,
motions the driver to drive. He impatiently  rips ten  feet of hard copy out
of the dashboard printer and begins sifting through it.
     On this long strip of paper, Hiro  glimpses multiple  renditions of the
important Crip, the guy with the goatee whom Raven was dealing with earlier.
On the printout, he is labeled as "T-Bone Murphy."
     There's also a picture of Raven. It's an action shot, not  a mug  shot.
It  is  terrible   output.  It  has  been   caught  through  some   kind  of
light-amplifying  optics  that  wash  out  the  color  and  make  everything
incredibly grainy and low contrast. It looks like some image processing  has
been done to make it sharper; this also makes it grainier. The license plate
is  just an  oblate blur,  overwhelmed by  the glow of the  taillight. It is
heeled over sharply,  the sidecar  wheel several inches off the ground.  But
the  rider  doesn't have  any visible  neck; his head,  or  rather  the dark
splotch  that is there,  just keeps getting wider until  it merges into  his
shoulders. Definitely Raven.
     "How come you have pictures of T-bone Murphy in there?" Hiro says.
     "He's chasing him," Squeaky says.
     "Who's chasing whom?"
     "Well, your friend Y.T. ain't no Edward R. Murrow. But as far as we can
tell from her reports, they've been sighted in the same area, trying to kill
each other,"  Squeaky says. He's  speaking  with  the slow, distant tones of
someone who is getting live updates over his headphones.
     "They were doing some kind of a deal earlier," Hiro says.
     "Then I ain't hardly surprised they're trying to kill each other now."

     Once they get to a certain part of town, following the T-Bone and Raven
show  becomes  a matter of connect-the-ambulances. Every  couple  of  blocks
there is a cluster  of cops and  medics, lights sparkling, radios  coughing.
All they have to do is go from one to the next.
     At the  first one,  there  is  a dead Crip lying  on  the  pavement.  A
six-foot-wide blood slick runs from  his body, diagonally down the street to
a storm  drain.  The ambulance  people  are  standing  around,  smoking  and
drinking  coffee from go cups,  waiting for  The Enforcers to  get  finished
measuring and photographing so that they can haul the corpse to the  morgue.
There are no  IV lines set up,  no bits  of medical  trash strewn around the
area, no open doc boxes; they didn't even try.
     They  proceed around a  couple of comers  to the  next constellation of
flashing lights. Here, the ambulance drivers are inflating a cast around the
leg of a MetaCop.
     "Run over by the  motorcycle," Squeaky says, shaking his head  with the
traditional Enforcer's  disdain  for  their pathetic  junior relations,  the
     Finally,  he patches  the radio feed into the dashboard so they can all
hear it.
     The  motorcyclist's trail is now  cold and it  sounds  like most of the
local  cops  are  dealing with aftermath problems. But  a citizen  has  just
called in to complain that a man on a motorcycle, and several other persons,
are trashing a field of hops on her block.
     "Three blocks from here," Squeaky says to the driver.
     "Hops?" Hiro says.
     "I know the place. Local microbrewery," Squeaky says.  "They grow their
own hops. Contract it  out to some urban  gardeners. Chinese peasants who do
the grunt work for 'em."

     When  they arrive,  the first  authority  figures on the  scene, it  is
obvious  why Raven decided to let himself get chased into a hop field: It is
great cover.  The  hops are heavy,  flowering vines  that  grow on trellises
lashed together out of long bamboo poles. The trellises are eight feet high;
you can't see a thing.
     They all get out of the car.
     "T-Bone?" Squeaky hollers.
     They  hear someone yelling  in English from  the  middle of  the of the
field. "Over here!" But he isn't responding to Squeaky.
     They walk into the hop field. Carefully. There  is an enveloping smell,
a  resiny odor not  unlike  marijuana,  the sharp  smell that  comes off  an
expensive beer. Squeaky motions for Hiro to stay behind him.
     In  other circumstances, Hiro would  do so.  He is  half  Japanese, and
under certain circumstances, totally respectful of authority.
     This is not  one  of those  circumstances. If Raven comes anywhere near
Hiro, Hiro is going to be talking to him with his katana. And if it comes to
that,  Hiro doesn't want Squeaky anywhere  near him, because he could lose a
limb on the backswing.
     "Yo, T-Bone!" Squeaky yells. "It's The Enforcers, and we're pissed! Get
the fuck out of there, man. Let's go home!"
     T-Bone, or Hiro assumes it  is  T-Bone, responds only by firing a short
burst from a machine pistol. The muzzle flash lights up the hop vines like a
strobe light. Hiro aims one shoulder at the  ground, buries himself  in soft
earth and foliage for a few seconds.
     "Fuck!" T-Bone says. It is a disappointed fuck, but a fuck with a heavy
undertone of overwhelming frustration and not a little fear.
     Hiro  gets up into a conservative squat, looks  around. Squeaky and the
other Enforcer are nowhere to be seen.
     Hiro forces his way through one of the trellises and into a row that is
closer to the action.
     The other Enforcer - the driver - is in  the same row, about ten meters
away, his  back  turned  to  Hiro. He glances  over  his shoulder  in Hiro's
direction, then looks in the  other  direction and sees someone else -  Hiro
can't quite see who, because The Enforcer is in the way.
     "What the fuck," The Enforcer says.
     Then  he jumps a little,  as though startled, and  something happens to
the back of his jacket.
     "Who is it?" Hiro says.
     The Enforcer  doesn't say anything. He is  trying to turn back  around,
but something prevents it. Something is shaking the vines around him.
     The Enforcer shudders, careens  sideways from foot to foot. "Got to get
loose," he  says,  speaking loudly to no one in particular. He breaks into a
trot, running away  from  Hiro. The other person who was in the  row is gone
now. The  Enforcer is running in a strange stiff  upright gait with his arms
down to his sides. His bright green windbreaker isn't hanging correctly.
     Hiro runs  after  him. The  Enforcer is  trotting toward the end of the
row, where the lights of the street are visible.
     The Enforcer  exits the  field a couple  of seconds ahead of  him, and,
when Hiro gets to the curb, is in the middle of the road, illuminated mostly
by flashing  blue  light  from a giant overhead  video screen. He is turning
around and around with  strange little  stomping  footsteps, not keeping his
balance very well.  He  is saying, "Aaah,  aaah" in a  low, calm voice  that
gurgles as though he badly needs to clear his throat.
     As The Enforcer revolves, Hiro perceives that he has been impaled on an
eight-foot-long bamboo spear. Half sticks  out the front, half out the back.
The  back half is dark with blood and black fecal  clumps, the front half is
greenish-yellow and clean. The Enforcer can only see the front half and  his
hands are playing up and down it, trying to verify what his eyes are seeing.
Then the back  half whacks into a parked car, spraying a  narrow fan of head
cheese across the waxed  and polished trunk  lid. The car's  alarm goes off.
The Enforcer hears the sound and turns around to see what it is.
     When Hiro last sees him, he is running down the center of the pulsating
neon street toward the center of  Chinatown, wailing a terrible, random song
that  clashes with the  bleating of the car alarm. Hiro  feels even at  this
moment  that  something has  been  torn  open in  the  world and  that he is
dangling above the gap, staring into a  place where he does  not want to be.
Lost in the biomass.
     Hiro draws his katana.
     "Squeaky!" Hiro hollers. "He's throwing spears! He's pretty good at it!
Your driver is hit!"
     "Got it!" Squeaky hollers.
     Hiro goes back into the closest  row. He hears a sound off to the right
and uses the katana to cut his way through into that row. This is not a nice
place to be at the moment, but it is safer than standing in the street under
the plutonic light of the video screen.
     Down the row is a man. Hiro  recognizes him by the strange shape of his
head,  which just gets wider until it reaches his shoulders. He is holding a
freshly cut bamboo pole in one hand, torn from the trellis.
     Raven strokes one end of it with his other hand, and a chunk falls off.
Something flickers  in that  hand, the  blade of a knife apparently.  He has
just cut off the end of the pole at an acute angle to make it into a spear.
     He  throws it fluidly.  The  motion is calm  and  beautiful. The  spear
disappears because it is coming straight at Hiro.
     Hiro does not  have time  to adopt the proper stance, but  this is fine
since he  has already adopted  it. Whenever he has a  katana in his hands he
adopts it automatically, otherwise he fears that he may lose his balance and
carelessly  lop  off  one  of his  extremities.  Feet  parallel and  pointed
straight  ahead, right foot in  front of the left foot,  katana held down at
groin level like an extension  of the phallus. Hiro raises the tip and slaps
at  the spear with the side of  the blade, diverting it just enough; it goes
into a slow sideways spin, the point missing Hiro just barely and entangling
itself in a vine on Hiro's right. The butt end swings around and  gets  hung
up on the left,  tearing  out a number of vines as it comes to a stop. It is
heavy, and traveling very fast.
     Raven is gone.
     Mental note: Whether or not Raven intended to  take on a bunch of Crips
and Enforcers singlehandedly tonight, he didn't even bother to pack a gun.
     Another burst of gunfire sounds from several rows over.
     Hiro has been standing here for rather a long time, thinking about what
just  happened.  He cuts through  the next row  of  vines  and heads  in the
direction of the muzzle flash,  running his  mouth:  "Don't shoot  this way,
T-Bone, I'm on your side, man."
     "Motherfucker threw a stick into my chest, man!" T-Bone complains.
     When you're wearing armor, getting hit by a spear just isn't such a big
deal anymore.
     "Maybe  you should just forget it," Hiro  says. He is having to cut his
way through a lot of  rows to  reach T-Bone,  but as  long  as T-Bone  keeps
talking, Hiro can find him.
     "I'm a Crip. We don't forget nothing." T-Bone says. "Is that you?"
     "No," Hiro says. "I'm not there yet."
     A very  brief  burst of gunfire,  rapidly cut off. Suddenly, no  one is
talking. Hiro cuts his way  into  the  next row and almost steps on T-Bone's
hand, which has been amputated at the wrist.  Its finger is still tangled in
the trigger guard of a MAC-11.
     The  remainder of  T-Bone is  two rows  away.  Hiro stops  and  watches
through the vines.
     Raven is one of the largest men Hiro has seen outside of a professional
sporting event. T-Bone is backing away from  him down the row. Raven, moving
with long confident strides, catches up with  T-Bone and swings one hand  up
into T-Bone's body; Hiro doesn't have to see the knife to know it is there.
     It  looks  as though T-Bone  is going  to get out of this with  nothing
worse  than  a sewn-on  hand  and some rehab work, because you can't stab  a
person to death that way, not if he is wearing armor.
     T-Bone screams.
     He is  bouncing up and down on Raven's hand. The knife has gone all the
way through the bulletproof fabric and now Raven is trying to gut T-Bone the
same way  he did Lagos. But his knife - whatever the hell it is  - won't cut
through the fabric that way.  It is sharp enough to penetrate - which should
be impossible - but not sharp enough to slash.
     Raven pulls it out, drops to one knee, and swings his knife hand around
in  a long ellipse  between  T-Bone's thighs. Then he  jumps  over  T-Bone's
collapsing body and runs.
     Hiro gets the sense that T-Bone is a dead man, so he follows Raven. His
intention is not to hunt the man down,  but rather to  maintain a very clear
picture of where he is.
     He  has to cut  through  a number  of rows. He rapidly  loses Raven. He
considers running as fast as he can in the opposite direction.
     Then he hears the  deep, lung-stretching rumble of a motorcycle engine.
Hiro runs for the nearest street exit, just hoping to catch a glimpse.
     He does, though it is a quick one, not a hell of a  lot better than the
graphic in  the cop car. Raven turns to look  at Hiro, just as he is blowing
out of there. He's right under  a streetlight, so Hiro gets  a clear look at
his face  for  the first  time.  He is Asian.  He has a wispy  mustache that
trails down past his chin.
     Another  Crip  comes running  out into the  street  half a second after
Hiro, as  Raven is pulling away. He slows for a moment to  take stock of the
situation, then charges the motorcycle, like a  linebacker. He is crying out
as he does so, a war cry.
     Squeaky emerges about the same time as the Crip, starts chasing both of
them down the street.
     Raven seems to  be  unaware  of  the Crip  running  behind him,  but in
hindsight it  seems apparent that he  has been  watching his approach in the
rearview mirror  of the motorcycle. As the Crip comes in range, Raven's hand
lets go of the throttle for a moment, snaps back as if he is throwing away a
piece  of  litter.  His fist strikes  the middle of  the Crip's face  like a
frozen ham  shot out of a  cannon. The Crip's head snaps back, his  feet are
lifted off the ground, he does most of a backflip, and strikes the pavement,
hitting  first  with the nape  of his neck, both arms slamming  out straight
onto the road as he does so. It looks  a  lot like a controlled fall, though
if so, it has to be more reflex than anything.
     Squeaky decelerates,  turns,  and  kneels down next to the fallen Crip,
ignoring Raven.
     Hiro  watches the large, radioactive,  spear-throwing  killer drug lord
ride his motorcycle into  Chinatown. Which  is the same  as  riding it  into
China, as far as chasing him down is concerned.
     He  runs up to the Crip, who is  lying crucified in the center  of  the
street. The  lower  half of the Crip's face is  pretty hard to make out. His
eyes are half  open, and he looks quite  relaxed. He speaks quietly. "He's a
fucking Indian or something."
     Interesting idea. But Hiro still thinks he's Asian.
     "What the fuck did you think you were doing, asshole?" Squeaky says. He
sounds so pissed that Hiro steps away from him.
     "That  fucker  ripped us off  -  the suitcase burned," the Crip mumbles
through a mashed jaw.
     "So why didn't you just write it off? Are you crazy, fucking with Raven
like that?"
     "He ripped us off. Nobody does that and lives."
     "Well, Raven  just  did,"  Squeaky says. Finally, he's calming  down  a
little. He rocks back on his heels, looks up at Hiro.
     "T-Bone and  your driver are  not likely to be alive," Hiro says. "This
guy better not move - he could have a neck fracture."
     "He's lucky I don't fracture his fucking neck," Squeaky says.
     The  ambulance  people  get there  fast  enough to slap  an  inflatable
cervical  collar around the Crip's neck before he gets ambitious  enough. to
stand up. They haul him away within a few minutes.
     Hiro goes back into the hops and finds T-Bone. T-Bone is  dead, slumped
in  a  kneeling  position  against  a trellis. The  stab wound  through  his
bulletproof  vest probably would have been fatal, but Raven wasn't satisfied
with that. He went down low  and slashed up and down the insides of T-Bone's
thighs, which are now laid open all the way to the bone. In doing so, he put
great  lengthwise  rents  into  both of  T-Bone's femoral arteries,  and his
entire  blood supply  dropped  out  of him. Like slicing  the bottom  off  a
styrofoam cup.

     The Enforcers turn the entire block into a mobile cop headquarters with
cars  and  paddy wagons and  satellite links on flatbed  trucks.  Dudes with
white  coats are walking  up  and  down through  the  hop field  with Geiger
counters.  Squeaky is wandering around with his headset, staring into space,
carrying on conversations with  people  who aren't there. A tow truck  shows
up, towing T-Bone's black BMW behind it.
     "Yo, pod." Hiro turns  around and  looks. It's Y.T. She's just come out
of  a Hunan place across the street. She hands Hiro a little white box and a
pair of chopsticks. "Spicy  chicken with black  bean sauce, no MSG. You know
how to use chopsticks?"
     Hiro shrugs off this insult.
     "I got  a double  order,"  Y.T. continues, "cause I figure  we got some
good intel tonight."
     "Are you aware of what happened here?"
     "No. I mean, some people obviously got hurt."
     "But you weren't an eyewitness."
     "No, I couldn't keep up with them."
     "That's good," Hiro says.
     "What did happen?"
     Hiro just shakes his head. The spicy chicken is glistening darkly under
the  lights; he has never been less hungry  in his life. "If I had  known, I
wouldn't have  gotten you involved. I  just  thought  it was a  surveillance
     "What happened?"
     "I don't want to get into it. Look. Stay away from Raven, okay?"
     "Sure," she says. She says it in the chirpy tone of voice that she uses
when she's lying and she wants to make sure you know it.
     Squeaky hauls open the back door  of  the BMW and looks  into  the back
seat. Hiro steps a little  closer,  gets a nasty whiff of cold smoke. It  is
the smell of burnt plastic.
     The aluminum briefcase that  Raven earlier gave to T-Bone is sitting in
the middle of the seat. It looks like it has been thrown into a fire; it has
black smoke  stains splaying out around the locks, and its plastic handle is
partially melted. The buttery  leather that covers the BMW's  seats has burn
marks on it. No wonder T-Bone was pissed.
     Squeaky  pulls on a pair of latex gloves. He hauls  the  briefcase out,
sets it on the trunk lid, and rips the latches open with a small prybar.
     Whatever it is, it is complicated and highly designed. The  top half of
the case has several rows of the small red-capped tubes that Hiro saw at the
U-Stor-It. There are five rows with maybe twenty tubes in each row.
     The bottom half of  the  case appears to be some  kind of miniaturized,
old-fashioned  computer terminal  . Most of it is  occupied by  a  keyboard.
There  is a small liquid-crystal  display screen  that can  probably  handle
about five lines  of  text at a time. There is  a penlike object attached to
the case by a cable,  maybe three feet long uncoiled. It looks like it might
be a light pen or a bar-code scanner. Above  the keyboard  is a lens, set at
an angle so that it is aimed at whoever is typing on the keyboard. There are
other features whose purpose is  not  so obvious: a slot,  which might  be a
place  to insert a credit or ID card, and a cylindrical socket that is about
the size of one of those little tubes.
     This is Hiro's reconstruction of how the thing looked at one time. When
Hiro sees it, it is melted together. Judging from the pattern of smoke marks
on the outside  of the case - which appear  to be  jetting outward  from the
crack between the top and bottom - the source of the flame  was  inside, not
     Squeaky reaches down  and  unsnaps  one  of the tubes from the bracket,
holds  it  up  in  front  of the bright  lights  of  Chinatown. It had  been
transparent  but  was now  smirched by heat and  smoke. From a  distance, it
looks like a simple vial, but  stepping up to  look at it more closely  Hiro
can see at least half a dozen tiny individual compartments inside the thing,
all connected to each other by capillary tubes. It has a red plastic  cap on
one  end  of  it. The cap  has a black  rectangular window, and  as  Squeaky
rotates it, Hiro can  see the  dark  red  glint  of  an inactive LED display
inside, like  looking at the display on  a turned-off calculator. Underneath
this is a small perforation. It isn't just a simple drilled hole. It is wide
at the surface,  rapidly narrowing to  a nearly  invisible pinpoint opening,
like the bell of a trumpet.
     The compartments inside the vial are all partially filled with liquids.
Some  of them are  transparent and some  are blackish  brown. The brown ones
have to be organics of some kind, now reduced by the heat into chicken soup.
The transparent ones could be anything.
     "He  got out to go into a bar and have a drink," Squeaky mumbles. "What
an asshole."
     "Who did?"
     "T-Bone. See, T-Bone was, like, the registered  owner of this unit. The
suitcase. And as  soon  as he got more  than about ten feet away  from  it -
foosh - it self-destructed."
     Squeaky looks at Hiro like he's stupid. "Well, it's not like I work for
Central Intelligence or  anything. But I would guess that whoever makes this
drug - they call  it Countdown, or Redcap, or Snow  Crash - has a real thing
about trade secrets. So if the pusher abandons the suitcase, or loses it, or
tries to transfer ownership to someone else - foosh."
     "You think the Crips are going to catch up with Raven?"
     "Not in  Chinatown.  Shit,"  Squeaky  says,  getting  pissed  again  in
retrospect, "I can't believe that guy. I could have killed him.''
     "No. That Crip. Chasing  Raven. He's lucky Raven got to him  first, not
     "You were chasing the Crip?"
     "Yeah,  I was chasing the Crip.  What,  did you think I  was  trying to
catch Raven?"
     "Sort of, yeah. I mean, he's the bad guy, right?"
     "Definitely. So I'd be  chasing Raven if I  was a cop and it was my job
to catch bad guys. But I'm an Enforcer, and it's my job to enforce order. So
I'm doing everything  I can  - and  so is  every other Enforcer in town - to
protect Raven.  And if you have any ideas  about trying to go and find Raven
yourself and get revenge for that  colleague of yours that he offed, you can
forget it."
     "Offed? What colleague?" Y.T. breaks in. She didn't  see  what happened
with Lagos.
     Hiro is  mortified by this idea. "Is that why everyone  was  telling me
not to fuck with Raven? They were afraid I was going to attack him?"
     Squeaky eyes the swords. "You got the means."
     "Why should anyone protect Raven?"
     Squeaky smiles, as though we  have  just  crossed the  border into  the
realm of kidding around. "He's a Sovereign."
     "So declare war on him."
     "It's not a good idea to declare war on a nuclear power."
     "Christ," Squeaky says, shaking his head, "if I had any idea how little
you knew about this shit, I never would have let you into my car.  I thought
you we're some kind of a serious CIC wet-operations guy. Are you telling  me
you really didn't know about Raven?"
     "Yes, that's what I'm telling you."
     "Okay. I'm gonna tell you this so you don't go out  and  cause any more
trouble.  Raven's packing a  torpedo warhead that  he  boosted  from  an old
Soviet  nuke sub. It was a torpedo  that was designed to take out  a carrier
battle group with one shot. A nuclear torpedo. You know  that  funny-looking
sidecar that Raven has on his Harley? Well, it's a hydrogen bomb, man. Armed
and ready. The trigger's hooked up  to EEG trodes  embedded in his skull. If
Raven  dies,  the bomb  goes  off.  So  when Raven comes  into town,  we  do
everything in our power to make the man feel welcome."
     Hiro's  just gaping.  Y.T. has  to step in  on  his behalf. "Okay," she
says. "Speaking for my partner and myself, we'll stay away from him."

     Y.T. reckons she is going to spend all afternoon being a ramp turd. The
surf is always  up on the Harbor Freeway, which gets  her from Downtown into
Compton, but  the  off-ramps into that neighborhood are so rarely  used that
three-foot tumbleweeds  grow in  their potholes. And  she's  definitely  not
going to  travel into  Compton  under  her  own  power. She  wants  to  poon
something big and fast.
     She can't use the standard trick of ordering a pizza to her destination
and then  pooning the delivery boy  as he  roars past,  because none of  the
pizza chains  deliver  to this neighborhood. So she'll  have to  stop at the
off-ramp and wait hours and hours for a ride. A ramp turd.
     She does not want to do this delivery at all.  But the franchisee wants
her to do it bad. Really  bad. The amount of money  he has offered her is so
high, it's stupid. The package must be  full  of  some  kind  of intense new
     But that's not as weird as what happens  next. She is cruising down the
Harbor Freeway, approaching the desired off-ramp, having pooned a southbound
semi.  A  quarter-mile from the  off-ramp,  a bullet-pocked black Oldsmobile
cruises past her, right-turn signal  flashing. He's going to exit. It's  too
good to be true. She poons the Oldsmobile.
     As  she cruises down  the ramp behind this flatulent  sedan, she checks
out the driver in his rearview mirror. It is the franchisee himself, the one
who is paying her a totally stupid amount of money to do this job.
     By this point, she's more afraid of him than she is of Compton. He must
be a psycho. He must be in love with her. This is all a twisted psycho  love
     But it's a little late now.  She stays with him, looking for a  way out
of this burning and rotting neighborhood.
     They are approaching a big, nasty-looking Mafia roadblock. He guns  the
gas pedal, headed straight for  death. She can see the destination franchise
ahead. At the last second, he whips the car around and squeals sideways to a
     He couldn't have been more helpful. She unpoons as he's giving her this
last little kick of energy  and sails through the checkpoint at  a safe  and
sane  speed. The  guards keep  their  guns  pointed at the sky, swivel their
heads to look at her butt as she rolls past them.

     The  Compton Nova Sicilia franchise is a grisly scene. It is a jamboree
of Young  Mafia.  These  youths  are even  duller than  the  ones  from  the
all-Mormon Deseret Burbclave. The boys  are wearing tedious black suits. The
girls are encrusted with  pointless femininity. Girls  can't  even be in the
Young Mafia; they have  to be in the Girls' Auxiliary and serve macaroons on
silver plates. "Girls" is too fine  a word for these organisms, too  high up
the evolutionary scale. They aren't even chicks.
     She's  going way  too  fast, so  she kicks  the board around  sideways,
plants pads, leans into it, skids to a  halt, roiling up a wave  of dust and
grit that dulls the glossy  shoes of several Young Mafia who are milling out
front, nibbling dinky Italo-treats and playing grown-up. It condenses on the
white lace stockings  of the  Young  Mafia  proto-chicks.  She falls off the
board, appearing to catch  her balance at the last moment. She stomps on the
edge  of the  plank with one  foot, and it bounces four  feet  into the air,
spinning rapidly around its long axis,  up into her armpit, where she clamps
it tight  under one arm. The spokes  of the smartwheels all retract  so that
the wheels are barely larger than their hubs. She slaps the MagnaPoon into a
handy socket on the bottom of the plank so that her gear is all in one handy
     "Y.T.," she says. "Young, fast, and female. Where the fuck's Enzo?"
     The  boys decide to get  all "mature"  on Y.T.  Males  of this age  are
preoccupied with snapping each other's underwear and drinking until they are
in a coma. But around a female, they do the "mature" thing. It is hilarious.
One of them steps forward slightly, interposing himself between Y.T. and the
nearest proto-chick. "Welcome to  Nova Sicilia," he says. "Can  I assist you
in some way?"
     Y.T. sighs deeply. She is a fully independent businessperson, and these
people are trying to do a peer thing on her.
     "Delivery  for  one  Enzo?  Y'know, I  can't  wait  to  get out of this
     "It's  a  good  neighborhood, now," the YoMa says.  "You  should  stick
around for a few minutes. Maybe you could learn some manners."
     "You should try surfing the Ventura at rush hour. Maybe you could learn
your limitations."
     The  YoMa laughs  like, okay,  if that's how  you want  it. He gestures
toward the door. "The man you want to talk  to is in there. Whether he wants
to talk to you or not, I'm not sure."
     "He fucking asked for me," Y.T. says.
     "He came across the country to be with us," the guy says, "and he seems
pretty happy with us."
     All the other YoMas mumble and nod supportively.
     "Then why are you standing outside?" Y.T. asks, going inside.
     Inside the  franchise, things are startlingly relaxed. Uncle Enzo is in
there,  looking just like he does  in the pictures, except bigger than  Y.T.
expected. He  is sitting  at a  desk playing cards with some other  guys  in
funeral  garb. He is smoking a cigar and nursing an  espresso. Can't get too
much stimulation, apparently.
     There's a whole Uncle Enzo portable support system in here. A traveling
espresso machine has been set up on another desk. A cabinet sits next to it,
doors open to reveal a big foil bag of Italian Roast Water-Process Decaf and
a box of Havana cigars. There's also a gargoyle in one comer, patched into a
bigger-than-normal laptop, mumbling to himself.
     Y.T. lifts her arm, allows  the  plank to fall into her hand. She slaps
it down on  top of an empty desk and  approaches Uncle  Enzo, unslinging the
delivery from her shoulder.
     "Gino, please,"  Uncle Enzo says,  nodding at  the delivery. Gino steps
forward to take it from her.
     "Need your signature on that," Y.T. says. For some  reason she does not
refer to him as "pal" or "bub."
     She's  momentarily  distracted by  Gino. Suddenly, Uncle Enzo has  come
rather  close  to her, caught her right  hand in his left  hand. Her Kourier
gloves have an opening on the back of the hand just big enough for his lips.
He plants a kiss on Y.T.'s hand. It's warm  and wet. Not slobbery and gross,
not antiseptic and dry either. Interesting. The guy has confidence going for
him.  Christ,  he's  slick.  Nice  lips. Sort  of  firm  muscular  lips, not
gelatinous and blubbery like fifteen-year-old  lips can be. Uncle Enzo has a
very  faint citrus-and-aged-tobacco smell to him.  Fully  smelling it  would
involve standing pretty close to him. He is towering over her, standing at a
respectable distance now, glinting at her through crinkly old-guy eyes.
     Seems pretty nice.
     "I  can't tell you  how much I've been looking forward to meeting  you,
Y.T.," he says.
     "Hi," she  says. Her voice sounds chirpier than she likes it to  be. So
she adds, "What's in that bag that's so fucking valuable, anyway.
     "Absolutely  nothing,"  Uncle Enzo says. His smile is not exactly smug.
More  embarrassed, like  what an awkward way to meet someone. "It all has to
do with imageering,"  he says,  spreading  one hand dismissively. "There are
not  many ways  for a  man like me  to meet  with  a young girl that  do not
generate incorrect images in the media. It's stupid. But we pay attention to
these things."
     "So, what did  you want to meet with me about? Got a delivery for me to
     All the guys in the room laugh.
     The sound startles Y.T. a little, reminds her that she is performing in
front of a crowd. Her eyes flick away from Uncle Enzo for a moment.
     Uncle Enzo notices  this. His smile gets infinitesimally  narrower, and
he hesitates for a moment.  In  that  moment, all the other guys in the room
stand up and head for the exit.
     "You may not believe me," he says,  "but I simply  wanted to thank  you
for delivering that pizza a few weeks ago."
     "Why  shouldn't  I believe  you?" she asks. She is amazed to hear nice,
sweet things coming out of her mouth.
     So is Uncle Enzo.  "I'm sure  you  of all people  can  come  up  with a
     "So," she says, "you having a nice day with all the Young Mafia?"
     Uncle Enzo gives her a look that says, watch it, child. A second  after
she gets  scared, she  starts  laughing,  because  it's a  put-on, he's just
giving her  a  hard time.  He smiles,  indicating that it's okay  for her to
     Y.T. can't remember  when she's been so involved in a conversation. Why
can't all people be like Uncle Enzo?
     "Let me see,"  Uncle Enzo  says, looking at the ceiling,  scanning  his
memory banks.  "I know a few things  about you. That  you are  fifteen years
old, you live in a Burbclave in the Valley with your mother."
     "I know a few things about you, too," Y.T. hazards.
     Uncle Enzo  laughs. "Not  nearly as much as you think, I promise.  Tell
me, what does your mother think of your career?"
     Nice of him  to use the word "career." "She's not totally aware of it -
or doesn't want to know."
     "You're probably wrong," Uncle Enzo says. He says it cheerfully enough,
not  trying  to cut  her  down or  anything.  "You might  be shocked at  how
well-informed she is. This is  my experience, anyway. What does  your mother
do for a living?"
     "She works for the Feds."
     Uncle  Enzo finds that richly  amusing. "And her daughter is delivering
pizzas for Nova Sicilia. What does she do for the Feds?"
     "Some kind  of thing where she can't really tell me in case I blab  it.
She has to take a lot of polygraph tests."
     Uncle  Enzo seems to understand this very well. "Yes, a lot of Fed jobs
are that way."
     There is an opportune silence.
     "It kind of freaks me out," Y.T. says.
     "The fact that she works for the Feds?"
     "The polygraph tests. They put  a thing around her arm - to measure the
blood pressure."
     "A sphygmomanometer," Uncle Enzo says crisply.
     "It leaves  a  bruise around her arm.  For  some reason, that  kind  of
bothers me."
     "It should bother you."
     "And the house is bugged. So when I'm home - no matter what I'm doing -
someone else is probably listening."
     "Well, I can certainly relate to that," Uncle Enzo says.
     They both laugh.
     "I'm going to ask you  a  question  that  I've always wanted to  ask  a
Kourier," Uncle Enzo says. "I always watch you people through the windows of
my limousine. In  fact,  when a Kourier poons  me, I  always tell Peter,  my
driver, not to give them a hard time.  My question  is, you are covered from
head to toe in protective padding. So why don't you wear a helmet?"
     "The suit's got a  cervical airbag that blows up when you fall off  the
board, so you can bounce on your head. Besides, helmets feel weird. They say
it doesn't affect your hearing, but it does."
     "You use your hearing quite a bit in your line of work?"
     "Definitely, yeah."
     Uncle  Enzo is nodding. "That's what I suspected. We felt the same way,
the boys in my unit in Vietnam."
     "I heard you went to Vietnam, but - " She stops, sensing danger.
     "You thought it  was hype. No, I  went there. Could have stayed out, if
I'd wanted. But I volunteered."
     "You volunteered to go to Vietnam?"
     Uncle Enzo laughs. "Yes, I did. The only boy in my family to do so."
     "I thought it would be safer than Brooklyn."
     Y.T. laughs.
     "A bad joke," he says. "I  volunteered because my father didn't want me
to. And I wanted to piss him off."
     "Definitely.  I spent  years and years finding  ways  to piss him  off.
Dated black girls. Grew my hair long. Smoked marijuana. But the capstone, my
ultimate  achievement  - even  better  than having  my  ear  pierced  -  was
volunteering for service in Vietnam. But I had to take extreme measures even
     Y.T.'s  eyes dart  back  and forth  between Uncle  Enzo's  creased  and
leathery earlobes. In the left one she just barely sees a tiny diamond stud.
     "What do you mean, extreme measures?"
     "Everyone  knew  who  I was.  Word  gets  around,  you know.  If  I had
volunteered for the  regular Army,  I would have ended up stateside, filling
out forms - maybe  even  at  Fort  Hamilton,  right there in Bensonhurst. To
prevent  that, I  volunteered for Special Forces, did everything  I could to
get into a front-line unit." He laughs. "And it worked. Anyway, I'm rambling
like an old man. I was trying to make a point about helmets."
     "Oh, yeah."
     "Our job was  to go through the jungle making trouble for some slippery
gentlemen  carrying guns  bigger  than  they  were.  Stealthy  guys. And  we
depended  on our hearing, too -just like you do. And you know what? We never
wore helmets."
     "Same reason."
     "Exactly.  Even though they didn't  cover the  ears,  really,  they did
something to your sense of hearing. I still think  I owe  my life  to  going
     "That's really cool. That's really interesting."
     "You'd think they would have solved the problem by now."
     "Yeah," Y.T., volunteers, "some things never change, I guess."
     Uncle Enzo  throws  back his head and belly laughs. Usually, Y.T. finds
this  kind of thing pretty annoying,  but Uncle  Enzo  just seems  like he's
having a good time, not putting her down.
     Y.T. wants  to ask  him  how he went  from  the ultimate  rebellion  to
running  the family beeswax. She doesn't.  But  Uncle Enzo senses that it is
the next, natural subject of the conversation.
     "Sometimes I wonder who'll come after me," he says. "Oh, we have plenty
of excellent people in the  next generation. But after that - well, I  don't
know. I guess all old people feel like the world is coming to an end."
     "You got millions of those Young Mafia types," Y.T. says.
     "All destined to wear blazers and shuffle papers in suburbia. You don't
respect those people very much, Y.T., because you're young and arrogant. But
I don't respect them much either, because I'm old and wise."
     This  is a fairly shocking thing for Uncle Enzo to  be saying, but Y.T.
doesn't feel shocked. It just seems like a reasonable statement  coming from
her reasonable pal, Uncle Enzo.
     "None of them would ever volunteer to go get his legs  shot off  in the
jungle, just to piss off his old man.  They  lack a certain fiber.  They are
lifeless and beaten down."
     "That's  sad,"  Y.T.  says. It  feels better to say this  than to trash
them, which was her first inclination.
     "Well," says Uncle  Enzo.  It is the "well"  that begins the  end of  a
conversation. "I was  going to send you some roses, but  you wouldn't really
be interested in that, would you?"
     "Oh, I wouldn't mind," she says, sounding pathetically weak to herself.
     "Here's something better, since we are comrades in arms,"  he says.  He
loosens his tie  and  collar,  reaches  down  into  his shirt, pulls out  an
amazingly cheap steel  chain  with a couple of stamped silver tags  dangling
from it. "These are my old dog  tags," he says. "Been carrying  them  around
for  years, just  for the hell  of it. I would be amused  if you  would wear
     Trying to  keep her knees steady, she puts the dog tags on. They dangle
down onto her coverall.
     "Better put them inside," Uncle Enzo says.
     She drops them down into the secret place between her breasts. They are
still warm from Uncle Enzo.
     "It's just for fun," he says, "but if  you  ever get into trouble,  and
you show those dog  tags to whoever it is that's giving you a bad time, then
things will probably change very quickly."
     "Thanks, Uncle Enzo."
     "Take care of yourself. Be good to your mother. She loves you."

     As she steps out of the Nova Sicilia franchulate,  a guy is waiting for
her. He smiles, not without irony, and  makes just a hint of a  bow, sort of
to get  her attention. It's pretty  ridiculous, but  after being  with Uncle
Enzo for a while, she's definitely into it. So she doesn't laugh in his face
or anything, just looks the other way and blows him off.
     "Y.T. Got a job for ya," he says.
     "I'm busy," she says, "got other deliveries to make."
     "You  lie  like  a  mattress," he  says  appreciatively.  "Y'know  that
gargoyle in there? He's patched in to the RadiKS computer even as we  speak.
So we all know for a fact you don't got no jobs to do."
     "Well, I can't take jobs from  a customer," Y.T. says. "We're centrally
dispatched. You have to go through the 1-800 number."
     "Jeez, what  kind  of  a fucking  dickhead  do you think I am?" the guy
     Y.T.  stops walking,  turns, finally looks at the guy. He's tall, lean.
Black suit, black hair. And he's got a gnarly-looking glass eye.
     "What happened to your eye?" she says.
     "Ice pick, Bayonne, 1985," he says. "Any other questions?"
     "Sorry, man, I was just asking."
     "Now back to business.  Because  I  don't  have my  head totally  up my
asshole, like you seem to assume, I am aware that all Kouriers are centrally
dispatched  through the 1-800 number. Now, we  don't like 1-800  numbers and
central  dispatching.  It's  just   a   thing   with  us.  We  like   to  go
person-to-person,  the old-fashioned way. Like,  on my  momma's  birthday, I
don't pick  up the  phone and dial 1-800-CALL-MOM. I go  there in person and
give  her  a kiss on the  cheek, okay?  Now in this  case,  we  want  you in
     "How come?"
     "Because  we just love to deal with difficult little chicks who ask too
many  fucking questions. So  our gargoyle has  already patched himself in to
the computer that RadiKS uses to dispatch Kouriers."
     The man with the  glass  eye  turns, rotating his head way, way  around
like  an owl, and  nods in the direction of  the  gargoyle. A  second later,
Y.T.'s personal phone rings.
     "Fucking pick it up," he says.
     "What?" she says into the phone.
     A computer  voice tells her that she  is  supposed  to make a pickup in
Griffith Park and deliver it to a Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates franchise in
Van Nuys.
     "If you want something delivered from point A to point B, why don't you
just drive  it down there yourselves?"  Y.T.  asks. "Put  it in one of those
black Lincoln Town Cars and just get it done."
     "Because in this case, the something doesn't exactly belong to  us, and
the people at point A and point B, well, we aren't necessarily  on the  best
of terms, mutually speaking."
     "You want me to steal something," Y.T. says.
     The man with  the glass  eye  is  pained, wounded.  "No,  no,  no. Kid,
listen. We're the fucking Mafia. We want to steal something, we already know
how  to do  that, okay? We don't need a fifteen-year-old girl's help  to get
something stolen. What we are doing here is more of a covert operation."
     "A spy thing." Intel.
     "Yeah. A spy thing," the man says, his tone of voice suggesting that he
is trying to humor someone. "And the  only way to get this operation to work
is if we have a Kourier who can cooperate with us a little bit."
     "So all  that  stuff with Uncle Enzo was fake," Y.T. says. "You're just
trying to get all friendly with a Kourier."
     "Oh, ho, listen to  this," says the man  with the glass  eye, genuinely
amused. "Yeah,  like we have to  go  all the  way to the  top  to  impress a
fifteen-year-old. Look, kid, there's a million  Kouriers out  there we could
bribe  to do this. We're going with you, again,  because you have a personal
relationship with our outfit."
     "Well, what do you want me to do?"
     "Exactly what you  would normally do  at this juncture," the  man says.
"Go to Griffith Park and make the pickup."
     "That's it?"
     "Yeah. Then make the delivery. But do us a favor and take I-5, okay?"
     "That's not the best way to do it - "
     "Do it anyway."
     "Now come on, we'll give you an escort out of this hellhole."

     Sometimes, if the wind  is going  the  right  way, and you get into the
pocket of air behind a  speeding  eighteen-wheeler,  you don't  even have to
poon it.  The vacuum, like a mighty hoover, sucks you in. You can stay there
all day. But if you screw up, you suddenly find yourself alone and powerless
in the left lane of a highway with a convoy of semis  right behind you. Just
as  bad,  if you give  in  to  its  power, it will suck  you  right into its
mudflaps, you will become axle dressing, and  no one will ever know. This is
called the Magic Hoover Poon. It reminds Y.T.  of the way  her life has been
since the fateful night of the Hiro Protagonist pizza adventure.
     Her  poon  cannot miss  as  she slingshots  her way  up  the San  Diego
Freeway.  She  can  get  a  solid  yank  off  even  the  lightest, trashiest
plastic-and-aluminum  Chinese econobox. People don't  fuck with her. She has
established her space on the pavement.
     She is going to get so much business now. She will have to sub a lot of
work  out to  Roadkill.  And  sometimes,  just to  make  important  business
arrangements, they  will  have  to check  into  a motel somewhere - which is
exactly what real business people  do. Lately, Y.T. has been trying to teach
Roadkill  how to  give her  a massage. But Roadkill can never  get  past her
shoulder blades before he loses  it and starts being Mr. Macho. Which anyway
is kind of sweet. And anyway, you take what you can get.
     This is  not the most  direct route to Griffith Park by a longshot, but
this is what the  Mafia wants her  to do: Take 405 all the way  up into  the
Valley,  and then approach from that direction, which is the direction she'd
normally come from. They're so paranoid. So professional.
     LAX goes  by  on her left.  On her  right, she gets  a  glimpse  of the
U-Stor-It  where that  dweeb, her  partner, is  probably  goggled  into  his
computer.  She weaves through complex  traffic flows around  Hughes Airport,
which  is now  a  private  outpost of Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong. Continues
past the Santa Monica  Airport, which  just got bought out  by Admiral Bob's
Global  Security.  Cuts through the middle of Fedland, where her mother goes
to work every day.
     Fedland  used  to  be  the VA  Hospital  and a  bunch of other  Federal
buildings; now  it  has  condensed into a  kidney-shaped  lozenge that wraps
around  405.  It has  a barrier  around  it,  a  perimeter fence  put  up by
stringing chain link fabric,  concertina  wire,  heaps of rubble, and Jersey
barriers from one building  to the next. All of the buildings in Fedland are
big and ugly. Human beings mill around their plinths, wearing wool  clothing
the  color of  damp granite. They are scrawny and dark  underneath the white
majesty of the buildings.
     On the  far side of the Fedland  barrier, off to the right, she can see
UCLA, which is now being jointly run  by the Japanese and Mr.  Lee's Greater
Hong Kong and a few big American corporations.
     People say that over there to the left, in Pacific Palisades, is a  big
building above the  ocean where the Central Intelligence Corporation has its
West  Coast headquarters. Soon - like maybe tomorrow - she'll go  up  there,
find that building,  maybe just cruise past it and wave. She has great stuff
to tell Hiro now. Great intel  on Uncle Enzo. People would pay  millions for
     But in her heart, she's already  feeling the  pangs  of conscience. She
knows that she cannot kiss  and  tell on the Mafia. Not because she's afraid
of them. Because they trust her.  They were nice  to her. And who knows , it
might turn into something. A better career than she could get with CIC.
     Not many  cars are taking the off-ramp into Fedland. Her mother does it
every morning, as  do a bunch of other  Feds. But all Feds go  to work early
and stay late.  It's a loyalty thing  with them. The Feds  have a fetish for
loyalty - since they don't make a lot of  money or get a lot of respect, you
have  to  prove you're  personally  committed and that you don't care  about
those trappings.
     Case in point: Y.T. has been pooned onto the  same cab all the way from
LAX. It's got  an Arab  in the back seat. His  burnous flutters in  the wind
from  the open window;  the  air  conditioning doesn't work, an L.A.  cabbie
doesn't make enough money to buy Chill - Freon - on the  underground market.
This  is  typical: only the Feds would make a  visitor take a  dirty, un-air
conditioned cab.  Sure  enough, the  cab puffs onto  the ramp  marked UNITED
STATES.  Y.T.  disengages and  slaps her  poon onto  a Valley-bound delivery
     On  top  of   the  huge  Federal   Building,  a  bunch   of  Feds  with
walkie-talkies  and dark  glasses and  FEDS windbreakers  lurk, aiming  long
lenses into the windshields of the vehicles coming up Wilshire Boulevard. If
this  were nighttime,  she'd probably see a  laser  scanner playing over the
bar-code license plate of the taxi as it veers onto the U.S. exit.
     Y.T.'s mom has told  her  all about these  guys. They are the Executive
Branch  General  Operational Command,  EBGOC.  The  FBI, Federal  Marshalls,
Secret Service, and  Special Forces all claim some separate identity  still,
like the  Army,  Navy, and Air  Force  used to, but they're  all  under  the
command of  EBGOC, they all do the same  things, and they  are more  or less
interchangeable. Outside of Fedland, everyone just knows them  as the  Feds.
EBGOC  claims the right to go anywhere, anytime, within the original borders
of  the  United States of  America, without a warrant or even a good excuse.
But they only really feet at home here,  in Fedland, staring down the barrel
of  a telephoto lens,  shotgun  microphone, or sniper rifle.  The longer the
     Down  below them, the taxicab with the Arab in  the back slows  down to
sublight speed  and winds its way  down a  twisting slalom course  of Jersey
barriers with .50-caliber  machine gun nests  strategically  placed here and
there. It comes to a stop in front  of an STD device, straddling an open pit
where EBGOC  boys stand with dogs and high-powered spotlights to look up its
skirt for bombs or  NBCI  (nuclear-biological-chemical-informational) agents
in the undercarriage. Meanwhile, the  driver gets out and pops  the hood and
trunk  so  that more Feds can inspect  them;  another Fed leans  against the
window next to the Arab and grills him through the window.
     They say that  in D.C., all the museums  and  the  monuments  have been
concessioned out and turned into a tourist park that  now generates about 10
percent  of  the Government's revenue.  The Feds  could run  the  concession
themselves and  probably keep more  of the gross,  but that's not the point.
It's  a philosophical  thing.  A  back-to-basics  thing.  Government  should
govern. It's not in the entertainment industry, is it? Leave entertaining to
Industry weirdos - people who majored in tap dancing. Feds aren't like that.
Feds are serious people. Poli sci majors. Student council presidents. Debate
club chairpersons. The kinds of people who have the grit to wear a dark wool
suit and a tightly buttoned collar even when the temperature has greenhoused
up to a hundred and ten degrees and the humidity is thick enough  to stall a
jumbo jet. The  kinds  of people who feel most at home on the dark side of a
one-way mirror.

     Sometimes, to  prove their manhood, boys of about Y.T.'s age will drive
to the eastern end of the Hollywood Hills, into Griffith Park, pick the road
of their choosing,  and  simply drive through  it.  Making it through  there
unscathed is a  lot like counting coup on  a High Plains battlefield; simply
having come that close to danger makes you more of a man.
     By  definition, all they  ever see are the through streets. If  you are
driving into Griffith Park for some highijnks  and you see a NO OUTLET sign,
you know that it  is time to  shift your dad's Accord into reverse and drive
it backward all the way back home,  revving the  engine way past the end  of
the tachometer.
     Naturally,  as soon as Y.T. enters the park, following the road she was
told to follow, she sees a NO OUTLET sign.
     Y.T.'s not the first Kourier to  take a  job like this, and so  she has
heard about the  place she is going. It is a narrow canyon, accessed only by
this  one road, and  down in  the  bottom  of the canyon  a new gang  lives.
Everyone calls  them  the  Falabalas, because  that's how they talk  to each
other. They have their own language and it sounds like babble.
     Right  now, the important  thing  is not to think about how stupid this
is.  Making  the  right decision is,  priority-wise, down  there along  with
getting enough niacin and writing a thank-you letter to grandma for the nice
pearl earrings. The only important thing is not to back down.
     A row of machine-gun nests  marks  the border of Falabala territory. It
seems like overkill to Y.T. But then she's never been in a conflict with the
Mafia,  either. She plays  it  cool, idles  toward the  barrier at maybe ten
miles an hour. This is where she'll freak out  and get scared if she's going
to.  She  is holding  aloft  a  color-faxed RadiKS document,  featuring  the
cybernetic radish logo, proclaiming  that  she really is here  to pick up an
important delivery, honest. It'll never work with these guys.
     But it does. A big gnarled-up coil of razor ribbon is pulled out of her
way, just like that, and she glides through without slowing down. And that's
when she knows  that it's  going  to be  fine.  These  people are just doing
business here, just like anyone else.
     She doesn't have to  skate far  into  the  canyon. Thank God.  She goes
around a few turns, into  kind of an open flat area surrounded by trees, and
finds herself in what looks like an open-air insane asylum.
     Or a Moonie festival or something.
     A couple of dozen people  are  here. None of them have been taking care
of themselves at  all. They are all wearing the  ragged remains of what used
to  be pretty  decent  clothing.  Half  a dozen of them are kneeling  on the
pavement with  their  hands clenched tightly together,  mumbling  to  unseen
     On the trunk lid of a dead car, they've set up an  old junked  computer
terminal, just a dark monitor screen with a big spider-web crack in it, like
someone bounced a coffee mug off the  glass. A fat  man with red  suspenders
dangling  around his knees is sliding his hands  up and down  the  keyboard,
whacking the  keys  randomly,  talking  out loud in a meaningless  babble. A
couple of the  others stand behind him, peeking over his shoulder and around
his body, and sometimes they try to horn in on it, but he shoves them out of
the way.
     There's  also a crowd  of  people clapping their  hands,  swaying their
bodies, and singing "The Happy  Wanderer." They're really into it, too. Y.T.
hasn't seen  such childlike glee on anyone's face since  the first  time she
let Roadkill take her clothes off. But this is a different kind of childlike
glee that does not  look  right on  a bunch of thirty-something people  with
dirty hair.
     And  finally, there  is a  guy  that Y.T.  dubs  the  High Priest. He's
wearing a formerly white lab coat, bearing the logo of some  company in  the
Bay Area. He's sacked out in the back of a dead station wagon, but when Y.T.
enters the area he jumps up and runs toward her in a way that she can't help
but find a little threatening. But compared to these others, he seems almost
like a regular, healthy, fit, demented bush-dwelling psychotic.
     "You're here to pick up a suitcase, right?"
     "I'm here to pick up something. I don't know what it is," she says.
     He goes over to  one of  the dead cars,  unlocks the hood, pulls out an
aluminum briefcase. It looks exactly like the one that Squeaky took  out  of
the BMW last night. "Here's your delivery,"  he  says, striding  toward her.
She backs away from him instinctively.
     "I understand, I understand," he says. "I'm a scary creep."
     He puts it on  the ground, puts his foot  on it, gives  it a shove.  It
slides across the pavement to Y.T., bouncing off the occasional rock.
     "There's no big hurry  on this  delivery,"  he says. "Would you like to
stay and have a drink? We've got Kool-Aid."
     "I'd love to," Y.T. says, "but my diabetes is acting up real bad."
     "Well, then you can just stay and be a guest of our  community. We have
a lot of wonderful things to tell you about. Things that could really change
your life."
     "Do you have anything in writing? Something I could take with me?"
     "Gee, I'm afraid  we don't. Why don't you stay. You seem like a  really
nice person."
     "Sorry, Jack, but you  must be confusing  me  with a bimbo," Y.T. says.
"Thanks for the suitcase. I'm out of here."
     Y.T. starts digging at the pavement with one foot, building up speed as
fast  as she can. On her way  out, she passes by a young woman with a shaved
head, dressed in the dirty and haggard remains of a Chanel knockoff. As Y.T.
goes by her, she smiles vacantly, sticks out  her hand, and waves. "Hi," she
says. "ba ma zu na la amu pa go lu ne me a ba du."
     "Yo," Y.T. says.

     A couple of minutes later, she's pooning her way up I-5, headed up into
Valley-land. She's a little freaked-out, her  timing is off, she's taking it
easy.  A  tune keeps  running  through her head:  "The Happy Wanderer." It's
driving her crazy.
     A large black blur  keeps pulling alongside her. It would be a tempting
target, so large and ferrous, if it were going  a little faster. But she can
make better time than this barge, even when she's taking it slow.
     The  driver's  side window of the  black  car rolls down. It's the guy.
Jason. He's  sticking his whole head out  the window  to  look back at  her,
driving  blind. The wind at fifty miles per hour does  not ruffle his firmly
gelled razor cut.
     He smiles.  He has  an imploring look  about him,  the  same look  that
Roadkill gets. He points suggestively at his rear quarter-panel.
     What  the  hell. The last time she pooned this guy, he took her exactly
where she was going. Y.T. detaches from the  Acura she's been hitched to for
the last half mile, swings it over to Jason's fat Olds.  And Jason takes her
off the freeway and  onto Victory  Boulevard, headed for Van  Nuys, which is
exactly right.
     But  after  a  couple  of miles, he swings the wheel  sharply right and
screeches into  the parking  lot of a ghost mall, which is wrong. Right now,
nothing's parked in the lot but an eighteen-wheeler, motor running, SALDUCCI
BROS. MOVING & STORAGE painted on the sides.
     "Come on,"  Jason says, getting out  of his Oldsmobile. "You don't want
to waste any time."
     "Screw  you,  asshole,"  she says,  reeling  in her  poon, looking back
toward the boulevard for some promising westbound traffic. Whatever this guy
has in mind, it is probably unprofessional.
     "Young lady," says another voice,  an  older and more arresting sort of
voice,  "it's fine if you  don't like Jason. But your pal, Uncle Enzo, needs
your help."
     A door on the back of the semi has opened up. A  man in a black suit is
standing there. Behind him,  the  interior of  the semi is brightly  lit up.
Halogen  light   glares  off   the   man's  slick  hairdo.  Even  with  this
backlighting, she can tell it is the man with the glass eye.
     "What do you want?" she says.
     "What  I  want," he says, looking her up and down, and  what I need are
different things. Right  now I'm  working, see, which means that what I want
is not  important. What I need is for you to get into this truck along  with
your skateboard and that suitcase."
     Then  he adds, "Am I getting  through  to you?"  He  asks the  question
almost rhetorically, like he presumes the answer is no.
     "He's for  real," Jason says,  as though  Y.T. must  be hanging  on his
     "Well, there you have it," the man with the glass eye says.
     Y.T. is supposed  to be on her way  to a Reverend  Wayne's Pearly Gates
franchise. If she screws up  this delivery, that means she's double-crossing
God,  who  may  or  may  not  exist, and in  any  case  who  is  capable  of
forgiveness.  The Mafia  definitely exists and  hews to a higher standard of
     She hands  her stuff - the plank and the aluminum case - up  to the man
with the glass eye, then vaults up into the back of the  semi,  ignoring his
proffered hand. He recoils, holds up his hand, looks at it to see if there's
something wrong with it. By the time her feet leave the ground, the truck is
already moving.  By the time the door  is pulled shut  behind her, they have
already pulled onto the boulevard.
     "Just gotta  run a few  tests  on this delivery of yours," the man with
the glass eye says.
     "Ever think of introducing yourself?" Y.T. says.
     "Nah," he says, "people always forget names. You can just think  of  me
as that one guy, y'know?"
     Y.T. is  not  really listening. She is checking  out the inside of  the
     The trailer of this rig consists of a single long skinny room. Y.T. has
just come in through its only entrance. At this end of the room, a couple of
Mafia guys are lounging around, the way they always do.
     Most of the room is taken up by electronics. Big electronics.
     "Going to  just  do some computer  stuff, y'know," he says, handing the
briefcase over  to a computer guy. Y.T. knows he's a computer guy because he
has long hair in a ponytail and he's wearing jeans and he seems gentle.
     "Hey, if anything happens to that, my  ass  is grass," Y.T. says. She's
trying  to  sound  tough  and  brave,  but  it's  a  hollow   act  in  these
     The man with the glass eye is, like, shocked.  "What do you think I am,
some kind of incredibly stupid dickhead?" he says. "Shit, that's just what I
need, trying to  explain to Uncle Enzo how I managed to get his little bunny
rabbit shot in the kneecaps."
     "It's  a noninvasive  procedure," the  computer guy  says  in a placid,
liquid voice.
     The computer guy rotates the case around  in his hand a few times, just
to  get a  feel for it. Then he slides it into a  large open-ended  cylinder
that  is resting  on the top of  a table. The walls  of the  cylinder are  a
couple of inches thick.  Frost appears to be growing on this  thing. Mystery
gases continuously slide  off  of it, like teaspoons  of milk  dropped  into
turbulent  water.  The gases  plunge out  across the  table and  drop to the
floor, where they make a  little carpet of  fog that flows and blooms around
their shoes. When the computer guy has it in place, he  yanks  his hand back
from the cold .
     Then he puts on a pair of computer goggles.
     That's all there  is to it.  He just sits there for a few minutes. Y.T.
is not a  computer person, but she knows that somewhere behind  the cabinets
and doors in  the  back of this truck there is a big computer doing a lot of
things right now.
     "It's  like a CAT scanner," the man with the glass eye says, using  the
same hushed tone of voice as a sportscaster in a golfing tournament. "But it
reads  everything,  you  know," he says, rotating  his hands  impatiently in
all-encompassing circles.
     "How much does it cost?"
     "I don't know."
     "What's it called?"
     "Doesn't really have a name yet."
     "Well, who makes it?"
     "We made the goddamn thing," the man  with  the  glass eye says. "Just,
like in the last couple weeks."
     "What for?"
     "You're  asking  too many  questions. Look. You're a  cute kid. I mean,
you're a hell of a  chick.  You're a  knockout. But don't go thinking you're
too important at this stage."
     At this stage. Hmm.

     Hiro is in his 20-by-30 at  the U-Stor-It. He is spending a little time
in Reality, as  per the suggestion of his partner. The door is  open so that
ocean  breezes and  jet exhaust can  blow  through. All  the furniture - the
futons,  the cargo pallet, the experimental cinderblock furniture - has been
pushed up against the walls. He is  holding  a one-meter-long piece of heavy
rebar  with  tape wrapped  around  one end  to  make  a  handle.  The  rebar
approximates  a katana,  but  it is very much heavier.  He  calls it redneck
     He is in the kendo stance, barefoot. He  should  be  wearing voluminous
ankle-length culottes and a  heavy indigo tunic,  which  is  the traditional
uniform, but instead he is wearing jockey shorts.  Sweat is running down his
smoothly muscled cappuccino  back and exploring  his cleavage.  Blisters the
size of green grapes are forming on the ball  of his left foot. Hiro's heart
and lungs are well developed, and he has been  blessed with unusually  quick
reflexes, but he is not intrinsically strong, the way  his father  was. Even
if he were intrinsically strong,  working with the  redneck  katana would be
very difficult.
     He  is  full  of adrenaline,  his  nerves  are  shot, and  his mind  is
cluttered up with  free-floating anxiety -  floating around on  an  ocean of
generalized terror.
     He is shuffling back and forth down  the thirty-foot axis of the  room.
From time to time  he will accelerate, raise the redneck katana  up over his
head until it is pointed backward, then bring it swiftly  down, snapping his
wrists at  the  last moment so that it comes  to a  stop in  midair. Then he
says, "Next"'
     Theoretically. In fact, the redneck katana is difficult to stop once it
gets moving. But it's good exercise. His forearms look like bundles of steel
cables. Almost. Well, they will soon, anyway.
     The Nipponese don't  go in for this nonsense about  follow-through.  If
you  strike a man on the top of his  head with a katana and do  not make any
effort to stop the blade, it will divide his skull and probably get  hung up
in his  collarbone  or his  pelvis, and then  you  will be out  there in the
middle of the medieval battlefield with a foot on your late opponent's face,
trying to work the blade loose as his best  friend  comes running  up to you
with a certain  vengeful gleam in his eye. So the  plan is to snap the blade
to a full  stop just after the impact, maybe crease his brainpan an  inch or
two, then whip it out and look for another samurai, hence: "Next!"
     He has  been thinking  about what happened earlier tonight  with Raven,
which pretty much rules out sleep, and this is why he is practicing with the
redneck katana at three in the morning.
     He knows he  was  totally  unprepared. The  spear just came at  him. He
slapped at it with the blade. He happened to slap it at the right  time, and
it missed him. But he did this almost absentmindedly.
     Maybe that's how  great warriors do it. Carelessly,  not wracking their
minds with the consequences.
     Maybe he's flattering himself.

     The sound of a helicopter has been getting louder for some minutes now.
Even  though Hiro lives right next to the airport,  this is unusual. They're
not supposed to fly right near LAX, it raises evident safety questions.
     It doesn't stop  getting  louder  until it  is  very loud,  and at that
point, the helicopter is hovering a  few feet above the parking  lot,  right
out in front of Hiro and Vitaly's 20-by-30. It's a nice one, a corporate jet
chopper, dark green, with subdued  markings.  Hiro suspects that in brighter
light, he would be able to  make out the logo of a defense contractor,  most
likely General Jim's Defense System.
     A  pale-faced white man with a very high  forehead-cum-bald  spot jumps
out of  the  chopper, looking a lot more athletic than his face and  general
demeanor would lead you to expect,  and jogs across the parking lot directly
toward Hiro. This is the kind of guy Hiro remembers from when his dad was in
the  Army  - not  the gristly veterans of legends and  movies, just  sort of
regular  thirty-five-year-old guys rattling around in bulky uniforms. He's a
major. His name, sewn onto his BDUs, is Clem.
     "Hiro Protagonist?"
     "The same."
     "Juanita sent me to pick you up. She said you'd recognize the name."
     "I recognize the name. But I don't really work for Juanita."
     "She says you do now."
     "Well, that's nice," Hiro says. "So I guess it's kind of urgent?"
     "I think that would be a fair assumption," Major Clem says.
     "Can I spare a few minutes? Because  I've been working  out, and I need
to run next door."
     Major Clem looks next door. The next  logo down the  strip  is THE REST
     "The situation is fairly static. You  could spare  five minutes," Major
Clem says.
     Hiro has an account with The Rest Stop. To  live at  the U-Stor-It, you
sort of have to have an account. So he gets to bypass the front office where
the attendant waits by the cash register. He shoves his membership card into
a slot, and a computer screen lights up with three choices:

     Hiro  slaps the "M" button. Then the screen changes to  a menu of  four

     He  has  to  override   a  well-worn   reflex  to  stop  himself   from
automatically punching SPECIAL LIMITED FACILITIES, which is what he and  all
the other U-Stor-It  residents always use. Almost impossible to go in  there
and  not come in  contact  with someone  else's bodily fluids. Not a  pretty
sight. Not at all gracious. Instead - what the fuck, Juanita's going to hire
him, right? - he slams the button for LAVATORY GRANDE ROYALE.
     Never  been here  before.  It's  like  something on the top  floor of a
luxury  high-rise  casino  in  Atlantic City,  where they put  semi-retarded
adults from South Philly after they've blundered into the mega-jackpot. It's
got everything  that a  dimwitted  pathological gambler would  identify with
luxury: gold-plated  fixtures, lots of injection-molded pseudomarble, velvet
drapes, and a butler.
     None  of the U-Stor-It residents ever use  The  Lavatory Grande Royale.
The only reason it's here is that this place happens to be across the street
from  LAX. Singaporean  CEOs  who want to have  a shower  and  take a  nice,
leisurely crap, with all the sound effects, without having to hear and smell
other  travelers doing the same, can come  here  and  put  it  all  on their
corporate travel card.
     The butler is a thirty-year-old Centroamerican whose eyes look a little
funny,  like they've been  closed  for the last  several  hours.  He is just
throwing some improbably thick towels over his arm as Hiro bursts in.
     "Gotta get in and out in five minutes," Hiro says.
     "You  want  shave?"  the  butler  says.  He  paws  at  his  own  checks
suggestively, unable to peg Hiro's ethnic group.
     "Love to. No time."
     He  peels   off  his  jockey  shorts,  tosses   his  swords  onto   the
crushed-velvet  sofa,  and  steps  into  the marbleized  amphitheatre of the
shower stall. Hot water hits him from all directions at once. There's a knob
on the wall so you can choose your favorite temperature.
     Afterward, he'd like to take a  dump,  read  some of those glossy phone
book-sized magazines  next  to the high-tech shitter, but  he's  got  to get
going. He dries himself  off with a  fresh towel the size of a  circus tent,
yanks on  some loose drawstring  slacks and a T-shirt, throws some Kongbucks
at the butler, and runs out, girding himself with the swords.

     It's  a short  flight, mostly because the military  pilot  is  happy to
eschew comfort in favor of speed. The chopper  takes off at a shallow angle,
keeping low so it won't  get  sucked into any jumbo jets, and as soon as the
pilot gets room to  maneuver, he whips  the tail around, drops the nose, and
lets the rotor  yank them  onward  and upward across the  basin,  toward the
sparsely lit mass of the Hollywood Hills.
     But they stop short of the Hills, and end up on the roof of a hospital.
Part  of the  Mercy chain, which technically makes this Vatican airspace. So
far, this has Juanita written all over it.
     "Neurology ward," Major Clem says, delivering this string of nouns like
an order. "Fifth floor, east wing, room 564."

     The man in the hospital bed is Da5id.
     Extremely  thick, wide leather straps  have  been stretched across  the
head and foot of  the bed. Leather cuffs, lined with  fluffy sheepskin,  are
attached to the straps. These cuffs have been fastened around Da5id's wrists
and ankles. He's wearing a hospital gown that has mostly fallen off.
     The  worst  thing  is that  his eyes  don't  always point  in the  same
direction. He's hooked up to an EKG  that's charting his heartbeat, and even
though Hiro's not a doctor, he can see  it's not a regular pattern. It beats
too fast, then it doesn't beat at all,  then an alarm sounds, then it starts
beating again.
     He  has gone completely  blank. His eyes  are not  seeing  anything. At
first, Hiro thinks  that his body  is limp and relaxed. Getting  closer,  he
sees that Da5id is taut and shivering, slick with perspiration.
     "We put in a temporary pacemaker," a woman says.
     Hiro turns. It's a nun who also appears to be a surgeon.
     "How long has he been in convulsions?"
     "His ex-wife called us in, said she was worried."
     "Yes. When the paramedics arrived, he had fallen  out  of his chair  at
home  and was convulsing on the floor. You can see  a bruise, here, where we
think his computer fell off the table and hit him in the ribs. So to protect
him from further damage,  we put him  in  four-points. But for the last half
hour he's  been like  this -  like his whole body is  in fibrillation. If he
stays this way, we'll take the restraints off."
     "Was he wearing goggles?"
     "I don't know. I can check for you."
     "But you think this happened while he was goggled into his computer?"
     "I really don't know, sir. All I  know is,  he's  got  such bad cardiac
arrhythmia that  we had to implant a temporary pacemaker  right there on his
office  floor. We gave him some seizure  medication, which didn't work.  Put
him on some downers  to calm him,  which worked  slightly. Put his head into
various pieces  of imaging  machinery to find out  what the problem was. The
jury is still out on that."
     "Well,  I'm going  to go look at his  house,"  Hiro  says.  The  doctor
     "Let me know when he comes out of it," Hiro says.
     The doctor  doesn't  say anything  to  this. For  the  first time, Hiro
realizes that Da5id's condition may not be temporary.
     As Hiro is stepping  out into the hallway, Da5id speaks, "e ne em ma ni
a gi a gi ni mu ma ma dam e ne em am an ki ga a gi a gi..."
     Hiro turns around  and looks.  Da5id has  gone limp in  the restraints,
seems relaxed, half  asleep. He is looking at Hiro through half-closed eyes.
"e ne em dam gal nun na a gi agi e ne em u mu un abzu ka a gi a agi..."
     Da5id's  voice  is  deep  and placid,  with  no  trace  of stress.  The
syllables roll off his tongue like drool. As Hiro walks  down the hallway he
can hear Da5id talking all the way.
     "i ge en i ge en nu ge en nu ge en us sa tur ra lu ra ze em men..."

     Hiro gets back into the chopper. They cruise up the middle of Beachwood
Canyon, headed straight for the Hollywood sign.
     Da5id's  house has been transfigured by light. It's  at the end of  its
own little road, at the summit of a hill. The road has been blocked off by a
squat froglike jeep-thing  from General Jim's, saturated red  and blue light
sweeping  and pulsing  out of  it.  Another helicopter is  above the  house,
supported  on a swirling column of radiance. Soldiers  creep up and down the
property, carrying hand-held searchlights.
     "We took the precaution of securing the area," Major Clem says.
     At the fringes of all this light, Hiro  can see the dead organic colors
of  the  hillside.  The  soldiers  are trying  to  push  it back  with their
searchlights,  trying to burn it away.  He is about to  bury himself  in it,
become a single muddy  pixel in some airline  passenger's  window.  Plunging
into the biomass.
     Da5id's  laptop is  on the  floor next  to the table where  he liked to
work.  It is surrounded by medical debris. In the middle of this, Hiro finds
Da5id's  goggles, which either  fell  off when he hit  the  floor,  or  were
stripped off by the paramedics.
     Hiro picks up  the goggles. As he brings them  up  toward  his eyes, he
sees  the  image:  a wall of black-and-white  static.  Da5id's  computer has
     He closes his eyes and drops the goggles. You can't get hurt by looking
at a bitmap. Or can you?

     The house is sort of  a modernist castle with a high turret on one end.
Da5id and Hiro and the rest of the hackers used to  go  up there with a case
of beer and  a hibachi and just spend a whole night, eating jumbo shrimp and
crab legs and oysters and washing them down with beer. Now it's deserted, of
course, just  the hibachi,  which is rusted  and almost buried in gray  ash,
like an archaeological relic. Hiro has pinched one of Da5id's beers from the
fridge, and he sits up  here  for a while, in what  used to  be his favorite
place, drinking his beer slowly,  like he  used  to, reading stories in  the
     The old central  neighborhoods are packed  in tight  below  an eternal,
organic haze. In other  cities, you breathe  industrial contaminants, but in
L.A., you  breathe amino acids. The hazy  sprawl is ringed  and  netted with
glowing lines,  like hot wires in a toaster. At the outlet of the canyon, it
comes close enough that the light sharpens and breaks up into stars, arches,
glowing letters. Streams of red and  white corpuscles throb down highways to
the  fuzzy  logic of  intelligent  traffic  lights. Farther away,  spreading
across the basin,  a  million sprightly logos smear  into  solid  arcs, like
geometric  points  merging into  curves.  To either  side of  the  franchise
ghettos,  the loglo dwindles across a few  shallow layers of development and
into a surrounding dimness that is  burst here and there by  the  blaze of a
security spotlight in someone's backyard.
     The franchise and the virus work on the same principle: what thrives in
one  place  will thrive in another. You  just  have  to  find a sufficiently
virulent business  plan, condense it into  a three-ring  binder - its DNA  -
xerox it, and embed it  in  the fertile lining of  a well-traveled  highway,
preferably  one with  a left-turn lane. Then the growth will expand until it
runs up against its property lines.
     In olden times, you'd wander down to Mom's Cafe for a bite to eat and a
cup  of joe,  and  you would  feel right at home. It worked just fine if you
never  left your hometown.  But if  you went to the next town over, everyone
would look up and stare at you when you came in the door, and the Blue Plate
Special  would  be  something  you  didn't  recognize.  If  you  did  enough
traveling, you'd never feel at home anywhere.
     But when a businessman from New Jersey goes to Dubuque, he knows he can
walk into a  McDonald's and no  one will  stare at him. He can order without
having to  look  at  the menu,  and  the  food  will always  taste the same.
McDonald's  is  Home,  condensed  into a  three-ring binder and xeroxed. "No
surprises" is the motto of the franchise ghetto, its Good Housekeeping seal,
subliminally blazoned  on every sign  and  logo  that make up the curves and
grids of light that outline the Basin.
     The people  of  America, who  live in  the world's  most surprising and
terrible country, take comfort  in that motto. Follow the loglo  outward, to
where the growth is enfolded into the valleys  and the canyons, and you find
the land of the refugees. They  have fled from the true America, the America
of atomic bombs, scalpings, hip-hop,  chaos  theory, cement overshoes, snake
handlers,  spree  killers,  space  walks, buffalo jumps,  drive-bys,  cruise
missiles,  Sherman's March, gridlock, motorcycle  gangs, and bungee jumping.
They have parallel-parked their bimbo boxes in  identical  computer-designed
Burbclave  street patterns and secreted themselves in symmetrical  sheetrock
shitholes with vinyl floors and ill-fitting woodwork and no sidewalks,  vast
house farms out in  the  loglo  wilderness, a culture  medium  for  a medium
     The only ones left  in the city are street  people, feeding off debris;
immigrants,  thrown out  like shrapnel from  the  destruction of  the  Asian
powers;  young bohos; and  the technomedia priesthood of  Mr. Lee's  Greater
Hong  Kong. Young smart people  like Da5id and  Hiro, who  take the  risk of
living  in the city because  they like  stimulation  and  they know they can
handle it.

     Y.T. can't really tell where they are. It's clear that they're stuck in
traffic. It's not like this is predictable or anything.
     "Y.T. must get under way now," she announces.
     No reaction for a  sec.  Then  the  hacker guy sits back in  his chair,
stares out through his goggles,  ignoring the 3-D compu-display, taking in a
nice view of the wall. "Okay," he says.
     Quick as  a mongoose, the man with the  glass  eye darts in, yanks  the
aluminum case out of the cryogenic cylinder, tosses it to Y.T. Meantime, one
of the lounging-around Mafia  guys is  opening the  back door of  the truck,
giving them all a nice view of a traffic jam on the boulevard.
     "One  other thing,"  the  man  with  the glass  eye says, and shoves an
envelope into one of Y.T.'s multitudinous pockets.
     "What's that?" Y.T. says.
     He holds  up  his  hands  self-protectively.  "Don't worry, it's just a
little something. Now get going."
     He motions at the guy  who's holding her plank. The guy turns out to be
fairly hip,  because he just throws the plank. It lands  at an odd  angle on
the floor  between them. But the spokes have long ago seen the floor coming,
calculated all the  angles, extended and flexed themselves like the legs and
feet of a basketball player coming back  to  earth from  a monster dunk. The
plank  lands on its  feet, banks  this  way, then  that, as  it regains  its
balance, then steers itself right up to Y.T. and stops beside her.
     She stands  on  it, kicks a few  times, flies  out the back door of the
semi,  and  onto the  hood  of a Pontiac  that was  following them  much too
closely. Its windshield makes a nice surface to  bank  off of,  and she gets
her  direction neatly reversed by  the time she hits the pavement. The owner
of the Pontiac is honking self-righteously, but there's  no way he can chase
her  down  because traffic is  totally  stopped, Y.T. is the only  thing for
miles around that is actually capable of movement. Which is  the whole point
of Kouriers in the first place.

     The  Reverend  Wayne's Pearly Gates #1106 is  a pretty big one. Its low
serial number implies great age. It was built long ago,  when land was cheap
and  lots were big. The parking lot is half full. Usually,  all you see at a
Reverend   Wayne's   are   old   beaters  with  wacky   Spanish  expressions
nail-polished  on  the  rear   bumpers   -   the  rides  of  Centro-American
evangelicals  who have come up  north  to  get decent  jobs and  escape  the
relentlessly  Catholic style of their homelands. This lot also has a  lot of
just plain  old  regular  bimbo  boxes  with  license plates  from  all  the
     Traffic is moving a little better on this stretch of the boulevard, and
so Y.T. comes into the  lot at a pretty  good clip,  takes one or two orbits
around the franchise to work off her  speed. A smooth parking lot is hard to
resist  when  you  are going fast, and to  look  at  it from a slightly less
juvenile point of view, it's a good idea to scope things out, to be familiar
with your environment. Y.T. learns that this parking lot is linked with that
of a Chop Shop  franchise  next  door ("We  turn  any vehicle  into CASH  in
minutes!"), which in  turn flows into the lot of a neighboring strip mall. A
dedicated thrasher could probably navigate from L.A. to New York by coasting
from one parking lot into the next.
     This  parking lot  makes popping  and skittering noises in  some areas.
Looking down,  she  sees that behind the franchise, near the  dumpster,  the
asphalt is strewn  with  small glass vials,  like the one  that Squeaky  was
looking at last night. They are  scattered about like cigarette butts behind
a bar.  When  the  footpads  of  her  wheels  pass  over these  vials,  they
tiddlywink out from underneath and skitter across the pavement.
     People  are lined up  out  the door, waiting to get in.  Y.T. jumps the
line and goes inside.

     The front room of the Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates is, of course, like
all  the others. A row of padded vinyl chairs where worshippers can wait for
their number  to be called,  with a potted plant  at each  end  and a  table
strewn with  primeval magazines.  A toy  comer  where  kids can  kill  time,
reenacting  imaginary, cosmic battles in injection-molded plastic. A counter
done up  in fake wood so it looks like something  from an old church. Behind
the counter, a pudgy high school babe, dishwater blond  hair  that has  been
worked over pretty good  with a curling iron, blue metal-flake eyeshadow, an
even coat of red makeup covering her broad, gelatinous cheeks, a flimsy sort
of choir robe thrown over her T-shirt.
     When  Y.T. comes  in, she is right in  the middle of a transaction. She
sees Y.T. right away, but no  three-ring binder anywhere in the world allows
you to flag or fail in the middle of a transaction.
     Stymied, Y.T. sighs and crosses her arms to convey impatience.  In  any
other business  establishment,  she'd  already be raising hell and  marching
around behind the  counter as if she owned the  place. But this is a church,
damn it.
     There's a little rack along the  front of the counter bearing religious
tracts, free for the taking, donation requested. Several slots  on the  rack
are occupied  by the  Reverend  Wayne's famous bestseller.  How  America Was
Saved from Communism: ELVIS SHOT JFK.
     She pulls out the envelope that  the man  with the glass eye stuck into
her  pocket.  It  is not  thick and soft enough to  contain  a  lot of cash,
     It contains half a dozen snapshots. All of  them feature Uncle Enzo. He
is on the broad, flat horseshoe  driveway of a large house, larger  than any
house  Y.T. has ever  seen with her  own  two  eyes.  He  is standing  on  a
skateboard.  Or  falling  off  of  a skateboard. Or  coasting,  slowly, arms
splayed wildly out to the sides, chased by nervous security personnel.
     A piece  of paper is wrapped around the pictures. It says: "Y.T. Thanks
for your help. As you can see from these pictures, I tried to train for this
assignment, but it's going to take some practice. Your friend, Uncle Enzo."
     Y.T.  wraps the pictures up just the way they  were, puts  them back in
her pocket, stifles a smile, returns to business matters.
     The girl in  the robe  is still performing her transaction  behind  the
counter.  The  transactee is a stocky Spanish-speaking  woman  in an  orange
     The  girl  types some stuff into  the computer. The customer  snaps her
Visa card down on the fake  wood altar top; it sounds like a rifle shot. The
girl  pries  the  card  up  using her  inch-long fingernails,  a  dicey  and
complicated operation that makes Y.T. think of insects climbing out of their
egg sacs. Then she  performs  the  sacrament, swiping  the card  through its
electromagnetic  slot with a carefully modulated sweep of the arm, as though
tearing  back  a  veil, handing over the  slip, mumbling that  she  needs  a
signature and  daytime phone number.  She  might as well have  been speaking
Latin, but that's okay, since this customer is familiar with the liturgy and
signs and numbers it before the words are fully spoken.
     Then  it  just remains for the  Word  from On  High. But computers  and
communications  are  awfully good  these days,  and it usually doesn't  take
longer than a couple of seconds to perform a  charge-card  verification. The
little machine beeps  out  its approval  code, heavenly tunes sing  out from
tinny speakers, and a wide pair of pearlescent doors in the back of the room
swing majestically open.
     "Thank  you for your  donation,"  the girl  says,  slurring  the  words
together into a single syllable.
     The customer stomps toward the double doors, drawn in by hypnotic organ
strains. The interior of the chapel  is weirdly  colored, illuminated partly
by  fluorescent fixtures wedged into the ceiling and partly by large colored
light  boxes  that simulate stained-glass  windows. The  largest  of  these,
shaped like  a fattened Gothic arch, is bolted to  the back wall,  above the
altar, and features a blazing trinity: Jesus, Elvis, and the Reverend Wayne.
Jesus gets top billing. The worshipper is  not  half a dozen steps into  the
place before  she thuds down  on her knees  in the  middle of the  aisle and
begins  to speak in tongues: "ar ia ari  ar isa ve na a mir ia i sa, ve na a
mir ia a sar ia..."
     The doors swing shut again.
     "Just a  sec," the girl says,  looking at Y.T. a  little nervously. She
goes  around  the  corner  and  stands  in  the  middle  of  the  toy  area,
inadvertently getting the hem of her robe caught up in a Ninja Raft Warriors
battle module, and knocks on the door to the potty.
     "Busy!" says a man's voice from the other side of the door.
     "The Kourier's here," the girl says.
     "I'll be right out," the man says, more quietly.
     And he really is right out. Y.T. does not perceive any waiting time, no
zipping  up of the  fly  or washing of the hands. He is wearing a black suit
with a clerical collar, pulling a  lightweight black robe on over that as he
emerges into  the  toy  area, crushing  little  action  figures and  fighter
aircraft beneath his  black  shoes. His hair is black and well greased, with
individual strands of gray, and he wears wire-rimmed bifocals with  a subtle
brownish tint. He has very large pores.
     And by the time  he gets close enough that Y.T. can see  all  of  these
details, she can also smell  him. She smells Old Spice, plus  a strong whiff
of vomit on his breath. But it's not boozy vomit.
     "Gimme that," he says, and yanks the aluminum briefcase from her hand.
     Y.T. never lets people do that.
     "You have to sign for it,  " she says.  But she knows it's too late. If
you  don't get  them to  sign  first,  you're screwed. You have no power, no
leverage. You're just a brat on a skateboard.
     Which is why  Y.T. never lets people  yank deliveries  out of her hand.
But this guy is a minister, for God's sake. She just didn't reckon on it. He
yanked it out of her hand - and now he runs with it back to his office.
     "I  can sign for it," the girl  says. She looks scared. More than that,
she looks sick.
     "It has to be him personally," Y.T. says. "Reverend Dale T. Thorpe."
     Now  she's done being shocked and  starting  to be pissed.  So she just
follows him right into his office.
     "You can't  go in there,"  the  girl says, but  she says  it  dreamily,
sadly, like this whole thing is already half forgotten. Y.T. opens the door.
     The Reverend Dale T. Thorpe sits at his desk. The aluminum briefcase is
open in front of him. It is filled with the same complicated bit of business
that she saw  the other  night, after the Raven thing. The Reverend  Dale T.
Thorpe seems to be leashed by the neck to this device.
     No, actually he is wearing something  on a  string  around his neck. He
was keeping it under his clothes, the way Y.T. keeps Uncle  Enzo's dog tags.
He has pulled it out now and shoved it into a slot inside the aluminum case.
It appears to be a laminated ID card with a bar code on it.
     Now  he  pulls the card out and  lets  it  dangle down  his front. Y.T.
cannot  tell whether  he has noticed her.  He is  typing  on  the  keyboard,
punching away with two fingers, missing letters, doing it again.
     Then motors and servos inside the  aluminum case whir  and shudder. The
Reverend Dale T. Thorpe has unsnapped one of the little vials from its place
in the lid and inserted it  into a socket next to the keyboard. It is slowly
drawn down inside the machine.
     The vial pops  back out  again. The red plastic cap is  emitting grainy
red  light. It has little  LEDs built  into it, and they  are  spelling  out
numbers, counting down seconds: 5,4,3,2,1...
     The Reverend Dale T. Thorpe holds the vial up to his left nostril. When
the LED counter gets down to zero, it hisses, like air coming out of a  tire
valve. At the same  time, he inhales deeply, sucking it all  into his lungs.
Then he shoots the vial expertly into his wastebasket.
     "Reverend?" the girl says. Y.T. spins around to see her drifting toward
the office. "Would you do mine now, please?"
     The Reverend Dale T. Thorpe does not answer. He has slumped back in his
leather swivel chair and is staring at a neon-framed blowup of Elvis, in his
Army days, holding a rifle.

     When  he wakes up,  it's the middle of the day  and he is all dried out
from the sun, and birds are circling overhead, trying to decide whether he's
dead or alive. Hiro climbs down from  the roof  of the turret and,  throwing
caution to  the wind, drinks three glasses of L.A.  tap water.  He gets some
bacon out of Da5id's  fridge and throws it in the microwave. Most of General
Jim's people  have left, and there is only a token guard of soldiers down on
the road. Hiro locks all the doors that look out on the hillside, because he
can't  stop  thinking about  Raven. Then he  sits  at the kitchen  table and
goggles in.
     The Black Sun is mostly full of Asians, including a lot of people  from
the Bombay  film  industry, glaring  at each  other,  stroking  their  black
mustaches, trying to figure out what  kind  of hyperviolent action film will
play in Persepolis next year. It is nighttime there.  Hiro is one of the few
Americans in the joint.
     Along the back wall of the bar is a row  of private rooms, ranging from
little  tete-a-tetes to  big  conference  rooms where a bunch of avatars can
gather and have a meeting. Juanita is waiting for Hiro in one of the smaller
ones. Her avatar just looks like  Juanita. It is  an honest  representation,
with  no  effort made  to  hide the early suggestions of crow's-feet at  the
corners of her big black eyes. Her glossy hair is so well resolved that Hiro
can see individual strands refracting the light into tiny rainbows.
     "I'm at Da5id's house. Where are you?" Hiro says.
     "In an airplane - so I may break up," Juanita says.
     "You on your way here?"
     "To Oregon, actually."
     "Why on earth would you go to Astoria, Oregon, at a time like this?"
     Juanita takes a deep  breath, lets it out shakily. "If I told you, we'd
get into an argument."
     "What's the latest word on Da5id?" Hiro says.
     "The same."
     "Any diagnosis?"
     Juanita sighs, looks  tired. "There won't be any diagnosis,"  she says.
"It's a software, not a hardware, problem."
     "They're rounding  up the  usual  suspects. CAT scans,  NMR scans,  PET
scans, EEGs. Everything's fine. There's  nothing wrong with his brain -  his
     "It just happens to be running the wrong program?"
     "His software got poisoned. Da5id  had  a snow crash last night, inside
his head."
     "Are you trying to say it's a psychological problem?"
     "It  kind of  goes beyond those  established categories," Juanita says,
"because it's a new phenomenon. A very old one, actually."
     "Does this thing just happen spontaneously, or what?"
     "You tell  me,"  she  says. "You were  there  last night. Did  anything
happen after I left?"
     "He had a Snow Crash hypercard that he got from Raven outside The Black
     "Shit. That bastard."
     "Who's the bastard? Raven or Da5id?"
     "Da5id. I tried to warn him."
     "He used it." Hiro goes on to explain the Brandy with the magic scroll.
"Then later he had computer trouble and got bounced."
     "I  heard  about that  part,"  she  says.  "That's  why  I  called  the
     "I don't  see the connection between Da5id's  computer  having a crash,
and you calling an ambulance."
     "The Brandy's scroll wasn't just showing random static. It was flashing
up  a  large amount  of digital  information,  in binary form. That  digital
information was going  straight into Da5id's  optic  nerve. Which is part of
the  brain, incidentally - if you  stare into a person's pupil, you  can see
the terminal of the brain."
     "Da5id's not a computer. He can't read binary code."
     "He's a hacker. He messes  with  binary code for a living. That ability
is firm-wired into the deep  structures of his brain. So he's susceptible to
that form of information. And so are you, home-boy."
     "What kind of information are we talking about?"
     "Bad  news. A  metavirus," Juanita  says.  "It's  the  atomic  bomb  of
informational warfare - a virus that causes any system to infect itself with
new viruses."
     "And that's what made Da5id sick?"
     "Why didn't I get sick?"
     "Too far away.  Your  eyes  couldn't  resolve  the bitmap. It has to be
right up in your face."
     "I'll think about that one," Hiro  says. "But  I have another question.
Raven  also  distributes  another  drug -  in Reality - called, among  other
things, Snow Crash. What is it?"
     "It's  not a drug,"  Juanita  says. "They make  it look like a drug and
feel  like a drug so  that  people  will  want to take  it. It's laced  with
cocaine and some other stuff."
     "If it's not a drug, what is it?"
     "It's  chemically processed  blood  serum taken  from  people  who  are
infected with the metavirus,"  Juanita says. "That is, it's just another way
of spreading the infection."
     "Who's spreading it?"
     "L. Bob Rife's private church. All of those people are infected."
     Hiro puts his head in his hands. He's not exactly  thinking about this;
he's letting it ricochet  around in his  skull, waiting for  it  to  come to
rest. "Wait a minute, Juanita. Make up your mind. This Snow Crash thing - is
it a virus, a drug, or a religion?"
     Juanita shrugs. "What's the difference?"

     That Juanita is talking this  way does not make  it any easier for Hiro
to get back on his feet in this conversation.
     "How can you say that? You're a religious person yourself."
     "Don't lump all religion together."
     "All people  have religions. It's like we have religion receptors built
into our  brain cells, or something, and we'll latch  onto anything  that'll
fill that niche for us. Now, religion used to be essentially viral - a piece
of  information  that  replicated inside  the  human mind, jumping  from one
person to the next. That's the way it used  to be, and unfortunately, that's
the  way it's  headed right now. But  there have  been  several  efforts  to
deliver us from the hands of primitive,  irrational religion. The first  was
made by  someone named  Enki about  four thousand years ago. The second  was
made  by Hebrew  scholars  in the eighth  century  B.C., driven out of their
homeland by the  invasion of Sargon II, but eventually it just devolved into
empty legalism. Another attempt was made by Jesus - that one was hijacked by
viral influences within fifty days of his death. The virus was suppressed by
the Catholic Church, but we're in the middle of a big epidemic  that started
in Kansas in 1900 and has been gathering momentum ever since."
     "Do you believe in God or not?" Hiro says. First things first.
     "Do you believe in Jesus?"
     "Yes. But not in the physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus."
     "How can you be a Christian without believing in that?"
     "I  would  say," Juanita says,  "how  can you be  a  Christian with it?
Anyone  who  takes the trouble to study the gospels can see  that the bodily
resurrection  is a myth that  was tacked onto  the real  story several years
after the real  histories were written.  It's  so  National  Enquirer-esque,
don't you think?"

     Beyond that, Juanita doesn't have much to  say. She doesn't want to get
into it  now,  she says. She  doesn't want to  prejudice Hiro's thinking "at
this point."
     "Does  that imply that there's going to be  some other point? Is this a
continuing relationship?" Hiro says.
     "Do you want to find the people who infected Da5id?"
     "Yes. Hell,  Juanita, even if it  weren't  for the fact  that he  is my
friend, I'd want to find them before they infect me."
     "Look at the  Babel stack, Hiro,  and  then visit me if I get back from
     "If you get back? What are you doing there?"
     She's been putting  on  a  businesslike front through this whole  talk,
spitting out information, telling Hiro the way it is.  But  she's tired  and
anxious, and Hiro gets the idea that she's deeply afraid.
     "Good  luck,"  he says.  He was all ready  to do some flirting with her
during  this  meeting,  picking  up  where  they left  off last  night.  But
something has changed  in Juanita's mind between then  and now.  Flirting is
the last thing on her mind.
     Juanita's  going to do something dangerous in Oregon. She  doesn't want
Hiro to know about it so that he won't worry.
     "There's  some  good  stuff  in  the  Babel stack  about someone  named
Inanna," she says.
     "Who's Inanna?"
     "A Sumerian goddess.  I'm sort of in love with her. Anyway,  you  can't
understand what I'm about to do until you understand Inanna."
     "Well, good luck," Hiro says. "Say hi to Inanna for me."
     "When you get back, I want to spend some time with you."
     "The feeling is mutual," she  says.  "But we have  to get  out  of this
     "Oh. I didn't realize I was in something."
     "Don't be a sap. We're all in it."
     Hiro leaves, exiting into The Black Sun.
     There is one guy wandering around the Hacker Quadrant who really stands
out. His avatar doesn't look so hot. And he's having trouble controlling it.
He looks like a guy who's just goggled into the Metaverse for the first time
and doesn't know how to move around. He  keeps bumping into tables, and when
he  wants to turn around, he  spins around several times, not knowing how to
stop himself.
     Hiro walks  toward him, because his  face seems a little familiar. When
the guy finally stops moving long enough for Hiro to resolve him clearly, he
recognizes the avatar. It's a  Clint. Most often seen  in the  company of  a
     The Clint  recognizes  Hiro, and  his surprised  face  comes  on  for a
second,  is  then  replaced   by  his   usual  stern,  stiff-lipped,  craggy
appearance. He  holds up his hands  together in front of him,  and Hiro sees
that he is holding a scroll, just like Brandy's.
     Hiro reaches for his katana,  but the scroll is already up in his face,
spreading open to reveal  the blue glare of the bitmap inside. He sidesteps,
gets over to one side of the Clint,  raising  the katana overhead, snaps the
katana straight down and cuts the Clint's arms off.
     As the scroll falls, it spreads open even wider. Hiro doesn't dare look
at  it now. The Clint has  turned around  and  is awkwardly trying to escape
from The Black Sun, bouncing from table to table like a pinball.
     If Hiro could  kill the  guy - cut his head off - then his avatar would
stay in The Black  Sun, be carried away by the Graveyard Daemons. Hiro could
do some hacking and maybe figure out who he is, where he's coming in from.
     But  a few dozen hackers are lounging around the bar, watching  all  of
this, and if they come  over and look at the scroll, they'll all end up like
     Hiro squats down, looking away from the scroll, and pulls up one of the
hidden trapdoors that lead  down into the tunnel  system. He's  the one  who
coded those tunnels  into The Black Sun  to begin with; he's the only person
in the whole bar who can use them. He sweeps the scroll into the tunnel with
one hand, then closes the door.
     Hiro  can see the Clint,  way over  near  the exit, trying  to get  his
avatar aimed  out through the door. Hiro runs after  him. If the guy reaches
the  Street,  he's gone  -  he'll  turn  into a  translucent  ghost. With  a
fifty-foot  head start in  a crowd of a million  other  translucent  ghosts,
there's just no way. As usual,  there's a crowd of wannabes gathered on  the
Street  out  front. Hiro  can  see  the usual  assortment,  including  a few
black-and-white people.
     One of those black-and-whites is Y.T. She's loitering out there waiting
for Hiro to come out.
     "Y.T.!" he shouts. "Chase that guy with no arms!"
     Hiro  gets out  the door just a  few seconds after the Clint does. Both
the Clint and Y.T. are already gone.
     He turns back into The Black Sun, pulls up a  trapdoor,  and drops down
into the tunnel system,  the realm of the Graveyard Daemons. One of them has
already picked  up the scroll and is  trudging in toward the center to throw
it on the fire.
     "Hey, bud," Hiro says,  "take a right turn at the next tunnel and leave
that thing in my office, okay? But do me a favor and roll it up first."
     He  follows  the  Graveyard Daemon down the tunnel, under  the  Street,
until they're under the  neighborhood where Hiro and the other  hackers have
their houses. Hiro  has the Graveyard Daemon deposit the rolled-up scroll in
his  workshop,  down in the basement - the room where Hiro does his hacking.
Then Hiro continues upstairs to his office.

     His voice phone is ringing. Hiro picks it up.
     "Pod," Y.T.  says, "I was  beginning  to think you'd  never come out of
     "Where are you?" Hiro says.
     "In Reality or the Metaverse?"
     "In  the Metaverse,  I'm on  a plusbound monorail train. Just passed by
Port 35."
     "Already? It must be an express."
     "Good thinking. That Clint you cut the arms off of is two cars ahead of
me. I don't think he knows I'm following him."
     "Where are you in Reality?"
     "Public terminal across the street from a Reverend Wayne's," she says.
     "Oh, yeah? How interesting."
     "Just made a delivery there."
     "What kind of delivery?"
     "An aluminum suitcase."
     He  gets the whole  story out of her,  or what he thinks  is the  whole
story - there's no real way to tell.
     "You're sure that the babbling that the  people did in the park was the
same as the babbling that the woman did at the Reverend Wayne's?"
     "Sure," she says.  "I know  a  bunch  of people who go  there. Or their
parents go there and drag them along, you know."
     "To the Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates?"
     "Yeah. And  they  all  do that speaking in  tongues.  So I've  heard it
     "I'll talk  to you later,  pod,"  Hiro  says.  "I've  got some  serious
research to do."
     The  Babel/Infocalypse card is resting in the  middle of his desk. Hiro
picks it up. The Librarian comes in.
     Hiro is about to ask the Librarian whether he knows that Lagos is dead.
But it's a pointless question. The Librarian knows it, but he doesn't. If he
wanted to  check the Library, he  could find  out in  a few  moments. But he
wouldn't really  retain  the information.  He doesn't  have  an  independent
memory.  The Library  is his memory,  and he only uses small parts of  it at
     "What can you tell me about speaking in tongues?" Hiro says.
     "The technical term is 'glossolalia,'" the Librarian says.
     "Technical term? Why  bother to have a technical  term  for a religious
     The Librarian  raises  his  eyebrows.  "Oh,  there's  a great  deal  of
technical literature on the subject. It is a neurological phenomenon that is
merely exploited in religious rituals."
     "It's a Christian thing, right?"
     "Pentecostal  Christians think  so,  but they are  deluding themselves.
Pagan Greeks did it -  Plato called it  theomania. The Oriental cults of the
Roman Empire did  it.  Hudson Bay Eskimos, Chukchi  shamans,  Lapps, Yakuts,
Semang  pygmies, the North Borneo cults, the Trhi-speaking priests of Ghana.
The  Zulu  Amandiki  cult and the Chinese  religious  sect  of Shang-ti-hui.
Spirit mediums of Tonga and the Brazilian Umbanda cult. The Tungus tribesmen
of  Siberia  say  that  when  the  shaman  goes into his  trance  and  raves
incoherent syllables, he learns the entire language of Nature."
     'The language of Nature."
     "Yes,  sir.  The Sukuma  people  of  Africa say that  the  language  is
kinaturu, the  tongue of the ancestors of all  magicians, who are thought to
have descended from one particular tribe."
     "What causes it?"
     "If mystical explanations are ruled out, then it seems that glossolalia
comes from structures buried deep within the brain, common to all people."
     "What does it look like? How do these people act?"
     "C. W.  Shumway observed the Los Angeles  revival of 1906 and noted six
basic symptoms: complete loss of rational control; dominance of emotion that
leads to hysteria; absence of thought  or will; automatic functioning of the
speech organs; amnesia; and occasional sporadic physical manifestations such
as jerking or twitching. Eusebius observed similar phenomena around the year
300,  saying  that the false  prophet begins by  a deliberate suppression of
conscious thought, and ends in a delirium over which he has no control."
     "What's  the Christian justification for this? Is there anything in the
Bible that backs this up?"
     'You mentioned that word earlier - what is it?"
     "From  the  Greek  pentekostos,  meaning  fiftieth. It  refers  to  the
fiftieth day after the Crucifixion."
     "Juanita  just  told  me   that  Christianity  was  hijacked  by  viral
influences when it was only fifty days old. She must have been talking about
this. What is it?"
     "'And they  were all filled with the Holy  Spirit and began to speak in
other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in
Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound
the  multitude came together,  and they  were bewildered, because  each  one
heard them speaking in  his own language. And they were amazed and wondered,
saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we
hear,  each of  us in  his  own  native  language?  Parthians and Medes  and
Elamites  and residents  of Mesopotamia,  Judea  and  Cappadocia, Pontus and
Asia,  Phrygia  and  Pamphylia, Egypt  and the parts of  Libya  belonging to
Cyrene,  and  visitors  from Rome,  both Jews  and  proselytes, Cretans  and
Arabians, we hear them telling in our  own tongues the mighty works of God."
And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to  one  another, "What does  this
mean?"' Acts 2:4-12"
     "Damned if I know," Hiro says. "Sounds like Babel in reverse."
     "Yes, sir. Many Pentecostal Christians believe that the gift of tongues
was given to them so that they could spread their religion  to other peoples
without having to  actually  learn  their language.  The  word  for that  is
     "That's what Rife was  claiming in that piece of  videotape, on  top of
the  Enterprise. He  said he could  understand  what those Bangladeshis were
     "Yes, sir."
     "Does that really work?"
     "In the sixteenth century, Saint Louis Bertrand allegedly used the gift
of tongues to convert somewhere between thirty  thousand  and three  hundred
thousand South American Indians to Christianity," the Librarian says.
     "Wow. Spread through that population even faster than smallpox."

     "What did the  Jews think  of  this Pentecost  thing?" Hiro says. "They
were still running the country, right?"
     "The Romans were  running the country,"  the Librarian says, "but there
were a number of Jewish religious  authorities. At  this  time,  there  were
three groups of Jews: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes."
     "I remember  the Pharisees from Jesus  Christ, Superstar. They were the
ones with the deep voices who were always hassling Christ."
     "They  were  hassling him," the  Librarian  says,  "because  they  were
religiously very strict. They adhered to a strong legalistic version of  the
religion; to them, the  Law was everything.  Clearly, Jesus  was a threat to
them because he was proposing, in effect, to do away with the Law."
     "He wanted a contract renegotiation with God."
     "This sounds like an analogy, which I am not very good at - but even if
it is taken literally, it is true."
     "Who were the other two groups?"
     "The Sadducees were materialists."
     "Meaning what? They drove BMWs?"
     "No. Materialists  in  the  philosophical sense.  All philosophies  are
either monist or  dualist. Monists believe that  the material world  is  the
only world - hence, materialists.  Dualists  believe in  a binary  universe,
that there is a spiritual world in addition to the material world."
     "Well, as a computer geek, I have to believe in the binary universe."
     The Librarian raises his eyebrows. "How does that follow?"
     "Sorry.  It's  a  joke. A bad  pun. See,  computers use  binary code to
represent information. So I was joking  that I have to believe in the binary
universe, that I have to be a dualist."
     "How droll," the Librarian says, not  sounding  very amused. "Your joke
may not be without genuine merit, however."
     "How's that? I was just kidding, really."
     "Computers  rely on the one  and the zero to represent all things. This
distinction between something and nothing - this pivotal  separation between
being  and  non-being - is  quite fundamental  and underlies  many  Creation
     Hiro feels  his  face  getting  slightly  warm,  feels  himself getting
annoyed. He suspects that the Librarian may be pulling his  leg, playing him
for  a fool. But he  knows that the Librarian, however convincingly rendered
he may be, is just a piece of software and cannot actually do such things.
     "Even the word  'science'  comes from an Indo-European root meaning 'to
cut' or 'to separate.' The same root led to the word 'shit,' which of course
means to separate  living flesh from nonliving waste. The same  root gave us
'scythe' and 'scissors' and 'schism,' which have obvious connections to  the
concept of separation."
     "How about 'sword'?"
     "From a root with several meanings. One of those meanings is 'to cut or
pierce.' One of them is 'post'  or  'rod.'  And the  other  is,  simply, 'to
     "Let's stay on track," Hiro says.
     "Fine. I  can  return to this  potential  conversation fork at a  later
time, if you desire."
     "I don't want to get all forked up at  this  point.  Tell  me about the
third group - the Essenes."
     "They  lived  communally  and  believed  that  physical  and  spiritual
cleanliness  were  intimately   connected.   They  were  constantly  bathing
themselves, lying naked  under  the sun, purging themselves with enemas, and
going  to extreme  lengths  to  make  sure  that their  food  was  pure  and
uncontaminated.  They even  had their own  version  of  the Gospels in which
Jesus healed possessed people, not with miracles, but  by driving parasites,
such  as tapeworm, out of their body. These parasites are  considered  to be
synonymous with demons."
     "They sound kind of like hippies."
     "The  connection has  been  made before, but it is faulty in many ways.
The Essenes were strictly religious and would never have taken drugs."
     "So to them there was no difference between infection with  a parasite,
like tapeworm, and demonic possession."
     "Interesting.  I wonder  what  they  would  have thought about computer
     "Speculation is not in my ambit."
     "Speaking  of  which - Lagos  was  babbling  to me  about  viruses  and
infection and something called a nam-shub. What does that mean?"
     "Nam-shub is a word from Sumerian."
     "Yes, sir. Used in  Mesopotamia until roughly  2000 B.C. The oldest  of
all written languages."
     "Oh. So all the other languages are descended from it?"
     For a moment, the Librarian's  eyes glance upward, as if  he's thinking
about something. This  is a  visual cue  to  inform  Hiro that he's making a
momentary raid on the Library.
     "Actually,  no," the  Librarian  says.  "No  languages  whatsoever  are
descended from Sumerian. It is an agglutinative tongue, meaning that it is a
collection of morphemes  or syllables that  are grouped  into  words  - very
     "You are  saying," Hiro says,  remembering Da5id in the hospital, "that
if I could hear someone speaking Sumerian, it would sound like a long stream
of short syllables strung together."
     "Yes, sir."
     "Would it sound anything like glossolalia?"
     "Judgment call. Ask someone real," the Librarian says.
     "Does it sound like any modern tongue?"
     "There  is no  provable genetic relationship between  Sumerian  and any
tongue that came afterward."
     "That's  odd.  My  Mesopotamian  history is  rusty,"  Hiro  says. "What
happened to the Sumerians? Genocide?"
     "No,  sir. They were conquered, but there's no evidence of genocide per
     "Everyone  gets conquered sooner  or  later,"  Hiro  says.  "But  their
languages don't die out. Why did Sumerian disappear?"
     "Since I am just  a  piece  of code, I  would be  on  very thin ice  to
speculate," the Librarian says.
     "Okay. Does anyone understand Sumerian?"
     "Yes,  at  any given time, it appears that there are roughly ten people
in the world who can read it."
     "Where do they work?"
     "One in  Israel. One  at  the British Museum. One in  Iraq. One at  the
University of Chicago.  One  at the University of Pennsylvania. And  five at
Rife Bible College in Houston, Texas."
     "Nice distribution. And  have  any of these people figured out what the
word 'nam-shub' means in Sumerian?"
     "Yes. A nam-shub  is a speech  with magical force. The closest  English
equivalent would be  'incantation,'  but  this  has  a number  of  incorrect
     "Did the Sumerians believe in magic?"
     The Librarian shakes his head minutely. "This is  the kind of seemingly
precise question that is in fact very profound, and that pieces of software,
such  as myself, are notoriously  clumsy at. Allow me to quote from  Kramer,
Samuel Noah, and Maier,  John R.  Myths of Enki,  the Crafty  God. New York,
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989: 'Religion, magic, and medicine are so
completely intertwined  in Mesopotamia  that  separating them is frustrating
and perhaps futile work.... [Sumerian incantations] demonstrate an  intimate
connection between the religious,  the magical, and the esthetic so complete
that  any attempt to  pull one away from the other  will distort the whole.'
There is more material in here that might help explain the subject."
     "In where?"
     "In the next room," the Librarian says, gesturing at the wall. He walks
over and slides the rice-paper partition out of the way.
     A  speech  with  magical force. Nowadays, people don't believe in these
kinds of things. Except in the Metaverse, that is, where magic is  possible.
The Metaverse is a fictional structure  made out of code. And code is just a
form of speech - the form that  computers  understand. The Metaverse in  its
entirety could be considered a single vast nam-shub,  enacting itself  on L.
Bob Rife's fiber-optic network.
     The voice phone rings. "Just a second," Hiro says.
     "Take your time," the Librarian  says, not adding  the obvious reminder
that he can wait for a million years if need be.
     "Me  again," Y.T.  says. "I'm still on  the  train. Stumps  got  off at
Express Port 127."
     "Hmm. That's  the antipode of Downtown. I mean,  it's  as far away from
Downtown as you can get."
     "It is?"
     "Yeah. One-two-seven is two to the seventh power minus one - "
     "Spare me,  I take  your word for it. It's definitely out in the middle
of fucking nowhere," she says.
     "You didn't get off and follow him?"
     "Are you kidding? All the way out there?  It's  ten thousand miles from
the nearest building, Hiro."
     She has a point. The Metaverse was built with plenty of room to expand.
Almost  all of the  development is within two or three Express Ports  - five
hundred  kilometers or so - of Downtown.  Port 127 is twenty  thousand miles
     "What is there?"
     "A black cube exactly twenty miles on a side."
     "Totally black?"
     "How can you measure a black cube that big?"
     "I'm riding  along looking at the stars,  okay? Suddenly,  I can't  see
them anymore on the right side of the train. I start counting local ports. I
count sixteen of them. We get to Express Port 127, and Stumpy climbs off and
goes toward the black thing.  I count  sixteen more local ports and then the
stars come out. Then I  take  thirty-two kilometers and multiply it by point
six and I get twenty miles - you asshole."
     "That's good," Hiro says. "That's good intel."
     "Who do you think owns a black cube twenty miles across?"
     "Just  going  on  pure,  irrational  bias, I'm  guessing  L.  Bob Rife.
Supposedly, he has  a big hunk of real estate out  in the  middle of nowhere
where he keeps  all the guts of the Metaverse. Some of us used to smash into
it occasionally when we were out racing motorcycles."
     "Well, gotta go, pod."

     Hiro hangs up and walks into the new room. The Librarian follows.
     It is about  fifty feet on a side. The center of the space is  occupied
by   three  large  artifacts,  or  rather  three-dimensional  renderings  of
artifacts. In the  center is a thick slab of  baked  clay, hanging in space,
about the size of a coffee table, and about a foot thick. Hiro suspects that
it is a magnified rendering of a smaller object.  The broad  surfaces of the
slab are  entirely  covered  with  angular  writing that  Hiro recognizes as
cuneiform. Around the edges are rounded, parallel depressions that appear to
have been made by fingers as they shaped the slab.
     To the right of the slab is a wooden pole with branches on top, sort of
a stylized tree. To the left of the slab is an eight-foot-high obelisk, also
covered with cuneiform, with a bas-relief figure chiseled into the top.
     The  room   is  filled.  with   a  three-dimensional  constellation  of
hypercards,  hanging weightlessly  in  the air. It  looks like  a high-speed
photograph  of  a blizzard  in progress. In  some places, the hypercards are
placed  in precise geometric patterns,  like  atoms in a  crystal.  In other
places, whole  stacks of  them  are clumped  together. Drifts of  them  have
accumulated in the corners, as though  Lagos tossed them  away when  he  was
finished. Hiro finds that his avatar can walk right  through the  hypercards
without  disturbing the arrangement. It  is, in  fact, the three-dimensional
counterpart of a messy desktop, all the trash still remaining wherever Lagos
left  it.  The  cloud  of  hypercards  extends   to  every  corner   of  the
50-by-50-foot  space,  and  from floor level all the way up to  about  eight
feet, which is about as high as Lagos's avatar could reach.
     "How many hypercards in here?"
     "Ten thousand, four hundred and sixty-three," the Librarian says.
     "I don't really have time to go through them," Hiro says. "Can you give
me some idea of what Lagos was working on here?"
     "Well,  I can read back the names of all the cards if you'd like. Lagos
grouped them into four broad categories: Biblical studies, Sumerian studies,
neurolinguistic studies, and intel gathered on L. Bob Rife."
     "Without going into that  kind  of detail - what did Lagos have  on his
mind? What was he getting at?"
     "What do I  look  like,  a psychologist?" the Librarian says.  "I can't
answer those kinds of questions."
     "Let me try  it again.  How does  this stuff connect, if at all, to the
subject of viruses?"
     "The connections are elaborate.  Summarizing  them would  require  both
creativity and discretion. As a mechanical entity, I have neither."
     "How old is this stuff?" Hiro says, gesturing to the three artifacts.
     "The clay envelope is Sumerian. It is from the third millennium B.C. It
was dug  up from the city  of  Eridu in southern  Iraq.  The  black stele or
obelisk is the  Code  of Hammurabi, which  dates  from  about 1750  B.C. The
treelike structure is a Yahwistic cult totem from Palestine.  It's called an
asherah. It's from about 900 B.C."
     "Did you call that slab an envelope?"
     "Yes. It has a smaller clay slab wrapped up  inside of it. This was how
the Sumerians made tamper-proof documents."
     "All these things are in a museum somewhere, I take it?"
     "The asherah  and  the  Code  of  Hammurabi  are  in museums. The  clay
envelope is in the personal collection of L. Bob Rife."
     "L. Bob Rife is obviously interested in this stuff."
     "Rife  Bible  College,  which he founded,  has the  richest archaeology
department in the world. They have been conducting a dig in Eridu, which was
the cult center of a Sumerian god named Enki."
     "How are these things related to each other?"
     The Librarian raises his eyebrows. "I'm sorry?"
     "Well, let's try  process of elimination. Do you  know why  Lagos found
Sumerian writings interesting as opposed to, say, Greek or Egyptian?"
     "Egypt  was  a  civilization   of  stone.  They  made  their   art  and
architecture of stone, so it lasts forever. But you can't write on stone. So
they invented papyrus and wrote on that. But papyrus  is perishable. So even
though  their art and architecture  have survived,  their  written records -
their data - have largely disappeared."
     "What about all those hieroglyphic inscriptions?"
     "Bumper stickers, Lagos called them. Corrupt political speech. They had
an unfortunate  tendency  to  write inscriptions praising their own military
victories before the battles had actually taken place."
     "And Sumer is different?"
     "Sumer was a civilization of clay. They made  their buildings of it and
wrote on it, too. Their statues were of gypsum, which dissolves in water. So
the buildings and  statues have since fallen  apart under the  elements. But
the  clay tablets were either baked  or else buried in jars. So all the data
of the Sumerians have survived. Egypt left a legacy of art and architecture;
Sumer's legacy is its megabytes."
     "How many megabytes?"
     "As many as  archaeologists bother to dig  up.  The Sumerians  wrote on
everything.  When  they  built a building, they would  write in cuneiform on
every  brick.  When  the buildings fell  down,  these  bricks  would remain,
scattered across  the  desert. In  the  Koran, the angels who  are  sent  to
destroy  Sodom  and Gomorrah say, 'We are sent forth to a wicked  nation, so
that we may bring down on them a  shower  of clay-stones marked by your Lord
for the  destruction of  the  sinful.'  Lagos  found this interesting - this
promiscuous  dispersal  of  information,  written  on  a  medium that  lasts
forever.  He spoke of pollen blowing in  the wind - I gather  that this  was
some kind of analogy."
     "It  was. Tell me - has  the inscription  on  this  clay  envelope been
     "Yes. It is a warning. It says, 'This envelope contains the nam-shub of
     "I know what a nam-shub is. What is the nam-shub of Enki?"
     The  Librarian  stares  off into the distance  and  clears  his  throat

     "Once upon a time, there was no snake, there was no scorpion,
     There was no hyena, there was no lion,
     There was no wild dog, no wolf,
     There was no fear, no terror,
     Man had no rival.
     In those days, the land Shubur-Hamazi,
     Harmony-tongued Sumer, the great land of the me of princeship,
     Uri, the land having all that is appropriate,
     The land Martu, resting in security,
     The whole universe, the people well cared for,
     To Enlil in one tongue gave speech.
     Then the lord defiant, the prince defiant, the king defiant,
     Enki, the lord of abundance, whose commands are trustworthy,
     The lord of wisdom, who scans the land,
     The leader of the gods,
     The lord of Eridu, endowed with wisdom,
     Changed the speech in their mouths, put contention into it,
     Into the speech of man that had been one.

     That is Kramer's translation."
     "That's a story," Hiro says. "I thought a nam-shub was an incantation."
     "The  nam-shub  of  Enki  is  both a  story  and  an incantation,"  the
Librarian says.  "A  self-fulfilling  fiction. Lagos believed  that  in  its
original form, which this translation only hints at, it actually did what it
     "You mean, changed the speech in men's mouths."
     "Yes," the Librarian says.
     "This is a  Babel story, isn't it?"  Hiro says.  "Everyone was speaking
the same language, and then  Enki changed their speech so that they could no
longer understand each  other. This must be the basis for the Tower of Babel
stuff in the Bible."
     "This  room contains  a  number  of cards tracing that connection," the
Librarian says.
     "You mentioned before that at one point, everyone spoke Sumerian. Then,
nobody did. It just vanished, like the dinosaurs. And there's no genocide to
explain  how that happened.  Which  is consistent  with the  Tower of  Babel
story,  and  the  nam-shub  of  Enki.  Did  Lagos  think  that Babel  really
     "He was sure  of it.  He was  quite  concerned about the vast number of
human languages. He felt there were simply too many of them."
     "How many?"
     "Tens of thousands. In many parts of the world, you will find people of
the  same  ethnic group, living a few miles  apart in similar valleys  under
similar  conditions,  speaking  languages  that  have absolutely  nothing in
common with  each  other.  This sort  of  thing is  not an  oddity  -  it is
ubiquitous. Many linguists have  tried to understand Babel, the  question of
why  human  language tends to fragment, rather  than converging on  a common
     "Has anyone come up with an answer yet?"
     "The question  is difficult  and profound," the  Librarian says. "Lagos
had a theory."
     "He  believed that Babel  was  an  actual  historical  event.  That  it
happened in a particular time and  place, coinciding  with the disappearance
of the Sumerian language. That prior to Babel/Infocalypse,  languages tended
to  converge.  And  that  afterward,  languages  have always  had an  innate
tendency  to  diverge  and  become  mutually  incomprehensible -  that  this
tendency  is,  as  he  put  it,  coiled  like a  serpent  around  the  human
     "The only thing that could explain that is - "
     Hiro stops, not wanting to say it.
     "Yes?" the Librarian says.
     "If there  was  some  phenomenon  that  moved  through the  population,
altering their minds in such a way that  they couldn't process the  Sumerian
language anymore. Kind of in  the  same  way  that  a  virus moves from  one
computer  to another, damaging each computer in the same way. Coiling around
the brainstem."
     "Lagos devoted much time  and effort to this idea," the Librarian says.
"He felt that the nam-shub of Enki was a neurolinguistic virus."
     "And that this Enki character was a real personage?"
     "And  that  Enki  invented this  virus and  spread it throughout Sumer,
using tablets like this one?"
     "Yes.  A tablet  has been discovered containing a  letter to  Enki,  in
which the writer complains about it."
     "A letter to a god?"
     "Yes. It is from  Sin-samuh, the Scribe. He begins by praising Enki and
emphasizing his devotion to him. Then he complains:

     'Like a young ... (line broken)
     I am paralyzed at the wrist.
     Like a wagon on the road when its yoke has split,
     I stand immobile on the road.
     I lay on a bed called "O! and O No!"
     I let out a wail.
     My graceful figure is stretched neck to ground,
     I am paralyzed of foot.
     My ... has been carried off into the earth.
     My frame has changed.
     At night I cannot sleep,
     my strength has been struck down,
     my life is ebbing away.
     The bright day is made a dark day for me.
     I have slipped into my own grave.
     I, a writer who knows many things, am made a fool.
     My hand has stopped writing
     There is no talk in my mouth.'

     "After more description of his woes, the scribe ends with,

     'My god, it is you I fear.
     I have written you a letter.
     Take pity on me.
     The heart of my god: have it given back to me.'"

     Y.T. is  maxing at a Mom's Truck Stop on 405, waiting for her ride. Not
that  she would ever be caught dead at a Mom's Truck Stop.  If, like, a semi
ran her over with all eighteen of its wheels in front of a Mom's Truck Stop,
she  would drag herself down the  shoulder  of the highway using  her eyelid
muscles until she reached a Snooze 'n' Cruise full of horny derelicts rather
than go into a Mom's Truck Stop.  But sometimes  when you're a professional,
they give you a job that you don't like,  and  you just have to be very cool
and put up with it.
     For  purposes of  this evening's job, the man  with  the glass  eye has
already  supplied her with a "driver and security person,"  as he put  it. A
totally unknown  quantity. Y.T.  isn't  sure she likes  putting up with some
mystery guy. She  has this image in her mind that he's going to be  like the
wrestling coach at  the  high  school. That would be so  grotendous. Anyway,
this is where she's supposed to meet him.
     Y.T. orders a coffee and a slice of  cherry  pie A la mode. She carries
them over to the public Street  terminal back in the corner. It is sort of a
wraparound stainless  steel booth stuck between a phone booth, which  has  a
homesick truck driver poured into it, and a pinball  machine, which features
a chick with big boobs that light up when  you shoot the  ball  up the magic
     She's not that good at the Metaverse, but she knows her way around, and
she's got  an address. And finding an address in the Metaverse shouldn't  be
any  more  difficult than doing  it  in Reality,  at least if  you're  not a
totally retarded ped.
     As soon as she steps out into the Street, people start giving her these
looks. The same kind of  looks that  people give her when she walks  through
the  worsted-wool desolation of the Westlake  Corporate  Park in her dynamic
blue-and-orange  Kourier gear. She  knows that the people  in the Street are
giving  her dirty  looks  because she's  just coming in from a shitty public
terminal. She's a trashy black-and-white person.
     The built-up part of the Street, around Port  Zero, forms a luminescent
thunderhead  off to her right.  She puts her back to  it and climbs onto the
monorail. She'd like to go  into town, but that's an  expensive part  of the
Street to  visit, and she'd be dumping money into the  coin slot about every
one-tenth of a millisecond.
     The  guy's  name  is  Ng.  In Reality,  he  is  somewhere  in  Southern
California.  Y.T. isn't sure exactly what  he is driving; some kind of a van
full  of  what  the  man  with the  glass  eye described  as "Stuff,  really
incredible  stuff that you don't need to know about."  In  the Metaverse, he
lives outside  of town, around Port 2, where things really  start  to spread

     Ng's Metaverse home is a French colonial villa in the prewar village of
My  Tho in the Mekong Delta. Visiting him is like going to Vietnam in  about
1955,  except that you don't have to get all  sweaty. In order  to make room
for this creation, he has laid claim  to a patch of Metaverse space a couple
of miles  off  the Street. There's  no  monorail service  in  this  low-rent
development, so Y.T.'s avatar has to walk the entire way.
     He has a large office with French doors and  a balcony looking out over
endless rice paddies where little Vietnamese  people work. Clearly, this guy
is a fairly hardcore techie, because Y.T.  counts hundreds  of people out in
his rice paddies, plus  dozens more running around the village,  all of them
fairly  well rendered and all of them doing  different things.  She's not  a
bithead, but she knows that this guy is throwing a lot of computer time into
the task of creating a realistic view  out his  office window.  And the fact
that  it's  Vietnam  makes it  twisted and spooky. Y.T. can't wait  to  tell
Roadkill about this place. She  wonders if it has bombings and strafings and
napalm drops. That would be the best.
     Ng  himself,  or  at  least,  Ng's  avatar,  is  a small,  very  dapper
Vietnamese  man  in  his  fifties,  hair  plastered  to  his  head,  wearing
military-style khakis. At the time Y.T. comes into his office, he is leaning
forward in his chair, getting his shoulders rubbed by a geisha.
     A geisha in Vietnam?
     Y.T.'s grandpa, who was there for a while, told her that the  Nipponese
took  over  Vietnam during the war and treated  it with the cruelty that was
their  trademark before  we  nuked them and they discovered  that they  were
pacifists. The Vietnamese, like most  other Asians, hate  the  Japanese. And
apparently  this Ng character  gets  a  kick  out  of the  idea of having  a
Japanese geisha around to rub his back.
     But  it  is a very strange thing  to do, for  one reason: The geisha is
just a picture on Ng's goggles,  and on Y.T.'s.  And you can't get a massage
from a picture. So why bother?
     When Y.T. comes in, Ng stands up and bows. This is how hardcore  Street
wackos greet each  other. They don't  like  to shake hands because you can't
actually feel the  contact  and it reminds  you that you're  not even really
     "Yeah, hi," Y.T. says.
     Ng sits back down and the geisha goes right back to it.  Ng's desk is a
nice  French antique with a row of small television monitors along the  back
edge, facing toward  him. He spends most of  his time watching the monitors,
even when he is talking.
     "They told me a little bit about you," Ng says.
     "Shouldn't listen to nasty rumors," Y.T. says.
     Ng picks up a glass from his desk and  takes a drink  from it. It looks
like a mint julep.  Globes of condensation form on its surface, break loose,
and trickle down the  side.  The rendering is so perfect that Y.T. can see a
miniaturized  reflection of the office windows in each drop of condensation.
It's just totally ostentatious. What a bithead.
     He is looking at her with a totally emotionless face, but Y.T. imagines
that  it  is  a  face  of  hate and disgust. To spend  all this money on the
coolest house in the Metaverse and then have some skater come in done up  in
grainy black-and-white. It must be a real kick in the metaphorical nuts.
     Somewhere  in this house a radio is going, playing a mix  of Vietnamese
loungy type stuff and Yank wheelchair rock.
     "Are you a Nova Sicilia citizen?" Ng says.
     "No. I just chill sometimes with Uncle Enzo and the other Mafia dudes."
     "Ah. Very unusual."
     Ng is not a man in a hurry. He has  soaked  up the languid pace of  the
Mekong Delta and  is content to sit there and watch his TV sets and fire off
a sentence every few minutes.
     Another thing:  He  apparently has Tourette's syndrome  or  some  other
brain woes  because  from time  to time, for  no apparent reason,  he  makes
strange noises with  his mouth. They have the  twangy sound  that you always
hear  from  Vietnamese  when  they  are  in  the  back  rooms of  stores and
restaurants carrying on  family disputes in the mother tongue, but as far as
Y.T. can tell, they aren't real words, just sound effects.
     "Do you work a lot for these guys?" Y.T. asks.
     "Occasional small  security  jobs. Unlike most large  corporations, the
Mafia has  a strong tradition of handling its own security arrangements. But
when something especially technical is called for - "
     He  pauses in the middle of this sentence to make an incredible zooming
sound in his nose.
     "Is that your thing? Security?"
     Ng  scans all of  his  TV sets.  He snaps his  fingers  and the  geisha
scurries out of the room. He folds his  hands together on his desk and leans
forward. He stares at Y.T. "Yes," he says.
     Y.T. looks back at him for a bit, waiting for him to continue. After  a
few seconds his attention drifts back to the monitors.
     "I do most of my work under a large contract with Mr. Lee," he blurts.
     Y.T. is waiting  for the continuation of  this sentence: Not "Mr. Lee,"
but "Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong."
     Oh, well. If she can drop Uncle Enzo's name, he can drop Mr. Lee's.
     "The social structure  of any nation-state is ultimately  determined by
its security arrangements," Ng says, "and Mr. Lee understands this."
     Oh,  wow, we're going to be profound now.  Ng is suddenly  talking just
like the old white men on the TV pundit powwows, which Y.T.'s mother watches
     "Instead  of hiring  a large human security force - which  impacts  the
social environment - you know, lots of  minimum-wage earners standing around
carrying machine guns - Mr. Lee prefers to use nonhuman systems."
     Nonhuman systems. Y.T. is about to ask him, what do  you know about the
Rat  Thing.  But  it  is  pointless;  he  won't  say.  It  would  get  their
relationship off on the wrong foot, Y.T.  asking Ng for intel, intel that he
would never give her, and that would make this whole scene even weirder than
it is now, which Y.T. can't even imagine.
     Ng bursts forth with a long string of  twangy noises, pops, and glottal
     "Fucking bitch," he mumbles.
     "Excuse me?"
     "Nothing," he  says, "a  bimbo box cut  me  off.  None of  these people
understand that with this vehicle, I could crush them  like a potbellied pig
under an armored personnel carrier."
     "A bimbo box - you're driving?"
     "Yes. I'm coming to pick you up - remember?"
     "Do you mind?"
     "No," he sighs, as if he really does.
     Y.T. gets up and walks around behind his desk to look.
     Each of the little TV monitors is showing a different view out his van:
windshield,  left  window,  right  window,  rearview.  Another  one  has  an
electronic map  showing his position: inbound on the San Bernardino, not far
     "The  van  is  under  voice  command,"  he  explains.  "I  removed  the
steering-wheel-and-pedal  interface because  I found  verbal  commands  more
convenient. This  is why I will  sometimes  make unfamiliar  sounds with  my
voice - I am controlling the vehicle's systems."
     Y.T. signs off from  the Metaverse for  a while, to  clear her head and
take a leak. When she takes off the goggles she discovers that she has built
up quite an audience of truckers  and mechanics, who are standing around the
terminal  booth  in a semicircle listening to  her  jabber  at Ng.  When she
stands up, attention shifts to her butt, naturally.
     Y.T.  hits the  bathroom, finishes her  pie, and  wanders out  into the
ultraviolet glare of the setting sun to wait for Ng.
     Recognizing  his van is easy enough.  It is enormous. It is eight  feet
high and wider than it is high, which would have made  it a wide load in the
old days  when they had laws. The construction is  boxy and  angular; it has
been welded  together out of  the type of  flat, dimpled steel plate usually
used to make manhole lids and stair treads. The tires are huge, like tractor
tires with a more subtle tread, and there are six of them: two axles in back
and one in front. The engine  is so big  that, like an evil  spaceship  in a
movie,  Y.T. feels its  rumbling  in her  ribs before she can see it;  it is
kicking out diesel exhaust through a pair of squat vertical red  smokestacks
that project from the roof,  toward the rear. The  windshield is a perfectly
flat rectangle of glass about three by eight feet, smoked so black that Y.T.
can't  make  out an outline of anything inside. The  snout  of  the  van  is
festooned with every type of high-powered light known to  science, like this
guy hit  a New South  Africa  franchise on a  Saturday night and stole every
light off every  roll  bar,  and a  grille has been constructed  across  the
front,  welded  together out of  rails  torn  out of an  abandoned  railroad
somewhere. The grille alone probably weighs more than a small car.
     The  passenger door swings  open. Y.T. walks over  and climbs  into the
front seat. "Hi," she is saying. "You need to take a whiz or anything?"
     Ng isn't there.
     Or maybe he is.
     Where the driver's seat ought to be, there is a sort of  neoprene pouch
about  the size of a garbage  can suspended  from the  ceiling by  a web  of
straps, shock cords,  tubes, wires, fiber-optic cables, and hydraulic lines.
It is swathed  in  so much  stuff  that it is  hard to  make  out its actual
     At the top of this pouch, Y.T. can  see a patch of skin with some black
hair around it - the top of a balding man's  head. Everything else, from the
temples       downward,       is      encased      in       an      enormous
goggle/mask/headphone/feeding-tube  unit, held onto his head by smart straps
that are constantly tightening and loosening themselves  to  keep the device
comfortable and properly positioned.
     Below  this, on either  side, where you'd  sort of expect to see  arms,
huge bundles  of wires, fiber optics, and tubes run up  out of the floor and
are  seemingly  plugged  into  Ng's shoulder  sockets.  There is  a  similar
arrangement where his legs are supposed to be attached, and more stuff going
into his groin  and hooked up to various  locations on his torso. The entire
thing  is  swathed in  a one-piece coverall, a pouch,  larger than his torso
ought to be, that is constantly bulging and throbbing as though alive.
     "Thank you, all my needs are taken care of," Ng says.
     The door slams shut behind  her. Ng makes a  yapping sound, and the van
pulls out onto the frontage road, headed back toward 405.
     "Please excuse my  appearance,"  he says,  after  a  couple  of awkward
minutes. "My helicopter caught  fire during the evacuation of Saigon in 1974
- a stray tracer from ground forces."
     "Whoa. What a drag."
     "I  was  able to reach an American aircraft carrier off the  coast, but
you know, the fuel was spraying around quite a bit during the fire."
     "Yeah, I can imagine, uh huh."
     "I  tried  prostheses for  a while -  some of them are very  good.  But
nothing is as good  as a motorized  wheelchair.  And then I got to thinking,
why do motorized wheelchairs always  have to be  tiny  pathetic things  that
strain to  go up a  little teeny ramp? So  I bought  this - it is an airport
firetruck from Germany - and converted it into my new motorized wheelchair."
     "It's very nice."
     "America is wonderful because you can get anything  on  a drive-through
basis. Oil change, liquor, banking, car wash, funerals, anything you  want -
drive  through!  So  this  vehicle  is  much  better  than a  tiny  pathetic
wheelchair. It is an extension of my body."
     "When the geisha rubs your back?"
     Ng mumbles something and  his pouch begins to throb and undulate around
his body.  "She  is a  daemon, of course. As  for the  massage,  my  body is
suspended  in an electrocontractive  gel that  massages me when I need it. I
also have a  Swedish girl and an African woman, but those daemons are not as
well rendered."
     "And the mint julep?"
     "Through a feeding tube. Nonalcoholic, ha ha."
     "So,"  Y.T. says at some point, when  they are way past  LAX,  and  she
figures it's too late to chicken out, "what's the plan? Do we have a plan?"
     "We go to Long Beach. To the Terminal Island Sacrifice Zone. And we buy
some drugs," Ng says. "Or you do, actually, since I am indisposed."
     "That's my job? To buy some drugs?"
     "Buy them, and throw them up in the air."
     "In a Sacrifice Zone?"
     "Yes. And we'll take care of the rest."
     "Who's we, dude?"
     "There are several more, uh, entities that will help us."
     "What, is the back of the van full of more - people like you?"
     "Sort of," Ng says. "You are close to the truth."
     "Would these be, like, nonhuman systems?"
     "That is a sufficiently all-inclusive term, I think."
     Y.T. figures that for a big yes.
     "You tired? Want me to drive or anything?"
     Ng laughs sharply, like distant ack-ack, and the van almost swerves off
the road. Y.T. doesn't get the sense that he is laughing at the joke; he  is
laughing at what a jerk Y.T. is.

     "Okay, last time  we were talking about  the  clay  envelope.  But what
about this thing? The thing that looks like a tree?" Hiro says, gesturing to
one of the artifacts.
     "A totem of the goddess Asherah," the Librarian says crisply.
     "Now we're getting  somewhere,"  Hiro says. "Lagos said that the Brandy
in The Black Sun was a cult prostitute of Asherah. So who is Asherah?"
     "She was the consort of El, who is also known as Yahweh," the Librarian
says. "She also was known by other names: Elat, her most common epithet. The
Greeks knew  her  as Dione  or Rhea. The  Canaanites  knew her  as Tannit or
Hawwa, which is the same thing as Eve."
     "The etymology  of 'Tannit' proposed by Cross is: feminine of 'tannin,'
which would mean  'the  one of  the serpent.' Furthermore, Asherah carried a
second  epithet  in  the  Bronze  Age, 'dat  batni,' also  'the one  of  the
serpent.' The  Sumerians knew her as Nintu  or  Ninhursag. Her symbol  is  a
serpent coiling about a tree or staff. the caduceus."
     "Who worshipped Asherah? A lot of people, I gather."
     "Everyone who lived between India and Spain, from the second millennium
B.C. up into the Christian era.  With the exception of the Hebrews, who only
worshipped her until the religious reforms of Hezekiah and, later, Josiah."
     "I  thought  the  Hebrews  were  monotheists.  How could  they  worship
     "Monolatrists. They did not deny the existence of  other gods. But they
were only  supposed  to worship Yahweh. Asherah was venerated as the consort
of Yahweh."
     "I don't remember anything about God having a wife in the Bible."
     "The  Bible didn't  exist at  that  point.  Judaism was  just  a  loose
collection  of Yahwistic cults, each  with different shrines and  practices.
The stories about the Exodus hadn't been formalized into scripture  yet. And
the later parts of the Bible had not yet happened."
     "Who decided to purge Asherah from Judaism?"
     "The  deuteronomic school -  defined, by convention,  as the people who
wrote the book of Deuteronomy as well as Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings."
     "And what kind of people were they?"
     "Nationalists.  Monarchists.  Centralists.  The   forerunners  of   the
Pharisees. At this time, the Assyrian king Sargon  II had recently conquered
Samaria - northern Israel - forcing  a migration of Hebrews  southward  into
Jerusalem.  Jerusalem  expanded greatly and  the  Hebrews  began  to conquer
territory to the west, east, and south. It was a time of intense nationalism
and  patriotic fervor. The deuteronomic school embodied  those  attitudes in
scripture by rewriting and reorganizing the old tales."
     "Rewriting them how?"
     "Moses  and  others believed  that the  River  Jordan was the border of
Israel,  but the deuteronomists  believed  that Israel included Transjordan,
which justified aggression to the east. There  are many  other examples: the
predeuteronomic  law said nothing about a monarch. The Law as  laid  down by
the deuteronomic  school reflected a monarchist system.  The predeuteronomic
law was largely concerned with sacred  matters, while the deuteronomic law's
main concern is the education of the king  and his people -  secular matters
in other words. The deuteronomists insisted on  centralizing the religion in
the Temple in Jerusalem, destroying  the outlying cult centers. And there is
another feature that Lagos found significant."
     "And that is?"
     "Deuteronomy is  the only  book  of  the  Pentateuch that refers  to  a
written Torah as comprising the divine will: 'And when he sits on the throne
of  his  kingdom,  he shall write for  himself in a book a copy of this law,
from that  which is in charge of the Levitical priests; and it shall be with
him, and he shall read in it  all the days of his life, that he may learn to
fear  the LORD his  God, by  keeping  all the words  of this  law  and these
statutes, and doing  them; that his heart  may not be lifted  up  above  his
brethren, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the
right hand  or to the  left; so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he
and his children, in Israel.' Deuteronomy 17:18-20."
     "So  the  deuteronomists  codified   the  religion.  Made  it  into  an
organized, self-propagating entity," Hiro says. "I don't want to say  virus.
But according to what you just quoted me, the Torah is like a virus. It uses
the human  brain as a host. The host - the  human - makes  copies of it. And
more humans come to synagogue and read it."
     "I cannot process  an analogy.  But  what you say is correct insofar as
this: After  the  deuteronomists  had reformed Judaism,  instead  of  making
sacrifices, the Jews went to synagogue  and  read the Book. If  not  for the
deuteronomists,  the world's  monotheists would still be sacrificing animals
and propagating their beliefs through the oral tradition."
     "Sharing needles," Hiro says. "When you were going over this stuff with
Lagos, did he ever say anything about the Bible being a virus?"
     "He said it had certain things in common  with a virus, but that it was
different. He considered it a benign virus. Like that used for vaccinations.
He  considered  the Asherah  virus to be more malignant,  capable  of  being
spread through exchange of bodily fluids."
     "So the strict, book-based  religion of  the  deuteronomists inoculated
the Hebrews against the Asherah virus."
     "In combination with strict monogamy and  other kosher practices, yes,"
the Librarian says. "The  previous religions, from  Sumer up to Deuteronomy,
are known as  prerational. Judaism  was the first of the rational religions.
As such, in Lagos's  view,  it was much less  susceptible to viral infection
because it was based on fixed, written records. This was the  reason for the
veneration of the Torah and the exacting care used when making new copies of
it - informational hygiene."
     "What are we living in nowadays? The postrational era?"
     "Juanita made comments to that effect."
     "I'll bet  she did. She's  starting to  make more sense  to me, Juanita
     "She never really made much sense before."
     "I see."
     "I think that if I can  just spend  enough time  with you to figure out
what's on Juanita's mind - well, wonderful things could happen."
     "I will try to be of assistance."
     "Back  to work - this is no time for  a hard-on. It seems that  Asherah
was a carrier of a viral infection. The deuteronomists somehow realized this
and exterminated her  by  blocking all the vectors by which she infected new
     "With reference  to viral infections,"  the  Librarian says,  "if I may
make a fairly blunt, spontaneous crossreference - something I am coded to do
at opportune moments - you may  wish to examine herpes simplex, a virus that
takes up residence in the  nervous system and never leaves. It is capable of
carrying new genes into existing neurons and genetically reengineering them.
Modem  gene  therapists use  it for this purpose. Lagos thought that  herpes
simplex might be a modern, benign descendant of Asherah."
     "Not always benign," Hiro says, remembering a friend of his who died of
AIDS-related complications; in the last days, he had herpes lesions from his
lips  all  the  way  down  his  throat. "It's  only  benign because we  have
     "Yes, sir."
     "So did Lagos think that the Asherah virus actually altered the  DNA of
brain cells?"
     "Yes. This was the backbone of his  hypothesis that the  virus was able
to transmute itself from a biologically transmitted string of DNA into a set
of behaviors."
     "What  behaviors?   What  was  Asherah   worship  like?  Did   they  do
     "No. But there is evidence of cult prostitutes, both male and female."
     "Does that mean what I think it does? Religious figures who  would hang
around the temple and fuck people?"
     "More or less."
     "Bingo. Great way to  spread a virus. Now, I  want to jump  back  to an
earlier fork in the conversation."
     "As  you wish.  I  can  handle  nested forkings to a virtually infinite
     "You made a connection between Asherah and Eve."
     "Eve  -  whose  Biblical  name  is   Hawwa  -  is  clearly  the  Hebrew
interpretation of an older myth. Hawwa is an ophidian mother goddess."
     "Associated with serpents. Asherah is also an  ophidian mother goddess.
And both are associated with trees as well."
     "Eve,  as  I recall, is considered  responsible for getting Adam to eat
the forbidden fruit, from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Which  is
to say, it's not just fruit - it's data."
     "If you say so, sir."
     "I wonder if viruses have always been  with us, or not. There's sort of
an implicit  assumption that they have been around forever. But maybe that's
not true. Maybe there was  a period of history when they were nonexistent or
at least unusual.  And at a certain point, when the metavirus showed up, the
number  of different viruses exploded, and  people started  getting  sick  a
whole lot. That would explain the fact that all cultures seem to have a myth
about Paradise, and the Fall from Paradise."
     "You told me that  the Essenes thought that tapeworms were  demons.  If
they'd known  what  a virus was, they  probably would  have thought the same
thing. And  Lagos told me the other night  that, according to the Sumerians,
there was no concept of good and evil per se."
     "Correct. According  to Kramer and Maier, there are good demons and bad
demons.  'Good ones  bring physical  and  emotional health. Evil ones  bring
disorientation and a variety  of  physical and  emotional ills.... But these
demons can hardly be distinguished from  the diseases they personify ... and
many  of  the  diseases sound,  to  modern  ears, as  though  they  must  be
     "That's what the  doctors  said about  Da5id, that his disease  must be
     "I  don't  know  anything about  Da5id, except  for  some  rather banal
     "It's as though 'good' and  'evil'  were  invented by the writer of the
Adam  and Eve legend to explain why people get sick - why they have physical
and mental viruses. So when Eve - or Asherah - got  Adam to eat the fruit of
the tree of knowledge of good and evil, she  was introducing  the concept of
good  and  evil  into the world - introducing  the metavirus,  which creates
     "Could be."
     "So my next question is: Who wrote the Adam and Eve legend?"
     "This is a source of much scholarly argument."
     "What did Lagos think? More to the point, what did Juanita think?"
     "Nicolas  Wyatt's  radical  interpretation  of the Adam and  Eve  story
supposes that  it  was, in  fact, written  as  a political  allegory by  the
     "I thought they wrote the later books, not Genesis."
     "True.  But  they were involved  in compiling and  editing the  earlier
books as well. For  many years,  it  was  assumed that  Genesis  was written
sometime  around  900 B.C. or even earlier - long  before the advent  of the
deuteronomists.  But  more recent  analysis of the  vocabulary  and  content
suggests that a great deal of editorial work -  possibly even authorial work
- took  place around the time  of  the Exile,  when the deuteronomists  held
     "So they may have rewritten an earlier Adam and Eve myth."
     "They  appear  to   have  had  ample  opportunity.  According  to   the
interpretation  of  Hvidberg  and, later,  Wyatt, Adam in  his  garden  is a
parable  for the  king  in his sanctuary, specifically King Hosea, who ruled
the northern kingdom until it was conquered by Sargon II in 722 B.C."
     "That's the  conquest  you mentioned earlier - the one  that  drove the
deuteronomists southward toward Jerusalem."
     "Exactly. Now 'Eden,' which can be understood simply as the Hebrew word
for 'delight,' stands for the happy state in which the king existed prior to
the conquest. The  expulsion from Eden to  the bitter lands to the east is a
parable for  the massive deportation  of  Israelites  to  Assyria  following
Sargon II's victory. According to this interpretation, the king  was enticed
away  from the path, of righteousness by the cult of El, with its associated
worship of Asherah -  who  is commonly associated with serpents,  and  whose
symbol is a tree."
     "And his association with Asherah somehow  caused him to be conquered -
so when the deuteronomists reached  Jerusalem, they recast the Adam  and Eve
story as a warning to the leaders of the southern kingdom."
     "And  perhaps,  because no  one  was  listening  to  them, perhaps they
invented the concept of good and evil in the process, as a hook."
     "Industry term.  Then  what happened? Did  Sargon II try to conquer the
southern kingdom also?"
     "His successor, Sennacherib, did. King Hezekiah, who ruled the southern
kingdom,  prepared for the attack feverishly, making  great  improvements in
the fortifications of Jerusalem, improving its  supply of drinking water. He
was  also responsible for  a far-reaching series of religious reforms, which
he undertook under the direction of the deuteronomists."
     "How did it work out?"
     "The  forces of  Sennacherib  surrounded Jerusalem. 'And that night the
angel of the LORD went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in
the camp  of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold,
these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria  departed...' 2
Kings 19:35-36."
     "I'll bet  he  did. So let  me  get  this straight: the deuteronomists,
through  Hezekiah, impose a policy of informational hygiene on Jerusalem and
do some civil-engineering work - you said they worked on the water supply?"
     "'They  stopped all the springs  and  the brook that flowed through the
land,  saying, "'Why should the kings of Assyria come and find much water?"'
2  Chronicles 32:4. Then the Hebrews carved  a tunnel seventeen hundred feet
through solid rock to carry that water inside city walls."
     "And then as soon as Sennacherib's soldiers came on the scene, they all
dropped  dead  of  what  can  only be  understood as an  extremely  virulent
disease,  to  which the people  of  Jerusalem were apparently  immune.  Hmm,
interesting - I wonder what got into their water?"

     Y.T. doesn't get  down  to Long Beach very much, but when she does, she
will  do just about anything  to avoid the Sacrifice Zone. It's an abandoned
shipyard the size of a small town. It sticks  out into San  Pedro Bay, where
the  older, nastier  Burbclaves of the  Basin - unplanned Burbclaves of tiny
asbestos-shingled houses patrolled by beetle-browed Kampuchean men with pump
shotguns -  fade  off  into  the foam-kissed beaches.  Most  of it's on  the
appropriately named Terminal  Island, and since her plank doesn't run on the
water, that means she can only get in or out by one access road.
     Like all  Sacrifice  Zones, this one has a fence around it, with yellow
metal signs wired to it every few yards.

     WARNING. The National Parks Service has
     declared this area to be a National Sacrifice Zone.
     The Sacrifice Zone Program was developed to
     manage parcels of land whose clean-up cost
     exceeds their total future economic value.
     And  like all Sacrifice Zone fences, this one  has holes in  it  and is
partially torn  down in places. Young  men  blasted  out of  their  minds on
natural  and  artificial  male  hormones must have some  place  to  do their
idiotic coming-of-age  rituals. They come in  from  Burbclaves all  over the
area in  their  four-wheel-drive trucks and tear  across  the  open  ground,
slicing  long curling gashes into the clay cap that was placed on the really
bad   parts  to  prevent  windblown  asbestos  from  blizzarding  down  over
     Y.T. is oddly satisfied to know that these boys have never even dreamed
of an all-terrain vehicle like Ng's motorized  wheelchair. It  veers off the
paved road with  no loss in speed -ride gets  a little bumpy  - and hits the
chain-link fence as  if it  were a fog bank, plowing  a hundred-foot section
into the ground.
     It is a clear night,  and  so the  Sacrifice  Zone glitters, an immense
carpet of  broken  glass and  shredded asbestos.  A  hundred feet away, some
seagulls are tearing at the  belly of a  dead  German shepherd lying  on its
back.  There is a constant undulation of the ground that makes the shattered
glass flash and twinkle; this is caused  by vast, sparse migrations of rats.
The deep computer-designed imprints of suburban boys' fat knobby tires paint
giant runes on the clay, like the  mystery  figures in Peru that  Y.T.'s mom
learned about at the NeoAquarian Temple. Through the windows, Y.T.  can hear
occasional bursts of either firecrackers or gunfire.
     She can also hear Ng making new, even stranger sounds with his mouth.
     There is a built-in speaker system in this  van - a stereo, though  far
be it from Ng  to actually listen to any tunes. Y.T. can feel it turning on,
can sense a nearly inaudible hiss coming from the speakers.
     The van begins to creep forward across the Zone.
     The inaudible hiss gathers itself  up into a low  electronic hum.  It's
not steady, it wavers up and down, staying pretty low, like Roadkill fooling
around  with his electric bass. Ng keeps changing the direction of  the van,
as though he's searching for something,  and  Y.T. gets the  sense  that the
pitch of the hum is rising.
     It's  definitely rising, building up  in the direction of a squeal.  Ng
snarls a command and the volume is reduced. He's driving very slowly now.
     "It is  possible that you might not have to buy any Snow Crash at all,"
he mumbles. "We may have found an unprotected stash."
     "What is this totally irritating noise?"
     "Bioelectronic  sensor.  Human  cell  membranes. Grown in  vitro, which
means in glass - in  a test tube. One side is  exposed  to  outside air, the
other side is clean. When a foreign  substance penetrates the  cell membrane
to the clean side, it's detected. The more  foreign molecules penetrate, the
higher the pitch of the sound."
     "Like a Geiger counter?"
     "Very much like a  Geiger  counter  for cell-penetrating compounds," Ng
     Like what? Y.T. wants to ask. But she doesn't.
     Ng stops the van. He turns on some lights - very dim lights. That's how
anal this guy is - he has gone to the trouble to  install special dim lights
in addition to all the bright ones.
     They are looking into a sort of bowl, right at the foot of a major drum
heap, that is strewn with litter. Most of the litter  is empty beer cans. In
the middle is a fire pit. Many tire tracks converge here.
     "Ah, this  is good," Ng  says. "A place where the  young men gather  to
take drugs."
     Y.T. rolls her eyes at this display of tubularity. This must be the guy
who writes all those antidrug pamphlets they get at school.
     Like  he's  not getting a million gallons of drugs every second through
all of those gross tubes.
     "I don't see any signs of booby traps," Ng  says. "Why don't you go out
and see what kind of drug paraphernalia is out there."
     She looks at him like, what did you say?
     "There's a toxics mask hanging on the back of your seat," he says.
     "What's out there, toxic-wise?"
     "Discarded asbestos from the shipbuilding industry.  Marine antifouling
paints that  are full of  heavy metals. They used  PCBs for a lot of things,
     "I sense your reluctance. But if we can get a sample of Snow Crash from
this drug-taking site, it will obviate the rest of our mission."
     "Well, since you  put it that way," Y.T. says, and grabs the mask. It's
a big rubber-and-canvas  number  that covers her whole head and neck.  Feels
heavy and awkward at first, but whoever designed it had the  right idea, all
the  weight  rests in  the right places. There's also a pair of heavy gloves
that  she  hauls on. They  are  way  too big. Like  the  people at the glove
factory never dreamed that an actual female could wear gloves.
     She trudges out  onto the glass-and-asbestos soil  of the Zone,  hoping
that  Ng isn't  going to slam  the door  shut and drive  away and leave  her
     Actually, she wishes he would. It would be a cool adventure.
     Anyway, she goes up to the middle of the "drug-taking site." Is not too
surprised to see  a little nest  of discarded hypodermic  needles. And  some
tiny little empty  vials.  She picks  up a couple of the vials, reads  their
     "What did you find?" Ng says when she gets back into the van, peels off
the mask.
     "Needles.  Mostly  Hyponarxes.  But  there's  also a  couple  of  Ultra
Laminars and some Mosquito twenty-fives."
     "What does all this mean?"
     "Hyponarx you can get at any Buy 'n' Fly, people call them rusty nails,
they are cheap and  dull. Supposedly the needles of poor black diabetics and
junkies. Ultra Laminars and Mosquitos;  are hip,  you get them  around fancy
Burbclaves, they  don't hurt as much when you  stick them in,  and they have
better design. You know, ergonomic plungers, hip color schemes."
     "What drug were they injecting?"
     "Checkitout," Y.T. says, and holds up one of the vials toward Ng.
     Then it occurs to her that he can't exactly turn his head to look.
     "Where do I hold it so you can see it?" she says.
     Ng sings a little song. A robot arm unfolds  itself from the ceiling of
the van, crisply  yanks the vial from her hand,  swings it around, and holds
it in front of a video camera set into the dashboard.
     The typewritten label stuck onto the vial says, just "Testosterone."
     "Ha ha, a false alarm," Ng says. The van suddenly rips forward,  starts
heading right into the middle of the Sacrifice Zone.
     "Want to tell me what's going on?" Y.T. says, "since I have to actually
do the work in this outfit?"
     "Cell walls," Ng says. "The detector finds any chemical that penetrates
cell walls.  So we homed  in naturally on  a  source of  testosterone. A red
herring. How amusing. You see, our biochemists lead sheltered lives, did not
anticipate that some people  would be  so mentally warped as to use hormones
like they were some kind of drug. How bizarre."
     Y.T. smiles to herself.  She really likes the idea of living in a world
where  someone like Ng can  get off calling someone else  bizarre. "What are
you looking for?"
     "Snow Crash," Ng says. "Instead, we found the Ring of Seventeen."
     "Snow Crash is the drug that comes in the little tubes,"  Y.T. says. "I
know that. What's the Ring of Seventeen? One of those  crazy new rock groups
that kids listen to nowadays?"
     "Snow Crash penetrates the walls of brain cells and goes to the nucleus
where the  DNA is  stored.  So for purposes of this mission, we developed  a
detector that would enable us to find cell wall-penetrating compounds in the
air.  But we  didn't  count  on  heaps  of  empty  testosterone  vials being
scattered all over the place. All steroids - artificial hormones - share the
same basic  structure, a ring of seventeen atoms that acts  like a magic key
that allows  them to pass through cell walls. That's  why  steroids are such
powerful substances when  they are  unleashed in the human body. They can go
deep inside the cell, into the nucleus, and actually change the way the cell
     "To summarize: the  detector  is  useless. A stealthy approach will not
work.  So we go back to the original plan. You buy some Snow Crash and throw
it up in the air."
     Y.T. doesn't quite understand  that last part yet. But she shuts up for
a  while, because  in  her opinion,  Ng  needs  to pay more attention to his
     Once they  get out of that  really creepy part, most  of the  Sacrifice
Zone turns  out to  consist of  a  wilderness  of dry  brown weeds and large
abandoned hunks of metal. There are  big heaps of shit rising  up from place
to place - coal or slag or coke or smelt or something.
     Every  time  they  come  around  a  corner,  they  encounter  a  little
plantation of vegetables, tended by Asians or South Americans. Y.T. gets the
impression  that Ng wants  to just run them over, but he  always changes his
mind at the last instant and swerves around them.
     Some Spanish-speaking blacks are playing baseball on a broad flat area,
using the round  lids of fifty-five-gallon drums as bases.  They have parked
half a dozen old  beaters around the edges of the field and  turned on their
headlights  to  provide illumination. Nearby  is a bar  built into a  crappy
mobile home, marked  with a  graffiti sign:  THE  SACRIFICE ZONE.  Lines  of
boxcars are stranded in a yard of rusted-over railway  spurs, nopal  growing
between the ties. One of the boxcars has been turned into a Reverend Wayne's
Pearly Gates  franchise,  and evangelical CentroAmericans are lined up to do
their  penance  and speak in  tongues  below the neon  Elvis.  There  are no
NeoAquarian Temple franchises in the Sacrifice Zone.
     "The warehouse area is not as  dirty as the first  place we  went,"  Ng
says  reassuringly, "so the fact that you can't use the toxics mask won't be
so bad. You may smell some Chill fumes."
     Y.T. does a  double  take at  this  new phenomenon: Ng using the street
name for a controlled substance. "You mean Freon?" she says.
     "Yes.  The  man who is  the  object  of  our  inquiry  is  horizontally
diversified. That is, he deals in a number of different  substances.  But he
got  his start in Freon. He is the  biggest Chill wholesaler/retailer on the
West Coast."
     Finally, Y.T.  gets it. Ng's  van  is air-conditioned. Not with  one of
those shitty ozone-safe air conditioners,  but with the real thing,  a heavy
metal, high-capacity, bonechilling  Frigidaire blizzard blaster. It must use
an incredible amount of Freon.
     For  all practical purposes,  that  air conditioner is  a part of  Ng's
body. Y.T.'s driving around with the world's only Freon junkie.
     "You buy your supply of Chill from this guy?"
     "Until now, yes. But for the future, I have an arrangement with someone
     Someone else. The Mafia.

     They  are   approaching  the   waterfront.  Dozens  of  long,   skinny,
single-story  warehouses run parallel down toward the water.  They all share
the  same access road  at  this  end. Smaller roads run  between them,  down
toward where  the piers used to be. Abandoned tractor-trailers are scattered
around from place to place.
     Ng pulls his van off the access road, into a little nook that is partly
concealed between  an old red-brick power station and a stack of  rusted-out
shipping containers. He gets it turned around so it's pointed out  of  here,
kind of like he is expecting to leave rapidly
     "There's money in the storage compartment in front of you," Ng says.
     Y.T.  opens  the  glove compartment,  as anyone else would call it, and
finds a thick bundle of worn-out, dirty, trillion-dollar bills. Ed Meeses.
     "Jeez, couldn't you get any Gippers? This is kind of bulky."
     "This is more the kind of thing that a Kourier would pay with."
     "Because we're all pond scum, right?"
     "No comment."
     "What is this, a quadrillion dollars?"
     "One-and-a-half quadrillion. Inflation, you know."
     "What do I do?"
     "Fourth warehouse on the left," Ng says. "When  you get the tube, throw
it up in the air."
     "Then what?"
     "Everything else will be taken care of."
     Y.T. has her doubts about that.  But if she gets in trouble, well,  she
can always whip out those dog tags.
     While Y.T. climbs down out of the van with her skateboard, Ng makes new
sounds  with his mouth.  She  hears a gliding and  clunking noise resonating
through  the frame  of the van,  machinery coming  to  life. Turning back to
look,  she  sees  that a steel cocoon on the roof of the van has  opened up.
There  is a miniature helicopter  underneath it,  all  folded up.  Its rotor
blades  spread themselves apart, like a  butterfly  unfolding.  Its name  is
painted on its side: WHIRLWIND REAPER.

     It's pretty obvious which warehouse we are looking for here. Fourth one
on the left, the road that runs down toward the waterfront is blocked off by
several shipping  containers - the  big  steel boxes you see on the backs of
eighteen-wheelers.  They are arranged in  a  herringbone pattern, so that in
order to get past them you have to slalom back and forth half a dozen times,
passing  through a narrow mazelike channel between high walls of steel. Guys
with guns are perched on  top, looking down at Y.T. as she guides  her plank
through the obstacle course. By the  time she makes  it out into the  clear,
she's been heavily checked out.
     There is the occasional light-bulb-on-a-wire strung around, and even  a
couple of strings  of Christmas-tree  lights. These are switched on, just to
make  her feel a  little more  welcome. She can't  see anything, just lights
making colored halos amid a generalized cloud  of dust and fog. In  front of
her,  access to the waterfront is  blocked off by  another  maze of shipping
containers. One  of  them  has  a  graffiti sign:  THE  UKOD  SEZ:  TRY SOME
     "What's the UKOD?" she says, just to break the ice a little.
     "Undisputed King of the Ozone Destroyers,"  says a  man's voice. He  is
just in  the act  of jumping down from the loading dock of the  warehouse to
her left.  Back  inside  the  warehouse,  Y.T. can  see  electric lights and
glowing cigarettes. "That's what we call Emilio."
     "Oh, right," Y.T. says. "The Freon guy. I'm not here for Chill."
     "Well," says the guy, a tall rangy dude in his forties, much too skinny
to be forty  years old. He yanks  the butt of a cigarette from his mouth and
throws it away like a dart. "What'll it be, then?"
     "What does Snow Crash cost."
     "One point seven five Gippers," the guy says.
     "I thought it was one point five," Y.T. says.
     The  guy shakes his head.  "Inflation, you know. Still, it's a bargain.
Hell, that plank you're on is probably worth a hundred Gippers."
     "You can't even buy these for dollars," Y.T. says, getting her back up.
"Look,  all I've got  is one-and-a-half  quadrillion dollars." She pulls the
bundle out of her pocket.
     The guy laughs, shakes his head, hollers back to his colleagues  inside
the warehouse. "You guys, we got a chick here who wants to pay in Meeses."
     "Better get rid of 'em fast, honey," says a sharper, nastier voice, "or
get yourself a wheelbarrow."
     It's an even older guy with a bald head, curly hair on the sides, and a
paunch. He's standing up on the loading dock.
     "If you're not going to take it, just say so," Y.T.  says. All of  this
chatter has nothing to do with business.
     "We don't get chicks back here very often,"  the fat bald old guy says.
Y.T.  knows that this must be the UKOD himself "So we'll give you a discount
for being spunky. Turn around."
     "Fuck you," Y.T. says. She's not going to turn around for this guy.
     Everyone within earshot laughs. "Okay, do it," the UKOD says.
     The  tall skinny  guy goes  back over to the loading dock and hauls  an
aluminum briefcase down, sets it on top of a steel drum in the middle of the
road so that it's at about waist height. "Pay first," he says.
     She  hands him the Meeses.  He examines the  bundle, sneers,  throws it
back into the warehouse with a sudden backhand  motion. All the  guys inside
laugh some more.
     He opens up the  briefcase, revealing the little computer keyboard.  He
shoves his ID card into the slot, types on it for a couple of seconds.
     He unsnaps a tube from  the  top of  the briefcase,  places it into the
socket  in  the bottom part. The machine draws  it  inside, does  something,
spits it back out.
     He hands the tube to Y.T. The red numbers on top are counting down from
     "When it gets down to one, hold it up to your nose and start inhaling,"
the guy says.
     She's already backing away from him.
     "You got a problem, little girl?" he says.
     "Not yet," she says. Then she throws the tube  up in the air as hard as
she can.
     The chop of the rotor blades comes out of nowhere. The Whirlwind Reaper
blurs over their heads; everyone crouches for an instant as surprise buckles
their knees. The tube does not come back to earth.
     "You fucking bitch," the skinny guy says.
     "That  was  a really cool plan," the  UKOD says, "but the part I  can't
figure  out  is, why would  a nice,  smart girl like  you  participate  in a
suicide mission?"
     The sun comes out. About  half a  dozen suns, actually, all around them
up in the air, so that there are no shadows. The faces of the skinny man and
the UKOD look flat and featureless under this blinding illumination. Y.T. is
the only person  who  can see worth a  damn  because her Knight Visions have
compensated for it; the men wince and sag beneath the light.
     Y.T. turns to look behind herself. One of the miniature suns is hanging
above the maze of shipping containers, casting light into all  its crannies,
blinding  the gunmen who stand guard there. The scene  flashes too light and
too dark  as her goggles' electronics try to make  up their mind. But in the
midst of this whole visual tangle she gets  one  image printed  indelibly on
her  retina: the gunmen going down like a treeline in  a hurricane,  and for
just an instant, a line of dark angular things silhouetted above the maze as
they crest it like a cybernetic tsunami. Rat Things.
     They  have evaded  the whole  maze  by  leaping  over  it in long, flat
parabolas. Along the way, some of them have slammed right through the bodies
of men holding  guns,  like NFL fullbacks plowing full  speed through  nerdy
sideline photographers. Then, as they land on the road in front of the maze,
there is an instant burst  of dust with frantic  white sparks dancing around
at the bottom, and while all this is happening, Y.T. doesn't hear, she feels
one of the Rat Things impacting on the  body of  the tall skinny  guy, hears
his ribs crackling like a ball of cellophane. Hell is already breaking loose
inside the warehouse, but her eyes are trying to follow the action, watching
the sparks-and-dust contrails of more Rat Things drawing themselves down the
length of the road in an instant and then going  airborne to the top of  the
next barrier.
     Three seconds have passed since she threw the tube into the air. She is
turning  back  to look inside  the warehouse. But  someone's on  top  of the
warehouse, catching  her eye  for  a  second. It's another gunman, a sniper,
stepping out from behind an air-conditioning unit, just getting used  to the
light, raising his weapon to  his shoulder. Y.T.  winces as a red laser beam
from his rifle sweeps across her eyes once, twice as he zeroes his sights on
her forehead. Behind  him she sees the Whirlwind Reaper, its rotors making a
disk under the  brilliant light, a disk that is  foreshortened into a narrow
ellipse  and then into a steady silver line,  Then it flies  right  past the
     The chopper pulls up  into a hard turn, searching for additional  prey,
and something falls beneath it in a powerless trajectory, she thinks that it
has dropped  a  bomb.  But it's  the head of  the sniper, spinning  rapidly,
throwing out a fine pink  helix under the light. The little  chopper's rotor
blade must have caught him  in the nape of the neck.  One  part  of her,  is
dispassionately watching the head bounce and spin in the dust, and the other
part of her is screaming her lungs out.
     She hears a crack, the first loud noise so far. She turns to follow the
sound, looking in the direction of a water tower that looms above this area,
providing a fine vantage point for a sniper.
     But then  her attention is drawn by the pencil-thin  blue-white exhaust
of a tiny rocket  that lances up into the  sky from Ng's  van. It doesn't do
anything; it  just goes  up to a  certain height and hovers, sitting on  its
exhaust. She doesn't care, she's  kicking her way down  the  road now on her
plank, trying to get something between her and that water tower.
     There  is a second cracking noise.  Before this  sound even reaches her
ears,  the rocket darts horizontally like a  minnow, makes one  or two minor
cuts to correct its course, zeroes  in on that sniper's  perch,  up  in  the
water  tower's  access ladder. There is a great nasty explosion without  any
flame  or  light,  like the loud pointless  booms that you  get sometimes at
fireworks shows. For a moment, she  can hear the clamor of shrapnel  ringing
through the ironwork of the water tower.
     Just before she kicks her way back into the maze, a dustline whips past
her, snapping rocks and fragments of broken glass  into  her face. It shoots
into the maze. She hears it  Ping-Pong all  the way through, kicking off the
steel walls  in order to change direction. It's a Rat Thing clearing the way
for her.
     How sweet!

     "Smooth  move,  Ex-Lax,"  she  says, climbing back into  Ng's  van. Her
throat  feels  thick and swollen. Maybe  it's from screaming, maybe it's the
toxic waste, maybe  she's getting  ready to gag. "Didn't you  know about the
snipers?"  she says. If she can keep talking  about  the details of the job,
maybe she can keep her mind off of what the Whirlwind Reaper did.
     "I didn't know about the one on the water tower," Ng says. "But as soon
as  he  fired a  couple  of rounds, we plotted the  bullets' trajectories on
millimeter-wave and back-traced them." He talks to his van and it pulls  out
of its hiding place, headed for I-405.
     "Seems like kind of an obvious place to look for a sniper."
     "He was  in an unfortified position, exposed from all sides," Ng  says.
"He chose to  work from a suicidal position. Which is not a typical behavior
for drug dealers. Typically,  they are more pragmatic. Now, do  you have any
other criticisms of my performance?"
     "Well, did it work?"
     "Yes. The tube was inserted into a sealed chamber inside the helicopter
before it discharged its contents. It was then flash-frozen in liquid helium
before  it  could chemically self-destruct.  We now have  a sample  of  Snow
Crash, something  that no one else has  been able to get. It is  the kind of
success on which reputations such as mine are constructed."
     "How about the Rat Things?"
     "How about them?"
     "Are they back in the van now? Back there?" Y.T. jerks her head aft.
     Ng pauses  for a moment. Y.T. reminds herself that he is sitting in his
office in Vietnam in 1955 watching all of this on TV.
     "Three  of them are back,"  Ng says. "Three  are on their way back. And
three of them I left behind to carry out additional pacification measures."
     "You're leaving them behind?"
     "They'll catch up," Ng says.  "On a straightaway, they can run at seven
hundred miles per hour."
     "Is it true they have nuke stuff inside of them?"
     "Radiothermal isotopes."
     "What happens if one gets busted open? Everyone gets all mutated?"
     "If  you ever find  yourself  in the presence  of  a  destructive force
powerful enough to decapsulate those isotopes," Ng says, "radiation sickness
will be the least of your worries."
     "Will they be able to find their way back to us?"
     "Didn't  you  ever watch  Lassie Come Home when  you were  a child?" he
asks. "Or rather, more of a child than you are now?"
     So. She was right. The Rat Things are made from dog parts.
     "That's cruel," she says.
     "This brand of sentimentalism is very predictable," Ng says.
     "To take a dog out of his body - keep him in a hutch all the time."
     "When  the Rat Thing, as you call it, is in his hutch, do you know what
he's doing?"
     "Licking his electric nuts?"
     "Chasing Frisbees through the surf. Forever. Eating steaks that grow on
trees. Lying  beside the  fire  in a hunting lodge. I haven't  installed any
testicle-licking simulations yet,  but now  that  you  have brought it up, I
shall consider it."
     "What about when he's out  of  the hutch, running  around doing errands
for you?"
     "Can't you  imagine  how liberating it is for  a pit bull-terrier to be
capable of running seven hundred miles an hour?"
     Y.T. doesn't answer. She is too busy trying to get her mind around this
     "Your mistake,"  Ng  says, "is that  you  think that  all  mechanically
assisted organisms - like me - are pathetic cripples. In fact, we are better
than we were before."
     "Where do you get the pit bulls from?"
     "An  incredible number of them are abandoned every  day, in cities  all
over the place."
     "You cut up pound puppies?"
     "We save abandoned dogs  from  certain extinction and send them to what
amounts to dog heaven."
     "My friend Roadkill and  I  had  a pit  bull. Fido.  We found  it in an
alley. Some asshole had shot it in the leg. We  had a vet fix it up. We kept
it in  this  empty apartment in Roadkill's building for a few months, played
with it every day, brought it food. And  then  one  day we came to play with
Fido, and he was gone. Someone broke in and took him away. Probably sold him
to a research lab."
     "Probably," Ng says, "but that's no way to keep a dog."
     "It's better than the way he was living before."
     There's a break in the conversation as Ng occupies himself with talking
to his van, maneuvering onto the Long Beach Freeway, headed back into town.
     "Do they remember stuff?" Y.T. says.
     "To the extent dogs can remember anything," Ng says. "We don't have any
way of erasing memories."
     "So maybe Fido is a Rat Thing somewhere, right now."
     "I would hope so, for his sake," Ng says.

     In a Mr.  Lee's  Greater Hong  Kong franchise  in Phoenix, Arizona,  Ng
Security Industries Semi-Autonomous Guard Unit B-782 comes awake.
     The factory that put him together thinks of him as a robot named Number
B-782. But he thinks of himself as a pit bull-terrier named Fido.
     In the old days, Fido was a bad little doggie sometimes. But now,  Fido
lives in a nice little house in a nice little yard. Now he has become a nice
little  doggie.  He likes  to lie  in his house and listen to the other nice
doggies bark. Fido is part of a big pack.
     Tonight  there is  a  lot  of  barking from a place far  away.  When he
listens to this barking, Fido knows that  a whole pack  of nice  doggies  is
very excited about something. A lot of very  bad  men are  trying to hurt  a
nice  girl. This  has made the doggies very angry and excited. In  order  to
protect the nice girl, they are hurting some of the bad men.
     Which is as it should be.
     Fido does not  come out of  his house. When he first heard the barking,
he became excited.  He likes  nice girls, and it makes him especially  upset
when bad men try  to hurt them. Once there  was a nice girl who  loved  him.
That was before, when he lived in a scary place and he was always hungry and
many people  were  bad  to him. But the nice girl  loved him and was good to
him. Fido loves the nice girl very much.
     But he can tell  from the barking  of the  other doggies that the  nice
girl is safe now. So he goes back to sleep.

     "'Scuse me, pod," Y.T.  says, stepping into the Babel/Infocalypse room.
"Jeez! This place looks like one of those things full of snow that you shake
     "Hi, Y.T."
     "Got some more intel for you, pod."
     "Snow Crash is a roid. Or else it's similar to a roid. Yeah, that's it.
It goes into your cell walls, just like a  roid. And then it  does something
to the nucleus of the cell."
     "You were right," Hiro says to the Librarian, "just like herpes."
     "This guy I was talking to said that it fucks with  your actual DNA.  I
don't know what half of this shit means, but that's what he said."
     "Who's this guy you were talking to?"
     "Ng. Of Ng Security Industries. Don't bother  talking to him, he  won't
give you any intel," she says dismissively.
     "Why are you hanging out with a guy like Ng?"
     "Mob job. The Mafia has a sample of the drug for the first time, thanks
to me and my pal Ng. Until now, it always self-destructed before they  could
get to  it. So I guess they're analyzing it or something.  Trying to make an
antidote, maybe."
     "Or trying to reproduce it."
     "The Mafia wouldn't do that."
     "Don't be a sap," Hiro says. "Of course they would."
     Y.T. seems miffed at Hiro.
     "Look," he says, "I'm sorry for reminding you of this, but  if we still
had laws, the Mafia would be a criminal organization."
     "But we don't have laws," she says, "so it's just another chain."
     "Fine, all I'm saying is, they may not be doing this for the benefit of
     "And why are  you in here, holed up with this geeky daemon?" she  says,
gesturing at the Librarian. "For the benefit  of humanity? Or because you're
chasing a piece of ass? Whatever her name is."
     "Okay, okay, let's not  talk about the Mafia  anymore," Hiro  says.  "I
have work to do."
     "So do I." Y.T. zaps out again, leaving a hole in the Metaverse that is
quickly filled in by Hiro's computer.
     "I think she may have a crush on me," Hiro explains.
     "She seemed quite affectionate," the Librarian says.
     "Okay," Hiro says, "back to work. Where did Asherah come from?"
     "Originally  from Sumerian mythology.  Hence, she  is also important in
Babylonian, Assyrian, Canaanite, Hebrew,  and Ugaritic myths, which are  all
descended from the Sumerian."
     "Interesting. So the Sumerian language died out, but the Sumerian myths
were somehow passed on in the new languages."
     "Correct. Sumerian was used as the language of religion and scholarship
by later  civilizations, much as Latin was used  in Europe during the Middle
Ages.  No one spoke  it as their native language, but  educated people could
read it. In this way, Sumerian religion was passed on."
     "And what did Asherah do in Sumerian myths?"
     "The  accounts are fragmentary.  Few  tablets have been discovered, and
these are broken and scattered. It is thought that L. Bob Rife has excavated
many intact  tablets, but he refuses to release them. The surviving Sumerian
myths exist in fragments and have  a bizarre quality. Lagos compared them to
the  imaginings of a febrile  two-year-old.  Entire sections  of them simply
cannot  be translated - the characters  are legible and well-known, but when
put together  they do not say anything that leaves an imprint on the  modern
     "Like instructions for programming a VCR."
     "There is  a great deal of monotonous  repetition. There is also a fair
amount  of what  Lagos  described  as  'Rotary  Club  Boosterism'  - scribes
extolling the superior virtue of their city over some other city."
     "What  makes  one  Sumerian  city  better  than another  one?  A bigger
ziggurat? A better football team?"
     "Better me."
     "What are me?"
     "Rules or principles that control the operation of society, like a code
of laws, but on a more fundamental level."
     "I don't get it."
     "That is the point. Sumerian myths are not 'readable' or 'enjoyable' in
the same sense that Greek and Hebrew myths are. They reflect a fundamentally
different consciousness from ours."
     "I suppose if  our culture was based on Sumer, we  would find them more
interesting," Hiro says.
     "Akkadian  myths  came  after the  Sumerian  and are  clearly based  on
Sumerian myths to  a large extent.  It is clear that Akkadian redactors went
through  the   Sumerian  myths,   edited  out   the  (to   us)  bizarre  and
incomprehensible parts, and strung them together  into longer works, such as
the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Akkadians were Semites - cousins of the Hebrews."
     "What do the Akkadians have to say about her?"
     "She  is a goddess  of the erotic  and of fertility.  She  also  has  a
destructive,  vindictive side.  In one  myth, Kirta, a human  king,  is made
grievously ill by Asherah. Only El, king of the gods, can heal him. El gives
certain  persons  the  privilege  of nursing at Asherah's  breasts.  El  and
Asherah often  adopt human  babies and  let them nurse on  Asherah - in  one
text, she is wet nurse to seventy divine sons."
     "Spreading  that  virus,"  Hiro says. "Mothers with AIDS can spread the
disease to  their babies by breastfeeding  them.  But  this is  the Akkadian
version, right?"
     "Yes, sir."
     "I want to hear some Sumerian stuff, even if it is untranslatable."
     "Would you like to hear how Asherah made Enki sick?"
     "How this story is translated depends on  how it  is interpreted.  Some
see it as  a Fall from Paradise story. Some see it as a  battle between male
and  female  or water and earth. Some  see it as a  fertility allegory. This
reading is based on the interpretation of Bendt Alster."
     "Duly noted."
     "To  summarize: Enki  and Ninhursag - who is Asherah,  although in this
story she also bears other epithets - live in  a place called Dilmun. Dilmun
is  pure,  clean and bright,  there is no sickness, people  do not grow old,
predatory animals do not hunt.
     "But there is no water. So Ninhursag pleads with Enki, who is a sort of
water-god, to bring water to Dilmun. He  does so by masturbating  among  the
reeds of the ditches and letting flow his life-giving semen - the  'water of
the heart,' as it is  called. At  the same  time, he  pronounces  a nam-shub
forbidding anyone to enter this area - he does not want anyone  to come near
his semen."
     "Why not?"
     "The myth does not say."
     "Then," Hiro says, "he must have thought it was valuable, or dangerous,
or both."
     "Dilmun  is now better than it  was before. The fields produce abundant
crops and so on."
     "Excuse me, but  how did Sumerian agriculture work?  Did they use a lot
of irrigation?"
     "They were entirely dependent upon it."
     "So Enki was  responsible, according to this  myth, for irrigating  the
fields with his 'water of the heart.'"
     "Enki was the water-god, yes."
     "Okay, go on."
     "But Ninhursag - Asherah  - violates  his decree and takes Enki's semen
and impregnates herself.  After nine days  of  pregnancy  she  gives  birth,
painlessly,  to a daughter, Ninmu. Ninmu walks on the riverbank.  Enki  sees
her, becomes inflamed, goes across the river, and has sex with her."
     "With his own daughter."
     "Yes. She has another daughter nine days later, named Ninkurra, and the
pattern is repeated."
     "Enki has sex with Ninkurra, too?"
     "Yes,  and she has a  daughter named Uttu. Now, by this time, Ninhursag
has apparently  recognized a  pattern in Enki's behavior, and so she advises
Uttu to  stay in her  house,  predicting  that Enki  will  then approach her
bearing gifts, and try to seduce her."
     "Does he?"
     "Enki once again fills the ditches with the 'water of the heart,' which
makes things grow. The gardener rejoices and embraces Enki."
     "Who's the gardener?"
     "Just some character  in  the story," the Librarian says.  "He provides
Enki with grapes and other gifts. Enki disguises himself as the gardener and
goes to Uttu and seduces her. But this  time,  Ninhursag manages to obtain a
sample of Enki's semen from Uttu's thighs."
     "My God. Talk about your mother-in-law from hell."
     "Ninhursag spreads the semen on the ground, and  it causes eight plants
to sprout up."
     "Does Enki have sex with the plants, then?"
     "No, he eats them - in  some  sense, he learns their  secrets  by doing
     "So here we have our Adam and Eve motif."
     "Ninhursag curses Enki, saying  'Until thou art dead, I shall  not look
upon thee with  the "eye of life."' Then  she disappears,  and Enki  becomes
very ill.  Eight  of his organs  become  sick, one for each  of the  plants.
Finally, Ninhursag  is  persuaded  to  come back. She  gives birth to  eight
deities, one for each part of Enki's body that is sick,  and Enki is healed.
These deities are the pantheon of Dilmun; i.e., this act breaks the cycle of
incest and creates a  new race of  male  and female gods  that can reproduce
     "I'm beginning to see what Lagos meant about the febrile two-year-old."
     "Alster  interprets  the myth  as 'an exposition of  a logical problem:
Supposing  that originally there  was  nothing but one  creator,  how  could
ordinary binary sexual relations come into being?'"
     "Ah, there's that word 'binary' again."
     "You may remember an unexplored  fork earlier in  our conversation that
would have brought us to this same place by another route. This myth  can be
compared to the Sumerian creation myth, in which heaven and earth are united
to begin with,  but  the  world  is  not  really  created until  the two are
separated.   Most  Creation  myths  begin  with   a  'paradoxical  unity  of
everything, evaluated either as chaos or  as Paradise,' and the world  as we
know it does  not really  come  into being  until this  is changed. I should
point out here that Enki's original name was En-Kur, Lord of  Kur. Kur was a
primeval ocean - Chaos - that Enki conquered."
     "Every hacker can identify with that."
     "But Asherah has similar connotations. Her  name in  Ugaritic, 'atiratu
yammi' means 'she who treads on (the) sea (dragon).' "
     "Okay, so  both Enki and  Asherah were figures who  had  in  some sense
defeated chaos. And your point  is that this defeat of chaos, the separation
of  the  static,  unified world into  a binary  system,  is identified  with
     "What else can you tell me about Enki?"
     "He was the en of the city of Eridu."
     "What's an en? Is that like a king?"
     "A  priest-king of sorts. The en was the custodian of the local temple,
where the me - the rules of the society - were stored on clay tablets."
     "Okay. Where's Eridu?"
     "Southern Iraq. It has only been excavated within the past few years."
     "By Rife's people?"
     "Yes. As Kramer has it, Enki is the god of wisdom -  but  this is a bad
translation. His  wisdom is  not  the wisdom  of an  old  man, but  rather a
knowledge of how to do things, especially occult things. 'He astonishes even
the other gods with  shocking solutions  to apparently impossible problems.'
He is a sympathetic god for the most part, who assists humankind."
     "Yes. The most important Sumerian myths center on him. As  I mentioned,
he is associated with water. He fills the rivers, and the extensive Sumerian
canal system, with his life-giving semen. He  is  said to have  created  the
Tigris in a single epochal act  of masturbation.  He  describes  himself  as
follows: 'I am lord. I am the one  whose word endures. I am eternal.' Others
describe him: 'a word from you - and heaps and piles stack high with grain.'
'You  bring down  the  stars of heaven, you have computed  their number.' He
pronounces the name of everything created..."
     "'Pronounces the name of everything created?"'
     "In  many  Creation  myths,  to name a  thing is to  create  it.  He is
referred  to,  in various  myths,  as 'expert who instituted  incantations,'
'word-rich,' 'Enki, master of all the right commands,'  as Kramer and  Maier
have  it, 'His  word  can bring order  where  there  had been only chaos and
introduce disorder where there had been harmony.' He devotes a great deal of
effort to imparting his knowledge to his son, the god Marduk, chief deity of
the Babylonians."
     "So the Sumerians  worshipped Enki, and the Babylonians, who came after
the Sumerians, worshipped Marduk, his son."
     "Yes, sir. And whenever Marduk got stuck,  he would ask his father Enki
for help.  There is a representation of Marduk here on this stele - the Code
of Hammurabi. According to Hammurabi, the Code was  given to  him personally
by Marduk."
     Hiro wanders  over to the  Code of  Hammurabi  and  has  a gander.  The
cuneiform means  nothing to him, but the  illustration on top is easy enough
to understand. Especially the part in the middle."
     "Why,  exactly, is Marduk handing Hammurabi a  one  and a zero in  this
picture?" Hiro asks.
     "They were emblems of royal power," the  Librarian says. "Their  origin
is obscure."
     "Enki must have been responsible for that one," Hiro says.
     "Enki's most important role is as  the creator and guardian  of the  me
and the gis-hur, the 'key words' and 'patterns' that rule the universe."
     "Tell me more about the me."
     "To quote  Kramer  and Maier again,  '[They believed in] the  existence
from time primordial of a fundamental, unalterable, comprehensive assortment
of powers and duties, norms and  standards, rules and regulations,  known as
me, relating to the cosmos and its components, to gods and humans, to cities
and countries, and to the varied aspects of civilized life.' "
     "Kind of like the Torah."
     "Yes, but they have a kind of mystical or magical force. And they often
deal with banal subjects - not just religion."
     "In  one myth,  the goddess Inanna goes  to Eridu  and tricks Enki into
giving her ninety-four me and brings them  back  to her home  town  of Uruk,
where they are greeted with much commotion and rejoicing."
     "Inanna is the person that Juanita's obsessed with."
     "Yes, sir. She is hailed  as a savior  because 'she brought the perfect
execution of the me.'"
     "Execution? Like executing a computer program?"
     "Yes.  Apparently,  they are like algorithms  for carrying out  certain
activities  essential  to the  society.  Some of  them have to  do  with the
workings of priesthood and kingship. Some explain how to carry out religious
ceremonies. Some relate to the  arts of war and diplomacy. Many of them  are
about  the arts and crafts:  music, carpentry,  smithing, tanning, building,
farming, even such simple tasks as lighting fires."
     "The operating system of society."
     "I'm sorry?"
     "When you  first  turn  on a computer, it  is  an  inert  collection of
circuits that can't really do anything. To start up the machine, you have to
infuse those  circuits  with a  collection of  rules  that tell  it  how  to
function. How to  be a computer. It sounds as though  these me served as the
operating system  of the  society, organizing an inert  collection of people
into a functioning system."
     "As you wish. In any case, Enki was the guardian of the me."
     "So he was, a good guy, really."
     "He was the most beloved of the gods."
     "He  sounds  like  kind of a  hacker.  Which  makes  his  nam-shub very
difficult to understand. If he was such a nice guy, why  did he do the Babel
     "This  is  considered to  be one of the mysteries of  Enki. As you have
noticed, his behavior was not always consistent with modern norms."
     "I  don't  buy  that.  I  don't  think he actually  fucked  his sister,
daughter,  and so on. That story has to be a metaphor for  something else. I
think  it  is a metaphor for some  kind of  recursive informational process.
This whole myth  stinks of  it. To these people, water equals  semen.  Makes
sense, because they probably had no concept of pure water - it was all brown
and muddy and full of viruses anyway. But from a modern standpoint, semen is
just  a  carrier  of information  -  both  benevolent  sperm and  malevolent
viruses. Enki's  water - his  semen, his  data, his me - flow throughout the
country of Sumer and cause it to flourish."
     "As you may be aware, Sumer existed on the floodplain between two major
rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. This is where all the clay came from -
they took it directly from the riverbeds."
     "So Enki even provided them with their medium for conveying information
- clay. They  wrote on wet clay and then they dried it out  - got rid of the
water. If water got to it later, the information was destroyed.  But if they
baked  it and drove out all the water,  sterilized Enki's semen  with  heat,
then the tablet lasted forever, immutable, like the words of the Torah. Do I
sound like a maniac?"
     "I  don't  know," the Librarian says, "but  you do sound  a little like
     "I'm thrilled. Next thing you know, I'll turn myself into a gargoyle."

     Any  ped can get into  Griffith  Park without  being  noticed. And Y.T.
figures  that despite the barriers across the road, the Falabala camp  isn't
too well  protected, if you've got off-road capability. For a skate ninja on
a brand-new  plank in a brand-new pair of Knight  Visions (hey, you  have to
spend  money  to  make money)  there will be  no  problem.  Just find a high
embankment that  ramps down into the  canyon,  skirt the edge until  you see
those campfires down below. And then lean down that hill. Trust gravity.
     She realizes  halfway down that her blue-and-orange coverall, fly as it
may be, is going to be a real attention getter in the middle of the night in
the Falabala zone, so she reaches up to her  collar, feels a hard  disk sewn
into the fabric,  presses it between thumb and finger until  it  clicks. Her
coverall darkens, the colors shimmer through  the electropigment like an oil
slick, and then it's black.
     On her first  visit she didn't check this place out all  that carefully
because she hoped she'd never come  back. So the embankment turns out  to be
taller and steeper  than Y.T. remembered. Maybe  a  little more of  a cliff,
drop-off, or abyss than she thought.  Only thing that makes her think so  is
that  she seems to be doing  a lot of free-fall work here. Major plummeting.
Big time ballistic styling. That's cool, it's all part of the job, she tells
herself. The smartwheels are good for it. The tree  trunks are bluish black,
standing out not so well against a blackish blue background. The  only other
thing she can see  is the red laser light of the digital speedometer down on
the front  of her  plank, which  is not  showing  any real  information. The
numbers have vibrated  themselves  into a cloud of  gritty  red light as the
radar speed sensor tries to lock onto something.
     She turns the speedometer off. Running totally black now. Precipitating
her way toward the sweet 'crete of the creek bottom like  a black angel  who
has  just had  the shroud lines of  her celestial parachute  severed  by the
Almighty.  And  when the wheels finally  meet  the pavement,  it just  about
drives   her  knees   up   through  her  jawbone.  She  finishes  the  whole
gravitational  transaction with not much  altitude and a nasty  head of dark
     Mental note: Next time just jump off a fucking bridge. That way there's
no question of getting an invisible cholla shoved up your nose.
     She whips around a corner, heeled over so far she could lick the yellow
line,  and  her  Knight  Visions reveal all  in  a  blaze  of  multispectral
radiation. On infrared, the Falabala encampment is a turbulating  aurora  of
pink fog punctuated by the white-hot bursts of campfires. All of it rests on
dim bluish pavement, which means, in the false-color  scheme of things, that
it's  cold.  Behind  everything  is  the jagged  horizon line of  that funky
improvised barrier technology that  the Falabalas  are so good at. A barrier
that has  been  completely spurned,  snubbed, and confounded  by  Y.T.,  who
dropped out of the sky into the middle  of  the camp like  a Stealth fighter
with an inferiority complex.
     Once you're into the actual encampment, people  don't  really notice or
care who you  are. A couple people see her, watch her slide on by, don't get
all hairy about it. They probably get a lot of Kouriers coming through here.
A  lot  of dippy, gullible,  Kool-Aid-drinking  couriers.  And  these people
aren't  hip  enough  to  tell  Y.T. apart from  that breed. But that's okay,
she'll pass for  now, as long  as  they don't check out the detailing on her
new plank.
     The  campfires provide enough plain old  regular visible  light to show
this sorry affair for what it is: a bunch of demented Boy Scouts, a jamboree
without merit  badges or hygiene. With the IR supered on top of the visible,
she can also see  vague, spectral  red  faces  out in the shadows  where her
unassisted eyes would only see darkness. These new Knight Visions cost her a
big wad  of her Mob drug-running  money. Just the  kind of thing Mom  had in
mind when she insisted Y.T. get a part-time job.
     Some of the people who were  here last time are gone now, and there's a
few new ones she doesn't recognize.
     There's  a couple of people  actually  wearing duct-tape straitjackets.
That's  a  fashion  statement reserved for the ones  who  are totally out of
control, rolling and thrashing around on the  ground. And there's a few more
who are spazzing  out, but not as  bad,  and one  or two who are just  plain
messed up,  like plain old  derelicts that  you might see at the Snooze  'n'
     "Hey,  look!"  someone  says. "It's  our friend  the Kourier!  Welcome,
     She's  got  her  Liquid Knuckles  uncapped, available, and shaken  well
before use.  She's got high-voltage, high-fashion metallic cuffs  around her
wrists in case someone tries to grab her by same. And a bundy stunner up her
sleeve. Only the  most tubular throwbacks carry  guns. Guns take a long time
to  work  (you  have  to wait  for  the  victim  to  bleed  to  death),  but
paradoxically  they end up killing people  pretty  often. But nobody hassles
you after you've hit them with a bundy stunner. At least that's what the ads
     So  it's not like she exactly feels vulnerable or anything.  But still,
she'd like to pick her target. So she maintains  escape velocity until she's
found  the woman who seemed friendly - the bald chick in the torn-up  Chanel
knockoff - and then zeroes in on her.

     "Let's get off into the woods, man," Y.T.  says, "I want to talk to you
about what's going on with what's left of your brain."
     The  woman  smiles,  struggles  to  her   feet  with  the  good-natured
awkwardness  of  a retarded person  in  a good  mood.  "I like to talk about
that," she says. "Because I believe in it."
     Y.T. doesn't stop to do a lot of  talking, just grabs the woman by  the
hand, starts  leading her uphill, into the  scrubby little trees,  away from
the road. She doesn't see any pink faces lurking up here in the infrared, it
ought  to be safe. But there are  a couple behind  her,  just  ambling along
pleasantly, not looking directly at her, like they just decided it  was time
to go  for a stroll in  the woods in the middle of the night. One of them is
the High Priest.
     The  woman's probably  in her  mid-twenties, she's a  tall gangly type,
nice- but not good-looking, probably was a spunky but low-scoring forward on
her  high school basketball team.  Y.T. sits  her down on a rock out in  the
     "Do you have any idea where you are?" Y.T. says.
     "In  the  park,"  the  woman says, "with  my friends. We're helping  to
spread the Word."
     "How'd you get here?"
     "From the Enterprise. That's where we go to learn things."
     "You mean, like, the Raft? The Enterprise Raft? Is that  where you guys
all came from?"
     "I don't know where we came from," the woman says. "Sometimes it's hard
to remember stuff. But that's not important."
     "Where were you before? You didn't grow up on the Raft, did you?"
     "I  was  a  systems  programmer  for 3verse Systems  in Mountain  View,
California,"  the woman says,  suddenly whipping off  a string  of  perfect,
normal-sounding English.
     'Then how did you get to be on the Raft?"
     "I don't know. My old life stopped. My new life started. Now I'm here."
Back to baby talk.
     "What's the last thing you remember before your old life stopped?"
     "I was working late. My computer was having problems."
     "That's it? That's the last normal thing that happened to you?"
     "My  system crashed," she said. "I saw  static. And then I became  very
sick. I went to the hospital.  And  there in the hospital, I met  a man  who
explained  everything  to me. He  explained that  I had  been  washed in the
blood. That I belonged to the Word now. And suddenly it  all made sense. And
then I decided to go to the Raft."
     "You decided, or someone decided for you?"
     "I just wanted to. That's where we go."
     "Who else was on the Raft with you?"
     "More people like me."
     "Like you how?"
     "All programmers. Like me. Who had seen the Word."
     "Seen it on their computers?"
     "Yes. Or sometimes on TV."
     "What did you do on the Raft?"
     The woman pushes up  one sleeve of her raggedy  sweatshirt to expose  a
needle-pocked arm.
     "You took drugs?"
     "No. We gave blood."
     "They sucked your blood out?"
     "Yes. Sometimes we would do a little coding. But only some of us."
     "How long have you been here?"
     "I don't know. They move us  here when our veins don't work anymore. We
just do things to help spread the Word -drag stuff around,  make barricades.
But we don't really spend much time working. Most of the time we sing songs,
pray, and tell other people about the Word."
     "You want to leave? I can get you out of here."
     "No," the woman says, "I've never been so happy."
     "How can you say that? You were a big-time hacker. Now you're kind of a
dip, if I may speak frankly."
     "That's okay, it doesn't hurt my feelings. I wasn't really happy when I
was a hacker. I  never thought about the important things.  God. Heaven. The
things  of the spirit. It's hard to think about those things in America. You
just  put  them  aside. But  those are  really the important  things  -  not
programming computers or making money. Now, that's all I think about."
     Y.T.  has been keeping an eye  on the High Priest  and  his buddy. They
keep  moving closer,  one step at a time. Now they're close enough that Y.T.
can smell their dinner. The woman puts her hand on Y.T.'s shoulder pad.
     "I want you to  stay  here with me. Won't you come  down and  have some
refreshments? You must be thirsty."
     "Gotta run," Y.T. says, standing up.
     "I  really have  to object to  that," the  High Priest  says,  stepping
forward. He doesn't say it angrily. Now he's trying to be like  Y.T.'s  dad.
"That's not really the right decision for you."
     "What are you, a role model?"
     "That's okay. You don't have to agree. But let's go down and sit by the
campfire and talk about it."
     "Let's  just  get the  fuck  away  from Y.T.  before  she goes  into  a
self-defense mode," Y.T. says.
     All three Falabalas step back away from her. Very cooperative. The High
Priest  is holding up his hands, placating her. "I'm  sorry if we  made  you
feel threatened," he says.
     "You guys just come on a little weird," Y.T. says, flipping her goggles
back onto infrared.
     In the infrared, she can see that the third Falabala, the  one who came
up here with  the High Priest, is holding a small  thing in one hand that is
unusually warm.
     She  nails  him  with her penlight, spotlighting  his  upper body  in a
narrow yellow beam. Most of him is dirty and dun colored and reflects little
light. But there is a brilliant glossy red thing, a shaft of ruby.
     It's a hypodermic needle.  It's full of  red fluid. Under  infrared, it
shows up warm. It's fresh blood.
     And she doesn't exactly get it - why these guys would be walking around
with a syringe full of fresh blood. But she's seen enough.
     The Liquid Knuckles shoots out  of the can in a long narrow  neon-green
stream, and when it nails the needle man in the face, he jerks his head back
like  he's  just been axed across the  bridge  of  the nose  and falls  back
without making a sound. Then she gives the High Priest a shot of it for good
measure. The woman just stands there, totally, like, appalled.

     Y.T. pumps herself up out of the canyon so fast that when she flies out
into traffic, she's going  about as fast as  it is. As  soon  as she  gets a
solid poon on a nocturnal lettuce tanker, she gets on the phone to Mom.
     "Mom, listen. No,  Mom,  never mind the roaring noise. Yes, I am riding
my skateboard in traffic. But listen to me for a second, Mom - "
     She has to hang up on the old bitch. It's impossible  to  talk  to her.
Then she  tries to make  a voice linkup  with Hiro. That  takes a couple  of
minutes to go through.
     "Hello! Hello! Hello!" she's shouting. Then she hears the honk of a car
horn. Coming out of the telephone.
     "It's Y.T."
     "How are  you  doing?" This  guy always seems a little too laid back in
his personal dealings. She doesn't really  want  to  talk  about  how  she's
doing.  She  hears another honking horn  in the  background,  behind  Hiro's
     "Where the hell are you, Hiro?"
     "Walking down a street in L.A."
     "How  can you be goggled in if you're  walking down a street?" Then the
terrible reality sinks in: "Oh, my God, you didn't turn into a gargoyle, did
     "Well," Hiro says. He is hesitant, embarrassed, like it hadn't occurred
to him yet that this was what  he was doing. "It's not exactly like being  a
gargoyle.  Remember when you  gave me  shit about spending all my  money  on
computer stuff?"
     "I  decided  I  wasn't spending  enough.  So I got  a beltpack machine.
Smallest ever made. I'm walking down the street  with this thing strapped to
my belly. It's really cool."
     "You're a gargoyle."
     "Yeah, but it's not like having all this clunky shit strapped  all over
your body - "
     "You're a gargoyle. Listen, I talked to one of these wholesalers."
     "She  says  she  used to be a hacker. She saw something strange  on her
computer. Then she got sick for a while and joined this cult and ended up on
the Raft."
     "The Raft. Do tell."
     "On the Enterprise. They take their blood, Hiro. Suck  it  out of their
bodies. They infect people by injecting them with the blood of sick hackers.
And when their  veins  get  all  tracked  out like a junkie's, they cut them
loose and put them to work on the mainland running the wholesale operation."
     "That's good," he says. "That's good stuff."
     "She says she saw some  static on her computer screen  and  it made her
sick. You know anything about that?"
     "Yeah. It's true."
     "It's true?"
     "Yeah. But you don't have to worry about it. It only affects hackers."
     For  a minute she can't  even  speak, she's  so pissed. "My mother is a
programmer for the Feds. You asshole. Why didn't you warn me?"
     Half an hour later, she's there. Doesn't bother to change back into her
WASP disguise  this time,  just  bursts into the  house in basic, bad black.
Drops her plank on  the  floor on the way in.  Grabs one of Mom's curios off
the shelf - it's a  heavy crystal award - clear plastic, actually - that she
got  a couple  years ago for sucking up to her Fed boss  and passing all her
polygraph tests - and goes into the den.
     Mom's there. As  usual. Working on her computer. But  she's not looking
at the screen right now,  she's got some notes  on  her lap that she's going
     Just as Mom is looking up at her, Y.T.  winds up and throws the crystal
award. It goes right  over Mom's shoulder,  glances off the computer  table,
flies right through the picture tube. Awesome results. Y.T. always wanted to
do that. She  pauses  to  admire her  work for a few seconds while  Mom just
flames off all kinds  of weird emotion. What are you  doing in that uniform?
Didn't I tell you not to ride your skateboard on a real  street? You're  not
supposed to throw things in the house. That's my  prized possession. Why did
you break the computer?  Government property. Just what  is  going  on here,
     Y.T. can  tell that this is going to  continue for a couple of minutes,
so she goes to the kitchen, splashes some water on her face, gets a glass of
juice, just letting Mom  follow her  around and ventilate over her  shoulder
     Finally Mom winds down, defeated by Y.T.'s strategy of silence.
     "I just saved your fucking  life, Mom," Y.T. says. "You  could at least
offer me an Oreo."
     "What on earth are you talking about?"
     "It's like, if you - people of  a certain age  - would make some effort
to just stay in touch with sort of basic, modern-day events, then  your kids
wouldn't have to take these drastic measures."

     Earth  materializes,  rotating majestically in front of his face.  Hiro
reaches out and grabs it. He  twists  it  around so  he's looking at Oregon.
Tells it to get rid of the  clouds, and  it does, giving him  a  crystalline
view of the mountains and the seashore.
     Right out there, a couple of  hundred miles off the  Oregon coast, is a
sort of granulated  furuncle growing on the  face of the water. Festering is
not too strong a word. It's a couple of hundred miles south of Astoria  now,
moving south. Which explains  why Juanita went  to Astoria a couple of  days
ago: she wanted to get close to the Raft. Why is anyone's guess.
     Hiro looks up,  focuses his gaze on Earth, zooms  in for a look.  As he
gets closer, the imagery he's looking at shifts from the long-range pictures
coming in from  the geosynchronous satellites to the good stuff being spewed
into the CIC computer from a  whole fleet of  low-flying spy birds. The view
he's looking at is a mosaic of images shot no more than a few hours ago.
     It's  several  miles across.  Its shape constantly  changes, but at the
time these pictures were shot, it had kind of a fat kidney  shape; that  is,
it is trying to be a V, pointed southward like a flock of geese, but there's
so much noise  in the system,  it's so  amorphous  and disorganized,  that a
kidney is the closest it can come.
     At the center  is a pair of enormous vessels: the Enterprise and an oil
tanker, lashed  together side  by side. These two behemoths are walled in by
several other major vessels,  an assortment  of  container  ships and  other
freight carriers. The Core.
     Everything else is pretty tiny. There  is the occasional hijacked yacht
or decommissioned  fishing  trawler. But most  of the boats in  the Raft are
just that: boats. Small pleasure craft, sampans, junks, dhows, dinghys, life
rafts, houseboats,  makeshift structures built  on air-filled oil  drums and
slabs of styrofoam. A  good fifty  percent of it isn't real boat material at
all,  just a  garble of  ropes,  cables, planks, nets, and other debris tied
together on top of whatever kind of flotsam was handy.
     And L. Bob Rife is sitting in the middle of it. Hiro doesn't quite know
what he's doing, and he doesn't know how Juanita is connected. But it's time
to go there and find out.

     Scott Lagerquist  is standing right on the  edge of  Mark Norman's 24/7
Motorcycle  Mall, waiting, when the  man  with the  swords comes into  view,
striding  down  the  sidewalk. A  pedestrian is  a  peculiar sight  in L.A.,
considerably more peculiar than a man with swords. But a welcome one. Anyone
who drives out to a motorcycle  dealership already has a car, by definition,
so it's hard to give them a really hard sell. A pedestrian should be cake.
     "Scott  Wilson  Lagerquist!"  the  guy yells  from fifty feet  away and
closing. "How you doing?"
     "Fabulous!"  Scott says. A little off guard, maybe. Can't remember this
guy's name, which is a problem. Where has he seen this guy before?
     "It's  great  to see you!" Scott says,  running forward and pumping the
guy's hand. "I haven't seen you since, uh - "
     "Is Pinky here today?" the guy says.
     "Yeah. Mark. Mark  Norman.  Pinky was his nickname back  in  college. I
guess  he probably  doesn't like  to be called that now  that he's  running,
what, half a dozen dealerships, three McDonaldses, and a Holiday Inn, huh?"
     "I didn't know that Mr. Norman was into fast food also."
     "Yeah. He's got three  franchises down  around  Long  Beach. Owns  them
through a limited partnership, actually. Is he here today?"
     "No, he's on vacation."
     "Oh, yeah.  In Corsica.  The Ajaccio Hyatt.  Room  543. That's right, I
completely forgot about that."
     "Well, were you just stopping by to say hi, or - "
     "Nah. I was going to buy a motorcycle."
     "Oh. What kind of motorcycle were you looking for?"
     "One of the new Yamahas? With the new generation smartwheels?"
     Scott grins  manfully, trying  to put the  best face on the awful  fact
that he is  about to reveal. "I know exactly the one you mean. But I'm sorry
to tell you that we don't actually have one in stock today."
     "You don't?"
     "We don't. It's a brand-new model. Nobody has them."
     "You sure? Because you ordered one."
     "We did?"
     "Yeah. A month  ago." Suddenly  the  guy cranes his  neck,  looks  over
Scott's  shoulder  down the boulevard. "Well, speak of the  devil.  Here  it
     A Yamaha semi is pulling into the truck entrance with a new shipment of
motorcycles in the back.
     "It's  on that truck,"  the guy says. "If  you can give me  one of your
cards, I'll jot down the  vehicle  identification number on back  so you can
pull it off the truck for me."
     "This was a special order made by Mr. Norman?"
     "He claimed he was just ordering it as a display  model, you  know. But
it sort of has my name on it."
     "Yes, sir. I understand totally."

     Sure enough, the bike comes off the truck,  just as  the  guy described
it, right  down  to  color  scheme  (black)  and  vehicle ID number. It's  a
beautiful bike. It draws a crowd just sitting on the parking lot - the other
salesmen actually put down  their coffee cups and take their  feet off their
desks to  go outside  and  look at  it. It looks like a  black land torpedo.
Two-wheel drive, natch. The wheels are so advanced they're not even wheels -
they look like giant, heavy-duty versions of the smartwheels that high-speed
skateboards  use, independently telescoping spokes with fat traction pads on
the ends. Dangling out over the front, in the nose  cone of the  motorcycle,
is the sensor package  that monitors road conditions, decides where to place
each spoke as it rolls forward, how much to extend it, and how to rotate the
footpad  for maximum  traction. It's  all controlled by  a bios - a Built-In
Operating System - an onboard  computer with  a flat-panel screen built into
the top of the fuel tank.
     They say that  this baby will do a hundred and twenty miles per hour on
rubble.  The bios patches itself into the CIC weather  net so that it  knows
when it's  about  to run  into precip. The aerodynamic  cowling  is  totally
flexible, calculates its own most efficient shape for the current speed  and
wind conditions,  changes its curves accordingly,  wraps around  you  like a
nymphomaniacal gymnast.
     Scott figures this guy is going to waltz off with this thing for dealer
invoice, being a  friend and confidant  of Mr. Norman. And  it's not an easy
thing for  any redblooded  salesman to write out a contract to sell  a  sexy
beast like this one at dealer  invoice. He hesitates for  a  minute. Wonders
what's going to happen to him if this is all some kind of mistake.
     The guy's watching him intently, seems to sense his nervousness, almost
as if he can hear Scott's heart beating. So at the last minute he eases  up,
gets magnanimous - Scott loves these big-spender types-decides to throw in a
few  hundred Kongbucks over  invoice, just so  Scott can  pull  in  a meager
commission on the deal. A tip, basically.
     Then - icing on the cake - the guy goes nuts in the Cycle Shop. Totally
berserk. Buys a  complete outfit. Everything. Top of the line. A full  black
coverall  that  swaddles  everything   from  toes  to  neck  in  breathable,
bulletproof fabric, with armorgel  pads in all the right places and  airbags
around the  neck.  Even safety fanatics  don't  bother  with  a helmet  when
they're wearing one of these babies.
     So once he's figured out how to attach his swords on the outside of his
coverall, he's on his way.
     "I gotta say this," Scott says as  the guy is sitting on his  new bike,
getting his swords adjusted,  doing something incredibly unauthorized to the
bios, "you look like one bad motherfucker."
     "Thanks, I guess."  He twists the throttle up once and Scott feels, but
does not hear, the power of the engine. This baby is so efficient it doesn't
waste power by making noise. "Say hi to your brand-new niece," the guy says,
and then lets go the clutch. The  spokes flex and  gather themselves and the
bike springs forward out of the  lot, seeming to jump off its electric paws.
He cuts right across the  parking lot of the neighboring NeoAquarian  Temple
franchise  and pulls out  onto the road. About  half a second later, the guy
with the swords is a dot on the horizon, Then he's gone. Northbound.

     Until a man is twenty-five, he still thinks, every so often, that under
the right  circumstances  he could be the baddest motherfucker in the world.
If I  moved to a  martial-arts monastery in China and studied real hard  for
ten  years. If my family was wiped out by Colombian drug dealers and I swore
myself to revenge. If I  got  a fatal disease, had one year to live, devoted
it  to wiping out street crime. If I just dropped out and devoted my life to
being bad.
     Hiro used to feel  that way, too, but then he ran into Raven. In a way,
this is liberating. He no longer has to worry about trying to be the baddest
motherfucker in the world. The position is  taken.  The  crowning touch, the
one thing that really  puts true world-class badmotherfuckerdom  totally out
of reach, of  course,  is  the hydrogen bomb. If it  wasn't for the hydrogen
bomb, a man could still aspire. Maybe find Raven's Achilles' heel. Sneak up,
get a  drop, slip a  mickey, pull a fast one.  But Raven's  nuclear umbrella
kind of puts the world title out of reach.
     Which is okay. Sometimes it's  all right  just to  be a little  bad. To
know your limitations. Make do with what you've got.
     Once he  maneuvers  his  way  onto  the  freeway,  aimed  up  into  the
mountains, he goggles into his office. Earth is still there, zoomed in tight
on the Raft. Hiro contemplates it, superimposed in ghostly  hues on his view
of the highway, as he rides toward  Oregon at a hundred and forty  miles per
     From a distance, it looks bigger than it really is. Getting  closer, he
can see that  this illusion is caused by an enveloping self-made slick/cloud
of sewage and air pollution, fading out into the ocean and the atmosphere.
     It orbits the  Pacific clockwise. When  they fire up the boilers on the
Enterprise,  it can control its direction a little bit,  but real navigation
is a  practical  impossibility  with all  the other  shit lashed onto it. It
mostly has to go where the wind and the Coriolis effect take it. A couple of
years ago, it was going by the Philippines, Vietnam, China, Siberia, picking
up  Refus. Then it swung up the Aleutian chain,  down the Alaska  panhandle,
and now  it's gliding past the small town of Port Sherman,  Oregon, near the
California border.
     As the Raft moves through the Pacific, riding mostly on ocean currents,
it  occasionally  sheds great  hunks of itself. Eventually,  these fragments
wash up in  some place like Santa Barbara, still lashed together, carrying a
payload of skeletons and gnawed bones.
     When  it  gets to California, it will enter  a  new phase of  its  life
cycle.  It will  shed much of its sprawling improvised bulk as a few hundred
thousand Refus cut themselves loose  and paddle to shore. The only Refus who
make it  that far are, by definition, the ones who were agile enough to make
it out to  the Raft in  the first  place, resourceful enough to  survive the
agonizingly  slow passage through the arctic waters, and tough enough not to
get killed by any of the other Refus. Nice  guys, all of them. Just the kind
of people you'd like to have showing up on your private beach in groups of a
few thousand.
     Stripped  down to a  few major  ships, a little more  maneuverable, the
Enterprise then will swing across the South Pacific, heading for  Indonesia,
where it will turn north again and start the next cycle of migration.
     Army ants  cross  mighty rivers  by  climbing on top of each other  and
clustering together into  a little ball  that floats. Many  of them fall off
and sink, and naturally the  ants on the bottom of the ball drown.  The ones
who are  quick and  vigorous enough  to keep clawing their  way  to the  top
survive. A lot of  them make  it across, and that's why you can't stop  army
ants  by  dynamiting the bridges. That's how Refus come  across the Pacific,
even though  they are too  poor  to  book passage on a real ship  or  buy  a
seaworthy boat. A new wave washes up onto the West Coast every five years or
so, when the ocean currents bring the Enterprise back.
     For  the  last couple of  months,  owners  of  beachfront  property  in
California  have  been hiring security people,  putting  up  spotlights  and
antipersonnel fences along  the tide line, mounting  machine  guns  on their
yachts. They  have  all  subscribed to  CIC's twenty-four-hour Raft  Report,
getting the  latest news flash, straight from  the satellite,  on  when  the
latest contingent of twenty-five thousand starving  Eurasians has cut itself
loose  from  the Enterprise and started  dipping its myriad  oars  into  the
Pacific, like ant legs.

     "Time to do more digging,"  he tells the Librarian. "But this is  going
to have to  be totally verbal, because I'm headed up I-5 at  some incredible
speed right now, and I have to watch out for slow-moving bagos and stuff."
     "I'll keep that  in mind,"  the voice  of  the Librarian says  into his
earphones. "Look out  for the  jackknifed truck south of Santa  Clarita. And
there is a large chuckhole in the left lane near the Tulare exit."
     "Thanks. Who  were these  gods  anyway?  Did  Lagos  have an opinion on
     "Lagos believed that they might have been  magicians  - that is, normal
human beings with special powers - or they might have been aliens."
     "Whoa, whoa,  hold  on. Let's  take these one at a time. What did Lagos
mean when he talked about 'normal human beings with special powers'?"
     "Assume  that the nam-shub of Enki really functioned as a virus. Assume
that someone named  Enki invented it. Then  Enki  must have had some kind of
linguistic power that goes beyond our concept of normal."
     "And how would this power work? What's the mechanism?"
     "I can only give you forward references drawn by Lagos."
     "Okay. Give me some."
     "The  belief in the magical power of  language is not unusual,  both in
mystical and  academic literature.  The  Kabbalists -Jewish mystics of Spain
and Palestine - believed that supernormal insight and power could be derived
from  properly combining the letters  of  the Divine Name. For example,  Abu
Aharon, an  early Kabbalist who emigrated from Baghdad to Italy, was said to
perform miracles through the power of the Sacred Names."
     "What kind of power are we talking about here?"
     "Most Kabbalists  were  theorists who  were  interested  only  in  pure
meditation.  But there were so-called 'practical  Kabbalists'  who  tried to
apply the power of the Kabbalah in everyday life."
     "In other words, sorcerers."
     "Yes.  These  practical   kabbalists  used  a   so-called  'archangelic
alphabet,' derived from first-century Greek and  Aramaic theurgic alphabets,
which  resembled cuneiform. The Kabbalists referred to this alphabet as 'eye
writing,' because the  letters were  composed of  lines  and  small circles,
which resembled eyes."
     "Ones and zeroes."
     "Some Kabbalists  divided up  the letters of the alphabet  according to
where they were produced inside the mouth."
     "Okay. So  as  we would think of it, they  were  drawing  a  connection
between the printed letter on the page and the neural  connections  that had
to be invoked in order to pronounce it."
     "Yes. By analyzing the  spelling of various  words, they  were able  to
draw  what they thought were profound  conclusions  about their  true, inner
meaning and significance."
     "Okay. If you say so."
     "In  the academic realm, the literature is naturally not  as  fanciful.
But  a great deal of  effort has  been devoted  to explaining Babel. Not the
Babel event - which most  people  consider to be a myth - but the  fact that
languages  tend  to  diverge.  A  number  of  linguistic theories have  been
developed in an effort to tie all languages together."
     "Theories Lagos tried to apply to his virus hypothesis."
     "Yes. There are  two schools: relativists and  universalists. As George
Steiner summarizes it, relativists tend to believe that language  is not the
vehicle  of  thought  but its determining  medium. It  is  the framework  of
cognition. Our  perceptions  of everything are  organized  by  the  flux  of
sensations passing over that framework. Hence, the study of the evolution of
language is the study of the evolution of the human mind itself."
     "Okay,  I  can  see   the  significance   of  that.  What   about   the
     "In contrast with the relativists, who believe  that languages need not
have anything  in common with each other, the  universalists believe that if
you can analyze languages enough, you can find that all of them have certain
traits in common. So they analyze languages, looking for such traits."
     "Have they found any?"
     "No. There seems to be an exception to every rule."
     "Which blows universalism out of the water."
     "Not necessarily. They  explain this problem by saying that the  shared
traits are too deeply buried to be analyzable."
     "Which is a cop out."
     "Their point is  that at some level,  language has to happen inside the
human brain. Since all human brains are more or less the same - "
     "The hardware's the same. Not the software."
     "You are using some kind of metaphor that I cannot understand."
     Hiro whips past a big Airstream that is rocking from side to  side in a
dangerous wind coming down the valley.
     "Well,   a  French-speaker's  brain  starts   out   the   same   as  an
English-speaker's brain. As they grow up, they get programmed with different
software-they learn different languages."
     "Yes. Therefore, according  to the universalists,  French and English -
or any other languages - must share certain traits that  have their roots in
the 'deep structures' of the human brain. According to Chomskyan theory, the
deep structures are innate components of the brain that enable it to cam out
certain  formal kinds of  operations  on strings of symbols. Or,  as Steiner
paraphrases Emmon Bach: These deep  structures eventually lead to the actual
patterning  of the cortex with its immensely ramified yet, at the same time,
'programmed' network of electrochemical and neurophysiological channels."
     "But these deep structures are so deep we can't even see them?"
     "The universalists place the active nodes of linguistic life - the deep
structures  - so deep  as to  defy observation and description.  Or  to  use
Steiner's analogy: Try to draw  up the  creature from the depths of the sea,
and it will disintegrate or change form grotesquely."
     "There's that  serpent again. So which theory did Lagos believe in? The
relativist or the universalist?"
     "He did not  seem to think there was  much of a difference. In the end,
they are both somewhat mystical. Lagos believed that both schools of thought
had essentially arrived at the same place by different lines of reasoning."
     "But  it  seems  to me there  is  a key  difference," Hiro  says.  "The
universalists think that we are determined by the prepatterned structure  of
our brains - the pathways in the  cortex. The relativists don't believe that
we have any limits."
     "Lagos modified the strict Chomskyan theory by supposing that  learning
a language  is  like blowing  code  into  PROMS  -an analogy that  I  cannot
     "The analogy is clear. PROMS are Programmable  Read-Only Memory chips,"
Hiro says. "When they come from the factory, they have no content. Once  and
only once,  you can  place information into those chips and  then  freeze it
-the information, the software, becomes frozen into the chip -it  transmutes
into hardware. After you have blown the code into the PROMS, you can read it
out,  but you can't  write to them anymore.  So Lagos was trying to say that
the newborn human  brain has no structure - as the relativists would have it
-  and that as the child learns  a language, the developing brain structures
itself  accordingly, the language gets 'blown into' the hardware and becomes
a permanent  part of the brain's deep structure - as the universalists would
have it."
     "Yes. This was his interpretation."
     "Okay. So when he talked  about Enki  being a real person with  magical
powers,  what he  meant  was  that Enki  somehow  understood  the connection
between language and the brain, knew how to manipulate it. The same way that
a hacker,  knowing the  secrets of  a computer  system,  can  write  code to
control it - digital nam-shubs."
     "Lagos said  that Enki  had the ability to ascend  into the universe of
language and  see it before his eyes. Much as humans go  into the Metaverse.
That gave him  power  to create  nam-shubs.  And nam-shubs had the power  to
alter the functioning of the brain and of the body."
     "Why isn't anyone  doing this kind of  thing nowadays? Why aren't there
any nam-shubs in English?"
     "Not all languages are the  same, as Steiner points out. Some languages
are better at metaphor than others. Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Chinese lend
themselves  to  word play and  have  achieved  a  lasting grip  on  reality:
Palestine had Qiryat Sefer, the "City  of the Letter," and Syria had Byblos,
the "Town of the Book." By contrast other civilizations seem "speechless" or
at least, as may have been the case in Egypt, not  entirely cognizant of the
creative  and  transformational powers  of  language.  Lagos  believed  that
Sumerian was an extraordinarily powerful language - at least it was in Sumer
five thousand years ago."
     "A language that lent itself to Enki's neurolinguistic hacking."
     "Early  linguists, as well as the Kabbalists, believed  in a  fictional
language called the tongue of Eden, the language of Adam. It enabled all men
to  understand each other, to  communicate  without misunderstanding. It was
the language of the Logos, the moment when God created the world by speaking
a word. In  the tongue of Eden, naming a thing was  the same as creating it.
To quote Steiner again, 'Our speech interposes  itself between  apprehension
and truth like a dusty pane or warped mirror. The tongue of Eden was  like a
flawless glass;  a light of  total understanding  streamed through it.  Thus
Babel was  a  second Fall.' And Isaac  the  Blind, an early Kabbalist,  said
that,  to  quote  Gershom  Scholem's translation,  'The  speech  of  men  is
connected with divine speech  and  all language  whether  heavenly  or human
derives  from  one  source: the  Divine Name.' The practical kabbalists, the
sorcerers, bore the title Ba'al Shem, meaning 'master of the divine name.'"
     "The machine language of the world," Hiro says.
     "Is this another analogy?"
     "Computers  speak  machine language," Hiro says. "It's written in  ones
and zeroes-binary  code. At  the lowest level,  all computers are programmed
with strings of  ones and zeroes. When you program  in machine language, you
are  controlling the computer  at its brainstem,  the root of its existence.
It's the tongue of Eden. But it's very difficult to work in machine language
because you go crazy after  a while, working  at such  a  minute level. So a
whole Babel of computer languages has been created for programmers: FORTRAN,
BASIC, COBOL, LISP,  Pascal, C, PROLOG, FORTH. You talk  to the computer  in
one of these languages,  and a  piece of software called a compiler converts
it into machine language. But you never can  tell exactly what the  compiler
is doing. It doesn't always come out the way you want. Like a  dusty pane or
warped  mirror. A really advanced  hacker comes to understand the true inner
workings of the machine - he sees through the  language he's  working in and
glimpses the secret functioning of the binary code - becomes a Ba'al Shem of
     "Lagos  believed  that  the  legends  about  the  tongue  of Eden  were
exaggerated versions  of true events,"  the  Librarian  says. "These legends
reflected nostalgia for a time when people spoke Sumerian, a tongue that was
superior to anything that came afterward."
     "Is Sumerian really that good?"
     "Not as  far as modern-day linguists can tell," the Librarian says. "As
I  mentioned, it is largely impossible for us to grasp. Lagos suspected that
words worked differently in  those days. If one's native  tongue  influences
the physical structure of the developing brain, then  it is fair to say that
the Sumerians  -  who  spoke a language radically different from anything in
existence  today  -  had fundamentally different brains  from  yours.  Lagos
believed that for this reason, Sumerian was a language ideally suited to the
creation and propagation of viruses. That a virus, once released into Sumer,
would spread rapidly and virulently, until it had infected everyone."
     "Maybe Enki knew  that also,"  Hiro says. "Maybe the  nam-shub  of Enki
wasn't such a bad  thing. Maybe Babel was the best  thing that ever happened
to us."

     Y.T.'s mom works  in Fedland. She has parked her little  car in her own
little numbered  slot,  for which  the  Feds  require  her  to pay about ten
percent of  her  salary (if  she  like it  she can take a taxi  or walk) and
walked  up several levels of a blindingly lit  reinforced-concrete helix  in
which most  of the spaces -  the good  spaces closer to  the surface  -  are
reserved  for  people other than  her,  but empty. She  always walks  up the
center of the ramp, between the rows of parked cars, so that the  EBGOC boys
won't think she's lurking, loitering, skulking, malingering, or smoking.
     Reaching the subterranean entrance of  her building, she  has taken all
metal objects from her pockets and removed what little jewelry she's wearing
and dumped them into a dirty plastic bowl and walked through  the  detector.
Flashed  her  badge.  Signed her  name  and  noted  down  the digital  time.
Submitted  to a frisking from an EBGOC girl.  Annoying,  but it sure beats a
cavity search. They have a right to do a cavity search if they want. She got
cavity-searched every day for a month once, right after she had spoken up at
a meeting and suggested that her supervisor might be on the wrong track with
a major programming project. It was  punitive and vicious, she  knew it was,
but she  always wanted to give something  back  to her country, and whenever
you work for the Feds you just accept the fact that there's going to be some
politicking.  And that as a low-level person you're going to bear the brunt.
And later on,  you  climb the  GS ladder,  don't have to put up with as much
shit. Far  be it from  her to  quarrel with  her supervisor. Her supervisor,
Marietta, doesn't  have an especially stellar GS  level, but  she does  have
access. She has connections. Marietta knows people who know people. Marietta
has  attended cocktail parties  that were also attended by  some people who,
well, your eyes would bug out.
     She has passed  the  frisking with  flying collars. Put the metal stuff
back  into her pockets.  Climbed up half a  dozen flights  of stairs to  her
floor. The elevators here still work,  but some very highly placed people in
Fedland  have  let it be known -  nothing  official,  but they have  ways of
letting this stuff out - that  it is a duty to conserve energy. And the Feds
are  real serious about duty.  Duty, loyalty,  responsibility.  The collagen
that binds  us  into the United  States of  America. So the  stairwells  are
filled with sweaty wool and clacking leather.  If you took  the elevator, no
one  would  actually  say  anything, but  it would  be  noticed. Noticed and
written down and taken into account. People would look at you, glance you up
and down,  like, what happened, sprain  your ankle? Taking the stairs  is no
     Feds don't smoke. Feds generally don't overeat. The health plan is very
specific,  contains major incentives,  get too  heavy or  wheezy and, no one
says  anything about  it  - which  would be rude - but  you feel a  definite
pressure, a sense of not fitting  in, as you walk  across  the sea of desks,
eyes glance up to follow you, estimating the mass  of your saddlebags,  eyes
darting back  and forth  between desks as, by consensus, your co-workers say
to themselves, I wonder how  much he or she is driving up  our  health  plan
     So Y.T.'s mom has  clacked  up the stairs  in her  black pumps and gone
into her  office, actually a  large room with  computer workstations  placed
across it in a grid. Used to be divided up by partitions, but the EBGOC boys
didn't like it, said what would happen if there had to be an evacuation? All
those  partitions would impede the free flow of  unhinged panic. So  no more
partitions.  Just  workstations and chairs. Not even  any desktops. Desktops
encourage  the use of paper, which is archaic and reflects  inadequate  team
spirit. What is so special about your work that you have to write it down on
a  piece of  paper that only you  get to see? That you have to  lock it away
inside  a desk? When you're working for the  Feds, everything  you do is the
property of the United States of America. You do  your work on the computer.
The  computer  keeps  a copy of  everything,  so  that  if  you get  sick or
something, it's  all there where  your  co-workers and supervisors  can  get
access to  it. If you  want to write  little  notes or make  phone  doodles,
you're perfectly free to do that at home, in your spare time.
     And  there's the  question  of  interchangeability.  Fed workers,  like
military people,  are intended to be interchangeable  parts. What happens if
your workstation should break down? You're going  to sit  there  and twiddle
your thumbs until it  gets fixed? No siree, you're going to  move to a spare
workstation and get to  work on that. And you don't have that flexibility if
you've  got half  a  ton  of personal stuff cached inside of a  desk, strewn
around a desktop.
     So  there  is  no paper in a Fed office.  All  the workstations are the
same. You come in  in the morning, pick one  at random, sit down, and get to
work.  You could try to  favor  a particular station, try to sit there every
day, but it would be  noticed. Generally you pick the unoccupied workstation
that's closest to the door. That way, whoever came in earliest sits closest,
whoever came  in latest is way in the back, for the  rest of  the  day  it's
obvious  at a glance who's on the ball in this office and  who is - as  they
whisper to each other in the bathrooms - having problems.
     Not that it's any big secret, who comes in first. When you sign on to a
workstation  in  the  morning, it's not  like the  central computer  doesn't
notice that fact. The central computer notices just about everything.  Keeps
track of every key  you hit on the keyboard, all day long, what time you hit
it, down to the microsecond,  whether it was the right key or the wrong key,
how many mistakes you make and when you make  them. You're only  required to
be at your  workstation from eight to five, with a half-hour lunch break and
two ten-minute coffee breaks, but  if you  stuck  to that  schedule it would
definitely  be noticed, which is why Y.T.'s mom is sliding  into  the  first
unoccupied workstation and signing  on to  her machine  at quarter to seven.
Half a dozen other people are already here, signed on to workstations closer
to  the entrance, but this isn't bad. She  can look forward to a  reasonably
stable career if she can keep up this sort of performance.
     The Feds still  operate  in Flatland.  None  of this  three-dimensional
stuff, no goggles, no stereo  sound. The computers are all basic flat-screen
two-dimensional numbers.  Windows appear  on the  desktop, with  little text
documents  inside. All part of the  austerity program.  Soon  to reap  major
     She signs  on and checks her mail. No personal  mail, just a  couple of
mass-distributed pronouncements from Marietta.

     I've been asked to distribute the new regulations regarding office pool
displays. The  enclosed memo  is  a  new subchapter of  the  EBGOC Procedure
Manual, replacing the old subchapter entitled  PHYSICAL PLANT/CALIFORNIA/LOS
     The old subchapter was a flat prohibition on the use of office space or
time for "pool" activities  of  any  kind,  whether permanent (e.g.,  coffee
pool) or one-time (e.g., birthday parties).
     This prohibition  still applies, but a single, one-time  exception  has
now been made for any office  that wishes to pursue a  joint bathroom-tissue
     By way of introduction, let me just make a few general comments on this
subject. The  problem  of distributing  bathroom tissue to workers  presents
inherent challenges for any  office management  system  due to  the inherent
unpredictability  of   usage  -  not   every   facility  usage   transaction
necessitates  the use of  bathroom tissue,  and  when it is used, the amount
needed (number of squares) may vary quite  widely from person to person and,
for  a given person, from one transaction to  the next.  This does  not even
take   into   account  the   occasional   use   of   bathroom   tissue   for
unpredictable/creative   purposes   such   as  applying/removing  cosmetics,
beverage-spill management,  etc. For  this  reason,  rather than  trying  to
package  bathroom tissue in small one-transaction packets  (as  is done with
premoistened towelettes, for example), which  can  be wasteful in some cases
and limiting in other cases, it has been traditional to package this product
in bulk distribution units whose size exceeds  the maximum amount of squares
that an individual  could conceivably use in a  single  transaction (barring
force  majeure).  This reduces to  a  minimum the  number of transactions in
which  the  distribution unit  is  depleted  (the roll  runs out during  the
transaction, a situation that can  lead to emotional stress for the affected
employee. However,  it does present the manager with some challenges in that
the  distribution unit  is rather  bulky and must  be  repeatedly  used by a
number of different individuals if it is not to be wasted.
     Since  the  implementation  of  Phase  XVII  of the Austerity  Program,
employees have been  allowed  to bring their own  bathroom tissue from home.
This  approach is somewhat  bulky  and redundant,  as every  worker  usually
brings their own roll.
     Some  offices  have attempted  to meet this  challenge  by  instituting
bathroom-tissue pools.
     Without  overgeneralizing,  it  may  be  stated  that  an inherent  and
irreducible feature  of any bathroom-tissue pool implemented at  the  office
level, in an environment  (i.e.,  building) in which  comfort  stations  are
distributed  on a  per-floor basis (i.e., in which  several offices  share a
single facility) is that  provision must be made within the confines  of the
individual  office for temporary stationing  of bathroom tissue distribution
units  (i.e., rolls). This follows  from the fact that if the  BTDUs (rolls)
are  stationed, while inactive, outside  of  the purview of  the controlling
office  (i.e., the office that has collectively purchased  the  BTDU) - that
is, if the  BTDUs are stored,  for example,  in  a lobby area or  within the
facility  in  which  they  are  actually utilized, they will  be  subject to
pilferage  and "shrinkage"  as unauthorized persons  consume them, either as
part of a conscious  effort to pilfer  or out of an honest misunderstanding,
i.e.,  a  belief that  the  BTDUs  are being provided free of charge by  the
operating agency  (in  this case the United  States Government),  or  as the
result of  necessity, as in the case of a beverage spill that is encroaching
on sensitive electronic  equipment and whose  management  will thus brook no
delay.  This fact has led certain offices (which shall go unnamed - you know
who you are, guys) to  establish makeshift BTDU depots  that  also  serve as
pool-contribution collection points. Usually, these depots  take the form of
a table,  near  the  door  closest to the facility, on which  the BTDUs  are
stacked or otherwise deployed, with a bowl or some other receptacle in which
participants  may  place their contributions, and typically with  a  sign or
other  attention-getting  device  (such  as  a  stuffed animal  or  cartoon)
requesting donations. A quick glance at the  current  regulations  will show
that placement  of  such  a  display/depot  violates the  procedure  manual.
However,  in   the   interests   of  employee  hygiene,  morale,  and  group
spiritbudding, my higher-ups have agreed to make a one-time exception in the
regulations for this purpose.
     As with any  part  of  the procedure manual, new or  old,  it  is  your
responsibility  to  be thoroughly  familiar  with  this  material. Estimated
reading  time for  this document is 15.62 minutes (and don't  think we won't
check).  Please  make note of  the  major points made  in this  document, as
     1) BTDU depot/displays are  now allowed, on a trial basis, with the new
policy to be reviewed in six months.
     2) These must be operated on a voluntary, pool-type basis, as described
in  the  subchapter on employee pools. (Note: This  means keeping books  and
tallying all financial transactions.)
     3)  BTDUs must be brought in by the employees (not shipped through  the
mailroom) and are subject to all the usual search-and-seizure regulations.
     4) Scented BTDUs are prohibited as  they  may cause allergic reactions,
wheezing, etc. in some persons.
     5)  Cash  pool donations, as with all monetary transactions  within the
U.S. Government, must use official U.S. currency - no yen or Kongbucks!
     Naturally, this will lead  to  a bulk problem if people try  to use the
donation  bucket  as a  dumping  ground  for bundles  of  old  billion-  and
trillion-dollar bills. The  Buildings and  Grounds people  are worried about
waste-disposal  problems  and the  potential fire  hazard  that may ensue if
large  piles  of billions and trillions begin to mount up. Therefore,  a key
feature of  the new  regulation is that the donation  bucket must be emptied
every  day  -  more  often if an  excessive  build-up  situation  is seen to
     In  this vein, the B & G people  would also like  me to point out  that
many of you who have excess U.S. currency to get rid  of have been trying to
kill two  birds with one stone  by using  old billions  as bathroom  tissue.
While creative, this approach has two drawbacks:
     1) It clogs the plumbing, and
     2)  It constitutes  defacement of  U.S.  currency,  which is a  federal
     DON'T DO IT.
     Join  your   office  bathroom-tissue  pool  instead.  It's  easy,  it's
hygienic, and it's legal.
     Happy pooling!

     Y.T.'s mom pulls up  the new memo, checks the  time, and starts reading
it. The estimated  reading time  is 15.62 minutes. Later, when Marietta does
her end-of-day statis-tical roundup, sitting in her private office  at  9:00
P.M.,  she will see the name  of each employee and next to it, the amount of
time spent  reading this memo, and  her reaction,  based on the time  spent,
will go something like this:
     Less than 10 min. Time for an employee conference and possible attitude
     10-14 min. Keep an eye on this employee; may be developing
     slipshod attitude.
     14-15.61 min. Employee is an efficient worker, may sometimes miss
     important details.
     Exactly 15.62 min. Smartass. Needs attitude counseling.
     15.63-16 min. Asswipe. Not to be trusted.
     16-18 min. Employee is a methodical worker, may sometimes get hung
     up on minor details.
     More than 18 min. Check the security videotape, see just what this
     employee was up to (e.g., possible unauthorized
     restroom break).
     Y.T.'s mom  decides  to  spend  between  fourteen and  fifteen  minutes
reading the memo. It's better for younger workers to spend too long, to show
that they're careful,  not  cocky. It's better for  older  workers  to go  a
little  fast, to  show good management  potential. She's pushing forty. She'
scans through the memo,  hitting the  Page Down button at reasonably regular
intervals,  occasionally  paging back up  to  pretend to reread some earlier
section. The computer is going to notice all this. It approves of rereading.
It's  a small  thing, but over a decade or so this stuff really  shows up on
your work-habits summary.
     Having got  that  out  of  the way,  she  dives  into  work. She  is an
applications  programmer  for the  Feds.  In the old  days,  she would  have
written computer  programs for  a living. Nowadays, she writes fragments  of
computer programs. These  programs are designed by Marietta  and  Marietta's
superiors in massive  week-long meetings on the top floor. Once they get the
design  down,  they  start breaking up  the problem  into tinier and  tinier
segments, assigning them to  group managers, who break them  down even  more
and feed little bits of work to the individual programmers. In order to keep
the work done by the individual coders from colliding, it all has to be done
according to a set of rules  and regulations even bigger and more fluid than
the Government procedure manual.
     So  the  first thing that  Y.T.'s  mother does,  having  read  the  new
subchapter on bathroom  tissue  pools, is to sign  on  to a subsystem of the
main  computer system that handles the particular programming  project she's
working on. She  doesn't know what the project  is - that's classified -  or
what it's called. It's just her project. She  shares  it  with a few hundred
other programmers, she's not sure exactly who. And  every day when she signs
on  to  it,  there's  a stack of  memos  waiting  for  her,  containing  new
regulations and  changes to  the  rules that they  all have  to  follow when
writing code for the  project. These regulations make the business with  the
bathroom tissue seem as simple and elegant as the Ten Commandments.
     So  she  spends  until  about   eleven  A.M.  reading,  rereading,  and
understanding  the new  changes in the  Project. There  are  many  of these,
because  this  is a Monday morning and Marietta and her higher-ups spent the
whole  weekend  closeted  on the top  floor,  having a  catfight  about this
Project, changing everything.
     Then she starts going back over all the code she has previously written
for the Project  and making  a list  of all the  stuff that  will have to be
rewritten in  order  to  make  it  compatible with the  new  specifications.
Basically,  she's going  to  have to  rewrite all of  her material  from the
ground up. For the third time in as many months.
     But hey, it's a job.
     About eleven-thirty, she looks  up, startled, to see that  half a dozen
people are standing around her workstation. There's Marietta. And a proctor.
And some male Feds. And Leon the polygraph man.
     "I just had mine on Thursday," she says.
     "Time for another one," Marietta says. "Come on, let's get this show on
the road."
     "Hands out where I can see them," the proctor says.

     Y.T.'s mom stands up, hands to her sides, and starts walking. She walks
straight out of the office. None of the other  people look up.  Not supposed
to.  Insensitive to  co-workers' needs.  Makes the testee feel  awkward  and
singled out, when in fact the polygraph is just part of the whole Fed way of
life. She can hear the snapping footsteps of the proctor behind her, walking
two paces behind, watching, keeping her eyes on those hands so they can't be
doing anything, like popping a Valium or something else that might throw off
the test.
     She stops in front of the bathroom door. The proctor  walks in front of
her, holds it open, and she walks in, followed by the proctor.
     The last  stall on  the  left is oversized, big enough for two  people.
Y.T.'s mom goes in, followed by the proctor, who closes and locks the  door.
Y.T.'s mom pulls down her panty hose, pulls up her skirt, squats over a pan,
pees.  The  proctor watches every drop go into the pan, picks it up, empties
it into a test tube that is already labeled with her name and today's date.
     Then it's back out to the  lobby, followed again by the proctor. You're
allowed to use the elevators on your way to the polygraph room, so you won't
be out of breath and sweaty when you get there.
     It used to be just a plain office with a chair and  some instruments on
a  table. Then they got the new, fancy polygraph system. Now it's like going
in for some kind of  high-tech medical scan. The room is completely rebuilt,
no vestige  of its original  function,  the window covered  over, everything
smooth and  beige  and smelling like a hospital. There's only one  chair, in
the middle. Y.T.'s mom goes and sits down in it, puts her  arms  on the arms
of the chair, nestles her  fingertips and  palms into the little depressions
that  await. The neoprene  fist  of the blood-pressure  cuff gropes blindly,
finds her  arm, and seizes  it. Meanwhile,  the room lights are dimming, the
door is closing, she's all  alone. The crown of thorns closes over her head,
she feels the pricks  of the electrodes through  her scalp, senses the  cool
air   flowing   down   over   her   shoulders   from   the   superconducting
quantum-interference  devices that serve as radar  into her brain. Somewhere
on the other side of  the wall, she knows,  half a dozen personnel techs are
sitting in a control room, looking at a big-screen blow-up of her pupils.
     Then she  feels a  burning prick in  her forearm and knows  she's  been
injected with something. Which means it's not a normal polygraph exam. Today
she's in for something special. The burning spreads throughout her body, her
heart  thumps, eyes water.  She's been shot  up with  caffeine to  make  her
hyper, make her talkative.
     So much  for getting any work done today. Sometimes these things go for
twelve hours.
     "What is your name?" a voice  says. It's an unnaturally calm and liquid
voice. Computer generated. That way, everything it says to her is impartial,
stripped of emotional content, she has no way to  pick up any cues as to how
the interrogation is going.
     The caffeine, and the other things that they inject  her with, screw up
her sense of time also.
     She hates these things, but  it happens to everyone from  time to time,
and when you  go to work for the Feds' you sign on the  dotted line and give
permission for it. In a way, it's a mark  of pride  and honor.  Everyone who
works for  the Feds has their  heart in it. Because if they didn't, it would
come out plain as day when it is their turn to sit in this chair.
     The questions  go on and on. Mostly  nonsense questions. "Have you ever
been  to Scotland? Is white  bread more expensive than wheat bread?" This is
just to get her settled down, get all systems running smoothly.  They  throw
out all the stuff they get from the first hour of the interrogation, because
it's lost in the noise.
     She  can feel herself relaxing  into  it. They  say that  after  a  few
polygraphs, you  learn to relax, the whole  thing  goes  quicker.  The chair
holds her in place, the caffeine keeps her  from getting drowsy, the sensory
deprivation clears out her mind.
     "What is your daughter's nickname?"

     "How do you refer to your daughter?"
     "I call her by her nickname. Y.T. She kind of insists on it."
     "Does Y.T. have a job?"
     "Yes. She works as Kourier. She works for RadiKS."
     "How much money does Y.T. make as a Kourier?"
     "I don't know. A few bucks here and there."
     "How often does she purchase new equipment for her job?"
     "I'm not aware. I don't really keep track of that."
     "Has Y.T. done anything unusual lately?"
     "That depends on what you mean." She knows  she's equivocating.  "She's
always doing things  that  some people might label as unusual." That doesn't
sound too  good, sounds like an endorsement  of nonconformity. "I guess what
I'm saying is, she's always doing unusual things."
     "Has Y.T. broken anything in the house recently?"
     "Yes." She gives up. The  Feds  already know this, her  house is bugged
and tapped, it's a wonder it doesn't short  out the electrical grid, all the
extra stuff wired into it. "She broke my computer."
     "Did she give an explanation for why she broke the computer?"
     "Yes. Sort of. I mean, if nonsense counts as an explanation."
     "What was her explanation?"
     "She was afraid - this is so ridiculous - she was afraid I was going to
catch a virus from it."
     "Was Y.T. also afraid of catching this virus?"
     "No. She said that only programmers could catch it."
     Why  are they asking her all of these questions? They have  all of this
stuff on tape.
     "Did you believe Y.T.'s explanation of why she broke the computer?"
     That's it.
     That's what they're after.
     They want to know the only thing they can't directly tap - what's going
on in her mind. They want to know whether she believes Y.T.'s virus story.
     And she knows she's making  a  mistake just  thinking  these  thoughts.
Because those supercooled SQUIDs around her  head are  picking it  up.  They
can't  tell what she's thinking. But they can tell that something's going on
in her  brain, that she's using parts of her brain right now that she didn't
use when they were asking the nonsense questions.
     In other  words, they can  tell that she  is  analyzing  the situation,
trying to figure them  out. And she wouldn't be doing that unless she wanted
to hide something.
     "What is it you want  to know?" she says. "Why don't you just come  out
and  ask me  directly? Let's  talk about this face to  face. Just  sit  down
together in a room like adults and talk about it."
     She feels another sharp prick  in her arm, feels numbness  and coldness
spreading all across her body over an interval of a couple of seconds as the
drug  mixes  with  her  bloodstream.  It's  getting  harder  to  follow  the
     "What is your name?" the voice says.

     The Alcan  -  the Alaska  Highway - is  the  world's longest  franchise
ghetto,  a one-dimensional  city two thousand miles long and a hundred  feet
wide, and  growing at  the rate of  a hundred miles a year, or as quickly as
people can  drive up to  the edge of the wilderness and  park their bagos in
the next available slot. It is the only way out for people who want to leave
America but don't have access to an airplane or a ship.
     It's all two-lane,  paved  but not well paved,  and  choked with mobile
homes, family vans, pickup trucks with camper backs. It  starts somewhere in
the middle of British Columbia, at the crossroads of Prince George, where  a
number of tributaries  feed in together to make a single northbound highway.
South of  there, the tributaries  split  into  a  delta of feeder roads that
crosses the  Canadian/American border at a dozen or more places  spread  out
over  five  hundred  miles from the fjords of British Columbia  to the  vast
striped  wheatlands of central Montana. Then it ties into the  American road
system,   which  serves   as   the   headwaters  of  the   migration.   This
five-hundred-mile  swath  of  territory  is   filled  with  would-be  arctic
explorers in great wheeled houses, optimistically  northbound, and more than
a few rejects  who  have  abandoned their bagos in  the  north  country  and
hitched  a  ride  back  down  south.  The  lumbering  bagos   and  top-heavy
four-wheelers form a moving slalom course for Hiro on his black motorcycle.
     All  these  beefy Caucasians with  guns!  Get  enough of them together,
looking for  the  America they always believed they'd grow  up  in, and they
glom together  like overcooked rice, form  integral,  starchy little  units.
With  their  power  tools,  portable generators,  weapons,  four-wheel-drive
vehicles, and personal computers, they are like beavers hyped up  on crystal
meth, manic engineers  without a blueprint, chewing  through the wilderness,
building things and abandoning them, altering the flow  of mighty rivers and
then moving on because the place ain't what it used to be.
     The byproduct of  the lifestyle is  polluted rivers, greenhouse effect,
spouse abuse, televangelists, and serial  killers. But as  long  as you have
that four-wheel-drive vehicle and  can keep driving north,  you can  sustain
it, keep moving just quickly enough to stay one step ahead of your own waste
stream. In twenty years, ten million white people will converge on the north
pole  and  park their  bagos  there.  The  low-grade  waste  heat  of  their
thermodynamically  intense  lifestyle will  turn the  crystalline  ice-scape
pliable and treacherous. It will melt a hole  through  the polar icecap, and
all that metal will sink to the bottom, sucking the biomass down with it.
     For  a fee, you  can  drive  into  a  Snooze 'n'  Cruise  franchise and
umbilical  your bago. The magic words are  "We Have Pull-Thrus," which means
you can enter the franchise, hook up, sleep,  unhook, and drive out  without
ever having to shift your land zeppelin into reverse.
     They used to claim it was a campground,  tried to design  the franchise
with  a rustic motif, but the customers kept chopping up those log-and-plank
signs  and  wooden picnic tables and using them for cooking fires. Nowadays,
the signs are electric  polycarbonate bubbles, the corporate identity is all
round and polished and smooth, in the same  way that a urinal is, to prevent
stuff from building up in  the cracks. Because it's  not really camping when
you don't have a house to go back to.
     Sixteen hours out of California, Hiro pulls into a Snooze 'n' Cruise on
the eastern slope of the Cascades  in northern Oregon.  He's several hundred
miles north of where  the Raft is,  and on the  wrong side of the mountains.
But there's a guy here he wants to interview.
     There are three parking lots. One out of sight down a  pitted dirt road
marked with falling-down  signs. One  a little bit closer, with scary hairys
hanging around its edges, silvery disks  flashing and popping under the full
moon as they aim the bottoms of their beer cans at the sky. And one right in
front of the Towne Hall, with gun-toting attendants. You have to pay to park
in that lot. Hiro, decides to pay. He leaves his bike pointing outward, puts
the bios into warm shutdown so he can hot-boot it later if he has to, throws
some Kongbucks at an attendant. Then he turns his head back and forth like a
hunting dog, sniffing the still air, trying to find the Glade.
     There's an area a hundred  feet away, under the moonlight,  where a few
people have been adventurous enough to  pitch a tent; usually, these are the
ones with the most guns, or the least to lose. Hiro goes  in that direction,
and pretty soon he can see the spreading canopy over the Glade.
     Everyone  else calls  it the Body Lot. It  is, simply, an open patch of
ground,  formerly grass  covered, now covered  with successive truckloads of
sand that have become mingled  with litter, broken glass, and human waste. A
canopy  is stretched over it  to keep  out the rain, and big mushroom-shaped
hoods  stick out of  the  ground every few feet, exhaling  warm air on  cold
nights. It is pretty cheap to sleep  in the Glade. It is  an innovation that
was created by some of the franchises farther south  and has been  spreading
northward along with its clientele.
     About  half a dozen  of  them are scattered around under  the  warm-air
vents,  bandaged against the chill in their  army blankets. A couple of them
have a small fire  going, are playing cards by its light. Hiro ignores them,
starts wandering around through the remainder.
     "Chuck Wrightson," he says. "Mr. President, are you here?"
     The second time  he says it, a pile of wool off to his  left begins  to
writhe and thrash  around. A head comes  out of  it. Hiro turns  toward him,
holds up his hands to prove he's unarmed.
     "Who is that?" he says. He is abjectly terrified. "Raven?"
     "Not Raven," Hiro says. "Don't worry.  Are you Chuck  Wrightson? Former
President of the Temporary Republic of Kenai and Kodiak?"
     "Yeah. What do you want? I don't have any money."
     "Just to talk. I work for CIC, and my job is to gather intelligence."
     "I need a fucking drink," Chuck Wrightson says.
     The Towne Hall is a big inflatable building in the middle of the Snooze
'n'  Cruise.  It is  Derelict Las Vegas:  convenience store,  video  arcade,
laundromat,  bar, liquor store, flea market, whorehouse. It  always seems to
be ruled by that small percentage of the human population that is capable of
partying until five in the morning every single night, and that has no other
     Most  Towne Halls have a few  franchises-within-franchises. Hiro sees a
Kelley's Tap, which is about  the nicest trough you are likely to find  at a
Snooze 'n' Cruise, and leads Chuck Wrightson  into it. Chuck is wearing many
layers  of clothing that used to  be different colors. Now they are the same
color as his skin, which is khaki.
     All  the  businesses  in a Towne Hall, including this  bar,  look  like
something  you'd see on a prison ship - everything nailed down, brightly lit
up twenty-four  hours a  day,  all of the personnel sealed  up  behind thick
glass barriers that have gone  all yellow and murky. Security at  this Towne
Hall is provided by The Enforcers, so there  are a lot of steroid addicts in
black armorgel outfits, cruising up and down the  arcade in twos and threes,
enthusiastically violating people's human rights.
     Hiro and Chuck grab the closest thing they can find to  a corner table.
Hiro  buttonholes  a  waiter  and  surreptitiously orders a  pitcher  of Pub
Special, mixed half  and half  with nonalcoholic beer. This way, Chuck ought
to remain awake a little longer than he would otherwise.
     It doesn't take much to make him  open up. He's  like one of  these old
guys from a  disgraced presidential administration,  forced out  by scandal,
who devotes the rest of his life to finding people who will listen to him.
     "Yeah, I  was president  of TROKK for two years. And  I still  consider
myself the president of the government in exile."
     Hiro  tries  to keep  himself  from rolling  his  eyes.  Chuck seems to
     "Okay, okay, so that's not much. But TROKK  was a thriving country, for
a while. There's a lot of people  who'd like to see something like that rise
again. I mean,  the only  thing  that  forced us  out -  the only way  those
maniacs were able to seize  power -was just totally, you know - " He doesn't
seem  to have  words  for it. "How  could  you have  expected something like
     "How were you forced out? Was there a civil war?"
     "There were some uprisings,  early on. And  there were  remote parts of
Kodiak  where we never had a firm grip on power. But there was never a civil
war per se. See, the Americans liked our  government. The  Americans had all
the weapons, the equipment, the infrastructure. The Orthos were just a bunch
of hairy guys running around in the woods."
     "Russian Orthodox. At first they were a tiny minority. Mostly Indians -
you know, Tlingits and Aleuts  who'd been converted by the Russians hundreds
of  years ago.  But when things  got  crazy in  Russia, they started to pour
across the Dateline in all kinds of different boats."
     "And they didn't want a constitutional democracy."
     "No. No way."
     "What did they want? A tsar?"
     "No.  Those tsar guys  - the traditionalists -  stayed in  Russia.  The
Orthos who came to TROKK were total rejects. They had been forced out by the
mainline Russian Orthodox church."
     "Yeretic.  That's how Russians say  'heretic.' The Orthos  who came  to
TROKK were a new sect - all Pentecostals. They were tied in somehow with the
Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates.  We had missionaries from Texas coming up all
the  goddamn time to meet with  them. They were always speaking in  tongues.
The mainline Russian Orthodox church thought it was the work of the devil."
     "So how many of  these Pentecostal Russian Orthodox people came over to
     "Jeez, a hell of a lot of them. At least fifty thousand."
     "How many Americans were in TROKK?"
     "Close to a hundred thousand."
     "Then how exactly did the Orthos manage to take the place over?"
     "Well, one morning we woke up and there was an Airstream parked in  the
middle  of Government  Square in New Washington,  right in the middle of all
the bagos where we had set up  the government. The Orthos had towed it there
during the  night,  then  took the  wheels off  so it  couldn't be moved. We
figured it was a protest action. We told them to  move it out of there. They
refused and issued a  proclamation, in Russian. When we got this damn  thing
translated, it  turned  out to be an order  for us to pack up  and leave and
turn over power to the Orthos.
     "Well, this  was ridiculous. So we went up to this Airstream to move it
out of there, and Gurov's waiting for us with this nasty grin on his face."
     "Yeah. One of the Refus  who came over  the  Dateline  from the  Soviet
Union. Former KGB  general turned religious fanatic. He was kind of like the
Minister  of  Defense for  the  government that the Orthos set up. So  Gurov
opens the  side  door of  the Airstream and  lets  us get a  load of  what's
     "What was inside?"
     "Well, mostly it  was  a  bunch  of equipment,  you  know,  a  portable
generator,  electrical  wiring,  a  control panel, and so  forth. But in the
middle of the trailer,  there's this big black  cone  sitting on the  floor.
About the shape of an ice cream cone, except  it's about five feet long  and
it's smooth and black. And  I asked what the hell is that thing.  And  Gurov
says,  that  thing is  a  ten-megaton  hydrogen  bomb  we  scavenged from  a
ballistic missile. A city-buster. Any more questions?"
     "So you capitulated."
     "Couldn't do much else."
     "Do you  know how  the Orthos came to be  in possession  of  a hydrogen
     Chuck Wrightson clearly knows. He sucks  in his  deepest breath  of the
evening, lets it out, shakes his head, staring  off over Hiro's shoulder. He
takes a couple of nice long swigs from his glass of beer.
     "There  was a Soviet nuclear-missile submarine. The commander was named
Ovchinnikov. He  was religiously faithful, but  he wasn't a fanatic like the
Orthos.  I mean,  if  he had  been a fanatic  they  wouldn't have  given him
command of a nuclear-missile submarine, right?"
     "You  had  to  be psychologically stable. Whatever that  means. Anyway,
after things fell apart  in Russia, he  found himself  in possession of this
very dangerous weapon. He made  up his mind that he was going to offload all
of the  crew  and  then scuttle  it  in  the Marianas Trench. Bury all those
weapons forever.
     "But, somehow, he was persuaded to use this submarine  to  help a bunch
of the Orthos escape to Alaska. They, and a lot of other Refus,  had started
flocking to the Bering coast. And the conditions in some of these Refu camps
were  pretty  desperate. It's not like  a lot  of food can  be grown in that
area, you know. These people were dying by the thousands. They just stood on
the beaches, starving to death, waiting for a ship to come.
     "So Ovchinnikov  let  himself be persuaded to use his submarine - which
is very large and very fast - to evacuate some of these poor Refus to TROKK.
     "But, naturally, he  was  paranoid  about  the idea of  letting a whole
bunch of  unknown quantities onto his  ship.  These nuke-sub  commanders are
real  security freaks, for  obvious reasons.  So they set  up  a very strict
system. All  the Refus who were going to get on the ship had to pass through
metal detectors, had to be inspected. Then they were  under  armed guard all
the way across to Alaska.
     "Well, the Stern Orthos have this guy named Raven - "
     "I'm familiar with him."
     "Well, Raven got onto that nuclear submarine."
     "Oh, my God."
     "He got over to the Siberian  coast somehow - probably surfed across in
his fucking kayak."
     "That's how the Aleuts get between islands."
     "Raven's an Aleut?"
     "Yeah. An Aleut whale killer. You know what an Aleut is?"
     "Yeah. My Dad knew  one in  Japan," Hiro  says.  A bunch  of  Dad's old
prison-camp tales are beginning to stir in Hiro's  memory, working their way
up out of deep, deep storage.
     "The Aleuts just paddle out in  their kayaks and catch a wave. They can
outrun a steamship, you know."
     "Didn't know that."
     "Anyway,  Raven went to one of these Refu  camps and passed himself off
as a Siberian tribesman. You can't tell  some of  those Siberians apart from
our Indians. The Orthos apparently had  some confederates in these camps who
bumped Raven up to the head of the line, so he got to be on the submarine."
     "But you said there was a metal detector."
     "Didn't help. He uses glass knives. Chips them out of plate glass. It's
the sharpest blade in the universe, you know."
     "Didn't know that either."
     "Yeah. The edge is only a single  molecule wide.  Doctors use them  for
eye surgery - they can cut your cornea and not leave a scar. There's Indians
who make a living doing that, you know. Chipping out eye scalpels."
     "Well, you learn something new every day. That kind of a knife would be
sharp enough to go through bulletproof fabric, I guess," Hiro says.
     Chuck Wrightson  shrugs.  "I lost track of the  number of people  Raven
snuffed who were wearing bulletproof fabric."
     Hiro says, "I thought  he must be carrying some kind of high-tech laser
knife or something."
     "Think again. Glass knife. He had  one on board  the  submarine. Either
smuggled  it on  board  with him,  or else  found  a  chunk of glass on  the
submarine and chipped it out himself."
     Chuck gets his thousand-yard stare  again, takes another slug of  beer.
"On a sub, you know, there's  no place for things to drain to. The survivors
claimed that the  blood  was knee-deep all through the submarine. Raven just
killed everyone. Everyone except the Orthos, a skeleton crew, and some other
Refus who  were able  to barricade themselves  in little compartments around
the ship. The survivors say,"  Chuck says, taking another swig, "that it was
quite a night."
     "And  he forced  them  to  steer the submarine  into  the hands  of the
     "To  their  anchorage  off  Kodiak,"  Chuck says. "The Orthos  were all
ready. They had  put together a crew of ex-Navy  men, guys who had worked on
nuke subs in the past - X-rays, they call them - and they came and  took the
sub over. As for us, we had no idea that any of this had happened. Until one
of the warheads showed up in our goddamn front yard."
     Chuck  glances up  above Hiro's head,  noticing  someone. Hiro feels  a
light tap on his shoulder. "Excuse me, sir?" a man is saying. "Pardon me for
just a second?"

     Hiro turns around. It's  a big porky white man with wavy,  slicked-back
red hair and a beard. He's got a baseball  cap perched on top  of  his head,
tilted way  back to  expose the following  words, tattooed in block  letters
across his forehead:

     Hiro is looking up at all of this over the curving horizon of the man's
flannel-clad belly.
     "What is it?" Hiro says.
     "Well, sir, I'm sorry to disturb you in the middle of your conversation
with this gentleman here. But me and my friends were just wondering. Are you
a lazy  shiftless  watermelon-eating black-ass nigger,  or a  sneaky  little
v.d.-infected gook?"
     The man reaches  up, pulls the brim of his  baseball  cap downward. Now
Hiro can  see the  Confederate  flag printed  on the  front, the embroidered
words "New South Africa Franchulate #153."
     Hiro  pushes himself  up over  the  table,  spins  around,  and  slides
backward on his ass toward Chuck, trying to get  the  table  between him and
the  New South African.  Chuck has  conveniently  vanished, so Hiro  ends up
standing with his back comfortably to the wall, looking out over the bar.
     At the same time, a dozen  or so other  men are standing up from  their
tables, forming up behind the first one in a grinning, sunburned  phalanx of
Confederate flags and sideburns.
     "Let's see," Hiro says, "is that some kind of a trick question?"
     There are a lot of Towne Halls in a lot of Snooze 'n' Cruise franchises
where you  have  to check your weapons  at the entrance. This  is not one of
     Hiro isn't sure if that  is bad or good. Without weapons, the New South
Africans  would just beat the crap out  of him. With weapons, Hiro can fight
back, but  the stakes  are higher. Hiro is  bulletproof up to his  neck, but
that just  means the New South Africans will  all be going for a  head shot.
And they pride themselves on marksmanship. It is a fetish with them.
     "Isn't there an NSA franchise down the road?" Hiro says.
     "Yeah," says  the point man, who has  a long,  spreading body and short
stumpy legs. "It's heaven. It really is. Ain't no place on earth like a  New
South Africa."
     "Well, then if you don't mind my asking,"  Hiro says,  "if it's so damn
nice, why don't y'all go back to your egg sac and hang out there?"
     "There is one problem with New South Africa," the guy says. "Don't mean
to sound unpatriotic, but it's true."
     "And what is that problem?" Hiro says.
     "There's no niggers, gooks, or kikes there to beat the shit out of."
     "Ah. That is a problem," Hiro says. "Thank you."
     "For what?"
     "For announcing your intentions - giving me the right to do this."
     Then Hiro cuts his head off.
     What else can he do? There are at least twelve of them. They  have made
a  point  of  blocking  the  only  exit.  They  have  just  announced  their
intentions. And presumably they are all carrying heat. Besides, this kind of
thing  is going to happen  to him about every ten  seconds when he's on  the
     The New South African has no idea what's coming, but he starts to react
as Hiro is swinging the katana  at his neck, so he  is flying backward  when
the decapitation occurs. That is good, because about half  his blood  supply
comes  lofting out the  top  of  his neck. Twin jets, one from each carotid.
Hiro doesn't get a drop on himself.
     In the Metaverse, the blade  just passes right through, if you swing it
quickly  enough. Here in Reality, Hiro's expecting a powerful shock when his
blade hits  the New South African's neck,  like when you hit a baseball  the
wrong way, but he  hardly feels  a thing. It just  goes  right  through  and
almost swings  around  and buries itself in the  wall.  He must  have gotten
lucky  and hit a  gap  between vertebrae. Hiro's training comes back to him,
oddly. He forgot to squeeze  it off, forgot  to stop the  blade himself, and
that's bad form.
     Even though he's expecting it, he's startled for a minute. This sort of
thing doesn't happen with avatars. They just fall down. For an astonishingly
long time,  he just stands there and looks at the guy's body. Meanwhile, the
airborne  cloud  of blood  is  seeking  its  level, dripping  from  the hung
ceiling, spattering down from shelves behind the  bar. A  wino sitting there
nursing a double shot of vodka shakes and shivers, staring into his glass at
the galactic swirl of a trillion red cells dying in the ethanol.
     Hiro  swaps a  few  long glances  with  the New  South  Africans,  like
everyone in  the bar is trying to come to a consensus as to what will happen
next. Should they laugh? Take a picture? Run away? Call an ambulance?
     He makes  his way  around toward  the  exit by running across  people's
tables.  It  is rude, but  other patrons scoot back, some of them are  quick
enough to  snatch  their beers out  of his  way, and no  one  gives him  any
hassles.  The sight of  the bare katana  inspires everyone  to a practically
Nipponese level of politeness.  There  are  a couple more New South Africans
blocking Hiro's way out, but not because they want to stop anyone. It's just
where they happen to be standing when  they  go into  shock.  Hiro  decides,
reflexively, not to kill them.
     And Hiro is off into the lurid main avenue  of the Towne Hall, a tunnel
of flickering and pulsating loglo through which black creatures sprint  like
benighted  sperm up the old  fallopians, sharp  angular  things  clenched in
their hands. They are The Enforcers. They make the average MetaCop look like
Ranger Rick.
     Gargoyle time. Hiro  switches everything on: infrared,  millimeter-wave
radar, ambient-sound  processing.  The  infrared doesn't do  much  in  these
circumstances, but the  radar picks out all the weapons, highlights them  in
The  Enforcers'  hands, identifies them by make, model, and ammunition type.
They're all fully automatic.
     But  The Enforcers and  the New South Africans don't need  radar to see
Hiro's katana with blood and spinal fluid running down the blade.
     The music of Vitaly Chernobyl and the Meltdowns is blasting through bad
speakers  all  around him. It  is their first single to  hit  the  Billboard
charts,  entitled "My  Heart Is a Smoking  Hole in the Ground." The  ambient
sound  processing cuts it to a more reasonable  level,  evens  out the nasty
distortion from the speakers  so  that he can hear his roommate singing more
clearly. Which makes it all  particularly surreal. It just goes to show that
he's out of his element. Doesn't  belong here. Lost in the biomass. If there
was  any  justice,  he could jump into those speakers and trace up the wires
like a digital sylph, follow the  grid back to L.A., where he belongs, there
on top of the world, where everything comes from,  buy Vitaly a drink, crawl
into his futon.
     He  stumbles forward  helplessly  as something  terrible happens to his
back.  It feels like being massaged with a hundred ballpeen  hammers. At the
same  time, a yellow sputtering light  overrides the loglo. A  screaming red
display  flashes up on  the goggles informing him  that the  millimeter-wave
radar has noticed a stream of  bullets headed in his direction and would you
like to know where they came from, sir?
     Hiro has just been shot in  the  back with a burst of machine-gun fire.
All of the bullets have slapped into his vest and dropped to  the floor, but
in doing so  they have  cracked  about half of the ribs on that side of  his
body and bruised a few internal organs. He turns around, which hurts.
     The Enforcer has given up on bullets and whipped out another weapon. It
says so right  on Hiro's goggles:  PACIFIC ENFORCEMENT HARDWARE,  INC. MODEL
SX-29 RESTRAINT PROJECTION DEVICE (LOOGIE GUN). Which is what he should have
used in the first place.
     You can't just carry a sword around as  an empty  threat. You shouldn't
draw it,  or  keep it drawn, unless  you  intend to kill someone.  Hiro runs
toward  The  Enforcer, raising the  katana to strike. The Enforcer  does the
proper thing, namely, gets the hell out of his way. The silver ribbon of the
katana shines up above the  crowd. It attracts Enforcers and repels everyone
else, so  as Hiro runs down the center of the  Towne Hall, he  has no one in
front of him and many shiny dark creatures behind him.
     He turns  off all of the  techno-shit in his  goggles.  All it does  is
confuse him; he stands there  reading statistics about his own death even as
it's happening  to him. Very post-modern.  Time to get immersed  in Reality,
like all the people around him.
     Not even Enforcers will fire  their big  guns  in a crowd, unless  it's
point-blank range, or they're in a really bad mood. A few loogies shoot past
Hiro,  already so spread out  as to be nothing  more than  an annoyance, and
splat into bystanders, wrapping them in sticky gossamer veils.
     Somewhere between the 3-D video-game arcade and the display window full
of terminally bored prostitutes, Hiro's eyes clear up and he sees a miracle:
the  exit  of  the  inflatable dome,  where  the doors  exhale  a  breeze of
synthetic beer breath and atomized body fluids into the cool night air.
     Bad things and good things are happening  in quick succession. The next
bad thing happens when a steel grate falls down to block the doors.
     What the hell, it's  an inflatable  building. Hiro  turns  on the radar
just for a moment and the walls seem to drop away and become invisible; he's
seeing through them now, into the  forest of  steel outside. It doesn't take
long  to locate the parking lot where he left his bike, supposedly under the
protection of some armed attendants.
     Hiro fakes toward the whorehouse,  then cuts directly toward an exposed
section of wall. The fabric  of the building is tough, but his katana slices
a six-foot rent  through  it  with a single  gliding motion,  and then  he's
outside, spat out of the hole on a jet of fetid air.
     After that  - after Hiro  gets onto his  motorcycle, and  the New South
Africans  get  into  their all-terrain  pickups, and  The Enforcers get into
their slick black Enforcer mobiles,  and  they all go screaming out onto the
highway - after that it's just a chase scene.

     Y.T. has been to some unusual places in  her career. She has  the visas
of some three dozen countries laminated onto her  chest. And  on  top of the
real countries  she has picked up and/or  delivered to such charming  little
vacation spots as the  Terminal  Island Sacrifice Zone and the encampment in
Griffith Park.  But  the weirdest job  of all is this new one: someone wants
her to  deliver  some stuff to  the United  States of America. Says so right
there on the job order.
     It's not much of a delivery, just a legal-size envelope.
     "You  sure you don't just want to mail this?" she asks the guy when she
picks it up. It's one of these creepy office parks out in the Burbs.  Like a
Burbclave for worthless  businesses  that  have offices and phones and stuff
but don't actually seem to do anything.
     It's a sarcastic question, of course. The mail doesn't work,  except in
Fedland.  All  the  mailboxes have been  unbolted and used  to decorate  the
apartments of  nostalgia freaks. But  it's also kind of a joke,  because the
destination is, in fact,  a building  in the middle of Fedland. So the  joke
is: If  you want  to  deal with the Feds, why not  use  their fucked-up mail
system? Aren't you afraid that by dealing  with  anything as incredibly cool
as a Kourier you will be tainted in their eyes?
     "Well, uh, the mail doesn't come out here, does it?" the guy says.
     No point in describing the office. No point in even allowing the office
to even register on  her eyeballs and  take up valuable memory space in  her
brain. Fluorescent lights and partitions with carpet glued to them. I prefer
my  carpet on  the floor, thank you. A color scheme. Ergonomic  shit. Chicks
with lipstick. Xerox smell. Everything's pretty new, she figures.
     The legal  envelope is  resting on the  guy's desk.  Not  much point in
describing him,  either. Traces of a southern or Texan  accent.  The  bottom
edge of the envelope is parallel  to the edge  of the desk, one-quarter inch
away  from it,  perfectly centered between the left and right sides. Like he
had  a  doctor come in  here  and put it on  the  desk with  tweezers. It is
addressed to: ROOM 969A,  MAIL STOP MS-1569835, BUILDING LA-6, UNITED STATES
     "You want a return address on this?" she says.
     "That's not necessary."
     "If  I  can't deliver it,  there's  no way I can  get  it back to  you,
because these places all look the same to me."
     "It's not important," he says. "When do you think you'll get it there?"
     "Two hours max."
     "Why so long?"
     "Customs, man. The Feds haven't modernized  their system like  everyone
else."  Which is why most Kouriers  will do anything to  avoid delivering to
Fedland. But it's  a slow  day  today, Y.T. hasn't  been called in to do any
secret missions for the Mafia yet, and  maybe she can catch Mom on her lunch
     "And your name is?"
     "We don't give out our names."
     "I need to know who's delivering this."
     "Why? You said it wasn't important."
     The  guy  gets  really flustered.  "Okay,"  he says. "Forget  it.  Just
deliver it, please."
     Okay, be  that way,  she mentally says. She  mentally says a  number of
other things,  too. The man is an obvious pervert. It's so plain,  so  open:
"And your name is?" Give me a break, man.
     Names are unimportant.  Everyone  knows  Kouriers  are  interchangeable
parts. It's just that some happen to be a lot faster and better.
     So  she skates out of the office. It's all very anonymous. No corporate
logos  anywhere.  So  as she's waiting for the  elevator, she  calls RadiKS,
tries to find out who initiated this call.
     The answer  comes  back a few minutes later, as she's riding out of the
office  park,  pooned   onto  a   nice  Mercedes:  Rife   Advanced  Research
Enterprises. RARE. One  of these high-tech outfits. Probably trying to get a
government contract. Probably trying to sell  sphygmomanometers to the  Feds
or something like that.
     Oh  well,  she just delivers 'em.  She  gets the  impression  that this
Mercedes is sandbagging - driving real slow so she'll poon something  else -
so she poons something else, an  outgoing delivery  truck. Judging from  the
way it's riding high on its  springs,  it must be  empty, so  it'll probably
move along pretty fast.
     Ten  seconds  later, predictably,  the Mercedes  blasts  by in the left
lane, so she poons that and rides it nice and hard for a couple of miles.
     Getting  into   Fedland   is  a  drag.   Most   Fedsters   drive  tiny,
plastic-and-aluminum cars  that are hard  to poon. But eventually  she nails
one, a  little jellybean with glued-on windows  and a three-cylinder engine,
and that takes her up to the United States border.
     The smaller this country gets, the more paranoid they become. Nowadays,
the customs people are just  impossible. She has to sign a ten-page document
- and  they actually make her read it. They say it should take at least half
an hour for her just to read the thing.
     "But I read it two weeks ago."
     "It might  have  changed," the  guard  says, "so  you  have  to read it
     Basically,  it just certifies  that Y.T. is not a terrorist,  Communist
(whatever  that  is),  homosexual,  national-symbol  desecrator, pornography
merchant, welfare parasite,  racially insensitive, carrier of any infectious
disease,  or  advocate of any ideology tending to  impugn traditional family
values. Most  of it  is just definitions of all the words  used on the first
     So Y.T. sits  in the little room for half  an hour,  doing housekeeping
work - going  over her stuff,  changing batteries in all her little devices,
cleaning   her   nails,  having  her  skateboard  run  its  self-maintenance
procedures. Then she  signs the fucking  document  and hands it  over to the
guy. And then she's in Fedland.
     It's  not  hard finding  the  place.  Typical  Fed building - a million
steps. Like it's built on  top of  a mountain of steps. Columns. A lot  more
guys  in this  one than usual.  Chunky guys with slippery hair. Must be some
kind  of  cop building.  The guard at the front door  is  a cop all the way,
wants to give her a big hassle about carrying her skateboard into the place.
Like they've got a safe place out front to keep skateboards.
     The cop  guy is completely  hard  to  deal with. But that's okay, so is
     "Here's the envelope," she says. "You can take it up to the ninth floor
yourself on your coffee break. Too bad you have to take the stairs.
     "Look," he says:,  totally exasperated, "this  is EBGOC. This is, like,
the  headquarters.  EBGOC central.  You got  that? Everything  that  happens
within a mile is being videotaped. People don't spit on  the pavement within
sight of  this building.  They  don't even say  bad words. Nobody's going to
steal your skateboard."
     "That's  even worse.  They'll steal it. Then  they'll  say  they didn't
steal it, they confiscated it.  I know you Feds,  you're always confiscating
     The guy sighs.  Then his eyes go  out  of focus  and he shuts  up for a
minute. Y.T. can tell he's getting a message over the little earphone that's
plugged into his ear, the mark of the true Fed.
     "Go on in," he says. "But you gotta sign."
     "Naturally," Y.T. says.
     The cop  hands  her  the sign-in sheet,  which is actually  a  notebook
computer with an  electronic pen.  She  writes  "Y.T."  on the  screen, it's
converted to a  digital bitmap, automatically time stamped, and sent  off to
the big  computer at Fed  Central. She  knows she's  not  going  to  make it
through the metal detector without  stripping naked,  so she just vaults the
cop's  table  - what's  he going to  do, shoot  her? - and heads on into the
building, skateboard under her arm.
     "Hey!" he says, weakly.
     "What,  you got lots  of EBGOC agents in here being mugged and raped by
female Kouriers?" she says, stomping the elevator button ferociously.
     Elevator takes  forever. She  loses her  patience  and just climbs  the
stairs like all the other Feds.
     The guy is right, it's definitely Cop  Central here on the ninth floor.
Every  creepy guy in sunglasses and slippery hair you've  ever seen, they're
all here, all with little fleshtone helices of wire trailing down from their
ears. There's even some female  Feds. They look even  scarier than the guys.
The things that a woman can do to her hair to make herself look professional
- Jeeezus! Why not just wear a motorcycle helmet? At least then you can take
it off.
     Except  none  of  the Feds, male or female, is wearing sunglasses. They
look naked without them.  Might  as well be walking around with no pants on.
Seeing these Feds  without their  mirror specs is  like blundering  into the
boys' locker room.
     She finds Room 968A easily enough. Most of the floor is just a big pool
of desks. All the actual,  numbered rooms are around the edges, with frosted
glass doors. Each of  the creepy guys seems to have a desk of his  own, some
of them loiter near their desks, the rest of them are doing a lot of hall  -
jogging and  impromptu conferencing at other creepy guys' desks. Their white
shirts are  painfully  clean.  Not  as many shoulder  holsters as  she would
expect; all  the gun-carrying  Feds are  probably  out  in what  used  to be
Alabama or Chicago trying to confiscate back bits of United States territory
from what is now a Buy 'n' Fly or a toxic-waste dump.
     She goes on into Room 968A.  It's an office. Four Fed guys are in here,
the same as the others except most of them are a tad older, in their forties
and fifties.
     "Got a delivery for this room," Y.T. says.
     "You're Y.T.?" says the head Fed, who's sitting behind the desk.
     "You're not supposed to know my name,"  Y.T. says. "How did you know my
     "I recognized you," the head Fed says. "I know your mother."
     Y.T. does  not believe  him. But  these Feds have all kinds of ways  of
finding out stuff.
     "Do you have any relatives in Afghanistan?" she says.
     The  guys  all  look  back  and  forth at  each  other,  like, did  you
understand  the  chick? But  it's not a  sentence  that  is  intended to  be
understood. Actually, Y.T.  has all kinds of voice recognition  ware  in her
coverall and in  her plank.  When  she  says, "Do you have  any relatives in
Afghanistan?" that's like  a  code phrase, it tells all of her spook gear to
get  ready, shake  itself down,  check itself  out, prick up  its electronic
     "You want this envelope or not?" she says.
     "I'll  take  it," the  head  Fed says, standing up and  holding out one
     Y.T. walks into the middle of the room and hands him  the envelope. But
instead  of  taking  it,  he  lunges out  at the last  minute and  grabs her
     She sees an open handcuff in his other hand. He brings it out and snaps
it  down on her  wrist so it tightens  and locks  shut over the cuff of  her
     "I'm  sorry to do this,  Y.T., but I have to place  you  under arrest,"
he's saying.
     "What the fuck are you doing?" Y.T. is saying.  She's  holding her free
arm back away from the desk so he can't cuff her wrists together, but one of
the other Feds grabs her by the free wrist, so now she's stretched out  like
a tightrope between the two big Feds.
     "You guys are dead," she says.
     All the guys smile, like they enjoy a chick with some spunk.
     "You guys are dead," she says a second time.
     This  is  the  key phrase that all of her ware is waiting to hear. When
she says it  the second  time, all the  self-defense  stuff  comes on, which
means  that among  other  things, a  few thousand volts  of  radio-frequency
electrical power suddenly flood through the outsides of her cuffs.
     The  head Fed behind the desk blurts out a grunt from  way down in  his
stomach.  He  flies back  away from  her,  his  entire  right  side  jerking
spastically, trips  over  his  own  chair, and sprawls back  into the  wall,
smacking his  head on  the marble windowsill. The jerk who's  yanking on her
other  arm  stretches  out  like  he's  on  an  invisible rack, accidentally
slapping one of  the other guys in  the face, giving that guy a nice dose of
juice to  the  head. Both of them hit the  floor  like a sack of rabid cats.
There's only one of these guys left,  and he's reaching under his jacket for
something. She takes one step toward him, swings her arm around, and the end
of the loose manacle strokes him in the neck. Just a caress, but it might as
well be a two-handed blow from Satan's electric ax handle. That  funky juice
runs all up and  down his spine, and suddenly, he's sprawled across a couple
of shitty old wooden chairs and his pistol is rotating on the floor like the
spinner in a children's game.
     She flexes her wrist in a particular  way, and the bundy stunner  drops
down her  sleeve and into her hand. The manacle swinging from the other hand
will have  a  similar effect  on that side. She also  pulls  out  the can of
Liquid Knuckles, pops the lid, sets the spray nozzle on wide angle.
     One of  the Fed creeps is nice  enough to open the office door for her.
He comes into the room with his gun already drawn, backed up by half a dozen
other guys who've flocked here from the office pool,  and she just lets them
have it  with the Liquid Knuckles. Whoosh, it's like bug spray. The sound of
bodies  hitting the floor  is  like  a bass drum  roll.  She  finds that her
skateboard has no problem rolling across  their prone bodies, and then she's
out into the office pool. These guys are converging from  all sides, there's
an incredible  number  of them,  she just keeps holding  that  button  down,
pointed straight ahead, digging at  the  floor  with  her foot,  building up
speed. The Liquid Knuckles acts like a  chemical flying wedge, she's skating
out of  there on a carpet  of  bodies. Some of the  Feds are agile enough to
dart in from  behind and try to get her that way, but she's  ready  with the
bundy stunner, which turns their nervous systems  into coils  of  hot barbed
wire for a few minutes but isn't supposed to have any other effects.
     She's made it about three-quarters of  the  way across  the office when
the Liquid Knuckles runs out. But it still works for a second or two because
people  are afraid  of  it, keep  diving out of  the way even though there's
nothing coming out. Then a couple of them figure it out, make the mistake of
trying  to  grab  her by  the wrists. She gets one  of them with  the  bundy
stunner  and the other with the electric manacle. Then boom through the door
and she's out into the stairwell, leaving four dozen casualties in her wake.
Serves them right, they didn't even try to arrest her in a gentlemanly way.
     To a man on foot, stairs are a hindrance. But to  the smartwheels, they
just  look like  a  forty-five-degree  angle  ramp. It's  a  little  choppy,
especially when she's down to about the  second  floor and  is going way too
fast, but it's definitely doable.
     A  lucky thing:  One  of  the  first-floor  cops  is  just  opening the
stairwell door, no doubt alerted by the symphony  of alarm bells and buzzers
that has begun to merge into a solid wall  of hysterical sound. She blows by
the guy; he puts one arm  out in an attempt  to stop her, sort of  belts her
across the waist in the process, throws her balance off, but this  is a very
forgiving skateboard,  it's smart enough to slow down for her a  little  bit
when her  center of mass  gets into the wrong place. Pretty  soon  it's back
under her,  she's banking radically through  the elevator lobby, aiming dead
center  for the arch of the metal detector, through which the bright outdoor
light of freedom is shining.
     Her old buddy the cop  is up on his feet, and  he reacts fast enough to
spread-eagle himself across the metal detector. Y.T. acts like she's heading
right for him, then kicks the board sideways at the last minute, punches one
of  the toe switches, coils her legs underneath her, and jumps into the air.
She flies right over his little table while the plank is rolling  underneath
it, and a second later she lands on it, wobbles once, gets her balance back.
She's in the lobby, headed for the doors.
     It's an old building. Most of the doors are metal. But there's a couple
of revolving doors, too, just big sheets of glass.
     Early thrashers used  to inadvertently skate  into walls of glass  from
time to time, which was a  problem. It turned into a bigger problem when the
whole Kourier thing got  started and thrashers started  spending  a lot more
time  trying to  go  fast through office-type environments where glass walls
are considered quite the concept. Which is  why on an expensive  skateboard,
like this one  definitely is, you can get, as an extra added safety feature,
the RadiKS  Narrow  Cone Tuned Shock Wave Projector. It  works on real short
notice, which is good, but you can only use it once (it draws its power from
an explosive charge), and then you have to take  your plank into the shop to
have it replaced.
     It's an emergency thing. Strictly a panic button. But that's cool. Y.T.
makes sure she's aimed directly at the glass revolving doors, then hits  the
appropriate toe switch.
     It's - my God - like you stretched a tarp across a  stadium  to turn it
into a  giant  tom-tom and  then  crashed  a 747 into  it. She can  feel her
internal organs move several inches. Her heart trades places with her liver.
The bottoms of her feet feel numb and tingly. And she's not even standing in
the path of the shock wave.
     The safety glass  in the revolving doors doesn't just crack and fall to
the floor, like she imagined it would.  It is blown out  of its moorings. It
gushes out of the building and down the front steps. She follows, an instant
     The ridiculous  cascade  of  white marble steps on  the  front  of  the
building  just  gives  her more  ramp  time.  By  the  time she reaches  the
sidewalk, she's easily got enough speed to coast all the way to Mexico.
     As she's swinging out across the broad avenue, aiming her crosshairs at
the  customs post  a quarter mile  away, which she is going to  have to jump
over, something tells her to look up.
     Because after all, the building she just escaped from is towering above
her, many stories full of Fed creeps, and all the alarms are going off. Most
of the windows  can't be opened,  all they can do is look out. But there are
people on  the roof.  Mostly the roof is  a  forest  of antennas. If  it's a
forest, these guys  are the creepy little gnomes who live in the trees. They
are ready  for action, they  have their sunglasses on,  they  have  weapons,
they're all looking at her.
     But only  one  guy's taking  aim. And the thing he's aiming at  her  is
huge. The barrel is the size of a baseball bat. She can see the muzzle flash
poke  out of  it, wreathed in a sudden doughnut  of  white  smoke.  It's not
pointed right at her; it's aimed in front of her.
     The stun bunny lands on the street, dead ahead, bounces up in  the air,
and detonates at an altitude of twenty feet.
     The next quarter of a second: There's no bright flash to blind her, and
so  she  can  actually see the  shock  wave spreading  outward in a  perfect
sphere, hard and palpable as a ball  of  ice.  Where the sphere contacts the
street, it makes a circular wave  front, making pebbles bounce, flipping old
McDonald's containers that have long  been smashed flat, and  coaxing  fine,
flourlike dust  out of  all the tiny crevices in the pavement,  so  that  it
sweeps across the road toward her like a microscopic blizzard. Above it, the
shock  wave hangs  in the air, rushing toward her  at the speed  of sound, a
lens of air that flattens and refracts everything on the other  side.  She's
passing through it.

     As Hiro crests  the pass on  his motorcycle at five in the morning, the
town of Port Sherman, Oregon, is suddenly laid out  before  him: a flash  of
yellow loglo wrapped into a  vast U-shaped valley that was ground out of the
rock,  a  long time ago, by a  big  tongue of  ice  in an  epochal period of
geological cunnilingus. There  is just a  light dusting of gold  around  the
edges where it fades into the rain forest, thickening and intensifying as it
approaches the harbor - a long narrow fjordlike notch  cut into the straight
coastline of  Oregon, a deep cold trench of black water heading straight out
to Japan.
     Hiro's back  on the Rim again. Feels good after that night ride through
the sticks. Too many rednecks, too many mounties.
     Even  from  ten miles away and a mile above, it's not  a pretty  sight.
Farther  away from the central  harbor district,  Hiro  can  make out  a few
speckles of red,  which is  a little better  than  the yellow. He  wishes he
could see something in green or blue or purple, but there don't seem  to  be
any neighborhoods done up in those gourmet colors.
     But then this isn't exactly a gourmet job.
     He rides half a mile off the road, sits down on a  flat rock in an open
space - ambush-proof, more or less - and goggles into the Metaverse.
     "Yes, sir?"
     "A figure from Sumerian mythology.  Later  cultures knew her as Ishtar,
or Esther."
     "Good goddess or bad goddess?"
     "Good. A beloved goddess."
     "Did she have any dealings with Enki or Asherah?"
     "Mostly with Enki. She and Enki were on good and bad terms at different
times. Inanna was known as the queen of all the great me."
     "I thought the me belonged to Enki."
     "They did. But  Inanna went  to the Abzu  - the watery  fortress in the
city of Eridu where Enki stored up the me - and got Enki to give her all the
me. This is how the me were released into civilization."
     "Watery fortress, huh?"
     "Yes, sir."
     "How did Enki feel about this?"
     "He gave them to her willingly,  apparently because he  was drunk,  and
besotted  with  Inanna's  physical charms. When  he sobered up, he tried  to
chase her down and get them back, but she outsmarted him."
     "Let's get semiotic," Hiro mumbles.  "The  Raft is L. Bob Rife's watery
fortress. That's where he stores up all of his stuff. All of his me. Juanita
went to Astoria, which was as close as you could get to the Raft a couple of
days ago. I think she's trying to pull an Inanna."
     "In  another  popular  Sumerian  myth,"  the  Librarian  says,  "Inanna
descends into the nether world."
     "Go on," Hiro says.
     "She gathers together all of her me and enters the land of no return."
     "She passes  through the  nether world and reaches the  temple  that is
ruled  over  by Ereshkigal, goddess of Death. She  is traveling under  false
pretenses, which  are easily penetrated  by  the all-seeing  Ereshkigal. But
Ereshkigal  allows her to enter the temple. As Inanna enters, her robes  and
jewels and me are stripped from her and she is brought, stark  naked, before
Ereshkigal  and  the  seven judges  of the underworld. The judges  'fastened
their  eyes upon  her,  the eyes of death;  at  their word, the  word  which
tortures the spirit, Inanna  was turned  into a  corpse, a  piece of rotting
meat, and was hung from a hook on the wall.' Kramer."
     "Wonderful. Why the hell would she do something like that?"
     "As  Diane  Wolkstein  puts  it,  "Inanna  gave  up  ...  all  she  had
accomplished in life  until  she was stripped naked,  with nothing remaining
but her will  to be reborn ... because of her journey to the underworld, she
took on the powers and mysteries of death and rebirth."
     "Oh. So I guess there's more to the story?"
     "Inanna's messenger waits for three days, and when  she fails to return
from  the netherworld, goes  to the gods  asking for their help. None of the
gods is willing to help except for Enki."
     "So our buddy, Enki, the hacker god, has to bail her ass out of Hell."
     "Enki creates two people and  sends them into the netherworld to rescue
Inanna.  Through  their magic, Inanna is  brought back to  life. She returns
from the netherworld, followed by a host of the dead."
     "Juanita went to the Raft three days ago," Hiro says. "It's time to get

     Earth is still where he left it, zoomed in to show a  magnified view of
the Raft. In the light of  last night's chat with  Chuck Wrightson, it's not
hard to find the hunk  of raft  that was staked  out by the Orthos when  the
Enterprise swung  by TROKK a  few weeks back. There's a  couple of big-assed
Soviet freighters tied together, a swarm of small boats around them. Most of
the  Raft  is dead  brown  and  organic,  but  this  section  is  all  white
fiberglass: pleasure  craft looted from  the comfortable  retirees of TROKK.
Thousands of them.
     Now the Raft is off Port  Sherman,  so, Hiro figures, that's where  the
high  priests of Asherah are  hanging  out.  In a few  days,  they'll  be in
Eureka, then San  Francisco,  then  L.A. - a  floating land link, tying  the
Orthos'  operations on  the  Raft  to  the  closest  available point on  the
     He turns away from the Raft, skims across the ocean to Port Sherman  to
do a bit of reconnoitering there.
     Down along the waterfront, there's a nice crescent of cheap motels with
yellow logos. Hiro rifles through them, looking for Russian names.
     That's  easy. There's  a  Spectrum  2000  right  in the middle  of  the
waterfront. As the  name implies, each one  has a whole range of rooms, from
human coin lockers in the lobby all the way to luxury suites on the top. And
a whole range of rooms has been rented out by a bunch  of people  with names
ending in -off and -ovski and other dead Slavic giveaways. The foot soldiers
sleep in  the lobby,  laid out straight and  narrow in coin  lockers next to
their  AK-47s, and the  priests and  generals live  in nice rooms higher up.
Hiro pauses to wonder what a Pentecostal Russian Orthodox priest does with a
Magic Fingers.
     The suite on  the very top is being  rented out by  a  gentleman by the
name of Gurov. Mr. KGB himself. Too much of a wimp to hang out on the actual
Raft, apparently.
     How'd he get from the Raft to Port Sherman? If it  involves  crossing a
couple of hundred miles of North Pacific, it must be a decent-sized vessel.
     There are half a  dozen marinas in Port Sherman. At the moment, most of
them  are clogged with small  brown boats.  It  looks  like  a  post-typhoon
situation, where a  few hundred square miles of  ocean have been swept clean
of sampans that have piled up against the nearest hard place. Except this is
slightly more organized than that.
     The Refus are coining ashore already. If they're smart and  aggressive,
they probably know that they can walk to California from here.
     That explains why the piers  are clogged with trashy  little boats. But
one of  them still looks like a private marina. It's got a dozen or so clean
white  vessels,  lined up  neatly  in their  slips,  no  riffraff.  And  the
resolution of this image is good enough that Hiro can see  the pier speckled
with little doughnuts: probably rings of sandbags. That'd be the only way to
keep your private moorage private when the Raft was hovering offshore.
     The  numbers, flags, and other identifying goodies are  harder  to make
out. The satellite has a hard time picking that stuff out.
     Hiro checks  to  see whether CIC has  a stringer in Port  Sherman. They
have to, because the Raft is here, and CIC  hopes to make a big business out
of  selling Raft  intelligence  to  all the  anxious  waterfronters  between
Skagway and Tierra del Fuego.
     Indeed. There  are a few people hanging out in this town, uploading the
latest Port Sherman intel. And one  of  them  is just a punter with  a video
camera who goes around shooting pictures of everything.
     Hiro reviews this stuff in fast-forward.  A lot of it  is shot from the
stringer's hotel window: hours and hours of coverage of the stream of shitty
little brown boats laboring their way up the harbor, tying up to the edge of
the mini-Raft that's forming in front of Port Sherman.
     But  it's semi-organized, in that some apparently self-appointed  water
cops  are  buzzing around in  a speedboat, aiming guns  at  people, shouting
through  a megaphone. And that  explains why, no matter how tangled the mess
in  the  harbor becomes, there's always a  clear lane down the middle of the
fjord, headed out to sea. And the  terminus of that  clear lane  is the nice
pier with the big boats.
     There are two  big vessels there. One is a large fishing boat  flying a
flag bearing the emblem of the Orthos, which is just a cross and a flame. It
is  obvious TROKK loot; the name on the stem is KODIAK QUEEN, and the Orthos
haven't  bothered to  change it yet. The other large boat is  a small cruise
vessel, made to carry rich people comfortably to nice places. It has a green
flag and appears to be connected with Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong.
     Hiro does a little  more poking around  in  the streets of Port Sherman
and finds out that there is a pretty good-sized Mr.  Lee's Greater Hong Kong
franchulate here. In typical Hong Kong style, it is more of a spray of small
buildings and rooms all over town. But it's a dense spray.
     Dense  enough  that Hong  Kong  has several  full-time  employees here,
including a proconsul. Hiro  pulls up the  guy's picture so  he'll recognize
him: a  crusty-looking Chinese-American gent in his fifties.  So it's not an
automated, unmanned franchulate like you normally see in the Lower 48.

     When she first woke up, she was still in her RadiKS coverall, mummified
in gaffer's  tape,  lying on the  floor of  a shitty old Ford  van  blasting
across  the middle of  nowhere. This did not put  her into  a very favorable
mood.  The stun bunny left her with a  persistent  nosebleed and an  eternal
throbbing headache, and every time the van hit a chuckhole, her head bounced
on the corrugated steel floor.
     First  she was just pissed. Then  she  started having brief  moments of
fear -  wanting to go home. After eight  hours in the back of the van, there
was  no doubt in her mind that  she wanted to go home.  The  only thing that
kept her from  giving up  was curiosity. As far as  she could tell from this
admittedly poor vantage point, this didn't look like a Fed operation.
     The  van  pulled  off  the  highway, onto  a frontage road, and  into a
parking lot.  The  rear doors of the  van opened  up,  and a couple of women
climbed in. Through the open doors, Y.T. could see the Gothic arch logo of a
Reverend Wayne's Pearly Cates.
     "Oh, you poor baby," one of the women said. The other woman just gasped
in  horror at her condition. One of them just cradled her  head  and stroked
her hair, letting her sip sweet Kool-Aid from  a Dixie  cup, while the other
tenderly, slowly took the gaffer's tape off.
     Her shoes had already been removed  when she woke up in the back of the
van, and  no one offered her another pair.  And  everything had been removed
from  her  coverall. All  the  good stuff  was gone.  But they  hadn't  gone
underneath the coverall. She still  had the dog tags. And one other thing, a
thing between  her  legs called  a dentata. There's  no  way they could have
found that.
     She  has always  known that  the  dog tags  were probably a fake  thing
anyway.  Uncle Enzo  doesn't  just  go around  giving his  war  souvenirs to
fifteen-year-old chicks. But they still might have an effect on someone.
     The two  women are named Marla and  Bonnie.  They are with her  all the
time.  Not  only  with  her,  but touching  her.  Lots  of  hugs,  squeezes,
hand-holding,  and tousled hair. The first  time she goes  to  the bathroom,
Bonnie  goes with her, opening the stall door and actually standing in there
with her. Y.T. thinks that Bonnie is worried that she's going to pass out on
the toilet or something. But the next time  she  has to pee, Marla goes with
her. She gets no privacy at all.
     The only problem  is she can't deny that she likes it,  in a  way.  The
ride in the  van hurt.  It really hurt bad.  She never felt so lonely in her
life. And now  she's  barefoot and  defenseless in  an  unfamiliar place and
they're giving her what she needs.
     After she had a few minutes to freshen up - whatever that means -inside
the  Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates, she and Marla and Bonnie climbed  into a
big stretch  van with  no windows. The floor was carpeted but there  were no
seats inside, everyone sat on the floor. The van was jammed when they opened
the rear doors. Twenty  people were packed  into it, all energetic,  beaming
youths.  It  looked impossible; Y.T. shrank away from it, backing right into
Marla  and Bonnie. But a  cheerful roar  came up  from the van people, white
teeth flashing in the dimness, and people began to scrunch out a tiny  space
for them.
     She spent most  of the next two days packed into the van between Bonnie
and Marla, holding hands with them constantly, so she couldn't even pick her
nose without permission. They sang happy  songs  until  her brain turned  to
tapioca. They played wacky games.
     A couple of times every hour, someone in the van would start to babble,
just like the Falabalas. Just like the Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates people.
The babbling would spread throughout the  van like a contagious disease, and
soon everyone would be doing it.
     Everyone except for Y.T. She couldn't seem  to get the  hang of it.  It
just seemed embarrassingly stupid to her. So she just faked it.
     Three  times a day,  they  had a chance to eat and eliminate. It always
happened  in Burbclaves. Y.T.  could feel them pulling  off the  interstate,
finding  their way down twisty development lanes, courts, ways, and circles,
A garage door would rise electrically, the van would pull in, the door would
shut behind them. They would go  into a suburban house,  except  stripped of
furniture and other family touches, and sit on the floor in empty bedrooms -
one for boys, one for girls - and eat cake and cookies. This always happened
in a totally empty room in a house, but there was always different decor: in
one  place, flowery  countryish  wallpaper  and a lingering  smell of rancid
Glade.  In  another,  bluish wallpaper  featuring  hockey players,  football
players, basketball  players.  In another, just plain  white  walls with old
crayon marks on them. Sitting in these empty rooms, Y.T. would study the old
furniture scrapes on the  floors, the dents  in the sheetrock, and muse over
them like  an  archaeologist, wondering about the long-departed families who
had  once  lived here.  But  toward the  end of the  ride, she wasn't paying
attention anymore.
     In  the van,  she could  hear  nothing  but  singing and chanting,  see
nothing  but the jammed-together faces of her companions. When they  stopped
for gas,  they  did it  in giant truck stops out in  the  middle of nowhere,
pulling up to the most distant pump island so that no one was near them. And
they  never stopped  driving.  They  just got relayed from one driver to the
     Finally,  they  got to a coast. Y.T. could smell it. They  spent  a few
minutes waiting, engine idling, and  then the van bumped over some kind of a
threshold, climbed a few ramps,  stopped, set its parking brake.  The driver
got out  and left  them all alone  in the van for  the first time. Y.T. felt
glad that the trip was over.
     Then everything  started  to  rumble,  like an engine noise  but  a lot
bigger.  She  didn't feel any movement  until  a few minutes later, when she
realized that everything  was rocking gently. The  van was parked on a ship,
and the ship was headed out to sea.

     It's a real ocean-going  ship. An old, shitty, rusty  one that probably
cost about five bucks at the ship junkyard. But it carries cars, and it goes
through the water, and it doesn't sink.
     The ship  is just like the van, except bigger,  with  more  people. But
they eat  the  same stuff, sing the same songs, and sleep just as rarely  as
ever. By now, Y.T. finds it perversely comforting. She knows that she's with
a lot  of other people like her, and that she's safe. She knows the routine.
She knows where she belongs.
     And  so finally they come to  the Raft.  No one has  told  Y.T. this is
where they're going,  but by now it's obvious. She  ought  to be scared. But
they wouldn't be going to the Raft if it was as bad as everyone says.
     When it starts coming  into view, she  half expects them to converge on
her with gaffer's tape again. But then she  figures out  it's not necessary.
She hasn't  been causing trouble. She's been accepted here, they  trust her.
It gives her a feeling of pride, in a way.
     And  she  won't  cause trouble on the Raft because  all  she can  do is
escape from their part  of it onto the Raft per se. As such. The real  Raft.
The Raft of a hundred Hong Kong  B-movies  and blood-soaked  Nipponese comic
books.  It doesn't  take  much imagination to think of  what happens to lone
fifteen-year-old blond American girls on the Raft, and these people know it.
     Sometimes, she worries about her mother, then she hardens her heart and
thinks  maybe the whole thing will be  good for her. Shake her up  a little.
Which is what she  needs.  After Dad  left, she just folded up  into herself
like an origami bird thrown into a fire.
     There is kind of an outer cloud of small boats surrounding the Raft for
a  distance of a few  miles.  Almost all of them are fishing  boats. Some of
them  carry  men with guns, but they don't fuck  around with this ferry. The
ferry swings through  this  outer zone, making a broad turn, finally zeroing
in  on  a white neighborhood on one flank of  the Raft. Literally white. All
the boats here are clean and  new. There's a couple  of big rusty boats with
Russian lettering on the side, and the ferry pulls up alongside one of them,
ropes are thrown across, then  augmented with nets, gang-planks, webs of old
discarded tires.
     This Raft thing does not look like good skating territory at all.
     She wonders if any of the other people on board this ferry are skaters.
Doesn't seem likely. Really, they are not her kind of people at all. She has
always been  a dirty  scum  dog  of the highways,  not one  of  these  happy
singalong types. Maybe the Raft is just the place for her.
     They  take her down into one  of  the Russian ships  and give  her  the
grossest job  of all time: cutting up fish. She does not want a job, has not
asked for  one. But that's what she gets. Still, no one really talks to her,
no one bothers to explain anything, and that makes her reluctant to ask. She
has just run into a massive cultural shock wave, because most of the  people
on this ship are old and fat and Russian and don't speak English.
     For a couple of days, she  spends a  lot  of  time sleeping on the job,
being prodded awake  by the hefty Russian dames who work in this  place. She
also does some eating. Some of the fish that comes through this  place looks
pretty rank,  but there's a fair  amount of salmon.  The only way  she knows
this is from having sushi at the mall - salmon is  the  orange-red stuff. So
she makes some sushi of her own, munches down on some fresh salmon meat, and
it's good. It clears her head a little.
     Once  she gets  over the shock of it and settles into  a  routine,  she
starts  looking  around her,  watching  the  other fish-cutting  dames,  and
realizes  that  this is just like life must be  for about 99  percent of the
people in  the world. You're in this place. There's other people all  around
you, but they don't understand you and you don't understand them, but people
do a lot of pointless babbling anyway.  In order to stay alive, you  have to
spend  all day every day doing stupid meaningless work. And the only  way to
get  out  of  it is to  quit,  cut loose, take  a flyer, and go off into the
wicked world, where you will be swallowed up and never heard from again.
     She's not  especially  good  at cutting up fish.  The big stout Russian
chicks  - stomping,  slab-faced babushkas  - keep  giving her a hassle. They
keep hovering, watching her cut with this look on their face like they can't
believe what a dork she is. Then they try to show her how to do it the right
way, but  still she's not so good  at it.  It's hard, and her hands are cold
and stiff all the time.
     After a couple of frustrating  days, they give  her a new job,  farther
down  the production line: they  turn her into a cafeteria dame. Like one of
the slop-slingers in the high school lunchroom.  She works in the galley  of
one  of the big Russian ships, hauling vats  of cooked  fish stew out to the
buffet line, ladling it out into bowls, shoving it across  the counter at an
unending line consisting of religious fanatics, religious fanatics, and more
religious fanatics.  Except this time  around,  there seem to  be a lot more
Asians and hardly any Americans at all.
     They have a new species  here too:  people  with antennas coming out of
their  heads.  The antennas look like the ones on cop walkie-talkies: short,
blunt, black  rubber whips. They rise up from behind the ear. The first time
she sees  one of these  people,  she  figures it  must be some  kind of  new
Walkman, and  she wants to ask the guy where  he got it, what he's listening
to.  But  he's  a  strange  guy, stranger than  all  of the others,  with  a
permanent thousand-yard stare and a bad case of the mumbles, and  he ends up
giving her the creeps so bad  that she just  shoves  an extra-large dose  of
stew in his face and hurries him on down the line.
     From time  to time, she actually recognizes one of  the people who were
in her van.  But they don't  seem  to  recognize her;  they just  look right
through her. Glassy-eyed. Like they've been brainwashed.
     Like Y.T. was brainwashed.
     She can't believe it has taken her  this long  to  figure out what they
were doing to her. And that just makes her more pissed.

     In Reality,  Port Sherman  is a surprisingly  tiny little burg,  really
just  a  few square  blocks. Until the  Raft came along, it had a  full-time
population  of  a couple  of  thousand people.  Now the population  must  be
pushing fifty thousand. Hiro has to slow down a little  bit here because the
Refus are  all sleeping on the street  for the  time being, an impediment to
     That's okay, it saves his life. Because shortly after he gets into Port
Sherman, the wheels on  his motorcycle lock up  - the spokes  become rigid -
and the  ride  gets  very bumpy. A  couple of seconds after that, the entire
bike goes dead, becomes  an inert chunk of metal. Not even the engine works.
He looks down into the flat screen on top of the fuel tank, wanting to get a
status report, but it's just showing snow.  The bios  has crashed. Asherah's
possessed his bike.
     So he  abandons it in  the middle of the street, starts  walking toward
the waterfront. Behind him, he can hear the Refus waking up, struggling  out
of their blankets and sleeping bags, converging over the fallen bike, trying
to be the first to claim it.
     He can hear a deep thumping in his chest, and for a minute he remembers
Raven's motorcycle  in L.A., how he  felt  it first  and heard it later. But
there are no motorcycles around here. The sound is coming from above. It's a
chopper. The kind that flies.
     Hiro can  smell the seaweed rotting on  the beach,  he's  so close.  He
comes around  a corner and finds himself on  the waterfront street,  looking
straight into the facade of the Spectrum 2000. On the other side is water.
     The chopper's  coming up the fjord, following  it inland from the  open
sea, headed  straight for  the  Spectrum 2000.  It's a  small one,  an agile
number with a lot  of glass. Hiro  can see the crosses  painted  all over it
where  the red stars used  to be.  It  is brilliant and dazzling in the cool
blue  light  of  early  morning  because it's  shedding a  trail  of  stars,
blue-white magnesium flares tumbling out of it every few seconds, landing in
the  water  below,  where  they  continue to burn, leaving an astral pathway
marked out down  the length of the harbor. They aren't  there  to look cool.
They are there to confuse heat-seeking missiles.
     From where he's standing, he can't see  the roof of the hotel,  because
he's  looking straight up  at  it. But he has the feeling that Gurov must be
waiting there, on top of the tallest building in Port Sherman, waiting for a
dawn evacuation to carry him away into the porcelain  sky, carry him away to
the Raft.
     Question: Why  is he being  evacuated? And why are  they worried  about
heat-seeking missiles? Hiro realizes, belatedly,  that  some  heavy  shit is
going on.
     If he still had the bike, he could ride it right up the fire stairs and
find out what's happening. But he doesn't have the bike.
     A deep  thump sounds from the roof of a building  on his right. It's an
old building,  one of  the original pioneer  structures from a hundred years
ago.   Hiro's  knees   buckle,  his   mouth  comes  open,   shoulders  hunch
involuntarily, he  looks  toward the  sound. And  something catches his eye,
something small and dark, darting away from the building and up into the air
like  a  sparrow. But  when it's a  hundred yards  out over  the  water, the
sparrow catches fire, coughs out a great cloud of sticky yellow smoke, turns
into  a white fireball,  and springs  forward. It  keeps  getting faster and
faster, tearing down the center  of  the harbor, until it passes all the way
through the little chopper, in through the windshield and  out the back. The
chopper turns into a cloud  of flame shedding dark bits of scrap metal, like
a phoenix breaking out of its shell.
     Apparently, Hiro's not  the only guy in town who hates Gurov. Now Gurov
has to come downstairs and get on a boat.
     The lobby of the Spectrum 2000 is  an  armed camp, full  of beards with
guns.  They're  still  putting  their  defense together;  more soldiers  are
dragging  themselves out of  their coin  lockers, pulling on their  jackets,
grabbing their guns. A swarthy guy, probably a Tatar sergeant left over from
the  Red Army,  is running  around the  lobby  in a  modified Soviet Marines
uniform, screaming at people, shoving them this way and that.
     Gurov may be a holy man, but he can't walk on water. He'll have to come
out to the waterfront street, make his way two blocks down to the  gate that
admits him to the secured pier, and get on board the  Kodiak Queen, which is
waiting for him,  black smoke starting to cough  out of  its  stacks, lights
starting to  come  on.  just  down the  pier from  the Kodiak  Queen is  the
Kowloon, which is the big Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong boat.
     Hiro turns his back on the Spectrum 2000 and starts running up and down
the waterfront  streets, scanning the logos until he sees  the one he wants:
Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong.
     They don't want to let him in. He flashes his passport; the doors open.
The guard  is Chinese but speaks a  bit of English. This is a measure of how
weird things  are in Port Sherman: they have a  guard on the door.  Usually,
Mr. Lee's Greater Hong  Kong is  an  open  country,  always looking  for new
citizens, even if they are the poorest Refus.
     "Sorry," the guard says in a reedy, insincere voice, "I did not know  -
" He points to Hiro's passport.
     The franchulate  is literally a  breath of fresh  air. It  doesn't have
that Third World ambience, doesn't smell like urine at  all. Which means  it
must be the local headquarters, or close to it, because most of  Hong Kong's
Port Sherman  real  estate probably  consists of nothing  more than a gunman
hogging a pay phone in a lobby. But this place is spacious, clean, and nice.
A few hundred Refus stare at him through the windows, held at bay not by the
mere plate glass but by  the eloquent promise of the three Rat Thing hutches
lined up against one wall. From the looks of it, two of those have just been
moved in  recently. Pays to beef up  your security when the Raft  is  coming
     Hiro  proceeds to  the counter.  A  man  is  talking  on the  phone  in
Cantonese, which means that he is, in fact, shouting. Hiro recognizes him as
the Port Sherman proconsul.  He is  deeply involved in this little chat, but
he has definitely noticed Hiro's swords, is watching him carefully.
     "We are very busy," the man says, hanging up.
     "Now you are a  lot busier," Hiro says.  "I  would like to charter your
boat, the Kowloon."
     "It's very expensive," the man says.
     "I just threw away a brand-new top-of-the-line motorcycle in the middle
of  the street because I didn't feel  like pushing it  half  a block  to the
garage," Hiro says. "I am on an expense account that would blow your mind."
     "It's broken."
     "I appreciate your politeness in not wanting  to  come out and just say
no," Hiro says, "but  I happen to know that it is,  in fact, not broken, and
so I must consider your refusal equivalent to a no."
     "It's not available," the man says. "Someone else is using it."
     "It has  not yet  left the pier," Hiro says, "so  you  can  cancel that
engagement, using one of the excuses you have just given me, and then I will
pay you more money."
     "We cannot do this," the man says.
     "Then  I will go out  into  the  street and inform the  Refus that  the
Kowloon is leaving for L.A. in exactly one hour, and  that  they have enough
room to take  twenty Refus along with them,  first come, first served," Hiro
     "No," the man says.
     "I will tell them to contact you personally."
     "Where do you want to go on the Kowloon?" the man says.
     "The Raft."
     "Oh,  well, why didn't you say so," the  man  says. "That's  where  our
other passenger is going."
     "You've got someone else who wants to go to the Raft?"
     "That's what I said. Your passport, please."
     Hiro  hands  it over.  The man  shoves it into  a  slot.  Hiro's  name,
personal   data,   and  mug  shots   are  digitally  transferred   into  the
franchulate's bios, and with a little bit of key-pounding, the man persuades
it to spit out a laminated photo ID card.
     "You get onto the pier with this," he says. "It's good  for six  hours.
You make your own deal with the other passenger. After that, I never want to
see you again."
     "What if I need more consular services?"
     "I can always  go out  and  tell people," the man says,  "that a nigger
with swords is out raping Chinese refugees."
     "Hmm. This isn't exactly the best service I've ever had  at a Mr. Lee's
Greater Hong Kong."
     "This is not a normal situation," the  man  says. "Look out the window,
     Not much has apparently changed down at the waterfront. The Orthos have
organized  their defense  in the lobby of the  Spectrum 2000: furniture  has
been  overturned,  barricades set up. Inside the hotel itself, Hiro presumes
furious activity is going on.
     It's still not clear whom the Orthos are defending themselves  against.
Making his way through the waterfront area, Hiro doesn't see much: just more
Chinese  Refus in baggy clothes. It's just that some of them look a lot more
alert than others. They have a whole different affect. Most of  the  Chinese
have  their eyes on  the mud in  front  of  their  feet, and their minds  on
something else. But some of them  are just strolling up and down the street,
looking all around, alertly, and most of these people happen to be young men
wearing bulky jackets. And haircuts that  are  from a  whole other stylistic
universe  than  what the  others are sporting. There is  evidence of styling
     The entrance to the rich  people's pier is  sandbagged,  barbwired, and
guarded. Hiro approaches  slowly, his  hands  in plain  sight, and shows his
pass to the head guard, who is the  only white  person Hiro has seen in Port
     And  that gets him onto  the  pier. Just like that.  Like the Hong Kong
franchulate, it's  empty, quiet,  and  doesn't stink.  It  bobs  up and down
gently  on  the tide, in a way that Hiro  finds relaxing. It's really just a
train of rafts, plank platforms built over floating hunks of styrofoam,  and
if  it weren't  guarded  it would  probably end up  getting  dragged out and
lashed onto the Raft.
     Unlike a normal  marina, it's  not quiet and isolated.  Usually, people
moor their boats, lock them  up, and  leave. Here,  at least  one  person is
banging out on  each  boat, drinking coffee,  keeping their weapons in plain
sight, watching Hiro very  intently as  he strolls  up  the pier.  Every few
seconds, the pier thunders with footsteps, and one  or two Russians run past
Hiro,  making  for  the   Kodiak  Queen.   They  are  all  young  men,   all
sailor/soldier types, and they're diving onto  the Kodiak Queen as  if  it's
last  boat out of  Hell, being  shouted  at by  officers,  running to  their
stations, frantically attending to their sailor chores.
     Things  are  a lot calmer on the Kowloon. It's guarded too, but most of
the people appear to be  waiters and stewards, wearing snappy uniforms  with
brass buttons and  white  gloves.  Uniforms  that  are intended to  be  used
indoors,  in  pleasant, climate-controlled dining  rooms. A few crew members
are visible from place to place, their black hair slicked back, clad in dark
windbreakers to protect them from the cold and spray. Hiro can  only see one
man on  the Kowloon who appears to be a passenger: a  tall slender Caucasian
in  a  dark  suit,  strolling  around  chatting into  a portable  telephone.
Probably some Industry jerk who wants to go out  for a day cruise,  look  at
the  Refus on the Raft while he's sitting in a dining room  having a gourmet
     Hiro's about halfway down the pier when all bell breaks loose on shore,
in front  of  the  Spectrum  2000. It starts  with  a  long series of  heavy
machine-gun  bursts that don't  appear to  do much damage, but do  clear the
street pretty fast. Ninety-nine percent of  the  Refus  just evaporate.  The
others, the young men  Hiro noticed, pull interesting  high-tech weapons out
of their  jackets  and disappear into doorways and buildings. Hiro picks  up
the pace a little, starts walking backward down the pier, trying to get some
of the larger vessels in between him and the action so he doesn't get hit by
a stray burst.
     A  fresh breeze comes  off the water  and down the pier. Passing by the
Kowloon, it picks up the smell of bacon frying  and coffee brewing, and Hiro
can't  help but meditate on the fact that his last meal was half of  a cheap
beer in a Kelley's Tap in a Snooze 'n' Cruise.
     The scene in front of the Spectrum 2000 has devolved into a generalized
roar of  unbelievably  loud white noise as all the people inside and outside
of the hotel fire their weapons back and forth across the street.
     Something  touches his shoulder. Hiro turns to brush it away, sees that
he's  looking down at a short Chinese waitress who  has  come  down the pier
from the Kowloon. Having gotten his attention, she puts her hands back where
they were originally, to wit, plastered over her ears.
     "You  Hiro  Protagonist?"  she  mouths,  basically  inaudible over  the
ridiculous noise of the firefight.
     Hiro nods.  She nods back, steps away from him, jerks her  head  toward
the  Kowloon. With her hands plastered over her ears this way, it looks like
some kind of a folk-dance move.
     Hiro  follows her down the pier. Maybe they're going to let him charter
the Kowloon after all. She ushers him onto the aluminum gangplank.
     As he's walking across  it,  he looks up to one  of the  higher  decks,
where  a  couple  of  the  crew  members  are  hanging  out  in  their  dark
windbreakers.  One  of  them  is leaning  against  a  railing, watching  the
firefight through  binoculars. Another one,  an  older  one, approaches him,
leans  over  to  examine his back, slaps  him a couple of times  between the
shoulder blades.
     The guy drops his binoculars to see who's pounding him on the back. His
eyes are not  Chinese.  The older guy says something to him, gestures at his
throat. He's not Chinese, either.
     The  binocular guy nods,  reaches  up with one hand and presses a lapel
switch. The next time he  turns around, a word is written across his back in
neon green electropigment: MAFIA.
     The older guy turns away; his windbreaker says the same thing.
     Hiro turns around in the middle of the gangplank. There are twenty crew
members in plain sight an around him. Suddenly, their black windbreakers all
say, MAFIA. Suddenly, they are all armed.
     "I  was  planning to get  in touch with Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong and
file a complaint  about their  proconsul here  in Port Sherman," Hiro jokes.
"He was very uncooperative this morning when I insisted on renting this boat
out from under you."
     Hiro is sitting  in the first-class dining  room of the Kowloon. On the
other side  of the  white  linen tablecloth is the man Hiro  had  previously
pegged as the Industry creep on vacation. He's impeccably dressed in a black
suit,  and he has a glass eye. He has not bothered to  introduce himself, as
though he's expecting Hiro to know who he is already.
     The man  does  not  seem  amused  by  Hiro's  story. He  seems, rather,
nonplussed. "So?"
     "Don't see any reason to file a complaint now," Hiro says.
     "Why not?"
     "Well, because  now  I  understand his reluctance  not to  displace you
     "How come? You got money, don't you?"
     "Yeah, but - "
     "Oh!" the man with the glass eye says, and  allows  himself  sort  of a
forced smile. "Because we're the Mafia, you're saying."
     "Yeah," Hiro says, feeling  his face  get hot. Nothing  like  making  a
total dickhead out of yourself. Nothing in the world like it, nosireebob.
     Outside, the gun  battle  is  just  a  dim  roar.  This dining room  is
insulated from noise, water, wind, and hot  flying lead by a double layer of
remarkably thick glass, and the space between the panes is full of something
cool and gelatinous. The roar does not seem as steady as it used to be.
     "Fucking machine guns," the man says.  "I hate 'em.  Maybe one out of a
thousand  rounds  actually hits something worth  hitting. And they  kill  my
ears. You want some coffee or something?"
     "That'd be great."
     "We  got  a big buffet  coming up  soon. Bacon, eggs, fresh  fruit  you
wouldn't believe."
     The guy that Hiro  saw earlier, up  on the deck, pounding Binocular Man
on the back, sticks his head into the room.
     "Excuse me, boss, but we're moving into, like, third phase of our plan.
Just thought you'd wanna know."
     "Thank you, Livio. Let me know when the Ivans make it to the pier." The
guy sips his coffee, notices Hiro looking confused. "See, we got a plan, and
the plan is divided up into different phases."
     "Yeah, I got that."
     "The first phase was immobilization. Taking  out their chopper. Then we
had Phase Two,  which  was making  them think we were trying to kill them in
the hotel. I think that this phase succeeded wonderfully."
     "Me too."
     "Thank you.  Another important part of this phase was getting your  ass
in here, which is also done."
     "I'm part of this plan?"
     The man with the glass eye smiles  crisply. "If you  were not  part  of
this plan, you would be dead."
     "So you knew I was coming to Port Sherman?"
     "You know that chick Y.T.? The one you have been using to spy on us?"
     "Yeah." No point in denying it.
     "Well, we have been using her to spy on you."
     "Why? Why the hell do you care about me?"
     "That would be a tangent from our main conversation, which is about all
the phases of the plan."
     "Okay. We just finished Phase Two."
     "Now, in  Phase  Three, which  is ongoing, we allow them to think  that
they are making an incredible, heroic escape, running down the street toward
the pier."
     "Phase Four!" shouts Livio, the lieutenant.
     "Scusi,"  the  man with the glass eye says,  scooting his  chair  back,
folding  his napkin back onto the table. He gets up and  walks  out  of  the
dining room. Hiro follows him above deck.
     A couple of dozen  Russians are all  trying to force their way  through
the  gate onto the pier. Only a few of them can get through at once,  and so
they end up strung out over a couple of hundred feet, all running toward the
safety of the Kodiak Queen.
     But  a  dozen or so manage  to stay together in a  clump:  a  group  of
soldiers, forming a  human shield  around  a smaller cluster of  men  in the
     "Bigwigs,"  the  man  with  the  glass   eye  says,  shaking  his  head
     They all run crablike down the pier,  bent down as far as they can  go,
firing the  occasional  covering  burst  of machine-gun fire back into  Port
     The man with the glass eye is squinting against a cool,  sudden breeze.
He turns to Hiro  with a hint  of a grin.  "Check this  out," he  says,  and
presses a button on a little black box in his hand.
     The  explosion  is  like  a single drumbeat, coming from  everywhere at
once. Hiro can feel it coming up out of the water, shaking his feet. There's
no  big flame  or cloud  of smoke, but there is a sort of twin geyser effect
that  shoots out  from underneath the Kodiak  Queen, sending  jets of white,
steamy  water upward like unfolding wings.  The  wings  collapse in a sudden
downpour, and then the  Kodiak  Queen seems shockingly low in the water. Low
and getting lower.
     All  the  men  who  are  running  down the pier suddenly stop in  their
     "Now," Binocular Man mumbles into his lapel.
     There  are  some  smaller explosions down  on the pier. The entire pier
buckles and writhes like  a snake in  the water. One  segment in particular,
the  segment with  the  bigwigs on it, is rocking  and  seesawing violently,
smoke  rising from both ends. It has  been blown loose from the rest  of the
     All  of  its occupants  fall down  in the  same direction  as it  jerks
sideways and begins to move,  yanked out  of its place. Hiro can see the tow
cable rising  up out of the water as it is stretched tight, running a couple
of  hundred  feet to a small open boat with a big motor on it, which  is now
pulling out of the harbor.
     There's still  a dozen bodyguards on the segment. One  of them sizes up
the situation,  aims  his  AK-47 across the  water at the boat that's towing
them, and loses his brains. There's a sniper on the top deck of the Kowloon.
     All the other bodyguards throw their guns into the water.
     "Time for Phase Five," the man with the glass eye says. "A  big fucking
     By  the time  he and Hiro have sat back down  in the dining  room,  the
Kowloon  has pulled  away  from  the pier  and is  headed  down  the  fjord,
following a course parallel to the smaller boat that is towing  the segment.
As they eat,  they can look  out  the window, across a few hundred yards  of
open water, and see the segment keeping pace  with them. All the bigwigs and
the  bodyguards are on their asses now, keeping their centers of gravity low
as the segment bucks nastily.
     "When we  get farther  away from land, the waves get  bigger,"  the man
with the glass eye says. "I hate  that shit. All I want is to hang on to the
breakfast long enough to tamp it down with some lunch."
     "Amen," says Livio, heaping some scrambled eggs onto his plate.
     "Are you going to pick those  guys  up?" Hiro says. "Or  just  let them
stay out there for a while?"
     "Fuck 'em. Let 'em freeze their asses off. Then when we bring them onto
this  boat, they'll be ready  for it. Won't put up too much of a fight. Hey,
maybe they'll even talk to us."
     Everyone  seems  pretty  hungry.  For  a  while,  they  just  dig  into
breakfast. After  a while, the man  with the  glass  eye breaks the  ice  by
announcing how great  the food is, and everyone  agrees. Hiro  figures  it's
okay to talk now.
     "I was wondering why you guys were interested in me." Hiro figures that
this is always a good thing to know in the case of the Mafia.
     "We're all in the same happy gang," the man with the glass eye says.
     "Which gang is that?"
     "Lagos's gang."
     "Well, it's not really his gang. But he's the guy  who put it together.
The nucleus around which it formed."
     "How and why and what are you talking about?"
     "Okay." He shoves his plate away from him, folds up his napkin, puts it
on the table. "Lagos had all these ideas. Ideas about all kinds of stuff."
     "So I noticed."
     "He had  stacks all over  the  place, on  all different  topics. Stacks
where he would pull together knowledge from all over the fucking map and tie
it  all together. He  had  these things  stashed here  and there around  the
Metaverse, waiting for the information to become useful."
     "More than one of them?" Hiro says.
     "Supposedly. Well, a few years ago, Lagos approached L. Bob Rife."
     "He did?"
     "Yeah. See, Rife  has  a million  programmers  working for  him. He was
paranoid that they were stealing his data."
     "I know that he was bugging their houses and so on."
     "The reason you know that is because you found it in Lagos's stack. And
the reason  Lagos bothered to  look  it  up  is because he  was doing market
research. Looking for someone who might pay him hard  cash for the  stuff he
dug up in the Babel/Infocalypse stack."
     "He thought," Hiro says, "that  L. Bob Rife might have  a use for  some
     "Right. See, I don't understand all this shit.  But I guess he found an
old virus or something that was aimed at the elite thinkers."
     "The technological priesthood," Hiro says. "The infocrats. It wiped out
the whole infocracy of Sumer."
     "That's crazy," Hiro says. "That's like if you find  out your employees
are stealing ballpoint pens, you take them out and kill them. He wouldn't be
able to use it without destroying all his programmers' minds."
     "In its original form," the man with the glass eye says. "But the whole
point is, Lagos wanted to do research on it."
     "Informational warfare research."
     "Bingo.  He wanted to isolate this  thing and modify it so it  could be
used to control the programmers without blowing their brains sky high."
     "And did it work?"
     "Who knows? Rife stole Lagos's idea. Just took  it and ran with it. And
after  that,  Lagos had no idea what Rife did with it. But a couple of years
later, he started getting worried about a lot of stuff he was seeing."
     "Like the explosive growth in Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates."
     "And these  Russkies who speak in  tongues. And the fact  that Rife was
digging up this old city - "
     "Yeah.  And the radio astronomy thing. Lagos  had a lot of stuff he was
worried  about.  So  he  began  to  approach people.  He  approached  us. He
approached that girl you used to go out with -"
     "Yeah.  Nice girl. And  he approached Mr.  Lee. So you might say that a
few different people have been working on this little project."

     "Where'd they go?" Hiro says.
     Everyone's already looking for the float, as though they all noticed at
once that it was missing. Finally  they see it, a quarter  mile behind them,
dead in the water. The bigwigs and  the  bodyguards are standing up now, all
looking in the same direction. The  speedboat is circling around to retrieve
     "They must have figured out a way to detach the tow cable," Hiro says.
     "Not  likely," the man with the glass eye says. "It was attached to the
bottom, under  the water.  And it's  a steel cable, so  there's  no way they
could cut it."
     Hiro sees another  small  craft bobbing  on  the  water,  about halfway
between  the  Russians and the  speedboat  that was  towing  them.  It's not
obvious, because  it's tiny, close to  the  water  done up in  dull  natural
colors. It's a one-man kayak. Carrying a long-haired man.
     "Shit," Livio says. "Where the hell did he come from?"
     The kayaker looks behind  himself for a few moments, reading the waves,
then suddenly  turns back  around and  begins  to paddle hard, accelerating,
glancing back every few strokes. A big wave is coming, and just as it swells
up underneath the kayak,  he's matching its speed. The kayak stays on top of
the wave and shoots forward like a missile, riding the swell, suddenly going
twice as fast as anything else on the water.
     Digging at the wave with one end of his paddle, the kayaker makes a few
crude  changes in his direction. Then he parks the paddle athwart the kayak,
reaches down  inside, and hauls out a small dark  object, a tube about  four
feet long, which he hoists up to one shoulder.
     He  and  the   speedboat  shoot  past  each  other  going  in  opposite
directions, separated by a gap of only about twenty feet. Then the speedboat
blows up.
     The Kowloon has overshot the site of  all this action by a few thousand
yards. It's pulling around into as tight a turn as a vessel of this size can
handle, trying to throw a  one-eighty so it can  go back and  deal  with the
Russians and, somewhat more problematically, with Raven.
     Raven is paddling back toward his buddies.
     "He's  such an asshole," Livio says.  "What's he going to  do, tow them
out to the Raft behind his fucking kayak?"
     "This gives me the creeps," the man with the glass eye says. "Make sure
we got some guys up  there with Stingers. They must have a chopper coming or
     "No other ships on the radar" says one of the other soldiers, coming in
from the bridge. "Just us and them. And no choppers either."
     "You know Raven carries a nuke, right?" Hiro says.
     "So  I  heard.  But that  kayak's  not  big enough.  It's tiny. I can't
believe you'd go out to sea in something like that."
     A mountain is  growing out of  the sea.  A bubble of black  water  that
keeps rising and broadening. Well behind the bobbing raft, a black tower has
appeared,  jutting vertically out of the  water, a  pair of  wings sprouting
from its  top. The tower keeps getting taller, the wings getting higher  out
of the water,  as before and  aft, the mountain rises and shapes itself. Red
stars and a few numbers. But  no one has to read the  numbers to know it's a
submarine. A nuclear-missile submarine.
     Then it stops. So close to the Russians on their little raft that Gurov
and friends can practically jump onto it. Raven paddles toward them, cutting
through the waves like a glass knife.
     "Fuck me," the man  with the glass  eye says. He is  utterly astounded.
"Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me. Uncle Enzo's gonna be pissed."
     "You couldn't of known," Livio says. "Should we shoot at 'em?"
     Before the man with the glass eye can make  a policy decision, the deck
gun on the top of the nuke sub opens up. The first shell misses them by just
a few yards.
     "Okay, we got a rapidly evolving situation. Hiro, you come with me."
     The crew of the Kowloon has already sized  up the  situation and placed
their bets on the nuclear submarine. They are running up and down the rails,
dropping large fiberglass capsules into the water. The capsules  break  open
to reveal bright orange folds, which blossom into life rafts.
     Once  the deck gunners  on  the nuke  sub  figure out  how  to hit  the
Kowloon, the situation begins to evolve even more rapidly. The Kowloon can't
decide whether to sink, bum, or simply disintegrate, so it does all three at
once. By  that time, most of the people  who were on it have made  their way
onto  a life  raft. They  all bob on the water,  zip themselves into  orange
survival suits, and watch the nukesub.
     Raven is the last person to go belowdecks on the submarine. He spends a
minute  or two removing some gear from  his kayak: a few items in  bags, and
one  eight-foot  spear  with  a  translucent, leaf-shaped  head.  Before  he
disappears into  the hatch, he turns toward the wreckage of the Kowloon  and
holds the harpoon up over his head, a gesture of  triumph and a  promise all
at  once. Then he's gone. A  couple of minutes later, the submarine is gone,
     "That guy gives me the creeps," the man with the glass eye says.

     Once it starts coming clear to her,  again,  that these people  are all
twisted freaks, she  starts to notice other  things about them. For example,
the whole time, no one ever looks her in the eye. Especially the men. No sex
at all in these guys,  they've got it pushed so far down inside of them. She
can  understand why  they  don't  look  at  the fat  babushkas. But she's  a
fifteen-year-old American chick, and  she is used to getting  the occasional
look. Not here.
     Until she looks up from her big vat of fish  one day and finds that she
is looking into some guy's chest. And when she  follows  his chest upward to
his neck, and  his  neck  all  the way up  to  his face,  she sees dark eyes
staring right back at her, right over the top of the counter.
     He's got something written on his forehead: POOR IMPULSE CONTROL. Which
is kind of scary. Sexy, too. It gives him a  certain measure of romance that
none of these other people have. She  was expecting the Raft to  be dark and
dangerous,  and instead it's just like working where her mother  works. This
guy  is  the first person she's seen around this place who really looks like
he belongs on the Raft.
     And he's got the look down, too. Incredibly rank style. Although he has
a long  wispy mustache that doesn't do much for his face.  Doesn't bring out
his features well at all.
     "Do you take the nasty stuff? One fish head or two?" she says, dangling
the ladle  picturesquely.  She always talks trash to people because none  of
them can understand what she's saying.
     "I'll take whatever you're offering," the guy says. In English. Sort of
a crisp accent.
     "I'm  not offering anything," she says, "but if you want to stand there
and browse, that's cool."
     He  stands  there  and  browses for  a while. Long  enough  that people
farther back in line stand up on tiptoe to see what the problem is. But when
they see that the problem  is this particular individual, they get  down off
their toes  real  fast,  hunch  down,  sort  of  blend  in  to the  mass  of
fishy-smelling wool.
     "What's for dessert today?" the guy asks. "Got anything sweet for me?"
     "We  don't  believe in  dessert,"  Y.T.  says.  "It's  a  fucking  sin,
     "Depends on your cultural orientation."
     "Oh, yeah? What culture are you oriented to?"
     "I am an Aleut."
     "Oh, I've never heard of that."
     'That's  because we've been  fucked over," the  big scary  Aleut  says,
"worse than any other people in history."
     "Sorry to hear  that," Y.T. says. "So, uh, do you want me  to serve  up
some fish, or are you gonna stay hungry?"
     The big  Aleut  stares  at  her  for a while.  Then he  jerks his  head
sideways and says, "Come on. Let's get the fuck out of here."
     "What, and skip out on this cool job?"
     He grins ridiculously. "I can find you a better job."
     "In this job, do I get to leave my clothes on?"
     "Come  on. We're going now," he  says, those eyes burning into her. She
tries to ignore a sudden warm tense feeling down between her legs.
     She  starts following him  down the cafeteria line,  heading for a  gap
where  she can exit  into  the dining  area. The head babushka  bitch  comes
stomping out from in back, hollers at her in some incomprehensible language.
     Y.T. turns to  look back. She feels  a pair of big hands sliding up her
sides,  coming  up into her  armpits, and she  pulls her  arms to her sides,
trying to stop it. But it's no good, the hands come all the way up and  keep
lifting,  keep  rising  into the air, bringing her with  them. The  big  guy
hoists her right up over the counter  like she's  a three-year-old and  sets
her down next to him.
     Y.T. turns back  around  to see the  head  babushka bitch,  but  she is
frozen in a mixture of surprise,  fear, and sexual outrage. But in the  end,
fear wins out, she averts her eyes, turns away, and  goes to replace Y.T. at
vat position number nine.
     "Thanks  for  the  lift," Y.T. says,  her voice wowing  and  fluttering
ridiculously. "Uh, didn't you want to eat something?"
     "I was thinking of going out anyway," he says.
     "Going out? Where do you go out on the Raft?"
     "Come on, I'll show you."

     He leads her down passageways and up steep steel stairways and out onto
the  deck.  It's  getting  close to  twilight,  the  control  tower  of  the
Enterprise looms hard and black against a deep gray sky that's getting  dark
and gloomy so fast that it seems darker, now,  than it will at midnight. But
for now, none of  the lights are on and that's all there is, black steel and
slate sky.
     She follows him down the deck of the ship  to the stern. From here it's
a thirty-foot drop to the water, they are looking out across the prosperous,
clean white neighborhood  of the Russian people, separated from  the squalid
dark tangle  of  the Raft  per  se  by a wide canal patrolled  by gun-toting
blackrobes. There's no stairway  or rope ladder  here,  but there is a thick
rope hanging from  the railing. The big  Aleut guy hauls  up a chunk of rope
and drapes it under one  arm and  over one  leg in a  quick  motion. Then he
throws one arm around Y.T.'s  waist, gathering her  in the crook of his arm,
leans back, and falls off the ship.
     She absolutely refuses to  scream.  She  feels the rope stop his  body,
feels his arm squeeze her so tight  she chokes for a  moment, and then she's
hanging there, hanging in the crook of his arm.
     She's got her arms down to her side,  defiant. But just for the hell of
it, she leans into him, wraps her arms around his neck, puts her head on his
shoulder, and hangs on  tight. He rappels them down the rope, and soon  they
are standing on the sanitized, prosperous Russian version of the Raft.
     "What's your name anyway?" she says.
     "Dmitri Ravinoff," he says. "Better known as Raven."
     Oh, shit.

     The connections between  boats are tangled  and  unpredictable. To  get
from point A to point  B,  you have to wander  all over the place. But Raven
knows where he's going. Occasionally, he reaches out, grabs her hand, but he
doesn't yank her around even though  she's  going a lot slower than  he  is.
Every so often, he looks back at her with a grin,  like,  I  could hurt you,
but I won't.
     They come to a place  where the Russian  neighborhood is joined  to the
rest of the Raft by a wide plank bridge guarded by Uzi dudes.  Raven ignores
them, takes Y.T.'s hand again,  and walks right across the  bridge with her.
Y.T.  hardly has time  to  think through the  implications of this before it
hits her, she looks around, sees all these gaunt Asians, staring back at her
like she's  a five-course meal, and realizes: I'm on the  Raft.  Actually on
the Raft.
     "These are  Hong Kong Vietnamese," Raven says. "Started out in Vietnam,
came to  Hong  Kong as boat people after the  war  there - so  they've  been
living  on sampans  for a  couple of generations  now. Don't be scared, this
isn't dangerous for you."
     "I don't think I can find my way back here," Y.T. says.
     "Relax," he says. "I've never lost a girlfriend."
     "Have you ever had a girlfriend?"
     Raven  throws back his head and laughs. "A lot, in the old days. Not as
many in the past few years."
     "Oh, yeah? The old days? Is that when you got your tattoo?"
     "Yeah. I'm  an alcoholic. Used to get in a  lot of trouble. Been  sober
for eight years."
     "Then how come everyone's scared of you?"
     Raven  turns  to  her,  smiles broadly,  shrugs.  "Oh,  because I'm  an
incredibly ruthless, efficient, cold-blooded killer, you know."
     Y.T. laughs. So does Raven.
     "What's your job?" Y.T. asks.
     "I'm a harpooner," he says.
     "Like in  Moby Dick?"  Y.T. likes  this  idea.  She read  that book  in
school. Most of the people in her class, even  the power tools, thought that
the  book  was  totally  entrenched.  But  she  liked  all  the  stuff about
     "Nah. Compared to me, those Moby Dicksters were faggots."
     "What kind of stuff do you harpoon?"
     "You name it."
     From there on  out, she just  looks  at him. Or  at inanimate  objects.
Because otherwise she  wouldn't  see anything  except thousands of dark eyes
staring  back  at  her.  In  that way,  it's  a  big  change  from  being  a
slop-slinger for the repressed.
     Part of it is just because she's so different. But part  of  it is that
there's no privacy on the Raft, you make your way around by hopping from one
boat to the next. But each boat is home to about three dozen people, so it's
like  you  are  constantly  walking   through  people's  living  rooms.  And
bathrooms. And bedrooms. Naturally, they look.
     They tromp across a makeshift platform built on oil  drums. A couple of
Vietnamese dudes are there  arguing or haggling over something, looks like a
slab  of fish. The one who's  turned toward them sees them coming. His  eyes
flicker across Y.T.  without pausing, fix on  Raven, and  go wide. He  steps
back. The guy he's talking to,  who has  his back to them, turns  around and
literally jumps into the air, letting  out a  suppressed grunt. Both of them
back well out of Raven's path.
     And then  she  figures  out something important:  These  people  aren't
looking  at  her. They're not even giving her a second glance.  They're  all
looking at  Raven.  And it's not  just  a  case  of  celebrity  watching  or
something  like that. All of these Raft dudes, these tough scary homeboys of
the sea, are scared shitless of this guy.
     And she's on a date with him.
     And it's just started.
     Suddenly, walking  through another Vietnamese living room,  Y.T.  has a
flashback to the  most  excruciating  conversation she ever had, which was a
year ago when her mother tried to give her advice on what to do if a boy got
fresh with her. Yeah, Mom, right. I'll keep that in mind. Yeah, I'll be sure
to remember that. Y.T. knew that advice was worthless, and this goes to show
she was right.

     There  are four men  in the life raft: Hiro  Protagonist, self-employed
stringer for the Central Intelligence Corporation, whose practice used to be
limited to so-called "dry" operations, meaning that he sat around and soaked
up  information  and  then later  spat  it back  into  the  Library, the CIC
database, without ever actually doing anything. Now  his practice has become
formidably  wet.  Hiro  is  armed  with  two  swords  and  a nine-millimeter
semiautomatic  pistol,  known colloquially  as  a  nine, with two ammunition
clips, each carrying eleven rounds.
     Vic, unspecified last name. If  there was still  such a thing as income
tax, then every year when Vic filled out his 1040 form he would put down, as
his  occupation,  "sniper."  In  classic  sniper  style,  Vic  is  reticent,
unobtrusive. He is armed  with  a  long, large-caliber  rifle  with  a bulky
mechanism mounted on its top, where a telescopic sight might be found if Vic
were not at the leading  edge of his  profession. The  exact  nature of this
device is not obvious, but Hiro  presumes that it is  an exquisitely precise
sensor  package  with fine  crosshairs  superimposed  on the middle. Vic may
safely be presumed to be carrying additional small concealed weapons.
     Eliot Chung. Eliot used to be the skipper of a boat called the Kowloon.
At the moment, he  is  between jobs. Eliot grew up  in  Watts, and  when  he
speaks  English,  he sounds  like a  black guy. Genetically speaking,  he is
entirely Chinese. He is fluent in both  black  and  white English as well as
Cantonese, Taxilinga, and some Vietnamese,  Spanish, and Mandarin. Eliot  is
armed with a  .44  Magnum  revolver, which  he carried  on board the Kowloon
"just for the  halibut," i.e., he used  it execute halibut before passengers
hauled them on board. Halibut  grow  very large and can  thrash so violently
that they can easily  kill the people who  hook them; hence it is prudent to
fire a number  of  shells through their  heads before taking them on  board.
This is the only reason Eliot carries a weapon; the other defensive needs of
the Kowloon  were seen  to by crew members who were specialists in that kind
of thing.
     "Fisheye." This is the man  with  the glass eye.  He will only identify
himself by his nickname. He is armed with a large, fat black suitcase.
     The suitcase is massively constructed, with built-in wheels, and weighs
somewhere  between three hundred pounds  and a metric ton, as Hiro discovers
when he tries to move it. Its  weight turns the normally flat  bottom of the
life raft into a puckered cone. The suitcase has a noteworthy attachment:  a
flexible  three-inch-thick  cable or hose  or something, a couple  of meters
long, that emerges  from one  comer, runs  up the sloping floor of the  life
raft, over the edge, and trails in the water. At the  end of this mysterious
tentacle is a hunk of metal about the size of a wastebasket,  but so  finely
sculpted  into so many narrow  fins and  vanes  that it appears  to  have  a
surface area the size of Delaware. Hiro only saw this thing out of the water
for a few chaotic moments, when it was being transferred into the life raft.
At that time it was glowing  red hot. Since then, it has  lurked  below  the
surface, light gray,  impossible to see clearly  because the water around it
is forever  churning  in  a full, rolling boil. Fist-sized bubbles  of steam
coalesce amid its fractal tracery of hot vanes and pummel the surface of the
ocean, ceaselessly, all day and all night. The powerless life raft, sloshing
around  the North Pacific, emits a vast, spreading plume of steam like  that
of  an Iron Horse chugging  full blast  over the Continental Divide. Neither
Hiro nor Eliot ever mentions, or even  notices, the by-now-obvious fact that
Fisheye is  traveling with  a small, self-contained  nuclear power  source -
almost  certainly  radiothermal isotopes  like the ones that  power  the Rat
Thing. As long as Fisheye refuses to notice  this fact, it would be rude for
them to bring it up.
     All of the participants  are clad in  bright orange  padded suits  that
cover their entire bodies. They are the North Pacific version of life vests.
They  are bulky and awkward, but Eliot  Chung likes to  say that in northern
waters, the only thing a life vest does is make your corpse float.
     The lifeboat is an  inflatable  raft about ten feet long that does  not
come equipped  with a motor. It has  a tentlike, waterproof canopy that they
can zip up  all the way around, turning it into a sealed capsule so that the
water stays out even in the most violent weather.
     For a  couple of days, a powerful  chill wind  coming down out off  the
mountains drives  them  out of  Oregon,  out toward  the open  water.  Eliot
explains, cheerfully, that this  lifeboat was invented back in the old days,
when  they had navies and coast guards that  would come and rescue  stranded
travelers.  All  you  had  to do  was float and  be  orange. Fisheye  has  a
walkie-talkie, but  it is a  short-range  device.  And  Hiro's  computer  is
capable of jacking into the net, but in this regard it functions much like a
cellular telephone. It doesn't work out in the middle of nowhere.
     When  the weather is extremely  rainy,  they sit under the canopy. When
it's less rainy, they sit above it. They all have ways of passing the time.
     Hiro dicks around  with his  computer, naturally.  Being stranded  on a
life raft in the Pacific is a perfect venue for a hacker.
     Vic  reads  and rereads  a soaked  paperback  novel that he had  in the
pocket of his MAFIA windbreaker  when  the Kowloon got  blown out from under
them.  These  days  of  waiting are much easier for  him. As a  professional
sniper, he knows how to kill time.
     Eliot looks  at things with his binoculars,  even though there is  very
little to  look at. He spends a  lot of time messing  around with the  raft,
fretting about  it in the way that  boat captains do.  And he  does a lot of
fishing. They  have plenty of  stored  food on the  raft, but the occasional
fresh halibut and salmon are nice to eat.
     Fisheye  has  taken  what appears to be an  instruction manual from the
heavy black suitcase.  It is  a miniature  three-ring  binder with  pages of
laser-printed text.  The binder  is just a cheap unmarked one  bought from a
stationery store. In these respects, it is  perfectly  familiar to  Hiro: it
bears the earmarks of a  high-tech product that is still  under development.
All  technical devices  require  documentation of a sort, but this stuff can
only be written by the techies who are doing the actual product development,
and they absolutely  hate it, always put the  dox question  off to the  very
last minute. Then they type up some material on a word processor, run it off
on the  laser  printer, send the  departmental  secretary out  for  a  cheap
binder, and that's that.
     But this only occupies Fisheye for  a little while. He spends the  rest
of the time just staring off at the horizon, as though he's expecting Sicily
to  heave into  view. It  doesn't.  He is despondent over the failure of his
mission, and spends a lot  of time mumbling under his breath, trying to find
a way to salvage it.
     "If  you don't  mind my  asking,"  Hiro says,  "what  was your  mission
     Fisheye thinks this one over for  a  while. "Well it depends on how you
look at it. Nominally, my objective is to get a  fifteen-year-old girl  back
from  these  assholes.  So my tactic was  to take a  bunch  of their bigwigs
hostage, then arrange a trade."
     "Who's this fifteen-year-old girl?"
     Fisheye shrugs. "You know her. It's Y.T."
     "Is that really your whole objective?"
     "The  important thing is,  Hiro, that you have to understand the  Mafia
way. And the  Mafia way  is that we pursue larger goals  under  the guise of
personal  relationships.  So,  for example, when  you were  a  pizza guy you
didn't deliver pizzas  fast because you made more money that way, or because
it was some kind  of a fucking policy. You did it because  you were carrying
out a personal covenant  between Uncle Enzo and  every customer. This is how
we  avoid the  trap of  self-perpetuating ideology. Ideology  is a  virus So
getting this chick back is  more  than just  getting a  chick back. It's the
concrete manifestation of an  abstract policy  goal. And  we like concrete -
right, Vic?"
     Vic allows himself a judicious sneer and a deep grinding laugh.
     "What's the abstract policy goal in this case?" Hiro says.
     "Not  my  department," Fisheye says. "But I think  Uncle  Enzo  is real
pissed at L. Bob Rife."

     Hiro is messing around in Flatland. He is doing this partly to conserve
the computer's  batteries; rendering a three-dimensional office takes  a lot
of processors  working  fulltime,  while a  simple  two-dimensional  desktop
display requires minimal power.
     But  his real  reason for being in Flatland is that  Hiro  Protagonist,
last of  the  freelance hackers, is hacking.  And  when hackers are hacking,
they don't mess around with the superficial world of Metaverses and avatars.
They descend  below this surface layer  and into the netherworld of code and
tangled nam-shubs  that  supports  it, where  everything that you see in the
Metaverse,  no  matter  how  lifelike  and beautiful  and three-dimensional,
reduces to a simple text file: a series of letters on an electronic page. It
is  a  throwback to  the  days  when  people  programmed  computers  through
primitive teletypes and IBM punch cards.
     Since  then,  pretty  and  user-friendly  programming  tools  have been
developed. It's possible to program a computer now  by sitting  at your desk
in  the  Metaverse and manually connecting little preprogrammed  units, like
Tinkertoys. But a real hacker would never use such techniques, any more than
a master  auto mechanic would  try  to fix  a  car by  sliding in behind the
steering wheel and watching the idiot lights on the dashboard.
     Hiro  does not know what he is  doing, what he is preparing for. That's
okay, though. Most of programming is a matter of laying groundwork, building
structures of  words that seem to have  no particular connection to the task
at hand.
     He knows one thing: The Metaverse has now become  a place where you can
get killed. Or at least have your brain  reamed out  to the point where  you
might as well be dead. This is a radical change in the nature of the  place.
Guns have come to Paradise.
     It  serves  them  right,  he  realizes  now.  They  made the place  too
vulnerable. They  figured that the  worst thing that could happen was that a
virus might get transferred into your computer and force you to ungoggle and
reboot your system. Maybe destroy  a little data if  you were  stupid enough
not to  install any  medicine.  Therefore, the  Metaverse is wide  open  and
undefended, like airports in the days before bombs and metal detectors, like
elementary schools in  the days  before maniacs  with assault rifles. Anyone
can go in and do anything that they want to.
     There are no cops. You can't defend  yourself, you can't chase the  bad
people. It's  going  to take a lot of work  to  change that  - a fundamental
rebuilding of the  whole Metaverse,  carried out on  a planetwide, corporate
     In the meantime, there may be a role for individuals who know their way
around  the  place.  A few  hacks  can make  a  lot  of  difference  in this
situation. A freelance hacker could get a lot of shit done, years before the
giant software factories bestir themselves to deal with the problem.

     The  virus that  ate  through  Da5id's brain was  a  string  of  binary
information, shone into his face in the form of a bitmap - a series of white
and black pixels, where white represents zero and black represents one. They
put the bitmap onto scrolls and gave  the scrolls to avatars who went around
the Metaverse looking for victims.
     The Clint who  tried to  infect Hiro in  The Black Sun got away, but he
left his scroll behind - he didn't reckon  on having his  arms lopped  off -
and Hiro dumped it into the tunnel  system below  the floor, the place where
the Graveyard Daemons live. Later, Hiro had a Daemon take the scroll back to
his workshop. And anything that is in Hiro's house is, by definition, stored
inside his own computer. He doesn't  have to jack into the global network in
order to access it.
     It's  not easy  working with  a  piece of data  that can  kill you. But
that's okay. In Reality, people work with dangerous substances  all the time
- radioactive  isotopes and toxic chemicals. You just have to have the right
tools:  remote  manipulator  arms, gloves,  goggles, leaded  glass.  And  in
Flatland,  when  you need  a tool, you just  sit down and  write it. So Hiro
starts by writing  a few  simple programs that enable him to  manipulate the
contents of the scroll without ever seeing it.
     The scroll,  like any other  visible thing in the Metaverse, is a piece
of software. It contains some code  that describes  what  it  looks like, so
that your computer will know how to  draw it, and some  routines that govern
the way it rolls and unrolls. And it contains, somewhere inside of itself, a
resource, a hunk of data, the digital version of the Snow Crash virus.
     Once the virus has been  extracted and isolated, it is  easy enough for
Hiro  to  write  a  new program  called SnowScan.  SnowScan  is  a  piece of
medicine. That is, it is code that protects Hiro's system -both his hardware
and, as Lagos would put it, his bioware - from the digital Snow Crash virus.
Once Hiro has installed it  in  his  system,  it  will  constantly scan  the
information  coming in  from  outside,  looking  for  data that  matches the
contents of the scroll. If it notices such information, it will block it.
     There's  other work  to do in Flatland. Hiro's good with avatars, so he
writes  himself an invisible  avatar - just  because,  in  the new  and more
dangerous Metaverse, it  might come  in handy. This is easy to do poorly and
surprisingly  tricky to do well. Almost anyone  can  write  an  avatar  that
doesn't look like anything, but it will lead to a lot of problems when it is
used. Some Metaverse real  estate - including The Black Sun - wants  to know
how big your avatar is so that  it can figure out whether  you are colliding
with another avatar or some obstacle. If you give it an answer of zero - you
make your avatar infinitely small - you will either crash that piece of real
estate  or  else  make  it think that something is very wrong.  You will  be
invisible, but everywhere  you go in the Metaverse you will leave a swath of
destruction and  confusion a mile wide.  In other  places, invisible avatars
are illegal. If your avatar is transparent and reflects  no light whatsoever
- the easiest kind to write  - it will be recognized instantly as an illegal
avatar and alarms will go off. It has to be written in such a way that other
people can't see it,  but the real estate software doesn't realize that it's
     There are about  a hundred little  tricks like this that  Hiro wouldn't
know  about  if  he hadn't been  programming avatars for  people like Vitaly
Chernobyl for  the last  couple of years. To write a really  good  invisible
avatar from scratch would  take a long  time, but  he  puts  one together in
several  hours  by recycling bits and pieces of old  projects left behind in
his computer. Which is how hackers usually do it.
     While he's doing that, he comes across  a rather old  folder  with some
transportation software in  it. This is left over from the  very old days of
the Metaverse, before the Monorail existed,  when the only way to get around
was to walk or to write a piece of ware that simulated a vehicle.
     In  the  early  days,  when the Metaverse was a featureless black ball,
this was a trivial job. Later on, when the Street went up and people started
building  real estate,  it became more  complicated. On the Street,  you can
pass through other people's avatars. But you  can't pass through walls.  You
can't enter private property. And you can't pass through other vehicles,  or
through permanent Street fixtures such as the Ports  and the stanchions that
support the monorail line. If  you try  to collide with any of these things,
you don't  die  or get  kicked out  of  the  Metaverse;  You just come  to a
complete stop, like a cartoon character running spang into a concrete wall.
     In other words, once the Metaverse began to fill up with obstacles that
you could run into, the  job of  traveling across it at high speed  suddenly
became  more  interesting. Maneuverability  became an issue.  Size became an
issue. Hiro  and  Da5id  and the rest  of them began to switch away from the
enormous, bizarre vehicles they had  favored at first  - Victorian houses on
tank  treads,  rolling ocean  liners, mile-wide crystalline spheres, flaming
chariots  drawn  by dragons  -  in  favor  of  small  maneuverable vehicles.
Motorcycles, basically.
     A Metaverse vehicle can be as  fast and nimble as a quark.  There's  no
physics to worry about no constraints on  acceleration,  no air  resistance.
Tires never squeal  and brakes  never lock up. The  one thing that can't  be
helped is the  reaction time of the user.  So  when  they were  racing their
latest motorcycle software, holding wild rallies through Downtown at Mach 1,
they  didn't  worry  about  engine  capacity. They  worried  about the  user
interface,  the controls  that enabled the rider to  transfer his  reactions
into  the  machine, to  steer, accelerate, or brake as  quickly as he  could
think. Because when  you're in a pack of bike racers going through a crowded
area at that speed, and you run  into something and suddenly slow down  to a
speed of  exactly zero, you can  forget  about catching up.  One mistake and
you've lost.
     Hiro had a pretty good motorcycle. He probably could have  had the best
one on the  Street,  simply  because his reflexes  are unearthly. But he was
more preoccupied with sword fighting than motorcycle riding.
     He opens  up the most recent version  of his motorcycle  software, gets
familiar  with  the  controls  again.  He  ascends  from  Flatland  into the
three-dimensional Metaverse and practices riding his  bike  around  his yard
for a  while. Beyond the boundaries of his  yard  is nothing but  blackness,
because  he's  not jacked into the net. It is  a lost, desolate sensation, -
kind of like floating on a life raft in the Pacific Ocean.

     Sometimes they see boats in the distance. A  couple of these even swing
close by  to check them out, but none of  them  seems to be in that rescuing
mood. There are few altruists  in the  vicinity of the  Raft, and it must be
evident that they don't have much to steal.
     From time to time, they see an  old deep-water fishing boat, fifty to a
hundred feet long, with half a dozen or so small fast boats clustered around
     When Eliot informs them that  these are pirate vessels, Vic and Fisheye
prick up their ears. Vic unwraps his rifle from the collection of Hefty bags
that he uses to protect it from the salt spray, and detaches the bulky sight
so that they can use it as a spyglass. Hiro can't see any reason to pull the
sight  off  the rifle in order to do this, other than  the fact that if  you
don't, it looks like you're drawing a bead on whatever you're looking at.
     Whenever  a pirate vessel comes into view, they all take  turns looking
at it  through the  sight,  playing with all  the  different  sensor  modes:
visible, infrared,  and so on.  Eliot has spent  enough time knocking around
the Rim that he has become familiar with the colors of the different  pirate
groups, so by examining them through  the sight he  can  tell  who they are:
Clint  Eastwood  and  his band parallel them  for  a  few  minutes  one day,
checking them out,  and  the Magnificent  Seven send out one of their  small
boats  to  zoom by them and  look for potential booty. Hiro's  almost hoping
they get taken prisoner  by the Seven, because they  have the nicest-looking
pirate  ship: a former luxury yacht with  Exocet launch tubes kludged to the
foredeck. But this reconnaissance leads  nowhere. The pirates, unschooled in
thermodynamics, do not grasp the implications of  the eternal plume of steam
coming from beneath the life raft.
     One  morning,  a  big  old  trawler  materializes  very close to  them,
congealing  out  of nothing as  the  fog  lifts.  Hiro has  been hearing its
engines for a while, but didn't realize how close it was.
     "Who  are they?"  Fisheye says,  choking on a  cup of  the freeze-dried
coffee he despises so much. He's wrapped  up in  a  space blanket and partly
snuggled underneath the boat's waterproof  canopy,  just his face  and hands
     Eliot  scopes them  out with the sight. He is not a real  demonstrative
guy, but it's clear that he is not very happy with what  he  sees.  "That is
Bruce Lee," he says.
     "How is that significant?" Fisheye says.
     "Well, check out the colors," Eliot says.
     The ship is close enough that everyone can see the flag pretty clearly.
It's a red  banner  with a silver fist  in the middle,  a  pair of  nunchuks
crossed beneath it, the initials B and L on either side.
     "What about 'em?" Fisheye says.
     "Well, the guy  who calls himself Bruce Lee, who's  like the leader? He
got a vest with those colors on the back."
     "So, it's  not  just  embroidered  or painted, it's  actually  done  in
scalps. Patchwork, like."
     "Say what?" Hiro says.
     "There's a rumor, just a rumor man, that he went through the Refu ships
looking for people with red or silver hair so he could collect the scalps he
     Hiro is still absorbing that when Fisheye makes an unexpected decision.
"I want to talk to this Bruce Lee character," he says. "He interests me."
     "Why the hell do you want to talk to this fucking psycho?" Eliot says.
     "Yeah," Hiro  says. "Didn't you  see that  series  on  Eye  Spy? He's a
     Fisheye throws up his  hands as  if to say the answer is, like Catholic
theology, beyond mortal comprehension. "This is my decision," he says.
     "Who the fuck are you?" Eliot says.
     "President  of  the  fucking boat,"  Fisheye  says. "I hereby  nominate
myself. Is there a second?"
     "Yup," Vic says, the first time he has spoken in forty-eight hours.
     "All in favor say aye," Fisheye says.
     "Aye," Vic says, bursting into florid eloquence.
     "I win," Fisheye says. "So how  do we  get these Bruce Lee guys to come
over here and talk to us?"
     "Why should they want to?" Eliot says. "We got nothing they want except
for poontang."
     "Are  you  saying  these  guys  are  homos?"  Fisheye  says,  his  face
shriveling up.
     "Shit,  man," Eliot says, "you didn't even blink when I told  you about
the scalps."
     "I knew I didn't like any of this boat shit," Fisheye says.
     "If this makes any difference to you, they're not gay in the sense that
we usually think of it,"  Eliot explains. "They're het, but they're pirates.
They'll go after anything that's warm and concave."
     Fisheye makes a snap  decision.  "Okay, you  two guys, Hiro  and Eliot,
you're Chinese. Take off your clothes."
     "Do it. I'm the president, remember? You want Vic to do it for you?"
     Eliot and Hiro can't  help  looking over at Vic,  who  is just  sitting
there like a lump. There is something  about  his extremely  blase  attitude
that inspires fear.
     "Do  it or I'll fucking  kill you," Fisheye  says, finally  driving the
point home.
     Eliot and  Hiro, bobbing awkwardly on  the unsteady  floor of the raft,
peel off their  survival suits and step  out of them. Then they pull off the
rest  of their clothes,  exposing smooth  bare skin to the air for the first
time in a few days.
     The  trawler comes right alongside of  them, no  more than  twenty feet
away,  and cuts its engines. They are nicely equipped: half a  dozen Zodiacs
with new outboards, an Exocet-type missile, two  radars, and a fifty caliber
machine  gun  at each  end of  the  boat,  currently  unmanned.  A couple of
speedboats are being towed behind the trawler like dinghys and each of these
also has  a  heavy machine gun. And there is  also  a  thirty-six-foot motor
yacht, following them under its own power.
     There are a couple of dozen guys in  Bruce Lee's pirate band,  and they
are  now lined up along  the trawler's railing, grinning, whistling, howling
like wolves, and waving unrolled trojans in the air.
     "Don't  worry, man, I'm not  going to let 'em fuck  you," Fisheye says,
     "What you gonna do," Eliot says, "hand them a papal encyclical?"
     "I'm sure they'll listen to reason," Fisheye says.
     "These  guys aren't  scared  of the Mafia, if  that's what you have  in
mind," Eliot says.
     "That's just because they don't know us very well."
     Finally, the leader comes out,  Bruce Lee himself, a fortyish guy in  a
Kevlar vest, an ammo vest stretched over that, a diagonal bandolier, samurai
sword -  Hiro would love  to take  him  on - nunchuks, and  his colors,  the
patchwork of human scalps.
     He flashes them a nice grin, has a look at Hiro and Eliot, gives them a
highly suggestive, thrusting thumbs-up gesture, and then struts  up and down
the length  of  the boat one time, swapping  high fives with his  merry men.
Every so often,  he picks out  one of the pirates  at random and gestures at
the man's  trojan.  The pirate puts his condom to his  lips and  inflates it
into  a  slippery ribbed balloon. Then Bruce  Lee inspects  it, making  sure
there are no leaks. Obviously, the man runs a tight ship.
     Hiro  can't help staring at the scalps on Bruce Lee's back. The pirates
note his interest and mug for him, pointing to the scalps, nodding,  looking
back at him with  wide, mocking  eyes. The colors look much too uniform - no
change  in the  red  from  one to  the next. Hiro concludes that  Bruce Lee,
contrary to his reputation, must have just gone out and gotten scalps of any
old color, bleached them, and dyed them. What a wimp.
     Finally,  Bruce Lee  works  his way  back to midship  and  flashes them
another big grin. He has a great,  dazzling grin and he knows it; maybe it's
those one-karat diamonds Krazy Glued to his front teeth.
     "Jammin' boat," he says. "Maybe you, me swap, huh? Hahaha."
     Everyone on the life raft, except for Vic, just smiles a brittle smile.
     "Where you goin'? Key West? Hahaha."
     Bruce Lee examines Hiro and Eliot for a while, rotates his index finger
to indicate that they  should spin around  and display their business  ends.
They do.
     "Quanto?" Bruce Lee says, and all the  pirates get uproarious, most  of
all Bruce Lee. Hiro can feel his anal sphincter contracting to the size of a
     "He's asking how much we cost," Eliot says. "It's a joke,  see, because
they know they can come over and have our asses for free."
     "Oh, hilarious!" Fisheye  says. While Hiro  and Eliot literally  freeze
their asses, he's still snuggled up under the canopy, that bastard.
     "Poonmissile,  like?" Bruce  Lee says, pointing to one  of the antiship
missiles on the deck. "Bugs? Motorolas?"
     "Poonmissile is  a  Harpoon  antiship missile,  real  expensive," Eliot
says.  "A  bug is a Microchip.  Motorola  would be  one brand,  like Ford or
Chevy.  Bruce Lee deals  in a  lot of electronics  - you know, typical Asian
pirate dude."
     "He'd give us a Harpoon missile for you guys?" Fisheye says.
     "No! He's being sarcastic, shithead!" Eliot says.
     "Tell him we want a boat with an outboard motor," Fisheye says,
     "Want one zode, one kicker, fillerup," Eliot says.
     Suddenly Bruce Lee gets real serious and actually considers it.  "Scope
clause, chomsayen? Gauge and gag."
     "He'll consider  it  if  they  can come and  check out the  merchandise
first," Eliot says. "They want to check out how tight we are, and whether we
are  capable  of sup-pressing our gag  reflex. These are  all terms from the
Raft brothel industry."
     "Ombwas scope like twelves to me, hahaha."
     "Us homeboys  look  like we have twelve-gauge  assholes,"  Eliot  says,
"i.e., that we are all stretched out and worthless."
     Fisheye speaks up on his own. "No, no, four-tens, totally!"
     The entire deck of the pirate ship titters with excitement.
     "No way," Bruce Lee says.
     "These ombwas," Fisheye says, "still got cherries up in there!"
     The  whole deck  erupts in rude, screaming laughter. One of the pirates
scrambles up to  balance on  the railing,  gyrates one fist in the  air, and
hollers: "ba ka na zu ma  lay ga no ma la aria ma na po no a  ab zu ... " By
that point all the other pirates have stopped laughing, gotten serious looks
on  their  faces,  and joined  in, bellowing  their  own private streams  of
babble, rattling the air with a profound hoarse ululation.
     Hiro's  feet go out from under him as the raft  moves suddenly; he  can
see Eliot falling down next to him.
     He  looks up at Bruce Lee's ship  and flinches involuntarily as he sees
what looks like a dark wave cresting over the rail, washing over  the row of
standing pirates, starting at the stern  of  the trawler and working its way
forward. But this is just  some kind of optical illusion. It is not really a
wave at all. Suddenly, they are fifty feet away from the trawler, not twenty
feet. As the  laughter on  the railing  dies away, Hiro hears a new sound: a
low  whirring noise from  the  direction of Fisheye, and from the atmosphere
around  them,  a tearing,  hissing noise,  like  the  sound  just  before  a
thunderbolt strikes, like the sound of sheets being ripped in half.
     Looking  back  at  Bruce Lee's trawler, he sees that  the dark wavelike
phenomenon was a wave of blood, as though someone hosed down the deck with a
giant severed aorta.  But it  didn't come  from outside. It erupted from the
pirates' bodies, one at a time, moving from the stem to the bow. The deck of
Bruce Lee's  ship is  now utterly quiet and motionless except for  blood and
gelatinized internal  organs sliding  down  the  rusted steel  and  plopping
softly into the water.
     Fisheye is up on his knees now and has  torn away the canopy  and space
blanket that have covered him until this point. In one hand  he is holding a
long device a  couple of  inches in diameter, which  is  the source  of  the
whirring noise. It is a circular bundle of parallel tubes about pencil-sized
and  a couple of feet long, like a miniaturized Gatling gun. It whirs around
so quickly that the individual tubes are difficult  to make  out; when it is
operating,  it is  in  fact  ghostly and transparent  because of  this rapid
motion,  a glittering, translucent  cloud  jutting out of Fisheye's arm. The
device is attached  to a wrist-thick bundle  of black tubes  and cables that
snake  down into the  large suitcase, which lies open on  the bottom  of the
raft. The  suitcase has a built-in color monitor screen with graphics giving
information about the  status of this weapons system: how much ammo is left,
the  status  of  various subsystems.  Hiro  just gets  a quick glimpse at it
before all of the ammunition on board Bruce Lee's ship begins to explode.
     "See, I told you they'd listen to Reason,"  Fisheye says, shutting down
the whirling gun. Now Hiro sees a nameplate tacked onto the control panel.

     version 1.0B7
     Gatling-type 3-mm hypervelocity railgun system
     Ng Security Industries, Inc.
     "Fucking  recoil   pushed   us   halfway  to   China,"   Fisheye   says
     "Did you do that? What just happened?" Eliot says.
     "I  did  it.  With  Reason.  See, it  fires  these  teeny little  metal
splinters. They go real fast -  more  energy  than  a rifle bullet. Depleted
     The spinning barrels have now slowed  almost to a stop.  It looks  like
there are about two dozen of them.
     "I thought you hated machine guns," Hiro says.
     "I hate this fucking raft  even  more. Let's go get ourselves something
that goes, you know. Something with a motor on it."
     Because of the  fires and  small explosions going off  on  Bruce  Lee's
pirate ship, it takes them a minute to realize that several people are still
alive there, still shooting at them. When Fisheye becomes aware of this,  he
pulls the trigger again,  the barrels whirl themselves up into a transparent
cylinder,  and the tearing, hissing noise begins again.  As he waves the gun
back and forth, hosing the target down with a hypersonic  shower of depleted
uranium,  Bruce Lee's  entire  ship seems to sparkle and glitter,  as though
Tinkerbell was flying back and forth from stem to stern, sprinkling  nuclear
fairy dust over it.
     Bruce Lee's  smaller yacht makes  the mistake of coming  around to  see
what's  going on.  Fisheye turns  toward  it  for  a  moment  and  its high,
protruding bridge slides off into the water.
     Major structural  elements of  the trawler are losing their  integrity.
Enormous popping and  wrenching noises are coming from  inside as big pieces
of Swiss-cheesed metal give way, and the superstructure is slowly collapsing
down  into the  hull  like a botched souffle. When  Fisheye  notes this,  he
ceases fire.
     "Cut it out, boss," Vic says.
     "I'm melting!" Fisheye crows.
     "We could  have  used that trawler,  asshole," Eliot says, vindictively
yanking his pants back on.
     "I didn't mean to blow it all  up.  I guess the little  bullets just go
through everything."
     "Sharp thinking, Fisheye," Hiro says.
     "Well,  I'm  sorry I took a little action to save  our  asses. Come on,
let's go get one of them little boats before they all burn."
     They paddle in the direction of the decapitated yacht. By the time they
reach  it,  Bruce Lee's trawler is  just a listing,  empty steel  hull  with
flames and smoke pouring out of it, spiced by the occasional explosion.
     The  remaining portion of the yacht has many, many tiny little holes in
it,  and  glitters  with  exploded  fragments of fiberglass:  a million tiny
little glass fibers about a millimeter long.  The skipper and a crew member,
or rather the stew that they turned into when the bridge  was hit by Reason,
slid off into the water along with the rest of the debris, leaving behind no
evidence of  their having been  there except  for  a pair  of  long parallel
streaks trailing off into the water. But there is a Filipino boy down in the
galley, the galley so low, unhurt and only dimly aware of what happened.
     A number of electrical cables have been sawn in  half.  Eliot digs up a
toolbox from  belowdecks and spends  the next  twelve hours patching  things
together to the point where the  engine can be started and the yacht can  be
steered. Hiro, who has a rudimentary knowledge of electrical stuff,  acts as
gofer and limp-dicked adviser.
     "Did you hear the way the pirates were  talking, before Fisheye  opened
up on them?" Hiro asks Eliot while they are working.
     "You mean in pidgin?"
     "No. At the very end. The babbling."
     "Yeah. That's a Raft thing."
     "It is?"
     "Yeah.  One guy  will start  in and the rest will follow.  I think it's
just a fad."
     "But it's common on the Raft?"
     "Yeah.  They  all  speak  different  languages,  you  know,  all  those
different ethnic groups. It's like  the fucking Tower of Babel. I think when
they  make  that  sound  - when  they  babble at each  other -  they're just
imitating what all the other groups sound like."
     The Filipino kid starts making them some food. Vic and Fisheye sit down
in  the  main  cabin  belowdecks, eating,  going  through Chinese magazines,
looking  at pictures  of  Asian chicks, and occasionally looking at nautical
charts. When Eliot  gets the electrical  system  back  up and  running, Hiro
plugs his personal computer in, to recharge its batteries.
     By the  time  the yacht  is  up  and running  again, it's  dark. To the
southwest, a fluctuating column of light is  playing  back and forth against
the low overhanging cloud layer.
     "Is  that the Raft over there?" Fisheye says, pointing to the light, as
all hands converge on Eliot's makeshift control center.
     "It is,"  Eliot  says.  "They light it up at night so that  the fishing
boats can find their way back to it."
     "How far away do you think it is?" Fisheye says.
     Eliot shrugs. "Twenty miles."
     "And how far to land?"
     "I  have  no  idea.  Bruce Lee's skipper probably knew,  but he's  been
pureed along with everyone else."
     "You're  right,"  Fisheye says. "I  should  have set  it on  'whip'  or
     "The  Raft usually stays at least a hundred miles offshore," Hiro says,
"to reduce the danger of snags."
     "How we doing on gas?"
     "I  dipped the tank," Eliot says, "and it looks like we're not doing so
well, to tell you the truth."
     "What does that mean, not doing so well?"
     "It's not always easy to read  the level when you're out to sea," Eliot
says. "And I don't know how efficient these engines are. But if we're really
eighty or a hundred miles offshore, we might not make it."
     "So we go to the Raft," Fisheye says. "We  go to the  Raft and persuade
someone it's in  his best interests to give us some fuel. Then,  back to the
     No one really believes it's  going  to  happen this  way, least  of all
Fisheye.  "And," he continues,  "while we're there - on the Raft -  after we
get the fuel and before we go home - some other stuff might happen, too, you
know. Life's unpredictable."
     "If you have something in mind,  why don't  you just spit it out?" Hiro
     "Okay.  Policy decision. The  hostage  tactic failed.  So  we go for an
     "Extraction of what?"
     "Of Y.T."
     "I go along with that," Hiro says, "but I have another person I want to
extract also, as long as we're extracting."
     "Juanita. Come on, you said yourself she was a nice girl."
     "If she's on the Raft, maybe she's not so nice," Fisheye says.
     "I want to extract her anyway. We're all in this together, right? We're
all part of Lagos's gang."
     "Bruce Lee has some people there," Eliot says.
     "Correction. Had."
     "But what I'm saying is, they're going to be pissed."
     "'You  think they're going to be  pissed. I think they're going  to  be
scared  shitless,"  Fisheye  says. "Now drive the boat,  Eliot. Come on, I'm
sick of all this fucking water."

     Raven ushers  Y.T. onto a  flat-assed boat with a canopy on  top. It is
some    kind    of   a   riverboat   that    has   been   turned   into    a
Vietnamese/Arnerican/Thai/Chinese  business   establishment,   kind   of   a
bar/restaurant/whorehouse/gambling  den. It has a few big rooms, where  lots
of people are letting it all hang out, and a lot of little tiny steel-walled
rooms down below where God knows what kind of activity is taking place.
     The  main room is packed  with  lowlife  revelry.  The  smoke  ties her
bronchial  passages  into  granny  knots.  The  place  is  equipped  with  a
shattering  Third World sound system:  pure distortion  echoing  off painted
steel walls at three hundred decibels. A television set bolted onto one wall
is showing  foreign cartoons, done up in a two-color scheme of faded magenta
and lime green, in which a ghoulish wolf, kind of  like Wile E.  Coyote with
rabies, gets repeatedly executed in ways more violent than even Warner Bros.
could think up.  It's a snuff  cartoon. The soundtrack is either  turned off
completely or else overwhelmed by  the  screeching melody coming out  of the
speakers. A bunch of erotic dancers are performing at one end of the room.
     It's impossibly crowded,  they'll never get a place to sit. But shortly
after  Raven comes  into the room,  half a dozen guys  in the comer suddenly
stand bolt upright and scatter from a  table, snatching up their  cigarettes
and  drinks  almost  as an afterthought. Raven pushes  Y.T. through the room
ahead of him,  like she's a figurehead on his kayak, and everywhere they go,
people are shoved out of her way by  Raven's almost  palpable personal force
     Raven bends  down and looks  under the table, picks  a chair up off the
floor and looks  at the underside - you can never be too careful about those
chair bombs  - sets  it  down, pushed all the way back into the corner where
two steel walls meet,  and sits down. He  gestures  for Y.T. to do the same,
and she  does, her back to the action.  From here, she can see Raven's face,
illuminated mostly by occasional stabs of light  filtering through the crowd
from  the  mirrored ball over the  erotic  dancers, and  by  the generalized
green-and-magenta haze coming  out  of the  TV set, spiked by the occasional
flash when the cartoon wolf makes the mistake of swallowing another hydrogen
bomb, or has the misfortune to get hosed down again with a flamethrower.
     A  waiter's  there  immediately. Raven commences  hollering across  the
table at her. She can't hear him, but maybe he's asking her what she wants.
     "A cheeseburger!" she screams back at him.
     Raven laughs, shakes his head. "You see any cows around here?"
     "Anything but fish!" she screams.
     Raven talks to the waiter for a while in some variant of Taxilinga.
     "I ordered you some squid," he hollers. "That's a mollusk."
     Great. Raven, the last of the true gentlemen.
     There is a shouted  conversation lasting the better  part  of  an hour.
Raven does most  of  the  shouting.  Y.T. just listens,  smiles,  and  nods.
Hopefully, he's  not saying something like "I enjoy really  violent, abusive
sex  acts."  She doesn't think he's talking  about that at all. He's talking
politics. She hears  a fragmented history of the Aleuts, a burst here and  a
burst here, when Raven isn't poking squid into his mouth and the music isn't
too loud:
     "Russians fucked  us  over ...  smallpox had a ninety-percent mortality
rate ... worked as slaves in  their sealing industry ... Seward's folly  ...
Fucking Nipponese took away  my father in forty-two, put him in  a  POW camp
for the duration ...
     "Then the Americans fucking nuked us. Can you believe that shit?" Raven
says. There's a lull in the music; suddenly she can hear complete sentences.
"The Nipponese say they're the  only people who were ever  nuked.  But every
nuclear power has  one  aboriginal group whose territory they nuked to  test
their weapons. In America, they nuked the Aleutians. Amchitka.  My  father,"
Raven says, grinning proudly,  "was nuked twice:  once  at Nagasaki, when he
was blinded, and then again in 1972, when the Americans nuked our homeland."
     Great, Y.T.  thinks.  She's got a  new  boyfriend  and he's  a  mutant.
Explains one or two things.
     "I  was born a  few months  later," Raven continues, by way  of totally
hammering that point home.
     "How did you get hooked up with these Orthos?"
     "I  got  away  from our  traditions and  ended up  living in  Soldotna,
working on oil rigs," Raven  says, like  Y.T. is supposed to just know where
Soldotna  is. "That was when I  did my  drinking  and got  this,"  he  says,
pointing to his tattoo.  "That's also when I learned how  to make love  to a
woman - which is the only thing I do better than harpooning."
     Y.T. can't  help but think  that  fucking  and  harpooning are  closely
related activities in Raven's  mind. But as crude  as the man  is, she can't
get around the fact that he's making her uncomfortably horny.
     "I  used to work fishing boats  too, to  make a little extra money.  We
would come back  from a  forty-eight-hour halibut opening - this was back in
the old days when they had fishing regulations -and we'd put on our survival
suits, stick beers into the pockets, and jump  into the water and just float
around  drinking all night long. And one time we were doing this and I drank
until I passed out. And when I  woke  up, it  was  the next day, or maybe  a
couple of days later, I don't  know. And I was floating in my survival  suit
out in the middle of the Cook Inlet, all alone. The other guys on my fishing
boat had forgotten about me."
     Conveniently enough, Y.T. thinks.
     "Anyway, I floated for  a couple of  days. Got  real thirsty. Ended  up
washing ashore on Kodiak Island. By this time, I was real sick with  the DTs
and everything else. But I washed up near a Russian Orthodox church and they
found me, took me in, and straightened  me out. And that was when I saw that
the Western, American lifestyle had come this close to killing me."
     Here comes the sermon.
     "And  I saw  that  we  can  only live  through  faith, living a  simple
lifestyle. No booze. No television. None of that stuff."
     "So what are we doing in this place?"
     He  shrugs. "This is an example  of  the bad places I used to hang out.
But if you're going to get decent food on. the Raft, you  have to  come to a
place like this."
     A  waiter approaches  the  table.  His  eyes  are  big,  his  movements
tentative.  He's not coming to  take  an  order;  he's coming to deliver bad
     "Sir, you are wanted on the radio. I'm sorry."
     "Who is it?" Raven says.
     The waiter just  looks around him like he can't even speak  the name in
public. "It's very important," he says.
     Raven heaves a big sigh, grabs one last piece of fish and pokes it into
his mouth. He  stands up, and before Y.T. can react, gives her a kiss on the
cheek. "Honey, I got a job to do, or something. Just wait right here for me,
     "Nobody will fuck with you," Raven says, as much for the benefit of the
waiter as for Y.T.

     The  Raft  looks  uncannily  cheerful  from a few miles away.  A  dozen
searchlights,  and  at least  that many lasers,  are mounted on the towering
superstructure of the  Enterprise,  waving back and forth against the clouds
like a  Hollywood  premiere. Closer up, it doesn't look so bright and crisp.
The vast matted tangle of small boats radiates a murky cloud of yellow light
that spoils the contrast.
     A  couple of patches of the Raft are burning. Not a nice cheery bonfire
type of thing, but a high burbling flame with black smoke sliding out of it,
like you get from a large quantity of gasoline.
     "Gang warfare, maybe," Eliot theorizes.
     "Energy source," Hiro guesses.
     "Entertainment,"  Fisheye says. "They  don't have cable on  the fucking
     Before they  really plunge into  Hell, Eliot takes the lid off the fuel
tank  and  slides  the  dipstick into  there, checking the  fuel supply.  He
doesn't say anything, but he doesn't look especially happy.
     "Turn off  all the  lights," Eliot  says when  it seems  they are still
miles away. "Remember that we have already  been  sighted by several hundred
or even several thousand people who are armed and hungry."
     Vic is already going around the boat shutting off lights via the simple
expedient of  a  ball  peen  hammer. Fisheye  just  stands there and listens
intently to Eliot,  suddenly respectful. Eliot continues.  "Take off all the
bright orange clothing,  even  if it means we get cold. From now on, we  lay
down on the decks, expose ourselves as little as possible, and we don't talk
to  each other unless necessary. Vic, you stay midships with  your rifle and
wait for someone to hit us with a spotlight. Anyone hits us with a spotlight
from any direction, you shoot  it out. That  includes flashlights from small
boats. Hiro,  your job  is gunwale  patrol. You  just keep going around  the
edges  of this yacht, anywhere that  a swimmer could climb  up over the edge
and slip on board, and when that happens, cut his arms off.  Also, be on the
lookout for any  kind of grappling-hook type stuff.  Fisheye, if  any  other
floating object comes within a hundred feet of us, sink it.
     "If you see Raft people with antennas coming out of their heads, try to
kill them first, because they can talk to each other."
     "Antennas coming out of their heads?" Hiro says.
     "Yeah. Raft gargoyle types," Eliot says.
     "Who are they?"
     "How  the fuck should I  know?  I've just seen 'em a few times,  from a
distance. Anyway,  I'm going  to take us straight in  toward the center, and
once  we get close enough, I'll turn to starboard and swing  around the Raft
counterclockwise, looking for someone who  might be willing to sell us fuel.
If worse comes to worst and we end  up on the Raft itself, we stick together
and we hire ourselves a guide, because  if  we  try to  move across the Raft
without  the  help of someone  who  knows the  web,  we'll  get  into  a bad
     "Like what kind of a bad situation?" Fisheye asks.
     "Like hanging on a rotted-out slime-covered cargo net between two ships
rocking different ways, with nothing  underneath us except ice water full of
plague rats, toxic waste, and killer whales. Any questions?"
     "Yeah," Fisheye says. "Can I go home now?"
     Good. If Fisheye is scared, so's Hiro.
     "Remember what happened to the pirate named Bruce Lee," Eliot says. "He
was  well-armed  and powerful.  He pulled up alongside a life  raft  full of
Refus one day, looking for some poontang, and he was dead before he knew it.
Now there are a lot of people who want to do that to us."
     "Don't  they  have some kind of cops or something?" Vic says. "I  heard
they did."
     In other words, Vic has killed a lot of  time going  to Raft movies  in
Times Square.
     "The people  up on  the Enterprise  operate in  kind of a  wrath-of-God
mode," Eliot says. "They have big guns mounted around the edge of the flight
deck - big Gatling guns like Reason  except with  larger bullets.  They were
originally  put  there to  shoot down Exocet missiles.  They strike with the
force of a meteorite. If  people act up out on the Raft, they will  make the
problem go away.  But  a little murder  or  riot isn't  enough  to get their
attention. If it's a rocket duel between rival pirate  organizations, that's
     Suddenly, they've been nailed with a spotlight so big and powerful they
can't look anywhere near it.
     Then it's dark again, and a gunshot from Vic's  rifle  is  searing  and
reverberating across the water.
     "Nice shooting, Vic," Fisheye says.
     "It's, like, one of them  drug dealer boats," Vic says, looking through
his magic sight. "Five guys on it. Headed  our way." He fires another round.
"Correction. Four guys on it." Boom. "Correction, they're not headed our way
anymore." Boom. A fireball  erupts  from the  ocean  two  hundred feet away.
"Correction. No boat."
     Fisheye  laughs  and  actually slaps his thigh.  "You recording all  of
this, Hiro?"
     "No," Hiro says. "Wouldn't come out."
     "Oh." Fisheye seems taken aback, like this changes everything.
     "That's  the first  wave," Eliot  says. "Rich  pirates looking for easy
pickings. But they've got a lot to lose, so they scare easy."
     "Another big  yacht-type boat  is  out there,"  Vic  says, "but they're
turning away now."
     Above the deep  chortling noise of their yacht's  big diesel,  they can
hear the high whine of outboard motors.
     "Second wave," Eliot  says. "Pirate wannabes. These guys will come in a
lot faster, so stay sharp."
     "This thing  has  millimeter  wave on it,"  Fisheye says. Hiro looks at
him;  his face is illuminated from below by  the glow  of  Reason's built-in
screen. "I can see these guys like it's fucking daylight."
     Vic fires several rounds,  pops the  clip out of his rifle, shoves in a
new one.
     A zodiac zips past, skittering across the wavetops,  strafing them with
weak flashlight beams. Fisheye fires  a couple of short bursts  from Reason,
blasting clouds of warm steam into the cold night air, but misses them.
     "Save your ammo," Eliot says. "Even with  Uzis, they can't hit us until
they slow down a little bit. And even with radar, you can't hit them."
     A second zodiac whips past them on the other side, closer than the last
one.  Vic and  Fisheye both  hold their  fire. They hear  it  orbiting them,
swinging back around the way it came.
     "Those two  boats  are getting together out there," Vic says. "They got
two more of them. A total of four. They're talking."
     "We've been reconned," Eliot says, "and they're planning their tactics.
The next time is for real."
     A second later, two  fantastically loud blasts sound  from the  rear of
the yacht, where Eliot is, accompanied by brief flashes of light. Hiro turns
around to  see  a body collapsing  to  the  deck.  It's not Eliot. Eliot  is
crouching there holding his oversized halibut shooter.
     Hiro runs back, looks  at the dead swimmer  in the dim light scattering
off the clouds. He's naked except for  a thick coating of black grease and a
belt with a gun and a knife in it. He's still holding on to the rope that he
used to pull himself on board. The rope is attached to a grappling hook that
has caught in the jagged, broken fiberglass on one side of the yacht.
     "Third wave  is coming a little early," Eliot says, his voice high  and
shaky. He's trying  so hard to sound  cool that it  has the opposite effect.
"Hiro, this gun's got  three rounds left in it, and  I'm saving the last one
for you if any more of these motherfuckers get on board."
     "Sorry," Hiro says. He draws the  short wakizashi. He would feel better
if he could carry his  nine in the other hand, but he needs one hand free to
steady himself and keep from failing overboard. He makes a  quick circuit of
the yacht, looking for more grappling hooks, and actually  finds one  on the
other side, hooked into one of the railing stanchions, a taut rope  trailing
out behind it into the sea.
     Correction: It's  a taut cable. His sword won't cut it. And the tension
on the rope is such that he can't get it unhooked from the stanchion.
     As he's squatting there playing with the grappling  hook, a greasy hand
rises  up  out  of  the water and grabs his  wrist. Another hand  gropes for
Hiro's other  hand and grabs the  sword instead. Hiro yanks the weapon free,
feeling it  do damage, and shoves  the wakizashi point first into the  place
between those two hands  just as  someone is sinking his  teeth  into Hiro's
crotch.  But  Hiro's crotch is  protected - the motorcycle outfit has a hard
plastic cup  - and so this human  shark just  gets a mouthful of bulletproof
fabric.  Then his grip loosens, and he falls into the sea. Hiro releases the
grappling hook and drops it in with him.
     Vic fires  three rounds in quick succession, and a fireball illuminates
one whole  side of the ship. For  a moment,  they can see everything  around
them for  a distance of a hundred yards,  and the  effect is like turning on
your kitchen lights in the middle of  the night and finding your countertops
aswarm with rats. At least a dozen small boats are around them.
     "They got Molotov cocktails," Vic says.
     The people in the boats can see them, too. Tracers fly around them from
several  directions. Hiro can see muzzle flashes in at least  three  places.
Fisheye opens up once, twice with Reason, just firing  short bursts of a few
dozen rounds each, and produces one fireball, this one farther away from the
     It's been  at  least five  seconds since Hiro moved,  so he checks this
area for grappling hooks again  and resumes his circuit  around  the edge of
the yacht.  This time it's clear. The two greaseballs must have been working
     A  Molotov  cocktail arcs through the sky and impacts on  the starboard
side of the yacht, where it's not going to do much damage. Inside would be a
lot worse. Fisheye uses Reason to hose down the area from  which the Molotov
was thrown, but now that the side of the boat is all lit up from the flames,
they draw more small-arms  fire. In  that light,  Hiro can  see trickles  of
blood running down from the area where Vic ensconced himself.
     On  the port  side,  he sees something long and narrow and low  in  the
water, with the torso of a man rising out of it.  The man has long hair that
falls down around his  shoulders, and he's holding an eight-foot pole in one
hand. Just as Hiro sees him, he's throwing it.
     The harpoon darts across twenty feet of open water. The million chipped
facets of  its glass head refract the light and make it look  like a meteor.
It takes  Fisheye in the back, slices easily through the bulletproof  fabric
he's wearing under his suit, and comes all the way out the other side of his
body. The impact lifts Fisheye into the air  and throws him off the boat; he
lands face-first in the water, already dead.
     Mental note: Raven's weapons do not show up on radar.
     Hiro looks back  in the direction  of Raven, but  he's already  gone. A
couple more greaseballs, side by side, vault over the railing about ten feet
forward of Hiro, but for a  moment they're dazzled by the flames. Hiro pulls
out his nine, aims it their way, and keeps pulling the trigger until both of
them have fallen back into the water. He's not sure how many rounds are left
in the gun now.
     There's  a  coughing, hissing noise, and  the  flame light gets dim and
finally goes out. Eliot nailed it with a fire extinguisher.
     The yacht  jerks out from under Hiro's feet,  and he hits the deck with
his  face  and shoulder.  Getting up,  he realizes that either  they've just
rammed, or  been rammed by, something big.  There is a thudding  noise, feet
running  on  the deck. Hiro  hears some of these  feet near  him, drops  his
wakizashi,  pulls  his katana,  whirls  at the  same time, snapping the long
blade  into someone's  midsection. Meanwhile they're  dragging  a long knife
down his back, but it doesn't penetrate the fabric, just hurts a little. His
katana comes free easily, which  is dumb luck, because he forgot to  squeeze
off  the  blow,  could  have  gotten it  wedged in  there. He  turns  again,
instinctively  parries  a knife thrust  from  another greaseball, raises the
katana and snaps  it down into his brainpan. This  time  he  does it  right,
kills him without sticking the  blade. There are greaseballs on two sides of
him  now.  Hiro  chooses a direction, swings it sideways, decapitates one of
     Then  he  turns  around.  Another greaseball is  staggering toward  him
across  the  pitching deck  with a spiked  club, but  unlike  Hiro  he's not
keeping his balance.  Hiro shuffles up to  meet him, keeping  his  center of
gravity over his feet, and impales him on the katana.
     Another greaseball is watching all of this in astonishment from up near
the bow. Hiro shoots him, and he collapses to the deck. Two more greaseballs
jump off the boat voluntarily.
     The yacht is tangled up in a spider's web of shitty old ropes and cargo
nets that were stretched out across the surface of the water as a snare  for
poor suckers like them. The yacht's engine  is still straining, but the prop
isn't moving; something got wrapped around the shaft.
     There's no sign of Raven now. Maybe it was just a one-time contract hit
on Fisheye. Maybe he didn't want  to  get tangled up in the spiderweb. Maybe
he figured that, once Reason  was taken out, the greaseballs would take care
of the rest.
     Eliot's no longer at  the  controls. He's no  longer even on the yacht.
Hiro calls out his name, but there's no response. Not even  thrashing in the
water.  The  last thing  he  did  was  lean  over  the edge  with  the  fire
extinguisher, putting out the Molotov flame; when they were jerked to a halt
he must have tumbled overboard.
     They're  a  lot closer to the Enterprise than he had ever thought. They
covered  a lot of  water  during the fight, got closer in  than  they should
have. In  fact, Hiro's surrounded on all  sides by the Raft at  this  point.
Meager,  flickering illumination  is provided by the burning remains  of the
Molotov  cocktail-carrying  Zodiacs, which  have  become tangled  in the net
around them.
     Hiro does not think it would be wise  to take the yacht back out toward
open  water. It's a  little too competitive  there. He  goes up forward. The
suitcase that serves as Reason's power supply and ammo  dump is open on  the
deck next to him,  its color monitor screen reading: Sorry,  a fatal  system
error occurred. Please reboot and try again.
     Then, as  Hiro's looking at it, it fritzes out completely and dies of a
snow crash.

     Vic got hit by one of the machine-gun  bursts and is also  dead. Around
them, half a dozen other boats ride on the  waves,  caught in the spiderweb,
nice-looking  yachts all of them. But they are all  empty hulks, stripped of
their  engines and  everything else.  Just  like duck  decoys in front of  a
hunter's blind. A hand-painted sign rides on a buoy nearby, reading FUEL  in
English and other languages.
     Farther  out to  sea,  a number of the  ships  that were  chasing  them
earlier are lingering, steering  well clear of the spiderweb. They know they
can't  come  in here;  this  is  the exclusive domain  of  the  black grease
swimmers, the spiders in the web, almost all of whom are now dead.
     If he goes onto the Raft itself, it can't be any worse. Can it?
     The  yacht has its own little dinghy, the smallest  size  of inflatable
zodiac, with a small outboard motor. Hiro gets it into the water.
     "I go with you," a voice says.
     Hiro whirls, hauling  out his gun, and finds himself aiming it into the
face of  the Filipino cabin boy. The boy blinks, looks a  little  surprised,
but not especially scared. He has been hanging  out with pirates, after all.
For that matter, all the  dead guys  on the  yacht don't  seem  to faze  him
     "I be your guide," the boy says. "ba la zin ka nu pa ra ta..."

     Y.T.  waits so long  that she thinks the sun must have come  up by now,
but she knows it can't  really be more than a couple of hours. In  a way, it
doesn't  even matter. Nothing ever changes: the  music  plays,  the  cartoon
videotape rewinds itself and starts up again, men come in and  drink and try
not to get caught staring at her. She might as well be shackled to the table
anyway; there's no way she could  ever find  her way back home from here. So
she waits.
     Suddenly, Raven's  standing in  front  of her.  He's wearing  different
clothes,  wet slippery  clothing made out of animal skins or something.  His
face is red and wet from being outside.
     "You get your job all done?"
     "Sort of," Raven says. "I did enough."
     "What do you mean, enough?"
     "I mean I don't like being called out of a  date to do bullshit  work,"
Raven says. "So I got things in order out there and my  attitude is, let his
gnomes worry about the details."
     "Well, I've been having a great time here."
     "Sorry,  baby.  Let's get out of  here,"  he  says,  speaking with  the
intense, strained tones of a man with an erection.
     "Let's go to the Core," he says, once they get  into the cool air above
     "What's there?"
     "Everything," he  says. "The people who run  this whole  place. Most of
these  people" - he  waves his hand out over  the  Raft - "can't go there. I
can. Want to see it?"
     "Sure, why not," she says, hating herself for sounding like such a sap.
But what else is she going to say?
     He starts  leading  her  down  a long moonlit series of gangplanks,  in
toward the big ships in the middle of the Raft. You could almost skate here,
but you'd have to be really good.
     "Why are you different  from the  other people?" Y.T. says. She kind of
blurts it out without doing a whole lot of thinking first. But it seems like
a good question.
     He laughs. "I'm an Aleut. I'm different in a lot of ways - "
     "No. I  mean your brain works  in a different way," Y.T.  says. "You're
not  wacked out.  You know what I mean? You haven't mentioned the  Word  all
     "We have a thing we do in kayaks. It's like surfing," Raven says.
     "Really? I surf, too - in traffic," Y.T. says.
     "We  don't do this for fun," Raven says. "It's part  of how we live. We
get from island to island by surfing on waves."
     "Same  here," Y.T. says, "except we go from one franchulate to the next
by surfing on cars."
     "See,  the world is  full of things more powerful  than  us. But if you
know how to catch a ride, you can go places," Raven says.
     "Right. I'm totally hip to what you're saying."
     "That's  what I'm doing with  the  Orthos.  I agree with some of  their
religion. But not all of  it. But their movement  has a  lot  of power. They
have a lot of people and money and ships."
     "And you're surfing on it."
     "That's cool, I can relate. What are you  trying to do? I  mean, what's
your real goal?"
     They're crossing a big broad  platform. Suddenly he's right behind her,
his arms are around  her body, and he draws her back into  him. Her toes are
just barely  touching  the ground. She can feel  his  cool nose  against her
temple and his hot breath coming into  one ear. It sends a  tingle  straight
down to her toes.
     "Short-term goal or long-term goal?" Raven whispers.
     "Um - long term."
     "I used to have this plan - I was going to nuke America."
     "Oh. Well, that'd be kind of harsh," she says.
     "Maybe. Depends  on  what kind of a  mood I'm in. Other  than  that, no
long-term goals." Every time he whispers something,  another  breath tickles
her ear.
     "How about medium-term then?"
     "In a few hours, the  Raft comes apart," Raven says. "We're  headed for
California.  Looking  for a decent  place to live.  Some people might try to
stop us. It's my job to  help the people make it safe and sound  up onto the
shore. So you might say I'm going to war."
     "Oh, that's a shame," she mumbles.
     "So it's hard to think of anything besides the here and now."
     "Yeah, I know."
     "I rented a nice room to spend my last night in," Raven says. "It's got
clean sheets."
     Not for long, she thinks.

     She had thought that his lips would be cold and stiff, like a fish. But
she's shocked  at  how warm they are. Every part of his body feels hot, like
that's his only way of keeping warm up in the Arctic.
     About thirty seconds  into  the kiss,  he bends down,  wraps his  great
thigh-sized forearms  around her waist, cinches her up into the air, lifting
her feet up off the deck.
     She  was afraid he would take her  to some horrible place, but it turns
out he rented a  whole shipping container, stacked way up high on one of the
containerships in the Core.  The  place is like a luxury hotel  for big Core
     She's trying to decide what to do with her legs, which are now dangling
uselessly. She's not quite ready to wrap them around him, not this  early in
the date. Then she  feels them  spreading apart - way, way  apart  - Raven's
thighs must be bigger around  than his waist.  He has lifted one leg up into
her crotch and put the foot up on a chair so she's straddling his thigh, and
with his arms he's holding her  body up against him, squeezing and relaxing,
squeezing and relaxing, so that she's helplessly rocking back and forth, all
her  weight  on  her  crotch. Some  huge  muscle, the  upmost  part  of  his
quadricep, angles up where it attaches to the bone in his  pelvis, and as he
rocks her in closer and tighter  she ends up straddling that, shoved against
it so tight that she can feel the seams  in the crotch of her coverall, feel
the coins in the key pocket of Raven's black jeans. When he slides his hands
downward, still pressing her inward, and squeezes her butt in both hands, so
big it must be like squeezing an apricot, fingers so  long they  wrap around
and push up into her  crack and she  rocks forward to  get  away from it but
there's nowhere to go except into his body,  her face breaking away from the
kiss and sliding against  the perspiration of his broad, smooth, whiskerless
neck. She can't help letting out a yelp that turns into a moan, and then she
knows he's got her. Because she never makes noises during sex, but this time
she can't help it.
     And once she's decided that, she's impatient to get on with it. She can
move her  arms,  she can move her legs, but  the  middle part of her body is
pinned in place, it's  not going to move until Raven  moves it. And he's not
going  to move it until she makes  him want to. So she goes  to work  on his
ear. That usually does it.
     He  tries  to  get  away from  her. Raven,  trying  to  run  away  from
something. She likes that idea. She has arms that are as strong as a  man's,
strong from hanging on to that poon on the freeway, so she wraps them around
his head  like a  vise and presses her forehead against the side of his head
and starts orbiting the tip of  her tongue around the little folded-over rim
of his outer ear.
     He stands paralyzed for a couple of minutes, breathing shallowly, while
she works her  way inward,  and  when she finally shoves her tongue into his
ear canal, he bucks and grunts like he's just been  harpooned, lifts her  up
off his leg, kicks the  chair across the  room so hard it cracks against the
steel  wall of the shipping  container.  She feels herself falling  backward
toward the  futon,  thinks for a moment she's about to  get crushed  beneath
him, but he catches all the weight on his elbows, except for his lower body,
which slams into hers all at once, sending another electric shot of pleasure
up  her back and down her legs. Her thighs  and calves have turned solid and
tight,  like they've  been  pumped  full of juice, she can't  relax them. He
leans  up on one elbow, separating their  bodies for a  moment,  plants  his
mouth on hers to  maintain  the contact, fills her  mouth  with  his tongue,
holds her there with it while he one-hands the fastener at the collar of her
coverall and yanks the zipper all the way down to the crotch. It's open now,
exposing a broad V of skin converging from her shoulders. He rolls back onto
her, grabs the top of the coverall with both hands and pulls it  down behind
her, forcing her arms down and to her sides, stuffing the mass of fabric and
pads down underneath the small of her  back so she stays  arched  up  toward
him.  Then he's  in between  her  tight  thighs, all  those skating  muscles
strained to the limit, and his hands  come back inside to  squeeze  her butt
again, this  time  his hot skin against hers,  it's  like sitting on  a warm
buttered griddle, makes the whole body feel warmer.
     There's something  she's  supposed to remember at this point. Something
she has  to take care of.  Something important. One  of  those dreary duties
that always seems so logical when you think about it in the abstract and, at
moments like this,  seems  so utterly  beside the point  that it never  even
occurs to you.
     It must be something to  do with birth control. Or something like that.
But Y.T. is  helpless with passion, so she has an excuse. So she squirms and
kicks  her knees until the coverall  and her panties have  slid down  to her
     Raven  gets completely naked in about three seconds. He pulls his shirt
off over his head and throws it  somewhere, bucks out of his pants and kicks
them off onto the floor. His skin is as smooth as hers, like the  skin  of a
mammal that swims through the sea, but he feels hot, not cold and fishy. She
doesn't, see his cock, but she doesn't want to, what's the point, right?
     She does  something she's never done before: comes as  soon as  he goes
into her. It's like a bolt of lightning shoots out from the middle, down the
backs of her  tensed legs, up her spine, into her nipples, she sucks in  air
until her whole ribcage is poking out through the skin  and then screams  it
all out. She just rips one. Raven's probably deaf  now. Which is his fucking
     She goes limp. So does he. He must have come at the same time. Which is
okay. It's early, and poor Raven was horny as a goat from being out to  sea.
Later on, she'll expect more endurance.
     Right now, she's content to lie underneath  him and suck the warmth out
of his body. She's been cold for days. Her feet are still cold,  hanging out
in the air, but that just makes the rest of her feel much better.
     Raven seems content,  too. Uncharacteristically  so. Talk about  bliss.
Most guys would already be flipping through channels  on the  TV. Not Raven.
He's content  to  lie here all  night, breathing  softly into her neck. As a
matter of fact, he's  gone to sleep right  on top  of her. Like  something a
woman would do.
     She dozes,  too.  Lies there  for a minute or  two, all these  thoughts
going through her head.
     This  is a pretty nice place.  Like a mid-priced business hotel in  the
Valley. She ever figured anything like this existed on the Raft. But there's
rich people and poor people here, too, just like anywhere else.
     When  they came to a  certain place  on the  walkway, not far from  the
first  of the big Core ships, there was an armed guard blocking  the way. He
let Raven go on through, and Raven  took  Y.T. with  him, leading her by the
hand, and  the  guard  gave her a look  but he didn't  say  anything, he was
keeping most of his attention on Raven.
     After  that,  the  walkway  got a lot nicer. It  was  broad,  like  the
boardwalk at  the  beach,  and not quite  so crowded with old Chinese ladies
carrying gigantic bundles  on  their backs.  And it  didn't smell  like shit
quite so much.
     When they got to  the first Core ship, there was  a  stairway that took
them from sea level up to its deck. From there, they took a gangplank across
to the innards  of another ship,  and Raven  led her  through the place like
he'd been through it a million times, and  eventually they  crossed  another
gangplank into  this  containership. And it was just like a fucking hotel in
there:  bellhops  with white gloves  carrying luggage for  guys in suits,  a
registration  desk, everything. It  was still a ship - everything's made out
of steel that has been painted white a million times over - but nothing like
what  she expected. There's even a little helipad  where the suits  can come
and  go. There's a chopper parked next to it with  a logo she's seen before:
Rife  Advanced  Research  Enterprises.  RARE. The people who  gave  her  the
envelope to deliver to EBGOC headquarters. All  of  this is fitting together
now: the Feds  and L. Bob Rife and the Reverend Wayne's Pearly Gates and the
Raft are all part of the same deal.
     "Who the hell are all these people?" she asked Raven when she first saw
it. But he just shushed her.
     She asked him again later, as  they  were  wandering around looking for
their  room, and  he  told  her:  These  guys all  work  for  L.  Bob  Rife.
Programmers  and engineers and  communications  people. Rife's  an important
man. Got a monopoly to run.
     "Rife's here?" she asked him. Putting on an  act, of course; she had it
figured out by that point.
     "Ssh," he said.
     It's a nice piece of intel. Hiro should like it, if she can just get it
to  him.  And  even that's  going to be easy. She never thought  there'd  be
Metaverse terminals here  on the Raft, but on this ship  there's a whole row
of them, so that visiting  suits can call back to civilization.  All she has
to do is get to one without waking up Raven. Which could be tricky. It's too
bad she couldn't drug him with something, like in the Raft movies.
     That's when the realization comes. It swims up out  of her subconscious
in  the same way  that a nightmare does.  Or  when you leave  the house  and
remember half an hour later that  you  left a teakettle going  on the stove.
It's a cold clammy reality that she can't do a damn thing about.
     She  has  finally remembered what  that nagging thing was that bothered
her for a moment, right before the actual moment of fucking.
     It was not birth control. It was not a hygiene thing.
     It was her dentata. The last line  of personal self-defense. Along with
Uncle Enzo's dog tags, the  one piece  of stuff that the Orthos didn't take.
They  didn't  take it  because they don't believe in cavity  searches. Which
means that at the moment Raven  entered her, a  very small hypodermic needle
slipped  imperceptibly  into  the  engorged  frontal   vein  of  his  penis,
automatically shooting a cocktail of powerful narcotics and depressants into
his bloodstream.
     Raven's  been harpooned in the place where  he  least expected  it. Now
he's going to sleep for at least four hours.
     And then, boy, is he ever going to be pissed.

     Hiro remembers Eliot's warning: Don't go onto the Raft itself without a
local  guide.  This kid must be a  Refu that  Bruce Lee recruited from  some
Filipino neighborhood on the Raft.
     The kid's name is Transubstanciacion. Tranny for  short. He climbs into
the zodiac before Hiro tells him to.
     "Wait a sec," Hiro says. "We have to do some packing first."
     Hiro risks turning on a small flashlight, uses it to rummage around the
yacht, picking up valuable stuff -  a few bottles  of (presumably) drinkable
water, some  food,  extra  ammunition for  his nine.  He  takes one  of  the
grappling hooks, too, coiling  its rope neatly. Seems like the kind of thing
that might be useful on the Raft.
     He  has one other chore  to  take care of, not  something  he's looking
forward to.
     Hiro has  lived in  a lot of places where mice  and  even  rats  were a
problem. He used to  get rid of them  using traps. But then he had a  run of
bad luck  with the things. He  would hear a trap snap shut  in the middle of
the night, and then  instead of silence he would hear pitiable squeaking and
thrashing, whacking noises as the stricken rodent  tried to drag itself back
to  safety with a trap snapped over  some  part of its anatomy, usually  its
head. When you have gotten up at three in the morning  to find a  live mouse
on  your kitchen  counter  leaving  a contrail  of  brain tissue  across the
formica,  it  is hard  to get back to sleep, and  so  he  prefers to set out
poison now.
     Somewhat in the same  vein, a severely wounded man - the last  man Hiro
shot - is  thrashing  around  on  the deck  of  the yacht, up near the  bow,
     More than anything he has ever wanted to do, Hiro wants to get into the
zodiac and get  away from this person. He knows that in  order to go  up and
help him,  or put him out  of  his misery, he's going  to have  to shine the
flashlight on him,  and when he does  that he's going to see something he'll
never be able to forget.
     But he  has  to  do it. He swallows  a couple of  times,  because  he's
already gagging and follows his flashlight beam up to the bow.
     It's much worse than he had expected.
     This  man apparently took  a bullet somewhere around  the bridge of his
nose, aimed upward. Everything above that  point has been pretty  much blown
off. Hiro's looking into a cross-section of his lower brain.
     Something  is sticking up out  of  his head. Hiro  figures it  must  be
fragments of skull or something. But it's too smooth and regular for that.
     Now that he's gotten over his initial nausea, he's  finding this easier
to look at. It helps to  know that the guy is out  of his  misery. More than
half of his brain is gone. He's still talking - his voice sounds whistly and
gaseous, like  a pipe organ gone bad, because of  the changes in his skull -
but it's just a brainstem function, just a twitch in the vocal cords.
     The  thing sticking  up out of his head  is a whip antenna about a foot
long.   It  is   encased   in  black  rubber,   like  the  antennas  on  cop
walkie-talkies, and  it is strapped onto his head, above the  left ear. This
is one of the antenna-heads that Eliot warned them about.
     Hiro grabs the antenna and  pulls. He might  as  well take the  headset
with him -  it must  have something to do with the way  L. Bob Rife controls
the Raft.
     It doesn't come  off.  When Hiro  pulls, what's left of  the guy's head
twists  around, but the antenna doesn't  come  loose.  And that's  how  Hiro
figures out  that  this isn't  a  headset  at  all.  The  antenna  has  been
permanently grafted onto the base of the man's skull.
     Hiro  switches his goggles into millimeter-wave radar and  stares  into
the man's ruined head.
     The antenna is attached to  the skull by means of short screws  that go
into  the bone,  but do  not pierce all  the way through.  The base  of  the
antenna  contains a  few  microchips, whose purpose Hiro  cannot  divine  by
looking at them. But nowadays you can put a supercomputer  on a single chip,
so anytime you see more than one chip together in one place, you're  looking
at significant ware.
     A single  hair-thin  wire  emerges from the  base  of  the  antenna and
penetrates the skull. It passes straight through to  the brainstem  and then
branches and  rebranches into a network of  invisibly tiny wires embedded in
the brain tissue. Coiled around the base of the tree.
     Which explains  why  this guy  continues to pump out a steady stream of
Raft babble even  when his brain is  missing: It looks like L.  Bob Rife has
figured  out a way to  make electrical  contact with the part  of  the brain
where Asherah lives. These words aren't originating here. It's a Pentecostal
radio broadcast coming through on his antenna.
     Reason is still up top, its monitor screen radiating blue static toward
heaven.  Hiro finds the hard power  switch and turns it off. Computers  this
powerful  are supposed to shut  themselves down, after you've asked them to.
Turning one off  with the  hard  switch is like lulling someone  to sleep by
severing their spinal column. But when the system has snow-crashed, it loses
even the ability  to  turn itself off, and  primitive methods are  required.
Hiro packs the Gatling gun assembly back into the case and latches it shut.
     Maybe it's not  as heavy  as  he thought,  or maybe he's on  adrenaline
overdrive. Then he realizes why it seems so much lighter: most of its weight
was ammunition, and Fisheye used up quite a bit. He half-carries, half-drags
it back to the stem, making sure the heat exchanger  stays in the water, and
somersaults it into the zodiac.
     Hiro climbs in after it,  joining Tranny,  and starts attending to  the
     "No motor," Tranny says. "It snag bad."
     Right. The spiderweb  would get  wrapped  around  the propeller. Tranny
shows Hiro how to snap the zodiac's oars into the oarlocks.
     Hiro  rows  for  a while  and finds himself in a long clear  zone  that
zigzags  its way through  the Raft, like a lead of clear  water  between ice
floes in the Arctic.
     "Motor okay," Tranny says.
     He drops  the motor into the  water. Tranny pumps up the  fuel line and
starts it up. It starts on the first pull; Bruce Lee ran a tight ship.
     As Hiro begins to motor down  the open space, he  is  afraid that it is
just a little cove in the ghetto. But this is just a trick of the lights. He
rounds a corner and finds it stretching out for some distance. It  is a sort
of beltway that  runs all  the way  around the Raft. Small  streets and even
smaller alleys lead from this beltway  into the various ghettos. Through the
scope,  Hiro can see  that  their  entrances are  guarded.  Anyone's free to
cruise  around  the  beltway,  but  people  are  more  protective  of  their
     The worst thing that can happen on the Raft is for your neighborhood to
get cut loose. That's why the Raft is such a tangled mess. Each neighborhood
is afraid that the neighboring 'hoods are going to gang up on them, cut them
loose,  leave  them to starve  in  the middle  of the  Pacific.  So they are
constantly finding  new ways to tie  themselves  into  each  other,  running
cables  over, under, and  around their neighbors, tying into more  far-flung
'hoods, or preferably into one of the Core ships.
     The  neighborhood  guards  are armed, needless  to say. Looks  like the
weapon of choice  is a  small Chinese knockoff of the AK-47. Its metal frame
jumps out pretty clearly on radar. The  Chinese government must have stamped
out an unimaginable number of these things, back in the days when they spent
a lot of time thinking about the possibility of fighting a land war with the
     Most  of  them just look like  indolent  Third World  militia the world
over. But at the  entrance to one neighborhood, Hiro sees that the guard  in
charge has a whip antenna sticking straight  up in  the air, sprouting  from
his head.
     A  few  minutes  later,  they  get to  a  point  where the  beltway  is
intersected  by a broad street  that  runs straight  into  the middle of the
Raft,  where the big ships are  -  the Core. The closest one is a  Nipponese
containership -  a low,  flat-decked number with a high bridge, stacked with
steel shipping containers. It's webbed over with rope  ladders and makeshift
stairways that  enable people to climb up  into this container or that. Many
of the containers have lights burning in them.
     "Apartment  building  " Tranny jokes, noting  Hiro's  interest. Then he
shakes  his  head  and  rolls  his eyes  and  rubs  his  thumb  against  his
fingertips. Apparently, this is quite the swell neighborhood.
     The nice part of the cruise comes  to  an end  when they notice several
fast skiffs emerging from a dark and smoky neighborhood.
     "Vietnam gang," Tranny says. He  puts his hand on Hiro's and gently but
firmly  removes it from  the outboard motor's throttle. Hiro checks them out
on radar. A  couple of  these  guys have the little AK-47s, but most of them
are armed  with  knives  and  pistols,  obviously  looking  forward  to some
close-up, face-to-face  contact. These guys in the boats are, of course, the
peons.  More   important-looking  gents   stand   along  the  edge   of  the
neighborhood, smoking and watching. A couple of them are wireheads.
     Tranny  revs  it  up,  turns  into a  sparse  neighborhood  of  loosely
connected Arabian  dhows,  and maneuvers through the darkness  for a  while,
occasionally putting his hand on Hiro's head and gently pressing  it down so
he doesn't catch a rope with his neck.
     When they emerge from the fleet  of  dhows, the  Vietnamese gang is  no
longer in evidence. If this happened in daylight,  the gangsters could track
them by  following Reason's steam.  Tranny steers them across a medium-sized
street and into a cluster of  fishing boats. In the middle  of this  area an
old trawler sits, being cut  up for  scrap, cutting torches illuminating the
black surface of the water all  around. But  most  of the work is being done
with hammers and cold chisels, which radiate appalling noise across the flat
echoing water.
     "Home," Tranny  says,  smiling,  and points to  a  couple of houseboats
lashed together.  Lights are still burning here, a couple of guys are out on
the deck  smoking fat, makeshift cigars, through the  windows they can see a
couple of women working in the kitchen.
     As  they approach,  the  guys  on the  deck sit  up,  take notice, draw
revolvers  out  of their waistbands. But  then  Tranny speaks up in  a happy
stream of Tagalog. And everything changes.
     Tranny  gets the full  Prodigal  Son welcome:  crying,  hysterical  fat
ladies,  a swarm of little kids  piling out of their hammocks, sucking their
thumbs and jumping up  and down. Older men beaming,  showing  great gaps and
black splotches in their smiles, watching and nodding and  diving in to give
him the occasional hug.
     And  on the  edge  of  the mob, way  back in the  darkness, is  another
     "You come in, too," says one of  the women, a lady in her forties named
     "That's okay," Hiro says. "I won't intrude."
     This statement is  translated and moves  like a wave  through  the some
eight hundred and  ninety-six  Filipinos who have now converged on the area.
It is  greeted  with the utmost shock.  Intrude? Unthinkable!  Nonsense! How
dare you so insult us?
     One of the gap-toothed guys, a miniature old man and probable World War
II veteran, jumps onto the rocking zodiac, sticks to the floor like a gecko,
wraps his arm around Hiro's shoulders, and pokes a spliff into his mouth.
     He looks like a solid guy. Hiro  leans into  him. "Compadre, who is the
guy with the antenna? A friend of yours?"
     "Nah," the  guy whispers,  "he's an asshole."  Then  he  puts his index
finger dramatically to his lips and shushes.

     It's all in  the eyes. Along  with  picking handcuffs, vaulting  Jersey
barriers, and  fending off perverts, it is one of the quintessential Kourier
skills: walking around in a place where you don't belong  without attracting
suspicion. And  you do it by not looking at anyone. Keep those eyes straight
ahead  no matter what, don't open them too wide, don't look tense. That, and
the fact that she just came  in here with a guy that everyone is  scared of,
gets her back through the containership to the reception area.
     "I need  to use a Street terminal," she says to the reception guy. "Can
you charge it to my room?"
     "Yes, ma'am," the reception guy says. He doesn't have to ask which room
she's in. He's all smiles, all  respect.  Not the kind of thing you get very
often when you're a Kourier.
     She could  really  get  to like  this relationship  with  Raven, if  it
weren't for the fact that he's a homicidal mutant.

     Hiro  ducks  out of  Tranny's  celebratory dinner rather  early,  drags
Reason  off the zodiac  and onto the  front porch of the houseboat, opens it
up, and jacks his personal computer into its bios.
     Reason reboots with no problems. That's to be expected. It's also to be
expected  that later, probably when he most  needs Reason to work,  it  will
crash again, the way it did for Fisheye. He could keep turning it off and on
every time it does this, but this is awkward in  the heat of battle, and not
the  type of solution that  hackers admire. It would be  much  more sensible
just to debug it.
     Which he could do by hand, if he had  time. But there  may be a  better
way of going  about it. It's possible that,  by  now, Ng Security Industries
has  fixed the bug - come  out with a new version of the software. If so, he
should be able to get a copy of it on the Street.
     Hiro materializes in  his office. The Librarian  pokes his head out  of
the next room, just in case Hiro has any questions for him.
     "What does ultima ratio regum mean?"
     " 'The Last Argument  of Kings,'  " the Librarian says. "King Louis XIV
had  it stamped onto  the barrels  of all  of  the cannons that were  forged
during his reign."
     Hiro stands up and walks out into his garden. His motorcycle is waiting
for  him  on  the gravel path that  leads to the  gate. Looking up over  the
fence, Hiro can see the lights of Downtown rising in the distance again. His
computer has succeeded in jacking into L. Bob Rife's global network;  he has
access  to the Street. This  is as Hiro had expected. Rife must have a whole
suite of satellite uplinks there on  the Enterprise, patched into a cellular
network  covering the Raft. Otherwise,  he  wouldn't be able  to  reach  the
Metaverse from  his very own watery fortress, which would never do for a man
like Rife.
     Hiro climbs on his bike, eases it through the neighborhood and onto the
Street,  and then  gooses it  up  to a few hundred miles an  hour, slaloming
between the stanchions  of  the monorail, practicing. He runs into a  few of
them and stops, but that's to be expected.
     Ng Security Industries has a whole floor of a mile-high neon skyscraper
near Port One, right in the middle  of Downtown. Like everything else in the
Metaverse, it's open  twenty-four hours, because  it's always business hours
somewhere in the  world.  Hiro leaves his  bike  on  the  Street, takes  the
elevator up to the 397th floor, and comes  face to face  with a receptionist
daemon.  For a moment,  he can't peg her racial background; then he realizes
that this daemon is half-black, half-Asian - just like him. If  a white  man
had stepped off  the  elevator, she probably  would  have  been  a blonde. A
Nipponese businessman  would have come face  to face with a  perky Nipponese
office girl.
     "Yes, sir," she says. "Is this in regard to sales or customer service?"
     "Customer service."
     "Whom are you with?"
     "You name it, I'm with them."
     "I'm sorry?" Like human receptionists, the  daemon is especially bad at
handling irony.
     "At  the  moment,  I think  I'm working  for the  Central  Intelligence
Corporation, the Mafia, and Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong."
     "I  see,"  says  the  receptionist, making  a note. Also  like  a human
receptionist, it is not  possible to impress her. "And  what product is this
in regards to?"
     "Sir! Welcome to Ng Security Industries," says another voice.
     It  is  another  daemon,  an  attractive black/Asian  woman  in  highly
professional dress,  who has materialized from  the  depths  of  the  office
     She ushers Hiro down a long, nicely paneled  hallway, down another long
paneled  hallway, and then down  a long paneled hallway. Every few steps, he
passes by a reception area where  avatars from  all over the  world  sit  in
chairs, passing  the  time. But  Hiro doesn't have to wait.  She ushers  him
straight into a nice  big  paneled office where an Asian  man sits  behind a
desk littered with  models of helicopters. It is Mr.  Ng  himself. He stands
up; they swap bows; the usher lady checks out.
     "You  working  with Fisheye?"  Ng  says, lighting up a  cig. The  smoke
swirls  in  the  air  ostentatiously.  It  takes  as  much  computing  power
realistically to model  the smoke coming  out of  Ng's  mouth as it does  to
model the weather system of the entire planet.
     "He's dead," Hiro says. "Reason crashed at a critical  juncture, and he
ate a harpoon."
     Ng  doesn't react.  Instead, he  just  sits there  motionless for a few
seconds, absorbing this  data,  as if  his customers  get  harpooned all the
time. He's probably got a mental database of everyone  who has ever used one
of his toys and what happened to them.
     "I told him it  was a beta version," Ng says. "And he should have known
not to use it for infighting. A two-dollar switchblade would have served him
     "Agreed. But he was quite taken with it."
     Ng  blows  out  more  smoke,  thinking.  "As  we  learned  in  Vietnam,
high-powered weapons are so sensorily overwhelming that they are similar  to
psychoactive  drugs.  Like LSD,  which  can convince  people they can  fly -
causing them to jump out of windows - weapons can make people overconfident.
Skewing their tactical judgment. As in the case of Fisheye."
     "I'll be sure and remember that," Hiro says.
     "What  kind  of  combat environment  do you want to  use Reason in?" Ng
     "I need to take over an aircraft carrier tomorrow morning."
     "The Enterprise?"
     "You  know," Ng says, apparently  in a conversational  mood, "there's a
guy who actually took  over a  nuclear-missile  submarine armed with nothing
more than a piece of glass - "
     "Yeah, that's the  guy who killed Fisheye. I might  have to tangle with
him, too."
     Ng laughs. "What is your ultimate objective? As you know, we are all in
this together, so you may share your thoughts with me."
     "I'd prefer a little more discretion in this case..."
     "Too late for that, Hiro," says another voice. Hiro turns around; it is
Uncle Enzo, being ushered  through the door by the receptionist - a striking
Italian woman. Just a few paces behind him is a small Asian businessman  and
an Asian receptionist.
     "I took the liberty of calling them in when you  arrived," Ng says, "so
that we could have a powwow."
     "Pleasure," Uncle Enzo says, bowing slightly to Hiro.
     Hiro bows back. "I'm really sorry about the car, sir."
     "It's forgotten," Uncle Enzo says.
     The small Asian man has now come into the room. Hiro finally recognizes
him.  It is the photo that  is on  the wall of every Mr.  Lee's Greater Hong
Kong in the world.
     Introductions and bows all around.  Suddenly, a number of  extra chairs
have materialized in the office, so everyone pulls one up. Ng comes out from
behind his desk, and they sit in a circle.
     "Let us cut to the chase, since I assume that your situation, Hiro, may
be more precarious than ours," Uncle Enzo says.
     "You got that right, sir."
     "We would all like to  know what the  hell  is going on," Mr. Lee says.
His English is almost devoid  of  a Chinese accent; clearly his cute,  daffy
public image is just a front.
     "How much of this have you guys figured out so far?"
     "Bits and pieces Uncle Enzo says. "How much have you figured out?"
     "Almost all of it," Hiro  says. "Once I talk to Juanita, I'll  have the
     "In that case,  you are in  possession of  some  very valuable  intel,"
Uncle  Enzo says. He reaches into his  pocket and pulls out a hypercard  and
hands it toward Hiro. It says

     Hiro reaches out and takes the card.
     Somewhere on earth, two computers swap bursts  of electronic  noise and
the money gets transferred from the Mafia's account to Hiro's.
     "You'll take care of the split with Y.T.," Uncle Enzo says.
     Hiro nods. You bet I will.

     "I'm  here  on  the Raft looking for a piece of  software -  a piece of
medicine  to  be specific  - that was written five  thousand years ago  by a
Sumerian personage named Enki, a neurolinguistic hacker."
     "What does that mean?" Mr. Lee says.
     "It means a person who was  capable of programming other people's minds
with verbal streams of data, known as nam-shubs."
     Ng is totally expressionless. He takes another drag  on his  cigarette,
spouts  the smoke  up above his head  in a  geyser,  watches it  spread  out
against the ceiling. "What is the mechanism?"
     "We've got two kinds of language in our heads. The kind we're using now
is acquired. It patterns our brains as we're learning it. But there's also a
tongue that's  based in  the  deep  structures  of  the brain, that everyone
shares. These structures consist of basic neural circuits that have to exist
in order to allow our brains to acquire higher languages."
     "Linguistic infrastructure," Uncle Enzo says.
     "Yeah.  I guess 'deep structure'  and 'infrastructure'  mean  the  same
thing.  Anyway,  we can access those parts  of  the  brain  under  the right
conditions. Glossolalia  -  speaking in  tongues -is the output side  of it,
where  the  deep  linguistic  structures  hook into our tongues  and  speak,
bypassing all the higher, acquired languages. Everyone's known that for some
     "You're saying there's an input side, too?" Ng says.
     "Exactly. It  works in reverse. Under the right conditions, your ears -
or eyes - can  tie into  the deep structures,  bypassing the higher language
functions. Which is  to  say,  someone who knows the  right words can  speak
words, or show you visual symbols, that  go  past all your defenses and sink
right into your brainstem. Like a cracker who breaks into a computer system,
bypasses all the security  precautions, and plugs  himself  into  the  core,
enabling him to exert absolute control over the machine."
     "In that  situation, the people who own the computer  are helpless," Ng
     "Right.  Because  they access the machine at a higher level,  which has
now been overridden. In the same  sense, once a neurolinguistic hacker plugs
into  the deep  structures of our  brain, we can't get  him out - because we
can't even control our own brain at such a basic level."
     "What  does this have  to do with a clay tablet on the Enterprise?" Mr.
Lee says.
     "Bear  with me. This language  - the mother tongue - is a vestige of an
earlier  phase  of  human  social  development.  Primitive  societies   were
controlled by verbal rules called me. The me were  like  little programs for
humans. They were a necessary part of the transition from caveman society to
an  organized, agricultural  society. For example,  there was a  program for
plowing a furrow  in the ground and  planting grain. There was a program for
baking bread  and another  one for making  a house.  There were also me  for
higher-level functions such as war, diplomacy, and religious ritual. All the
skills required to operate a self-sustaining culture were contained in these
me,  which were  written  down  on  tablets  or  passed around  in  an  oral
tradition. In any case,  the  repository  for the  me was the local  temple,
which was  a database of me, controlled by  a priest/king called an en. When
someone needed  bread, they would go to the en or one of his underlings  and
download the bread-making me from the  temple. Then they would carry out the
instructions - run the program - and when they were  finished, they'd have a
loaf of bread.
     "A central database was necessary, among other reasons, because some of
the  me  had   to   be   properly   timed.  If   people   carried   out  the
plowing-and-planting me  at  the wrong time of year,  the harvest would fail
and everyone  would  starve. The  only  way  to make  sure that the me  were
properly timed  was to  build  astronomical observatories to watch the skies
for the  changes of season. So the  Sumerians built towers 'with their  tops
with the heavens' - topped with astronomical  diagrams.  The en would  watch
the skies and dispense the agricultural me at the  proper  times of  year to
keep the economy running."
     "I think you have a chicken-and-egg problem," Uncle Enzo says. "How did
such a society first come to be organized?"
     "There is an informational  entity known as the metavirus, which causes
information systems  to  infect themselves with customized viruses. This may
be just a basic principle  of nature, like Darwinian selection, or it may be
an actual piece of information that floats around the universe on comets and
radio waves - I'm  not sure. In any case, what it comes down to is this: Any
information system of sufficient complexity  will inevitably become infected
with viruses - viruses generated from within itself.
     "At  some point in the distant past, the metavirus  infected  the human
race and  has been with us ever since. The first thing it did was to spawn a
whole Pandora's box of DNA viruses - smallpox, influenza, and  so on. Health
and longevity became a thing of the past. A distant memory  of this event is
preserved in legends of the Fall from Paradise, in which mankind was ejected
from a life of ease into a world infested with disease and pain.
     "That plague  eventually reached some kind  of a  plateau. We still see
new  DNA  viruses  from  time  to  time, but it seems  that  our bodies have
developed a resistance to DNA viruses in general."
     "Perhaps," Ng  says, "there are only so many viruses that  will work in
the human DNA, and the metavirus has created all of them."
     "Could be.  Anyway,  Sumerian  culture - the society  based on  me -was
another manifestation  of the metavirus. Except that in this case, it was in
a linguistic form rather than DNA."
     "Excuse me,"  Mr. Lee says. "You are saying  that civilization  started
out as an infection?"
     "Civilization in its primitive form, yes. Each me  was a sort of virus,
kicked out by the metavirus principle.  Take the example of the bread-baking
me. Once that  me  got  into society,  it was  a  self-sustaining  piece  of
information.  It's a  simple question of natural selection: people who  know
how to bake bread will live better and be more  apt to reproduce than people
who  don't know how. Naturally, they will spread the me, acting as hosts for
this self-replicating piece of information.  That makes it a virus. Sumerian
culture - with its temples full of me - was  just a collection of successful
viruses  that  had  accumulated  over  the  millennia. It  was  a  franchise
operation, except  it had  ziggurats  instead  of  golden  arches, and  clay
tablets instead of three-ring binders.
     "The  Sumerian  word for 'mind,' or 'wisdom,'  is identical to the word
for 'ear.' That's all  those people were: ears with bodies attached. Passive
receivers  of information. But Enki was  different. Enki was an en  who just
happened  to be especially good  at his job. He  had the  unusual ability to
write new  me  - he was a hacker. He was, actually, the first  modem  man, a
fully conscious human being, just like us.
     "At some  point, Enki realized that Sumer  was  stuck in a rut.  People
were carrying out the same old me all the time, not coming up with new ones,
not thinking  for themselves. I suspect that he was lonely, being one of the
few  -  perhaps the only -  conscious human being in the world. He  realized
that in order for  the human race to advance, they had  to be delivered from
the grip of this viral civilization.
     "So he created the nam-shub of Enki, a countervirus  that  spread along
the  same  routes as  the  me and  the  metavirus. It  went  into  the  deep
structures of  the brain  and reprogrammed them.  Henceforth,  no one  could
understand the  Sumerian  language,  or  any  other deep  strucure  -  based
language. Cut  off from our common  deep structures, we began to develop new
languages  that had  nothing in common  with each other.  The  me  no longer
worked and it was not possible to write new me. Further transmission of  the
metavirus was blocked."
     "Why  didn't  everyone starve  from  lack  of  bread, having  lost  the
bread-making me?" Uncle Enzo says.
     "Some probably did. Everyone else had to  use  their  higher brains and
figure it out. So you might say that the nam-shub of Enki was the beginnings
of human consciousness - when we first had to think  for  ourselves. It  was
the beginning of rational religion, too, the first time that people began to
think about abstract  issues like God and  Good  and Evil. That's where  the
name Babel comes  from. Literally it means  'Gate of  God.' It was  the gate
that allowed God to reach the human race. Babel is a gateway in our minds, a
gateway that was opened by the nam-shub  of Enki that broke us free from the
metavirus  and gave us the ability to think - moved  us from a materialistic
world  to a dualistic world - a  binary world  - with  both a physical and a
spiritual component.
     "There was probably chaos and  upheaval. Enki, or his son Marduk, tried
to reimpose order on society by supplanting the old system of me with a code
of laws  -  The  Code of  Hammurabi.  It  was  partially successful. Asherah
worship continued in  many places,  though.  It  was an incredibly tenacious
cult, a throwback to Sumer, that spread itself both verbally and through the
exchange of bodily fluids - they had cult prostitutes, and they also adopted
orphans and spread the virus to them via breast milk."
     "Wait a minute," Ng says. "Now you are talking about a biological virus
     "Exactly.  That's the whole point of Asherah. It's both. As an example,
look at herpes simplex. Herpes heads straight for the nervous system when it
enters  the  body. Some strains  stay in the peripheral nervous  system, but
other strains head  like a bullet for the central nervous system and take up
permanent residence in the cells of the brain -coiling  around the brainstem
like  a  serpent around a tree. The Asherah virus, which  may be  related to
herpes, or they  may be one and the same, passes through the cell  walls and
goes  to  the  nucleus and  messes with the cell's DNA  in the same way that
steroids do. But Asherah is a lot more complicated than a steroid."
     "And when it alters that DNA, what is the result?"
     "No  one has  studied it,  except maybe  for L.  Bob  Rife. I think  it
definitely brings the mother tongue closer to the surface, makes people more
apt to  speak in  tongues and more susceptible to me. I would guess that  it
also  tends  to  encourage irrational  behavior,  maybe lowers  the victim's
defenses to viral ideas, makes them sexually promiscuous, perhaps all of the
     "Does every viral idea have a biological virus counterpart?" Uncle Enzo
     "No. Only  Asherah does, as far  as I know. That is  why, of all the me
and all  the gods and religious practices that predominated  in  Sumer, only
Asherah is still  going strong today.  A viral idea can be stamped  out - as
happened with Nazism, bell bottoms, and Bart Simpson T-shirts - but Asherah,
because it has  a biological aspect,  can remain latent in  the  human body.
After Babel, Asherah was still resident in the human brain, being passed  on
from mother to child and from lover to lover.
     "We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas. Like mass hysteria.
Or a  tune that gets  into your head that you keep on humming all  day until
you  spread  it to someone  else.  Jokes. Urban legends. Crackpot religions.
Marxism. No matter  how smart we  get, there  is always this deep irrational
part that  makes  us potential hosts  for  self-replicating information. But
being  physically infected with a virulent strain of the Asherah virus makes
you a whole lot  more susceptible. The  only thing  that keeps  these things
from taking  over  the world  is the  Babel factor  -  the walls  of  mutual
incomprehension that  compartmentalize the human race and stop the spread of
     "Babel led to an explosion in the number of languages. That was part of
Enki's  plan.  Monocultures,  like  a  field  of  corn, are  susceptible  to
infections, but genetically diverse cultures, like a  prairie, are extremely
robust. After  a few  thousand years, one  new language developed - Hebrew -
that possessed  exceptional flexibility  and  power. The  deuteronomists,  a
group of radical monotheists in  the sixth and seventh centuries  B.C., were
the  first  to take  advantage  of  it.  They  lived  in  a  time of extreme
nationalism and  xenophobia, which made it easier for them to reject foreign
ideas like Asherah worship. They formalized their old stories into the Torah
and  implanted  within it  a  law that  insured  its propagation  throughout
history - a law that said, in effect, 'make an exact copy of  me and read it
every day.' And they encouraged a sort of informational hygiene, a belief in
copying  things  strictly and taking great care with  information, which  as
they  understood,  is potentially dangerous.  They made  data  a  controlled
     "They may have gone beyond that. There is evidence of carefully planned
biological warfare against the army of Sennacherib  when he tried to conquer
Jerusalem. So the  deuteronomists may have  had an en of their very own.  Or
maybe they just  understood  viruses well  enough that they knew how to take
advantage of naturally occurring strains. The  skills  cultivated  by  these
people were passed  down  in  secret from  one generation  to  the next  and
manifested  themselves  two  thousand  years  later,  in  Europe,  among the
kabbalistic sorcerers, ba'al shems, masters of the divine name.
     "In  any  case, this  was the birth of  rational religion.  All  of the
subsequent  monotheistic  religions - known  by  Muslims, appropriately,  as
religions of the Book - incorporated those ideas to some extent. For example
the Koran states over and over again that it is a transcript, an exact copy,
of a book in Heaven.  Naturally, anyone who believes that will  not  dare to
alter the  text  in  any  way!  Ideas  such as these were  so  effective  in
preventing  the spread of Asherah that, eventually, every square inch of the
territory where the viral  cult had once thrived - from India to Spain - was
under the sway of Islam, Christianity, or Judaism.
     "But  because of its latency -  coiled about the  brainstem of those it
infects, passed from one generation to the  next -  it always  finds ways to
resurface. In the case of Judaism, it came in the form of the Pharisees, who
imposed  a  rigid  legalistic  theocracy on  the  Hebrews.  With  its  rigid
adherence to laws stored in a temple, administered by priestly types  vested
with civil  authority, it resembled the old Sumerian system, and was just as
     "The  ministry  of  Jesus Christ was  an effort to break Judaism out of
this condition - sort of an echo of  what Enki did. Christ's gospel is a new
nam-shub, an attempt to take religion out of the temple, out of the hands of
the priesthood,  and  bring the Kingdom  of God  to  everyone.  That is  the
message  explicitly  spelled  out  by his sermons,  and it  is  the  message
symbolically embodied in the empty tomb. After the crucifixion, the apostles
went to  his  tomb hoping  to find his body and  instead  found nothing. The
message was  clear enough:  We are not  to  idolize Jesus, because his ideas
stand alone, his church is no longer centralized in one person but dispersed
among all the people.
     "People who were used  to the rigid theocracy of the Pharisees couldn't
handle the idea of a popular, nonhierarchical church. They wanted  popes and
bishops and  priests. And so the myth of the Resurrection was added onto the
gospels. The message was  changed to a form of idolatry. In this new version
of the gospels, Jesus came back to earth and organized a church, which later
became the  Church of  the Eastern and Western Roman Empire - another rigid,
brutal, and irrational theocracy.
     "At the same time, the Pentecostal church was being founded. The  early
Christians spoke  in tongues.  The  Bible  says,  'And all were  amazed  and
perplexed, saying to one another, "What does  this mean?"' Well,  I  think I
may be able to  answer that  question. It was a  viral outbreak. Asherah had
been  present, lurking in  the  population,  ever  since  the triumph of the
deuteronomists. The informational  hygiene  measures  practiced  by the Jews
kept it suppressed. But  in the early days of Christianity, there  must have
been a lot of chaos,  a  lot of radicals and  free thinkers  running around,
flouting   tradition.  Throwbacks  to  the  days  of  prerational  religion.
Throwbacks to Sumer. And sure enough, they all started talking to each other
in the tongue of Eden.
     "The mainline Christian  church refused  to  accept  glossolalia.  They
frowned on it for a few centuries and officially purged it at the Council of
Constantinople  in 381. The glossolalic cult  remained on the fringes of the
Christian  world.  The  Church  was  willing  to  accept  a  little  bit  of
xenoglossia. if  it  helped  convert heathens, as in the  case  of St. Louis
Bertrand  who  converted  thousands  of Indians  in  the  sixteenth century,
spreading glossolalia across the continent faster than smallpox. But as soon
as they were  converted,  those Indians were  supposed  to shut up and speak
Latin like everyone else.
     "The  Reformation opened the  door  a little wider.  But Pentecostalism
didn't  really  take  off  until  the  year  1900,  when a  small  group  of
Bible-college  students in Kansas began to speak in tongues. They spread the
practice to Texas. There it became known as the revival  movement. It spread
like wildfire, all across the United  States,  and then the world,  reaching
China and India in 1906.  The  twentieth century's mass media, high literacy
rates, and high-speed transportation all  served  as superb  vectors for the
infection.  In a packed  revival  hall or  a Third World refugee encampment,
glossolalia spread  from  one person  to the next as  fast as  panic. By the
eighties,  the number of Pentecostals worldwide  numbered  in  the  tens  of
     "And then came television,  and the  Reverend Wayne,  backed up by  the
vast  media  power of  L.  Bob  Rife.  The behavior  that the Reverend Wayne
promulgates through  his television  shows, pamphlets, and franchises can be
traced  in  an  unbroken  line  back  to  the  Pentecostal  cults  of  early
Christianity, and from  there back  to  pagan glossolalia cults. The cult of
Asherah lives. The Reverend Wayne's Pearly Cates is the cult of Asherah."

     "Lagos  figured all of this out. He was originally a researcher  at the
Library of Congress, later became part of CIC when it  absorbed the Library.
He made  a living by discovering interesting things in the Library, facts no
one else had bothered to dig up. He would organize these facts and sell them
to  people.  Once he figured  out all of  this  Enki/Asherah  stuff, he went
looking for someone who would pay for it and settled on L. Bob Rife, Lord of
Bandwidth, owner of the  fiber-optics monopoly, who at  that  time  employed
more programmers than anyone else on earth.
     "Lagos, typically for a nonbusinessman, had a  fatal  flaw: he  thought
too   small.   He  figured   that   with  a  little  venture  capital,  this
neurolinguistic  hacking could be developed  as a new technology  that would
enable Rife to maintain possession of  information that had passed  into the
brains  of  his programmers. Which, moral considerations aside, wasn't a bad
     "Rife  likes to  think big. He immediately saw that this idea could  be
much more powerful. He took Lagos's idea and told Lagos himself to buzz off.
Then he started  dumping a lot of money into Pentecostal churches. He took a
small church in Bayview, Texas, and built it up into a university. He took a
smalltime preacher, the Reverend Wayne Bedford,  and made him more important
than  the  Pope.  He  constructed  a  string  of  self-supporting  religious
franchises all over  the world,  and used his university,  and its Metaverse
campus, to crank out tens of thousands of missionaries,  who  fanned out all
over  the  Third  World and  began  converting  people  by  the hundreds  of
thousands,  just like St. Louis Bertrand. L. Bob Rife's glossolalia  cult is
the most successful  religion since the creation of  Islam. They do a lot of
talking about Jesus, but like many self-described Christian churches, it has
nothing to do  with Christianity  except  that  they  use his name.  It's  a
postrational religion.
     "He  also  wanted  to spread  the biological  virus as  a  promoter  or
enhancer  of  the  cult, but he couldn't  really get  away with  doing  that
through   the  use   of   cult   prostitution  because   it   is  flagrantly
anti-Christian.  But  one  of  the  major  functions  of  his   Third  World
missionaries was  to go out into the hinterlands and vaccinate  people - and
there was more than just vaccine in those needles.
     "Here in  the First World, everyone has already been vaccinated, and we
don't let  religious  fanatics come  up and poke needles into us. But we  do
take a lot of drugs. So for us, he devised  a means for extracting the virus
from human blood serum and packaged it as a drug known as Snow Crash.
     "In  the meantime,  he  got the  Raft going  as a way  of  transporting
hundreds of thousands  of his cultists from the wretched parts of  Asia into
the  United States. The  media image  of the  Raft is that it is a place  of
utter chaos, where thousands of  different languages are spoken and there is
no central authority. But it's not like  that  at all. It's highly organized
and  tightly  controlled. These  people  are all talking  to each  other  in
tongues. L. Bob Rife has taken xenoglossia and perfected  it, turned it into
a science.
     "He can control  these people by grafting radio  receivers  into  their
skulls, broadcasting instructions  - me - directly into their brainstems. If
one  person  in a hundred has a  receiver,  he can act  as the  local en and
distribute the me of L. Bob Rife to all the others. They will act out L. Bob
Rife's instructions as  though they have been programmed to.  And right now,
he has about a million of these people poised off the California coast.
     "He  also  has  a  digital metavirus, in binary code,  that can  infect
computers, or hackers, via the optic nerve."
     "How did he translate it into binary form?" Ng says.
     "I don't  think he did. I  think he  found  it  in space. Rife owns the
biggest  radio astronomy network in the world. He  doesn't do real astronomy
with it - he just listens for signals from other planets. It stood to reason
that sooner or later, one of his dishes would pick up the metavirus."
     "How does that stand to reason?"
     "The metavirus is  everywhere. Anywhere life exists,  the metavirus  is
there, too,  propagating through it. Originally,  it  was  spread  around on
comets.  That's  probably  how  life  first came  to the Earth,  and  that's
probably  how the metavirus came here also.  But  comets  are slow,  whereas
radio waves are fast. In binary form, a virus can bounce around the universe
at the  speed  of light.  It  infects a  civilized  planet,  gets  into  its
computers, reproduces, and inevitably gets broadcast on television or  radio
or whatever. Those transmissions  don't stop at the edge of the atmosphere -
they radiate out into space, forever. And if they  hit a planet with another
civilized culture, where people are listening to the stars the way Rife  was
doing, then that planet gets infected,  too.  I think that was Rife's  plan,
and I  think it worked.  Except  that Rife  was  smart -he caught  it  in  a
controlled manner. He put it in a bottle. An informational warfare agent for
him  to use  at his  discretion.  When it  is  placed  into a  computer,  it
snow-crashes the computer  by causing it  to infect itself with new viruses.
But it is much more devastating when  it  goes into the mind of  a hacker, a
person  who  has  an  understanding  of  binary  code  built  into the  deep
structures  of  his brain. The binary metavirus will destroy  the mind of  a
     "So  Rife can  control  two  kinds of people," Ng says. "He can control
Pentecostals by using me  written in  the mother  tongue. And he can control
hackers in a much  more violent fashion by damaging their brains with binary
     "What do you think Rife wants?" Ng says.
     "He wants to be Ozymandias, King  of Kings. Look, it's simple:  Once he
converts you to his religion, he can control you with me. And he can convert
millions of people to his religion because it spreads like a fucking virus -
people  have no resistance to it because no  one is  used  to thinking about
religion, people aren't rational enough to  argue about this kind  of thing.
Basically, anyone who reads the National Enquirer or  watches pro  wrestling
on TV  is  easy  to convert. And  with Snow  Crash  as a promoter, it's even
easier to get converts.
     "Rife's key realization  was that  there's no difference between  modem
culture and  Sumerian.  We  have  a  huge  workforce that  is illiterate  or
alliterate  and relies on TV -  which  is sort of an oral tradition. And  we
have a small,  extremely literate power elite  -  the people who go into the
Metaverse, basically  - who  understand  that information  is power, and who
control  society  because they have this semimystical ability to speak magic
computer languages.
     "That makes us a big stumbling block to Rife's plan. People like L. Bob
Rife can't do anything without us  hackers. And even if he could convert us,
he wouldn't be able to use us, because what we do  is creative in nature and
can't be duplicated by people running me. But he  can  threaten us  with the
blunt instrument of Snow Crash. That, I think, is what happened to Da5id. It
may  have  been  an experiment, just to see if Snow  Crash worked on  a real
hacker, and it may have been a  warning shot intended to  demonstrate Rife's
power to the hacker community. The  message:  If Asherah gets broadcast into
the technological priesthood - "
     "Napalm on wildflowers," Ng says.
     "As far as I know, there's no way to stop the binary virus. But there's
an antidote  to Rife's bogus religion. The nam-shub of Enki still exists. He
gave a copy to his  son  Marduk, who passed it  on to Hammurabi. Now, Marduk
may or may not have been a real  person. The point  is that Enki went out of
his way to leave the impression that  he had passed  on his nam-shub in some
form. In other words, he  was planting a message that  later generations  of
hackers were supposed to decode, if Asherah should rise again.
     "I am fairly certain that the information we need is contained within a
clay envelope  that was excavated from the ancient Sumerian city of Eridu in
southern Iraq ten years ago. Eridu  was  the  seat of Enki; in other  words,
Enki was the local  en of  Eridu,  and the temple of Eridu contained his me,
including the nam-shub that we are looking for."
     "Who excavated this clay envelope?"
     "The Eridu  dig  was  sponsored entirely by  a  religious university in
Bayview, Texas."
     "L. Bob Rife's?"
     "You  got it.  He created an archaeology department whose sole function
was to dig up the city of Eridu, locate the temple where Enki stored all  of
his me, and  take it all home.  L. Bob  Rife wanted  to reverse-engineer the
skills that Enki possessed; by  analyzing Enki's me, he wanted to create his
very own neurolinguistic hackers, who could  write new me  that would become
the  ground rules, the  program,  for  the  new  society that Rife wants  to
     "But among these me is a copy of the nam-shub of Enki," Ng says, "which
is dangerous to Rife's plan."
     "Right.  He wanted  that tablet, too - not to analyze but  to  keep  to
himself, so no one could use it against him."
     "If you  can  obtain  a copy of this  nam-shub," Ng  says, "what effect
would it have?"
     "If we could transmit the nam-shub of  Enki  to  all of the en  on  the
Raft, they would relay  it  to all of  the Raft people.  It would  jam their
mother-tongue neurons and prevent Rife  from programming them with new  me,"
Hiro says. "But we really need to get this done before the  Raft breaks up -
before the Refus all come ashore. Rife talks to  his  en  through a  central
transmitter  on the Enterprise,  which  I take to be  a fairly  short-range,
line-of-sight type of thing. Pretty soon he'll use this system to distribute
a big me that will cause all the Refus to come ashore as a unified army with
coordinated marching orders. In other  words, the Raft  will break  up,  and
after that it won't be possible to  reach all of these people anymore with a
single transmission. So we have to do it as soon as possible."
     "Mr. Rife will be most unhappy," Ng predicts. "He will try to retaliate
by unleashing Snow Crash against the technological priesthood."
     "I know that," Hiro  says  "but I  can  only worry about one thing at a
time. I could use a little help here."
     "Easier said than done," Ng says. "To reach the Core, one must fly over
the Raft or drive a small boat through its midst. Rife has a million  people
there  with  rifles  and missile launchers. Even  high-tech weapons  systems
cannot defeat organized small-arms fire on a massive scale."
     "Get some choppers out to  this vicinity, then," Hiro says. "Something.
Anything. If I can get my hands on the nam-shub of  Enki and infect everyone
on the Raft with it, then you can approach safely."
     "We'll see what we can come up with," Uncle Enzo says.
     "Fine," Hiro says. "Now, what about Reason?"
     Ng mumbles  something  and a  card appears  in his hand.  "Here's a new
version of  the  system software," he  says. "It  should  be  a  little less
     "A little less?"
     "No piece of software is ever bug free," Ng says.
     Uncle Enzo says, "I guess there's a little  bit  of Asherah in  all  of

     Hiro finds his own way out and takes the elevator all the way back down
to the Street. When he exits the neon skyscraper, a black-and-white  girl is
sitting on his motorcycle, messing with the controls.
     "Where are you?" she says.
     "I'm on the Raft, too. Hey, we just made twenty-five million dollars."
     He is sure that just  this one  time, Y.T.  is going to be impressed by
something that he says. But she's not.
     "That'll  buy me a really happening funeral when they mail me home in a
piece of Tupperware," she says.
     "Why would that happen?"
     "I'm in trouble," she admits - for the first time in her life. "I think
my boyfriend is going to kill me."
     "Who's your boyfriend?"
     If  avatars  could turn pale and woozy and  have to  sit  down  on  the
sidewalk, Hiro's would. "Now I know why he has POOR IMPULSE CONTROL tattooed
across his forehead."
     "This  is great. I was hoping to get a  little cooperation  or at least
maybe some advice," she says.
     "If you think he's going to kill you, you're wrong, because if you were
right, you'd be dead," Hiro says.
     "Depends  on  your assumptions," she  says. She  goes on to  tell him a
highly entertaining story about a dentata.
     "I'm going to try to help you," Hiro says, "but I'm not necessarily the
safest guy on the Raft to hang out with, either."
     "Did you hook up with your girlfriend yet?"
     "No. But I have high hopes for that. Assuming I can stay alive."
     "High hopes for what?"
     "Our relationship."
     "Why?" she asks. "What's changed between then and now?"
     This  is one  of  these utterly  simple  and  obvious questions that is
irritating  because Hiro's not sure of the answer. "Well,  I think I figured
out what she was doing - why she came here."
     Another simple  and obvious question. "So, I feel like I understand her
     "You do?"
     "Yeah, well, sort of."
     "And is that supposed to be a good thing?"
     "Well, sure."
     "Hiro, you are such a geek. She's a  woman,  you're a dude. You're  not
supposed to understand her. That's not what she's after."
     "Well, what is she  after, do you suppose - keeping in mind that you've
never actually met the woman, and that you're going out with Raven?"
     "She  doesn't want you  to understand her. She knows that's impossible.
She just wants you to understand yourself. Everything else is negotiable."
     "You figure?"
     "Yeah. Definitely."
     "What makes you think I don't understand myself?"
     "It's just obvious. You're a really smart hacker and the greatest sword
fighter  in the world - and you're delivering  pizzas and promoting concerts
that you don't make any money off of. How do you expect her to - "
     The rest is  drowned out  by sound breaking in  through  his earphones,
coming in from Reality: a screeching, tearing noise riding in high and sharp
above the rumbling noise of  heavy impact. Then there is just the  screaming
of  terrified  neighborhood children, the cries of  men in Tagalog, and  the
groaning and  popping sound of a steel  fishing trawler collapsing under the
pressure of the sea.
     "What was that?" Y.T. says.
     "Meteorite," Hiro says.
     "Stay tuned," Hiro says, "I think I just got into a Gatling gun duel."
     "Are you going to sign off?"
     "Just shut up for a second."

     This neighborhood is U-shaped, built around a sort of  cove in the Raft
where  half a dozen rusty  old fishing boats are tied  up.  A floating pier,
pieced together from mismatched pontoons, runs around the edge.
     The empty trawler, the one they've been cutting up for  scrap, has been
hit by a burst  from the big  gun on the deck of the Enterprise. It looks as
though  a big wave picked it  up and tried to wrap it  around a pillar:  one
whole  side is collapsed in, the bow and the stem are actually  bent  toward
each other. Its  back is broken.  Its empty  holds are ingurgitating a vast,
continuous rush  of murky brown seawater, sucking in that  variegated sewage
like a drowning man sucks air. It's heading for the bottom fast.
     Hiro shoves  Reason back into the  zodiac,  jumps  in, and  starts  the
motor. He doesn't have time to untie the boat  from the pontoon, so he snaps
through the line with his wakizashi and takes off.
     The pontoons  are  already sagging inward and down, pulled  together by
the ruined ship's mooring  lines. The trawler is falling off  the surface of
the water, trying to pull in the entire neighborhood like a black hole.
     A couple of Filipino  men are already out with short knives, hacking at
the stuff that webs the neighborhood together, trying to cut loose the parts
that  can't be salvaged.  Hiro  buzzes over  to  a pontoon  that is  already
knee-deep under  the  water, finds  the ropes that connect it  to  the  next
pontoon,  which  is  even more  deeply submerged, and probes  them with  his
katana.  The  remaining  ropes pop like  rifle shots, and  then  the pontoon
breaks loose, shooting up to the surface so fast that it almost capsizes the
     A whole section  of  the pontoon  pier,  along the side of the trawler,
can't be salvaged. Men with fishing knives and  women with kitchen  cleavers
are  down on their knees, the  water already  rising up under  their  chins,
cutting  their  neighborhood  free.  It breaks  loose one  rope  at  a time,
haphazardly,  tossing  the Filipinos up into the  air. A  boy with a machete
cuts the  one remaining line, which  pops up and lashes him across the face.
Finally, the raft is  free and flexible once again, bobbing and waving  back
toward  equilibrium,  and  where  the  trawler was, there's  nothing  but  a
bubbling whirlpool that  occasionally  vomits  up a loose  piece of floating
     Some others  have  already  clambered up onto the fishing boat that was
tied up next to the trawler. It has suffered  some damage,  too: several men
cluster around  and  lean over  the rail to examine a couple of large impact
craters on the side. Each  hole  is surrounded by a shiny dinner plate-sized
patch that has  been blown free  of  all paint  and rust. In the middle is a
hole the size of a golf ball.
     Hiro decides it's time to leave.
     But before  he  does, he reaches into his  coverall, pulls out a  money
clip, and counts out a few thousand Kongbucks. He  puts them on the deck and
weighs them down under the corner of a red steel gasoline tank. Then he hits
the road.
     He   has  no  trouble   finding  the  canal  that  leads  to  the  next
neighborhood. His paranoia level is way up, and so he glances back and forth
as he pilots his way out of there, looking up all the  little alleys. In one
of those niches, he sees a wirehead, mumbling something.
     The next neighborhood is Malaysian. Several dozen of them  are gathered
near  the  bridge,  attracted  by  the  noise.  As  Hiro  is entering  their
neighborhood, he sees men running down  the  undulating  pontoon bridge that
serves as the main street, carrying guns and knives. The local constabulary.
More  men  of the  same description emerge from the byways  and  skiffs  and
sampans, joining them.
     A tremendous whacking  and  splintering and tearing noise  sounds right
beside him,  as though  a  lumber truck has just crashed into  a brick wall.
Water splashes his body,  and an exhalation  of steam passes  over his face.
Then it's  quiet again. He turns around, slowly and reluctantly. The nearest
pontoon isn't there  anymore, just a bloody, turbulent soup of splinters and
     He turns around and looks behind him. The wirehead he saw a few seconds
ago is  out in the open now, standing all by himself at the edge of a  raft.
Everyone else  has  cleared  out of  there.  He  can see the  bastard's lips
moving. Hiro whips the boat around and returns to him, drawing his wakizashi
with his free hand, and cuts him down on the spot.
     But there will be more. Hiro knows they're all out looking for him now.
The gunners  up there on the Enterprise don't  care how many of  these Refus
they have to kill in order to nail Hiro.
     From the Malaysian neighborhood, he passes into a Chinese neighborhood.
This  one's a lot more built  up,  it contains a number of steel  ships  and
barges. It extends off into  the distance, away from the Core, for as far as
Hiro can see from his worthless sea-level vantage point.
     He's being  watched by a man high up in the  superstructure  of one  of
those Chinese ships, another wirehead. Hiro can see  the guy's  jaw flapping
as he sends updates to Raft Central.
     The  big Gatling gun on the deck of the Enterprise opens  up again  and
fires  another  meteorite  of depleted uranium  slugs  into  the side  of an
unoccupied  barge about twenty feet  from Hiro. The entire side of the barge
chases itself inward, like the steel has become liquid and is running down a
drain,  and the metal  turns bright as  shock  waves simply  turn that thick
layer of rust into an aerosol, blast it  free from the steel borne on a wave
of  sound so powerful that it hurts Hiro down inside his chest and makes him
feel sick.
     The gun is radar controlled. It's very accurate when it's shooting at a
piece of metal. It's a lot  less accurate when it's trying to  hit flesh and
     "Hiro? What the fuck's going on?" Y.T. is shouting into his earphones.
     "Can't talk. Get me to my office," Hiro says. "Pull me onto the back of
the motorcycle and then drive it there."
     "I don't know how to drive a motorcycle," she says.
     "It's only got one control. Twist the throttle and it goes."
     And then he points  his boat out toward  the  open water and drills it.
Dimly superimposed on Reality, he can see the black-and-white figure of Y.T.
sitting in front of him on the motorcycle; she reaches out  for the throttle
and both of them jerk forward and slam into the wall of a skyscraper at Mach
     He  turns off  his view  of the Metaverse entirely, making  the goggles
totally transparent. Then he switches his  system into  full gargoyle  mode:
enhanced visible  light  with  false-color  infrared,  plus  millimeter-wave
     His view of the world goes into  grainy black and white,  much brighter
than it was before. Here and  there, certain objects glow fuzzily in pink or
red. This comes from the infrared,  and it means  that these things are warm
or hot; people are pink, engines and fires are red.
     The millimeter-wave radar stuff is superimposed  much more cleanly  and
crisply in  neon  green.  Anything  made of  metal  shows up.  Hiro  is  now
navigating  down a grainy, charcoal-gray  avenue of water lined with grainy,
light gray pontoon bridges tied up to crisp neon-green barges and ships that
glow reddishly from place to place, wherever they are generating  heat. It's
not pretty. In fact, it's so ugly that it  probably  explains  why gargoyles
are, in general,  so socially retarded. But it's a lot  more useful than the
charcoal-on-ebony view he had before.
     And it saves his life. As he's  buzzing down a curving, narrow canal, a
narrow  green parabola  appears hanging  across the water in  front of  him,
suddenly rising out of the water and snapping into a perfectly straight line
at neck level. It's a piece of piano wire. Hiro ducks under it, waves to the
young Chinese men who set the booby trap, and keeps going.
     The radar picks out three fuzzy pink individuals holding Chinese AK-47s
standing  by  the side of the channel. Hiro  cuts  into  a side channel  and
avoids them. But it's a narrower channel, and he's not sure where it goes.
     "Y.T.," he says, "where the hell are we?"
     "Driving  down the street toward your house. We  overshot it  about six
     Up ahead,  the channel dead-ends. Hiro does a one-eighty. With the  big
heat exchanger dragging behind it, the boat is not nearly as maneuverable or
as  fast as Hiro wants it  to be.  He passes back underneath the  booby-trap
wire and starts exploring another narrow channel that he passed earlier.
     "Okay, we're home. You're sitting at your desk," Y.T. says.
     "Okay," Hiro says, "this is going to be tricky."
     He coasts down to a dead stop  in the  middle  of the  channel, makes a
scan  for   militia  men  and  wireheads,  and  finds  none.   There   is  a
five-foot-tall  Chinese  woman in  the boat  next to him  holding  a  square
cleaver, chopping something. Hiro figures it's  a risk he can handle, so  he
turns off Reality and returns to the Metaverse.
     He's sitting at his desk. Y.T.  is standing  next to him, arms crossed,
radiating Attitude.
     "Yes, sir," the Librarian says, padding in.
     "I need blueprints of the aircraft carrier Enterprise. Fast. If you can
get me something in 3-D, that'd be great."
     "Yes, sir," the Librarian says.
     Hiro reaches out and grabs Earth.
     "YOU ARE HERE," he says.
     Earth spins around until he's staring straight  down at  the Raft. Then
it plunges toward him  at  a terrifying rate.  It takes all of three seconds
for him to get there.
     If he  were  in  some  normal, stable  part of  the  world  like  lower
Manhattan, this would actually work in 3-D. Instead, he's got to put up with
two-dimensional satellite imagery. He  is looking at a  red dot superimposed
on a black-and-white photograph of the Raft. The red dot is in the middle of
a narrow black channel of water: YOU ARE HERE.
     It's still an  incredible maze. But it's a lot easier  to solve  a maze
when you're looking down on  it. Within about sixty seconds, he's out in the
open Pacific.  It's  a  foggy gray dawn. The plume of steam  coming  out  of
Reason's heat exchanger just thickens it a little.
     "Where the hell are you?" Y.T. says.
     "Leaving the Raft."
     "Gee, thanks for all your help."
     "I'll be  back  in  a  minute. I just  need  a  second  to  get  myself
     "There's a lot of scary guys around here," Y.T. says. "They're watching
     "It's okay," Hiro says. "I'm sure they'll listen to Reason."

     He flips open the big suitcase. The screen  is still on, showing him  a
flat desktop display with a menu bar at the top. He uses a trackball to pull
down a menu:

     Getting ready
     Firing Reason
     Tactical tips
     Under  the "Getting ready" heading is  more  information than he  could
possibly want on  that subject, including  half an hour of badly overexposed
video  starring a stocky,  scar-faced Asian guy  whose  face seems paralyzed
into a permanent look of disdain. He puts on his clothes. He limbers up with
special stretching exercises. He opens up Reason. He checks the  barrels for
damage or dirt. Hiro fast-forwards through all of this.
     Finally the stocky Asian man puts on the gun.
     Fisheye wasn't really using Reason the right way; it comes with its own
mount that straps to your body so that you can soak up the recoil  with your
pelvis, taking the  force right in your  body's center of gravity. The mount
has shock  absorbers and  miniature hydraulic goodies to compensate  for the
weight and the recoil. If you put all this stuff on the right way, the gun's
a lot easier to use accurately. And if you're goggled into a computer, it'll
superimpose a handy cross hairs over whatever the gun's aimed at.
     "Your information, sir," the Librarian says.
     "Are you smart enough to tie that information into YOU ARE  HERE?" Hiro
     "I'll see  what  I can do, sir. The formats appear  to be reconcilable.
     "These  blueprints  are several years  old. Since  they were made,  the
Enterprise has been purchased by a private owner - "
     "Who may have made some changes. Gotcha."
     Hiro's back in Reality.
     He finds  an open boulevard of water  that leads inward to the Core. It
has  a  sort of  pedestrian catwalk  running  along one side  of it,  pieced
together  haphazardly,  a  seemingly   endless   procession  of  gangplanks,
pontoons, logs, abandoned skiffs, aluminum canoes, oil  drums. Anywhere else
in the  world, it would be an obstacle course; here in the Fifth World, it's
a superhighway.
     Hiro takes the boat straight down the middle, not very fast. If he runs
into something, the boat might flip. Reason will sink.  And  Hiro's strapped
onto Reason.
     Flipping into  gargoyle mode, he can clearly  make  out a sparse picket
line  of hemispherical  domes  running  along  the edge  of the Enterprise's
flight deck. The radar gear thoughtfully identifies these, onscreen, as  the
radar  antennas  of  Phalanx  antimissile  guns.  Underneath  each  dome,  a
multibarreled gun protrudes.
     He slows to a near  stop  and waves the barrel of Reason back and forth
for a while until a cross hairs whips across his field of vision. That's the
aiming  point. He gets it settled down in the middle, right on  one of those
Phalanx guns, and jerks the trigger for half a second.
     The big dome turns into a fountain of jagged, flaky  debris. Underneath
it, the  gun barrels are still visible, speckled with a  few red marks; Hiro
lowers the cross  hairs a tad and fires another fifty-round  burst that cuts
the  gun loose from  its mount. Then its  ammunition  belt starts  to  burst
sporadically, and Hiro has to look away.
     He looks at  the  next Phalanx gun and  finds  himself staring straight
down its barrels. That's  so scary  he jerks  the trigger  involuntarily and
fires  a long burst that appears to do  nothing at  all.  Then his  view  is
obscured by something close  up; the  recoil  has  pushed him  back behind a
decrepit yacht tied up along the side of the channel.
     He knows what's going to happen next - the steam makes him easy to find
- so  he whips  out of there. A  second later, the yacht gets simply  forced
under the water  by a burst  from  the big gun. Hiro runs for a few seconds,
finds a pontoon where he can steady himself, and opens up again with a  long
burst;  when  he's  finished,  the  edge  of  the  Enterprise  has a  jagged
semicircular bite taken out of it where the Phalanx gun used to be.
     He takes  to the main channel  again  and follows it  inward  until  it
terminates beneath one  of the Core ships, a containership, converted into a
high-rise  apartment complex. A cargo net serves as  a  ramp from one to the
other.  It probably serves  as a drawbridge also, when  undesirables try  to
clamber up out of the ghetto. Hiro is about as  undesirable as anyone can be
on the Raft, but they leave the cargo net there for him.
     That's quite  all  right. He's  staying on the little  boat for now. He
buzzes down the side of the containership, makes a U-turn around its prow.
     The next vessel is  a big oil  tanker, mostly empty  and riding high in
the water. Looking  up  the sheer steel  canyon separating the two ships, he
sees no handy cargo  nets stretched between them. They don't want thieves or
terrorists to come up onto the tanker and drill for oil.
     The next ship is the Enterprise.
     The two giant  vessels,  the  tanker  and  the  aircraft  carrier, ride
parallel,  anywhere from ten to  fifty feet  apart,  joined by  a  number of
gigantic  cables and  held apart  by huge airbags,  like they squished a few
blimps between  them to keep them from rubbing. The heavy cables aren't just
lashed from  one ship to another, they've done something clever with weights
and pulleys, he suspects, to  allow for some slack when rough seas  pull the
ships opposite ways.
     Hiro  rides  his  own  little  airbag in between them. This  gray steel
tunnel is  quiet and isolated compared to the  Raft; except for him, no  one
has any  reason  to be here. For a minute, he  just wants  to sit there  and
     Which is not too likely, when you think  about  it. "YOU ARE  HERE," he
     His  view  of the Enterprise's hull - a gently  curved expanse of  gray
steel  - turns into a three-dimensional wire frame drawing,  showing him all
the guts of the ship on the other side.
     Down  here along  the waterline, the  Enterprise  has  a belt  of thick
antitorpedo armor. It's not too promising. Farther up, the armor is thinner,
and there's good stuff on the other side of it, actual rooms instead of fuel
tanks or ammunition holds.
     Hiro chooses a room marked WARDROOM and opens fire.
     The hull  of the Enterprise is surprisingly tough.  Reason doesn't just
blow a  crater straight through;  it  takes a few moments for the  burst  to
penetrate. And then all it does is make a hole about six inches  across. The
recoil pushed Hiro back against the rusted hull of the oil tanker.
     He  can't take the  gun with him anyway.  He holds the trigger down and
just tries  to  keep  it  aimed  in a  consistent  direction  until all  the
ammunition is gone. Then he  unstraps it from  his body  and dumps the whole
thing overboard.  It'll go to the bottom and mark its position with a column
of steam; later, Mr.  Lee's  Greater  Hong Kong  can  dispatch  one  of  its
environmental direct-action posses to  pick  it up.  Then they can haul Hiro
before  the Tribunal  of Environmental Crimes, if they want to. Right now he
doesn't care.
     It takes half  a dozen tries to secure the grappling hook in the jagged
hole, twenty feet above the waterline.
     As he's wriggling  through  the  hole, his  coverall makes popping  and
hissing noises as the hot, sharp metal melts and tears through the synthetic
material. He ends up leaving scraps  of it behind, welded to the hull.  He's
got a few first-  and second-degree burns on  the parts of his skin that are
now  exposed, but they  don't really hurt yet. That's  how wound up  he  is.
Later, they'll hurt. The soles of  his shoes melt and sizzle as he treads on
glowing bunks of shrapnel.  The room is rather smoky, but  aircraft carriers
are nothing  if not fire  conscious,  and  not  too  much in this  place  is
flammable.  Hiro just walks through the smoke to  the door,  which  has been
carved into a steel doily by Reason. He kicks it out of its frame and enters
a place that, in  the blueprints, is simply marked PASSAGEWAY. Then, because
this seems as good a time as any, he draws his katana.

     When her  partner is off  doing something  in Reality, his avatar  goes
kind of slack.  The body  sits  there like an inflatable love doll, and  the
face continues to go through all kinds of stretching exercises. She does not
know what he's doing, but it looks like it must be exciting, because most of
the time he's either extremely surprised or scared shitless.
     Shortly  after  he gets done  talking to  the Librarian dude about  the
aircraft carrier, she begins to hear deep rumbling noises - Reality noises -
from outside. Sounds like  a cross between  a  machine gun and a  buzz  saw.
Whenever she hears that noise, Hiro's face gets  this astonished look  like:
I'm about to die.
     Someone is  tapping her on the  shoulder. Some  suit who  has an  early
morning appointment in the Metaverse, figures that  whatever this Kourier is
doing can't be all that important. She ignores it for a minute.
     Then Hiro's  office goes out of focus, jumps  up  in the air like it is
painted on a window  shade, and  she's looking  into  the face of a  guy. An
Asian guy. A creep. A wirehead. One of the scary antenna dudes.
     "Okay," she says, "what do you want?"
     He grabs her by the arm and hauls her out of the booth. There's another
one with him, and he  grabs  her other  arm. They all start  walking  out of
     "Let go my fucking arm," she says. "I'll go with you. It's okay."
     It's not  the  first time she's been thrown out  of  a building full of
suits.  This  time it's a little  different, though. This time, the bouncers
are a couple of life-sized plastic action figures from Toys R Us.
     And it's not just that these  guys  probably don't speak  English. They
just don't act  normal. She actually manages to  twist one of her arms loose
and the guy doesn't smack her or anything, just turns rigidly toward her and
paws at her mechanically until he's  got her by the arm again,  No change in
his face. His eyes stare like busted headlights. His mouth is open enough to
let  him  breathe  through  it,  but  the  lips  never  move,  never  change
     They are  in a complex of  ship  cabins and sliced-open containers that
acts as the lobby of the  hotel. The  wireheads drag her out the door,  over
the blunt cross hairs of the helipad. Just in time,  too, because a  chopper
happens to be coming  in for a landing.  The safety procedures in this place
suck; they could have got their heads chopped off. It is the slick corporate
chopper with the RARE logo that she saw earlier.
     The wireheads try to drag her  over a gangplank thingy  that leads them
across open  water  to  the  next ship. She manages  to  get  turned  around
backward, grabs the  railings with both  hands,  hooks  her ankles  into the
stanchions, and hangs on. One of them grabs her around the waist from behind
and tries to yank  her body loose while the other one stands in front of her
and pries her fingers loose, one at a time.
     Several guys  are piling out of  the  RARE chopper.  They  are  wearing
coveralls  with gear  stuck  into  the pockets, and  she  sees  at least one
stethoscope. They haul  big  fiberglass  cases out of the chopper,  with red
crosses painted on their  sides, and run into the  containership. Y.T. knows
that this  is not being  done  for the benefit of  some fat  businessman who
stroked a lobe over  his stewed prunes. They are going in there to reanimate
her boyfriend. Raven pumped full of speed: just  what the world needs  right
     They drag her across the deck of the next ship. From  there they take a
stairway thingy  up  to  the next ship  after  that, which  is very big. She
thinks it's an oil  tanker. She can  look across  its broad deck,  through a
tangle of pipes, rust seeping through white paint, and see the Enterprise on
the other side. That's where they're going.
     There's no direct connection. A crane on the deck of the Enterprise has
swung  itself over to dangle a small wire cage over the tanker,  just a  few
feet off the  deck; it bobs  up and down and  glides back and forth  over  a
fairly large area as the two ships rock in different ways and it swings like
a pendulum at  the  end of its cable.  It has a  door on  one side, which is
hanging open.
     They sort  of toss her into it head  first, keeping  her arms pinned to
her sides so she can't  push it away from  her,  and then they  spend a  few
seconds  folding  her  legs in behind her. It's obvious by now  that talking
doesn't work, so she just fights silently. She manages to give one of them a
good  stomp to the  bridge  of the nose,  and both feels  and hears the bone
break, but the man doesn't react in  any way, other than  snapping  his head
back on impact. She's so busy  watching him, waiting to  see when he's going
to  figure out that  his nose is broken and  that she's responsible for  it,
that she stops  kicking and flailing long enough to get all  shoved into the
cage. Then the door snaps shut.
     An  experienced raccoon could  get the latch open. This cage isn't made
to hold people. But by the time she gets her body worked around to the point
where she can reach it, she's twenty feet above  the deck, looking down on a
lead of black water between the  tanker  and the Enterprise. Down below, she
can see an abandoned zodiac caroming back and forth between the steel walls.
     Not everything is exactly right on the Enterprise. Something is burning
somewhere. People are firing guns. She's not entirely sure she  wants to  be
there. As long as she is high up in  the air, she reconnoiters the  ship and
confirms that there is no way off, no handy gangplanks or stairway thingies.
     She is being  lowered toward the Enterprise. The cage is careening back
and  forth, skimming  just over the deck on its cable, and  when  it finally
touches the deck, it skids for a few feet  before coming to a halt. She pops
the latch and climbs out of there. Now what?
     There's a bullseye painted on the deck, a few helicopters parked around
the  edges  and  lashed  down.  And  there  is  one  helicopter,  a  mammoth
twin-engine  jet number, kind of  a flying bathtub  festooned  with guns and
missiles, sitting right in the middle of the bullseye, all of its lights on,
engine  whining,  rotors spinning desultorily.  A  small  cluster of  men is
standing next to it.
     Y.T. walks toward it. She hates  this. She  knows this is  exactly what
she's  supposed to do.  But there  really  is  no other choice. She  wishes,
profoundly,  that  she had  her  plank with  her. The  deck of this aircraft
carrier is  some of the best  skating  territory  she has ever seen. She has
seen,  in movies,  that  carriers  have  big  steam catapults  for  throwing
airplanes  into  the  sky.  Think of  what it would be like to ride a  steam
catapult on your plank!
     As she is walking toward the helicopter, one of the men standing by  it
detaches  himself from the group and walks toward her. He's big, with a body
like a fifty-five-gallon drum, and a mustache that turns  up at the corners.
And as he comes toward her he is laughing in a  satisfied  way, which pisses
her off.
     "Well, don't you look like a forlorn lil thang!" he says. "Shit, honey,
you look like a drowned rat that got dried out again."
     "Thanks," she says. "You look like chiseled Spam."
     "Very funny," he says.
     "Then how come you're not laughing? Afraid it's true?"
     "Look," he says, "I don't have time for this fucking adolescent banter.
I grew up and got old 'pecifically to get away from this."
     "It's not that  you don't have time,"  she  says. "It's that you're not
very good at it."
     "You know who I am?" he asks.
     "Yeah, I know. You know who I am?"
     "Y.T. A fifteen-year-old Kourier."
     "And  personal buddy  of Uncle Enzo," she says, whipping off the string
of dog tags and tossing them. He holds out one hand, startled, and the chain
whips around his fingers. He holds them up and reads them.
     "Well, well," he says, "this is quite a little memento." He throws them
back at her. "I know you're buddies with Uncle Enzo. Otherwise I just woulda
dunked  you  instead  a bringing you here  to my spread. And I frankly don't
give  a  shit," he  says,  "because by the time this  day is through, either
Uncle Enzo will  be out  of  a job, or else I'll be,  as  you said, chiseled
Spam.  But  I  figure that  the Big Wop will be a lot less likely to throw a
Stinger  through  the turbine  of  my chopper there  if he knows  his little
chiquita is on board."
     "It's not like that," Y.T. says. "It's not a relationship where fucking
is part of it." But she  is chagrined to learn that the dog tags,  after all
this time, did not have any magical effect on the bad guys.
     Rife turns around and  starts walking back to the chopper.  After a few
steps, he turns back and looks at  her, just standing  there, trying  not to
cry. "You coming?" he says.
     She looks at the chopper. A ticket off the Raft.
     "Can I leave a note for Raven?"
     "Far  as Raven is concerned, I think you already made your point -  haw
haw haw. Come on, girl, we're wasting jet fuel  over there - that ain't good
for the goddamn environment."
     She follows him to  the chopper, climbs on board.  It's warm and  light
inside  here,  with nice seats.  Like coming in off a  hard February  day of
thrashing the grittier highways and settling into a padded easy chair
     "Had  the interior redone," Rife  says. "This is a big  old Sov gunship
and it wasn't made for comfort. But that's  the price you  pay for  all that
armor plating."
     There's  two other guys in here. One is about fifty, sort of gaunt, big
pores,  wire-rimmed  bifocals, carrying a laptop. A techie. The other  is  a
bulky African-American  with a  gun. "Y.T.," says the  always polite  L. Bob
Rife, meet Frank Frost,  my  tech  director, and Tony Michaels, my  security
     "Ma'am," says Tony.
     "Howdy," says Frank.
     "Suck my toes," says Y.T.
     "Don't step on that, please," Frank says.
     Y.T. looks down. Climbing into the empty seat nearest the door, she has
stepped on a  package resting on the floor. It's about  the dimensions of  a
phone book, but irregular,  very heavy, swaddled  in bubble  pack and  clear
plastic. She can see  glimpses  of  what's inside. Light  reddish  brown  in
color. Covered with chicken scratches. Hard as a rock.
     "What's that?" Y.T. says. "Homemade bread from Mom?"
     "It's an ancient artifact,"  Frank says, all pissed off. Rife chuckles,
pleased and relieved that Y.T. is now insulting someone else.
     Another man  duck-walks across the flight  deck, in mortal fear  of the
whirling rotor blades, and climbs  in. He's about sixty, with a dirigible of
white hair that was not ruffled in any way by the downdraft.
     "Hello,  everyone," he says cheerfully. "I  don't think I've met all of
you. Just got here this morning and now I'm on my way back again!"
     "Who are you?" Tony says.
     The new guy looks crestfallen. "Greg Ritchie," he says.
     Then, when no one seems to react, he  jogs their memory. "President  of
the United States."
     "Oh! Sorry. Nice to meet you, Mr. President,"  Tony says, extending his
hand. "Tony Michaels."
     "Frank Frost," Frank says, extending his hand and looking bored.
     "Don't  mind  me," Y.T.  says, when  Ritchie  looks  her  way.  "I'm  a
     "Torque this baby," Rife says to the pilot. "Let's go to L.A. We got  a
Mission to Control."
     The pilot has an angular face that, after  her experiences on the Raft,
Y.T. recognizes as typically Russian. He  starts  dicking with his controls.
The engines whine louder and the thwacking of the chopper blades picks up.
     Y.T. feels,  but does not hear, a couple of small explosions.  Everyone
else feels it, too, but only Tony reacts; he  crouches down on  the floor of
the  chopper, pulls a gun out  from under  his jacket, and opens the door on
his  side.  Meanwhile,  the  engines  sigh back down in pitch and  the rotor
coasts back down to an idle.
     Y.T. can see him out the window. It's Hiro. He's all covered with smoke
and blood, and he's holding a  pistol in one  hand. He's just fired a couple
of shots in the air, to get their attention, and now he  backs behind one of
the parked choppers, taking cover.
     "You're a dead man," Rife shouts. "You're stuck on the Raft, asshole. I
got a million Myrmidons here. You gonna kill 'em all?"
     "Swords don't run out of ammo," Hiro shouts.
     "Well, what do you want?"
     "I want the tablet. You give  me the tablet, then you can  take off and
let your million wireheads kill me. You don't give me  the tablet, I'm gonna
empty this clip into the windshield of your chopper."
     "It's bulletproof! Haw!" Rife says.
     "No it isn't," Hiro says, "as the rebels in Afghanistan found out."
     "He is right," the pilot says.
     "Fucking Soviet piece of shit! They put all that steel in its belly and
then made the windshield out of glass?"
     "Give me the tablet," Hiro says' "or I'm taking it."
     "No you ain't," Rife says, "cause I got Tinkerbell here."
     At the last minute, Y.T. tries to duck  down and hide, so he won't  see
her. She's ashamed. But Hiro  locks eyes with her for just a moment, and she
can see the defeat come into his face.
     She makes a dive for the door and gets halfway out, under the downblast
of the  rotors. Tony grabs her coverall's collar and hauls her back  inside.
He  shoves her down on her belly and puts one knee in the small of  her back
to hold her there. Meanwhile, the engine is  powering up again,  and out the
open  door she can see the  steel  horizon of  the carrier's deck drop  from
     After all this time, she fucked up the plan. She owes Hiro a refund.
     Or maybe not.
     She  puts the heel of one hand against the edge of the clay  tablet and
shoves  as  hard  as  she  can.  It  slides across the floor, teeters on the
threshold, and spins out of the chopper.
     Another delivery made, another satisfied customer.

     For a  minute  or  so, the chopper hovers twenty feet overhead. All the
people inside are staring  down  at  the tablet, which has burst out  of its
wrappings in the  middle of the bullseye.  The plastic has torn apart around
the corners and fragments - large fragments - of the tablet have sprayed out
for a few feet in either direction.
     Hiro stares  at  it,  too, still safe behind  the  cover  of  a  parked
chopper. He stares at it so hard that  be forgets to stare at anything else.
Then  a  couple of wireheads land on his back, smashing  his  face into  the
flank of the chopper. He slides down and lands on his  belly. His gun arm is
still  free, but a couple more wireheads sit on  that. A couple on his legs,
too. He can't  move  at all. He  can't see  anything but  the broken tablet,
twenty feet  away on the flight deck.  The sound  and wind of Rife's chopper
diminish into  a distant puttering noise that  takes a  long time to go away
     He  feels a  tingling behind his ear, anticipating the scalpel  and the
     These wireheads are operating under remote control from somewhere else.
Ng  seemed to think that  they had an  organized Raft  defense system. Maybe
there's  a hacker-in-charge, an  en,  sitting  in  the  Enterprise's control
tower, moving these guys around like an air traffic controller.
     In any case, they are not  very big on spontaneity. They sit on him for
a few minutes before they  decide  what  to do next. Then, many hands  reach
down and clasp him around the wrists and ankles, elbows and knees. They haul
him across the flight deck like pallbearers, face up. Hiro looks up into the
control tower and sees a  couple of faces looking down at him. One of them -
the en - is talking into a microphone.
     Eventually, they come  to a big  flat elevator that sinks down into the
guts of the ship, out of view of the control tower. It comes to  rest on one
of the  lower decks, apparently a  hangar deck where they used  to  maintain
     Hiro hears  a  woman's voice, speaking words gently but clearly: "me lu
lu mu al nu urn me en ki me en me lu lu mu me al  nu urn me al nu ume  me me
mu lu e al nu um me dug ga mu me mu. lu e al nu urn me..."
     It's three  feet straight down to the deck, and he covers  the distance
in free fall,  slamming down on his  back, bumping his  head. All his  limbs
bounce loosely on the  metal.  Around him  he sees  and hears the  wireheads
collapsing like wet towels falling off a rack.
     He cannot move any part of his body. He  has a little control  over his
eyes. A face comes into view, and he  has trouble resolving it,  can't quite
focus, but he recognizes something  in her posture,  the way  she tosses her
hair  back over her shoulder when it falls down. It's  Juanita. Juanita with
an antenna rising out of the base of her skull.
     She kneels down beside him, bends down, cups one hand  around his  ear,
and whispers. The hot air tickles his ear, he tries to move away from it but
can't.  She's  whispering  another  long  string  of  syllables.   Then  she
straightens up and gooses him in the side. He jerks away from her.
     "Get up, lazybones," she says.
     He  gets  up.  He's  fine now. But all  the wireheads  lay around  him,
perfectly motionless.
     "Just a little nam-shub I whipped up," she says. "They'll be fine."
     "Hi," he says.
     "Hi. It's good  to see you,  Hiro.  I'm  going to  give you a hug now -
watch out for the antenna."
     She does. He hugs her back. The antenna is upside his  nose, but that's
     "Once we get this thing  taken  off, all the hair and stuff should grow
back," she whispers. Finally, she lets him go. "That hug was really more for
me than for you It's been a lonely time here. Lonely and scary."
     This   is   typically  paradoxical  behavior  for  Juanita  -   getting
touchy-feely at a time like this.
     "Don't get me wrong," Hiro says, "but aren't you one of  the  bad  guys
     "Oh, you mean this?"
     "Yeah. Don't you work for them?"
     "If so, I'm  not doing  a very good job." She laughs, gesturing at  the
ring of motionless wireheads. "No. This  doesn't work on me. It sort of did,
for a while, but there are ways to fight it."
     "Why? Why doesn't it work on you?"
     "I've spent  the  last  several years hanging around with Jesuits," she
says. "Look. Your brain has an immune system, just like your body.  The more
you use it  - the more viruses  you get exposed to - the  better your immune
system becomes. And  I've got a hell of an immune system. Remember, I was an
atheist for a while, and then I came back to religion the hard way."
     "Why didn't they screw you up the way they did Da5id?"
     "I came here voluntarily."
     "Like Inanna."
     "Why would anyone come here voluntarily?"
     "Hiro, don't you realize? This is it.  This is the  nerve  center of  a
religion  that  is at once brand new and  very ancient.  Being here  is like
following Jesus or Mohammed around, getting  to observe  the birth  of a new
     "But it's terrible. Rife is the Antichrist."
     "Of  course he  is.  But  it's  still  interesting.  And  Rife has  got
something else going for him: Eridu."
     "The city of Enki."
     "Exactly. He's got every tablet Enki  ever  wrote.  For a person  who's
interested in religion and hacking, this  is the only  place in the world to
be. If  those tablets  were  in  Arabia,  I'd  put on  a  chador and burn my
driver's license and go there. But the tablets  are here,  and so I let them
wire me up instead."
     "So all this time, your goal was to study Enki's tablets."
     "To get the me, just like Inanna. What else?"
     "And have you been studying them?"
     "Oh, yes."
     She points to  the fallen wireheads. "And I can do it now. I'm  a ba'al
shem. I can hack the brainstem."
     "Okay, look. I'm happy for you, Juanita. But at the time being, we have
a little problem. We are surrounded by a million people who want to kill us.
Can you paralyze all of them?"
     "Yes," she says, "but then they'd die."
     "You know what we have to do, don't you, Juanita?"
     "Release the nam-shub of Enki," she says. "Do the Babel thing."
     "Let's go get it," Hiro says.
     "First things first," Juanita says. "The control tower."
     "Okay, you get ready to grab  the tablet, and I'll take out the control
     "How are you going to do that? By cutting people up with swords?"
     "Yeah. That's the only thing they're good for."
     "Let's do it the other way around," Juanita says. She gets up and walks
off across the hangar deck.

     The nam-shub  of Enki is a tablet wrapped up in a clay envelope covered
with the cuneiform equivalent  of a warning sticker. The entire assembly has
shattered into dozens of pieces.  Most of them have stayed wrapped up inside
the  plastic, but  some  have  gone  spinning across the  flight deck.  Hiro
gathers them up from the helipad and returns them to the center.
     By the time he's got the plastic wrapper cut away, Juanita is waving to
him from the windows on top of the control tower.
     He takes all the pieces that look to be part  of the  envelope and puts
them  into a separate pile.  Then  he  assembles the remains  of the  tablet
itself into a  coherent group.  It's  not obvious,  yet,  how to  piece them
together, and  he  doesn't have time for jigsaw puzzles. So  he goggles into
his  office, uses  the  computer  to  take  an  electronic snapshot  of  the
fragments, and calls the Librarian.
     "Yes, sir?"
     "This  hypercard contains a picture of  a shattered clay tablet. Do you
know of some software that would be good at piecing it back together?"
     "One moment,  sir," the Librarian says. Then a hypercard appears in his
hand. He gives it  to  Hiro.  It contains a picture of  an assembled tablet.
"That's how it looks, sir."
     "Can you read Sumerian?"
     "Yes, sir."
     "Can you read this tablet out loud?"
     "Yes, sir."
     "Get ready to do it. And hold on a second."
     Hiro walks over to the base of the control tower. There's  a door there
that  gives him  access to a stairwell. He climbs up to the control  room, a
strange  mixture  of  Iron  Age  and  high-tech.  Juanita's  waiting  there,
surrounded by peacefully slumbering wireheads. She taps a microphone that is
projecting from a communications panel at the end  of a flexible gooseneck -
the same mike that the en was speaking into.
     "Live to the Raft," she says. "Go for it."
     Hiro puts his computer into speakerphone mode and stands up next to the
microphone.  "Librarian, read it back," he says.  And a string  of syllables
pours out of the speaker.
     In the middle of it, Hiro glances  up at Juanita. She's standing in the
far comer of the room with her fingers stuck in her ears.
     Down at the base  of the stairs,  a wirehead begins to  talk. Deep down
inside the Enterprise, there's more  talking  going on. And none of it makes
any sense. It's just a lot of babbling.
     There's an external  catwalk on the control tower. Hiro  goes out there
and listens to the Raft. From all around them comes a dim roar, not of waves
or wind, but of a million unchained human voices speaking in a  confusion of
     Juanita  comes out to listen, too. Hiro sees a trickle of red under her
     "You're bleeding," he says.
     "I  know.  A little bit  of primitive surgery," she says.  Her voice is
strained and uncomfortable. "I've  been carrying  around a scalpel blade for
cases like this."
     "What did you do?"
     "Slid  it up under the base of  the antenna and  cut the wire that goes
into my skull," she says.
     "When did you do that?"
     "While you were down on the flight deck."
     "Why do you think?" she says. "So I wouldn't be exposed to the nam-shub
of  Enki.  I'm a neurolinguistic hacker now,  Hiro.  I went through  hell to
obtain this knowledge. It's  a part  of  me. Don't  expect me to submit to a
     "If we get out of this, will you be my girl?"
     "Naturally," she says. "Now let's get out of it."

     "I was just doing my job, man," she says. "This Enki dude wanted to get
a message to Hiro, and I delivered it."
     "Shut up," Rife says. He doesn't say it like he's pissed. He just wants
her to  be quiet. Because what  she did doesn't make any difference now that
all those wireheads have piled on top of Hiro.
     Y.T. looks out the window. They are buzzing across the Pacific, keeping
pretty low down so  that the water skims quickly  beneath  them. She doesn't
know how fast they're going, but it looks to be pretty damn fast. She always
thought the ocean was supposed  to be blue, but in fact it's the most boring
gray color she's ever seen. And there's miles and miles of it.
     After  a few minutes, another  chopper catches up with  them and begins
flying alongside, pretty close, in formation. It's the RARE chopper, the one
full of medics.
     Through  its cabin  window,  she can  see Raven sitting in  one of  the
seats. At  first she thinks he's  still  unconscious because  he's  kind  of
hunched over, not moving.
     Then he  lifts  his  head and  she sees that  he's  goggled  in  to the
Metaverse.  He reaches up with one hand and pulls the  goggles  up  onto his
forehead for  a moment, squints out  the window, and  sees her watching him.
Their eyes meet and her heart starts flopping around weakly, like a bunny in
a Ziploc bag. He grins and waves.
     Y.T. sits back in her seat and pulls the shade down over the window.

     From Hiro's front yard  to L.  Bob  Rife's black  cube at Port  127  is
halfway around the Metaverse, a distance of 32,768 kilometers. The only hard
part, really, is  getting out of Downtown.  He can  ride  his bike  straight
through  the  avatars as  usual,  but the  Street  is  also  cluttered  with
vehicles, animercials commercial displays,  public plazas, and other bits of
solid-looking software that get in his way.
     Not to mention a few distractions. Off to his  right, about a kilometer
away from The Black Sun is a deep hole in the hyper-Manhattan skyline. It is
an open  plaza about a mile wide, a park of  sorts where avatars  can gather
for concerts  and  conventions and festivals.  Most of it  is occupied  by a
deep-dish amphitheater that is capable of seating close to a million avatars
at once. Down at the bottom is a huge circular stage.
     Normally,  the  stage is  occupied by major rock groups. Tonight, it is
occupied by the grandest and most brilliant computer hallucinations that the
human mind can invent. A three-dimensional marquee hangs above it announcing
tonight's event: a benefit graphics concert staged on behalf of Da5id Meier,
who is still hospitalized with an inexplicable  disease. The amphitheater is
half filled with hackers.
     Once he  gets  out of Downtown, Hiro twists his throt-tle up to the max
and  covers  the remaining thirty-two  thousand and some  kilometers  in the
space of about ten minutes. Over his head, the express  trains are whooshing
down the  track at a metaphorical speed of  ten  thousand miles per hour; he
passes them like they're standing still. This only works because he's riding
in an absolutely straight line. He's got a routine coded into his motorcycle
software that makes it  follow  the monorail track automatically so  that he
doesn't even have to worry about steering it.
     Meanwhile, Juanita's standing next to him in Reality. She's got another
pair of goggles; she can see all the same things that Hiro sees.
     "Rife's got a mobile uplink on his corporate chopper, just like the one
on commercial airliners, so he can patch into the Metaverse when he's in the
air. As long as he's airborne, that's his only link to the Metaverse. We may
be able to hack our way into that one link and block it or something..."
     "That low-level communications stuff is too full of medicine for us  to
mess with  it in this decade," Hiro says, braking his motorcycle  to a stop.
"Holy shit. It's just like Y.T. described it."
     He's in  front of  Port 127.  Rife's black cube  is there, just as Y.T.
described it. There's no door.
     Hiro starts walking away  from the Street, toward the cube. It reflects
no  light at all, so he can't tell whether it's ten  feet or ten miles  away
from him until the security daemons begin to  materialize. There  are half a
dozen  of  them,  all  big  sturdy  avatars  in  blue   coveralls,  sort  of
quasi-military looking,  but  without rank.  They  don't need  rank  because
they're all running the same program.  They materialize around him in a neat
semicircle with a radius of about ten feet, blocking Hiro's way to the cube.
     Hiro mumbles  a word under his breath and vanishes - he slips  into his
invisible avatar. It  would  be very interesting to hang around and  see how
these security daemons  deal  with  it,  but right now he has  to get moving
before they get a chance to adjust.
     They  don't,  at least  not very well.  Hiro runs between  two  of  the
security daemons and heads for the wall of the cube.  He finally gets there,
slamming into it, coming to  dead stop. The security daemons have all turned
around and are chasing  him. They can figure out where he is -  the computer
tells them  that much - but they  can't  do  much  to him. Like the  bouncer
daemons  in The Black Sun, which Hiro helped write, they shove people around
by applying  basic rules of avatar physics. When Hiro is invisible, there is
very little for  them to shove. But  if they are well written, they may have
more subtle ways of messing him up,  so he's not  wasting any time. He pokes
his katana through the side of  the cube and follows it through the wall and
out the other side.
     This is a hack. It is really based on a very old hack, a  loophole that
he found years ago when he was trying to graft the sword-fighting rules onto
the existing Metaverse software. His blade doesn't have the power  to  cut a
hole in the wall - this would mean permanently changing the shape of someone
else's building - but it does have the power to penetrate things. Avatars do
not have that power.  That is the  whole purpose of a wall in the Metaverse;
it  is  a  structure that does not allow avatars to penetrate  it.  But like
anything else in  the Metaverse,  this  rule  is nothing  but a protocol,  a
convention that different computers agree to follow. In theory, it cannot be
ignored. But in practice, it depends upon the ability of different computers
to  swap information very precisely,  at  high speed,  and at just the right
times. And when you are connected to  the system over a satellite uplink, as
Hiro is, out here on the Raft, there is a delay as the signals  bounce up to
the satellite and back down. That  delay can be  taken  advantage of, if you
move quickly and don't look back. Hiro passes right through the wall  on the
tail end of his all-penetrating katana.
     Rifeland  is a vast, brightly lit space occupied  by elementary  shapes
done  up  in primary colors. It  is like  being  inside an  educational  toy
designed  to  teach  solid  geometry  to  three-year-olds:  cubes,  spheres,
tetrahedrons polyhedrons,  connected with a  web of cylinders and lines  and
helices. But in this case, it has gone way, way out of control,  as if every
Tinkertoy set and  Lego  block ever made had been slapped together according
to some long-forgotten scheme.
     Hiro's  been around the Metaverse long enough  to know that despite the
bright  cheery  appearance of this  thing, it is,  in  fact,  as simple  and
utilitarian as an Army camp. This is a model  of a system. A big complicated
system. The shapes probably represent computers, or central  nodes in Rife's
worldwide network, or Pearly Gates franchises,  or  any other kind of  local
and  regional offices that Rife has going around  the  world.  By clambering
over this structure and, going into those bright shapes, Hiro could probably
uncover  some  of the  code  that makes Rife's  network  operate.  He could,
perhaps, try to hack it up, as Juanita suggested.
     But there is no point in  messing with something he doesn't understand.
He might waste hours fooling around with some piece of code only to find out
that  it was  the software to control the  automatic toilet flushers at Rife
Bible College. So  Hiro  keeps  moving, keeps looking  up at the  tangle  of
shapes, trying to find  a  pattern. He knows, now, that he has found his way
into the boiler room  of the entire Metaverse.  But he has no idea what he's
looking for.
     This system, he realizes, really consists of several  separate networks
all tangled together  in the same  space.  There's  an extremely complicated
tangle of fine red lines,  millions of them, running back  and forth between
thousands  of small red balls. Just as a wild guess, Hiro figures that  this
may  represent  Rife's  fiber-optics  network,  with  its  innumerable local
offices  and nodes  spread all over the world. There  are  a number  of less
complicated networks in other colors,  which  might represent coaxial lines,
such as they used to use for cable television, or even voice phone lines.
     And  there is a crude, heavily  built, blocky  network all  done up  in
blue.  It consists of a small  number - fewer  than  a dozen - of  big  blue
cubes. They are connected  to each other,  but to nothing else,  by  massive
blue tubes;  the tubes are transparent, and  inside  of  them, Hiro can  see
bundles of smaller  connections in various colors. It has taken Hiro a while
to see all of this, because the blue cubes are nearly obscured; they are all
surrounded  by little  red balls and other  small  nodes,  like trees  being
overwhelmed  with kudzu. It appears  to be an older, preexisting network  of
some kind, with its own internal channels, mostly primitive ones  like voice
phone. Rife has patched into it, heavily, with his own, higher-tech systems.
     Hiro maneuvers until he can get a closer look at one of the blue cubes,
peering through the clutter of lines that has grown around it. The blue cube
has a big white star on each of its six faces.
     "It's the Government of the United States," Juanita says.
     "Where hackers go to die,"  Hiro  says. The  largest, and yet the least
efficient, producer of computer software in the world.
     Hiro and  Y.T. have eaten  a  lot  of junk food  together in  different
joints all over  L.A. - doughnuts, burritos, pizza, sushi, you name it - and
all  Y.T.  ever talks about is  her mother and the terrible job that she has
with the Feds. The regimentation. The lie-detector  tests. The fact that for
all the work she does, she really has no idea what it is that the government
is really working on.
     It's always  been a  mystery  to  Hiro, too,  but then, that's how  the
government is. It was  invented to  do stuff that private enterprise doesn't
bother with,  which  means that there's probably no reason for it; you never
know what  they're doing or  why. Hackers have traditionally looked upon the
government's coding sweatshops with horror and just tried to forget that all
of that shit ever existed.
     But  they have  thousands of  programmers. The  programmers work twelve
hours  a  day  out  of  some  twisted  sense  of  personal  loyalty.   Their
software-engineering   techniques,   while   cruel   and   ugly,   are  very
sophisticated. They must have been up to something.
     "Don't ask me why I think this. But  I  think that  the  government has
been undertaking a big software development project for L. Bob Rife."
     "Makes sense," she says. "He has such a love-hate relationship with his
programmers -  he needs them, but he won't trust them.  The government's the
only organization he would trust to write something important. I wonder what
it is?"
     "Hold on," Hiro says. "Hold on."
     He is now a stone's  throw away  from a big blue cube sitting at ground
level. All the other blue cubes sort of  feed into it. There is a motorcycle
parked next  to the cube,  rendered in color, but just one notch above black
and white: big jaggedy pixels and a limited color palette. It has a sidecar.
Raven's standing next to it.
     He  is carrying something in his arms. It  is  another simple geometric
construction, a  long smooth blue ellipsoid a couple of feet in length. From
the way  he's moving, Hiro thinks  that Raven  has just removed it from  the
blue  cube;  he  carries it  over to the motorcycle  and nestles it into the
     "The Big One," Hiro says.
     "It's exactly what we were afraid of," Juanita says. "Rife's revenge."
     "Headed for the amphitheater. Where all the hackers are gathered in one
place. Rife's going to infect all of them at once. He's going to burn  their

     Raven's already on the motorcycle. If Hiro chases him on foot, he might
catch him before he reaches the Street.
     But he might  not. In that case, Raven would be on his  way to Downtown
at  tens of  thousands of miles per hour while Hiro was  still trying to get
back  to his own motorcycle. At  those speeds, once Hiro has  lost sight  of
Raven, he's lost him forever.
     Raven starts his bike, begins maneuvering carefully through the tangle,
headed for the exit. Hiro takes off as fast as  his invisible legs can carry
him, headed straight for the wall
     He punches through a couple  of seconds later, runs back to the Street.
His tiny little invisible avatar can't operate the motorcycle, so he returns
to  his normal look, hops on  his bike, and gets  it turned around.  Looking
back, he sees Raven  riding out toward the Street,  the logic bomb glowing a
soft blue, like heavy water in a reactor. He doesn't even see Hiro yet.
     Now's his chance. He draws his katana, aims his bike at Raven, pumps it
up to sixty or so miles an hour. No point  in coming  in too fast;  the only
way to kill Raven's avatar is to take its head off. Running it over with the
motorcycle won't have any effect.
     A security daemon is running toward Raven, waving his arms. Raven looks
up, sees Hiro bearing down  on  him, and bursts forward. The sword cuts  air
behind Raven's head.
     It's too late.  Raven must be gone now  - but  turning  himself around,
Hiro can see him  in  the middle  of the  Street. He slammed into one of the
stanchions  that holds  up the monorail  track - a perennial  irritation  to
high-speed motorcyclists.
     "Shit!" both of them say simultaneously.
     Raven gets turned toward Downtown and  twists his throttle just as Hiro
is pulling in behind him on the Street, doing the same.  Within  a couple of
seconds, they're both  headed for  Downtown at something like fifty thousand
miles an  hour. Hiro's half a mile behind Raven but can see him clearly: the
streetlights have  merged  into a  smooth  twin streak of yellow, and  Raven
blazes in the middle, a storm of cheap color and big pixels.
     "If I can take his head off, they're finished," Hiro says.
     "Gotcha," Juanita says. "Because if you kill Raven,  he gets kicked out
of the system. And he can't sign back on until the Graveyard Daemons dispose
of his avatar."
     "And I control the Graveyard Daemons. So all  I have to do  is kill the
bastard once."
     "Once they get their choppers back to land, they'll have  better access
to the net - they can  have someone else go into the Metaverse and take over
for him," Juanita warns.
     "Wrong. Because Uncle Enzo and Mr. Lee  are waiting  for  them on land.
They have to do it during the next hour, or never."

     Y.T.  suddenly  wakes  up.  She  hadn't realized that she  was  asleep.
Something about the thwop of the rotor blades must have lulled her. She must
be tired as shit, is what it really is.
     "What the fuck is going on with my com net?" L. Bob Rife is squalling.
     "No  one answers," the Russian pilot  says.  "Not Raft, not  L.A.,  not
     "Get  me LAX on the phone, then," Rife says. "I want to take the jet to
Houston.  We'll get our butts over to the campus and  find out  what's going
     The pilot messes around on his control panel. "Problem," he says.
     The pilot just shakes his head forlornly. "Someone is messing  with the
skyphone. We're being jammed."
     "I might be  able to get a  line," the President says.  Rife just gives
him a look like, right, asshole.
     "Anybody  got  a fucking  quarter?" Rife hollers.  Frank  and  Tony are
startled  for a minute. "We're gonna have to  touch down  at  the  first pay
phone  we  see and make a  goddamn phone call." He laughs. "Can  you believe
that? Me, using a telephone?"
     A  second  later, Y.T. looks out the window and is  blown away  to  see
actual land down  there, and a two-lane highway winding its way down  a warm
sandy coastline. It's California.
     The  chopper  slows,  cuts  in  closer  to land,  begins following  the
highway. Most of it is free of plastic and neon lights, but before long they
home in on a short  bit of franchise ghetto, built on both sides of the road
in a place where it has cut away from the beach some distance.
     The chopper sets down in the parking lot of a Buy 'n' Fly. Fortunately,
the lot's mostly empty, they don't cut any heads off. A couple of youths are
playing video games inside, and they barely look up at the astonishing sight
of the chopper. She's glad; Y.T. is totally embarrassed to be seen with this
dull assortment of old  farts. The chopper just sits there, idling, while L.
Bob Rife jumps out and runs over to the pay phone bolted to the front wall.
     These guys were stupid enough to put her in  the seat right next to the
fire extinguisher. No reason  not to take advantage of that  fact. She jerks
it  out of  its bracket,  pulling out  the  safety pin in virtually the same
motion, and squeezes the trigger, aiming it right into Tony's face.
     Nothing happens.
     "Fuck!"  she shouts, and throws  it  at him, or rather pushes it toward
him. He's just leaning forward, grabbing at her wrist, and the impact of the
extinguisher hitting his  face  is enough  to put a major dent in his 'tude.
Gives her enough time to swing her legs out of the chopper.
     Everything's getting fucked up. One of  her pockets is zipped open, and
as   she's   half-falling,   half-rolling   out   of   the    chopper,   the
fire-extinguisher bracket catches in that pocket and  holds her. By the time
she's gotten free of that, Tony's back, now on his hands and knees, reaching
out for her arm.
     That she  manages to avoid. She's running  out freely into  the parking
lot. At the back, she's hemmed in by the Buy 'n' Fly, along the sides by the
tall border fence that separates this place from a NeoAquarian Temple on one
side and a Mr.  Lee's Greater Hong  Kong  franchulate on the other. The only
way to escape is out onto the  road  - on the other side of the chopper. But
the pilot and Frank and  Tony have already jumped  out and are blocking  her
exit out onto the road.
     NeoAquarian  Temple  isn't going to help  her. If she  begs and pleads,
they  might just include her  in  their  mantras  next  week.  But Mr. Lee's
Greater Hong Kong is another story. She runs  to the fence and starts trying
to  climb  it. Eight  feet of chain  link with razor ribbon on  top. But her
clothing should stop the razor ribbon. Mostly.
     She  gets about halfway  up. Then, pudgy but strong arms are around her
waist.  She's out  of luck. L. Bob Rife lifts her right off the  fence, both
arms and both legs kicking the air uselessly. He backs up  a couple of steps
and starts carrying her back toward the chopper.
     She looks back at the Hong Kong franchise. It was a close thing.
     Someone's in the  parking lot. A Kourier, cruising  in off the highway,
just kind of chilling out and taking it real easy.
     "Hey!" she screams. She reaches  up and punches the lapel switch on her
coverall,  turning it bright blue and orange. "Hey! I'm a Kourier! My name's
Y.T.! These maniac scum guys kidnapped me!"
     "Wow," the Kourier says. "What a drag." Then he asks her something. But
she can't hear it because the helicopter is whirling up its blades.
     "They're  taking me  to LAX!" she screams at the top of her lungs. Then
Rife  slams her into the chopper face  first. The chopper lifts off, tracked
precisely by an audience of antennas  on the  roof of Mr. Lee's Greater Hong
     In the parking lot, the Kourier  watches the chopper taking  off.  It's
really cool to watch, and it has a lot of bumping guns on it.
     But those dudes inside of the chopper were harshing that chick major.
     The Kourier pulls his personal phone  out  of  its holster, jacks  into
RadiKS Central Command, and punches a big red button. He calls a Code.

     Twenty-five  hundred  Kouriers are  massed on  the  reinforced-concrete
banks of the  L.A.  River. Down  in the  bottom trench of the river,  Vitaly
Chernobyl and the Meltdowns  are  just hitting the really good part of their
next  major  hit  single,  "Control Rod Jam."  A number of the Kouriers  are
taking advantage of  this sound track to style  up and down the banks of the
river;  only Vitaly, live,  can get their adrenaline pumping hard enough  to
enable  them  to skate a sharp bank  at eighty miles per  hour  plus without
doing a wilson into the crete.
     And  then  the  dark  mass of  Meltdown  fans  turns  into  a gyrating,
orange-red  galaxy   as  twenty-five  hundred  new  stars  appear.   It's  a
mind-blowing sight, and  at  first they think it's  a new visual effect  put
together by Vitaly  and his  imageers. It is like a  mass flicking of  Bics,
except brighter and  more organized; each  Kourier looks down on his  or her
belt to see  that a red light is flashing on their personal telephone. Looks
like some poor skater called in a Code.

     In a Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong franchise on the outskirts of Phoenix,
Rat Thing number B-782 comes awake.
     Fido is waking up because the dogs are barking tonight.
     There  is always  barking. Much of the barking is very far  away.  Fido
knows  that faraway barks are  not  as important as close  barks, and  so he
often sleeps through these.
     But sometimes a faraway bark will carry a special sound that makes Fido
excited, and he can't help waking up.
     He is hearing one of those barks right  now. It comes from far away but
it is urgent. Some nice doggie somewhere is very upset. He is so  upset that
his barking has spread to all the other doggies in the pack.
     Fido listens to the bark. He gets excited, too. Some bad strangers have
just been very close to a nice doggie's yard. They were in a  flying  thing.
They had lots of guns.
     Fido doesn't like guns very much.  A stranger with  a gun shot him once
and made him hurt. Then the nice girl came and helped him.
     These are  extremely bad  strangers. Any nice doggie in  his right mind
would want to hurt them and make  them go away. As Fido listens to the bark,
he  sees  what they look like and hears  the way they sound. If any of these
very bad strangers ever come into his yard, he will be extremely upset.
     Then  Fido notices that the  bad strangers are  chasing someone. He can
tell they are hurting her by the way her voice sounds and the way she moves.
     The bad  strangers are  hurting the nice girl who loves  him! Fido gets
more angry than  he has ever been, even more  angry than when a bad man shot
him long ago.
     His  job  is to keep bad strangers out  of his  yard.  He does  not  do
anything else.
     But it's even  more important to protect  the nice  girl who loves him.
That is more important than anything. And nothing can stop him. Not even the
     The  fence  is very tall. But he  can remember a long time ago  when he
used to jump over things that were taller than his head.
     Fido comes out of his doggie house,  curls his long  legs beneath  him,
and jumps over the fence around his yard before he has remembered that he is
not capable of jumping over it. This contradiction  is lost  on him, though;
as a dog, introspection is not one of his strong points.
     The  bark is spreading to another place far away.  All the nice doggies
who live in this faraway place are being warned to look out for the very bad
strangers and the girl who loves Fido, because they are going to that place.
Fido sees the place in his mind. It is big and wide and  flat and open, like
a nice field for chasing Frisbees. It has lots of big flying  things. Around
the edges are a couple of yards where nice doggies live.
     Fido can hear those nice doggies  barking in reply. He knows where they
are.  Far away. But you can get there by streets. Fido knows a whole  lot of
different streets. He just runs  down streets, and he knows where he is  and
where he's going.
     At first, the only trace that B-782 leaves of his passage is a  dancing
trail  of sparks down the center of  the franchise ghetto. But once he makes
his way  out onto  a  long  straight  piece of highway,  he  begins to leave
further evidence: a spume of shattered blue safety glass spraying outward in
parallel  vanes  from  all  four lanes  of traffic as  the  windows and  the
windshields of the cars blow out of their frames, spraying into the air like
rooster tails behind a speedboat.
     As  part  of  Mr.  Lee's good  neighbor  policy,  all  Rat  Things  are
programmed never to break the sound  barrier in a populated area. But Fido's
in too much of a  hurry to worry about the  good neighbor  policy. Jack  the
sound barrier. Bring the noise.

     "Raven," Hiro says, "let me tell you a story before I kill you."
     "I'll listen," Raven says. "It's a long ride."
     All  vehicles in the Metaverse have voice  phones on  them. Hiro simply
called home to the  Librarian and  had him look up Raven's number.  They are
riding  in lockstep across  the black surface  of the imaginary  planet now,
though Hiro is gaining on Raven, meter by meter.
     "My dad was in the Army in World War Two. Lied about his age to get in.
They put him  in the Pacific doing scut work. Anyway, he got captured by the
     "So they  took him back to Nippon. Put him in a prison camp. There were
a lot of Americans there, plus some Brits  and some Chinese. And a couple of
guys that  they  couldn't  place.  They  looked like Indians. Spoke a little
English. But they spoke Russian even better."
     "They were Aleuts," Raven says. "American citizens. But no one had ever
heard of them.  Most people don't  know that the Japanese conquered American
territory during the war - several islands at the end of the Aleutian chain.
Inhabited. By  my people. They took the  two  most  important Aleuts and put
them in prison camps  in Japan. One of them was the mayor of Attu - the most
important civil authority. The other  was even more important, to us. He was
the chief harpooneer of the Aleut nation."
     Hiro says, "The mayor got sick and died. He didn't have any immunities.
But the harpooneer was  one tough son  of a bitch.  He got sick a few times,
but  he survived. Went out to work in the fields along with the rest  of the
prisoners, growing food for the war effort. Worked in the kitchen, preparing
slop for  the prisoners and the guards. He kept to himself  a  lot. Everyone
avoided him because he smelled terrible. His bed stank up the barracks."
     "He  was  cooking up  aconite  whale  poison from mushrooms  and  other
substances that he  found in the fields and secreted in his clothing," Raven
     "Besides,"  Hiro continues,  "they were  pissed at him because he broke
out a windowpane in the barracks  once,  and it let cold air in for the rest
of  the winter.  Anyway,  one  day,  after  lunch,  all of the guards became
terribly sick."
     "Whale poison in the fish stew," Raven says.
     "The prisoners  were already out  working  in the fields, and  when the
guards began to get sick, they began to march them  all  back  in toward the
barracks,  because they couldn't keep watch over them when they were doubled
over with stomach cramps. And this late in  the war, it wasn't easy to bring
in  reinforcements. My  father was last  in the  line of prisoners. And this
Aleut guy was right in front of him."
     Raven says,  "As  the prisoners  were crossing an irrigation ditch, the
Aleut dove into the water and disappeared."
     "My father didn't know what to do," Hiro says, "until he  heard a grunt
from the guard who was  bringing up the  rear. He turned around and saw that
this guard had a bamboo spear  stuck all the way through his body. Just came
out of nowhere. And he still couldn't see the Aleut. Then another guard went
down with his throat slit, and there was the  Aleut, winding up and throwing
another spear that brought down yet another guard."
     "He had been making harpoons and hiding  them under the  water  in  the
irrigation ditches," Raven says.
     "Then my father realized," Hiro continues, "that he was doomed. Because
no matter what he said to the guards, they would consider him to have been a
part of an escape attempt, and they would  bring a  sword and  lop  his head
off. So, figuring that he might as well bring down a few of the enemy before
they  got to  him, he took the  gun  from the first guard who had been  hit,
jumped down into the cover of the irrigation  ditch, and shot another couple
of guards who were coming over to investigate."
     Raven says, "The Aleut ran  for the border fence,  which  was a  flimsy
bamboo  thing. There was supposedly a minefield there  but  he  ran straight
across it with  no trouble. Either he was lucky or else the mines - if there
were any - were few and far between."
     "They didn't bother  to  have  strict  perimeter security," Hiro  says,
"because Japan  is an island - so even if someone escaped, where could  they
run to?"
     "An Aleut could do it, though," Raven says. "He could go to the nearest
coastline  and build himself a kayak.  He could take to  the open water  and
make his  way up  the  coastline of Japan,  then surf from one island to the
next, all the way back to the Aleutians."
     "Right," Hiro says, "which is the only part of  the  story that I never
understood - until  I saw you on the open water, outrunning a  speedboat  in
your kayak. Then I put it all together. Your father  wasn't  crazy. He had a
perfectly good plan."
     "Yes. But your father didn't understand it."
     "My father ran  in your  father's  footsteps across the minefield. They
were free - in Nippon. Your  father started  heading  downhill,  toward  the
ocean. My  father wanted to head uphill, into  the  mountains, figuring that
they could maybe live in an isolated place until the war was over."
     "It was a stupid  idea," Raven says. "Japan is heavily populated. There
is no place where they could have gone unnoticed."
     "My father didn't even know what a kayak was."
     "Ignorance is no excuse," Raven says.
     "Their  arguing  - the  same  argument  we're  having  now -  was their
downfall.  The  Nipponese  caught up with them  on  a road just  outside  of
Nagasaki. They  didn't even have  handcuffs, so they tied their hands behind
their  backs with bootlaces and made them kneel -  on  the road, facing each
other. Then the lieutenant  took  his sword  out  of  its  sheath. It was an
ancient sword; the lieutenant was from a proud  family  of samurai, and  the
only reason he was on this home-front detail was that he had nearly  had one
leg blown off earlier in the war. He raised the  sword up above my  father's
     "It  made a high ringing sound in  the air,"  Raven says, "that hurt my
father's ears."
     "But it never came down."
     "My  father saw your  father's skeleton kneeling in front of  him. That
was the last thing he ever saw."
     "My  father  was  facing  away  from  Nagasaki,"  Hiro  says.  "He  was
temporarily blinded by the  light; he fell forward and pressed his face into
the ground to  get the terrible light  out of his eyes. Then  everything was
back to normal again."
     "Except my father was blind," Raven says. "He could only listen to your
father fighting the lieutenant."
     "It  was a half-blind, one-legged  samurai with a  katana versus  a big
strong healthy  man with  his arms  tied, behind his back,"  Hiro  says.  "A
pretty interesting fight. A pretty fair one. My father won. And that was the
end of the war. The occupation troops got there a couple  of weeks later. My
father went home and kicked  around for a while and finally had a kid during
the seventies. So did yours."
     Raven  says,  "Amchitka,  1972.  My  father  got  nuked  twice  by  you
     "I understand the depth of your feelings,"  Hiro  says. "But don't  you
think you've had enough revenge?"
     "There's no such thing as enough," Raven says.
     Hiro  guns  his motorcycle  forward  and  closes on Raven, swinging his
katana.  But Raven reaches back - watching him  in the rearview mirror - and
blocks the blow; he's carrying a big long knife in one hand. Then Raven cuts
his  speed  down  to almost nothing and  dives  in  between a couple  of the
stanchions. Hiro overshoots  him, slows down too much, and gets a glimpse of
Raven screaming past him on the other side of the monorail; by the time he's
accelerated and cut through another gap,  Raven has already slalomed over to
the other side.
     And  so  it goes. They  run  down  the  length  of  the  Street  in  an
interlacing zigzag  pattern, cutting back and forth under the  monorail. The
game is a simple one. All Raven has to do is make Hiro run into a stanchion.
Hiro will  come to a stop for a moment. By that time Raven will be gone, out
of visual range, and Hiro will have no way to track him.
     It's an  easier game for Raven than for Hiro. But Hiro's better at this
kind  of thing than Raven is. That makes it a pretty even match. They slalom
down the monorail  track at  speeds from sixty  to sixty  thousand miles per
hour;  all around them, low-slung commercial developments and high-tech labs
and amusement parks sprawl  off into the darkness. Downtown is before  them,
as high and bright as the aurora borealis rising from the black water of the
Bering Sea.

     The first poon  smacks into the belly of the chopper as they are coming
in  low over the  Valley. Y.T. feels it rather than hears it; she knows that
sweet impact so well that she can  sense it like one of those supersensitive
seismo-thingies that detects  earthquakes on the  other side of  the planet.
Then half  a dozen other poons  strike in  quick succession, and  she has to
force  herself not to  lean over  and  look  out the  window. Of course. The
chopper's belly is a solid wall of Soviet steel. It'll hold poons like glue.
If they  just keep flying low enough to poon -  which they have  to, to keep
the chopper under the Mafia's radar.
     She can hear  the radio crackling up  front. "Take it up, Sasha, you're
picking up some parasites."
     She  looks  out  the window.  The other  chopper, the  little  aluminum
corporate number, is  flying alongside them, a little bit higher in the air,
and all the  people inside of it  are peering out  the windows, watching the
pavement underneath them. Except for Raven. Raven is still goggled into  the
     Shit. The pilot's pulling the chopper to a higher altitude.
     "Okay,  Sasha.  You  lost 'em,"  the  radio says.  "But you still got a
couple of  them poon things hanging off  your belly, so make  sure you don't
snag 'em on anything. The cables are stronger than steel."
     That's all Y.T. needs. She opens the door and jumps out of the chopper.
     At least that's how it looks to the people inside. Actually she grabs a
handhold on her way down and ends up  dangling from the swinging, open door,
looking inward toward the  belly of the chopper. A couple of poons are stuck
to it;  thirty feet below,  she can see the handles dangling on the  ends of
their lines, fluttering  in  the airstream. Looking  into the open door  she
can't hear  Rife  but she  can see  him,  sitting  there next to the  pilot,
motioning: Down, take it down!
     Which is what she  figured. This hostage thing works two ways. She's no
good to Rife unless he's got her, and she's in one piece.
     The chopper starts losing altitude again,  heading back down toward the
twin stripe of  loglo that  marks  out  the  avenue  beneath them. Y.T. gets
swinging  back and forth on the door a little, finally swings in far  enough
that she can hook one of the poon cables with her foot.
     This next  bit is going to hurt like hell. But the  tough fabric of the
coverall should prevent her from losing too much skin. And the sight of Tony
lunging at  her,  trying to grab  her  sleeve, reinforces  her  own  natural
tendency not to think about it too hard. She  lets  go of the chopper's door
with one of  her hands, grabs the poon cable, winds it around the outside of
her glove a couple of times, then lets go with the other hand.
     She was right. It does hurt  like  hell.  As she swings  down under the
belly of the chopper, out of Tony's grasp, something pops inside her hand  -
probably  one  of  those  dinky little  bones. But  she gets  the poon cable
wrapped around her body the same way Raven did when he rappeled off the ship
with her, and manages a controlled, burning slide down to the end.
     Down  to the  handle, that is.  She hooks it onto her belt so she can't
fall and then thrashes around for what seems like a whole minute until she's
not  tangled up in the cable anymore,  just dangling  by the waist, twisting
around  and around  between the chopper and the street, out of control. Then
she gets  the  handle  in  both hands and unhooks  it from her belt so she's
hanging by the arms again, which was the whole point of the exercise. As she
rotates, she sees the other chopper above her and off  to the side, glimpses
the  faces watching her, knows  that all of this is  being relayed, over the
radio, to Rife.
     Sure  enough. The chopper cuts to  about half  its former  speed, loses
some altitude.
     She  clicks another  control and reels out the  line all the way to the
end,  dropping twenty feet  in  one thrill-packed moment. Now  she's  flying
along, ten or fifteen feet  above the highway,  doing maybe forty-five miles
an hour. The logo signs shoot past  her on either  side like meteors.  Other
than a swarm of Kouriers, traffic is light.
     The  RARE chopper comes thwacking in, dangerously  close, and she looks
up  at it, just  for an instant, and sees Raven  looking  at her through the
window. He's pulled his  goggles up on his forehead, just for a second. He's
got a certain look on his face, and she realizes that he's not pissed at her
at all. He loves her.
     She lets go of the handle and goes into free fall.
     At the same time,  she jerks the manual release  on her cervical collar
and  goes into  full Michelin Man  mode  as tiny gas cartridges  detonate in
several strategic locations around her bod. The biggest one goes off like an
M-80  at  the nape of  her  neck,  unfurling  the  coverall's collar into  a
cylindrical gasbag  that shoots  straight up  and encases  her  entire head.
Other airbags  go  off  around her  torso  and  her pelvis,  paying  lots of
attention to that spinal  column. Her  joints are already protected  by  the
     Which  is not to say that it doesn't hurt when she lands. She can't see
anything because  of the airbag around her  head,  of course.  But she feels
herself bouncing at least ten times.  She skids for a quarter of  a mile and
apparently  caroms off several cars along  the way; she can hear their tires
squealing. Finally, she goes  butt  first  through someone's windshield  and
ends up sprawled across their front seat;  they veer into a  Jersey barrier.
The airbag  deflates  as soon  as everything stops moving,  and she claws it
away from her face.
     Her ears  are ringing or something. She can't  hear anything. Maybe she
busted her eardrums when the airbags went off.
     But there's  also the question of the  big chopper,  which has a talent
for  making noise. She  drags herself out onto  the hood of the car, feeling
little hunks of safety glass beneath her carving parallel scratches into the
paint job.
     Rife's big Soviet  chopper is right there,  hovering  about twenty feet
above the avenue, and by  the time she sees it, it has already accumulated a
dozen more poons. Her  eyes follow  the cables down to street level, and she
sees Kouriers straining at the lines; this time, they're not letting go.
     Rife gets  suspicious,  and the  chopper  gains  altitude, lifting  the
Kouriers off their planks. But  a  passing double-bottom semi sheds  a small
army of Kouriers  -  there must  be  a hundred of them pooned onto  the poor
thing - and  within a few seconds, all their MagnaPoons are airborne  and at
least half of them  stick to the armor plating on the first try. The chopper
lurches downward  until all  of the Kouriers are on the ground again. Twenty
more  Kouriers come  flying  in and nail  it;  those  that  can't, grab onto
someone else's handle and add their weight. The chopper  tries several times
to rise, but it may as well be tethered to the asphalt by this point.
     It  starts to come down. The Kouriers fan  out away from it so that the
chopper comes down in the middle of a radial burst of poon cables.
     Tony, the security  guy,  climbs down out  of  the  open  door,  moving
slowly,  high-stepping  his  way  through  the  web  of cables  but  somehow
retaining his balance  and his dignity. He walks away from the chopper until
he is out from under the  rotor blades, then pulls an Uzi out from under his
windbreaker and fires a short air burst.
     "Get the fuck away from our chopper!" he is shouting.
     The Kouriers, by and large, do. They're  not  stupid. And  Y.T. is  now
walking around  safe on the pavement, the mission  is accomplished, the Code
is finished, there's no reason to hassle these  chopper dudes anymore.  They
detach their poons from the belly of the chopper and reel in the cables.
     Tony looks  around and sees  Y.T.  She's  walking directly  toward  the
chopper. Her sprained body moves awkwardly.
     "Get back in the chopper, you lucky bitch!" he says.
     Y.T. picks up a loose poon handle that  no one has bothered to  reel in
yet. She hits the button that turns off the electromagnet and its head drops
off  the chopper's armor. She reels  it in until about four feet of slack is
there between the reel and the head.
     "There was this dude  named Ahab that I read about," she says, whirling
the poon around her head. "He got his poon cable  all wrapped up around  the
thing he was trying to poon. It was a big mistake."
     She  lets the  poon  fly. It passes  up through the plane  of the rotor
blades, near the center, and she can see the unbreakable cable start to wind
itself  around the delicate parts of the rotor's axle, like a garrote around
a  ballerina's  neck.  Through  the  chopper's windshield she can  see Sasha
reacting, flipping switches frantically, pulling levers, his mouth  making a
long  string of  Russian curses.  The poon's handle gets snapped out  of her
hand, and she sees it get whipped into the center like it's a black hole.
     "I guess he  just didn't  know when to let go,  like some people,"  she
says. Then she turns around and walks away from the chopper. Behind her, she
can hear large pieces of metal going the wrong way, running into one another
at high speed.
     Rife has figured it  out a long time ago. He's already running down the
middle of the highway with a submachine  gun in one hand, looking  for a car
to commandeer. Above, the RARE chopper hovers  and watches; Rife looks up to
it and motions forward with one hand, shouting, "Go to LAX! Go to LAX!"
     The chopper makes one last orbit over the scene, watching as Sasha puts
the   ruined  gunship  into   cold   shutdown,   watching  furious  Kouriers
overwhelming  and disarming Tony and  Frank and  the President, watching  as
Rife stands in the middle of the left lane and forces a CosaNostra Pizza car
to a stop,  forces the driver out.  But  Raven  isn't watching any of  these
things. He's looking out the window at Y.T. And as the chopper finally tilts
forward  and  accelerates into the night, he grins  at her and gives her the
thumbs  up. Y.T. bites her lower lip and flips him the bird. With that,  the
relationship is over, hopefully for all time.
     Y.T. borrows a plank from an awed skater and  pushes herself across the
street to the nearest Buy 'n' Fly and starts trying to  call  Mom for a ride

     Hiro loses Raven a few miles outside of Downtown, but it doesn't matter
by this point; he  goes straight to the  plaza and  then starts to orbit the
rim of the amphitheater  at high speed, a one-man picket  fence. Raven makes
his  approach  within a few seconds. Hiro breaks out  of his orbit and heads
straight for him, and they come together like a couple of medieval jousters.
Hiro  loses  his left  arm  and Raven drops  a leg. The  limbs topple to the
ground.  Hiro  drops his  katana  and  uses his  remaining arm  to  draw his
one-handed sword - a better  match for  Raven's long knife anyway.  He  cuts
Raven off just as he's about to plummet over the lip of the amphitheater and
forces him aside; Raven's  momentum takes  him  half a  mile away in  half a
second. Hiro  chases him down by following a series of educated guesses - he
knows this territory like Raven  knows the currents  of the  Aleutians - and
then  they  are blasting  through  the narrow  streets  of  the  Metaverse's
financial district,  waving long  knives at each  other, slicing and  dicing
hundreds of pinstriped avatars who happen to get in their way.
     But they never seem to hit  each other. The speeds are just too  great,
the targets too small. Hiro's been lucky so far - he has got Raven caught up
in the thrill of  competition, made him spoil for a fight. But Raven doesn't
need  this.  He  can  get back  to  the  amphitheater  pretty easily without
bothering to kill Hiro first.
     And  finally, he realizes it. He  sheathes his knife  and dives into an
alley  between  skyscrapers. Hiro follows him, but  by  the time he's gotten
into that same alley, Raven's gone.

     Hiro goes  over the  lip of the amphitheater doing a  couple of hundred
miles per hour and soars  out into space, in free fall, above the heads of a
quarter of a million wildly cheering hackers.
     They  all know Hiro. He's  the  guy with  the  swords. He's a friend of
Da5id's.  And  as  his  own  personal  contribution  to  the  benefit,  he's
apparently  decided  to  stage a sword  fight  with  some kind  of  hulking,
scary-looking daemon on  a  motorcycle. Don't touch that dial, it's going to
be a hell of a show.
     He lands on the stage and bounces to a halt next to his motorcycle. The
bike still works, but it's  worthless down here. Raven is ten  meters  away,
grinning at him.
     "Bombs away," Raven says. He  pulls the glowing blue lozenge out of his
sidecar  with  one hand and  drops it on the  center of the amphitheater. It
breaks open like the shell of an egg and  light shines out of it.  The light
begins to grow and take shape.
     The crowd goes wild.
     Hiro runs  toward the egg. Raven cuts him off.  Raven can't move around
on his feet now, because he's lost a leg. But he can still control the bike.
He's got his long knife out now, and the two  blades come together above the
egg, which  has become the vortex of a blinding, deafening  tornado of light
and sound. Colored shapes,  foreshortened by their immense speed, shoot from
the  center  of  it  and  take  positions  above  their  heads,  building  a
three-dimensional picture.
     The hackers are going nuts. Hiro knows  that the Hacker Quadrant in The
Black Sun  is, at this moment, emptying itself  out.  They are all  cramming
through the exit and running down the Street toward the plaza, coming to see
Hiro's fantastic show of light, sound, swords, and sorcery.
     Raven  tries to shove Hiro back. It would work in Reality because Raven
has such overpowering strength.  But avatars are equally  strong, unless you
back them up in just the right  way. So Raven gives a  mighty  push and then
pulls his  knife back so that  he can  take a  cut  at Hiro's neck when Hiro
flies away from him; but Hiro doesn't fly away. He waits for the opening and
then  takes Raven's sword  hand off. Then, just  in  case,  he takes Raven's
other hand off. The crowd screams in delight.
     "How do I stop this thing?" Hiro says.
     "Beats me. I just deliver 'em," Raven says.
     "Do you have any concept of what you just did?"
     "Yeah. Realized my lifelong ambition," Raven  says, a huge relaxed grin
spreading across his face. "I nuked America."
     Hiro cuts his head off. The crowd of doomed hackers rises  to its  feet
and shrieks.
     Then  they  go silent as Hiro abruptly disappears. He has switched over
to  his small,  invisible avatar.  He is hovering in the air now  above  the
shattered remains of the egg; gravity takes  him right  down into the center
of it. As he falls, he is muttering to himself "SnowScan." It's the piece of
software  he wrote while  he was killing time on  the liferaft. The one that
searches for Snow Crash.

     With Hiro  Protagonist seemingly gone from the stage,  the hackers turn
their attention toward the giant construction rising up out  of the egg. All
that nonsense  with the sword fight must have been just a wacky introductory
piece  - Hiro's typically offbeat way of getting their attention. This light
and  sound  show is the main attraction.  The amphitheater is now filling up
rapidly as thousands of hackers  pour  in from  all over  the place: running
down the Street from  The Black Sun,  streaming out of the big office towers
where the major software corporations are headquartered,  goggling  into the
Metaverse from all points in  Reality  as word of the  extravaganza  spreads
down the fiber-optic grapevine at the speed of light.
     The  light  show  is designed as if  late comers were  anticipated.  It
builds to false climax after false climax, like an expensive fireworks show,
and  each one is better. It is so vast and complicated that no one sees more
than 10 percent  of  it; you could  spend a year watching it  over  and over
again and keep seeing new things.
     It  is a  mile-high structure  of  moving  two-  and  three-dimensional
images, interlocked  in  space and time.  It's  got  everything  in it. Leni
Riefenstahl  films.  The  sculptures  of  Michelangelo   and  the  fictional
inventions of Da Vinci made real. World War II dogfights zooming in and  out
of  the  middle,  veering  out  over  the crowd, shooting  and  burning  and
exploding. Scenes  from  a  thousand  classic  films,  flowing  and  merging
together into a single vast complicated story.
     But  in time, it begins to simplify  itself  and narrow  into  a single
bright column of light. By this point,  it is the music that is carrying the
show:  a  pounding bass beat and a deep,  threatening  ostinato  that  tells
everyone to keep watching, the best is yet to come. And everyone does watch.
     The column of light begins to flow up and down and resolve  itself into
a  human form.  Actually, it is  four  human  forms, female  nudes  standing
shoulder  to  shoulder,  facing  outward,  like caryatids. Each  of them  is
carrying something long and slender in her hands: a pair of tubes.
     A third of a million  hackers stare at  the women,  towering above  the
stage,  as  they  raise their  arms above  their heads and  unroll the  four
scrolls, turning each one of them into a  flat television screen the size of
a football field. From the seats  in the amphitheater, the screens virtually
blot out the sky; they are all that anyone can see.
     The  screens are blank  at first, but finally the same image snaps into
existence on all four of them at  once. It is an image consisting  of words;
it says


     "This is exactly the kind of high-tech nonsense that never, ever worked
when we tried it in Vietnam," Uncle Enzo says.
     "Your  point is well  taken.  But technology has come a  long way since
then,"  says Ky,  the  surveillance man from  Ng Security  Industries. Ky is
talking  to Uncle Enzo  over a radio headset; his  van, full  of  electronic
gear, is lurking a quarter of a mile away in the shadows next to a LAX cargo
warehouse. "I am monitoring the entire airport, and all its approaches, with
a  three-dimensional Metaverse  display. For example, I know that  your  dog
tags, which you customarily wear around your neck, are missing. I know  that
you  are carrying one Kongbuck  and eighty-five Kongpence in change in  your
left  pocket. I  know that you  have a straight razor in  your other pocket.
Looks like a nice one, too."
     "Never underestimate the importance of good grooming," Uncle Enzo says.
     "But I do not understand why you are carrying a skateboard."
     "It's a  replacement  for the one  Y.T. lost  in front of EBGOC," Uncle
Enzo says. "It's a long story."
     "Sir,  we have  a report from  one of our  franchulates," says  a young
lieutenant in a Mafia windbreaker,  jogging  across  the apron with  a black
walkie-talkie  in one hand. He is not  really a lieutenant; the Mafia is not
very keen on the  use  of military  ranks. But for some reason,  Uncle  Enzo
thinks  of  him  as  the  lieutenant.  "The second  chopper set  down  in  a
strip-mall  parking lot about ten miles from here and  met the pizza car and
picked up Rife, then took off again. They are on their way in now."
     "Send someone out  to  pick up the  abandoned pizza car.  And  give the
driver a day off," Uncle Enzo says.
     The lieutenant looks somewhat taken aback that Uncle Enzo is concerning
himself with such a tiny detail. It is as if the  don were going up and down
highways picking  up litter or  something. But he  nods respectfully, having
just learned something:  details matter. He turns  away  and begins  talking
into his radio.
     Uncle Enzo has serious doubts about this fellow. He is a blazer person,
adept at running  the small-time bureaucracy of  a Nova Sicilia franchulate,
but  lacking in  the  kind  of  flexibility that,  for  example, Y.T. has. A
classic  case of  what is wrong with  the Mafia today. The  only  reason the
lieutenant  is  even  here  is because  the situation has  been  changing so
rapidly, and,  of  course,  because  of all the fine  men  they lost on  the
     Ky  comes in  over the radio again. "Y.T. has just contacted her mother
and asked for a ride," he says. "Would you like to hear their conversation?"
     "Not  unless it  has tactical significance,"  Uncle Enzo  says briskly.
This  is one  more  thing to  check off his list;  he has been worried about
Y.T.'s relationship with her mother and was meaning to speak with her  about
     Rife's jet sits on the tarmac, engines idling, waiting to taxi out onto
the runway. In the cockpit are a pilot  and copilot. Until half an hour ago,
they were loyal employees  of L. Bob Rife. Then they sat and watched out the
windshield as the  dozen Rife security drones who were stationed around  the
hangar variously got their heads blown off, their throats slit, or else just
plain dropped their weapons and fell to their knees and surrendered. Now the
pilot  and  copilot have taken  lifelong oaths  of  loyalty to Uncle  Enzo's
organization. Uncle Enzo could have just dragged them out and replaced  them
with  his  own pilots, but  this  way  is better.  If Rife should,  somehow,
actually make it onto the plane, he will  recognize his own pilots and think
that everything is fine. And the fact that the pilots are alone there in the
cockpit without any direct Mafia supervision will merely emphasize the great
trust that Uncle Enzo has placed in  them and the oath that they have taken.
It will  actually enhance their sense of duty. It will amplify  Uncle Enzo's
displeasure if they should  break their oaths. Uncle Enzo has no doubt about
the pilots at all.
     He  is less happy with  the arrangements here,  which were made  rather
hastily.  The  problem  is, as  usual,  the unpredictable  Y.T.  He  was not
expecting her to jump  out of a  moving helicopter and get free from  L. Bob
Rife. He was, in other words, expecting a hostage negotiation somewhat later
on, after Rife had flown Y.T. back to his headquarters in Houston.
     But the hostage situation no longer obtains, and so Uncle Enzo feels it
is  important to stop Rife now, before he gets  back  to  his  home turf  in
Houston. He has called for a major realignment of Mafia  forces,  and  right
now, dozens of helicopters and  tactical units are  hastily replotting their
courses and trying  to  converge on LAX as  quickly as  they can. But in the
meantime, Enzo is  here with a small  number of his own personal bodyguards,
and this technical surveillance man from Ng's organization.
     They have shut down  the airport. This was easy to do: they just pulled
Lincoln Town Cars onto all the runways, for starters, and then went into the
control tower  and  announced  that  in a few minutes they would be going to
war. Now, LAX is probably quieter than it has been at any point since it was
built. Uncle Enzo can actually hear the faint crashing of surf on the beach,
half a mile away. It is almost pleasant here. Weenie-roasting weather.
     Uncle Enzo is  cooperating with  Mr.  Lee, which means working with Ng,
and Ng, while  highly competent,  has  a technological bias  that Uncle Enzo
distrusts. He would  prefer a single good soldier in  polished shoes,  armed
with a nine, to a hundred of Ng's gizmos and portable radar units.
     When  they came out here, he was  expecting a broad open space in which
to  confront  Rife. Instead, the  environment  is  cluttered.  Several dozen
corporate  jets  and  helicopters  are  parked on the apron.  Nearby  is  an
assortment  of  private hangars,  each with  its own  fenced-in parking area
containing a number of cars and utility vehicles. And they are  rather close
to the tank  farm where  the  airport's  supply of jet  fuel is stored. That
means  lots  of pipes and pumping stations  and hydraulic folderol sprouting
out of  the ground.  Tactically, the area has more in  common with  a jungle
than  with  a desert. The apron and  runway themselves are, of course,  more
desertlike, although they have  drainage ditches  where  any  number of  men
could be concealed. So a better analogy would be beach warfare in Vietnam: a
broad  open area that abruptly turns into  jungle. Not Uncle Enzo's favorite
     "The chopper is approaching the perimeter of the airport," Ky says.
     Uncle Enzo turns to his lieutenant. "Everyone in place?"
     "Yes, sir."
     "How do you know that?"
     "They all checked in a few minutes ago."
     "That means absolutely nothing. And how about the pizza car?"
     "Well, I thought I would do that later, sir - "
     "You need to be capable of doing more than one thing at a time."
     The  lieutenant turns away,  shamed  and awed.  "Ky," Uncle Enzo  says,
"anything interesting happening on our perimeter?"
     "Nothing at all," Ng says.
     "Anything uninteresting?"
     "A few maintenance workers, as normal."
     "How do you know they are maintenance workers and  not Rife soldiers in
costume? Did you check their IDs?"
     "Soldiers carry guns. Or at least knives. Radar shows that these men do
not. Q.E.D."
     "Still trying  to  get all our men  to check  in," the lieutenant says.
"Having a little radio trouble, I guess."
     Uncle Enzo puts one arm around the lieutenant's shoulders. "Let me tell
you  a story, son. From the first moment  I  saw  you, I thought you  seemed
familiar. Finally I realized that you remind me of someone I used to know: a
lieutenant who was my commanding officer, for a while, in Vietnam."
     The lieutenant is thrilled. "Really?"
     "Yes. He was young, bright, ambitious, well educated. And well meaning.
But he had  certain  deficiencies. He had  a stubborn inability to grasp the
fundamentals  of  our situation  over there. A sort of mental block,  if you
will, that caused those of us who were  serving under him to  experience the
most intense kind of frustration. It was  touch  and go for a  while, son, I
don't mind telling you that."
     "How did it work out, Uncle Enzo?"
     "It worked  out fine.  You see, one day, I took it upon myself to shoot
him in the back of the head."
     The lieutenant's eyes get very big, and his face seems paralyzed. Uncle
Enzo has no sympathy for him at all: if he screws this up, people could die.
     Some new piece of radio babble comes in  over the lieutenant's headset.
"Oh, Uncle Enzo?" he says, very quietly and reluctantly.
     "You were asking about that pizza car?"
     "It's not there."
     "Not there?"
     "Apparently, when they  set down to pick up Rife, a  man got out of the
chopper and climbed into the pizza car and drove it away."
     "Where did he drive it to?"
     "We  don't  know, sir, we only had one spotter in the area, and he  was
tracking Rife."
     "Take  off  your  headset,"  Uncle  Enzo   says.  "And  turn  off  that
walkie-talkie. You need your ears."
     "My ears?"
     Uncle Enzo  drops into a crouch  and walks briskly across  the pavement
until  he is between  a couple of small  jets.  He sets the  skateboard down
quietly. Then he unties his  shoelaces and pulls his shoes off. He takes his
socks off, too, and stuffs them into the shoes. He takes the straight  razor
out of  his pocket, flips it open,  and slits both  of his trouser legs from
the  hem  up to his  groin, then  bunches the material  up and cuts  it off.
Otherwise the fabric will slide  over his hairy  legs when he walks and make
     "My God!" the lieutenant says, a couple of planes over. "Al is down! My
God, he's dead!"

     Uncle  Enzo leaves his  jacket  on,  for  now,  because it's dark,  and
because it's lined with satin so that it is relatively quiet. Then he climbs
up onto the  wing of one of  the planes so  that his legs  cannot be seen by
someone  crouching on the  ground. He hunkers  down on the  end of the wing,
opens his mouth so that he can hear better, and listens.
     The only thing he can hear  at first is an uneven spattering noise that
wasn't there before, like water falling  out of a half-open faucet onto bare
pavement. The sound seems to be coming from a nearby airplane. Uncle Enzo is
afraid that it may be jet fuel leaking  onto the ground, as part of a scheme
to blow  up this whole section of the airport and take out all opposition at
a stroke.  He drops silently to the ground, makes his way carefully around a
couple of  adjacent planes, stopping every few feet to listen,  and  finally
sees it:  one of his soldiers has been pinned  to the aluminum fuselage of a
Learjet by  means of a long wooden pole.  Blood runs out  of the wound, down
his pant legs, drips from his shoes, and spatters onto the tarmac.
     From behind  him, Uncle Enzo  hears  a brief scream that suddenly turns
into a sharp gaseous exhalation. He  has heard it before. It is a man having
a sharp knife drawn across his throat. It is undoubtedly the lieutenant.
     He has a few seconds to move freely now. He doesn't even know what he's
up against,  and  he  needs  to  know that. So he  runs in the direction the
scream  came from, moving quickly from cover of one jet to the next, staying
down in a crouch.
     He sees a pair of legs moving on the opposite side of a jet's fuselage.
Uncle  Enzo is near the  tip of  the jet's wing. He  puts both  hands on it,
shoves down with all his weight, and then lets it go.
     It works: the jet rocks  toward  him  on  its suspension.  The assassin
thinks that Uncle Enzo has just jumped up onto  the wingtip, so he climbs up
onto the opposite wing and waits with his back  to the fuselage, waiting  to
ambush Enzo when he climbs over the top.
     But  Enzo  is still on the  ground. He runs  in toward the fuselage  on
silent, bare  feet, ducks beneath it,  and comes up from underneath with his
straight razor  in one  hand.  The  assassin  - Raven - is right where  Enzo
expected him.
     But Raven is already getting suspicious;  he stands up to look over the
top of the fuselage,  and that puts his throat out of reach. Enzo's  looking
at his legs instead.
     It's  better to be conservative and take what you can  get than  take a
big gamble and blow it, so Enzo reaches in, even as Raven is looking down at
him, and severs Raven's left Achilles tendon.
     As he's turning away to protect himself,  something hits  him very hard
in the chest. Uncle Enzo looks  down and is astonished to  see a transparent
object protruding  from the right side of  his rib cage. Then he looks up to
see Raven's face three inches from his.
     Uncle Enzo steps  back away from the wing.  Raven was hoping to fall on
top of  him but instead tumbles to the ground. Enzo steps  back in, reaching
forward with his razor, but Raven, sitting on the tarmac, has already  drawn
a second knife. He lunges for the inside of Uncle Enzo's thigh and does some
damage; Enzo  sidesteps away from the blade,  throwing  off  his attack, and
ends up making a  short but deep cut on the top  of Raven's  shoulder. Raven
knocks his arm aside before Enzo can go for the throat again.
     Uncle Enzo's hurt and Raven's hurt. But Raven can't outrun him anymore;
it's time to take stock of things a little bit. Enzo runs away, though  when
he moves,  terrible pains  run  up  and  down the  right side  of his  body.
Something thuds into his back, too; he feels  a sharp pain above one kidney,
but  only  for a moment.  He  turns  around to  see a bloody piece  of glass
shattering on the pavement.  Raven  must have thrown  it into his  back. But
without Raven's  arm  strength  behind it, it didn't have enough momentum to
penetrate all the way through the bulletproof fabric, and it fell out.
     Glass knives. No wonder Ky didn't see him on millimeter wave.
     By the  time he  gets behind the  cover of  another plane, his sense of
hearing is being overwhelmed by the approach of a chopper.
     It is Rife's chopper,  settling down  on the tarmac a few dozen  meters
away from the jet. The thunder of the rotor blades and the blast of the wind
seem to penetrate into  Uncle Enzo's brain. He  closes his eyes  against the
wind and utterly loses his balance,  has no idea where  he is until he slams
full-length into the  pavement.  The pavement  beneath him is  slippery  and
warm, and Uncle Enzo realizes that he is losing a great deal of blood.
     Staring  across  the  tarmac, he  sees  Raven making his way toward the
aircraft, limping horrendously, one leg virtually useless. Finally, he gives
up on it and just hops on his good leg.
     Rife  has climbed  down out of the chopper. Raven and Rife are talking,
Raven  gesticulating back in Enzo's direction. Then Rife  nods his approval,
and  Raven turns around, his teeth bright and white. He's  not grimacing  so
much as he is smiling in  anticipation. He begins to hop toward  Uncle Enzo,
pulling another glass knife out  of his jacket. The  bastard  is carrying  a
million of those things.
     He's coming  after  Enzo, and Enzo can't  even stand up without passing
     He  looks  around  and sees  nothing but  a  skateboard  and  a pair of
expensive shoes and  socks about twenty feet away. He can't stand up, but he
can do the GI crawl,  and so he begins to pull himself forward on his elbows
even as Raven is hopping toward him one-legged.
     They  meet in an  open  lane between two adjacent jets.  Enzo is on his
belly, slumped  over the  skateboard.  Raven is standing, supporting himself
with one  hand on  the  wing  of  the jet, the glass knife glittering in his
other hand. Enzo is  now seeing the  world in dim black  and  white,  like a
cheap Metaverse terminal; this is how  his buddies  used  to describe  it in
Vietnam right before they succumbed to blood loss.
     "Hope you've done your last rites," Raven says, "because there ain't no
time to call a priest."
     "There is no need for one," Uncle  Enzo says, and punches the button on
the skateboard labeled "RadiKS Narrow Cone Tuned Shock Wave Projector."
     The concussion  nearly blows his  head off. Uncle Enzo, if he survives,
will never hear well again. But it does wake  him up a  little bit. He lifts
his head off the board to see Raven  standing there stunned, empty-handed, a
thousand tiny splinters of broken glass raining down out of his jacket.
     Uncle Enzo rolls over on  his back and waves his straight razor  in the
air. "I prefer steel myself," he says. "Would you like a shave?"

     Rife  sees it all and understands it clearly enough.  He would  love to
see how it all comes out, but he's a very busy man; he would like to get out
of here before the rest of  the Mafia and Ng and Mr. Lee and all those other
assholes  come  after him with  their heat-seeking missiles.  And there's no
time  to wait for the gimpy Raven to hop all the way back. He gives a thumbs
up to the pilot and begins climbing the steps into his private jet.
     It's daytime. A wall of  billowing orange flame grows up silently  from
the tank farm a mile away, like  a  time-lapse chrysanthemum. It is  so vast
and complicated in its blooming, uncontrolled growth that Rife stops halfway
up the stairs to watch.
     A powerful  disturbance  is moving  through the flame, leaving a linear
trail in the light, like a cosmic ray fired through a cloud chamber.  By the
force of its passage, it leaves behind a shock wave that is clearly  visible
in  the flame,  a bright spreading cone that  is a hundred times larger than
the dark source at its apex: a black bulletlike thing supported on four legs
that are churning too fast to be visible. It is so small and so fast that L.
Bob  Rife would not be  able to see it, if it were  not  headed directly for
     It is picking its  way over  a  broad tangle of open-air  plumbing, the
pipes that carry  the fuel to the jets, jumping over some obstacles, digging
its metallic claws into others, tearing them open with the  explosive thrust
of its legs, igniting their contents with the  sparks that fly  whenever its
feet touch  the pavement. It gathers its four legs under it, leaps a hundred
feet to  the top of  a buried tank,  uses that  as a launch pad  for another
long,  arcing  leap over  the  chain link  fence  that  separates  the  fuel
installation from the  airport  proper,  and  then it settles into  a  long,
steady, powerful lope, accelerating across  the  perfect geometric plane  of
the runway, chased  by a long tongue of  flame that extends  lazily from the
middle of the  conflagration,  whorling inward upon  itself as it traces the
currents in that Rat Thing's aftershock.
     Something tells L.  Bob Rife to get  away from the jet, which is loaded
with  fuel.  He turns  and half  jumps, half falls off  the  stairs,  moving
clumsily because he's looking at the Rat Thing, not at the ground.
     The Rat Thing, just a tiny dark thing close to the ground, visible only
by virtue of its shadow against the flames, and by the chain of white sparks
where its claws dig  into  the  pavement,  makes  a tiny  correction  in its
     It's not headed for the jet; it's headed for him. Rife changes his mind
and runs up  the  stairway,  taking the steps three at a time.  The stairway
flexes and recoils under his weight, reminding him of the jet's fragility.
     The pilot  has seen  it  coming, doesn't  wait to retract the  stairway
before he releases  the brakes and  sends  the  jet taxiing down the runway,
swinging the nose away from the Rat Thing. He  punches the throttles, nearly
throwing the jet  onto one wing as it  whips around  in a tight  curve,  and
redlines the engines as soon  as he sees the center  line of the runway. Now
they can only see forward and sideways. They can't see what is chasing them.
     Y.T. is the only person who can see it happen. Having easily penetrated
airport security with her Kourier pass, she  is coasting onto the apron near
the  cargo terminal. From here, she has an excellent view across half a mile
of open runway, and she sees it all happen: the plane roars down the runway,
hauling its door closed as it goes, shooting pale blue flames out its engine
nozzles, trying to build  up speed for takeoff, and Fido chases it down like
a  dog going  after a fat mailman, makes one final tremendous leap  into the
air  and, turning himself into  a  Sidewinder missile, flies nose-first into
the tailpipe of its left engine.
     The jet  explodes  about ten feet off the ground,  catching Fido and L.
Bob Rife and his virus all together in its fine, sterilizing flame.
     How sweet!
     She stays for a while  and watches the aftermath: Mafia choppers coming
in, doctors jumping out with doc boxes and blood bags  and stretchers, Mafia
soldiers scurrying between the private jets, apparently looking for someone.
A  pizza delivery  car  takes  off  from  one  of the parking  areas,  tires
squealing, and a Mafia car peels out after it in hot pursuit.
     But  after a while  it  gets boring, and so she skates back to the main
terminal, under  her own  power mostly,  though  she manages to  poon a fuel
tanker for a while.
     Mom's waiting for her in her stupid little jellybean car, by the United
baggage claim, just  like they arranged on the  phone. Y.T.  opens the door,
throws her plank into the back seat, and climbs in.
     "Home?" Mom says.
     "Yeah, home seems about right."

     This  book germinated in a collaboration between me and the artist Tony
Sheeder,  the original  goal  of which  was to  publish a computer-generated
graphic novel. In general, I handled the words and  he handled the pictures;
but even though this work consists almost entirely of words, certain aspects
of it stem from my discussions with Tony.
     This novel was very difficult  to write, and I received a great deal of
good  advice  from  my  agents  Liz Darhansoff,  Chuck Verrill,  and  Denise
Stewart, who  read early drafts. Other people subjected  to the early drafts
were  Tony  Sheeder;  Dr.  Steve  Horst of  Wesleyan  University,  who  made
extensive and very lucid comments on everything having to do with brains and
computers  (and who suddenly came down with  a  virus about one  hour  after
reading  it);  and  my  brother-in-law,  Steve  Wiggins,  currently  at  the
University of Edinburgh, who  got me started  on Asherah  to begin with  and
also fed me  useful papers and citations as  I thrashed around pitifully  in
the Library of Congress.
     Marco  Kaltofen, as usual, functioned in the same  quick,  encyclopedic
way  as the Librarian when I had  questions about certain whys and wheres of
the toxic-waste business. Richard Green, my agent in L.A., gave me some help
with the geography of that town.
     Bruck Pollock read the galleys  attentively, but with blistering speed,
and made several useful suggestions. He was the first and certainly not  the
last to point out that BIOS actually stands for "Basic Input/Output System,"
not "Built-In Operating  System" as I have it here  (and as it ought to be);
but I feel  that I am entitled to trample all other considerations  into the
dirt in  my pursuit  of  a  satisfying  pun,  so this part  of  the  book is
     The idea of  a  "virtual reality"  such  as the  Metaverse  is  by  now
widespread in the computer-graphics community and is being implemented  in a
number of  different  ways.  The  particular  vision  of  the  Metaverse  as
expressed in this novel originated from idle discussion between me and Jaime
(Captain Bandwidth) Taaffe  - which does not imply that blame for any of the
unrealistic or  tawdry  aspects of the Metaverse should be placed on  anyone
but me. The words  "avatar" (in the  sense used here) and "Metaverse" are my
inventions, which I came up with when I decided that existing words (such as
"virtual reality") were simply too awkward to use.
     In  thinking  about how the  Metaverse  might  be  constructed,  I  was
influenced by the  Apple  Human Interface Guidelines,  which is  a book that
explains the philosophy behind the Macintosh. Again, this point is made only
to  acknowledge  the beneficial influence of the  people  who  compiled said
document, not to link these poor innocents with its results.
     In  a  nice twist, which  I  include  only  because  it  is  pleasingly
self-referential,  I became intimately familiar with the  inner workings  of
the  Macintosh   during  the  early   phases  of  the  doomed  and  maniacal
graphic-novel project when it became clear that the only way to make the Mac
do  the  things we  needed was to  write a  lot  of  custom image-processing
software. I have probably spent  more hours coding during the production  of
this work than I  did actually writing it, even though it eventually  turned
away from the  original graphic concept, rendering most of that work useless
from a practical viewpoint.
     It should be pointed out  that when  I wrote  the Babel material, I was
standing on the shoulders  of  many,  many historians and archaeologists who
actually  did  the  research;  most of the words  spoken  by  the  Librarian
originated with these  people  and  I have tried to make the  Librarian give
credit  where due,  verbally footnoting his comments  like  a  good scholar,
which I am not.
     Finally,  after  the first publication of Snow Crash I learned that the
term "avatar" has actually been  in use for a number of  years as  part of a
virtual  reality system called Habitat, developed  by F. Randall  Farmer and
Chip  Morningstar. The system runs on Commodore  64 computers, and though it
has all but died out in the U.S., is still popular in  Japan. In addition to
avatars, Habitat includes many of the  basic  features  of  the Metaverse as
described in this book.

     NEAL STEPHENSON issues from a clan of rootless, itinerant  hard-science
and  engineering  professors  (mostly Pac  10,  Big 10, and  Big  8 with the
occasional wild  strain  of Ivy). He began his higher education as a physics
major, then switched  to geography when it appeared that  this would  enable
him to scam  more  free time on his university's mainframe computer. When he
graduated  and discovered,  to his perplexity, that there were  no  jobs for
inexperienced  physicist-geographers,  he  began  to  look  into alternative
pursuits such as  working  on cars, unimaginably stupid  agricultural labor,
and writing novels. His first  novel, The  Big U, was published in  1984 and
vanished without a  trace.  His second novel, Zodiac: the Eco-thriller, came
out   in   1988    and   quickly   developed   a   cult   following    among
water-pollution-control  engineers.  It  was  also  enjoyed,  though  rarely
bought,  by many radical  environmentalists. Snow Crash  was written  in the
years  1988  through 1991  as  the author listened to a great  deal of loud,
relentless, depressing  music. The Diamond Age was his  fourth novel and The
Cobweb was his last.
     Mr.  Stephenson now  resides  in  a  comfortable home  in  the  western
hemisphere and spends all of  his time trying to retrofit an office into its
generally dark,  unlevel, and asbestos-laden basement so that he can attempt
to  write more novels. Despite the tremendous amounts of  time he devotes to
writing, playing with  computers, listening to speed  metal,  Rollerblading,
and  pounding  nails, he  is  a  flawless  husband,  parent,  neighbor,  and
all-around human being.

Популярность: 4, Last-modified: Sun, 15 Dec 2002 23:06:23 GMT