Read online Johnny Mnemonic by William Gibson
I put the shotgun in an Adidas bag and padded it out with four pairs of
tennis socks, not my style at all, but that was what I was aiming for:
If they think you’re crude, go technical; if they think you’re
technical, go crude. I’m a very technical boy. So I decided to get as
crude as possible. These days, thought, you have to be pretty technical
before you can even aspire to crudeness. I’d had to turn both those
twelve-gauge shells from brass stock, on the lathe, and then load then
myself; I’d had to dig up an old microfiche with instructions for hand-
loading cartidges; I’d had to build a lever-action press to seat the
primers -all very tricky. But I knew they’d work.
The meet was set for the Drome at 2300, but I rode the tube three stops
past the closest platform and walked back. Immaculate procedure.
I checked myself out in the chrome siding of a coffee kiosk, your basic
sharp-faced Caucasoid with a ruff of stiff, dark hair. The girls at
Under the Knife were big on Sony Mao, and it was getting harder to keep
them from adding the chic suggestion of epicanthic folds. It probably
wouldn’t fool Ralfi Face, but it might get me next to his table.
The Drome is a single narrow space with a bar down one side and tables
along the other, thick with pimps and handlers and a arcame array of
dealers. The Magnetic Dog Sisters were on the door that night, and I
didn’t relish trying to get out past them if things didn’t work out.
They were two meters tall and thin as greyhounds. One was black and the
other white, but aside from that they were as nearly identical as
cosmetic surgery could make them. They’d been lovers for years and were
bad news in the tussle. I was never quite sure which one had originally
Ralfi was sitting at his usual table. Owing me a lot of money. I had
hundreds of megabytes stashed in my head on an idiot.savant basis
information I had no conscious access to. Ralfi had left it there. He
hadn’t, however, came back for it. Only Ralfi could retrieve the data,
with a code phrase of his own invention. I’m not cheap to begin with,
but my overtime on storage is astronomical. And Ralfi had been very
Then I’d heard that Ralfi Face wanted to put out a contract on me. So
I’d arranged to meet him in the Drome, but I’d arranged it as Edward
Bax, clandestine importer, late of Rio and Peking.
The Drome stank of biz, a metallic tang of nervous tension. Muscle-boys
scattered through the crowd were flexing stock parts at one another and
trying on this, cold grins, some of them so lost under superstructures
of muscle graft that their outlines weren’t really human.
Pardon me. Pardon me, friends. Just Eddie Bax here, Fast Eddie the
Importer, with his professionally nondescript gym bag, and please ignore
this shit, just wide enough to admit his right hand.
Ralfi wasn’t alone. Eighty kilos of blond California beef perched alerty
in the chair next to his, martial arts written all over him.
Fast Eddie Bax was in the chair opposite them before the beef’s hands
were off the table. ‘You black belt?’ I asked eagerly. He nodded, blue
eyes running an automatic scanning pattern between my eyes and my hands.
‘Me too,’ I said. ‘Got mine here in the bag.’ And I shoved my hand
through the slit and thumbed the safety off. Click. ‘Double twelve-gauge
with the triggers wired together.’
‘That’s a gun’, ‘Ralfi said, putting a plump. restraining hand on his
boy’s taut blue nylon chest. ‘Johnny has a antique firearm in his bag.’
So much for Enward Bax.
I guess he’d always been Ralfi Something or Orther, but he owed his
acquired surname to a singular vanity. Built something like an overripe
pear, he’d worn the oncefamous face of Christian White for twenty years
- Christian White of the Atyan Reggae Band, Sony Mao to his generation,
and final champion of race rocks. I’m a whiz at trivia.
Christian White: classic pop face with a singer’s highdefinition
muscles, chiseled cheekbones. Angelic in one light, handsomely depraved
in another. But Ralfi’s eyes lived behind that face, and they were small
and cold and black.
‘Please,’ he said, ‘let’s work this out like businessmen.’ His voice was
marked by a horrible prehensile sincerity, and the corners of his
beautifull Christian White mouth were always wet. ‘Lewis here,’ nodding
in the beefboy’s direction, ‘is a meatball.’ Lewis took his impassively,
looking like something built from a kit. ‘You aren’t a meatball,
‘Sure I am, Ralfi, a nice meatball chock-full of implants where u can
store your dirty laundry while you go off shopping for people to kill
me. From my end of this bag, Ralfi, it looks like you’ve got some
explaining to do.’
‘It’s this last batch of product, Johnny.’ He sighed deeply. ‘In my role
as broker – ‘
‘Fence,’ I corrected.
‘As broker, I am usually very careful as to sources.’
‘You buy only from those who steal the best. Got it.’
He sighed again. ‘I try,’ he said wearily, ‘not to buy from fools.. This
time, I’m afraid, I’ve done that.’ Third sigh was the cue for Lewis to
trigger the neural disruptor they’d taped under my side of the table.
I put everything I had into curling the index finger of my right hand,
but I no longer seemed to be connected to it. I could feel the metal of
the gun and the foam-padded tape. I’d wrapped around the stubby grip,
but my hands were cool wax, distant and inert. I was hoping Lewis was a
true meatball, thick enough to go for the gym bag and snag my rigid
trigger finger, but he wasn’t.
‘We’ve been very worried about you Johnny. Very worried. You see, that’s
Yakuza property you have there. A fool took it from them, Johnny. A dead
It all made sense then, an ugly kind of sense, like bags of wet sand
settling around my head. Killing wasn’t Ralfi’s style. Lewis wasn’t even
Ralfi’s style. But he’d got himself stuck between the Sons of the Neon
Chrysanthemum and something that belonged to them – or, more likely,
something of theirs that belonged to someone else. Ralfi, of course,
could use the code phrase to throw me into idiot savant, and I’d spill
their hot program without remembering a single quarter tone. For a fence
like Ralfi, that would ordinarity have been enough. But not for the
Yakuza. The Yakuza would know about Squids, for one thing, and they
wouldn’t want to worry about one lifting those dim and permanent traces
of their program out of my head. I didn’t know very much about Squids,
but I’d heard stories, and I made it a point never to repeat them to my
clients. No, the Yakuza wouldn’t like that; it looked too much like
envidence. They hadn’t got where they were by leaving evidence around.
Lewis was grinning. I think he was visualizing a point just behind my
forehead and imagining how he could get there the hard way.
‘Hey,’ said a low voice, feminine, from somewhere behind my right
shoulder, ‘you cowboys sure aren’t having too lively a time.’
‘Pack it, bitch,’ Lewis said, his tanned face very still. Ralfi looked
‘Lighten up. You want to buy some good free base?’ She pulled up a chair
and quickly sat before either of them could stop her. She was barely
inside my fixed field of vision, a thin girl with mirrored glasses, her
dark hair cut in a rough shag. She wore black leather, open over a T-
shirt slashed diagonally with stripes of red and black. ‘Eight thou a
Lewis snorted his exasperation and tried to slap her out of the chair.
Somehow he didn’t quite connect, and her hand came up and seemed to
brush his wrist as it passed. Bright blood sprayed the table. He was
clutching his wrist white-knuckle tight, blood tricklng from between his
But hadn’t her hand been empty?
He was going to need a tendon stapler. He stood up carefully, without
bothering to push his chair back. The chair toppled backward, and he
stepped out of of my line of sight without a word.
‘He better get a medic to look at that,’ she said. ‘That’s a nasty cut.’
‘You have no idea,’ said Ralfi, suddenly sounding very tired, ‘the
depths of shit you have just gotten yourself into.’
‘No kidding? Myster. I get real excited by mysteries. Like why your
friends here’s do quiet. Frozen, like. Or what this thing here is for,’
and she held up the little control unit that she’d somehow taken from
Lewis. Ralfi looked ill.
‘You, ah, want maybe a quarter-million to give me that and take a walk?’
A fat hand came up to stroke his pale, lean face nervously.
‘What I want,’ she said, snapping her fingers so that the unit spun and
glitterd, ‘is work. A job. Your boy hurt his wrist. But a quarter’ll do
for a retainer.’
Ralfi let his breath out explosively and began to laugh, exposing teeth
that hadn’t been kept up to the Chriatian White standard. The she turned
the disruptor off.
‘Two million,’ I said.
‘My kind of man,’ she said, and laughed. ‘What’s in the bag?’
‘Crude.’ It might have been a compliment.’
Ralfi said nothing at all.
‘Name’s Millions. Molly Millions. You want to get out of here, boss?
People are starting to stare.’ She stood up. She was wearing leather
jeans the colour of dried blood.
And I saw for the first time that the mirrored lenses were surgical
inlays, the silver rising smoothly from her high cheekbones, sealing her
eyes in their sockets, I saw my new face twinned there.
‘I’m Johnny,’ I said. ‘We’re taking Mr face with us.’ He was outside, waiting. Looking like your standard tourist tech, in
plastic zoris and a silly Hawaiian shirt printed with blowups of his
firm’s most popular microprocessor; a mild little guy, the kind most
likely to wind up drunk on sake in a bar that puts out miniature rice
crackers with seaweed garnish. He looked like the kind who sing the
corporate anthem and cry, who shake hands endlessly with the bartender.
And the pimps and the dealers would leave him alone, pegging him as
innately conservative. Not up for much, and carefull with his credit
when he was.
The way I figured it later, they must have amputated part of his left
thumb, somewhere behind the first joint, replacing it with a prosthetic
tip, and cored the stump, fiting it with a spool and socket molded from
one of the Ono-Sendai diamond analogs. Then they’d carefully wound the
spool with three meters of monomolecular filement.
Molly got into some kind of exchange with the Magnetic Dog Sisters,
giving me a chance to usher Ralfi through the door with the gym bag
pressed lightly against the base of his spine. She seemend to know them.
I heard the black one laugh.
I glanced up, out of some passing reflex, maybe because I’ve never got
used to it, to the soaring arcs of light and the shadows of the
geodesics above them. maybe that saved me.
Ralfi kept walking, but I don’t think he was trying to escape. I think
he’d already given up. Probably he already had an idea of what we were
I looked back down in time to see him explode.
Playback on full recall shows Ralfi stepping foward as the little tech
sidles out os nowhere, smilling. Just a suggestion of a bow, and his
left thumb falls of. It’a a conjuring trick. The thumb hangs suspended.
Mirrors? Wires? And Ralfi stops, his back to us, dark crescents of sweat
under the armpits of his pale summer suit. He knows. He must have known.
And then the joke-shop thumbtip, heavy as lead, arcs out in a lighting
yo-yo trick, and the invisible thread connectingit to the killer’s hand
passes laterally through Ralfi’s skull, just above his eyebrows, whips
up, and descends, slicing the pearshaped torso diaganally from shoulder
to rib cage. Cuts so fine that no blood flows until synapses misfire and
the first tremors surrender the body to gravity.
Ralfi tumbled apart in a pink cloud of fluids, the three mismatched
section rolling forwardon the tiled pavement. In total silence.
I brought the gym bag up, and my hand convulsed. The recoil nearly broke
my wrist. It must have been raining; ribbons of water cascaded from a ruptured
geodesic and spattered on the tile behind us. We crouched in the narrow
gap between a surgical boutique and an antique shop. She’d just edged
one mirrored eye around the corner to report a single Volks module in
frond of the Drome, red lights fliashing. They were sweeping Ralfi up.
I was covered in scorched white fluff. The tennis socks. The gym bag was
a ragged plastic cuff around my wrist. ‘I don’t see how the hell I
‘Cause he’s faxt, so fast.’ She hugged her knees and rocked back and
forth on her bootheels. ‘His nervous system’s jacked up. He’s factory
custom.’ She grinned and gave a little squeal of delight. ‘I’m gonna get
that boy. Tonight. He’s the best, number one, top dollar, state of the
‘What you’re going to get, for this boy’s two million, is my ass out of
here. Your boyfriend back there was mostly grown in a vat in Chiba City.
He’s a Yakuza assassin.’
‘Chiba. Yeah. See, Molly’s been Chiba, too.’ And she showed me her
hands, fingers slighly spread. Her fingers were slender, tapered, very
white against the polished burgundy nails. Ten blades snicked straight
out from their recesses beneath her nails, each one a narrow,
doubleedged scalpel in pale blue steel.
x x x
I’d never spent much time in Nighttown. Nobody there had anything to pay
me to remember, and most of them had a lot they paid regularly to
forget. Generations of sharpsshooters had clipped away at the neon until
the maintenance crews gave up. Even at noon the arcs were soot-black
against faintest pearl.
Where do you go when the world’s wealthiest criminal order is feeling
for you with calm, distant fingers? Where do you hide from the Yakuza,
so powerful that it owns comsats and at least three shuttles? The Yakuza
is a true multinational, like ITT and Ono-Sendai. Fifty years before I
was born the Yakuza had already absorbed the Triads, the Mafia, the
Molly had an answer: You hide in the Pit, in the lowest circle, where
any outside influence generates swift, cocentric ripples of raw menace.
You hide in Nighttown. Better yet, you hide above Nighttown, because the
Pit’s inverted, and the bottom of its bowl touches the sky, the sky that
Nighttown never sees, sweating under its own filmament of acrylic resin,
up where the Lo Teks crouch in the dark like gargoyles, black-market
cigarettes dangling from their lips.
She had another answer, too.
‘So you’re locked up good and tight, Johnny-san? No way to get that
program without the password?’ She led me into the shadows that waited
beyord the bright tube platform. The concrete walls were overlaid with
graffiti, years of them twisting into a single metascrawl of rage and
‘The stored data are fed in through a modified series of microsurgical
contraautism prostheses.’ I reeled off a numb version of my standard
sales pitch. ‘Client’s code is stored in a special chip; barring Squids,
which we in the trade don’t like to talk about, there’s no way to
recover your phrase. Can’t drug it out, cut it out, torture it. I don’t
know it, never did.’
‘Squids? Crawly things with arms?’ We emerged into a deserted street
market. Shadowy figures watched us from across a makeshift square
littered with fish heads and rotting fruit.
‘Superconducting quantum interfence detectors. Used them in the war to
find submarines, suss out enemy cyber systems.’
‘Yeah? Navy stuff? From the war? Squid’ll read that chip of yours?’
She’d stopped walking, and I felt her eyes on me behind those twin
‘Even the primitive models could measure a magnetic field a billionth
the strenght of geomagnetic force; it’s like pulling a whisper out of
‘Cops can do that already, with parabolic microphones and lasers.’
‘But your data’s still secure.’ Pride in profession. ‘No government’ll
let their cops have Squids, not even the security heavies. Too much
chance of interdepartmental funnies; they’re too likely to watergate
‘Navy stuff,’ she said, and her grin gleamed in the shadows. ‘Navy
stuff. I got a friend down here who was in the navy, name’s Jones. I
think you’d better meet him. He’s a junkie, though. So we’ll have to
take him something.’
He was more than a dolphin, but from another dolphin’s point of view he
might have seemed like something less. I watched him swirling sluggishly
in his galvanized tank. Water stopped over the side, wetting my shoes.
He was surplus from the last war. A cyborg.
He rose out of the water, showing us the crusted plates along his sides,
a kind of visual pun, his grace nearly lost under articulated armor,
clumsy and prehistoric. Twin deformities on either side of his skull had
been engineered to house sensor units. Silver lesions gleamed on exposed
sections of his gray-white hide.
Molly whistled. Jones thrashed his tail, and more water cascaded doen
the side of the tank.
‘What is this place?’ I peered at vague shapes in the dark, rusting
chain link and things under tarps. Above the tank hung a clumsy wooden
framework, crossed and recrossed by rows of dusty Christmas lights.
‘Funland. Zoo and carnival rides. “talk with the War Whale.” All that.
Some whale Jones is…’
Jones reared again and fixed me with a sad and ancient eye.
‘How’s he talk?’ Suddenly I was anxious to go.
‘Thta’s the catch. Say “Hi,” Jones.’
And all the bulbs lit simultaneously. They were flashing red, white, and
RWBRWBRWB RWBRWBRWB RWBRWBRWB RWBRWBRWB RWBRWBRWB ‘Good with symbols, see, but the code’w recricted. In the navy they had
him wired into an audiovisual display.’ She drew the narrow package from
a jacket pocket. ‘Pure shit, Jones. Want it?’ He froze in the water and
started to sink. I felt a strange panic, remembering that he wasn’t a
fish that he could drown. ‘We want the key to Johnny’s bank, Jones. We
want it fast.’
The lights flickered, died. ‘Go for it, Jones!’ B BBBBBBBBB B B B Blue bulbs, cruciform. Darkness. ‘Pure! It’s clean. Come on, Jones.’ WWWWWWWWW WWWWWWWWW WWWWWWWWW WWWWWWWWW WWWWWWWWW White sodium glare washed her features, stark monochrome, shadows
cleaving from her cheekbones.
R RRRRR R R RRRRRRRRR R R RRRRR R The arms of the red swastika were twisted in her silver glasses. ‘Give
it to him,’ I said. ‘We’ve got it.’
Ralfi Face. No imagination.
Jones heaved half his armored bulk over the edge of his tank, and I
thought the metal would give way. Molly stabbed him overhand with the
Syrette, driving the needle between two plates. Propellant hissed.
Patterns of light exploded, sparming across the frame and then fading to
We left him drifting, rolling languorously in the dark water. Maybe he
was dreaming of his war in the Pacific, of the cyber mines he’d swept,
nosing gently into their circuitry with the Squid he’d used to pick
Ralfi’s pathetic password from the chip buried in my head.
‘I can see them slipping up when he was demobbed, letting him out of the
navy with that gear intact, but how does a cybernetic dolphin get wired
‘The war,’ she said. ‘They all were. Navy did it. How else you get’em
working for you?’
I'm not sure this profiles as good business,' the pirate said, angling
for better money. ‘Target specs on a comsat that isn’t in the book -‘
‘Waste my time and you won’t profile at all,’ said Molly, learning
across his scarred plastic desk to prod him with her forefinger.
‘So maybe you want to buy your microwaves somewhere else?’ he was a
tough kid, behind his Mao-job. A Nighttowner by birth, probably.
Her hand blurred down the frond of his jacket, completely severing a
lapel without even rumpling the fabric.
‘So we got a deal ot not?’
‘Deal,’ he said starting at his ruined lapel with what he must have
hoped was only polite interest. ‘Deal.’
While I checked the two records we’d bought she extracted the slip of
paper I’d given her from the zippered wrist pocket of her jacket. She
unfolded it and read sirently, moving her lips. She shrugged. ‘This is
‘Shoot,’ I said, punching the RECORD studs of the two desks
‘Christian White,’ she recited, ‘and his Aryan Reggae Band.’
Fairtful Ralfi, a fan to his dying day.
Transition to idiot-savant mode is always less abrupt than I except it
to be. The pirate broadcaster’s front was a failing travel agancy in a
pastel cube that boasted a desk, three chairs, and a faded poster of a
Swiss orbital spa. A pair of toy birds with blown-glass bodies and tin
legs were sipping monotonously from a Styrofoarm cup of water on the
ledge beside Molly’s shoulder. As I phased into mode, they accelerated
gradually until their DayGlo-feathered crowns became solid arcs of
color. The LEDs that told seconds on the plastic wall clock had become
meaningless pulsing grids, and Molly and the Mao-faced boy grew hazy,
their arms blurring occasionally in insect-quick ghosts of gesture. And
then it all faded to cool gray static and an endless tone poem in the
I sat and sang dead Ralfi’s stolen program for three hours.
The mall runs forty kilometers from end, a ragged overlap of Fuller
domes roofing what was once a suburbanartery. If they turn off the arcs
on a clean day. a gray approximation of sunlight filters through layers
of acrylic, a view like the prison sketches of Giovanni Piranesi. The
three southernmost kilometers roof Nighttown. Nighttown pays no taxes,
no utilities. The neon arcs are dead, and the geodesics have been smoked
black by decades of cooking fires. In the nearly total darkness of a
Nighttown noon, who notices a few dozen mad children lost in the
We’d been climbing for two hours, up concrete stairs and steel ladders
with perforated rungs, past abandoned gantries and dust-covered tools.
We’d started in what looked like a disused maintenance yard, stacked
with truangular roofing segments. Everything there had been covered with
that same uniform layer of spraybomb graffiti: gang names, dates back to
the turn of the century. The graffiti followed us up, gradually thinning
until a single name was repeated at intervals. LO TEK. In dripping black
‘Who’s Lo Tek?’
‘Not us, boss.’ She climbed a shivering aluminium ladder and vanished
throught a hole in a sheet of corrugated plastic. ‘”Low technique, low
technology.”‘ The plastic muffled her voice. I followed her up, nursing
an aching wrist. ‘Lo Teks, they’d think that shotgun trick of yours was
An hour later I dragged myself up through another hole, this one sawed
crookedly in a sagging sheet of plywood, and met my first Lo Tek.
‘S okay,’ Molly said, her hand brushing my shoulder. ‘It’s just Dog.
In the narrow beam of her taped flash, he regaeded us with his one eye
and slowly extuded a thick lenght of grayish tongue, licking huge
canines. I wondered how they wrote off tooth-bud transplants from
Dopermans as low technology. Immunosuppressives don;t exactly grow on
‘Moll.’ Dental augmentation impeded his speech. A string of saliva
dangled from the twisted lower lip. ‘Heard ya comin’. Long time.’ He
might have been fifteen, but the fangs and the bright mosaic of scars
compined with the gaping socket to present a mask of total bestiality.
It had taken time and a certain kind of creavity to assemble that face,
and his posture told-me he enjoyed living behind it. He wore a pair of
decaying jeans, black with grime and shiny along the creases. His chest
and feet werebare. He did something with his mouth that approximated a
grin. ‘Bein’ followed, you.’
Far off, in Nighttown, a water vendor cried his trade.
‘Strings jumping, Dog?’ She swung her flash to the side, and I saw thin
cords tied to eyebolts, cords that ran to the edge and vanished.
‘Kill the fuckin’ light!’
She snapped it off.
‘How come the one who’s followin’ you’s got no light?’
‘Doesn’t need it. That one’s bad news, Dog. Your sentries give him a
tumble, they’ll come home in easy-tocarry sections.’
‘This a friend, Moll?’ He sounded uneasy. I heard his feet shift on the
‘No. But he’s mine. And this one,’ slapping my shoulders, ‘he’s a
friend. Got that?’
‘Sure,’ he said, without much enthusiasm, padding to the platform’s
adge, where the eyebolts were. He began to pluck out some kind of
message on the taut cords.
Nighttown spread beneath us like a toy village for rats; tiny windows
showed candlelight, with only a few harsh, bright squares lit by battery
lanterns and carbide lamps. I imagined the old men at their endless
games of dominoes, under warm, fat drops of water that fell from wet
wash hung out on poles between the plywood shanties. Then I tried to
imagine him climbing patiently up throught the darkeness in his zoris
and unly tourist shirt, bland and unhurried. How was he tracking us?
‘Good,’ said Molly. ‘he smells up.’
‘Smoke?’ Dog dragged a crumpled pack from his pocket and prized out a
flattened cigarette. I squinted at the trademark whilw he lit it for me
with a kitchen match. Yiheyuan filters. Beijing Cigarette Factory. I
decided that the Lo Teks were black marketeers. Dog and Molly went back
to their argument, which seemed to revolve around Molly’s desire to use
some particular piece of Lo Tek real estate.
‘I’ve done you a lot of favors, man. I want that floor. And I want the
‘You’re not Lo Tek…’
This must have been going on for the better part of a twisted kilometer,
Dog leading us along swaying catwalks and up rope ladders. The Lo Teks
leech their webs and huddling places to the city’s fabric with thick
gobs of epoxy and sleep above the abyss in mesh hammocks. Their country
is so attenuated that in places it consists of little more than holds
and feet, sawed into geodesic struts.
The Killing Floor, she called it. Scrambling after her, my new Eddie Bax
shoes slipping on worm metal and damp plywood, I wondered how it could
be any more lethal than the rest of the territory. At the same time I
sensed that Dog’s protests were rirtual and that she already expected to
get whatever it was she wanted.
Somewhere beneath us, Jones would be circling his takn, feeling the
first twinges of junk sickness. The police would be boring the Drome
regulars with questions about Ralfi. What did he do? Who was he with
before he stepped outside? And the Yakuza would be settling its ghostly
bulk over the city’s data banks, probing for faint images of me
reflected in numbered accounts, securities transactions, bills for
utilities. We’re an information economy. They teach you that in school.
What they don’t tell you is that it’s impossible to move, to live, to
operate at any level without leaving traces, bits, seemingly meaningless
fragments of personal information. Fragments that can be retrieved,
But by now the pirate would have shuttled our message into line for
blackbox transmissions to the Yakuza comsat. A simple message: Call off
the dogs or we wideband your program.
The programm. I had no idea what it contained. I still don’t. I only
sing the song, with zero comprehension. It was probably research data,
the Yakuza being given to advanced forms of industrial espionage. A
genteel business, stealing from Ono-Sendai as a matter of course and
politely holding their data for ransom, threatening to blunt the
conglomorate’s research edge by making the product public.
But why couldn’t any number play? Wouldn’t they be happier with
something to sell back to Ono-Sendai, happier than they’d be with one
dead Johnny from Memory Lane?
Their programm was on its way to an address in Sydney, to a place that
held letters for clients and didn’t ask questions once you’d paid a
small retainer. Fourth-class surface mail. I’d erased most of the other
copy and recorded our message in the resulting gap, leaving just enough
of the programm to identify it as the real thing.
My wrist hurt. I wanted to stop, to lie down, to sleep. I knew that I’d
lose my grip and fall soon, knew that the sharp black shoes I’d bought
for my evening as Eddie Bax would lose their purchase and carry me down
to Nighttown. But he rose in my mind like a cheap religious hologram,
glowing, the enlarged chip in his Hawaiian shirt looming like a
reconnaissance shot of some doomed urban nucleus.
So I followed Dog and Molly through Lo Tek heaven, jury-rigged and
jerry-built from scraps that even Nighttown didn’t want.
The Killing Floor was eight meters on a side. A giant had threaded steel
cable back and forth through a junkyard and drawn it all taut. It
creaked when it moved, and it moved constantly, swaying and buckingas
the gathering Lo Teks arranged themselves on the shelf of plywood
surrounding it. The wood was silver with age, polished with long use and
deeply etched with initials, threats, declarations of passion. This was
suspended from a separate set of cables, which last themselves in
darkness beyord the raw white glare of the two ancient floods suspended
above the Floor.
A girl with teeth like Dog’s hit the Floor on all fours. Her breast were
tattooed with indigo spirals. Then she was across the Floor, laughing,
grappling with a boy who was drinking dark liquid from a liter flask.
Lo Tek fansion ran to scars and tattoos. And teeth. The electricity they
were tapping to light the Killing Floor seemed to be an exception to
their overall aesthetic, made in the name of… rirtual, sport, art? I
didn’t know, but I could see that the Floor was something special. I had
the look of having been assembled over generations.
I held the useless shotgun under my jacket. Its hardness and left were
comforting, even thought I had no more shells. And it came to me that I
had no idea at all of what was really happening, or of what was supposed
to happen. And that was the nature of my game, because I’d spent most of
my life as a blind receptacle to be filled with other people;s knowledge
and then drained, spouting synthetic languages I’d never understand. A
very technical boy. Sure.
And then I noticed just how quiet the Lo Teks had become.
He was there, at the edge of the light, taking in the Killing Floor and
the gallery of silent Lo Teks with a tourist’s calm. And as our eyes met
for the first time with mutual recognition, a memory clicked into place
for me, of Paris, and the long Mercedes electrics gliding through the
rain to Notre Dame; mobile greenhouses, Japanese faces behind the glass,
and a hundred Nikons rising in blind phototropism, flowers of steel and
crystel. Behind his eyes, as they found me, those same shutters
I looked for Molly Millions, but she was gone.
The Lo Teks parted to let him step up on to the bench. He bowed,
smiling, and stepped smoothly out of his sandals, leaving them side by
side, perfectly aligned, and then he stepped down on to the Killing
Floor. He came for me, across that shifting trampoline of scrap, as
easily as any tourist padding across synthetic pile in any featureless
Molly hit the Floor, moving.
The Floor screamed.
It was miked and amplified, with pickups riding the four fat coil
springs at the corners and contact mikes taped at random to rusting
machine fragments. Somewhere the Lo Teks had an amp and a synthesizer,
and now I made out of shapes of speakers overhead, above the cruel white
A drumbeat began, electronic, like an amplified heart, steady as a
She’d removed her leather jacket and boots; her T-shirt was sleeveless,
faint teeltales of Chiba City circuitry traced along her thin arms. Her
leather jeans greamed under the floods. She began to dance.
She flexed her knees, white feet tensed on a flattened gas tank, and the
Killing Floor began to heave in response. The sound it made was like a
world ending, like the wires that hold heaven snapping and coiling
across the sky.
He rode with it, for a few heartbeats, and then he moved, judging the
movement of the Floor perfectly, like a man stepping from one flat stone
to another in an ornamental garden.
He pulled the tip from his trumb with the grace of a man at ease with
social gesture and flung it at her. Under the floods, the filament eas
refracting thread of rainbow. She threw herself flat and rolled,
jackknifing up as the molecule whipped past, steel claws snapping into
the light in what must have been an automatic rictus of defense.
The drum pulse quickened, and she bounced with it, her dark hair wild
around the blank silver lenses, her mouth thin, lips taut with
concentration. The Killing Floor boomed and roared, and the Lo Teks were
screaming their excitement.
He retracted the filament to a whirling meter-wide circle of ghostly
polychrome and spun it in front of him, trumbless hand held lever with
his sternum. A shield.
And Molly seemed to let something go, something inside, and that was the
real start of her mad-dog dance. She jumped, twisting, lunging sideways,
landing with both feet on an alloy engine block wired directly to one of
the coil springs. I cupped my hands over my ears and knelt in a vertigo
of sound, thinking Floor and benches were on their way down, down to
Nighttown, and I saw us tearing through the shanties, the wet wash,
exploding on the tiles like rotten fruit. But the cables held, and the
Killing Floor rose and fell like a crazy metal sea. And Molly danced on
And at the end, just before he made his final cast with the filament, I
saw in his face, an expression that didn’t seem to belong there. It
wasn’t fear and it wasn’t anger. I think it was disbelief, stunned
incomprehension mingled with pure aesthetic revulsion at what he was
seeing, hearing – at what was happening to him. He retracted the
whirling filament, the ghost disk shrinking to the size of a dinner
plate as he whipped his arm above his head and brought it down, the
thumbtip curving out for Molly like a live thing.
The Floor carried her down, the molecule passing just above her head;
the Floor whiplashed, lifting him into the path of the taut molecule. It
shold have passed hermlessly over his head and been withdrawn into its
diamondhard socket. It took his hand off just behind the wrist. There
was a gap in the Floor in frond of him, and he went through it like a
diver, with a strange deliberate grace, a defeated kamikaze on his way
down to Nighttown. Partly, I think, he took that dive to buy himself a
few seconds of the dignity of silence. She’d killed him with culture
The Lo Teks roared, but someone shut the amplifier off, and Molly rode
the Killing Floor into silence, hanging on now, her face white and
blank, until the pitching slower and there was only a faint pinging of
tortured metal and the grating of rust on rust.
We searched the Floor for the severed hand, but we never found it. All
we found was a graceful curve in one piece of rusted steel, where the
molecule went through. Its edge was bright as new chrome.
We never learned whether the Yakuza had a accepted our terms, or ever
whether they got our message. As far as I know, their program is still
waiting for Eddie Bax on a shelf in the back room of a gift shop on the
third level of Sydney Central-5. Probably they sold the original back to
Ono-Sendai months ago. But maybe they did get the pirate’s broadcast,
because nobody’s come looking for me yet, and it’s been nearly a year.
If they do come, they’ll have a long climp up through the dark, past
Dog’s sentries, and I don’t look much like Eddie Bax these days.
I let Molly take care of that, with a local anesthetic. And my new teeth
have almost grown in.
I decited to stay up here. When I looked out across the Killing Floor,
before he came, I saw how hollow I was. And I knew I was sick of being a
bucket. So now I climb down and visit Jones, almost every night.
We’re partners now, Jones and I, and Molly Millions, too. Molly handles
our business in the Drome. Jones is still in Funland, but he has a
bigger tank, with fresh seawater trucked in once a week. And he has his
junk, when he needs it. He still talks to the kids with his frame of
lights, but he talks to me on a new display unit in a shed that I rent
there, a better unit than the one he used in the navy.
And we’re all making good money, better money than I made before,
because Jone’s Squid can read the traces of anything that anyone ever
srored in me, and he gives it to me on the display unit in languages I
can Understand. So we’re learning a lot about all my formed clients. And
one day I’ll have a surgeon dig all the silicon out of my amygdalae, and
I’ll live with my own memories and nobody else’s, the way other people
do. But not for a while.
In the meantime it’s really okay up here, way up in the dark, smoking a
Chinese filtertip and listening to the condensation that drips from the
geodesics. Real quiet up here – unless a pair of Lo Teks decide to dance
on the Killing Floor.
It’s educational, too. With Jones to help me figure things out, I’m
getting to be the most technical boy in town.