William Ford Gibson
11 - On Site
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HE ALLOWED HIMSELF three hours of sleep, finally, in the windowless bunker where the point team had established the command post. He’d met the rest of the site team. Ramirez was slight, nervous, perpetually wired on his own skill as a console jockey; they were depending on him, along with Jaylene Slide on the offshore rig, to monitor cyberspace around the grid sector that held the heavily iced banks of Maas Biolabs; if Maas became aware of them, at the last moment, he might be able to provide some warning. He was also charged with relaying the medical data from the surgery to the offshore rig, a complex procedure if they were to keep it from Maas. The line out ran to a phone booth in the middle of nowhere Once past that booth, he and Jaylene were on their own in the matrix. If they blew it, Maas could backtrack and pinpoint the site. And then there was Nathan. the repair-man, whose real job consisted of watching over the gear in the bunker. If some part of their system went down, there was at least a chance he could fix it. Nathan belonged to the species that had produced Oakey and a thousand others Turner had worked with over the years, maverick techs who liked earning danger money and had proven they could keep their mouths shut. The others - Compton, Teddy, Costa, and Davis - were Just expensive muscle, mercs, the sort of men you hired for a job like this. For their benefit, he’d taken particular care in questioning Sutcliffe about the arrangements for clear-out. He’d explained where the copters would come in, the order of pickup, and precisely how and when they would be paid.
The place had been either a pump house or some sort of nexus for electrical wiring. The stumps of plastic tubing that protruded from the walls might have been conduit or sewage line, the room provided no evidence that any of them had ever been connected to anything. The ceiling, a single slab of poured concrete, was too low to allow him to stand, and there was a dry, dusty smell that wasn’t entirely unpleasant. The team had swept the place before they brought in the tables and the equipment, but there were still a few yellow flakes of newsprint on the floor, that crumbled when he touched them. He made out letters, sometimes an entire word.
Each of the folding metal camp tables had been set up along a wall, forming an L, each arm supporting an array of extraordinarily sophisticated communications gear. The best, he thought, that Hosaka had been able to obtain.
He hunched his way carefully along the length of each table, tapping each console, each black box, lightly as he went There was a heavily modified military side-band transceiver rigged for squirt transmission. This would be their link in case Ramirez and Jaylene flubbed the data transfer. The squirts were prerecorded, elaborate technical fictions encoded by Hosaka’s cryptographers. The content of a given squirt was meaningless, but the sequence in which they were broad-cast would convey simple messages. Sequence B/C/A would inform Hosaka of Mitchell’s arrival; F/D would indicate his departure from the site, while F/G would signal his death and the concurrent closure of the operation. Turner tapped the side-band rig again, frowning He wasn’t pleased with Sutcliffe’s arrangements there. If the extraction was blown, it wasn’t likely they’d get out, let alone get out clean, and Webber had quietly informed him that, in the event of trouble, she’d been ordered to use a hand-held antitank rocket on the medicals in their miniature surgery. They know,” she said. “You can bet they’re getting paid for it, too.” The rest of them were depending on the helicopters, which were based near Tucson. Turner assumed that Maas, if alerted, would easily take them out as they came in. When he’d objected to Sutcliffe, the Australian had only shrugged: “It isn’t the way I’d set it up under the best circumstances, mate. but we’re all in here on short notice, aren’t we?”
Beside the transceiver was an elaborate Sony biomonitor, linked directly with the surgical pod and charged with the medical history recorded in Mitchell’s biosoft dossier. The medicals, when the time came, would access the defector’s history; simultaneously, the procedures they carried out in the pod would be fed back to the Sony and collated, ready for Ramirez to ice them and shift them out into cyberspace, where Jaylene Slide would be riding shotgun from her seat in the oil rig. If it all went smoothly, the medical update would be waiting in Hosaka’s Mexico City compound when Turner brought him in in the jet. Turner had never seen anything quite like the Sony, but he supposed the Dutchman would have had something very similar in his Singapore clinic The thought brought his hand to his bare chest, where he unconsciously traced the vanished line of a graft scar.
The second table supported the cyberspace gear. The deck was identical with the one he’d seen on the oil rig, a Maas-Neotek prototype. The deck configuration was standard, but Conroy had said that it was built up from the new biochips. There was a fist-sized lump of pale pink plastique squashed on top of the console; someone, perhaps Ramirez, had thumbed in twin depressions for eyes and a crude curve of idiot grin. Two wires, one blue, the other yellow, ran from the thing’s pink forehead to one of the black, gaping tubes that protruded from the wall behind the console. Another of Webber’s chores. If there seemed any danger of the site being overrun. Turner eyed the wires, frowning; a charge that size, in that small, enclosed space. Guaranteed death for anyone in the bunker.
His shoulders aching, the back of his head brushing the rough concrete of the ceiling, he continued his inspection The rest of the table was taken up with the deck’s peripherals, a series of black boxes positioned with obsessive precision. He suspected that each unit was a certain specific distance from its neighbor, and they were perfectly aligned. Ramirez himself would have set them out, and Turner was certain that if he touched one, moved it the least fraction, the jockey would know. He’d seen that same neurotic touch before, in other console men, and it told him nothing about Ramirez. He’d watched other jockeys who reversed the trait, deliberately tangling their gear in a rat’s nest of leads and cables, who were terrified of tidiness and plastered their consoles with decals of dice and screaming skulls. There was no way to tell, he thought; either Ramirez was good, or else they all might be dead soon.
At the far end of the table were five Telefunken ear-bead transceivers with adhesive throat mikes, still sealed in individual bubble packs. During the crucial phase of the defection, which Turner took to be the twenty minutes on either side of Mitchell’s arrival, he, Ramirez, Sutcliffe, Webber, and Lynch would be linked, although the use of the transceivers was to be kept to an absolute minimum.
Behind the Telefunkens was an unmarked plastic carton that contained twenty Swedish catalytic handwarmers, smooth flat oblongs of stainless steel, each in its own drawstring bag of Christmas-red flannelette. “You’re a clever bastard,” he said to the carton. “I might have thought that one up myself…”
He slept on a corrugated foam hiker’s pad on the floor of the command post, using the parka as a blanket. Conroy had been right about the desert night, but the concrete seemed to hold the day’s heat He left his fatigues and shoes on; Webber had advised him to shake his shoes and clothing out whenever he dressed. “Scorpions,” she’d say, “they like sweat, any kind of moisture “ He removed the Smith & Wesson from the nylon holster before he lay down, carefully positioning it beside the foam pad. He left the two battery lanterns on, and closed his eyes.
And slid into a shallow sea of dream, images tossing past, fragments of Mitchell’s dossier melding with bits of his own life. He and Mitchell drove a bus through a cascade of plate glass, into the lobby of a Marrakech hotel. The scientist whooped as he pressed the button that detonated the two dozen canisters of CN taped along the flanks of the vehicle, and Oakey was there, too, offering him whiskey from a bottle, and yellow Peruvian cocaine on a round, plastic-rimmed mirror he’d last seen in Allison’s purse. He thought he saw Allison somewhere beyond the windows of the bus, choking in the clouds of gas, and he tried to tell Oakey, tried to point her out, but the glass was plastered with Mexican holograms of saints, postcards of the Virgin, and Oakey was holding up something smooth and round, a globe of pink crystal, and he saw a spider crouched at its core, a spider made of quicksilver, but Mitchell was laughing, his teeth full of blood, and extending his open palm to offer Turner the gray biosoft. Turner saw that the dossier was a brain, grayish pink and alive beneath a wet clear membrane, pulsing softly in Mitchell’s hand, and then he tumbled over some submarine ledge of dream and settled smoothly down into a night with no stars at all.
Webber woke him, her hard features framed in the square doorway, her shoulders draped in the heavy military blanket taped across the entrance. “Got your three hours The medicals are up, if you want to talk to ‘em.” She withdrew, her boots crunching gravel.
Hosaka’s medics were waiting beside the self-contained neurosurgery. Under a desert dawn they looked as though they’d just stepped from some kind of matter transmitter in their fashionably rumpled Ginza casuals. One of the men was bundled in an oversized Mexican handknit, the sort of belted cardigan Turner had seen tourists wear in Mexico City. The other two wore expensive-looking insulated ski jackets against the desert cold. The men were a head shorter than the Korean, a slender woman with strong, archaic features and a birdlike ruff of red-tinged hair that made Turner think of raptors. Conroy had said that the two were company men, and Turner could see it easily; only the woman had the attitude. The stance that belonged to Turner’s world, and she was an outlaw, a black medic She’d be right at home with the Dutchman, he thought.
“No,” Turner said. “We’ll be moving you out to the lot twenty minutes prior to his arrival. We’ll take the wheels off, level you with jacks. The sewage link will be disconnected. I want you fully operational five minutes after we set you down.”
“I doubt,” said the other man, “that we will encounter anything so crude, but yes, we will be scanning for the full range of lethal devices. Simultaneously, we’ll run a full blood screen. We understand that his current employers deal in extremely sophisticated biochemical systems. It would seem possible that the greatest danger would lie in that direction…”
“It’s currently quite fashionable to equip top employees with modified insulin-pump subdermals,” his partner broke in. ‘The subject’s system can be tricked into an artificial reliance on certain synthetic enzyme analogs. Unless the subdermal is recharged at regular intervals, withdrawal from the source - the employer - can result in trauma.”
“Neither of you are even remotely prepared to deal with what I suspect we will encounter,” the black medic said, her voice as cold as the wind that blew out of the east now. Turner heard sand hissing across the rusted sheet of steel above them.
“You,” Turner said to her, “come with me.” Then he turned, without looking back, and walked away. It was possible that she might not obey his command, in which case he’d lose face with the other two, but it seemed the right move. When he was ten meters from the surgery pod, he halted. He heard her feet on the gravel.
“Neither are you, mercenary. I was hired out of the finest unlicensed clinic in Chiba for this I was given a great deal of material to study in preparation for my meeting with this illustrious patient. The black clinics of Chiba are the cutting edge of medicine: not even Hosaka could know that my position in black medicine would allow me to guess what it is that your defector carries in his head. The street tries to find its own uses for things, Mr. Turner Already, several times, I’ve been hired to attempt the removal of these new implants. A certain amount of advanced Maas biocircuitry has found its way into the market. These attempts at implanting are a logical step. I suspect Maas may leak these things deliberately.”
“I don’t think I could,” she said, and there was a strange hint of resignation in her voice. “I told you, I’ve seen it. I didn’t say that I understood it.” Fingertips suddenly brushed the skin beside his skull jack “This, compared with biochip implants, is like a wooden staff beside a myoelectric limb.”
Conroy sent a runner in with the software package that would allow Turner to pilot the jet that would carry Mitchell to Hosaka’s Mexico City compound. The runner was a wild-eyed, sun-blackened man Lynch called Harry, a rope-muscled apparition who came cycling in from the direction of Tucson on a sand-scoured bike with balding lug tires and bone-yellow rawhide laced around its handlebars. Lynch led Harry across the parking lot. Harry was singing to himself, a strange sound in the enforced quiet of the site, and his song, if you could call it that, was like someone randomly tuning a broken radio up and down midnight miles of dial, bringing in gospel shouts and snatches of twenty years of international pop. Harry had his bike slung across one burnt, bird-thin shoulder
“Name’s Harry,” the burnt man said. He tossed the bicycle down on a clump of brush. He smiled vacantly, exposing badly spaced, eroded teeth. His bare chest was filmed with sweat and dust, and hung with loops of fine steel chain, rawhide, bits of animal horn and fur, brass cartridge casings, copper coins worn smooth and faceless with use, and a small pouch made of soft brown leather.
Turner looked at the assortment of things strung across the skinny chest and reached out, flipping a crooked bit of bent gristle suspended from a length of braided string. “What the hell is that, Harry?”
When Lynch was out of earshot, Harry began to work at the thongs that sealed the leather pouch. “You shouldn’t be harsh with the boy,” he said. “He’s really very good. I actually didn’t see him until he had that fletcher up against my neck.” He opened the pouch and fished delicately inside. “Tell Conroy I’ve got him pegged.”
“You fucking know it,” Turner said, crumpling the paper and thrusting it into Harry’s left armpit. Harry smiled, sweetly and vacantly, and the intelligence that had risen in him settled again, like some aquatic beast sinking effortlessly down into a smooth sea of sun-addled vapidity. Turner stared into his eyes. Cracked yellow opal, and saw nothing there but sun and the broken highway. A hand with missing joints came up to scratch absently at a week’s growth of beard. “Now,” Turner said. Harry turned, pulled his bike up from the tangle of brush, shouldered it with a grunt, and began to make his way back across the ruined parking lot. His oversized, tattered khaki shorts flapped as he went, and his collection of chains rattled softly.
Sutcliffe whistled from a rise twenty meters away, held up a roll of orange surveyor’s tape. It was time to start laying out Mitchell’s landing strip. They’d have to work quickly, before the sun was too high, and still it was going to be hot.
“So,” Webber said, “he’s coming in by air.” She spat brown juice on a yellowed cactus. Her cheek was packed with Copenhagen snuff “You got it,” Turner said. He sat beside her on a ledge of buff shale. They were watching Lynch and Nathan clear the strip he and Sutcliffe had laid out with the orange tape The tape marked out a rectangle four meters wide and twenty long Lynch carried a length of rusted I-beam to the tape and heaved it over. Something scurried away through the brush as the beam rang on concrete.
“I know,” Turner said, “but if they don’t know we’re here already, I don’t think they’re going to. And you couldn’t see it from the highway.” He adjusted the black nylon cap Ramirez had given him, pulling the long bill down until it touched his sunglasses. “Anyway, we’re just moving the heavy stuff, the things that could tear a leg off. It isn’t going to look like anything, not from orbit.”
‘Probably a hell of a lot more than you do,” she said. “Part of the time I breed dogs.” She took a knife from her boot and began to strop it patiently on her sole, flipping it smoothly with each stroke, like a Mexican barber sharpening a razor. “And I fish. Trout.”
“Probably more than you’ve got,” she said flatly. “I figure the ones like you and Sutcliffe, you aren’t from any place at all. This is where you live, isn’t it, Turner? On the site, today, the day your boy comes out. Right?” She tested the blade against the ball of her thumb, then slid it back into its sheath.
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