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13 - With Both Hands

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“MAYBE YOU CAN RUN that one by me again,” Bobby said, around a mouthful of rice and eggs “I thought you already said it’s not a religion.”

Beauvoir removed his eyeglass frames and sighted down one of the earpieces. “That wasn’t what I said. I said you didn’t have to worry about it, is all, whether it’s a religion or not It’s Just a structure. Lets you an’ me discuss some things that are happening, otherwise we might not have words for it, concepts”

“But you talk like these, whatchacallem, lows, are”

“Loa,” Beauvoir corrected, tossing his glasses down on the table He sighed, dug one of the Chinese cigarettes from Two-a-Day’s pack, and lit it with the pewter skull. “Plural’s same as the singular.” He inhaled deeply, blew out twin streams of smoke through arched nostrils. “You think religion, what are you thinking about, exactly?”

“Well, my mother’s sister, she’s a Scientologist, real orthodox, you know? And there’s this woman across the hall, she’s Catholic. My old lady” - he paused, the food gone tasteless in his mouth -” ‘she’d put these holograms up in my room sometimes, Jesus or Hubbard or some shit. I guess I think about that.”

“Vodou isn’t like that,” Beauvoir said. “It isn’t concerned with notions of salvation and transcendence. What it’s about is getting things done. You follow me? In our system, there are many gods, spirits. Part of one big family, with all the virtues, all the vices. There’s a ritual tradition of communal manifestation, understand? Vodou says, there’s God, sure, Gran Met, but He’s big, too big and too far away to worry Himself if your ass is poor, or you can’t get laid. Come on, man, you know how this works, it’s street religion, came out of a dirt-poor place a million years ago. Vodou’s like the street. Some duster chops out your sister, you don’t go camp on the Yakuza’s doorstep, do you? No way. You go to somebody, though, who can get the thing done. Right?” Bobby nodded, chewing thoughtfully. Another derm and two glasses of the red wine had helped a lot, and the big man had taken Two-a-Day for a walk through the trees and the fluorescent jackstraws, leaving Bobby with Beauvoir. Then Jackie had shown up all cheerful, with a big bowl of this eggs-and-rice stuff, which wasn’t bad at all, and as she’d put it down on the table in front of him, she’d pressed one of her tits against his shoulder.

“So,” Beauvoir said, “we are’ concerned with getting things done. If you want, we’re concerned with systems. And so are you, or at least you want to be, or else you wouldn’t be a cowboy and you wouldn’t have a handle, right?” He dunked what was left of the cigarette in a fingerprinted glass half full of red wine. “Looks like Two-a-Day was about to get down to serious partying, about the time the shit hit the fan.”

“What shit’s that?” Bobby asked, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“You,” Beauvoir said, frowning. “Not that any of it is your fault. As much as Two-a-Day wants to make out that’s the case.”

“He does? He seems pretty tense now Real bitchy, too.”

“Exactly. You got it Tense Scared shitless is more like it.”

“So how come?”

“Well, you see, things aren’t exactly what they seem, with Two-a-Day. I mean, yeah, he actually does the kind of shit you’ve known him to; hustles hot software to the caspers, pardon me” - he grinned - “down in Barrytown, but his main shot, I mean the man’s real ambitions, you understand, lie elsewhere.” Beauvoir picked up a wilted canapé, regarded it with evident suspicion, and flicked it over the table, into the trees. “His thing, you understand, is dicking around for a couple of bigtime Sprawl oungans.”

Bobby nodded blankly.

“Dudes who serve with both hands”

“You lost me there.”

“We’re talking a professional priesthood here, you want to call it that. Otherwise, just imagine a couple of major dudes - console cowboys, among other things - who make it their business to get things done for people. ‘To serve with both hands’ is an expression we have, sort of means they work both ends. White and black, got me?”

Bobby swallowed, then shook his head.

“Sorcerers,” Beauvoir said “Never mind. Bad dudes, big money, that’s all you need to know Two-a-Day, he acts like an up-line joeboy for these people. Sometimes he finds something they might be interested in, he downloads it on ‘em, collects a few favors later. Maybe he collects a dozen too many favors, they download something on him. Not quite the same proposition, you follow me? Say they get something they think has potential, but it scares them. These characters tend to a certain conservatism, you see? No? Well, you’ll learn.”

Bobby nodded.

“The kind of software someone like you would rent from Two-a-Day, that’s nothin’. I mean, it’ll work, but it’s nothing anybody heavy would ever bother with. You’ve seen a lot of cowboy kinos, right? Well, the stuff they make up for those things isn’t much, compared with the kind of shit a real heavy operator can front. Particularly when it comes to icebreakers Heavy icebreakers are kind of funny to deal in, even for the big boys You know why? Because ice, all the really hard stuff, the walls around every major store of data in the matrix, is always the produce of an Al, an artificial intelligence. Nothing else is fast enough to weave good ice and constantly alter and upgrade it. So when a really powerful icebreaker shows up on the black market, there are already a couple of very dicey factors in play. Like, for starts, where did the product come from? Nine times out of ten, it came from an Al, and Al’s are constantly screened, mainly by the Turing people, to make sure they don’t get too smart. So maybe you’ll get the Turing machine after your ass, because maybe an Al somewhere wants to augment its private cash flow Some Al’s have citizenship, right? Another thing you have to watch out for, maybe it’s a military icebreaker, and that’s bad heat, too, or maybe it’s taken a walk out of some zaibatsu’s industrial espionage arm, and you don’t want that either You takin’ this shit in, Bobby?”

Bobby nodded. He felt like he’d been waiting all his life to hear Beauvoir explain the workings of a world whose existence he’d only guessed at before.

“Still, an icebreaker that’ll really cut is worth mega, I mean beaucoup. So maybe you’re Mr. Big in the market, someone offers you this thing, and you don’t want to just tell ‘em to take a walk So you buy it. You buy it, real quiet, but you don’t slot it, no. What do you do with it? You take it home, have your tech fix it up so that it looks real average. Like you have it set up in a format like this” - and he tapped a stack of software in front of him -”and you take it to your joeboy, who owes you some favors, as usual.

“Wait a sec,” Bobby said. “I don’t think I like -”

“Good. That means you’re getting smart, or anyway smarter. Because that’s what they did. They brought it out here to your friendly ‘wareman, Mr. Two-a-Day, and they told him their problem. ‘Ace,’ they say, ‘we want to check this shit out, test-drive it, but no way we gonna do it ourselves It’s down to you, boy.’ So, in the way of things, what’s Two-a-Day gonna do with it? Is he gonna slot it? No way at all. He just does the same damn thing the big boys did to him, ‘cept he isn’t even going to bother telling the guy he’s going to do it to. What he does, he picks a base out in the Midwest that’s full of tax-dodge programs and yen-laundry flowcharts for some whorehouse in Kansas City, and everybody who didn’t just fall off a tree knows that the motherfucker is eyeball-deep in ice, black ice, totally lethal feedback programs. There isn’t a cowboy in the Sprawl or out who’d mess with that base first, because it’s dripping with defenses; second, because the stuff inside isn’t worth anything to anybody but the IRS, and they’re probably already on the owner’s take

“Hey,” Bobby said, “lemme get this straight”

“I’m giving it to you straight, white boy! He picked out that base, then he ran down his list of hotdoggers, ambitious punks from over in Barrytown, wilsons dumb enough to run a program they’d never seen before against a base that some joker like Two-a-Day fingered for them and told them was an easy make. And who’s he pick? He picks somebody new to the game, natch, somebody who doesn’t even know where he lives, doesn’t even have his number, and he says, here, my man, you take this home and make yourself some money. You get anything good, Ill fence it for you!” Beauvoir’s eyes were wide, he wasn’t smiling. “Sound like anybody you know, man, or maybe you try not to hang out with losers?”

“You mean he knew I was going to get killed if I plugged into that base?”

“No, Bobby, but he knew it was a possibility if the package didn’t work. What he mainly wanted was to watch you try. Which he didn’t bother to do himself, just put a couple of cowboys on it. It could’ve gone a couple different ways. Say, if that icebreaker had done its number on the black ice, you’d have gotten in, found a bunch of figures that meant dick to you, you’d have gotten back out, maybe with-out leaving any trace at all. Well, you’d have come back to Leon’s and told Two-a-Day that he’d fingered the wrong data. Oh, he’d have been real apologetic, for sure, and you’d have gotten a new target and a new icebreaker, and he’d have taken the first one back to the Sprawl and said it looked okay. Meanwhile, he’d have an eye cocked in your direction, just to monitor your health, make sure nobody came looking for the icebreaker they might’ve heard you’d used. Another way it might have gone, the way it nearly did go, something could’ve been funny with the icebreaker, the ice could’ve fried you dead, and one of those cowboys would’ve had to break into your momma’s place and get that software back before any-body found your body.”

“I dunno, Beauvoir, that’s pretty fucking hard to - “

“Hard my ass. Life is hard. I mean, we’re talkin’ biz, you know?” Beauvoir regarded him with some severity, the plastic frames far down his slender nose. He was lighter than either Two-a-Day or the big man, the color of coffee with only a little whitener, his forehead high and smooth beneath close-cropped black fizz. He looked skinny, under his gray sharkskin robe, and Bobby didn’t really find him threatening at all. “But our problem, the reason we’re here, the reason you’re here, is to figure out what did happen. And that’s something else.”

“But you mean he set me up, Two-a-Day set me up so I’d get my ass killed?” Bobby was still in the St Mary’s Maternity wheelchair, although he no longer felt like he needed it. “And he’s in deep shit with these guys, these heavies from the Sprawl?”

“You got it now.”

“And that’s why he was acting that way, like he doesn’t give a shit, or maybe hates my guts, right? And he’s real scared?”

Beauvoir nodded.

“And,” Bobby said, suddenly seeing what Two-a-Day was really pissed about, and why he was scared, “it’s because I got my ass jumped, down by Big Playground, and those Lobe fucks ripped me for my deck! And their software, it was still in my deck!” He leaned forward, excited at having put it together. “And these guys, it’s like they’ll kill him or some-thing, unless he gets it back for them, right?”

“I can tell you watch a lot of kino,” Beauvoir said, “but that’s about the size of it, definitely.”

“Right,” Bobby said, settling back in the wheelchair and putting his bare feet up on the edge of the table. “Well, Beauvoir, who are these guys? Whatchacallem, hoonguns? Sorcerers, you said? What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, Bobby,” Beauvoir said “I’m one, and the big fella - you can call him Lucas - he’s the other.”

“You’ve probably seen one of these before,” Beauvoir said, as the man he called Lucas put the projection tank down on the table, having methodically cleared a space for it.

“In school,” Bobby said.

“You go to school, man?” Two-a-Day snapped “Why the fuck didn’t you stay there?” He’d been chain-smoking since he came back with Lucas, and seemed in worse shape than he’d been in before.

“Shut up, Two-a-Day,” Beauvoir said. “Little education might do you some good -”

“They used one to teach us our way around in the matrix, how to access stuff from the print library, like that…”

“Well, then,” Lucas said, straightening up and brushing nonexistent dust from his big pink palms, “did you ever use it for that, to access print books?” He’d removed his immaculate black suit coat, his spotless white shirt was traversed by a pair of slender maroon suspenders, and he’d loosened the knot of his plain black tie.

“I don’t read too well,” Bobby said. “I mean, I can, but it’s work. But yeah, I did I looked at some real old books on the matrix and stuff”

“I thought you had,” Lucas said, jacking some kind of small deck into the console that formed the base of the tank. “Count Zero. Count zero interrupt. Old programmer talk.” He passed the deck to Beauvoir, who began to tap commands into it.

Complex geometric forms began to click into place in the tank, aligned with the nearly invisible planes of a three-dimensional grid. Beauvoir was sketching in the cyberspace coordinates for Barrytown, Bobby saw. “We’ll call you this blue pyramid, Bobby. There you are.” A blue pyramid began to pulse softly at the very center of the tank. “Now we’ll show you what Two-a-Day’s cowboys saw, the ones who were watching you. From now on, you’re seeing a recording “ An interrupted line of blue light extruded from the pyramid, following a grid line Bobby watched, seeing himself alone in his mother’s living room, the Ono-Sendai on his lap, the curtains drawn, his fingers moving across the deck

“Icebreaker on its way,” Beauvoir said. The line of blue dots reached the wall of the tank. Beauvoir tapped the deck, and the coordinates changed. A new set of geometrics replaced the first arrangement Bobby recognized the cluster of orange rectangles centered in the grid. “That’s it,” he said.

The blue line progressed from the edge of the tank, headed for the orange base. Faint planes of ghost-orange flickered around the rectangles, shifting and strobing, as the line grew closer.

“You can see something’s wrong right there.” Lucas said. “That’s their ice, and it was already hip to you. Rumbled you before you even got a lock.”

As the line of blue dots touched the shifting orange plane, it was surrounded by a translucent orange tube of slightly greater diameter The tube began to lengthen, traveling back, along the line, until it reached the wall of the tank…

“Meanwhile,” Beauvoir said, “back home in Barrytown…” He tapped the deck again and now Bobby’s blue pyramid was in the center. Bobby watched as the orange tube emerged from the wall of the projection tank, still following the blue line, and smoothly approached the pyramid. “Now at this point, you were due to start doing some serious dying, cowboy.” The tube reached the pyramid; triangular orange planes snapped up, walling it in. Beauvoir froze the projection.

“Now,” Lucas said, “when Two-a-Day’s hired help, who are all in all a pair of tough and experienced console jockeys, when they saw what you are about to see, my man, they decided that their deck was due for that big overhaul in the sky. Being pros, they had a backup deck. When they brought it on line, they saw the same thing. It was at that point that they decided to phone their employer, Mr. Two-a-Day, who, as we can see from this mess, was about to throw himself a party…

“Man,” Two-a-Day said, his voice tight with hysteria, “I told you. I had some clients up here needed entertaining. I paid those boys to watch, they were watching, and they phoned me. I phoned you. What the hell you want, anyway?”

“Our property,” Beauvoir said softly. “Now watch this, real close. This motherfucker is what we call an anomalous phenomenon, no shit…” He tapped the deck again, starting the recording.

Liquid flowers of milky white blossomed from the floor of the tank; Bobby, craning forward, saw that they seemed to consist of thousands of tiny spheres or bubbles, and then they aligned perfectly with the cubical grid and coalesced, forming a top-heavy, asymmetrical structure,’ a thing like a rectilinear mushroom. The surfaces, facets, were white, perfectly blank. The image in the tank was no longer than Bobby’s open hand. but to anyone jacked into a deck it would have been enormous. The thing unfolded a pair of horns; these lengthened, curved, became pincers that arced out to grasp the pyramid. He saw the tips sink smoothly through the flickering orange planes of the enemy ice.

“She said, ‘What are you doing?’ “ he heard himself say. “Then she asked me why they were doing that, doing it to me, killing me…”

“Ah,” Beauvoir said, quietly, “now we are getting somewhere.”

He didn’t know where they were going, but he was glad to be out of that chair. Beauvoir ducked to avoid a slanting gro-light that dangled from twin lengths of curly-cord: Bobby followed, almost slipping in a green-filmed puddle of water Away from Two-a-Day’s couch-clearing, the air seemed thicker. There was a greenhouse smell of damp and growing things.

“So that’s how it was,” Beauvoir said, “Two-a-Day sent some friends round to Covina Concourse Courts, but you were gone. Your deck was gone, too.”

“Well,” Bobby said, “I don’t see it’s exactly his fault, then. I mean, if I hadn’t split for Leon’s - and I was lookin’ for Two-a-Day. even lookin’ to try to get up here - then he’d have found me, right?” Beauvoir paused to admire a leafy stand of flowering hemp, extending a thin brown forefinger to lightly brush the pale, colorless flowers.

“True,” he said, “but this is a business matter. He should have detailed someone to watch your place for the duration of the run, to ensure that neither you nor the software took any unscheduled walks.”

“Well, he sent Rhea ‘n’ Jackie over to Leon’s, because I saw ‘em there.” Bobby reached into the neck of his black pajamas and scratched at the sealed wound that crossed his chest and stomach. Then he remembered the centipede thing Pye had used as a suture, and quickly withdrew his hand. It itched, a straight line of itch, but he didn’t want to touch it.

“No, Jackie and Rhea are ours. Jackie is a mambo, a priestess, the horse of Danbala.” Beauvoir continued on his way, picking out what Bobby presumed was some existing track or path through the jumbled forest of hydroponics, although it seemed to progress in no particular direction. Some of the larger shrubs were rooted in bulbous green plastic trash bags filled with dark humus. Many of these had burst, and pale roots sought fresh nourishment in the shadows between the gro-lights, where time and the gradual fall of leaves conspired to produce a thin compost. Bobby wore a pair of black nylon thongs Jackie had found for him, but there was already damp earth between his toes. “A horse?” he asked Beauvoir, dodging past a prickly-looking thing that suggested an inside out palm tree.

“Danbala rides her, Danbala Wedo, the snake. Other times, she is the horse of Aida Wedo, his wife.”

Bobby decided not to pursue it. He tried to change the subject: “How come Two-a-Day’s got such a motherhuge place? What are all these trees ‘n’ things for?” He knew that Jackie and Rhea had wheeled him through a doorway, in the St. Mary’s chair, but he hadn’t seen a wall since. He also knew that the arcology covered x number of hectares, so that it was possible that Two-a-Day’s place was very large indeed, but it hardly seemed likely that a ‘wareman, even a very sharp one, could afford this much space. Nobody could afford this much space, and why would anybody want to live in a leaky hydroponic forest?

The last derm was wearing off, and his back and chest were beginning to burn and ache.

“Ficus trees, mapou trees… This whole level of the Projects is a lieu saint, holy place.” Beauvoir tapped Bobby on the shoulder and pointed out twisted, bicolored strings dangling from the limbs of a nearby tree. “The trees are consecrated to different ba. That one is for Ougou, Ougou Feray, god of war. There’s a lot of other things grown up here, herbs the leaf-doctors need, and some just for fun. But this isn’t Two-a-Day’s place, this is communal.”

“You mean the whole Project’s into this? All like voodoo and stuff?” It was worse than Marsha’s darkest fantasies.

“No, man,” and Beauvoir laughed. “There’s a mosque up top, and a couple or ten thousand holyroller Baptists scattered around, some Church o’ Sci… All the usual stuff. Still” - he grinned - “we are the ones with the tradition of getting shit done… But how this got started, this level, that goes way back. The people who designed these places, maybe eighty, a hundred years ago, they had the idea they’d make ‘em as self-sufficient as possible. Make ‘em grow food Make ‘em heat themselves, generate power, whatever Now this one, you drill far enough down, is sitting on top of a lot of geothermal water. It’s real hot down there, but not hot enough to run an engine, so it wasn’t gonna give ‘em any power. They made a stab at power, up on the roof, with about a hundred Darrieus rotors, what they call eggbeaters Had them-selves a wind farm, see? Today they get most of their watts off the Fission Authority, like anybody else. But that geothermal water, they pump that up to a heat exchanger. It’s too salty to drink, so in the exchanger it just heats up your standard Jersey tap water, which a lot of people figure isn’t worth drinking anyway…”

Finally, they were approaching a wall of some kind. Bobby looked back. Shallow pools on the muddy concrete floor caught and reflected the limbs of the dwarf trees, the bare pale roots straggling down into makeshift tanks of hydroponic fluid.

“Then they pump that into shrimp tanks, and grow a lot of shrimp. Shrimp grow real fast in warm water. Then they pump it through pipes in the concrete, up here, to keep this place warm. That’s what this level was for, to grow ‘ponic amaranth, lettuce, things like that. Then they pump it out into the catfish tanks, and algae eat the shrimp shit. Catfish eat the algae, and it all goes around again. Or anyway, that was the idea. Chances are they didn’t figure anybody’d go up on the roof and kick those Darrieus rotors over to make room for a mosque, and they didn’t figure a lot of other changes either So we wound up with this space. But you can still get you some damned good shrimp in the Projects… Catfish, too”

They had arrived at the wall. It was made of glass, beaded heavily with condensation. A few centimeters beyond it was another wall, that one made of what looked like rusty sheet steel. Beauvoir fished a key of some kind from a pocket in his sharkskin robe and slid it into an opening in a bare alloy beam dividing two expanses of window. Somewhere nearby, an engine whined into life; the broad steel shutter rotated up and out, moving jerkily, to reveal a view that Bobby had often imagined.

They must be near the top, high up in the Projects, because Big Playground was something he could cover with two hands. The condos of Barrytown looked like some gray-white fungus, spreading to the horizon. It was nearly dark, and he could make out a pink glow, beyond the last range of condo racks.

“That’s the Sprawl, over there, isn’t it? That pink.”

“That’s right, but the closer you get, the less pretty it looks. How’d you like to go there, Bobby? Count Zero ready to make the Sprawl?”

“Oh, yeah,” Bobby said, his palms against the sweating glass, “you got no idea…” The derm had worn off entirely now, and his back and chest hurt like hell.


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