William Ford Gibson
32 - Count Zero
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BOBBY FOLLOWED JACKIE and the brown-haired girl out of the office. It felt like he’d been in Jammer’s for a month and he’d never get the taste of the place out of his mouth. The stupid little recessed spots staring down from the black ceiling, the fat ultrasuede seats, the round black tables, the carved wooden screens… Beauvoir was sitting on the bar with the detonator beside him and the South African gun across his gray sharkskin lap.
“Bobby, my advice to you is just take it like it comes. She’s one thing to me, maybe something different to Jackie. To you, she’s just a scared kid. Go easy. Don’t upset her. She’s a long way from home, and we’re still a long way from getting out of here”
He crossed the nightclub carpet to where Jackie sat with the girl. She didn’t look like much, and there was only a small part of him that said she was the one. She didn’t look up, and he could see that she’d been crying.
“Shit she knows,” Jammer said “I know where she lives, don’t I?” He took a hit from his inhaler and put it back on the deck. “Your problem is, she’s written you off. She doesn’t wanna hear from you. You gotta get into her and tell her what she wants to know.”
‘That it was a man named Conroy got her boyfriend offed,” the tall man said, sprawled back in one of Jammer’s office chairs with the huge pistol on his lap. “Conroy Tell her it was Conroy. Conroy hired those bighairs outside.”
The scale of the thing was impossible, too vast, as though the kind of cybernetic megastructure that represented the whole of a multinational had brought its entire weight to bear on Bobby Newmark and a dancer called Jackie. Impossible.
He lay on his face on something rough. Opened his eyes. A walk made of round stones, wet with rain. He scrambled up, reeling, and saw the hazy panorama of a strange city, with the sea beyond it. Spires there, a sort of church, mad ribs and spirals of dressed stone… He turned and saw a huge lizard slithering down an incline, toward him, its jaws wide. He blinked. The lizard’s teeth were green-stained ceramic, a slow drool of water lapping over its blue mosaic china lip. The thing was a fountain, its flanks plastered with thousands of fragments of shattered china. He spun around, crazy with the nearness of her death. Ice, ice, and a part of him knew then exactly how close he’d really come, in his mother’s living room.
“Extraordinary.” someone said. A man, rising from his seat on one of the serpentine benches. He had a neat brush of gray hair, a tanned face, and round, rimless glasses that magnified his blue eyes. “You came straight through, didn’t you?”
“Señor,” the boy said, and bowed stiffly, taking a tiny blue Browning automatic from his dark suit coat. Bobby looked into the dark eyes beneath the glossy forelock and saw a look no child had ever worn. The boy extended the gun, aiming it at Bobby.
“An accidental spillover,” the child said, his voice light and beautiful. “We’ve engaged the bulk of our system via New York, in an attempt to prevent Angela Mitchell’s escape. This one tried to enter the matrix, along with another operator, and encountered our system. We’re still attempting to determine how he breached our defenses. You are in no danger.” The muzzle of the little Browning was absolutely steady.
“Señor,” the child said, “we are experiencing anomalous phenomena in the matrix, possibly as a result of our own current overextension. We strongly suggest that you allow us to sever your links with the construct until we are able to determine the nature of the anomaly.”
“There is the possibility of real danger,” the boy said, and now there was an edge in his voice. He moved the barrel of the Browning slightly. “You,” he said to Bobby, “lie down upon the cobbles and spread your arms and legs.”
But Bobby was looking past him, to a bed of flowers, watching as they withered and died, the grass going gray and powdery as he watched, the air above the bed writhing and twisting. The sense of the thing scratching in his head was stronger still, more urgent.
Bobby closed his eyes and thought of Jackie. There was a sound, and he knew that he was making it. He reached down into himself, the sound still coming, and touched Jammer’s deck. Come! He screamed, inside himself, neither knowing nor caring what it was that he addressed Come now! He felt something give, a barrier of some kind, and the scratching sensation was gone.
When he opened his eyes, there was something in the bed of dead flowers. He blinked. It seemed to be a cross of plain, white-painted wood; someone had fitted the sleeves of an ancient naval tunic over the horizontal arms, a kind of mold-spotted tailcoat with heavy, fringed epaulets of tarnished gold braid, rusting buttons, more braid at the cuffs… A rusted cutlass was propped, hilt up, against the white upright, and beside it was a bottle half filled with clear fluid.
The child spun, the little pistol blurring… And crumpled, folded into himself like a deflating balloon, a balloon sucked away into nothing at all, the Browning clattering to the stone path like a forgotten toy.
And Virek was running, the big coat flapping out behind him, down the curving path with its serpentine benches, and Bobby saw that another of the white crosses waited there, just where the path curved to vanish. Then Virek must have seen it, too; he screamed, and Baron Samedi. Lord of Graveyards, the ba whose kingdom was death, leaned in across Barcelona like a cold dark rain.
“Jammer. He knew. His deck pegged you when you iced me before. He’d just seen something, something huge He couldn’t remember…” Turner sent me. Conroy. He said tell you Conroy did it. You want Conroy…” Hearing his own voice as though it were someone else’s. He’d been somewhere, and returned, and now he was here, in Jaylene Slide’s skeletal neon sketch. On the way back, he’d seen the big thing, the thing that had sucked them up, start to alter and shift, gargantuan blocks of its rotating, merging, taking on new alignments, the entire outline changing ‘Conroy,” she said. The sexy scrawl leaned by the video window, something in its line expressing a kind of exhaustion, even boredom. “I thought so.” The video image whited out, formed again as a shot of some ancient stone building.
Park Avenue. He’s up there with all those Euros, clicking away at some new scam.” She sighed. “Thinks he’s safe, see? Wiped Ramirez like a fly, lied to my face, flew off to New York and his new job, and now he thinks he’s safe -”
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