Rubin inserts a skinny probe in the roller-bearing belly of a sluggish push-me-pull-you and peers at the circuitry through magnifying glasses with miniature headlights mounted at the temples. “So? You got hooked.” He shrugs, looks up. It’s dark now and the twin tensor beams stab at my face, chill damp in his steel barn and the lonesome hoot of a foghorn from somewhere across the water. “So?” My turn to shrug. “I just did. . . . There didn’t seem to be anything else to do.” The beams duck back to the silicon heart of his defective toy. “Then you’re okay. It was a true choice. What I mean is, she was set to be what she is. You had about as much to do with where she’s at today as that fast-wipe module did. She’d have found somebody else if she hadn’t found you….”
I made a deal with Barry, the senior editor, got twenty minutes at five on a cold September morning. Lise came in and hit me with that same shot, but this time I was ready, with my baffles and brain maps, and I didn’t have to feel it. It took me two weeks, piecing out the minutes in the editing room, to cut what she’d done down into something I could play for Max Bell, who owns the Pilot. Bell hadn’t been happy, not happy at all, as I ex- plained what I’d done. Maverick editors can be a prob- 1cm, and eventually most editors decide that they’ve found someone who’ll be it, the next monster, and then they start wasting time and money. He’d nodded when I’d finished my pitch, then scratched his nose with the cap of his red feltpen. “Uh-huh. Got it. Hottest thing since fish grew legs, right?” But he’d jacked it, the demo soft I’d put together, and when it clicked out of its slot in his Braun desk unit, he was staring at the wall, his face blank. “Max?” “Huh?” “What do you think?” “Think? I . . . What did you say her name was?” He blinked. “Lisa? Who you say she’s signed with?” “Lise. Nobody, Max. She hasn’t signed with any- body yet.” “Jesus Christ.” He still looked blank.
“You know how I found her?” Rubin asks, wading through ragged cardboard boxes to find the light switch. The boxes are filled with carefully sorted gomi: lithium batteries, tantalum capacitors, RF connectors, bread- boards, barrier strips, ferroresonant transformers, spools of bus bar wire. . . . One box is filled with the severed heads of hundreds of Barbie dolls, another with armored industrial safety gauntlets that look like space- suit gloves. Light floods the room and a sort of Kan- dinski mantis in snipped and painted tin swings its golfball-size head toward the bright bulb. “I was down Granville on a gomi run, back in an alley, and I found her just sitting there. Caught the skeleton and she didn’t look so good, so I asked her if she was okay. Nothin’. Just closed her eyes. Not my lookout, I think. But I hap- pen back by there about four hours later and she hasn’t moved. `Look, honey,’ I tell her, `maybe your hard- ware’s buggered up. I can help you, okay?’ Nothin’. `How long you been back here?’ Nothin’. So I take off.” He crosses to his workbench and strokes the thin metal limbs of the mantis thing with a pale forefinger. Behind the bench, hung on damp-swollen sheets of an- cient pegboard, are pliers, screwcfrivers, tie-wrap guns, a rusted Daisy BB rifle, coax strippers, crimpers, logic probes, heat guns, a pocket oscilloscope, seemingly every tool in human history, with no attempt ever made to order them at all, though I’ve yet to see Rubin’s hand hesitate. “So I went back,” he says. “Gave it an hour. She was out by then, unconscious, so I brought her back here and ran a check on the exoskeleton. Batteries were dead. She’d crawled back there when the juice ran out and settled down to starve to death, I guess.” “When was that?” “About a week before you took her home.” “But what if she’d died? If you hadn’t found her?” “Somebody was going to find her. She couldn’t ask for anything, you know? Just take. Couldn’t stand a favor.”