“Forget the Yakuza,” Jammer said. “This is more compli- cated. You’re going into the L.A grid and locking into a top jock’s desk. When Slide grabbed you, she didn’t know my desk sussed her number.” “She said your deck oughta be in a museum.” “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.” “What’s that?” `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~” “I’d rather try the Yak,” Bobby said. “No,” Jammer said, “this Slide, she’ll be on his ass first. The Yak’ll measure my favor, check the whole thing out first. Besides, I thought you were all hot to learn deck.” “I’ll go with him,” Jackie said, from the door.
They jacked. She died almost immediately, in the first eight seconds. He felt it, rode it out to the edge and almost knew it for what it was. He was screaming, spinning, sucked up through the glacial white funnel that had been waiting for them 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. But somewhere, on the fringe of consciousness, Just as he lost it, there was something . . . Something plucking at his sleeve 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. There were weird curving benches, covered with the same giddy patchwork of broken china, and trees, grass . A park. “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?” “What is this? Where am I?” “Giiell Park. after a fashion. Barcelona, if you like “You killed Jackie.” The man frowned. “I see. I think I see Still, you shouldn’t be here. An accident.” “Accident? You killed Jackie!” “My systems are overextended today,” the man said, his hands in the pockets of a loose tan overcoat. “This is really quite extraordinary . “You can’t do that shit,” Bobby said, his vision swim- ming in tears. “You can’t. You can’t kill somebody who was just there . “Just where?” The man took off his glasses and began to polish them with a spotless white l~andkerchief he took from the pocket of his coat. “Just alive,” Bobby said, taking a.step forward The man put his glasses back on. “This has never hap- pened before.” “You can’t.” Closer now. “This is becoming tedious, Paco!” “Seiior.” Bobby turned at the sound of the child’s voice and saw a little boy in a strange stiff suit, with black leather boots that fastened with buttons. “Remove him.” “Sefior,” 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. “Who are you?” Bobby ignored the gun, but didn’t try to get any closer to the man in the overcoat. The man peered at him. “Virek. Josef Virek. Most people, I gather, are familiar with my face.” “Are you on People of Importance or something?” The man blinked, frowning. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Paco, what is this person doing here?” “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 es- cape. 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. And then the sensation of something plucking at his sleeve. Not his sleeve, exactly, but part of his mind, something “Sefior,” 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.” The sensation was stronger now. A scratching, at the back of his mind . “What?” Virek said. “And return to the tanks? It hardly seems to warrant that “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. Virek had turned to stare at the dying flowers. “What is