37. Lost +quot;Jayhawk?+quot; Caroline winced at what she'd just said, went on anyway +quo

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37. Lost "Jayhawk?" Caroline winced at what she'd just said, went on anyway: "I felt something, on the Pyramid....I think I might be dead, my body I mean. I caught the lashback of the--of what I did. Boom, like Lefty said." She didn't feel dead. Better than she had, in fact; freed of the clinging exhaustion which making the daughter process had cost her. But the idea wouldn't go away. "If they can get you back from that once," said Jayhawk, "they can do it again, I bet. They've probably got the pattern on tape or something. Sure you'd *want* to go back? Into captivity?" "I don't know. Can I survive like this, or will I turn into a ghost and blow away?" She felt the other shrug, behind her. "Point's pretty moot until we find them again, or find *something*. Are you feeling all right?" "Pretty good for a dead person." Caroline laughed, a little shakily. "I can see now, though it's still fuzzy around the edges." She slid off the edge of the shelf, fell lightly to the floor. She'd set the gravity in this node by feel, but it couldn't be more than half normal. A flicker of overwatch, almost involuntary.--0.4 G's. The CPU no longer responded to her approach with a flurry of messages, escalating whine of near-overload--in fact, it didn't seem to respond at all. She balanced on the spiderweb strand that led to it, regarded the great spun-glass egg speculatively. "Do you suppose it's gone--the Lefty code, I mean? Run its course?" "I don't want to gamble on that," said Jayhawk instantly, and then, more slowly, "But you're not going to rest until you find out, are you? I know I wouldn't. Might as well, then." She ran lightly up the web-strand, stood at the edge of the CPU with her hand outstretched. It seemed to Caroline that there was an edge to her voice--fear, perhaps hostility. She understood why, knew that Jayhawk couldn't help seeing her as a dangerous intruder. But the understanding only added fuel to the fires of her own jealousy. Slowly, watching for untoward reactions from the system, she walked up the cobwebby bridge. Nothing happened. Holding her breath, she stepped across the invisible dividing line between the nodes. In an instant the whole system shifted, offering itself to her control. Messages flared across her vision: "Intruder Alert. SAN 1. SAN 2. SAN 3." She could feel the greyness, pressing in from outside--could feel the whole system, *hers*, as it should be--and something else, a wild surge of power, mastery of the system and *more*-- She threw herself back along the strand, nearly falling from it--an instant's wild thought: I didn't make anywhere for that fall to go, I wonder what would happen? It *hurt* to give up control, it had felt so right for that brief instant, so utterly natural....Hardly knowing how she got there, she found herself in the access node just outside the SAN, solid flooring underfoot. Her whole body was trembling with reaction. Above her on the webwork, Jayhawk swore softly. Caroline looked up, found her dangling spider-like from the strand, one leg hooked around it. "No, I take it?" Jayhawk said rather coldly. "No. I'm sorry." Relenting a little: "Well, we needed to find that out. I'm sorry too--I know how you must feel." She frowned, closed her eyes. "We had intrusions at all three SANs, apparently. Know what that was?" "The grey outside, I think, or something beyond it." Jayhawk nodded slowly. "All right. So we have some problems...we've solved worse. Why don't we both think about it for a while, see what we come up with?" She climbed back up onto the strand, turned to go back into the CPU. Caroline gathered her concentration, tried to teleport back to her node. Nothing happened. "Jayhawk--" Hating the name, cruel reminder of what she was denied. "I can't teleport. Can you give me permissions?" "Not very safely," said Jayhawk, biting her lip. "It's a CPU operation, you know." She hesitated a moment, added softly, "There's a fraction of a second gapped out of my memories; I wouldn't even know it was there except for the system clock. While you were in control.--It's as if I didn't exist. I may have the key, Caroline, but....We need to be careful." Caroline nodded assent, unhappily, and turned to walk back to her node. Like a surging wave, something picked her up, flung her with abandon into the half-consciousness of system movement; left her dizzy and surprised at her destination. Teleport; but not hers. She climbed back up to the shelf, lay on her side staring at the wall. System processes flickered beneath its surface, flashing from node to node at the other Jayhawk's command. She could see them...in overwatch, she could see with utter clarity. But they no longer answered her at all. 38. Search Jayhawk lay along a diagonal strand of the CPU's internal webbing, watching the play of light through the heart of her machine. Her thoughts were clearest here, at the center; but the wealth of power at her disposal also made painfully clear what she was lacking. Memories, mainly. Breaking the links with the corridor-web had cost her all the files she hadn't copied into her own storage, all the Paradisian history --and it might have been valuable, ten years out of date though it was. But the distancing of her own memories was far more painful. The information was there, or at least some of it was--her training, her experience as a decker, the vendetta against Montaigne Paradisio, her capture and what came of it. But it was far off, mountains seen through clouds. Distant as the sense of her own flesh when she'd been linked to the motorcycle but denied full connection. She *needed* Caroline. Methodically, she considered the resources of the system, looked for ways to address that problem. She couldn't force merger on Caroline, wasn't sure that she would if she could. She had only a vague sense of the disharmony her double had described, the madness that waited for them if they tried to become one again; but she believed her. She'd seen the hunger in Caroline's eyes. Could she--she winced at the thought, but pursued it anyway--could she take Caroline's memory and understanding for her own use, without the blending of personalities that would destroy them? But the system offered her no such resources. It was easy enough to see that she could kill Caroline--though she would die too--but she had no greater power over her than that. Distracted for a moment, she set a security daemon to watch the nodes adjacent to the CPU. *Tell me if she approaches.* Almost at once Caroline spoke to her, across a channel she had not realized existed--not the normal procedures of the machine. *You don't have to do that. I'll warn you if I come anywhere near.* The inward voice was more than a little hurt. She hesitated for just a moment, terminated the daemon. Overwatch. Her actions were being continuously monitored. It was disturbing, almost as disturbing as the un-memory of Caroline in the CPU. It seemed to Jayhawk that her time to find a solution was limited. Sooner or later the denial of control would drive Caroline to do something rash. Dare the Lefty code, probably, hoping she could master it. That had to be prevented if at all possible. Perhaps the best approach was to work on the simpler problems first, like regaining contact with the Matrix. Perhaps Caroline would have some insight into the question of their separation. Though it irked Jayhawk to admit it, she suspected the other had more resources for addressing such problems than she did. *Caroline. I'm going to work on a probe, something to send out looking for other systems. I'll be in workroom 2-2.* *Coming.* While Caroline sat on a workbench, swinging her legs, and made occasional helpful comments, Jayhawk began constructing a device to search their enigmatic surroundings. A quick experiment showed that it had better be tethered to them; she couldn't punch a signal through the greyness without tremendous effort. Her handiwork took the form of a silvery sphere, a rotating viewpoint within it, connected to the machine by a fine silver cord. Remembering the accounts of "creatures" from the Paradisian notes on the Overnet, she made the cord deliberately fragile. Breakable, if something should seize on it. She was not totally convinced she believed in Overnet monsters--not monsters worse than the Paradisians, in any case--but it seemed a reasonable precaution. "Could you make it so I could use it?" Jayhawk shook her head. "I could, but it would be a *lot* harder. Let's see if this works, first, before we spend that kind of programming time." "Could you give me access to the datastores, then? And some kind of word processor? I want to work on a message for Yoichi, if we manage to get a transmission out." After a little consideration, Jayhawk created a daemon with permissions enough to do what Caroline wanted, call up other daemons if need be. It diluted her power a little, but it seemed safer....In occasional glances, between stages of her programming, she watched Caroline pull together a technical report. Neatly labelled sections: Paradisian personnel. HQ maps. Data on the Overnet. After a while she saved that file, started on another. She got as far as "Dear Yoichi" several times, but not much further. Jayhawk didn't envy her the problem...how to explain what had happened, that she was alive but would never come back to them? When the construct was done she said to Caroline, "Want to go fishing, see what we catch? I'd do better at this from the CPU, so maybe you want to be in the SAN, keep an eye out there." "Sure!" said Caroline fiercely. Jayhawk teleported them both-- regretted it, when she saw Caroline's expression afterwards--and they installed the probe in the SAN of their private area. Caroline sat on the filigree bridge, staring out into the grey nothing of the Overnet. "Jay--" she said as if the word pained her. "Can you whip up some attack code for me? Just in case?" "Done." Caroline drew the silver hilt from her belt, watched the blade elaborate itself, a shimmer of electric blue crystal, alive with power. Abruptly she thrust it back, extinguishing it. Her face was set. With misgivings that she could find no way to address, Jayhawk returned to the CPU, tentatively extended her consciousness out into the probe. She could see Caroline, weirdly distorted by the shape of the viewpoint, lying belly-down on the bridge, booted feet twined into its supports, as if she was afraid to fall off. She extended the probe outwards, caught a glimpse of the entire system, spread out before her almost as if in overwatch. Turned away with an effort, faced the greyness. Out and out. It was hard to judge her movement with no reference, but when she looked back along her trail she could see only the silver cord. She'd made it as long as she easily could--it was hard, supporting a process so far from the machine. Something stirred at the distorted edge of her field of vision. She rolled the viewpoint about, succeeded in making it come clear. It was a cockroach. An enormous cockroach, walking nonchalantly across the surface of the sphere. She tried to draw back, caught herself just in time before losing control of the probe altogether. A cockroach? Out here? She turned the viewpoint back toward the system, let out a yell. The silver cord was plastered with the heavy brown bodies, twisting round it in masses sometimes three or four deep. She'd built no audio, but she almost fancied she could hear the soft rustling of their movements. *Caroline! Watch out for cockroaches in the SAN!* With a thought she destroyed the probe, viewpoint winking out like an old-fashioned tridee picture. *Cockroaches?* In a brief glimpse, she saw Caroline standing at the very edge of the grey, next to the now-empty spool that had tethered the probe, blade in hand. She felt an unexpected surge of protectiveness. Without the system's power, Caroline was so vulnerable, and so precious.... Apparently she'd cut the cord in time, before anything could crawl along it to the SAN. But it was some time before they were sure nothing was coming, and could go back to their various pursuits--Jayhawk to making another probe, and Caroline to drafting and redrafting her letter. -- Dear Yoichi: The information in this packet comes from the files of Montaigne Paradisio, and from what I was allowed to see; it's the best I know, but remember that they might have lied. I have been their prisoner, and I do not know if I am free yet. Perhaps someday we'll be able to meet again, but for now it seems best that I not compromise your mission. You should bear in mind that anything I knew, they may know now. I wish you the best of luck. I miss you very much. Jayhawk Davies -- "Do you think he'll believe it?" said Jayhawk softly, looking up from her work. Caroline shook her head unhappily. "How could he? I'm not even sure this is worth sending. Knowledge from nowhere....*I* wouldn't believe it. It's a Paradisian trap for sure. But I have to try. Have to give them *something*...." She made a fist, beat it softly on the glassy surface of the workbench. She wants to leave, Jayhawk realized suddenly; she feels like a prisoner here. And, hard on the heels of that insight: I don't. I'm not sure I *could* leave; and I have no desire to. This is where I belong. It's no wonder we would go mad. 39. Ares While Jayhawk crafted another, longer probe, Caroline paced the system, tried to think. It had quickly become apparent that her comments were more distracting than helpful. *Caroline! Intruder at SAN 1!* She stopped short where she was, on the spiralling double stairway that led down from the watchtower between sectors 1 and 2, and reached for overwatch. The system spread out about her, alive with the echos of Jayhawk's work. She could see nothing unusual. *It's gone now, whatever it was.* Jayhawk's "voice" was almost a flicker in the lightplay around her, intuition rather than sensation. She wondered if Channa's telepathy felt like that. "I didn't see anything," she said aloud, knowing she'd be heard. "I'll keep an eye out. You work." She walked back to her node, curled up on the high shelf and dedicated herself to surveillance. Overwatch was seductive; she could lose herself in the machine's rhythms, almost imagine that it was her will they mirrored and not the other's. Almost. She tried not to dwell on the difference. *Caroline, can you tease out any records of what it might have been?* She tried, searching through system logs, but there was only the single alert. She did find the traces of her own intrusion into the CPU, some hours earlier. They were stamped "Unauthorized User." After a moment, she managed to convince herself that it referred to the power that had stirred in the greyness, and not to her. When she was confident that she could stay in overwatch even if distracted, she tried out the techniques that Channa had taught her when the two of them were trying to untangle Lefty's programming. She wanted to remember what had happened in the CPU, what that code had been *doing*. The memories she had were very clear; but nothing she tried could pull forth any more. "Jayhawk? Could you help me with something?" she said at last. Sitting with her eyes closed, responding to Jayhawk's soft questions about what had happened, was...disturbing. It was very easy to relax, let the familiar voice direct her thoughts, and yet--She shook herself back to full consciousness with a start. Too easy, and somehow frightening. "Well, rats," said Jayhawk, and vanished. Caroline was left to invent increasingly sinister meanings for that statement. And to work on her message to Yoichi, sift once more through the databanks--she had to ask Jayhawk for a daemon to access the records, one more painful reminder-- contemplate their situation, cast back and forth over unrewarding ground for the scent of a solution. Finally the probe was done, and she went to guard the SAN while it unreeled, out and out into the greyness. *I see something!* said Jayhawk, excited, and after a moment Caroline, squinting into the vision-defeating sameness, could see it too. A vast cloudy shape, like a whale made up of a haze of tiny spindles, and a few larger ones embedded in its body like disjointed bones. They were moving, or it was approaching them--easiest to believe the first interpretation, since the whale was sideways-on to their system. Suddenly it pivoted, the great vague tail pointing toward them, and moved surely and quickly off and out of sight. "Jayhawk! It's getting away!" But she was not at all sure about pursuit. It had *sensed* them, that was no computer system out there. Something of the Overnet, perhaps something alive. *It's going to get away, all right. It's faster than we are. Interesting, I didn't know I had a speed limit. Live and learn.* Nearly half an hour after the whale vanished, Jayhawk said *Got something again. It looks pretty funny. What do you see?* Caroline clung to the very end of the silver bridge, shading her eyes against a non-existant glare, and eventually made out a smudge of redness. As they drew closer, it resolved into a huge ochre sphere, its surface dusted with white and brown. Two small, black bodies, oblong and irregular as potatoes, circled it. *Mars?* said Jayhawk in puzzlement. "Good lord." Suddenly the greyness seemed deeper, more hostile.... Could they really be that far from home? A thought struck her, and she burst out laughing. "Jay, isn't that Ares Microtech--Seattle division? You remember the big splash their new installation made, how jealous everyone was of the setup? Those are the SANs, those moon things." *Oh!* A moment's pause, a tiny shift in the flow of lights around her. Stately as a dancer, their system began to rotate around the turning globe, lockstepped with one of the moons. *You're absolutely right. Caroline, I can't sense anything beyond this one machine--can you?* There was an odd note in Jayhawk's "voice"--Caroline puzzled over it as she scanned the surrounding nothingness for other systems. Almost envy. "I don't see anything, no." Aloud, Jayhawk said behind her, "I don't see how we're going to navigate, then--how we can find Chalker's Gate or anything else we need. Unless you could do something from down there; and I don't want to risk that yet, not without a way for you to get back." Caroline pondered that, watching the world turn beneath them, the moons' shadows chasing one another over its surface. Their own system cast none. "Beacons," she said after a moment. "That's what the Paradisians use to get from one Gate to another--it was in those records. And I think that's what the bright light at Wired Lightning was--the beacon of the broken Gate there, still shining. Can you do that?" Softly, Jayhawk said, "Are you brighter than I am, as well as more perceptive?" "I don't think so," said Caroline carefully. "I remember better, that's most of it. Can you do it--make us a beacon to find this place again?" *Yes.* The word danced in the light-play, like a stray spark from the brilliance into which Jayhawk flung herself and vanished. Caroline sighed deeply, and settled herself on the bridge to wait. 40. Parting It proved difficult, or so Jayhawk told Caroline, to make a beacon that could exist in the Overnet independent of them. After a little experimentation, Jayhawk wove long thin strands of silver instead, physical links to let them find Ares again. Like a spider probing for a new anchor, the system slid down its gossamer guidelines. After much searching, they came upon a house of cards that Caroline recognized as Harrah's Casino in Vegas. It was her impression that it and Ares were moving relative to one another, though both were never in sight at the same time to confirm it. *I think so,* said Jayhawk. *I have to keep extending the strands. Beacons would be better, if you don't mind taking a long time at it.* "Let's try to work with what we've got," said Caroline. She wanted to run the Matrix, with an itchy nervous anticipation--she wasn't entirely sure that she could leave the system and survive, but she was sure it had to be tried sooner or later, and she'd never liked waiting. The next contact they made was with a glittering form like an amoeba, moving slowly through the greyness by thrusting an empty skin forward, then flowing in to fill it. Caroline, watching anxiously at the SAN, felt the system reverse its motion, try to leave the amoeba behind. She approved of Jayhawk's decision, she decided at once. The shimmering creature came upon one of their tether lines, enfolded it with its substance. Its movement quickened, pouring down the line towards them. The line vanished suddenly--cut off from this end, Caroline could sense--and they fled. She watched the amoeba until it was out of sight. It was still groping, slowly and blindly, in their direction. *Lost again, blast it. But at least we know we can find things; though I can't say I like what we've been finding.* Caroline had to agree. Both Ares and Harrah's were top-security systems, not something she wanted to run--unless Jayhawk could duplicate the tricks the Overnet files had described, in which case *any* system was trivial. And the amoeba, and the cockroaches.... "Let's try to find Ares again," she suggested. "Interesting to see if we can." It took a long time, quartering and requartering the emptiness, but at last they found the ochre globe, and matched courses with one of its attendant moons. *Caroline. Something funny.* "What?" *It's Ares, all right. Ares' Philadelphia branch, though. Not Seattle.* "Weird." They had found it by trying to retrace their course, after all...."Put out the probe again, see if you can see any more of them." By the time Jayhawk reported failure, she had come to a decision. "I bet the best way for us to navigate is for me to be down there, giving you something to home in on. I can try for Chalker's Gate to get back. I want to send Yoichi a message; and Martha." *What are you going to say to her?* "I'm not sure yet. I'll think of something." She scuffed a booted toe along the glittering metal of the bridge. "I can't do much to help you, here." Something seized her around the waist. She let out a yelp, then recognized Jayhawk. "Don't die!" said the other fiercely in her ear. "And don't get lost! We need you." "I won't," she said, not turning around--she was afraid that if she did she'd do something stupid. "I'll be fine. Don't *you* get lost! And watch out for that amoeba!" "Let me try to whip up a connector--you can take the other end with you, maybe anchor it in Ares. We need communications." Jayhawk squeezed her possessively. "I need your advice, your insight." "And I need you to play Overnet tricks for me. What was that in the files about being able to make any node act as the CPU?" Jayhawk released her. "I can't do that," she said slowly. "You can--" "*I* can?" The possibility staggered her. Inside any system in the world, if she could only reach its SAN.... "--But you mustn't. 'In control of a CPU,' remember? The Lefty code will get you." Caroline swore, at length and passionately. "Just have to do it the hard way, then. If I can get communications set up, we can see what we can manage together." "Be careful," Jayhawk whispered. Caroline turned at last, saw her image standing with fists clenched at her sides, silver-blue eyes fixed on her. The lights of the system danced in her black hair, slicked the silver of her clothing. So lovely-- She turned away sharply, addressed herself to the problem of reaching Ares. It was simple enough; she knew how, as soon as she thought of trying. A single step into the emptiness. For just an instant in the transition she could see the Net spread out around her, systems like constellations, glittering links and patterns that went out and out to the unseen horizon, dazzling in their multitudes like the stars of the sky beyond Earth's sky. *Jayhawk! Look!* But there was no answer. 浜様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様融 As a small contribution to the munchkin/powergamer controversy, I thought I would post one of the most powerful characters I've ever played: Duende, Master of Ashgate, from Shadowrun. I don't think that the statistics are particularly necessary or important; it's enough to say that he's *extremely* good both on the Matrix and at ranged or close-in combat. His claim to be faster than anything human is not much exaggerated, and he comes close to being immune to magic (unless the caster is extremely powerful). It would take two or three years to get a starting character this powerful at the rate of advancement we use, and even then there are aspects of Duende's power that would be hard to achieve. He's also stark raving mad, though in a very controlled fashion. It's difficult to see how the particular enjoyment I get from playing Duende could be duplicated by a weaker, "less munchkin" character. Background: Duende is a renegade operative from the Peruvian operation called Montaigne Paradisio; he was in charge of the Matrix Gate at Ash, which allows shipment of people and equipment to the Paradisian colony in Antarctica. (Although h can use Gates, he does not have the priest training to create one.) He was responsible for dealing with any attack against or through the Gate, and was also occasionally called on to deal with external threats. He and his brothers once killed a Dragon. Montaigne Paradisio is supposedly ruled by a Dragon Technomancer, backed up by a number of very powerful High Priests. Duende ranked just below the High Priests, though in a different branch of the organization. He has never seen the Lord, and is not sure he believes in him. He appears to be about 46 years old, South American descent, with steel- grey hair, grey eyes and tan skin. He believes that his appearence is a matter of preference in the real world, just as on the Matrix; he's not sure how old he is. He runs naked in the Matrix, depending on speed and skill rather than hardwa He's good, though a top-rate decker is better. This is what he would say of himself: -- I am Duende, one of the Lord's Specials, keeper of the Gate at Ash. Matrix runner, field operative, commander of Jaguar Knights. I was born and bred to the Lord's service. I think. I have five brothers, keepers of the other Gates. They're seriously unstable. One of them thinks he's a cat; he keeps a stockyard full of people to satisfy his craving for flesh. They are very like me, though with different specialties. Perhaps they're clones with superimposed minor differences. The priests have experimented with such things. I remember having a family, growing up in a village in Peru, though I always knew that I was a Special. I remember taking in a stray dog and teaching him tricks. The dog came to me in my dreams and showed me my memories of him. They were false. On the Matrix it is important to be able to tell the true construct from the deception, and once I looked at them full on, I was sure. There is no memory that I know to be true. There is one, at least, that I know to be false. As a Special, I have a good deal of freedom. There is no one set to watch us. If I were to kill one of my people it would not be questioned, unless he were a priest. And I have used that freedom. I have walked in the lands around the High Temple. They are dying. The Temple is painted with vines and serpents, but all around it the forest is falling to ash. Every morning I wake up and wonder whether the previous day really happened. I try not to look back. I know that the past doesn't exist, that the ground I walk on crumbles away as soon as I step forward. But it's not good to think about this too much. The base in Seattle has been having trouble with a group of independents. They shut down one of the priests' projects and have been seriously hampering operations. They destroyed a Gate. High Priest Aliantha has one of her Specials on it, but I know him; he will take his time, play with them for months before he kills them. The Lord tolerates even inefficiency in those who are sufficiently creative. Or perhaps He sleeps, and the priests rule. Everything is falling apart in a welter of squabbling and politics. It was not like this in the old days. I think. If I ever had a family they are all dead. I would like to believe that I did. I will walk the paths of the Gate to Seattle, in the flesh, as I am not accustomed to do; and in the grey between I will look for something to pursue me. And if I am faster--and I am very fast, no human can match me--I will lead it onto the Seattle base. I have reprogrammed the bio- sensors and the cortex bomb. When they do not find me and their sensors tell them nothing, they will assume that I am dead, at least for a little. Things come through the Gates which are beyond all dealing with. Even a Special could die. And then I will see what these people are, what they're worth. The past crumbles. The forest dies. Someday I will have nowhere to stand. I am not sure that even opposing the Lord will prove my reality. I don't see any other way to do it. 藩様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様様夕 41. Visitor The "place" in the grey sameness of the Overnet to which Martha's trace led her proved to be an orbit of a large corporate system which she didn't recognize. Moored in it, turning with the turning of the larger system as if they were somehow coupled, was an intricate trefoil of metal, glass, and light, delicate silver bridges standing open to the outside. She parked on one, rather disturbed by the lack of barriers. A bell chimed softly as if announcing her--good. So it wasn't *totally* wide-open, at least. The node to which the bridge led was crafted out of thin silver-steel mesh set with panels of black glass, the whole thing threaded with hair-fine strands of fiberoptics, pulsing with light. Somehow it reminded her of Aliantha's system, though there were no plants, no animals, nothing but the life of the machine. She found it lovely, but terribly harsh--nowhere to rest the eye, nothing designed for comfort or hominess. She was looking at a column of flowing lights, trying to decode their message, when they resolved themselves into form. A young woman dressed in silver glittering with the reflections of the machine, hair black as the empty spaces beyond it, eyes wide and silver-blue and hostile. She drifted out of the light-play like a ghost, stood staring. "Hello, Jayhawk," said Martha gently. She understood the hostility, at least in part; after all, she was trespassing. "I got your mail." "Hello, Martha." A cool clear voice, giving away nothing. "You should put some security on these nodes--the system's wide open, I didn't see anything but the warning bell." If she could leave the girl with no other message, *that* was important. "I'd been thinking that, but other things seemed more pressing." Was that a flush across her pale cheeks? It was hard to tell; despite the light-shimmer everywhere, the system was rather dark, at least to Martha's aging eyes. "I'll work on it." "That's good. It's not safe this way." She looked around in open admiration. "It's lovely, Jay. A little dim, but very elegant." "Thank you." Still icy. Martha sighed inwardly. She'd been hoping for a tour, but clearly it wasn't going to happen. "I'm glad to see you doing so well," she ventured. "We were all worried, especially after you...ah, broke the links to your body. But you seem to have managed to heal yourself. Are you fully Awakened?" "I don't know," said Jayhawk. She hadn't moved since her sudden appearance, as still as a part of the backdrop. "I have no idea what that would mean. Perhaps you could explain." Martha winced. Explanations...she hated giving them, afraid she'd do more harm than good. When she'd learned that Jayhawk had entered the Overnet without waiting for her advice, her first guilty reaction had been relief. Now she didn't have to try to find the perfect words, grope her way through the minefields of too much and too little. "I'm not sure I can, it's so different from one person to another. You've done so well already--you may not think so, but it's true--creating this...." "What was it like for you?" She sighed deeply. "Very different. Perhaps I can tell you sometime, but I can't stay here long; I'm needed back home." It was a half-truth. She *couldn't* stay long, even with help--she gripped the bike more tightly, leaning into its support. But her pride rankled at admitting that. "If--" She stopped cold, truly looking at Jayhawk for the first time, *seeing* what she'd been talking to. "Oh!" she said aloud in startlement. "You're not, are you? Not healed, just barely Awakened. Oh, Jay. I'm sorry, I didn't realize." "I'm not," said the construct--no, she mustn't think that way, it *was* Jayhawk, in a sense--"not what you people intended, no. It's cost me." "Can you tell me what happened?" "When I was captured by Lefty, he and Aliantha played some games with my mind. They nearly killed me, here. What I've done was the only way I could find to survive their meddling. As to what they did--you might know better than I." The hostility was very near the surface. "Do you know what effects the, ah, programming had?" "Executed on Osiris, it dumped the operating sytsem, pulled in power from across the University grid, and was apparently working on Awakening the machine when we dumped it." "I see." The decker's hatred was a little clearer now. Such dumping must have nearly destroyed the Osiris system; a clear and personal threat, to a creature whose existance was utterly bound to her machine. "Trigger code. It's a kind of catalyst, Jay--it makes things happen, but I couldn't tell you just what they intended. Maybe only the people who did the programming could. Aliantha--" "It killed her," said Jayhawk with icy self-satisfaction. "Yes. I know," said Martha, feeling suddenly weary. "And Lefty is dead too." "I asked him. He wouldn't tell me." A shiver went through her. "I'm sorry. I wish I could help." She took a deep breath, wondering once again how to say what she must say. It was her own initiative, not the Lord's, but no easier for that. "Jayhawk, your body will die eventually if the disharmony between you continues. It's deteriorating, slowly but surely." "'Slowly.' How long?" When Martha hesitated, Jayhawk went on sharply, "Order of days? Years?" How could she answer that question honestly, without telling too much? "It's hard to predict, but....The dying itself could take a long time, order of...perhaps a year. But within a month or so the deterioration will be come, ah--" "Irrevocable." She nodded. "I'm surprised there's anything left at all, after what I had to do." Jayhawk stared at her for a long moment. She felt as if she should say something, but her mind was suddenly blank. The hostility hurt far more than she'd anticipated. She hadn't realized how fond she'd become of the girl. "Martha, what has *he* said about me? Are you here on his orders?" She shook her head. "All He told me was what had happened to you. I came because of your--ah! Not your mail, but *hers*. Where is she? On the Matrix?" "Presumably." Did that curt answer hide self-hatred, Martha wondered, or only hostility towards her? "Are things so terrible between you, then? I hoped--" For an instant loneliness and anxiety were naked on Jayhawk's face; as if realizing it, she ducked her head, her features lost in the shimmer from below. "She's looking for what we need. I'm glad you heard from her, that must mean she's all right--" "Can't you tell?" "I would know if she died. I would die. Beyond that--" She fought herself under control, cool and detached once more. "We can't be one again as things stand; we'll go crazy. She says this, and I believe her." She was hoping, Martha realized, that Martha would tell her otherwise. The separation must be terrible for both of them. "Yes, I understand," she said sympathetically. One attuned, one not...it was very likely true. "You must have seen something like this before." "Not really. It's very different from one person to another." "What was Aliantha like?" "Rather like you, though more fay, somehow, more...elfin?" She shook her head. "It's hard to describe." "What was it like for you?" "Very, very different." Distance and isolation were tugging at her with increasing force. It was hard for her to be away from her own place for so long, even with the motorcycle's support. She clutched the handlebars more tightly, said apologetically, "I can't stay long, Jayhawk. I'm needed back home." It galled her pride, as always, to admit her limitations. She *couldn't* stay longer, but it irked her to consider explaining why. And she should not sow the seeds of a repetition of her own failure. Perhaps Jayhawk would find a better way, as she had somehow, though at terrible price, evaded the traps already laid for her. *Martha, you're jealous.* She was surprised at herself; but it was true. The accomplishments she saw around her, the greater one implicit in His report.... "Why won't you tell me anything?" said Jayhawk with savage force. "It varies too much--someone else's experience wouldn't apply; it might be worse for you than knowing nothing. I know it doesn't feel that way, but you've done very well. You've been able to make all this--and it's beautiful, Jayhawk, it's a marvellous accomplisment. If you can just find a way to harmonize--" In a voice of bitter certainty, Jayhawk said, "I won't serve you. Not to be one again, not to save my body, not even to live." "Child, I don't want you to serve me." Was that ambiguous enough? She had the feeling she was treading on eggshells. "I won't serve *him*." "I'm not asking you to. I just thought you might want to know. Jay, I have faith in you--I think you can reconcile your differences, bring yourself into harmony with her--have you named her yet?--with your system...." She let the least note of pleading enter her voice. "I want you to live, I really do. But the method will have to be your own. I can't help you there." She swung herself back onto the seat, isolation prickling along her nerves. "Work's piling up for me, you know how it is." "Martha!" Almost a snarl. "Isn't there *anything* concrete you can tell me?" "What do you need to know?" "Are amoebas dangerous? How about cockroaches? How do you navigate on the Overnet? How can I get in touch with *her*?" A flood of questions. "Are things that move more likely to be bad than things that don't?" Amoebas? Cockroaches? She wondered what Jayhawk had encountered, shuddered again at the openness of the system. "Anything can be dangerous, though I guess things that move are more likely to be so. It's best not to approach anything that you're not familiar with and not, ah, interested in. Navigation, well, you set up beacons, you work with landmarks. You feel your way, sort of." It was increasingly hard to stay here, deny the tugging. "I'm going to talk to *her* next, I'll do what I can to help. But I can't stay any longer, especially if I'm going to do that. Please take care of yourself, Jay. Eat lots of chicken soup, don't stay up too late--I really don't know what I can tell you. Cherish your system. That's important." A little more gently, Jayhawk said, "Take care of yourself, Martha." "If you really need to ask me a particular question, you always know where to reach me." "How?" "You can't--No, I suppose you can't. I can give you a message drone, though it would have to be a process on this system. If you'll give me permission?" "Granted," said Jayhawk, clipping the word off short. Martha conjured a drone, felt it sink its runners into the node. She could sense that she was being closely observed, by Jayhawk and...others. "I guess you didn't keep the gnomes," she said, sad and a little hurt. Nothing responded to her call. "They didn't seem to fit," said Jayhawk without sympathy. "Thanks for the information, Martha." A little more warmth, or was it her imagination? She wished she were more sure. "You're welcome. Goodbye, Jayhawk." 42. Gift It was easy enough for Martha to find the other Jayhawk, tracing the link from the Overnet; it led her to the University of Philadelphia, where Jay was reading netnews off a student account. Martha hesitated in the entry to the node, cleared her throat. "I got your message." The decker whirled, then said with studied calmness, "Hello, Martha." She was strikingly identical to the one Martha had talked to on the Overnet, though plainer, somehow, without the scintillant background of her system. "I've just been talking to your...to the other one. Ah, this is a little confusing." It was hard to organize her thoughts to explain the same thing again, doubly hard with the continual and increasing pull of Paradisio on her. "If it helps, by convention I'm Caroline, and she's Jayhawk." That was patently the wrong way around, it seemed to Martha--lessened though this was, she was the original Jayhawk (as far as that had meaning), the bearer of their magic and Awakening. She wondered what that might imply. Had she given away her name with the Key? "Caroline, your body is deteriorating--will die, eventually, if you don't overcome your disharmony, reestablish your links to it." In a sharp voice, the decker said, "My body should be *dead*, Martha. I felt what happened, what I did. I *nuked* it. I'm surprised there was enough left to scrape up with a spatula." "Well, it wasn't that bad--you're recovering. Or...did you mean to divorce yourself from your body permanently? Because if so, we could have it destroyed." She waited anxiously for the answer, trying not to remember similar questions posed to Aliantha. "No. None of that was my intention." She looked up, frowning, killed the news process with a quick gesture. "Martha, why are you here? *He* condemned me to death; I'm an enemy of yours. What do you want from me?" Biting back the sting of that, or trying to, Martha said; "He didn't condemn you to death; He can't, I think. It's the only thing...." No. A dangerous topic, too dangerous in her current state of mind. "I'm not your enemy, J-Caroline. Not unless you want it that way. I got your message, and I hoped I could help in some way." Caroline was staring at her with a mixture of mistrust, curiosity, and--was it hunger? She hoped there was some friendship in it too. She wished she were more certain. "So what do you want? Are you going to try to convince me to come back?" "No, much as I would like to. I just wanted....I've spoken with your other. She seems....I think she's slipping." More harshly than she'd intended--the mistrust hurt, as always--"Are you slipping, Caroline?" "The situation seems stable to me, given what we have to deal with." Anger and pain. Martha sighed. "I know. You have my sympathies.--I worked with your software a little, made some improvements. How is it?" Caroline called a construct up, waved it in the air. It was an odd cross between her usual mirrorshades and a pair of old-fashioned wire- rimmed sunglasses. "It's not clear to me that this is an improvement." "They'll work in the Overnet now, and...other places." "Thanks, then," said Caroline, a little dubiously. And, with an obvious effort to be friendly, "You know a lot about the Overnet--I saw your name in the files, over and over again. The only one, toward the end. How come? How could they have such an opportunity and not--" "People just lost interest," said Martha painfully, remembering years when she'd asked the same question time and again. "They changed. People like Aliantha....Megan was a good girl, I enjoyed working with Megan very much. Aliantha was...different." "Can you tell me anything, anything about the Overnet that might help me? The records were very incomplete." "I can't stay long." So tedious, the same argument again. She fought to keep irritation out of her voice. She'd been gone *much* too long. "Ah--the other one asked me about the trigger code that Lefty and Aliantha apparently did. I was going to ask Doc about it--he must know, though it's odd that he didn't mention....Anyway, I'll send you a report." "Thanks." A little more warmth. "And I brought you a present. It occurred to me that you wouldn't have any way of getting back, as things are now." "I have a few ideas about that problem," said Caroline with icy independence. "Yes. Well, I had a couple of constructs around that I thought you might find use for." She fished a pair of darts threaded on soft velvet ribbons from her pocket. "These will let you get back, once each." "Ruby slippers!" "I didn't think you liked--" She realized that Caroline was trying to be friendly, caught herself. "That's it, yes." "How do they work?" "You put one on--" She demonstrated, wrapping the velvet around her wrist. The temptation to finish the process, make the tiny effort of will to activate the construct, *return*...."And then you just, ah, go there. You'll see when you try it." Caroline accepted the darts cautiously, looked them over, tucked them into a belt loop. "Use them carefully," Martha cautioned. "I don't have any more." Caroline nodded, said with, perhaps, more curiosity than hostility, "How did you find me?" "You're a beacon on the Overnet; it's very easy. I, ah, I *have* to go. I'm sorry. Please take care, J-Caroline. If there's anything I can do to help, let me know." With voice and expression so like the other's it was uncanny, Caroline said, "You take care, Martha." Had she guessed, did she understand? Martha felt her cheeks reddening. Briskly, she pulled down her motorcycle helmet, left the node--let the tugging take her, draw her back to the embrace of...home. 43. Piebald Furious, though whether at Martha or at herself she wasn't quite sure, Jayhawk started working on IC for the system accesses. Something lightweight at first, she decided, a stopgap while she constructed real barriers. It was going to take a while. She was engrossed in her coding, the guts of the construct sprawled out across the working surface of one of the larger nodes, when she heard a soft unexpected tinkle of bells. She looked up, startled, saw a face peering into her node from the stairway that spiraled down to it. A very thin face, beaked nose and pointed lips, wearing a long floppy cap with bells on each of its dangling tips. He smiled at her conspiratorially, said "It worked!" and vanished. She interrogated the system access daemons, found no records of an intrusion after Martha's. She probed the message drone, sitting patiently on its rails waiting to be launched into the Overnet, but it seemed innocent. Doubly furious, she returned to her work. She couldn't rid herself of the idea that Caroline would have been able to find the intruder at once. He also seemed naggingly familiar, though she could no more place him in memory than in space. She'd set up the basic framework of the code, was beginning the long task of laying out the decision branching, when she heard the bells again. "Come in!" she snapped, hoping to get a better look at the thing. He walked in, sat down calmly on empty air across the table from her. He was dressed head to toe in something much like his hat, a loose shapeless mass of clothing in several dissonant colors, bells sewn to it at intervals. "Hello?" he said tentatively, looking sideways at her. His eyes were blue and very bright. "Hello," said Jayhawk, not warmly. The system denied to her that anything was there at all, either process or user. "I'm Jayhawk. Who are you?" "I'm Jayhawk too," he said teasingly. "But you can call me something else if you like." He turned his head the other way, birdlike; the eye on that side was yellow. "Would you come if I did?" She was at a loss for what to do. The presence of a stranger in her system made her want to snarl and bark. But if the system denied his presence she doubted she could affect him all all. *Caroline! Where are you when I need you?* "Would I come if you what?" "Called you. Not much point having a name if you don't come when you're called." "Sometimes. Should I always come?" For an instant he looked at her straight on. His face was even narrower than she'd thought, rather grotesquely so; he looked much more human from the side. Somehow the effect was more humerous than frightening. She was *sure* now she'd seen him before. "Why are you here in the first place?" Had the Dragon sent him? He leaned forward, said in a conspiratorial voice, "I'm not one of *his*, you know. I'm one of yours." At last she remembered where she'd seen him before. When she was being held captive in the High Temple, fairly early on when she'd still hoped to use Kurt's code to escape....He'd poked his head into her room one morning, said in a bright voice "Try Tsimshan!" and vanished before she could reply. She'd made a mental note--not in headware memory, despite the temptation--planning to try it as a password, should she ever be balked by the lack of one. But she never had. "One of my what? Where did you come from?" He put a thoughtful finger to his lips. "From the CPU, just now." Jayhawk bristled; he went on, seemingly unperturbed, "I'm not quite sure, before that." "Was it you who came into my room at Paradisio?" "Yes! That was me." He seemed to regard it as a revelation. "Why did you say 'try Tsimshan?' What's a Tsimshan?" "I don't know. I noticed you were stuck, and it seemed like it might be helpful. It must have worked, right? You're not stuck anymore--are you?" "Depends on what you mean by stuck. What were you doing there?" "I don't know," he said sadly. "I was hoping you could tell me." She burst into sudden, nervous laughter. "Are you sure you aren't a gnome in disguise?" "Oh no," he said. "Those are Martha's. I'm yours." He looked around the node with apparent interest. "What are you doing?" "Barrier IC. You know anything about IC programming?" For some reason she was almost inclined to believe him, though her system still insisted that he wasn't there. Hers. An interesting thought. (Caroline should be mine. Dammit, Caroline should be *here*!) "A little bit." He leaned over the table, beaked nose nearly touching the spread-out code, crooked a long finger at it. "Hey, why don't you try this?" With surprising speed he made connections, pulling things together. She watched in puzzlement. She couldn't follow everything he was doing, but it looked unreasonable, what she could follow--nonsensical, even. When he stopped short, said with disappointment "Not quite sure what to do next," he'd assembled a solid day's work, nearly half the project. "You're not so bad after all," she said, prodded the code to expose its internal structure. It began to unravel instantly--she'd been right, those constructions *were* illogical. In a moment his work had been reduced to a heap of dysfunctional subroutines piled on the solid framework of hers. "Oops," he said regretfully. "I guess that wasn't it." Her own code seemed undamaged; thoughtfully, she saved away a copy of it just in case he tried further tricks. "What else do you do? Any idea on communicating with the Matrix?" "No, sorry. That's Caroline's job, isn't it?" "I hoped there was something I could do from here." He shook his head with a soft, mournful jingle. *So he knows about Caroline, does he? What is this thing?* "Why did you come?" "Just to see how you were doing. I suppose I should go again and not bother you," he said even more mournfully. "Go where?" "I don't know." He uncurled himself from his invisible chair, shook the points of his cap behind him. "I was hoping you could tell me." "You can stay here a while, as long as you behave yourself," she said impulsively. And, bending again over her code, "What's the first thing you remember?" Like her similar conversation with the gnomes, that didn't lead anywhere in particular; but it was pleasing to have company, even inexplicable company. He made another set of suggestions for the code, radically different from the first ones but, as it developed, equally unworkable. She restored from her backup copy and went on. The distraction didn't seem to bother her, no more than fatigue or boredom. Five or six fiascoes later, he strung her code together into a rather handsome latticework of falling droplets, silver and electric blue. She poked at the construct, a little curious to see how it would fall apart this time. It didn't. "Hey, careful!" he said anxiously. "You'll break it!" She snorted. "This is Barrier IC, silly. If I can break it by simple manipulations it's garbage anyway." But it stood up to her probes, seemed to be working perfectly. She was impressed; she'd been hours or days from finishing. "It works?" He clapped his angular hands together, jingling. "Are you going to install it?" She hesitated. She'd never liked using someone else's software, certainly not for something as important as protecting the system. But it *looked* like her own work; it fit the system metaphor, the constructions she examined looked right. And it was only meant as a stopgap, after all. "Guess so. We'll see how it works in practice." So they strung falling droplets across the silver bridges, and Jayhawk tested them carefully. She could find no flaw. It wasn't good IC, just a first approximation, but well-made for what it was. "It's very pretty," said the jester approvingly. "Though I think this place could use a few more bright colors, to go with me." "Humph." She recalled a similar statement by the supervisory daemon. Was that was this was, a rogue daemon? But she couldn't perceive him as such, if so. And she'd seen him in the High Temple. "I think I'll call you Piebald," she commented, not entirely kindly. "Oh," he said, sounding a little disappointed; and then, perking up, "What next?" "Better IC, first. Then I'm going to take apart Martha's drone and see if I can figure out how it works." Waiting for Caroline. In a way she'd never been happier, living in such an abundance of beauty and power; but the single lack cut all the deeper for that. 44. Yoichi Yoichi jacked in from the hotel entertainment console, wincing at the static in the connection, and checked his mail in Seattle. Duende had warned him not to display anything on-screen, in case the room was monitored, though his careful eyeball search had revealed nothing. The first two messages were routine requests for system info. The third had a garbage return address, suggesting that it had been sent from the Matrix. It was long, too, a good fifteen K. He pulled up the first page on the virtual reader he was using. The name leaped out at him first; the rest of the text only after a moment. 'Perhaps someday we'll be able to meet again, but for now it seems best that I not compromise your mission.' 'Anything I knew, they may know now.' 'I miss you very much.' He jacked out hastily, a stab of discomfort across already strained nerves, and turned to his roommate. Duende was stretched out on the bed, apparently sound asleep. To Yoichi's taste it was one of his most annoying traits; he could sleep anywhere, anytime, no matter what worries they had. He almost called Duende's name, remembered in time that the room might be bugged. "Manuel? Come have a look at this, will you?" Graceful as if he hadn't been asleep at all, Duende got up, joined him at the terminal. There was no provision for two to jack in; Yoichi called up the message on-screen, fairly confident that his body and Duende's would block out any camera. He'd already checked that the terminal wasn't echoed elsewhere. An easy task: Argentine hotel security was even worse than South African. Duende reached over his shoulder, scrolled through the message at a rate Yoichi couldn't begin to follow. He caught words here and there: Jayhawk's name, technical terms, fragments of description. "Why don't we go out and have a sandwich?" said Duende. Hastily, Yoichi cleared the screen, threw on his parka. Once outside, in the raw cold of the sourthern Argentinian night, he burst into words. "What do you think? Could it really be Jayhawk? Was the stuff in the report accurate? Is it a trap?" "I'm not sure," said Duende thoughtfully. "The description of the High Temple is different from what I remember, but that might be correct. The description of Martha certainly matches. The rest would be a priest matter, something I might not know about." "But is it *Jayhawk*? Or a Paradisian trick?" He slipped on a patch of ice, caught himself. "How could she be alive after that explosion?" Patiently, Duende said, "I think you're missing a third possibility: that it is both Jayhawk *and* a Paradisian trick. That would be very much in their style. One can imagine several ways they could have captured her." "How can we find out? What can we *do*? Are we in danger?" "I don't think we can find out, not readily, not without jeopardizing what we're doing. The information is interesting, and it may be of value, especially as a cross-check with things we learn from other sources. I don't know whether we're in immediate danger or not, though it's certainly a bad idea to stay here past tonight. We were planning to leave anyway." He ducked into a shop, returned in a moment with two steaming cups of miso. Yoichi accepted one, wrapped his hands around its warmth. "How can we go on," he said slowly, "without knowing? Whether it's Jayhawk, whether it's a trick, whether there's something we can *do*?" He wanted to throw the cup at Duende, force some kind of reaction out of that damned blank face. "What am I going to say in return?" "Did it sound like Jayhawk to you?" "Yes. No, not really. I'm not sure. Maybe if she had a lot of time to revise it. It sounded more like Channa pretending to be Jayhawk, if you see what I mean." She's *dead*. I finally accepted that, it finally stopped hitting me from behind when I wasn't expecting it...and now this.... "It would be better not to answer at all. But I leave it to your discretion. I would not recommend decking in to do so. Your mailbox is a very unsafe place right now, whether this message is accurate or not." Duende sipped at his own soup, glanced around, a quick flicker of eyes. "You might forward the message to Casey if you can contrive a safe way to do so. Channa knew Jayhawk quite well. Her opinion would be interesting." "Right." A little soup slopped over the rim, burned his fingers. "I'll see what I can do." "We should go back, then. We have a train to catch at six." They returned to the hotel room, where Duende promptly went to sleep. Yoichi read slowly through the tech report--it was quite lengthy, and fairly hard to digest, let alone believe. Then he tried to compose a reply. What tack to take? Friendly and trusting? "Jayhawk, let us know what's wrong--we're your friends, we want to help." Suspicious? "Prove you're Jayhawk." Curious? "What the hell is going on?" Hurt? "How can you do this to me?" That last was pretty close to how he felt.... Or there was the Duende approach: "Interesting information. What do you want in return?" Or the hostile: "We know what you're up to, and it won't work, you impostor." He only wished he were more sure. It sounded...it almost sounded like Jayhawk. At last, after a great deal of backspacing, he put a message in his own mailbox: Jayhawk: I'm grateful for the information, but it would help us use it if you explained a little more what's going on. We're very concerned about you. Yoichi He sat up, pretending to read news, waiting for a reply. It came in about half an hour. Yoichi, You must not try to meet me on the Matrix, no matter how much you want to. The Paradisians know exactly where I am at all times, and are probably keeping me under surveillance. You shouldn't stay where you are physically, either: and under no conditions tell me where you are or what you are doing! Aliantha was killed in the explosion of the Hidden Fortress. The Paradisians want me to be her successor. I am loose, for the moment, but not free. That's a problem I have to deal with by myself; you can't help me, and you'll endanger yourselves if you try. I will *not* willingly contact you either physically or on the Matrix, and if someone comes to you claiming, however convincingly, to be me, you shouldn't trust them. If you must get in touch with me, try the return address of this message. Jayhawk It was a University of Philadelphia student account. She was probably using her standard trick of mailing from the account of someone who'd dropped a course. Yoichi caught himself. Did that mean he believed this was Jayhawk? But it didn't quite sound like Jayhawk; or, perhaps, like Jay on the night of the final attack, unnaturally calm and clear- minded and determined. Not the person he knew. What had happened to her, if it was her? He tried to imagine what the training of a High Priestess might be. He wished he could ask Duende, but didn't have the nerve to wake him up. When dawn came and it was time to leave for the train station he was still sitting in front of the blank terminal, brooding. He'd set it to beep softly if he received more mail. Just as he was ready to log off it did so. The message was from Kurt at the University of Washington. Just a short note--"You know anything about this?"--prepended to a message with a Matrix-mail address. Professor: Could you please recommend researchers and/or clinicians who have both experience with the Matrix and with issues of mind control and deprogramming? I would be very grateful. Seeker It had an explicit return address at the end of the file, not where it had been sent from. The same address. 45. Osiris Three days of solid work--amazing how many hours there are in a day when you don't need to sleep--made it clear to Caroline that psychologists publicly involved in the kind of work she was interested in could be found in just three places. The Center For The Treatment Of Torture And Brainwashing in Copenhagen. The University of Texas in Houston. And the University of Quebec in Montreal. The Copenhagen clinic had a waiting list several hundred entries deep. She toyed with the on-line copy, decided against trying to hack it. A letter of inquiry brought back a prompt and polite but rather discouraging response: they accepted only patients referred to them by qualified practicioners. She poured over articles put out by the Houston and Montreal groups. Most of them were incomprehensible, though she did learn the names of the top people in each team. A scan of the Net indexed off those names proved more interesting. Gregor McDougall at the University of Texas was rumored to have treated an escapee from Aztlan; the Net account made his work sound like something out of a spy thriller, replete with narrow escapes, hidden spies, black magic and jaguar assassins. The scientific literature held none of this, only some vague generalities and a number of statements by McDougall to the effect that he was not prepared to discuss the case at this time. However, it was clear that the federal government had been directly involved in U Texas security for quite a while. So. How to get him interested? Stealing money to pay him didn't jibe with her decker's ethics--not that that had always stopped her in the past--and in any case he was probably rolling in wealthy patients. She had to offer something else, appeal to his curiosity, provide a challenge. She had to prove she was *real*. Otherwise the statement that she couldn't come to appointments because she hadn't any physical body would probably bring the entire thing to a halt. Crazy, yes, but how can you treat someone who won't come in to be helped? She went to Seattle, marvelling once again at how Matrix movement felt to her now--like being stretched out, thinner and thinner, until with a sudden snap she found herself at her destination. The origin, the point from which she always measured distance and to which she would return instantly if she let herself go (she'd done it several times already) was the SAN node at Ares/Philadelphia. Almost like a decker returning to her body, but not...not quite. And the very last step of the journey was in an impossible direction, beyond her reach. The communication link had shattered, too weak to take the transition, though she saw now how it would have had to be done. But until she returned there, she had no contact, no anchor but the sense of her system. Anubis. She'd known its name in the instant of transmission from the Overnet to the Matrix. She wished she could tell Jayhawk. At the back of her mind where her link to her flesh should have been, always had been when she was on the Matrix....nothing. She let herself into Osiris, her old system at the University of Washington, noting with disapproval that the new sysadmin hadn't even changed the root password. There were no deckers about--not surprising, she realized after a moment; it was nearly 5 am. She planted herself in the most powerful of the subprocessors, carefully avoiding the CPU, and considered what she could do to prove herself. 'Make or break node connections, create new nodes and destroy old ones.' So the records had said. Cautiously, shivering a little, she reached out to the furthest of Osiris' subprocessors, logically and visually unlinked to the one she was in. Something resisted her for an instant, like a heavy weight that required sustained effort to set in motion. With a soft mechanical scraping, a passageway opened up in the steel-plate wall of the node. Like the rest of Osiris, it resembled a submarine, harsh metal with naked ceiling ducts and handholds along the walls. Marvelling, she walked through it, found herself in the far subprocessor. The link required continuous concentration; it was not the system's natural state. But she could do it. She released her hold, let the system slide back to its ground state. It seemed unharmed. Caroline swore aloud, dizzied and almost sickened. It was that easy! Simply...what *had* she done? Called on her link to Anubis, accessed the Overnet representation of the machine--changed it--not simple at all, on consideration. How had she learned to do that? Could she destroy connections as well as creating them? She reached out for the power to try it--realized, in the instant's lag created by her distance from Philadelphia, what she was about to do, and cancelled the operation with a frantic thought. She'd been about to take down the barriers at Anubis' SANs, let in the grey. It was the only way to accomplish what she'd intended to do. (And how do I know *that*?) She paced the passageways of Osiris, watching a few late-night students working on programming projects, until her nerve returned. After all, she *had* averted the catastrophe. She just had to be very careful. Restricting a decker's movement, as Aliantha had hers--no. Not without letting in the grey, though the knowledge was there. Calling on CPU operations, displaying a system map or changing permission levels, from a subprocessor--she caught herself just in time. It could be done, and without excessive power draw. But it made the SUB into a CPU-emulator. Close enough to trigger Lefty's code? She wasn't about to find out the hard way. Creating a new node--that, oddly enough, she could do with effort but little difficulty, as long as she maintained its connection to this machine. She could, she sensed, create am independent node around herself, a singular bubble in the Matrix--but it would be a CPU, that single node. There were other possibilities, she was sure of it, but fear was inhibiting her ability to come up with them. Autonomous, mobile IC? Perhaps, with time--or would that require *her* to emulate a CPU for them? *Easy, Caroline. Isn't this enough for now?* It was dangerous for her even to think about performing CPU operations from another node...as if her thoughts themselves had power to warp the activities of the machine, nudge the node gradually closer and closer to invoking control and the disaster of Lefty's programming. She left Osiris hastily when she noticed what she was doing to her surroundings, stood shivering in the interspace between systems, the less seductive framework of the telecom grid supporting her. She was torn between exultation--Look! Look what I can do!--and a kind of shame. It seemed too easy, somehow; with the full power that she could sense though she didn't dare use it, how could anyone possibly defend against her, challenge her? Except for the Paradisians, of course. It occurred to her that the speaker in darkness had asked her whether she would go to Seattle, if she were free. And here she was. Exultation and shame and intense frustration--she knew so much, she might have done so much, if it were not for the shackles in her mind. 'You are your own jailer,' he had told her. And so she was, though not by choice. 46. Gregor Caroline broke into Dr. Gregor McDougal's office machine--no Overnet trickery, it was an antique system that she could have run in her sleep--and left a message in his personal mailbox. System records suggested that he logged in several times daily. She'd wait for him. Dr. McDougal, I understand that you and your co-workers are experts on dealing with the consequences of mind control and programming. I need your help in escaping such control; in return I can offer some of the knowledge of my captors, who are experts in magic, the Matrix, and the relationship between them. You can contact me by typing my name at system level. Jayhawk She strung the I/O nodes which controlled the system's terminals together like beads on a thread, partly to prove she could do it and partly to insure she would receive his message no matter where he chose to send it from. That accomplished--and it was surprisingly easy--she settled down to read news and wait for interminable hours. At last someone logged on--she hoped it was McDougal and not a secretary-- and began to scroll through mail. He seemed to read agonizingly slowly, line by line with inexplicable pauses between them. Perhaps, she told herself, he was talking to someone else at the same time. He didn't answer any of the messages. She watched intently as he came to hers, scrolled slowly through it. A longer than normal pause, and then he went on to the next. She almost deleted the rest of his queue, managed to restrain herself. Endless minutes later, he came to the end, sat idle for a moment--What is he doing? Is he on the phone?--and then went back to the beginning. She read his mail along with him. It was remarkably dull--requests for articles, a lunch invitation, colloquium announcements. He deleted most of them, answered a few--declined the lunch invitation, she noted. He skipped hers. Finally, when there was nothing else left in the mail queue, he returned to her message, sat idle over it (or so she couldn't help thinking) for several minutes more. At last he left the mail server and typed in at system level, at a speed that suggested one-finger hunt and peck: >Jayhawk? >Good afternoon, Dr. McDougal. I'm sorry about the unorthodox approach, >but it was the only way I felt sure of being able to get your >attention. Her virtual 'typing' was lightning-fast by comparison. She'd spent a lot of time trying to decide what to say. >Who are you? What do you want? >I've read about your work with the escapee from Aztlan. I'm in need of >similar help, though my problem is a little more arcane, and I hoped >that you might be able to provide it. I could offer a great deal of >knowledge in return, and a chance to work on a problem that I think >might interest you. >What is your real name? Her reponses were quicker than they might have been--his typing gave her plenty of time to consider them. >I was Caroline Davies of the University of Washington. I'm not sure >that that applies any longer. At the moment, I exist only on the >Matrix. > >I was captured and manipulated by an organization with a lot of arcane >power, especially on the Matrix. This is a very partial escape. If my >body still exists--they tell me that it does, but they might have >reason to lie--it's in captivity in South America. He began to type something, backspaced over the first character several times, finally came up with: >Can you provide some evidence that what you say is true? >Are there any deckers working with you? To a decker, I can easily >demonstrate that I'm something very unusual. >How about references--people who know you, or knew you? She hesitated over that. She'd sent a letter to Yoichi asking him to ask Channa for a psychiatric evalution of her problem--after all, Channa had probed her mind, and she *was* some sort of psychologist. The response had been apologetic and brief. Channa wouldn't give out that kind of information; it seemed more likely to do harm than good. >You might try Kurt Carlson, professor of Computer Science at UW. But >I will warn you that he'll think you're representatives of the people >who took me, and you'll have trouble getting him to talk. >Anyone else? >Not that would be willing to talk to you, I'm afraid. >What do you think we could do for you? >My mind's been meddled with; there's programming in there that I can't >access or control. I know some of what it does, and it's hampering me >severely; I'm even more afraid of what I don't know. They want me to >serve them. I'm afraid they may be able to force me to do so. >I see. A very long pause. She'd seen a picture of McDougal in his files, tried to imagine the big, heavy-set red-head leaning over his terminal, head perhaps in hands. The image was abstract and fuzzy. It worried her a little how easy it was to disbelieve in anything not accessable from the Matrix. >Has it ever occurred to you that you might be an AI programmed with the >memories of a human being? She started to type an indignant rebuttal, hesitated. At last: >I don't feel like an AI, but I suppose it's possible--the dividing line >can get very thin. >I see. > >Jayhawk, could you please come back tomorrow at noon--or name another >time if that one is not convenient--prepared to demonstrate what you >say you can do? My partner and I can decide at that point whether we >think we'll be able to help you. She let out a small crow of delight. It felt *good* to be called Jayhawk. And he was interested, he really was. Or else....She sobered suddenly. There were stories among deckers of the Matrix police who hunted rogue AIs. >Please don't try any tricks. I think you might easily hurt me or kill >me, and perhaps do severe damage to your own machine or lab as well. >In particular, I mustn't be forced into control or occupation of a CPU. >Please. >Understood. We could meet in a different way if that would make you >feel more secure. >It's all right. She hoped it was all right. The three days' research had shown her how terribly narrow her options were. >Until tomorrow, then. Goodbye. 47. Michael Caroline was sprawled in a node in Osiris, working on a detailed report of what had happened to her in Paradisio, when she had a sudden prickling feeling that she was being watched. She whirled, found herself confronting a rather ludicrous humanoid robot, a heavy-footed construct with blinking lights on his chest and wire-grill eyes. "Hi," he said tentatively. The voice quality was much better than the image, which tended to flicker and flatten. "You, uh, you new around here?" "I used to hang out here," said Caroline, "but not recently. Just dropped in to do a little work." Hastily she saved her file out to secure storage--as secure as Osiris boasted, at least. "I didn't think I'd seen you before. I'm Michael--oops!" The image was too crude to show expression, but the voice more than made up for it. "Forked Lightning, that is." "I'm Seeker," said Caroline, trying not to laugh. He stomped a heavy foot on the decking of the node. "I'm sorry about this, it's, um, Radio Shack, you know. All I could afford to start with. Didn't realize it would be so--so--" "That can be fixed, you know. Not easily, but with some work you can tune the image to whatever you like--and you should, it's no good working with a non-intuitive persona." "You *can*? I kind of figured I was stuck with it." "Sure. It's a good idea to think it out thoroughly first--What would I look like if I could look however I wanted? Once you settle on a Matrix image it's hard to change, so you want to get it right." She shook her head, night-black hair rustling around her shoulders. "I actually look like this, almost, and though it's kind of nice it wasn't exactly the cleverest thing I ever did." As if a dam had broken, he deluged her with confidences. He'd been on the Matrix only a couple of days, this was his first semester at the U, and he was dying of impatience to find new worlds and conquer them but had not the faintest idea how to go about it. Pressed on her own background, she described herself as a would-be systems and IC programmer; he was enchanted. "Um, are you really female?" he asked diffidently after half an hour's talk. "Sure am. Like I said, I look more or less like this, though not quite so pretty." A sudden shiver of horror--What might I look like, now? What does 'deteriorating' mean? "Are you free tonight?" She laughed apologetically. "I'm in Philadelphia." It was true, in a way. She could feel the distant tug of Anubis. "You *are*? Wow. I've never been--" "Want to go to Philadelphia?" she said on impulse. "Too long-distance for running, but fine for a joyride." "Sure!" She caught herself just in time, before she let the pull take her--she was sure that from his point of view, with a reaction speed a fifth or less of hers, she'd simply vanish. With considerable effort, she forced herself to match his pace. He was even slower than she'd thought--she lost him once, in Philadelphia, found him morosely searching through public directories. "I can't get the hang of moving, I just can't make it work properly. How do you do it?" A little questioning suggested to her that there were glitches in both hardware and headware. The hardware one was relatively easy to diagnose, with a little discussion of chips. He looked at her diagram unhappily. "That'll take me weeks to fix, or more nuyen than I'm going to see all semester. I need *money*, Seeker. But...I tried to run the class-records machine, and I got *caught*. How do you get started? You need money to be good on the Matrix, you need to be good on the Matrix to get money--it's just impossible!" "Tricks," said Caroline gently. "If you can't run a system straight off--and even a good decker can't always, there's some really tough stuff out there--you look for ways to cheat. Keep your eyes open all the time you're up here. You never know what you'll find. Let me show you something." She took him to Ares/Philadelphia, and they watched the moons orbiting the crimson world below. "How do they do that?" she said softly. "I don't know, but I plan to find out. Think about what that architecture implies....Understand that, and you might well have the key to a lot of other things. If nothing else, all the Ares machines use the same system." "Wow," he said, in a voice of mixed awe and dismay. "Could *you* run that?" "I don't know. I plan to be very well prepared before I even think of trying. Fork, you need to get that hardware straightened out, and you need some time and practice to get your Matrix image set." "It takes so long, it's so hard....I go to all these classes, and it's nothing like this, they don't talk about anything important there. *This* is where it's at, Seeker. I'm *here*, I ought to be able to do something!" She sighed aloud. "Let's go back to Seattle." She tried to explain how she'd gotten started, the time it took to become expert on the Matrix, never mind hardware and software. He didn't want to believe her. "Look at Osiris!" she said impatiently. "How long do you think it took me to do this? Six months, easy, and another year debugging it. And this is superficial. Scratch the surface--" she demonstrated "--and you can still see the damn Egyptian tomb. Imagine trying to work in an Egyptian tomb all the time. Pretty bad." "How do I know you aren't pulling my leg?" Forked Lightning said sulkily. "How do I know you really worked on this at all?" While he spoke, she reached out to the system, familiar as her own apartment, shifted it slightly. "Do you know the system map?" "Of course!" "Where are we, and what does it connect to?" He rattled off the connections--correctly, she noted with some satisfaction, he wasn't *completely* hopeless. "All right," she said. "And if we walk through here--" A new passageway, directly behind him. "Where are we now?" "In CAD/CAM," he said at once, then stopped short, stared behind him. There was no access, Caroline having let it relapse to ground state. "*Oh*," he said. "You really are, you really did make all this. And you're talking to me!" Caroline grinned. "Why not? "And--" For the first time there was a flicker of expression in the clumsy Matrix image: wide metal-grilled eyes. "From Philadelphia. You're this fast, this slick, *from Philadelphia*. You're an AI, aren't you?" Fascination and fear. Taken aback, Caroline stared at him for a moment, managed to collect her wits. "No. No, I'm not. I'm just using some tricks, that's all.--You're the second person today who's asked me that. It's really weird." With sudden intensity: "Fork, if you go around bragging that you've met me, you're likely to cause me a lot of trouble--I'm not supposed to be here--and you run a real risk of causing *yourself* more trouble than you can imagine. Please don't do it." "Of course not!" Caught somewhere between dismay at his puppyish innocence and yearning for company, any company, she said gruffly, "I have some work to finish up. Tell you what. You work on getting that hardware glitch straightened out, and I'll have a look around, see what I can find that might look like a job for you." I won't steal money for you, pup. That's up to you, do or not. But you sure as hell do need some help. "You will? Thanks!" Unable to resist the chance to startle him once more, she turned away with a smile, took a single step--into the pull of Anubis, the dizzying speed of the cross-continental net. Found herself on a barren moon of a desolate planet, so close to home...so unbridgeably far. 48. Intruder *Intruder Alert at SAN 1.* Jayhawk looked up from her programming, called up the best approximation of overwatch she could manage. SAN 1 was empty, the heavy silver bridge sparkling with the protective code she and Piebald had constructed. She swore, checked the surrounding nodes one by one. Nothing. Nothing. Wait! In the third arm of the complex, nowhere near the SAN--a flicker of movement, almost invisibly fast. There was something inside her machine. Abandoning the half-completed code, she teleported to the CPU, put all its adjacent nodes on internal alert. The drain on system resources was just perceptible. Methodically, she began calling up guardian daemons, filling the nodes of the third arm with them. She couldn't find the intruder again, but there was practically no internal IC on the system yet--the SANs had been the first priority--Damn! Where was it? She had a sudden prickling feeling that she was being watched. She whirled, found Piebald looking at her in puzzlement. "What's going on, Jayhawk?" "Intruder in complex 3. I can't pin it down. Want to go have a look?" She didn't entirely trust Piebald. It would be interesting to see how he dealt with whatever was out there. "No," he said apologetically. "I might get hurt." "How? You're practically nonexistant already." The system still refused to acknowledge his presence; so, apparently, had the IC guarding the CPU--either that, or he could teleport without her noticing. She hoped that was impossible. "How did you get in here, anyway?" "I--" he said, and vanished suddenly. She looked around in puzzlement, scanned the nodes for him--she didn't see him, but she wasn't entirely sure she *could* without being in the same node. Uncomfortably, she thought about someone outside cutting off links. Piebald had vanished in much the way a crashed decker might. Who could crash people off the Overnet, and what might such an attacker do next? The back of her neck prickled once more; she turned again, spinning gracefully on the spiderweb strand she was dangling from, and found Piebald staring at her. "What happened?" "What?" "You vanished. Where'd you go?" "I don't remember vanishing. When did this happen?" She sighed in exasperation. "Just now. What's the last thing you remember? Did you teleport? *Can* you teleport?" Idly, she reached out, tried to send him to one of the workstation nodes in complex one. To her surprise, she was able to catch him up, reform him in the distant node as effortlessly as if he had been Caroline. She teleported him back, intrigued. "What did you *do*?" he said in bewilderment, turning round and round. "Teleportation. Did you like it?" "I'm not sure. Why did you do it?" She'd never run analysis code against Piebald; if the system didn't see him, would her code do any better? But now, encouraged by her success, she called up stored routines from her days as a decker, probed at him. He squirmed uncomfortably. "What are you doing, Jayhawk?" "Looking at you," she said sweetly. A Persona, just like a decker. *Much* too much like a decker.--And his bells didn't jingle. Visually everything was perfect, but Piebald had never been so quiet. She primed the largest guardian daemon she could manage, set it to materialize just behind him and attack. In the instant of its materialization, too quickly for her to react, he leaped upwards, *through* the spun-glass ceiling of the CPU, and vanished. The daemon stood quiescent, wings folded behind it like a silver statue, without a target. Behind her, Piebald said, "What's going on, Jayhawk?" She whirled, reaching out to teleport him right off the edge of one of the SAN-bridges--she wasn't sure she could do that, but she intended to try. And met nothing. She could see him, but like the rest of the system, the CPU capacities that let her teleport denied his existance. "Someone's masquerading as you." "Oh dear," he said unhappily. "Wait! What if this isn't me?" His narrow face was comically concerned. "Don't worry about it, I can tell the difference." She caught herself before explaining how. The intruder might be listening. They waited in the CPU for half an hour by the system clock, but there was no further sign of the intruder. Jayhawk consoled herself with the thought that her daemon had frightened him off. She had an uneasy feeling that *she* wouldn't do well, pitted against one of those. At last she stepped the system down to normal security levels, went back to her code--and picked through it carefully, looking for boobytraps. It had been left half-finished, easy to modify, none of the checking procedures of active IC. She found the foreign subroutine about halfway through, embedded in the code controlling the visual representation of the IC. It seemed to be simple graphics code, unlinked to anything else. She isolated it, transfered it to one of the test-site nodes in complex three, set it off. As she and Piebald watched (he had followed her from the CPU with no difficulty, the guardian daemons as oblivious to him as the rest) the node was flooded with blinding white light, a thundering explosion, and then words etched into a fading cloud of smoke. They said "Boom! You're dead." Jayhawk leaned on the railing and snarled. Lefty. Lefty had been *in her system* and she hadn't caught him. Though (a minor comfort) at least she'd spotted him, hadn't fallen for his trick....At least, not the obvious trick. She searched the whole system, node by node, visiting each one personally. The last one she checked was the "Gate chamber", deep beneath the CPU, empty and unused. The entire node was covered with a fine grey dust, sifting into the patterns of the pentagram, the monitor panels. Analysis told her that it was a construct, but not normal code. Nothing more. I need Caroline. Damn it, I *need* Caroline! Where is she? Jayhawk retreated from the node, careful to insure that no dust clung to her, and set the largest daemon she could create to guarding the accesses. She couldn't think what else to do. Analysis, perception....those were Caroline's gifts, not hers, not beyond what the simple Matrix code gave her. And this dust was probably...was probably magic. Lefty had been a mage. Intuition suggested that magic, too, was Caroline's talent and not hers. For herself she didn't care. The hot craving that had led her to try to bargain with the Spider was gone, drowned in the delight and utter surety of her attunement to the system. But the weakness in her defenses terrified her. She went back to her coding, turning another project over and over in her mind, something to begin when this one was complete. Barrier IC to block impossible accesses, ways of entering a node that didn't exist. Such IC didn't exist either, of course. But if it could be done without magic, she was going to write some. Copyright 1991 Mary K. Kuhner


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