Jayhawk and Piebald were engaged in cleaning up the results of their
latest attempt at defending the system from 'impossible' intruders;
it had shattered all over the node they tested it in, filling every
system process in reach with bits of meaningless code. "Not one of your
more inspired ideas," said Jayhawk, trying to reconstruct a monitor
"I'm afraid not," said Piebald with a mournful jingle. "Next time--"
*System alert: Intruder at Gate chamber*
Jayhawk let out a yell and flung herself into the CPU, reaching out to
see what was happening. The Gate chamber was empty. She put the node
between it and the CPU into full alert, awakening its daemon, and
scrabbled for vision.
A huge yellow-white sphere, swirling clouds obscuring its interior, was
pressing itself against the IC she and Piebald had installed. The
security daemon was flinging itself at the intruder, at it and *through*
it harmlessly, as if it were no more than an illusion. But the intruder
bounced back off the IC, obviously balked. For an instant it had looked
almost insubstantial, as if it were trying to dissolve into the
Jayhawk bit her lip, fed more power into the IC. The sphere tried once
more to break through, then backed off, seemed to consider for an instant.
Vaguely within the clouds she could make out a small, curled shape.
With startling speed, the sphere retreated into the Gate chamber.
Jayhawk felt a wrenching at her control, a shift in the system's
operations--*It's forcing the node into CPU emulation!* She struggled
to block it, found herself opposed by raw force greater than her own,
without her fine control but--*It's teleporting!* She snatched up the
lightblade from her belt.
The sphere appeared in the CPU, barely fitting between the silver-black
webstrands. Before she could react it wrenched at her again, trying to
pull part of the system from her control. She leaped toward it, bounced
off a suddenly-appearing wall--not Barrier, but something that looked
like a continuation of the CPU's outer wall, partitioning it into two
independent nodes. Arrays of indicators went dead around her, half the
CPU and all of sector 1 blocked off from her access.
With a scream of fury, she drove her blade into the wall, expecting that
nothing would happen--the system was proof against such attacks, if this
were really a main node boundary. To her surprise it shattered,
fragments of black glass and broken cable showering down around her.
The glowing sphere was resting against one of the main control panels,
fine lines of yellow light probing into it. Jayhawk struck at it,
trying to disrupt its actions. Her blade skittered across its surface,
not quite digging in--not ordinary decker code, something she hadn't
seen before, but not Aliantha's invulnerability, or if so she had new
resources against it, if she could only reach them--
Caught off guard, she realized its intentions only too late, when it
seized her, threw her cross-system in the dizzying fragmentation of
teleport. She found herself in SAN 2, blade still in hand, a daemon
She destroyed the daemon with an angry flick of her will, tried to
teleport back. Blocked. It was not in control of the system; but
from the CPU it did have power to interfere with her access. The one
weakness, as she'd always known.
She ran, instead, node to node. At the security node which controlled
access to the CPU another daemon challenged her and was instantly
dismissed. But the IC was not so easy to deal with. She'd left no back
doors in it, no simple way for her to pass through; it hadn't seemed
necessary, when she had both teleport and the complete control which
could cancel the IC at will. She tried that, now, found herself blocked.
It was good IC, this creation of hers and Piebald's (where is he,
anyway?)--it was not going to allow itself to be dispelled without a
Precious seconds wasted while she tore apart the code--easier than
trying to pass through it, she'd crafted it too well. She could feel
the intruder doing *something*, something that drew heavily on the
system's resources. A brief flicker, as it reached for power--No! She
fought it back, choking its access--not to the system itself, she was in
no position to do that, but to the vaguely-sensed roots of its power.
Those were hers. The system slowed painfully, laboring under the
demands. With a sudden snap, the intruder relented, shifted its
[Reading through case studies of mind-control victims, Caroline felt a
sudden, frightening vertigo; for a moment she thought she might faint.
*Something's happening at Anubis!* She abandoned the project, went
racing out into the datastream, heading for Ares and her link with her
The intruder made another attempt to assert control; Jayhawk felt it as
a cold insinuation into the back of her mind, between herself and the
part of her that was the system. Snarling, she burst into the CPU,
shaking off an attempt to teleport her away--she knew that trick now, it
wouldn't work again.
[A second bout of dizziness, so that for an instant Caroline hung in the
telecom grid, too disoriented to move. She shook herself out of it with
panicky haste, let herself fall into the SAN node at Ares. The gift
Martha had given her, the little metal dart that would supposedly let
her return to Anubis, was in a pouch at her belt. She hadn't wanted to
use it, afraid of Martha's motives, but something was clearly very wrong
at Anubis--she had no choice. She strapped the dart to her wrist,
readied herself to activate it.]
At such close quarters, the swirling clouds within the sphere didn't
quite conceal the creature at its center; a tiny, wizened caricature of
a human, like a distorted fetus. It did not react visibly to her
attempts to crack its shell. Its eyes, narrow slits in the inhuman
face, were tightly closed.
She hacked into its links with the system, rained sparks off the shell
itself--the creature was vulnerable, she could sense that, and if she
could just find a weakness--
An instant of terrible shock, disorientation, as golden tendrils probed
into the black and silver of the system, into *her*, asserted control.
And, hard on the heels of the probe, a wash of information, sensation,
pouring down her link with Caroline--a link suddenly expanded to a wide
datastream. She could feel what Caroline was experiencing, taste the
flavor of her thoughts--
And the lies that the sphere was imposing on Caroline echoed in the back
of her mind, though there was no lie, no delusion that could deny her
oneness with the system.
She struck out at the sphere, again and again, trying to cut the
luminous strands of gold reaching out into the CPU, imposing the
intruder's will on it. At last she realized that she might as well be
attacking the system itself; the intruder was drawing strength from it,
anchoring itself in the matchless power of her machine. *I didn't even
know that was possible.*
Caroline tied the dart to her wrist, readied herself to activate it--
A soft chime sounded, and a sourceless female voice said: "Angela
The Ares node blurred, flickered away into the featureless white
interior of an egg-shaped shell. Now the top of the egg was peeling
away, a woman's face peering in. "Are you all right?"
Angela tried to move, found herself constrained by the induction rig.
"Easy!" said the woman. "Let me give you a hand." She peeled off the
forehead contacts (taking a few stray strands of hair with them),
released the safety belt. "You might be a bit disoriented for a few
minutes, that's normal." Strong arms helped Angela lever herself out of
the egg. "Let me get you a cup of water, and you can sit down for a
minute until you adjust."
Angela sank down on the padded bench, rested her head on the back, eyes
closed. God, that was so vivid! The long-run stims really were worth the
extra money for isometrics and lifesupport--she'd never felt *anything*
so vivid--"Hey! It doesn't end there, does it?"
The attendant checked a panel, said apologetically, "I'm afraid so. It
says 'watch out for part IV coming next month.'" And, with false
cheeriness, "You'd reached your credit limit anyway, so perhaps it's
just as well."
Angela's cheeks burned. Her *father's* cred limit, more like. He
didn't approve of stim, the old fogie. Well, by next month she'd have
saved up enough for the next installment, whether he liked it or not;
even if it meant taking an evening job on top of her classes.
Aloud, but without resonance--as if it were speaking directly within her
ears--a voice said to her, "Jayhawk, get a grip on yourself! You're
letting them catch you in their illusions. Please, help me break you out
of it." Her own voice.
She shrank back against the bench, fighting the impulse to put her hands
over her ears. If the nurse saw her freaking out like this, she'd be
blacklisted so fast....and then she'd never get to see the end of the
story. And Papa would be horrified. No. No. With an effort she
composed herself. Just a little carryover from the stim; she'd never
done a four-day run before, and everyone said it was a little
disorienting at first.
She took a deep breath, nodded sweetly to the nurse, and made her way
out into the wavering sunlight of Seattle in April. She'd planned to
spend the afternoon picking out textbooks for next quarter--still a good
plan. She could do it at home. Her dinner date with Mark wasn't till
Back in her apartment, she called up lists on her terminal. Principles
of Business had a remarkably long list of recommended books, most of
which looked as though they would choke a digitizer, let alone a human
reader. Wincing, she picked out three of the shorter ones, charged the
copy fees to her credstick--no limit there, oh no! Papa *approved* of
books. The list for Introductory Matrix Programming, the class she was
really looking forward to, was much shorter. She scrolled through
titles, trying to decide.
I've read all these books already. She shook her head, trying to clear
her mind of the odd idea. It wasn't true--she'd read a few pop-sci
books on the Matrix, but that was it. Stray background from the Jayhawk
stim, that's what it was. Jayhawk had been set up as some kind of great
genius on the Matrix, though probably it was all hokum, like the science
in any other stim.
Only...it had felt so *real*, so utterly convincing. Could that really
be what running the Matrix was like?
She had no idea. Not even a datajack link, Papa didn't approve--when
you graduate, he'd said, then we'll talk about it. She didn't plan to
wait for his say-so. Once she graduated, she'd bloody well pay for the
Jayhawk had embezzled her college fund money to pay for cyberware,
worked her way through college by herself. For a moment Angela
contemplated that, then pushed it aside. She just wasn't that gutsy,
and besides she'd probably get caught instantly, and how would she
explain to Papa?
But she *could* get an evening job, tutoring or something like that. To
pay for the next installment of the stim, if no more--Angela, you're
turning into a junkie, she reproved herself. She picked out three
textbooks, including a playful-sounding one relating the Matrix to game
theory, downloaded her collection to a reader screen and went off to lie
down. Rest, that's what she needed. She really couldn't face Mark like
She couldn't concentrate on browsing the textbooks--the business texts
were even more boring than expected, and the Matrix texts simply fed her
daydreams. She leafed through technical material idly, trying to prove
the stim wrong in some of its less fantastic details--the Overnet stuff
was obviously hokum, but what about the actual Matrix runs? Rather to
her surprise, she didn't find anything demonstrably false. They must
have had a good science editor on that one, or a real Matrix runner.
So lovely....she'd never seen anything as beautiful as Anubis. She
remembered ads for the stim series: "Weaave your own life into the
story." They'd gotten her number, all right. Left her longing for
something that had never existed, pining for the Matrix as if she were a
real addict, like Jayhawk....She remembered the inward voice, and wild
conspiracy theories flashed through her mind--subliminally addictive
stims, sinister mental programming. She snorted. Right out of this
week's worst vids. Georgie's was a perfectly respectable establishment
(for a stim parlor, anyway), not the scene of vast dark plots. She was
letting Jayhawk's paranoia get to her.
A trickle of pain threaded its way down between her eyes, bringing with
it a flickering at the edge of vision, like a fluorescent light set on
the wrong frequency. She rubbed at her eyes, wincing. Were the room
lights on the blink again? This was such a cheap place, she really
ought to look for a new apartment.
She turned the light off, pulled the curtains open--winced even more
painfully. The *sunlight* was flickering like a bad fluoro, more
noticably now, almost as if she could see something else through it.
She dropped the curtains, went hastily into the bathroom to run cold
water on a washcloth, hold it to her eyes. It didn't help. The
darkness flickered too, sickly grey flashes that stabbed at the back of
her eyes. A cold knot twisted at the pit of her stomach. The stim had
screwed up her vision somehow, some kind of bad reaction. Admit to that
and she'd *never* get her cyberware, never see the Matrix.
No, no, she was overreacting. Just a little trouble adjusting; she'd
never done a four-day run before, and it was clearly a little harder on
her body than she'd expected.
*But you ought to have a checkup just to be sure.*
Like so many of her wiser thoughts, she hardly recognized that one as
hers. But it was a good idea. She called up the University Health
Clinic, found that they wouldn't see her until tomorrow morning unless
she claimed it was an emergency. Papa would *certainly* hear about
that. She made an appointment for eight am the next day, hung up
feeling that she'd done her duty by prudence.
Her own voice spoke to her, soundless now but utterly distinct. *I can
stop the flickering, if you'll just agree to listen to me. I know it's
hard for you to believe me, but just listen, that's all I ask.* A
second's pause. *Listening is the first step to madness.*
"No!" she said aloud, then caught herself, pressed her palms hard into
her eyes. God, she really was having a bad reaction. Calm down,
Angela. *Lie* down, why don't you?
The flickering had stopped.
She lay down, ran through the calming routines from her tai chi class of
the previous semester. It was hard to relax, keyed up as she was; hard
to ignore the fake memories--Channa taught me this, didn't she?
I/Jayhawk used it to try to break the Paradisian's mind block. But
eventually it seemed to help. At least the flickering didn't reappear.
*Did I listen? Am I going crazy?*
She actually managed to doze, on and off, for half an hour. When she
woke the weird hallucinations seemed distant and dim--still worrisome,
but not nearly so pressing. She'd shower now, so her hair would be dry
by the time Mark arrived.
She undressed, stood for a moment caught by her reflection in the mirror
on the bathroom door. Cascades of black hair--she still wasn't quite
used to that, it'd been brown most of her life--skin a little pale from
too much stim and too little sun, but not bad, overall. Blue eyes,
though not the crystalline silver-blue she 'remembered'. The stim had
woven her own face and body into the delusion, so it almost seemed as if
she saw Jayhawk looking out at her, an expression on her face that might
"If only it could be true," she whispered to the image. At that moment,
she would have traded everything she had for the stim to be reality, her
own dull life the dream. *But that's just not the way it is.*
She shook herself out of the daydream, went in to shower.
Jayhawk swore and dropped her attempts to deflect the stimsense channel.
It was clearly giving Caroline a headache--it was giving *her* a
headache, by feedback across the link between them--and it wasn't
jarring her loose from the damned illusion.
She could speak to Caroline as she pleased, slipping her words into the
channel--the intruder was nothing like fast enough to stop her, though
she had tried--but the intruder could play at that game too. "Listening
is the first step to madness." She snarled aloud. She could see easily
enough what a control struggle between herself and the fetus-sphere
would do to Caroline.
What she needed was to break the stimsense link altogether.
It was being handled by sector 1; she'd broken in through the IC,
traced the channel through datastores full for the first time in
their existance, subprocessors humming with activity. She was unwillingly
impressed by the sophistication of the programming, able to impose
not only false sensory information but false memories, history, identity
as well. It gave her new respect for her system's capabilities. If only
they were at *her* disposal....
When she first found herself baffled, the intruder's links embedded too
deep into her system to attack, she'd called Piebald and been quite
pleased when he appeared at once. ("Where were you?" "I have no
idea.") But he'd had no insight to offer; his approach to dealing with
the intruder was to fling himself onto the glowing sphere, slide
down with a screeching of fingernails. He commented mournfully on the
high quality of the stimsense, but had no more idea than she how to
counteract it. Less idea. She had managed to interfere with the
signal, reroute portions of it through the system until they were
slightly out of synch. She'd hoped that the resulting imperfections in
the illusion would give Caroline the hint she needed to break out of it.
No such luck.
She was almost trembling with anger, mainly at the intruder, but also at
Caroline for letting herself be fooled.
A thought struck her. "Can you use attack code?" she asked Piebald. He
only looked puzzled. "Here." A copy of her own lightblade, ornate
hilt--when had it gotten that ornate?--binding a tongue of icy blue
light. Piebald accepted it, waved it about tentatively. It didn't go
out at his touch, as she'd rather expected. Reflexively she tried to
teleport him away, but to her relief she failed. So he wasn't an
imposter--unless her enemies had gotten much more clever.
"Attack the fetus, distract her. I want to try something." Piebald
nodded earnestly, and they went to the CPU together.
The Barrier IC was up again across the opening leading into the CPU,
cascades of silver-blue fire and water frozen in an endless fall.
Jayhawk swore. It was good IC, as she'd verified when she hacked
through it the first time. Piebald glanced at her in puzzlement,
reached with long angular fingers into the lightshimmer of the IC,
pulled out a single strand. The whole cascade unravelled into a rain
of glittering fragments, splashing down onto the webwork strand and
falling into the darkness below to vanish like fireflies.
"Oh!" said Jayhawk, somewhat surprised. Piebald had helped design the
IC, but she'd thought she'd checked his work thoroughly for back doors
of that sort. Apparently not. Well, she could worry about that later.
She stepped across the threshhold, tensed herself for the attack--
The hilt of the second lightblade clattered to the ground as Piebald
vanished. Jayhawk swore, uncreated the program, retreated from the CPU.
There was Piebald, staring at her in puzzlement. "What happened?"
A little experimentation revealed that he couldn't enter the CPU; he
vanished instantly each time. As far as Jayhawk could tell he wasn't
being teleported--at least not by the resources of her system, which had
never admitted his existance anyway.
The intruder had changed the interior of the CPU to resemble an
Angela's-eye view of the world. It was intensely aggrevating to look
at. But even in the other nodes, there was no escaping the background
murmur of Angela's thoughts, her infuriating string of denials.
Angela was off on a date with Mark now, trying to sweet-talk him into
spending his copious resources on cyberware for her. Jayhawk rather
approved--at least the little bimbo had *some* ambition--but it made
trying to talk to her very unpromising. She'd wait for a better
opportunity; perhaps tonight, when Angela went home to sleep. The idea
of Caroline *asleep*, open to whatever influences the fetus might
produce, was deeply disturbing. Better to try something, anything,
"Your dad's a complete barbarian," Mark said. "I really don't see why
you should let him ruin your career this way."
"I've been thinking of getting a job," Angela confessed, "if only I
could find something that wasn't too deadly dull."
"Yeah. Hey, I have a friend in one of Dad's subsidiary companies who's
looking for someone to work with him on chip design. Pretty clerical, a
lot of it, but it still beats most of the stuff you might be doing--"
with your experience, she thought bitterly, and your lack of connections
"--and it might be an in to something pretty good."
"That sounds wonderful! Could you possibly introduce us?"
"No problem. Um, excuse me a sec?" He put his napkin carefully on the
table, headed for the back of the restaraunt. She'd decided some time
ago that these rather dramatic disappearances weren't caused by the need
to make secret phone calls or pick up mysterious packages, but by an
ingrained reluctance to mention the word 'bathroom'.
Chip design. Sure, I could do that. I've done it before.--She checked
herself. Jayhawk had....Jayhawk seemed to be able to do anything
convenient for the plot. She'd read a few books, herself, but that was
She sipped at her tea. You're being a fool, Angela, and you know
it--mooning over a stim-drama like this. If you really want to run the
Matrix, *do* something about it.
But...was it going to be a disappointment? Could real life measure up
to her daydream's, Jayhawk's reality? The Matrix-running had been
intensely sweet, but by far the best part, the most compelling, was pure
fantasy. The creation of Anubis. How had they programmed that, how had
they made her believe that *she* was creating it? Node by node, shaping
each one out of her deepest desires...god, it had been so beautiful....
Like crystal raindrops falling, words came into her mind: in the voice
of her own thoughts, but somehow, indefinably, not hers. *Created by
you; no one else could have done it, no one else knows that beauty. And
it is incomplete without you, as you are without it.* A voice of
And the same voice, but colder--almost the tone her own most chiding
thoughts might take, but not quite--*I really ought to see a doctor.*
Angela moaned, clenching her hands tightly around the warmth of her tea.
Incomplete. That was it, that was how she felt....how they'd made her
feel, somehow. Empty and desolate and *aching* for something that had
never been real.
"Are you okay?"
She collected herself hastily, put on some kind of smile for Mark's
benefit. "Sure. Just daydreaming--or I guess it's a day-nightmare
where Papa's concerned."
Jayhawk sat on a latticework walkway in sector 1, watching the system
spin its illusions, and tried to think. The fetus was too well
ensconced in the CPU for Jayhawk to force her out, too tightly linked
into the system's power for an attack to succeed. Jayhawk suspected
that if she could convince Caroline to cooperate, the two of them could
shatter the illusion, but she wasn't making much progress there.
She tried choking the fetus' access to the system's power source
down to a trickle. Everything slowed down, Angela included; the system
labored around her like an overstressed timeshare process, response
time spiralling up and up. But it didn't seem to cause the fetus any
particular difficulties, and it was intensely uncomfortable for Jayhawk
She had even, after much consideration, sent a message to Martha via the
drone that Martha had left her. A short sharp message. "A fetus inside
a yellow sphere has taken over partial control of my CPU. I know there's
probably nothing you can do, but I would appreciate any advice. It's going
to drive Caroline completely insane. I didn't think that was what you
So far there'd been no response. She regretted letting the drone go;
she'd been itching to take it apart, figure out its workings, duplicate
"Piebald, any idea why she wouldn't want you in the CPU?"
Piebald shook his head, jingling softly. "Are you sure that's a she?
It looks like an it to me."
She'd decided arbitrarily, somewhere in the middle of a stream of
curses. "There must be something you can do that she doesn't like. Hm.
I wonder." She looked hard at him, reached out to try the teleport, was
reassuringly ineffective. "Piebald." She tried to catch his eyes,
found that between the sharpness of his face and his tendancy to look at
her sideways, birdlike, she could never see more than one eye at a time.
She settled for the blue one. "Are you really mine?"
"I think so," he said in a soft baffled voice. "As far as I know."
"That's not exactly what I meant. Suppose you could choose, you had to
decide whether or not. What would you say then?"
"Choose?" he said in wonder. "What a concept. Yes, I still would."
He seemed pleased, as if he'd made a discovery.
"Give me your hand. I want to try something." He held out his hand at
once, long thin fingers spread out. She took it, concentrating.
*I have power that comes to me through my system. I also have power that
is mine simply because I am Jayhawk.* She reached out, tried to link
Piebald to that power, let him share her existence independent of the system.
Martha was sitting in her workshop node, pondering her reply to the
message lying on the table before her. It was hard not to respond with
anger or pain to the bitterness in it, even harder to explain how
limited her ability to help Jayhawk was.
Framed in the window above her desk, Jayhawk's system rotated slowly on
its axis, a jewelled satellite to the larger, drabber complex below it.
A flicker of movement caught her eye; she looked up, froze. The rotation
was accelerating; as she watched, helpless, the link between the system
and Ares snapped, end flailing like a live wire. Paradoxically, against
the increasing centrifugal force, the system began to draw inward, nodes
compressing, coalescing from the outside toward the black and silver egg
of the CPU. Lights flared, went dark. Still the spinning increased and
increased until she could see nothing but blur, a black-and-silver point
flickering with power.
She crumpled the half-composed message between her hands. For better
or worse, it was too late now. She hoped Jayhawk would forgive her.
Explosion and implosion, as if in an instant her awareness expanded to
encompass the whole system, a brief flicker of the lost overwatch, and
at the same time the system collapsed inward on itself, on her.
Darkness reached out for her, a somehow familiar darkness, promising
comfort, healing, an end to strife.
Jayhawk fought it, reaching out desperately for the system, for
Caroline. *No! I won't die, not now, not when I have so much!* She
was falling, a fall that would have no end, she'd touched the fringes of
this when Caroline was dying and now it was happening to her--
Something strong and sure caught her, pulled her back from the embrace
of darkness, into a system gone mad.
Angela was squirming through an interminable performance of "Fiddler on
the Roof"--Tevye's resemblance to her father had seemed amusing for a
few minutes, but now it was merely infuriating--when with a sudden,
soundless flicker everything around her changed. She was standing on a
delicate stairway, curving up toward a narrow gate between two silver
towers. Beneath her, black water reflected the stairway's latticework
with unrippling clarity.
SAN 3 of Anubis.
She climbed the stairs slowly, walked through the gateway. The system
was spread out around her, just as she remembered it--but frozen, utterly
motionless. The lightplay along the fiberoptic cables was stopped in
place, individual pulses visible as beads along a glowing thread. The
telecommunications nexus, which should have been a turning, everchanging
mobile, was caught in an ungainly position, unbalanced in the course of
shifting from one configuration to another. She touched it; it was cold
and hard as steel.
*I'm having a seizure.* She tried to will herself out of the delusion,
back into contact with the real world, to no avail. She imagined Mark's
panic, the show interrupted by the sudden influx of medics, phone calls
to her parents. *God help me.* Not a prayer, only a reflexive reaction
to her terror.
It was unbearably silent. She couldn't stay in one place, driven to
hear something if only the brush of her own footsteps on metal and
glass. None of the reflective surfaces reflected her, but looking down
at herself she could see that her clothes hadn't changed. No Matrix
image, this. She'd imagined being in Anubis, wanted it desperately, but
Maybe she wasn't just having a seizure. Maybe she was crazy.
In one of the containment laboratories she found a huge sphere of glowing
yellow-white, a dark shape within made indistinct by swirls of frozen
cloud. She reached out to touch it, wondering--it wasn't part of her
stim-drama memories of Anubis--but her hand went right through. A
hologram, three-dimensional but intangible.
She climbed up to a watchtower node to look out across the system. It
was uncanny how she knew every twist and turn of the deceptive nodes...
frightening, to see everything in stasis, as if time had stopped. She
vaguely remembered reading about seizures which extended a second's
memory for hours or days. The stimsense parlor was going to get sued
within an inch of its life, that was for sure. If she ever recovered
enough to indict them.
The view from the watchtowers seemed normal, except for the lack of
movement. She remembered, however, that the views shown were supplied
by a system process, not true perspective on what was shown. If the
system had stopped--
*Mustn't get too involved in the delusion, or I'll never get out.*
On the spiderstrand leading from watchtower to CPU, she found an image
of--herself, she thought for an instant. No. Jayhawk, dressed in the
silver and electric blue of her Matrix image, black hair shining in the
light of the system--it didn't even glitter, impossibly motionless. A
hologram, like the sphere.
She glanced away for a moment, looking for activity towards the CPU.
When she looked back the image had vanished.
She/Caroline had never been in the CPU for more than an instant since
its awakening. She hesitated at the threshhold, stepped forward
For an instant she saw a moving tableau, the first movement other than
her own she'd seen: the yellow sphere, clouds roiling within it,
sliding toward one of the other exits, a jester in multi-colored
clothing pointing at it, Jayhawk--two Jayhawks--one looking toward her,
the other doing something at a panel. The sphere vanished, and
everything else froze. She walked forward, touched the nearer Jayhawk.
Nothing tangible, only a faint cool tingle.
*I'm in Anubis CPU!* She shook her head violently. This wasn't real,
there was no way it could be real....god, if only....Stop that, Angela!
Mustn't get caught up in the delusion.
The gravity was dizzyingly low in this node. She climbed up a gossamer
strand of light and glass, settled herself in a webwork hammock near the
main controls. One of the Jayhawk images had moved, she noticed; it was
by the entrance now, pointing toward it. She turned away from the
meaningless dumb show with a shiver, looked at the system monitors.
She could read them, or imagined she could; but they told her very
little. They'd never been designed for stasis--most of the information
was encoded in the ebb and flow of the patterns, not their literal
meaning. The system was in alert status, a number of nodes at highest
security: the Gate chamber, all three SANs, the CPU itself. Other than
that, nothing seemed unusual.
She turned away from that, too, curled up in the hammock with her arms
wrapped around her head. Perhaps I could go to sleep, and when I wake
up I'll be all right. She tried to concentrate on a calming exercise.
Voices, suddenly, from below. "Nobody move! If we--" Silence. It had
been her own voice. No. Don't listen.
Again, a minute or so later: "Aha! Piebald, what's going on? I've
figured it out--if there's an odd number of us we can talk, but an even
number puts us into this messy timeshare mode."
She peeked out through her arms, unable to help herself. Jayhawk was
sitting on a web-strand, talking to the jester--she recognized him now,
he had looked into Jayhawk's prison room in Paradisio and said "Try
Tshimshian!" With a jingle, he said, "I have no idea. Everything's
stopped. I saw the yellow sphere in here for a minute, and--Hey! Who's
"Angela," said Jayhawk in a rather hostile tone. "Probably some kind of
Paradisian trick. Piebald, could you try to find Caroline and send her
in here? I'm almost positive I saw her a little while ago. No. Hang
on a second. Everything will go into freeze-frame if you leave." Angela
felt the web-strands shiver at Jayhawk's movement, curled herself up
Her own voice, though more sure, more confidant: "Angela? Is that who
"Go away," she whispered. "I mustn't talk to you."
"If I pay attention to the delusion, I'll get permanently trapped." She
rolled over further, her back to Jayhawk. *Mustn't talk to her!*
"Ah." Almost sympathy, but not quite. "I see. How did--"
Silence. Unable to help herself, Angela looked up, found the Jayhawk-
image frozen in place beside her. Below, the creature that said
Tshimshian was staring fixedly at a second Jayhawk, who had apparently
been caught in the act of entering the node.
With a sudden twist in her belly, Angela realized that she was looking
at Caroline. *But I was Caroline, I remember being...in the stim...how
could this be real and I not be Caroline?* It was intolerable. What
would Angela be doing in Anubis, how could she make sense of that? She
didn't even have a datajack, she couldn't run the Matrix, let alone....
I want to go to sleep. I want this not to be happening. God, I'm
Angela lay wrapped in the webbing, her arms across her face, trying not
to listen to the discussions below; and failing.
There'd been a quick, sharp exchange between two speakers who she
couldn't distinguish by voice, though one--Jayhawk, she guessed--seemed
a little more forceful, distinctly more angry. Territorial. She'd
told the other--it must be Caroline, mustn't it?--about the invasion of
Anubis by the yellow sphere, described Angela's whole life as a
stimsense delusion. When she explained how she'd precipitated the
current shutdown by touching Piebald--that must be the Tsimshian-thing--
Caroline questioned her fiercely. Why had Jayhawk trusted Piebald?
What did she think Piebald was? What did she think had happened?
"I want to talk to him," said Caroline at last, a distinct edge to her
voice. "Why don't you go tell him to come in here?"
She heard the same events recounted from Piebald's side, then said
harshly "Why should we trust you? You come from Paradisio."
"I don't know," said Piebald unhappily. "I'm not sure you should."
Angela almost felt sorry for him--No, dammit! I'm listening to them
again. Mustn't do that.
The node went into freeze-frame suddenly, Caroline and Piebald turning
into motionless images. She couldn't see any particular reason; Jayhawk
hadn't returned. *Why are you expecting it to make sense? It's a
First Piebald, then Caroline vanished. In the sudden silence, Angela
tried once more to go to sleep. Am I going to be able to live with
myself, if I do wake up and have to face...being Angela, not Jayhawk?
I have to. This is terrible.
Piebald's voice from below, raised in indignant protest: "It was here!
The yellow sphere thing was in here spying on us! I saw it!"
Jayhawk's voice: "I saw Caroline. Are you sure?"
"It wasn't really Caroline. It was the yellow thing. Spying on us!"
A sickening thrill of hope which she couldn't banish. Not the real
Caroline. *I* could be....She imagined their relief when they
discovered the truth, the way they'd welcome her, so much sweeter than
Jayhawk's callous questioning....
Silence again. She looked down, for a brief moment saw *two* Piebalds
in the node, a startled image of Jayhawk staring at them. One vanished,
and the other flickered into movement. His mouth was wide open. "That
was me!" he said miserably.
"No," said Jayhawk, a dangerous growl in her voice. "That was Lefty, I
think. Damn. Pie, what's the last thing you remember?" She questioned
the jester for several minutes, ventured a grudging "I think this is
really you. We're going to have to watch out for that. Crash this
timeshare business! I need to talk to everyone at once. Angela! Do
you mind leaving the CPU for a bit? I need to talk to Caroline and
Piebald at the same time."
Rather against her will, Angela found herself shepherded out into one of
the security/routing nodes ringing the CPU. Even frozen, it was
painfully beautiful, massed datastores like layer upon layer of etched
glass, illuminated from within to throw patterns like shards of meaning
on the black-glass walls. She might have read that data if the machine
were alive, but it was meaningless now.
She reached out to it, trying to awaken it, but there was not even a
flicker of response, no sense that she could do such a thing.
Despondent, she walked slowly through the datastores, seeking the
illusion of life her own movement gave the static patterns.
An image of Jayhawk--perhaps it was Caroline, she couldn't tell--
appeared suddenly in the node. A moment later it had shifted, climbing
up onto a ledge above the datastores, settling itself as if for a long
wait. Angela stared at it. The image shifted again, pointing an arm
at the webstrand leading to the CPU.
She collected herself, climbed back up into the CPU. A Jayhawk--she was
becoming completely confused--and Piebald were there, watching her.
"Jayhawk says"--so it must be Caroline, mustn't it? or the imposter--
"that you're important, that we need to persuade you to help us."
She couldn't treat them as unreal. She'd tried and tried, but she
simply couldn't do it, couldn't block out the evidence of her senses,
the beauty of Anubis, no matter how patently impossible it was. With a
despairing cry, she flung herself down on a latticework platform,
boucing in the negligable gravity.
"Why should I help you?" she choked out. "What is there for me, if this
is real? It's unbearable! Anubis should be mine, *I* made it--how can
you ask me to help *you* take control of it? What am I doing here?"
A sharp intake of breath from Caroline, a moment's pause. "I do
understand," she said at last. "You should realize that. I had to give
it up too, to Jayhawk, so that we could go on.
"I don't know who or what you are, exactly. But if you're part of me,
of us, then it's yours too. And if not--I give you my word, Angela, for
what it's worth. I remember being you, I know you're worth this. If I
ever have the power to do so, I will see to it that you get your own
chance to create, to make something that is yours as Anubis is mine. I
Like you promised to help Slim? Angela thought bitterly. She wanted to
tear at Caroline with her fingernails, scream in frustration and desire.
The promises were empty, empty, she wanted something *now*. "What do you
want me to do? How can I possibly help you?" In a wail, "I don't even
have a datajack, I can't run the Matrix, let alone the Overnet!"
"By a Gate? Even physical things can be brought here, or close to here,
by power like that of the High Priests." There was a shiver of pride in
Caroline's voice that made Angela feel all the more inadequate. "Does
that matter? The important thing is getting the system restarted."
Caroline questioned Angela for some time about how she'd found herself in
Anubis, how she perceived the system. The answers didn't seem to
satisfy her. "Get Jayhawk," she said to Piebald at last.
Angela stared at her in the brief freeze after Piebald's departure.
Caroline was not exactly the self she saw in the mirror: her
eyes were silver beneath the blue, her bearing subtly different.
Confident. Angela turned away, dizzy with envy.
Jayhawk entered the node, dangled from a high-flung support above them,
hair flying. "Okay?"
"Angela will talk to us," said Caroline, "so now what?"
For several minutes they discussed options, not excluding her
deliberately--but she found, to her dismay, that she couldn't follow
the bulk of it. She remembered the technical data that had come up in
the stim, with crystalline clarity. But she didn't remember the whole
range of technical information that Jayhawk's education and career had
Because she wasn't Jayhawk. It was so clear.
"Angela," said Jayhawk to her at last. "Do you really want to help us?"
She wasn't at all sure, but she nodded. It seemed easiest.
"Give me your hand." Jayhawk slid down the strand, unafraid of the
substantial drop. "Caroline says she sees you as incomplete---a whole
person, nothing missing, but tenuous. Unsupported." She tossed her
head back, said formally, "What strength and surety I have, I will share
with you, if you ask it."
For a flickering instant the system was alive around them, a torrent of
light pouring through the CPU's indicators, the visual music of Anubis'
heart. It was gone before she could even gasp.
She cried out in dismay, heard Jayhawk and Caroline echo her. "No,
"Almost," said Jayhawk in intense frustration. "I felt it, I know
what's wrong--the system's grossly overloaded, there's some process
soaking up practically every CPU-cycle. But I don't know what to do
about it." She let go of Angela's hand, leaving it tingling.
They went into freeze-frame as Piebald entered the node. After a moment
Caroline vanished. "What was that?" said Piebald in excitement.
"Oreo," said Jayhawk instantly, and when Piebald replied "cookie"
continued: "Angela and I did it, trying to cooperate in bringing the
system up. Tried it with Caroline earlier, but there's nothing--unless
we merge, and the reasons not to do that are still good." She bit her
lip, stared at Piebald. "Tell me exactly what happened when I took your
hand, when we hung the system."
Piebald turned his head sideways, stared back. "I felt different.
Full, incredibly full...stuffed....And everything seemed to run together
for an instant. Then the system was hung, and I was...empty again? A
little different. I guess I know that something's missing, now. I
never knew before." He looked at Angela with a yellow eye. "It's
something to do with *her*. I'm sure of it."
"Full of what?" said Angela sharply--she didn't like the way he talked
about her in front of her, as if she weren't real. "Missing what?"
"I don't know," he said, a little sharply in return. "I have no idea."
Jayhawk to Angela: "Caroline sees him as entirely lacking in something
a person should have, but she can't tell what."
"Do you *want* to be full again?" Angela said to Piebald. "Did you like
"I'm not sure." He frowned at her. "Why are you asking me so many
"I get the feeling that Jayhawk is asking me to do something that could
get me hurt really badly. I want to know what's going on."
"I could get hurt really badly too." He shook his head, bells
"So ask me questions, I don't mind." Just don't talk in front of me
like I'm not even here!
"I don't have any questions to ask."
"Well, but you should at least understand why I do!" She turned to
Jayhawk, said savagely, "How would I go about doing whatever it is
you're hinting at?"
"Offer him what I offered you," said Jayhawk simply. "Meaning it. I
meant it utterly. I still do. Caroline thinks you're worthy of our
trust, and she has the vision to know."
"And what will happen then?"
Jayhawk shook her head, took Angela's hand in a strong grip. "I don't
know. It's been like that; feeling our way all along. But this--" She
gestured around at the frozen beauty of the system. "This has to be a
win for Paradisio. I'll take whatever risks are necessary."
Angela pulled her hand away, sat rocking on the latticework platform.
Jayhawk stared at her for a moment, then folded her arms, wrapped
herself into what she seemed to consider a sitting position, twined
around a webstrand. Caroline doesn't do that, Angela thought, a
small stillness amid the confusion of her emotions. Different, they're
different--that's why they won't become one again. Neither one will
give up what she is. And yet...isn't that what they're asking of me?
She stared at Piebald, hating his ugliness, the inhuman beak of his
face, the garish jester's clothing. At the very least, they're asking
me to give up my whole life, everything I know and can cope with--Mark,
my family, my career....
Softly, almost as if she was reading Angela's mind, Jayhawk said, "The
hardest part is already over; you're here, and you know you're here.
There's only one direction to go, and nerving yourself to that isn't as
bad as you would think. I know. I took the key to the Overnet from
Angela climbed slowly to her feet, held out both hands to Piebald. He
stared back at her in mistrust, glanced quickly at Jayhawk. "Well?" she
said, voice harsher than she'd intended but at least not shaking.
"Would *you* gamble on something like that? It's your choice as much as
A long, agonizing silence. She wasn't sure whether she wanted him to
accept or refuse. To see Anubis, alive, to be part of what was
happening...but god, she was afraid....
"All right," he said roughly, reached out to lay long cold fingers
across her hands. He was trembling too.
"What strength and surety I have--" she had to laugh at that, a
terrified shaky laugh "--I share with you freely."
Jayhawk, waiting with nails biting into her palms for whatever
catastrophe she'd just engendered, saw Piebald and Angela wreathed in a
shimmer of white light, flecks like the snow on a dead vidscreen
enveloping them, mounting to blinding brilliance. Abruptly they were
gone, collapsing to light-scatter or melting into the floor of the CPU
chamber, she couldn't quite tell which. With a heartstopping lurch,
the system awoke around her, awoke and shuddered with the terrible
strain it had been under, the accumulation of unmeetable demands--
reflexively she cancelled them, and learned in the instant of action
that she was no longer wholly in control.
Not the yellow sphere, nothing so foreign; it reminded her of the
strength that had caught her in her fall into darkness. It slept in the
depths of the CPU, making no answer to her tentative callings, and the
whole system was heavy with the weight of its presence. There was a
strange sense of expectancy to it, as if every increment of the system
clock counted down time to some unguessable event.
*Jayhawk!* said a soundless voice, a flicker in the CPU's endless
lightplay. *Are you there?* It was Caroline.
Jayhawk located her at SAN 2, teleported them both to their personal
chamber. There was a charred band on Caroline's wrist, which she
was scratching at. "What's happening?" she demanded instantly.
The explanations on both sides took some time. "I'm not at all sure
that was the right thing to do," Jayhawk said at last. "I don't know
how we can find out, other than waiting it out. I suggest we make good
use of the time."
"I have a bunch of projects for you," said Caroline. "I figured out
how to manage the telecom link, for one thing. And I have another one
of the devices that brought me here; Martha gave them to me. I was hoping
you could disassemble it."
"I could use some help myself," said Jayhawk, "on IC, mainly, and
sensors. I've been having a lot of trouble with Lefty impersonating
They set to work on the communications link. It seemed to go much more
smoothly than it had, as if Jayhawk had found some new insight into it.
She verified that when they turned to the problem of keeping Lefty out.
"What we were doing was never going to work," she said, shaking her
head. "I can see that now. They were using a variant of CPU teleport,
but powered from outside the system so I couldn't block it. Hm. That's
going to be hard."
"This might help," said Caroline. "--Teleport me."
She reached out to try, found her efforts countermanded. Caroline
grinned. A little taken aback, Jayhawk poked her in the ribs,
teleported her as she jumped reflexively. Caroline wasn't quite
quick enough to stop her. Jayhawk brought her back, unresisted this
time, nodded in approval. "Pretty good. Can you block me teleporting
Caroline could, occasionally, when she could catch the command before it
executed. She still couldn't teleport herself, however. "Interesting
trick," said Jayhawk at last, "but I'm not quite sure how to apply it to
keeping Lefty out. I'll think about it."
They pulled apart the Barrier IC that Jayhawk and Piebald had written,
found the elegant back door in it that Piebald had used. Jayhawk
excised it. "I might want to use that myself, but if it's there for me
it's there for Lefty."
Things were a little tense between them, a little strained; but it still
felt good to have Caroline back, to work with her. It filled in a
little of what was lacking. Her new insight, satisfying as it was,
didn't make up for Caroline's absence; she wanted the strange ideas
tested, refined by the other's perception. And she badly wanted
reassurance that she hadn't damned them both by persuading Piebald and
Angela to their--merger? A wistful thought.
Caroline drew a feathered dart from her pocket, looked at it curiously,
recoiled. "Feels bad even to look at this; wrong, somehow." Jayhawk
had the same sensation; a kind of queasiness, an instinctive revulsion
for the idea of probing the dart too carefully. They put it aside,
worked on other projects for a while. At last Caroline said, "I
have to go back to the Matrix. I have an appointment with Dr.
McDougall. Heaven knows how many I've already missed." With a tight
grin, "The fetus thought it was worthwhile interrupting me; I'd like to
prove her right." She took the dart out again, said wistfully, "I'd
really like to be able to get back here. I went to Chalker's Gate, but
I couldn't operate there--the link with you was too tenuous, I nearly
vanished away. I don't know how else to do it, short of running one of
the Paradisian Gate systems. I think I'm going to pull this thing
apart, gut feeling or no gut feeling. Come handle containment for me,
They moved to one of the heavily secured experiemental nodes in sector
3, Jayhawk toying with a project of her own--she wanted to haul the
Lefty code out of Caroline's mind and disassemble *it*--while she
watched Caroline work with the dart.
Suddenly Caroline let out a soft gasp, crumpled to the floor. Jayhawk
ran to her, found to her surprise that she seemed to be unconscious.
She hadn't thought that was possible here, any more than on the Matrix.
She scooped Caroline's body up, leaving the dart in the containment
node, and took her back to their personal quarters, laid her on the
bed-shelf. Caroline was alarmingly limp, her breathing very slow.
Jayhawk took her hand, reached out to try to support her, lend her
strength. For an instant she teetered on the edge of a bottomless
abyss, her strength poured out into its hunger--pulled herself back with
an effort, knowing that if *she* overspent herself there would be no
She kept watch, working on her code.
Caroline found herself standing before a familiar, ornate door, the door
to the Overnet. The key was in her hand. She looked at it in shock.
*Am I Jayhawk? No, I'm not. How can I have the key? Has something
happened to her?*
She reached out, felt a vague sense of her link with Anubis and Jayhawk,
as if across a terrible distance. She couldn't tell whether they were
all right, but even the faint touch was reassuring. She walked up to
the door, unlocked it, stepped through.
The short corridor was the same, and the door at its other end.
"Everything has a price," it read. She opened it, found herself in the
same high-vaulted brick chamber, the same ornate chair at its center.
Lefty was sitting in it, watching her.
"Wonderful!" he said. "You're way ahead of schedule. How did you find
She said nothing, staring at him in hostility. Unperturbed, he went on,
"You've surprised a lot of people. Even Martha, and Martha isn't easy
to surprise. You've done a wonderful job for us, exactly what we
needed." He grinned conspiratorially.
*He's trying to demoralize me.* She didn't smile back. "Was that you
running around the system, pretending to be other people?"
"But of course." His grin widened.
"You didn't have much luck at it, did you? What were you trying to
He shook his head regretfully. "So. What do you think of insanity?
Overrated, isn't it?"
"*You* should talk," she retorted.
He laughed. She'd never seen him so cheerful. It was intensely
annoying. "Oh, I keep meaning to ask you: did Channa survive?" At her
puzzled look: "After she read my mind. Some people don't."
She weighed her words, decided there was no harm in answering. "She said
you were no worse than a bad LSD trip."
"I'm glad to hear it. If you see her again, will you tell her so for
me? And Ratty, too. What your little friend did...." He shook his
head in mock wonder. "Wish them both all the best for me."
She tried to imagine the effect of actually delivering such a message.
"You seem awfully cheery today."
"I am indeed. They tell me--or rather, *he* tells me, sometimes--that
I'll have a body again soon. Thanks to you, of course. Tell me, how
does it feel to give birth? No, you wouldn't know yet. Soon."
She turned away from his insinuative smile, remembering with dismay the
feeling of expectant waiting in the CPU. "I would think," she said in a
voice thick with malice, "that taking a bullet in your spleen once would
deter you from wanting to have another." Her cheeks were burning.
"Not at all. But tell me, what are you going to do about your own body?
Still have plans for it?" She only snarled at him. "Come on now.
There are people out there who'd really like to know."
"I told them already," she said, thinking of Martha.
"Nobody tells me anything," he said in mock petulance.
"I'll do what I have to. If that includes having a physical form,
great. If not--" she shrugged.
"A very sensible attitude. I approve."
There was no door leading out the other side of the room. Indeed, there
was no door leading back the way she had come. She touched the hard
brick, her back to Lefty. "So what do you want? Let's get on with
"I'm waiting for your door to appear. That's all, really." In a
suddenly serious voice, "The next part will be very hard. Take care,
Jayhawk. You've done well so far, better than anyone expected. Ah.
There it is. I'll be seeing you, then." She turned in time to see him
sink down through the brick floor, vanish.
There was still no door. She ran her hands over the wall, looking for a
loose or illusory brick, found nothing. Faintly, as if from a great
distance, Lefty's voice reached her: "Try up!"
Ten meters above her, the dome was capped by some kind of device,
difficult to make out in the sourceless, shadowless lighting. She
stared up at it for a moment, then walked to the center of the room,
where the chair had been. Arms outspread, she tried to will herself
upwards. After all, Lefty had done it in Anubis. This wasn't the
physical world (was it? it didn't feel like the Overnet) and the laws
of flesh and blood didn't apply.
It was simple. She rose about a meter, checked herself in startlement,
then glided upward to the device. It was a hatch like the ones in
Osiris, bearing a large wheel tipped with a steel spike. Trying to
ignore the drop beneath her feet, she tugged at the wheel. It was hard
to move without leverage, but slowly it began to turn. It was easier
once she'd begun. Abruptly, the hatch of which it was a part dropped a
centimeter or so, as if unlatched; she could sense a great weight on the
other side. She hastily positioned herself to the side of the wheel,
gave it one more turn.
The hatch slammed open, and water began to pour in, a thundering column
wetting her armor with its spray. It hit the floor below, began rapidly
to rise. Caroline swore, tried to get a glimpse upward through the
pillar of water, but there was only darkness.
She'd have to wait until the room filled, take a deep breath and swim
for it. She'd learned to swim in high school, but it seemed so very
long ago....But if she could fly, surely she could swim.
The water rose quickly, the hatchway above her letting out huge
shuddering gulps of air into the unseen area above. The room darkened
as the water rose, and the air became chill and dank. When it tickled
her feet she pulled them up, hovered in a sitting position, but still it
rose, up to her waist, her shoulders. It was bitter cold.
The flow slackened, cut off. For a moment her concentration wavered,
and she almost sank; then she caught herself, rose up through the
hatchway. She was at the bottom of a completely drained fountain or
pool, curving cement walls around her. It was nighttime, brilliant
stars overhead. *Am I back at the Pyramid?* She rose higher, striking
a dramatic pose. It felt good to fly, almost like being cradled in
Anubis; free and yet secure.
The pool was extensive, broken by a series of small islands with trees,
grass, a couple of picnic benches. They were linked by delicate
footbridges. Beyond the edge of the pool was some kind of hedge maze,
extending out to the edge of a dimly-visible forest. She turned slowly,
looking at the pattern of the hedges. Was it a map of the High Temple's
corridors? Suddenly it clicked into place, pathways becoming
internodes, crossings becoming nodes. Not the High Temple. The
hedge maze was a crude map of Anubis.
She let herself settle onto the largest of the islands. As she set foot
on it, the ground trembled, a rumble of distant thunder. In a surge of
panic, she called up power, flung herself upwards, felt the more-than-
sufficient response around her. *The CPU! The islands are the CPU of
the hedge-maze Anubis! Mustn't let the Lefty code kick in.*
She landed in the maze itself, sat down on the soft ground, suddenly
exhausted--adrenaline running out, or that's what it would have been if
she'd been corporeal. She wondered if Jayhawk was all right. Lefty had
seemed to address her as if she were the only one. But she still felt
She reached out to the night, felt the garden-maze all around her. Not
Anubis, but somehow comfortingly like. She curled up in the shadow of a
hedge, thin silver body-armor already dry; she'd managed to keep her
hair out of the water, and she was much warmer already. Before she
quite knew what was happening, she was asleep.
Caroline woke to brilliant sunlight. She stretched, a little stiff from
sleeping on the ground, looked around her and recoiled.
Feathers. The hedge was not vegetation at all, but a mass of green and
brown plumage. The "grass" beneath her was composed of short, tough
green feather-blades, though when she tugged at it it felt, if not quite
like grass, not particularly feathery either.
She scrambled to her feet, walked back to the edge of the drained pool.
*Everything* was made of feathers, including the park bench on a nearby
island, and the tree spreading above it. The bridges between the islands
were solid masses of overlapping feathers.
A quick look at herself reassured her; she, at least, didn't have
She felt well-rested, and, to her relief, not at all hungry. She
still vividly remembered starving in the woods. After a moment of
staring at the pool, then went off to search the hedge maze.
She could identify nodes, but they were just places in the garden; she
had no access to system operations, no sense of really being in a
computer. Perhaps it was just an image. The forest beyond the garden
was also made entirely of feathers, green and shadowy. She looked at it
Back to the pool, she jumped down to the bottom, walked along it looking
at the islands. The concrete, at least, was not feathery; and there was
real dirt on the islands within their concrete casings. At the deepest
point of the pool, she looked down into the open hatchway, smelled the
*I hope this isn't Anubis in some arcane sense,* she thought, trying to
imagine how Jayhawk would react to the news that she'd let the water out
of the CPU....
Idly, she pulled the hatch closed, felt it click into place. There was
no apparent way to open it from this side.
For several hours she walked through the channels and deeps of the pool,
looking for some hint as to what she could do to escape. She wanted to
go back to Anubis and Jayhawk. At last she willed herself upward,
hoping that the daylight view would offer some insight.
Up and up. There was a limit to her flight, somewhere above the tallest
trees, a dizzying distance. The pool and garden spread out beneath her,
brilliant in the sun.
The resemblance of the hedge-maze to Anubis was just as clear by
daylight, but she could make no sense of the pool. There were--she
checked herself, counting--exactly as many islands as there were nodes
in Anubis or open places in the hedge maze. But their arrangement, and
that of the delicate bridges between them, was all wrong.
She landed in the shallows of the pool, set a very cautious foot on an
island, ready to leap back. Nothing happened. She climbed up onto it,
stood looking around. Feathers everywhere; even the apparent wrought-
iron of the bench supports was feathery, on closer examination. If this
were part of a CPU, it was as dead as Anubis had been after the fetus
attacked. She felt no response at all to her mental commands.
She walked the islands, looking them over. On the largest and most
central there was a trashcan (made of feathers) as well as a bench.
With the eye of a seasoned computer-game player, she noted it. Nothing
else proffered itself.
Maybe I need the water back. The islands did seem much less interesting
with an empty basin around them.
She lay on her back on the feather-grass, stared up at the sky. There
were a few white clouds drifting by. She reached out to them, tried to
chivvy them together, make a thunderhead.
She had just time to realize that the task was beyond her strength,
though not beyond her ability to attempt, before an overwhelming wave of
fatigue washed over her and drew her under.
Some time later--the sun was definitely sinking--she came around,
headachy but otherwise unharmed. She rolled over, rested her chin on
What did I do?
Channa used to knock herself out that way when she was trying to heal
someone who was too badly hurt. Hurt herself seriously a couple of
times, too. Was she a magician now? The idea was both intriguing and
disturbing. She'd have to be more careful until she figured out how
In any case, she wasn't going to refill the pool that way.
She lay down near the edge of an island, looking down into the cool
depths of the empty basin, and called out gently to the water, wincing
at the thought of overexerting herself that way again.
Something very heavy and quite near at hand went THUNK. A wave of dizzy
nausea swept over her; she closed her eyes, rested her head on her arms
for several minutes. At last her stomach settled. There was still no
water in the pool.
She slid down into the basin, walked to its deepest point, tried to call
the water from there. Confirming her unformed suspicions, something
struck the pool bottom violently from below. THUNK. She continued to
call, and it continued to strike, rhythmic and futile, until she felt
too sick to go on. She climbed back into the sunlight, rested her head
in her hands.
I closed the hatch! How stupid! She wanted to kick herself.
Perhaps she could open it again. She sat on the dry concrete,
concentrated on imagining the wheel. A strange, vivid sense of the
cold dark chamber beneath came over her, blotting out sun and sky; she
could almost see the wheel, gleaming dully in the near-total blackness
of the drowned room. She reached out, felt *something*--but her
strength was utterly inadequate to shift it, as if she were unanchored,
nowhere to stand. She wrapped her arms around the imagined wheel,
definitely felt it--burning cold, searing into her bare skin. After a
moment she had to let go. The sun and sky returned, her eyes
protesting. There were dull red weals on both arms, fading slowly as
She tried to pick the lock by visualizing it, but her ignorance of such
crude machinery defeated her. She couldn't see it clearly, had no
effect on it at all.
She tried to pull water up through the narrow crack around the hatch,
widening it--stopped in horror, sensing that it was her own mind she was
eroding away. She had no way to test that, but she didn't try it again.
At last she willed her thoughts into the cold darkness again, mentally
constructed a large, four-armed lever which she clamped to the wheel.
She could feel the device she was imagining, though only in flickers,
never entirely real. She gripped the end of her lever, almost feeling
that she was dangling above the black water, pulled on it with all her
Nothing. Apparently the hatch was stuck.
She wondered briefly whether she was just deluding herself, then set
herself to think of a different approach. Eventually she closed her
eyes, slipped once more into the darkness. Hovering at the surface of
the water, she conjured up a heavy sledgehammer, struck the recalcitrant
wheel. She could *hear* the heavy clang, transmitted through the
earth beneath her. Weariness crept into her, though she could feel
that she was still lying unmoving on the soft grass.
Finally the wheel gave way, turned freely at her mental touch. She
crawled to the edge of the pool, looked down. The hatch was open again.
All that because I was dumb and shut it! She laughed weakly, sprawled
on the grass to rest.
When she felt strong enough, she called up the water again. The results
were unexpectedly spectacular. It shot up from the hatchway in a
half-meter-wide geyser, seemed to strike an invisible barrier at the
level of the islands and spread out, filling the pool from the top down
with layers of swirling blue-white. Watching made her dizzy, as if she were
upside down. She forced herself to concentrate on the hatch, slammed it
shut mentally as soon as the water stopped spraying out. She felt the
clang through the island's cement understructure, let out a delighted
yell. The pool glimmered in the sunlight.
Tiredness forgotten, she waded out into it. It was deliciously warm,
though already cooling, and perfectly clear once the froth settled. She
splashed like a child for several minutes, pleased with herself. She
still wasn't sure what to do, but bringing the water back definitely felt
like an accomplishment.
After some casting around, Caroline decided that the thing to do was to
rearrange the islands into a proper image of Anubis. She came to this
rather by default; short of going into the forest, she couldn't think of
anything else to do. The water glittered around the islands, sparkling
with power--she could feel it. There must be something she could do
She lay on the central island, which she guessed might represent the
CPU, and tried to tug an adjacent island into position by sheer
willpower. As long as she kept her eyes closed she had a vague sense
that it might be working, or about to work. When she opened her eyes it
was apparent that she was deluding herself. The island was just sitting
there, concrete and immovable.
She tried mentally linking and unlinking bridges, to no avail.
Tired of futile concentration, she got up, tried to unhook a bridge by
simple brute force. For a construction of feathers, it was remarkably
tough; it bounced a little under her weight, but it wouldn't give. She
fetched the feathered trashcan, wetted the bridge down thoroughly with
water from the pool. It wasn't any more malleable when soggy.
Convinced that there was power inherent in the water, she wetted down a
whole island, one of the smaller ones. That wasn't productive either.
She threw the can in the pool, watched it sink.
She had a nagging sense, whenever she tried to shift an island, that
it *could* be done. But she couldn't find the trick to it.
She lay with eyes closed, tried to visualize the entire set of islands,
shape them into Anubis in one operation. It was devilishly hard,
perhaps the hardest intellectual exercise she'd ever tried. When she
had a perfect island/Anubis layout in her mind, she reached out to the
islands, was ignored.
She tried sitting in the water, directing the islands to move. She tried
visualizing the water, rather than the islands, as a map of Anubis,
changing the channels. She tried starting a current in the water to
sweep the islands about. (Her will made ripples, but she couldn't
sustain a real current.) She mentally superimposed the hedge maze on
the islands, trying to force one into the other; flew high enough to see
both at once, tried to pull them into correspondence.
She swore and stomped about in the shallows. That wasn't useful either,
but it made her feel better. The other approaches only gave her a
Trying anything from outside the pool and islands did have a discernably
different feel--it didn't seem even deceptively possible, if she were
standing in the hedge maze or the margins of the forest.
Caroline sat down on the biggest island, watching the sun dip--it was
halfway down the sky now. She was intensely frustrated. She tried
mentally pinching the islands off below water level, a last stray
thought. Nothing stirred.
Eventually she came back to an idea she had considered and rejected
earlier. Try to pull an island into CPU emulation. Walk right into
Intuition suggested that that was the answer.
"No!" she said aloud. She wouldn't submit to Lefty's design, not after
she'd come so far, worked so hard to avoid it. The fetus had taken great
pains to separate her from Dr. McDougall; she must really have had a
chance to escape Lefty's control. She wouldn't throw it away now
by giving in willingly. There *must* be another way.
The possibility of power, dimly sensed in the unintelligable symbols of
the place, tugged at her. But she had made that choice already. She
would not recant it now.
She dug her nails into the feathery grass, the soil below, until they
bled. Intuition whispered that there was no other escape. She was
Caroline was awakened in the early dawn by an unexpected sound of
birdsong. She sat up, looked about. Perched high in the branches of
the tree above her was a small blue bird with a pointed crest on its
head. It had a shrill, rasping voice, musical only by courtesy.
"Here, bird," she called it. It stopped singing for a moment to
consider, then went on.
A Paradisian spy? she wondered. It made her uneasy, as the featheriness
of her surroundings did; too much of a reminder of the Feathered Serpent
she had seen in the High Temple.
But it *was* the only living thing she'd seen here--there weren't even
insects among the feathers. Attracted despite her uneasiness, she set
out to climb the tree. Knowing that she could fly did wonders for her
usual fear of high places; she was almost on a level with the bird
when it took alarm, flew off.
It arced up--and seemed to strike a barrier, feathers exploding from
it. A small hawk angled down toward her, the blue bird dangling from
Unaccountably cheered--so much for the Paradisian spy!--Jayhawk held out
her arm for the hawk to land. Instead, it swooped past her and then
climbed again. Having gotten a better look at its claws during the
pass, she wasn't entirely sorry.
She willed herself into the air, climbed toward it. It looked at her
with what might have been approval, then winged off sharply, away from
the pool and islands. She followed, skimming over hedgetops.
As she came to the edge of the forest, she realized suddenly that she
would fall if she crossed it, outside the range of the force that upheld
her. She dipped down, flew only a meter above the ground, but didn't
land, defying the intuition. *She* could fly, she didn't need hedges
and pools to do it.
Crossing the boundary, she found how wrong she had been. For an instant
she thought she would fall--and then she *was* flying, truly flying, not
just suspended by another's power like a stuntman on a wire. It was
glorious, even better than the bike rides with Martha. Free in three
dimensions, unshackled from the ground....The hawk flew into the forest,
and she followed, weaving recklessly among feathered treetrunks,
exulting in speed.
The forest darkened as they went on, reminding her painfully of her long
hike through the woods after the fall of the Hidden Fortress, starving
and feverish. But that had been when she was human, with human
weaknesses--she caught that thought, wondered at it. It was true.
She didn't hunger or thirst anymore, and sky and water obeyed her. She
didn't need to fear the forest.
They burst out into a wide clearing. It was studded with stone pillars,
each one carved with images of birds--some brilliantly painted, some
inlaid with colored stones, others merely patterns in the grey rock,
ornate or stylized or startlingly lifelike. At the center of the
pillars was an enormous tree, easily double the height of the
surrounding forest. It was leafless, apparently dead, but somehow she
knew that it drew life from its roots, unimaginably deep roots. There
was a huge untidy nest in its crown. The hawk flew harder, climbing for
the nest, Caroline pursuing it. It dropped the bird in, perched on one
side of the nest. She landed on the other, looked down for one dizzying
instant--she was fifty meters off the ground--and settled herself firmly
on one of the nest's component branches. The nest held a huge, speckled
egg, grossly too large to belong to the hawk. The dead bird was dwarfed
The hawk cocked its head at her, and there were words in its movements,
like the flicker of lightplay in which Jayhawk spoke to her when they
were in Anubis but not together. *Jayhawk, Nose to the Wind.*
She flushed. That had been one of her more inane posting aliases.
*What do you see?*
She hesitated, weighing the question. She didn't know what she was
talking to, Paradisian agent or spirit or projection of some part of
herself; but it seemed a creature to be taken seriously. "An egg; the
beginning of something new, a new possibility. And a dead bird, the end
of a life; maybe food for what's in the egg."
*Whose is it?*
She put a palm against the egg. It was startlingly warm, as if its huge
mother had just left it--she glanced about, but no giant bird was at
hand. An old thing, this egg, old beyond her knowledge, and heavy with
power of its own. "I don't have an answer to that question," she said
at last. It might be the Dragon's egg, might be Piebald and Angela brooded
in the CPU of Anubis, might be something entirely different. She didn't
know, and she was somehow afraid to guess wildly. "Do you know?"
*I see many things from the high places. Do you want to share my
She remembered what Channa had told her about spirits, chose her words
carefully. "I would rather share your freedom, if it's real freedom and
not the kind where you fly for a while and go back to your master's
*Well spoken.* It bent its fierce head, rubbed its beak against one
talon. *If you are to be a predator, you must be prepared to kill.*
Ratty had told her that one condition on the Spider's chosen students
was that they must have killed. She'd racked her memory, been unable
to remember or decide exactly whose life she had taken in the madness of
Wired Lightning and Cavilard Base. But she'd never doubted that she
had. That was before Aliantha, of course. She had certainly killed
Aliantha, though not deliberately. "I know."
*And do you accept the Balance?*
She looked away, reining in anger. "I've never heard anyone explain
'balance' who didn't make it mean 'despair'. They say you can't do good
without doing evil, that any progress in one area necessarily worsens
another. I deny that."
*That is despair. It is not what I mean. The Balance is the pattern
of the whole world, the way of all that is.*
"The whole world--what can you say about that, what does it mean to
accept or deny? Unless you mean madness, losing contact with
reality--is that what's 'against the Balance'?"
It regarded her with a bright hard eye. *What would you do with your
An answer came to her almost unbidden, though she realized she'd been
puzzling at it ever since she took up the key. "I would try to free
others." She wondered if the hawk heard the death-threat in that. 'I
would kill you if I could,' she had said to the Dragon.
Deep inside she was terrified at what she was saying. She had not the
faintest idea how she could make such a threat real. Escape was hard
enough to imagine....
*And what would you say to those you preyed upon?*
She frowned. "I don't know." Choosing her words carefully, "I will
have to wait for the situation to teach me."
*It is unwise to go forward until you have answered this.*
"What can I say? I don't understand your question."
*It is the Balance. A hunter depends on her prey; if the prey perishes
she will as well.*
With cold defiance, Caroline said, "You're the one who called me a
predator; it wasn't my idea. I would rather create than destroy. But
some things demand a response." She had used those words to Martha,
speaking of *his* pain. "I refuse to bind myself to them, dying if
I defeat them. I won't accept that."
*Now you speak as Fire, as Man. Very well. I give you your freedom.*
It leaped into the air, the wind from its wings buffeting her, and flew
steeply upwards. She tipped her head back, watched it circle once, then
stoop toward her at a terrifying speed, wings folded back.
She threw her arms up, a gesture half welcoming, half warding. Its dive
was lovely, perfect in its lethal precision. Up until the very moment
of impact she still half believed it would turn aside.
Ignoring her outstretched arms, it struck her forehead, talons
splintering bone, digging into the depths of her. She screamed, wrapped
her arms around its beating wings in agony as it clawed at her. In a
spasm of pain, she felt the branche she was clinging to shatter, let
her fall. The bird climbed above her, something dark and wriggling
clenched in its talons.
Have to fly! she demanded of herself through the blinding pain.
But unconsciousness took her before she knew whether she had succeeded.
Jayhawk heard a moan from the bed-shelf, looked up to see Caroline
rubbing at her forehead. Her hand came back sticky with blood. *Blood?
Here?* "Caroline! Are you all right?"
They both dabbed at it. There was no obvious wound, though quite a lot
of blood. One smear, a crescent mark in the middle of Caroline's
forehead, proved to be indelible. "A talon," said Caroline when Jayhawk
described it. "The hawk...." She looked up at Jayhawk, wide-eyed. "I
think I might be free of the Lefty code."
"I've been working on a program to detect it," said Jayhawk hastily.
She called up the lens she had crafted, examined Caroline with it.
The results were more visual than she had anticipated, unable to
test it; a ghostly image of Caroline, glimpses of layers upon layers of
complexity within her. There was a deep wound on the image's forehead,
still bleeding slowly. In the depths of the wound was a cavity, a
vacant space containing only a little bloody froth.
"You may be right." It was a disturbing vision. She remembered what
Caroline had said of Piebald: lacking entirely in one of the things
that makes up a real person. Even backed by the software, her vision
wasn't good enough to see something like that. But the idea bothered
her. "What on earth happened?"
She walked with Caroline to the security node while Caroline explained,
then teleported into the CPU and stood on the threshhold, watching her.
Almost reflexively, she drew her blade, held it in a guard position
across her body. Caroline stared at her for a moment, then walked up
the web-strand and stepped into the CPU. Holding her breath, Jayhawk
monitored her. There was not even a flicker from the system.
With explosive energy Caroline swarmed up an internal support, flung
herself into the control-console webbing. She reached out a tentative
hand to the main controls, drew back, then slipped over the side of the
hammock and fell, landing just in front of Jayhawk. The manuver was a
little startling; Jayhawk herself always climbed down.
"All right," Caroline said. "I'm here, though nothing answers me. You
said that if we were together in the CPU you might be able to manage the
re-merger without driving us mad."
Jayhawk stared at her in dismay. It was true; she had the power, here,
to make them one again. She might even have been able to force it over
Caroline's objections. But in the process she would cease to exist,
except as shattered fragments in a consciousness alien to hers. She was
not quite sure the resulting individual would be insane. She knew that
it wouldn't be herself.
Caroline apparently read her answer in her eyes. She turned away
slowly, climbed back up to the controls. Jayhawk found that she was
still holding the drawn lightblade, put it away with a sharp gesture and
climbed after her.
"Do you know how the dart works now?" she ventured, balancing on the
edge of the hammock.
Caroline held out her hand; Jayhawk called the dart from its containment
chamber, dropped it on her palm. Caroline looked at it and swore softly.
"Sure do. It's got a feather from a Feathered Serpent in it...a
*particular* Feathered Serpent. I don't think we'll be making any more
of these any time soon." She tucked it away in her belt pouch with a frown.
"You're a magician," said Jayhawk softly.
Caroline snorted. "Maybe. I *failed*, Jay. There was something there
for me to grasp, some understanding, power....I couldn't figure it out."
She knotted her hands fiercely. "So I can identify feathers, well, I've
been seeing nothing else for days. A consolation prize."
"Being free of the Lefty code is more than that."
Caroline indicated the silent controls with a wild gesture. "If it's
freedom and not just being too crippled to--" She let out a cry,
clutched at Jayhawk's arm. Her face was bone-white, the red mark
standing out vividly. "Oh, god, Jay. I'm *dying*, my body is...." She
released Jayhawk, stared off into nothingness.
Jayhawk heard what spoke to her, as if echoed through Caroline's
thoughts. *If you go back you will be free no longer, having put
yourself in their grasp. There is no other way you could have been
freed. Take your flesh as your first prey.*
"No!" snarled Caroline, and then in a rush of words to Jayhawk: "Back
me, I'm going to try to pull it here--not the physical, that can't exist
here--information--" She reached out to a suddenly-appearing flaw in
the empty space within the CPU, an ugly crimson-and-green gash.
Jayhawk threw her arms around Caroline as an anchor, tried to feed her
power. The system, still sluggish with the unknown presence in the CPU,
slowed still further. Something was forming around Caroline's hands,
a haze of silver-blue thread almost too fine to see. She pulled it to
herself, let it collect around her like a loose garment as she reeled in
more and more. The thread darkened as it went on, midnight blue smudged
Abruptly it came to an end. The last few centimeters were slick with
blood. Caroline slumped into Jayhawk's embrace, thread spilling down
her body like a flowing dress, silver and electric blue and black
tangled in an incomprehensible pattern. There was a glitter to it that
didn't come from the lights of the CPU. Her eyes were closed, her face
chalky. "Dead," she whispered. "The information is here...but out
"Can we back that up?" said Jayhawk, trying to distract her from her
"No. That's why Aliantha's really dead. Some things don't copy."
"How do you feel?"
"More real, if anything. More definitely here." She laughed
shakily. "Which makes sense, I suppose. Maybe it's just as well...not
being tempted to go back...."
Jayhawk, who had never understood that temptation, wrapped her arms more
tightly around Caroline. The changes in her other self worried her
intensely. What else was missing besides the Lefty code, what else
changed along with her ability to work with the dart?
*Is she free? Or only bound to someone else?*
She wished she could offer Caroline what she had offered Piebald:
belonging, support, the bonding of allegiance. But they were too
close--it would force the merger, she sensed.
Once she had wanted that. In a way she still did. But the price was
"I have to go back to the Matrix," Caroline said at last. "I owe Dr.
McDougal an explanation, and I have to find out what I can do, now."
"One dart left," said Jayhawk unhappily. "Better make it a good trip."
"I can get back," said Caroline, startled by the discovery. "There's a
trick to it, kind of a ritual...." She considered the matter, surprised
herself further. "I can even get to the physical world, though it'll
"Good grief. In what form?"
"I have no idea. Guess it'll have to be tried." She couldn't imagine,
herself--brief images of a bird, a woman, a sprite like the daemons of
Anubis, but none of them seemed plausible. "Take care of yourself,
"You too! And watch out for Lefty."
Caroline walked to the end of the latticework bridge, stared down at
Ares turning beneath them. So close...but she couldn't bridge the gap
without Jayhawk's help and consent, or at least if she could it would
take drastic measures. "Your move, Jay."
As before, in the instant of transition she saw the Matrix like a galaxy
spread out beneath her, systems spinning off into unimaginable distance,
complexity beyond her comprehension. She clutched tightly to the
communications link Jayhawk had crafted for her, hoping that this time
she'd be able to tell the other about her experience.
To her delight, the link held. She scampered away from the Ares-moon on
which she'd landed, snapped a confirming message back to Jayhawk, and
ran off to check her mail.
McDougall had sent her over a dozen messages in the last--two weeks?
She stared at the date, dismayed. Anubis' system clock had logged only
a couple of days. The later messages were increasingly anxious. She
sent a reply which said simply that she had found a chance for freedom,
and dared not risk talking to him until things were settled, one way or
another. If Paradisio didn't know what had happened to her, she wasn't
going to make it easier for them to find out.
There was also a message from Kurt. It began with a wry note that he
knew he shouldn't be talking to her, for both their sakes, and then went
on to ask detailed questions about the destruction of the Hidden
Fortress. She answered them as best she could, sent that off too, and
then chased it across the open Matrix to Seattle.
In the CPU at Osiris, she began a set of cautious experiments. She
could see into the other nodes of the system, brief glimpses rather like
Jayhawk's description of her own monitoring abilities--not overwatch,
She considered making and breaking system connections, but found herself
oddly squeamish about the idea. Osiris was someone else's system now,
and it seemed wrong to deform it, possibly damage it, for her own
convenience. She was fairly certain that she could do it, both make
connections and break them, drawing on Anubis' power. But she'd have to
wait for a more reasonable opportunity to test that.
An email message arrived for her, along the tenuous link back to Anubis.
>I have a nagging feeling that we may find ourselves enemies soon, if
>one of us chooses a course of action the other can't accept. I don't
>want that, but I'm having trouble seeing how to avoid it. I hope you
She sat and considered it for a long time. She'd felt the same thing,
though Jayhawk was more direct than it had occured to her to be.
Enemies, or at least adversaries. They'd nearly come to it over Piebald
and Angela, and if Jayhawk decided that the course Caroline had coaxed
her into was wrong....She remembered the iron strength of Jayhawk's grip
on her, when she had defied the Dragon and accepted death. She was
glad, infinitely glad; she hadn't wanted to die. But Jayhawk would have
done the same even if she had.
At last she sent a response:
>I understand what you're saying, and I don't want it either.
>If we can't be one again, and perhaps we should accept that we can't,
>we need to be more separate, so that if one of us falls the other won't
>be damned by it. This arrangement is too close for friendship. I'll
>think about how to do this. You should too.
She sent the message with a convulsive flick at the virtual controls,
cast about for something else to try. Osiris was a submarine, cramped
and enclosed. Instinct prompted for a larger, more open space.
She went out into the open Matrix, the sketched-in landscape of telecom
connections spreading out like a wilderness of freeways around her.
Overhead, featureless grey scrolled from horizon to horizon--closer than
in the physical world, boundaries of the local telecom grid. She'd
never really looked at the Matrix sky before, or at least not in years.
With a melodramatic gesture of her arms--she could feel the life-web
clinging to them, though on the Matrix she couldn't see it--she willed
herself upwards. It was hard, much harder than it had been on the
islands, as if she were tearing herself away from the ground. Slowly
the landscape expanded around her, systems rising up like massive bluffs
amid the concrete rivers--there was Osiris, rather less like a submarine
from this perspective, a blocky square of machinery. Other systems,
dozens of them, blurring off to the horizon. It was still the same
horizon, she could sense; a telecom boundary, beyond the limits of her
Further from the Matrix, she was closer to something else; an interface
with the Overnet, perhaps. She felt it as a shimmering curtain,
somewhere above her in the grey. Unreachable unless she wanted to pass
beyond it, to Anubis or the island-gardens.
She couldn't move horizontally at all. But it was flight, of a kind.
Tiring, she let herself settle. The telecom grid looked different, now
that she'd seen it from above. Osiris' SAN, Acces IC planted firmly
across it, was part of a larger, remembered pattern, something that even
in designing the system imagery she'd never seen.
Wait. The IC hadn't challenged her when she entered; she hadn't even
given it a passcode.
She walked up to the SAN, climbed the rampway. The IC was a barred
gate, not locked, but with alarms to note unauthorized entry. She
pushed it open, stared at it. The alarms were active, she could see
that. But they were oblivious to her.
*I'm here, dammit!* she said silently to them, and suddenly there were
red lights flashing on the security panels, a klaxon somewhere further
inside. Hastily she silenced them. So she *could* be seen--not quite a
ghost yet. Why hadn't they seen her at first?
Her first hour of weaving through the University net, probing into one
machine and another, suggested to her that if she wished to be she was
simply invisible to IC, and perhaps to deckers at well--none of the
three she met took any notice of her. Then she stumbled upon a new
machine, the pride and joy of the Physics Department's most recent
project, and set off a frighteningly sharp response when she tried to
walk through its portal. She fended the IC off, beat a hasty retreat.
Only systems she knew. She considered that, came to a more intuitive
conclusion. Only systems she had known when she made Anubis, systems
whose tricks and techniques she'd incorporated into Anubis, into
herself. Another hour's experimentation left her fairly certain of it.
New or old, if the machine used the principles she was familiar with, it
wouldn't see her unless she wished it to. But there were more
principles she didn't know than her pride would have suggested.
Copyright 1991 Mary K. Kuhner