Caroline had an intuitive feeling that she could exist in the physical
world, and curiosity nagged at her to try it, difficult though it was to
imagine. A little experimentation told her that she couldn't reach
the outside from Osiris CPU; she needed a connection, perhaps an I/O
port. In the EE building, she recalled, there was a dish antenna linked
to the main computer, alone on a rooftop where she wouldn't have to deal
with spectators. She found it without difficulty, a tangle of machinery
on the Matrix. With a deep breath, she set her mind in the appropriate
pattern, walked into it.
High above the turning Earth, a telecom satellite made a minor course
adjustment, a puff of vapor from its manuvering jets. Drifting
downwards, into the fringes of the atmosphere, the icy droplets clung
together, coalescing as the Earth tugged at them, their fall accelerating--
City lights, spread out in glittering complexity below, stretching out
and out to the gathering horizons--
A flicker of self-awareness, falling, I'm falling, as layers of cloud
whipped by, invisible touches, blending with the clinging droplets
and weighing them down--
Icy cold, tangible now, she could feel herself in the accreting mass of
vapor, the center of it compacting, forming into something solid. Ghost
of wings, a beak--
She was dying, the careful weave of her life about her fraying,
weakening. No. The fall would not kill her, but it would lessen her,
life given up to the icy wind, the hugeness of the sky, for
manifestation. A little death.
Rush of wind about her, the city almost recognizable below, more
continous than the Matrix but of the same awesome complexity--
Acceleration, the wind itself shaping her, speed beyond anything she had
Caroline pulled herself back, found herself curled in the center of an
antenna dish, on the Matrix. She cried out aloud, pounded her hands on
the cold metal. It had been glorious, the sense of freedom, the joy
of feeling herself, despite all Paradisio's traps, still alive, still
able to act in the physical world....
It spent resources she couldn't spare, not if she wanted to do what
she'd bragged to the hawk she would do. Free those Paradisio kept
imprisoned. Destroy *him*.
She sent a message to Forked Lightning: I'd like to see you, maybe
tomorrow night? And flung herself into the island-gardens, desperately
determined that this time she would find their secret, not have to limit
herself at all any more.
Almost before she realized that she was falling, Caroline hit the ground
with a bone-rattling thud. All around her, she could hear birds taking
flight, though for a moment she was too dazed to see. When she'd caught
her breath, she sat up, looked around. She was among pillars carved
with birds, at the foot of a huge, leafless tree. High overhead, a black
speck was circling. There were no other birds to be seen.
Back in the gardens, though not where she'd expected to be--she had
visualized the central island. Why here?
One of the nearby pillars depicted hawks, including a few like the one
she'd spoken to. When she examined the pictures more carefully, each
hawk was made up of smaller images, precise and detailed, no two exactly
the same. And on even closer viewing, those too contained tinier hawks,
multitudes of them.
She touched the cold stone thoughtfully. A datastore of a kind,
perhaps? It might hold answers to some of her myriad questions.
After a moment she turned away. Still angry and hurt over her body's
death, the hawk's presumption, she didn't feel like dealing with
something so obviously part of its domain. Back at the islands there
was power of *hers*, waiting for her to grasp--she was sure of it. She
didn't need this.
She willed herself into the air, grinned with delight--flying was much
more comfortable than walking. The tree towered above her. She
spiralled around it, curious to see what had become of the egg, the dead
bird. But three-quarters of the way up, above the canopy of the
surrounding forest but well below the nest, she seemed to reach a limit.
The air was too thin to hold her up.
Frustrated, she landed on a wide branch, looked down dizzily for an
instant, then tore her eyes away and began to climb. She was sick of
discovering limitations. She wasn't going to accept this one.
There were branches in plenty, and she almost reached the top. But the
last six meters were bare, and they ended in a spreading crown woven
with thorns and pointed sticks. She balanced on the last branch,
staring up. There was no way through, even if she could somehow have
shinnied up the smooth trunk.
*I have better things to do.* She launched herself from the branch,
fell until the air enfolded her, winging out toward the break in the
treetops which hid the island-garden. Testing her speed. No matter how
fast she flew, the wind didn't tear at her; only caressed her, curling
around her body like the promise of power.
When she reached the islands she couldn't see the tall tree anymore,
though it should have been clearly visible--she'd been able to see the
break in the trees from there. She swore, hanging in the sky over the
CPU-island, then dismissed it fiercely. *This* was the problem she'd
come to solve. Not the pillars and tree.
She landed at the center, tried once more to rearrange the islands by
her will. As before, nothing happened. Unsurprised and even a little
relieved--having come up with a plan, she wanted to try it--she sat down
on the feathery grass, closed her eyes, and began to build.
She'd done some research while she was on the Matrix, leafing through
mechanical engineering textbooks, looking at machines. She hadn't been
able to find one exactly suited to pulling out bridges, but she'd gotten
Wide feet to support it on the grass--she didn't want to damage the
islands any more than she had to. A rotating belt to pull on the
bridge, clamps to attach it. And a powerful engine. She colored it
yellow, like the street-repair machinery she'd grown up with. It
looked a little improbable in her mind's eye, but workable--or so she told
She mentally clamped it to one of the bridges, the one she'd decided
should connect the CPU-island to a nearby but disconnected island which
might be node 0-1, the isolation field chamber near the "Gate". Eyes
still closed, she started up the engine. There was no noise, which
shook her faith a little; but she persevered, putting the machine in
gear, starting its belt rotating.
Wild claxons. *System alert at 0-1.* Jayhawk teleported herself into
the CPU, stared in horror at the fragile black-glass stairway which
spiralled down to the isolation chamber. It was stretching, uncurling
like an abused slinky. A railing shattered with a loud tinkling of
glass. The system shuddered with the strain; she fed it power, struggling
to contain the damage. "Dammit, Caroline!" she said aloud. "What the
hell do you think you're doing?"
She hoped it was Caroline.
The stairway stretched further, indicators flaring red across the CPU as
the stresses mounted. The outermost nodes, the SANs and watchtowers,
were in real danger of being shaken loose. Desperate, she forced new
connections, modifying the system map so that each SAN was bound to a
triangle of adjacent nodes. It felt horribly wrong, a sin against the
system's logic and beauty. But it reduced the shaking a little.
The bridge had deep roots. Caroline could feel the strain on them as
her machine increased its pull, a faint trembling transmitted through
the concrete. She persevered, was rewarded at last with a wrenching
snap, soft splashings along the edges of the pool. She opened her eyes.
There was no machine to be seen, but the end of the bridge that had been
anchored to the '0-1' island was several feet off the ground, a gaping
hole beneath it.
The situation felt a little uncomfortable, as if some flow or connection
had been interrupted. Hastily, she set herself to cranking up the other
end of the bridge as well.
The stairway broke at last, leaving a gaping hole into greyness. As
quickly as she could Jayhawk slammed down barriers, sealing off the wound
in the system. It felt as if her own flesh were torn--not painful, but
sickeningly wrong and ugly.
She could contain the damage, for the moment. Furious and terrified,
she dangled from her webbing in the CPU, cursing Caroline. A few more
shocks like that and it wouldn't be just the outermost nodes breaking
loose. The integrity of the entire system was deteriorating.
It was peculiar to see the entire bridge suspended in the air. Caroline
waded across the pool, picked up one end. There was a momentary
resistance, and then it moved freely--though it looked like wood, it was
feather-light. She turned it upside down, balanced it on her head to carry
it to its new location. There she envisioned a new machine, this one taken
straight from the textbook; a digging machine, to make holes the end of
the bridge could fit into.
She tried watching it dig, but that was too distracting; eventually she
sat with eyes closed, finished both holes. The bridge fit fairly well,
though it wasn't as secure as it had been. She pushed the dirt back
into the holes by hand, tamped it down. Better, but still rather
springy--it seemed that the bridge might have had roots, before she pulled
it out. She fetched the trash can, dipped up water to wet the overturned
The resulting mud wasn't entirely reassuring either. She decided to
wait and see how it dried before beginning another bridge.
Jayhawk's improvised seal exploded suddenly, a prong of metal and glass
sinking into the CPU--the missing stairway? But it looked *wrong*. No
time for that, the join was imperfect, worsening the existing stresses.
Hastily she tried to patch it up, pull the foreign material--it was the
spiral stair to 0-1, or at least appeared to be--into alignment with the
rest of Anubis. She had little choice. She'd destroy the entire system
if she fought back.
Communication with nodes 0-1 and 0-2, the Gate chamber itself, was
intermittant, almost nonexistant--as if information were leaking out of
the breaks in system connectivity like water from a pipe. She tried to
staunch the leaks; gradually they slowed, though she wasn't certain that
it was her doing. She didn't dare send a daemon to assess the damage to
those nodes; she wasn't sure she'd get it back. And the thought of
going there herself--of leaving the CPU at all, when at any moment a
node might be snapped off--terrified her. Disconnected from Anubis!
She would probably die.
At last a minimal sort of connectivity was restored, though she was
dismayed by the awkward, alien feel that the stairway now had. Though
she still didn't dare enter the area, flickering glimpses suggested that
the nodes were relatively intact--luckily they weren't among the more
fragile parts of the system.
Suddenly the horrible stretching began again, this time on the walkway
connecting the containment room with the Gate chamber beyond. "No!"
Jayhawk snarled aloud, and clamped down on system resources, denying the
intruder--God help her if it wasn't Caroline--purchase on her system.
After a short, sharp struggle, the tugging subsided. Almost instantly it
began again on another connector, the delicate cobweb bridge between the
CPU and sector 2. Again she fended it off, wincing at the glitter of
stress-lights across the CPU. And again, and again.
The attacker was *not* going to get the better of her. She didn't tire,
and she wouldn't relent. Anubis was hers, and neither Caroline nor anyone
else was going to damage it this way.
Caroline stamped her foot in frustration, balked. She could visualize
her pulling machine, start it going, but almost instantly it would come
to a stop, as if some intangible gear had jammed. She'd tried attacking
different bridges, using different approaches--even the difficult
intellectual trick of visualizing two machines at once, pulling on two
separate bridges. Nothing worked. She had a vague sense that she was
being blocked deliberately.
By Jayhawk? She frowned at the thought. More pleasing to assume that
Lefty or another of the Paradisians was responsible. In that case,
maybe she needed backing from Jay and Anubis. Either way, the thought
nagged at her until at last she gave up on her futile bridge-pulling,
tried to will herself back to the system.
She found herself in the CPU, Jayhawk staring at her, blade drawn. One
look at Jay's expression made it quite clear who had been blocking her;
Caroline took an instinctive step backward, hand going to the hilt of
her own lightblade, then forced it away. A flicker of overwatch showed
her what had happened to the system: the delicate outer nodes were braced
with new connectors, perfectly in the style of the rest of Anubis but
still jarringly inesthetic, while the connection to the Gate complex
was...different. Not obviously so, she couldn't define what had
changed, but it was not quite made of the same materials as the rest of
the system. It might have felt good, might even have seemed an
improvement, if it hadn't been subtly but noticably dissonant with
Swallowing her pride, she said at last, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize it
would have that effect; I thought the island-computer was inactive."
"Apparently not," said Jayhawk in a toneless voice. Hearing her,
Caroline knew already that the arguments she had been marshalling for
why she should be allowed to continue were futile. *When I created you,
my intent was to safeguard the system, and myself, and you. I didn't
know then that I'd ever want to change it.*
The transformed connection nagged at her like an unfulfilled promise, a
promise of power and knowledge.
As Caroline had expected, it was futile to argue with Jayhawk. Jay
pointed out, rather forcefully, that even if Anubis could somehow
survive the repeated stresses, simply maintaining system integrity in
the face of the mismatched connector was using up a full 1% of available
resources. Furthermore, she added, there were over 100 connectors in
Anubis. The system would hang before Caroline's scheme could be completed.
Caroline had no answer to that, beyond an intuitive feeling that it
wasn't so. Jayhawk refused to trust her intuition. She could hardly
blame her; she wasn't entirely sure about it herself.
"What am I supposed to do, then? That's my best idea!" she protested.
"Find a better one," said Jayhawk harshly. "Use some of the power you've
already got. You told the hawk you were going to free people. If you
could free Martha, that would be a good start towards finding out what
we need to know."
"*I* don't know. Maybe looking at her will tell you something. Maybe
you can trick it out of her. Quit moping and do something! Go ask
Chalker his opinion!"
Caroline shuddered. She'd dealt with Chalker and his ghosts once, and
had little desire to do it again. "All right. Send me back to the
Matrix, and I'll see what I can do."
Back at Osiris, she sent Martha a message asking to talk with her, then
considered her immediate options. How good of a decker was she, now?
She had very little idea. Could she run the Paradisian satellite
systems, pry their secrets out that way? Could she run the High Temple
itself? That didn't seem too likely. How could she find out without
The Paradisian base in Seattle was empty, had been since their raid on
it months ago; but its computer was still up, or had been last time
she'd checked. What better way to test her abilities? There might even
be information there. It had been Aliantha's system, after all.
From the outside, the system appeared much as it always had, a high-walled
castle with heavily barred gates. She went around to the "back", the
peculiar third SAN by which she and Yoichi had entered it the first
time. It was still there, a break in the walls blocked by no more than
a thorny hedge with a closed gate in it. As she recalled from her last
trip, this and the node behind it were 'dead'--some damage to the
computer had deactivated them. They should have been non-existent.
Duende had guessed that the Gate was somehow supporting them.
They were still dead on the Matrix, but she could see activity on
another level, one for which she had no name. It was eerie. The hedge
didn't resist her when she pushed through it, only tingled along her
skin. With no computer supporting it, the IC was long gone. She walked
along the pebbled path, noticed that it had changed; it was dimpled with
large, oblong depressions at regular intervals. Footprints, perhaps.
At the crossroads they turned off in both directions, though there had
seemed to be only one line of them.
She took the branch that had led to the isolation field and Gate
chamber, curious whether she would be able to get past it. As before,
the isolation field appeared as a jagged chasm cutting across the road.
On the Matrix she could see the folded-up bridge on the far side,
inoperable without a hardware switch, the last line of defense against
enemies trying to seize the Gate from either side. But she could also
see a thin span of stone, without railings, arching across the gap. Not
a Matrix construct, though she could put no better name to it.
Memories of flight nerved her to walk across. As she stepped on the
keystone of the arch the bridge trembled slightly; a faint echo like
distant thunder answered from somewhere beyond the chasm. She hurridly
finished the crossing, looked about.
Empty road under a desolate sky. No; far off on the unturning road was
a tiny black speck, moving toward her. She drew her blade, squinting at
And it was on her, impossibly fast; an opaque shadow like a cloud of
flies, though the individual units moved so quickly that they blended
together. Three arms coalesced from its seething mass, reached out for
her. The mass itself *lifted*, brushing along the interface between the
Matrix and the Overnet, rippling its surface. Drinking in power, she
thought as she fended off the arms, sliced through one to leave it
dissipating in the air. It had a vile acrid smell, somehow familiar.
It struck at her again, more solidly this time; three talons pinched
inward, seized her below the ribs. Suddenly she did recognize them; the
three-fingered hand of a Minerva vector, Aliantha's deadly experiment.
One sunk into her body, burning coldly, even as she beat the other two
back. She screamed, tried to detach herself from the Matrix, return to
the feather-garden--it was the easiest target, easier than Anubis from
here. Blocked, anchored by its grasping claws. Something was probing
It released her suddenly, drew back as if alarmed. Before it could move
again she was gone.
She found herself on the CPU-island, immersed in brilliant sunlight.
With stumbling haste she threw herself into the pool, scrubbed at her
body. There were deep bruises under the armor, but no punctures. She
felt violated, worse than when Channa had mindprobed her; the attacker
hadn't just been searching her thoughts, it had wanted to change them.
Why had it drawn back? Because she was too powerful for it? Or because
it had recognized her, knew her as someone it had already marked? She
remembered the dreams at the High Temple.
She collected herself with an effort, returned to Anubis. *Jayhawk* was
free, even if she wasn't; and might be in danger as a result.
Afraid, once again, to put herself in reach of the system controls, she
sat in a test chamber in sector 3 while Jayhawk ran tests and described
what had happened. There had been two attempts to break into the
system. The first had come from outside, through SAN 2; the IC had
driven it off before Jayhawk could get a good look. The second had come
up through Caroline's personal datastore, where her decking code was
kept; meeting no IC there, it had ransacked the datastore, then tried to
gain access to the CPU. A guardian daemon had driven it away. Jayhawk
described a black cloud, almost too fast to see.
"You're clean as far as I can tell," said Jayhawk at last. "Do you know
any differently?" There was a distinct edge to her voice.
"No. No, I don't." She touched the slowly fading bruise along her
side. It had wanted information; and control. Apparently Jayhawk had
denied it control, but what would it do with the information? "I need
better decking code before I run into that again."
Jayhawk nodded sharply. "I'll work on it. You have an appointment with
Martha to keep."
*I'm afraid to go back.* She bit back the words, nodded.
Martha parked her motorcycle just inside the SAN at Osiris, found
Caroline waiting for her. The decker was almost ghostly--not
transparent, but attenuated, color leached out of her skin and hair,
fragile and somehow incomplete. Half-glimpsed images which Martha
couldn't identify flickered in the shadows of her hair, the folds of her
Touch more than vision said that she was not a ghost; there was a glow
about her, like sunlight on Martha's face. She was both warmed and
saddened. Aliantha had been like that.
"Hello, Martha. What's up?" Caroline said exuberantly.
"Hello! Busy as usual, I'm afraid--two alarms this morning, probably
five more this afternoon, you'd think the whole place was going to fall
apart.--It's good to see you looking more cheerful." She wasn't at all
sure it was sincere. "How are things with you?"
"Coming along. Did you get my previous letter?" There was a bit of an
edge to the smile now.
"Yes, I got it. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to reply."
"Any comments on the situation now?" Still smiling, but through almost
"No, I'm afraid not."
"Any news from down there at all?"
"Things are coming along." She smiled back at Caroline, wearily.
"People are keeping busy, trying to fill in the gaps." The decker
stared at her, hard-eyed. She would have liked so much to satisfy her,
if only she had any idea what to say, but if Caroline couldn't ask....
"We aren't fooling anybody, you know."
"If you'd like to be more blunt, go right ahead," said Caroline stiffly.
"I'd be delighted to hear anything you have to say."
Martha climbed off the bike, leaned back against it. What could she
tell her? "You've surprised a lot of people, did you know that? I
thought you might find it encouraging."
"Did you, ah, use the darts? Did they work properly?"
"I used one, and it worked fine; thanks. I can see why you don't have a
whole lot of those. I'm afraid Jayhawk didn't approve, though."
"So it really is you and Jayhawk now, isn't it?" So much like Aliantha.
Caroline hesitated an instant, then nodded. Was that the final answer?
Martha wanted to ask, but she was afraid that Caroline would resent the
question, or misunderstand it. "What didn't she approve of?" she said
"She was worried about structural integrity; and system security."
"I can see how she might feel that way...." She gathered her courage,
plunged into it: "I'd urge you to keep in touch with people. Don't let
yourself become isolated. I think that's how Aliantha went wrong."
"Oh? What did she do?"
"Let herself slip....In some ways you remind me of her very much."
Images flickered behind Caroline's eyes, as if watching her.
"I've been trying to rid myself of that idea; haven't had much success
either." There was something in her voice that said *but it doesn't
"There's a lot of Aliantha in Jayhawk, in you...a lot of Megan..." She
found herself confused, the easy correspondances suddenly not so clear.
Perhaps there was a chance for Caroline after all. "I really hope you
won't choose her path."
"That's what he said, but it's not very helpful advice since I don't
know what she did."
"*He* talked to you about Aliantha?" She was shocked.
"Wrong 'he'. Lefty, I mean. He's been hanging about a good deal,
pretending to be other people."
Something about that matter-of-fact statement disturbed her intensely.
She tried to hide the reaction, wasn't sure she was succeeding. "I'm
sorry. I remember when we first found him, he couldn't have been more
than eight or nine years old, but there was already such an edge to
him, so much energy...."
"So what did Aliantha do?"
"What do you want to know, exactly?" She realized that she was
infuriating Caroline, but hedging had become such an ingrained
habit....And the less she told her about Aliantha, the more likely that
she and Jayhawk would find another answer, a better one.
"Everyone keeps telling me not to follow Aliantha's path! I haven't the
faintest idea what that is, so how can I follow it or not? If you think
ignorance is going to keep me from doing anything, you're *wrong*." She
was almost shouting. Martha's skin tingled where she was facing her, as
if with gathering storm.
"Aliantha and Megan were two different people." She struggled to put it
in words. "There was a kind of spark in Aliantha, a brightness; but she
gave it up. Sacrificed it, I think. There's a lot of power in losing that
...that connection to people, to the world....But it's not worth it,
Caroline. No amount of power is worth that."
"What happened to Megan?"
"I think she just gave up. I talked to her near the end. She'd taken
in some power, I don't know exactly what it was, but it was too much for
her; it was burning her up from inside. She told me that she didn't
think she could hold on here much longer, and anyway she was tired; she
just wanted to let it all slide. And then she died. When your body
died, I thought....but you're all right, and Jayhawk is--she is all
right, isn't she?"
"Yes.--What happened to my body, exactly?"
Didn't she know? What was she asking? "It died...."
"I know that, I was there. I mean, how? I can't really imagine it."
"There were a lot of flashing lights and alarms....I don't know what
else to say." At least it had been quick, quicker than what happened to
Megan. She was grateful not to have had to go through that again.
"Why are you willing to keep doing this again and again, if it ends like
A hard question, one that tempted her to thoughts she really couldn't
afford. "Why? For the sake of people like Slim, and Charlotte, and
Roth....And I have a job to do, and that still matters to me. Or maybe
it's just that I'm not young anymore, and I've been tangled up in this for
so long...sometimes I'm not sure how much is left of me." More than she
had meant to say; but perhaps Caroline would understand.
"You're not *that* old. This is the Matrix, anyway, what difference
does it make? Martha, are we private?"
Martha had to chuckle at that. "This is the Matrix; it's as private as
we make it." She ran a pro-forma scan, already sure what the answer
would be. "Yes, we are." As private as it gets.
Caroline walked around her, leaned against the doorway of the SAN as if
to block Martha's escape. Slowly and carefully, eyes probing hers, she
said, "Would you be disentangled if you could?"
The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. It was not a question, she
sensed. It was an offer.
Analysis code probed at her. With an effort, she refrained from
blocking it. Let Caroline find out what she could, painful though she
found it to have her weaknesses exposed. Perhaps it would help....
As honestly as she dared, picking her way through the mines: "I don't know.
When I think about what I've lost...but then I think about what I would lose,
and I--I really don't know, Caroline."
"You should make up your mind."
"I suppose I should." She shivered. "--You've changed, do you know that?"
"So have you."
*That* she definitely could not discuss. She cast about for another
topic, remembered a long-ago conversation with Aliantha. "Have you
Caroline hesitated, clearly unsure whether to answer. "Not here."
"Not here?--Aliantha had a place that she went to where I could never
follow her. A kind of refuge, I think. After a while she stopped going
there. I guess she didn't need it anymore."
"Or she thought she didn't." Was that a hint of sympathy?
"Yes. What's it like, this place of yours?"
"Feathery?" she repeated in startlement. Having seen Anubis, she was
amazed that Caroline's domain contained anything even vaguely
Martha tried to smile at her, pained by the mistrust, the hardness of her
eyes. "Feathery, that's a good word for how you look now...so bright....
Things will have changed for you, with your life gathered about you like
that. If you feel the need to sleep, you shouldn't fight it. I think
that was one of her mistakes."
"I'll bear that in mind. Martha, what is he trying to accomplish, doing
this over and over?"
"You're only the second one."
Caroline's eyes widened, obviously surprised and, Martha judged, pleased.
"I thought there were a substantial number of High Priests."
"There are, but not like you and Aliantha."
"Multiple different experiments?" she said, in a voice somewhere between
curiosity and horror.
"Most of the High Priests aren't experiments at all; just people who
wanted power, or magic, or knowledge." She shook her head wearily,
thinking of Merrow.
Suddenly a twinge went through her, sharp and impatient. She was back
on the bike almost before she realized what was happening. It was worse
than before, worse than she had imagined. "Caroline, I really have to go;
I won't be able to do this too many more times....Take care of yourself."
The frustrated curiosity in Caroline's eyes tore at her, but not half as
much as the tugging from within.
Caroline spread her arms, blocking the SAN exit, and said in a level
voice, "What would I have to do to get a good long talk with you?"
"I don't know. Heal *him*, maybe." She could hear the pleading in her
own voice, closer to the surface than she had intended. "Or destroy....
No, that's not possible." She wasn't totally sure; and she didn't know
whether she wanted to be right or wrong. She *had* to go....
"That question I asked you? If you ever figure out the answer, I'd like
very much to hear it." Caroline moved aside, let her pass.
She flung herself out the gate, barely managed to say over her shoulder,
"So would I. Goodbye, Caroline."
Barely heard the response, falling from the Matrix like a star into the
sea: "Goodbye, Martha. Take care."
To kill time before her date with Michael, Caroline decided to try to
find out whether Angela had been a real person. She began with the
on-line telephone and class records, and was startled to find that
Angela Whitechapel appeared in both, registered for the classes Caroline
remembered taking in the stim-illusion, living in the apartment she
recalled. She hadn't attended any classes for two weeks.
Dismayed, she dug deeper. Angela was *real*? They'd admitted a
stranger into Anubis, offered her their protection?
Police records told her that Angela was listed as having disappeared on
the evening of the theater performance. Her boyfriend Mark had been taken
in for questioning, but no charges had been brought and the case was
apparently inactive. People disappeared in Seattle every week.
Caroline sifted through camera records from Angela's apartment building,
found a couple of images of Mark--apparently he'd found a new
girlfriend. No pictures of Angela, but the camera buffers were flushed
Her bank account was real and fairly large, though there was a lock on
it. Caroline might have broken it with work, if she'd had any use for
money. Real grades in the University records, real email piling up in
her computer account. Caroline read it, baffled. It was unhelpful,
mainly class announcements and advertising.
There was something deeply disturbing about the idea that Angela might
have been a real, distinct person, a stranger with a life and identity
of her own. What had they done to her? What had they done to
*themselves*, dealing with her as they had?
Caroline searched her memories, recalled sending in a job application--
she/Angela had been desperate for any approach to the Matrix, even a
scutwork computer job. She broke into the company's files, searched
through job listings. The job was real enough--still open, in fact,
contrary to Angela's despondant impression that it would be filled
instantly by someone far more qualified than she. But Angela's
application wasn't on file anywhere.
Caroline paced the records datastore, wondering. Perhaps Angela wasn't
real at all, but a clever fake put together by the Paradisians. After
all, they'd only have to doctor Matrix records, and they were surely
capable of that.
For the first time, her freedom on the Matrix seemed restrictive.
Perhaps she had reason to manifest after all. But she sensed that she
might be able to do that only a very few times, and she didn't want to
Evening came while she was still searching; at last she gave up, went to
Caroline spent the evening with Michael, admiring his new Matrix image--
a slim tousle-haired boy on a floating skateboard, far handsomer than
the robot had been--and his new job, Matrix watchdog on an elegantly
Japanese system in downtown Seattle.
There was black IC, killcode, on one of its nodes, a flicker of
overwatch showed her. She mentioned it to him only when they were
elsewhere, wandering the complexities of the downtown web.
"There *is*? How do you know?" His eyes were wide. "I wonder, um, if
I'm really working for the Yaks. I mean, it's a lot of money, with the
cyberware and all." He was distinctly faster, though still no match for
her. "Do you think so?"
"It's possible. I could try to find out, if you like, though obviously
there's some risk--more to you than to me."
He considered that for a minute. "No, if I'm going to find out I should
do it myself, the way a real decker would, and run my own risks."
She nodded approval. "If you end up running it, I can tell you one
thing--black's no worse than any other IC, except it hurts a lot more if
you miss. If you can beat it, you can beat it, and it doesn't matter
what it was trying to do. Keep that in mind and you won't psych
yourself out so bad. And always have someone around in realspace, so
they can get you to a hospital if something goes wrong." She wished she
had that luxury.
They ran the fringers of the entertainment district, systems contorted
into lurid shapes of neon and glass, pulsing with traffic. Michael
talked about his ambitions for the future, about wanting to *be* Forked
Lightning--one of the names other deckers conjured by, like Fastjack,
like the Silver Sliver, like (he blushed a little) *her*. His ideas
about how to do this were rather vague and unformed, though no worse,
she thought, than her own ideas about defeating Paradisio....
She asked him if he would talk to Angela's instructors, find out if any
of them remembered her. Real people might be harder to fake than
electronic records. He agreed at once, apparently finding something
glamorous in the detective work. She didn't explain who Angela was,
only that she might or might not have been a real person.
She spun the night out until nearly dawn, finding that she didn't want
to leave. A seed of a plan, an argument for Jayhawk, was beginning to
germinate in the back of her mind, but she didn't want to look at it
yet. And Martha had urged her not to give up human companionship.
Martha's advice might be suspect, but her own intuition concurred. She
and Jayhawk were many things to one another, but not...not quite friends.
"I'm going to have to do something rather rash," she said at last. "I'm
scared half to death; I don't know if I'm going to be coming back. I
wanted you to know I've really enjoyed your company."
"Not coming back? You can't do that! How am I ever going to learn all
your secrets?" His tone was more than half serious. "Don't talk like
that. You'll be fine, you're too damn good to die."
"It's not dying I'm really worried about." She remembered being saved
by Jayhawk, the feeling of effortless strength enfolding her. She
wasn't sure she *could* die, if Jayhawk didn't wish her to. A good
feeling, on the whole. "I don't want to end up working for the people
I'm running against."
"You? Punch a time clock? Never!"
"I hope not." She looked up at the shadowy sky. "I...I have a sort of
present for you, if you'd like."
He looked at her in puzzlement, then smiled suddenly. "Sure!"
She held out one hand to him. "Hold on tight, and don't let go." He
took her hand gingerly. She took a deep breath--I hope this works, it's
going to be damned embarrassing if it doesn't--and lifted them toward
the greyness overhead.
For a moment the Matrix spread about them, alive with the city's endless
dataflow. Then exhaustion caught her, and she had to let them fall.
They landed with a soft bounce; she sat down heavily, panting.
Michael stared at her open-mouthed. "How did you do that?" After a
moment, with obvious regret: "No, I guess I shouldn't ask."
"Ask anything you like," she said between gasps. "Tonight I don't care.
Whew! That was harder than I thought it would be."
"How did you do it?" He sat down in front of her, skateboard propped
She tried to explain the little she knew--not telling him the story, but
laying out the fragments of Overnet theory she'd been able to glean from
the Paradisian records and her own experience. "That's the best I can
do," she said after many questions. "Forked Lightning, if you ever meet
anyone else who can do that--keep shy of them. As far as I know there's
only the people that taught me, and they're--" Words failed her. "You
don't want to get mixed up with them."
"Take care of yourself," he said fiercely. "Now you've *got* to come
He followed her covertly when she'd made her goodbyes. She decided not
to shake him, though she easily could have done so. Let him see, if he
really wanted to. When she was clear of the node where she'd left him,
she spread her arms, stepped through to the clear sky above the islands.
For an instant she had considered taking him with her. But though she
knew she could do it, he would be changed in the transition, and so
would the place to which she brought him. Changed perhaps beyond
recognition. She wouldn't risk that.
It was early morning, still and warm. She spiralled down to the central
island, curled up among the feathers. Once again Martha's advice seemed
good; she *could* sleep, odd as it seemed, and it felt right to do so.
She could forsee a bitter argument with Jayhawk. Best that she have all
her resources about her, for that.
And it was safe here, safer even than Anubis. She was so tired of being
"I know what the islands are for," said Caroline to Jayhawk, sitting
with her in their personal node. "I can't be attuned to Anubis without
unmaking the entire system and remaking it. From here, there's no way
to do that without destroying--" She waved a hand at the splendor
around them. "I can do it there, one piece at a time."
"And where will that leave me?" said Jayhawk softly. "It's a single-
user system, you know. I would be very surprised if you could attune
it to you without taking it from me. I'm not even sure I would live."
She reached out, put a finger over Caroline's mouth as she tried
to reply. "I know that's not your intention. I even know how to do
this without killing either of us. But I have some serious concerns that
have to be addressed first."
One finger raised. "You have to show me how Anubis can keep running
at 112% of maximum capacity." A second. "You have to convince me that
the egg in the CPU isn't going to corrupt whatever we do." A third.
"And you have to convince me that *you* won't bring coercion with you.
Anubis is mine, and it's free of influence--I *know* that. You...I'm not
sure I know anymore."
"How?" said Caroline breathlessly. "I mean, how are you going to do
Jayhawk took a small bundle from her belt; it unfolded in her hands to
a slender, ornate circlet of braided silver wire. Caroline recognized
it, though it had been considerably modified since she had last seen it.
It was the code she and Kurt had written to explore the dead nodes.
Run in an active system, they had found, it would merge the decker's
thoughts with the machine's.
"If I am bound to Anubis," said Jayhawk, "you won't be able to change it
without changing me; you won't be able to attune yourself to it without
accepting me. And I'll have the system to support me. I don't think
you're strong enough to break us."
"Or vice versa?"
"I made Anubis--" She seemed to catch Caroline's reaction, corrected
herself. "We made Anubis to be ours; that's its nature."
Caroline wrapped her arms around herself, caught between desire and
fear. "Would you really do that?" She wasn't at all sure that she
would, if the posititions were reversed. At the Hidden Fortress Kurt
had pulled her out of the merger. Here, with no physical body, no
telecom link to break, there would be no escape if her own will was not
enough; and at the Hidden Fortress escape had never even occured to her,
a concept foreign to the machine. Having tasted freedom, she wasn't
ready to give it up, even to possess Anubis. And the thought of letting
someone else change her....
"Figure out those questions," said Jayhawk harshly. "Then we'll talk
The nature of the egg sleeping in the CPU seemed the most accessable of
the questions. They worked together on probe code, eventually puzzled
out a method of seeing within its defenses. The program that was causing
Anubis' CPU to respond sluggishly proved to be an immense simulation, in
at least three dimensions, of what looked a good deal like a game of
Life. There was some kind of random or pseudorandom element, cells that
filled suddenly for no apparent reason. It was huge, easily a billion
cells on a side.
Jayhawk said aloud, "It's tying up my CPU with *this*?" She flung a
representation of the game across one of the interior CPU surfaces,
glared at it.
Digging into old memories of comp theory courses, Caroline said, "As I
recall, that game's complex enough to make a Turing machine in, which
means it can function as a computer. Pretty good way to hide what it's
doing, since we don't understand its internal representations."
Jayhawk ran one hand along the smooth panel, frowned. "It's *fighting*
me. Pretty damn strong, too. Ah! There we go." Cells flared into
life, dot-matrix letters: HEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? "Let's see if it
The letters began to mutate and drift outwards, rapidly becoming
Caroline could sense that beneath her flippancy Jayhawk was furiously
angry. "How is it resisting?"
"Passively," the other bit off. "Not even bothering to raise actual
defenses. If it wanted to...." There was fear as well as anger in her
voice. "Caroline, this thing is 'beneath' us in the CPU. What's
beneath the middle island in your garden?"
"The chamber where Lefty talked to me."
"Can you get at it there, maybe find out more?"
A sudden shock went through both of them, a realization that something
had changed. Jayhawk leaned over the simulation image, peering into it.
"The wavefront from our message hit something, I think." Cells
flickered and moved beneath her as Caroline ran over to look. The wave
was propagating back inward now. "I've got this on record, in case it
happens really fast." But no words appeared, only a cascade of gliders.
"Maybe that *is* your answer," said Caroline. "'What am I doing?
Playing Life, silly.'"
"With my machine," said Jayhawk without looking up. "Go find out why."
The garden was easy to reach from here, a matter of a single step. Sunlight
flared around her, startling after Anubis' darkness. She settled on the
central island, closed her eyes and tried to visualize the brick chamber
The sunlight on her eyelids faded, and she could see darkness, the faint
golden gleam of the wheel. The chamber seemed empty, almost unnaturally
so, a vacancy in the solid earth like a cavity in a tooth.
Beneath it--her senses balked. But there was something there. Not an
entity, but a place....
She visualized the wheel, unscrewed it. The water in the pool began to
drop rapidly, a spinning whirlpool forming over the hole. She lifted
herself into the air, hovered over it. Intuition told her that the only
way to reach the other place, through the solid brick of the chamber
floor, was in a headlong dive from high above. She tried not to think
about hitting the floor.
The last of the water ran out. She collected herself, dove down through
the narrow hatchway, into the tingling cold of the water. No holding
back, no reckoning with stone-hard brick....Something tugged at her
briefly, and then she was flying, winging through grey nothingness.
Anubis spun slowly beneath her, tethered to the greater bulk of Ares
Macrotech. She was free in the Overnet. Unguessable depths opened
beneath her, tempting and terrifying.
She landed at SAN 2, found that the IC was down, the system frozen.
Jayhawk was in the CPU, dangling forlornly from a webstrand. She looked
up as Caroline entered. "Cute. Did *you* hang us? From the garden?"
"I'm afraid so. I had to let the water out."
"Keep that in mind, if someone else ever gets in control. You took out
90% of our processor power. What's left isn't enough--we're in
timeshare; I don't know why we can talk to each other, unless the egg
makes the necessary third party. You could screw someone up good that
"I'll fix it," said Caroline hastily, and returned to the garden. She
called the water back, watched it frothing up from below until the pool
was full. *So Anubis and this place are directly linked now. That
wasn't the case before. Interesting.*
She flew into the forest, looking for the great tree and its standing
stones, but there was no other break in the canopy. She tried flying
with closed eyes, letting intuition guide her; she didn't run into a
tree, rather to her surprise, but she got nowhere. It was tiring, too;
flight was natural to her, but not at such a slow pace.
No. She wasn't going to reach the clearing this way. It was elsewhere,
distant as the Matrix--and she *could* reach it, but there would be a
price, a heavy one. It was something not to be done except in
*How do I know?* She considered trying it, decided against it. She
didn't want the Hawk's answers; she wanted her own.
Returning to Anubis, she found it alive once more. "Good," said
Jayhawk, not looking up from her monitors. "Any luck?"
"There's nothing there," said Caroline with certainty, "except a Gate to
the Overnet. No egg.--Unless the egg the Hawk showed me...." She winced
at Jayhawk's expression. "Jay, what's the worst case here? What
specifically are we afraid of?"
"Dragon egg," said Jayhawk shortly. "Or maybe the next step in
Aliantha's self-initiation. I'm not sure which is worse."
Caroline had thought of the first idea, but not the second. Death was a
gateway, Ratty had told her once. Might Aliantha have passed through
deliberately, yet another step on the journey of power? (Would I do
Disturbed, she looked around at the monitors. Jayhawk had called up the
code she'd once written to communicate with ghosts, was running it
repetitively in background, the same message encoded over and over again
in different representations: PLEASE TALK TO ME.
"No luck here," said Jayhawk. "Caroline, can you anchor me so that if
it tries to take me I can draw on your support? *Without* forcing the
Caroline reached out a tentative hand, laid it on Jayhawk's shoulder.
"I think so," she said cautiously. She could feel the other's presence,
a cool tingle. "I might get caught, though--between letting you go and
merging with you--if it were too strong...." She knew which she would
choose, madness or no.
"Here's a program," said Jayhawk briskly, "to keep a ten-second timer
and transmit a general wakeup at the end of it. I couldn't find a way
to time the Kurt code itself, so this will have to do. And here's a
commlink, the best I could manage--don't know if it'll work, not when
I'm *there*, but it's worth a try. Ten seconds. Time me yourself, too.
I don't entirely trust the system clock, and you seem somewhat
independent." She looked up at Caroline. "Remember you can hang the
system, if you have to."
Caroline took the programs--a bit of silver to slip behind her ear, a
delicate bell attached--and settled herself at the main console. She
wanted to argue with Jayhawk, suggest a different line of approach, but
she didn't have any answers to offer.
Jayhawk took the silver circlet from her belt, nestled it into her hair.
For an instant she stood frozen, a puzzled expression on her face. Then
she settled into the floor of the CPU like water seeping into the earth.
Caroline counted aloud, her voice the only sound in the emptiness of the
For an instant after Jayhawk activated the interface code nothing happened.
She had time to wonder--What am I doing, anyway? I'm already here, why
do I expect this to change anything?
Then she was falling, patterns spread out around her like the city seen
from above, like Caroline's descriptions of the Matrix. Three-dimensional
patterns, a cloud of information, constantly changing. She could almost
grasp their meaning, almost...
The Life-game's program was enclosed in a huge process, maintaining a
region of protected memory for it, shielding it from interference. She
traced its root down, wondering. It ran deep, beyond her perceptions, a
single thick strand of information.
A tingle went through her; vision faded as her awareness reached out,
currents of thought spreading through the system. Where the nodes linked,
interference patterns formed, standing waves reflecting herself back to
herself, to the focus point in the center. Awareness of that, too,
faded, the individual nodes lost in their interplay, in the totality of
She struggled for analogy. She was beneath the Life-game process, curled
around the strand that supported it, feeling its strength. It didn't
branch at all within her reach. Beneath her, the echoes of her perception
grew weaker and weaker, but as far as she could follow the process continued
downwards. It seemed to her that she/Jayhawk had created it; it had that
feel--not integral, but compatible.
Nothing but the partition protected the Life-game. Its programming
was more complex than she had realized, but it offered no independent
resistance; it seemed to her that she could destroy it if she chose.
She remembered struggling with Aliantha in the SPU at the Hidden
Fortress. Compared to Aliantha, the Life-game would be easy to
encapsulate, feeding power into its own defenses, cutting it off from
system resources. Or did that extension downwards provide it access?
Groping for comparison, she found the code that supported Jayhawk's
existence. It was finer-grained than the Life-game, a complex network
interpenetrating with the latticework of the CPU, extending downwards as
a cluster of branching processes rather than a single strand. Constantly
moving, shifting, a small reflection of the system's life.
There was something lacking there, though she couldn't immediately
identify the missing element. She considered the code from all
sides, trying to find a change that would improve it. Her perception of
the lack was indirect, metaphorical--hollowness in the gut, an
unfulfilled craving, frustrated tingling in the fingertips, aching in
the jaws. She could find no way to translate that metaphor into
concrete improvements. Essential information was missing.
She could sense the other as a weight in the CPU, a slight distortion of
the continual dataflow. Nothing more. If the information was there, it
was not accessable to her now.
Having realized that, she went back to her consideration of the
Life-game. Past time was open to her, though the echoes of her
awareness were limited by the stored information; as she reached out
toward the origin of the system, the signal became weaker, less
complete. The Life-game process had its origin at the moment when full
operation was restored after the time-share the fetus had forced on her.
Its creation marked a tremendous discontinuity in system operations. No
process currently running extended before that point. Everything that
had been running had terminated.
For some period of time, unknown because unrecorded, she had not
existed. It was a disturbing thought.
She considered earlier times, trying to probe into the reasons for the
shutdown. Amidst the normal interplay of system processes, six unusual
traces had entered the timeshare. One could easily be identified as
herself/Jayhawk by its relationship with stored programs and IC. One,
older, was probably Caroline's interface with the system. A third
definitely represented the fetus. She explored its takeover of sector 1,
the proliferation of subprocesses it spawned in its attempt to control
Caroline. The tracks of her/Jayhawk's resistance were clear. She noted
ways in which she could improve her methods of attack.
The remaining three processes originated in sector 1 slightly before
the imposition of timeshare. They were a cascade, the first spawning
the second, which spawned the third. Only the third terminated
normally, at a point during the timeshare which she was able to identify
as the moment when she/Jayhawk had touched Angela, felt the system
respond for a brief instant, then relapse into its hung state. The
other two, like the traces of herself, Caroline, the fetus, terminated
abnormally at the moment of discontinuity when Piebald and Angela had
touched each other.
A process which corresponded with her/Jayhawk originated immediately
afterwards, continued until four seconds ago. She wondered how it
had been restarted. The discontinuity itself was invisible to her,
and Jayhawk's memories were little help. She wished for Caroline's.
Her perception of the past was too thin to identify the cascade
processes. She experimented with increased logging--useless now, but
perhaps it would prove itself in the future--and was disappointed. It
drew too great a share of system resources. She was not organized to
deny access from within; she had been created (created herself?) for a
single focus of control, not the elaborate cross-checking of a
The lack of efficiency was dissatisfying. She probed more deeply into
it, found an annoying roughness in one part of herself, the connector
between the CPU and node 0-1. The interface between nodes and
connector--which should have been seamless, not even felt unless
directly examined--was jagged and uneven. She couldn't improve matters
without undoing Caroline's work.
She considered that. Could she maintain system operations if more and
more connectors became mismatched? Experimentation suggested she could,
using her own attention and resources to smooth over the gaps. She
would have to attend to them continually. But if the final step
restored the system's unity, converting it all to the other pattern of
operation....It could be done.
The changes were acceptable to her, for power: to prevent further
intrusions, to protect herself, perhaps to grow.
Something brushed against her, a change in the everchanging flow. A
breach had been opened in the Life-game partition from within, and
elements of the game were propagating outwards.
She would not destroy them unless forced, bound by her/Jayhawk's pledge
to Angela and Piebald. She watched carefully, tracing out the accesses
that the game-elements were using, marshalling her resources to encapsulate
them if necessary.
The game reached out a long tendril, established a connection with the
datastore at 2-6, Caroline's personal records. Somehow it moved
*beneath* the IC she had put on that node--she probed further, found a
shadowy sub-node beneath the normally accessable one. The two were
linked at their centers, beyond the radius of operation of the IC. It
reminded her of things that Caroline had done from the Matrix--creating
a new Matrix node by duplicating a system component, linking them together
for power and support.
A message was transmitted to her, across the interface between its
representation and her own, mediated by the ghost-translation code:
*Hey! What are you doing? Please talk to me.* The encoding was very
similar to what she/Jayhawk and Caroline had used, but narrower, less
*I am trying to find out about you. Who are you?* It seemed
appropriate to tell the Life-process who she was, but she had difficulty
finding a formulation. *I am Jayhawk@Anubis.*
It did not respond immediately. She observed its datastore
manipulations, tried to devise a way to cut off its access if she should
need to do so. It was a difficult problem. Caroline had some of the
information she needed, she decided after nearly a second.
*What are you doing?* she responded at once.
System load climbed. She decided on a cutoff: if it exeeded 90% of
maximum she would restrict it. While she waited for a reply, she put
safeguards in place to make the cutoff smooth and certain.
*Do you have a name/identifier?* A process signalled her: her ten
second period had passed. She briefly considered, and rejected, leaving
the CPU, interrupting the conversation. While she waited, she devised
a program to do internal monitoring in crisis periods, carefully buffering
it so that it wouldn't contribute to load if system capacity were approached.
She was not entirely satisfied with its elegance, but it seemed to be the
best she could do within current constraints. Perhaps Caroline's plan would
remove some of her limitations.
*@star*, it said. *Caroline?*
It was searching for graphics code. She packaged a group of routines
from Caroline's Matrix code, passed them to it. Its external
searches dropped, but system load rose dangerously.
She passed it a bundle of indicators. *Don't put the system over 90%.*
There was no way to free up more resources without dropping security
processes, which she would not do. She put safeguards on critical IC
and daemons, protecting herself from attempts by the game to terminate
*Too inefficient for now. Talk to you later.* The intrusive code
unwound itself from the datastores, retreated within its partition. A
trailing fringe brushed her. *Isn't this neat! Bye!* The flavor of
the communication was distinctly different, tags on it she associated
with Piebald. She had no record of Piebald's system interactions for
comparison, only her/Jayhawk's conversations with him, but the
impression was quite strong.
The partitioning was clean, nothing left running in unprotected space.
She set a daemon to monitor the Life-game process, signal her if it
violated its boundaries again.
Another signal reached her, a message from a different level of the CPU.
*Jayhawk! Your ten seconds are up!*
Everything seemed to be in order. She made certain of it, then set
herself to the task of manifestation.
It was a difficult one. Her consciousness was distributed throughout
the system; gathering it together at one point--even the CPU--broke
connections, weakened her control. She could do it, but it was
unnatural and painful. And the form which she was trying to take
couldn't contain her in her entirety; she had to limit herself,
sacrifice capabilities and modes of perception, become less than she
She considered creating a simulacrum, remaining where she was but acting
through a Matrix image. It could be done, and she might try it in the
future. But Caroline was waiting for her, and it seemed to her that
Caroline would know the difference.
She forced the transition, an instant of startling pain.
Jayhawk found herself standing dizzily in the center of the CPU, in a
form that for a moment felt wildly wrong and unnatural, a straightjacket
of Matrix imagery. She had a hazy impression of a vast slowdown in her
thoughts, a crushing wave of fatigue. It seemed to her that she had been
far beyond the limits of human capacity, even hers; for a moment at
transition her unprotected mind had experienced a shadow of the machine's
clarity and power, and she was trembling and weak with reaction.
She collected herself with an effort, tried to make sense of Caroline's
frightened and excited questions.
"...one thousand five, one thousand six--" Caroline counted aloud,
watching the lightplay of the CPU's monitors, the continual flow of
status information flickering along its internal latticework.
Suddenly another voice cut across hers, eerily similar, though the tone
was tentative and unsure. "Hey, what are you doing? Please talk to
"Jayhawk! Is that you? What--"
"At Anubis," said the voice, and then almost immediately, "Growing.
"Jayhawk!" She pounded her fists on a black-glass screen. Suddenly
Anubis seemed like a trap, possessed by something foreign. She wanted
to run away. "Jay! What's wrong?"
"At star," the voice said. "Caroline?"
She activated the alarm code Jayhawk had given her, its timer set for
*now*. Was it Jayhawk at all? What was she talking to?
"Too inefficient for now," the voice said regretfully. "Talk to you
later." It changed, or another voice replaced it, sharp and faintly
accented. "Isn't this neat? Bye!" Piebald's voice.
"Jayhawk! Come back! You promised me you'd come back."
A shimmer in the lightplay resolved into Jayhawk, balanced on a narrow
platform near the bottom of the CPU. She raised one hand, frowned
"Are you all right? What happened?"
Jayhawk looked up at her, nodded, her face abstracted.
A soft bell chimed; she recognized it as an email warning, though she'd
never heard it used. Anubis contained an elaborate email system which
the traffic between her and Jayhawk had hardly tested. Jayhawk didn't
move, but the message scrolled up on a velvet-black panel near her:
>Additional 1% okay?
Jayhawk nodded sharply, her response flowing across the bottom of the
The reply was almost instantaneous:
>Speech and graphics programming.
"I'm all right," said Jayhawk to her without looking up. "That's the
egg in the CPU. It does seem to be Piebald and Angela, in some sense--
modelled in the Life-game code."
"What was it like?" said Caroline, unable to restrain herself. "I mean,
what did it feel like?"
Jayhawk settled herself in a loop of the webwork, let out a long slow
breath. "It was terrific," she said at last. "Smoother than the Hidden
Fortress, no confusion, no awkwardness about being able to make sense of
human memories. No limits--the CPU touches everything. A little scary,
how good it felt. It was...it was hard to come back." She looked at
her hands again. "This is very limiting."
With precise, careful movements, she took the silver circlet off,
compressed it and put it away at her belt.
Caroline put a hand on her shoulder, felt the cool tingle of her
presence. She didn't know whether to be envious or afraid. "What did
you find out?"
Jayhawk seemed to be struggling to explain what she had seen. "A huge
process, like a tree holding the Life-game in its branches, with one big
root running all the way down. I think I gave it that, with my offers to
Angela and Piebald. 'Whatever strength or certainty I have, I share with
you.'" She described the pattern of processes in the time-share period.
"Hm. Do you know that Anubis thinks of its past as data, just like every-
thing else? It could change its past, but it doesn't because that would
make it less useful. Less predictive. Anyway, I have a guess as to what
all this means, but only a guess.
"I think the cascade of processes was an attempt to implement what I
wanted to do with Piebald--linking him to the source of my power
directly. They were sabotaged almost immediately by huge system demands
from the fetus. I don't know whether she was trying to stop the cascade
by hanging the system, or whether that was just a byproduct of something
more direct, but I bet it was one or the other."
"Makes sense." Jayhawk's attitude toward Piebald bothered Caroline
severely, but arguing the point didn't seem productive.
"I terminated--completed--one of those processes when I linked to
Angela, but the other two just expanded to fill the free space. I'm not
sure they could have executed correctly even without the fetus'
interference. They were pretty big." She frowned. "I *think* Piebald
and Angela may have short-circuited the whole thing when they touched.
Aborted the processes, maybe accomplished the same end another way. The
information's not there."
"I wish I knew." She summarized her conversation with the Life-game.
"I suppose we could send it email, though I got the impression that it
wasn't ready to talk to us yet."
They discussed the message for a little while. Jayhawk seemed somewhat
abstracted, withdrawn, but not otherwise changed, to Caroline's relief.
She remembered Channa's dismay at the effects of blending with the
Their eventual message was a compromise between two rather different
>Do you know what code the processes numbered 9992, 10002, and 10034 were
>executing, or their intention?
>When will your growth be complete? I plan to change Anubis radically,
>and I'm concerned about harm to you or us.
The response was quick:
>I will survive.
Caroline stared at it, chilled. "How does it know? Do you think it
understands what I'm planning to do?"
"I am coming to suspect," said Jayhawk softly, "that it would be very
hard for us to destroy it without destroying me. Though I would try, if
I had to. Perhaps it trusts that we plan to survive."
She put her hand over Caroline's, intensifying the tingling. "I think
it's your move. I would really like to know who Angela was."
Caroline nodded. "Send me to the Matrix." She could reach it by
herself, via the garden, but it would be slower and more difficult.
"I'll see what I can do."
When she returned to the Matrix, Caroline found mail waiting from Michael.
It said simply:
>I couldn't get into Angela's school records, but I talked to some
>people who knew her. --Forked Lightning
She read it over three or four times. Angela was a real person? It was
getting fairly hard to disbelieve. No. Wait. What if this message,
too, was a fake? She sent a reply asking Michael if they could meet in
the evening, then returned to the search.
A letter to Angela's boyfriend Mark netted her a rather harsh form
letter, obviously composed by a lawyer, which said that Mark was not
interested in discussing the matter except with the authorities.
If "they" were faking all the evidence of Angela's existance, they were
doing so continuously. She poked around in Mark's account for signs of
tampering, found none. (She also discovered in passing that he was
dating several different girls, none of whom knew about the others.)
She found Angela's high school records, dug into the school newspaper to
find a few pieces of decorative graphics credited to her. They were
standard cut-and-paste work, no particular brilliance. Caroline had
drawn similar ones in high school, probably with the same graphics
When the leads ran dry--it didn't take long; in her nineteen years
Angela had seldom come to the attention of the authorities--she sat in
Osiris and tried to make sense of what she had. Angela Whitechapel
seemed to have been a real person, though the events of the stimsense
dream were probably untrue--the job application she/Angela had sent wasn't
on record, and the news postings she remembered reading didn't exist.
She'd disappeared the night of the stimsense dream, two weeks ago now.
She looked strikingly like Caroline, despite the age difference--
at least if memory and Matrix records were to be believed. Caroline
broke into the University clinic, sifted through medical records until
she found both hers and Angela's. Same blood type, small differences in
the mishmash of letters that apparently represented some kind of tissue
typing--unfamiliar with the jargon, she wasn't positive she was
interpreting it correctly. The same extremely high cyberware tolerance,
though Angela had never put it to the test. Slightly different serum
parameters--but Angela was nine years younger than Caroline. They
weren't genetically identical (pity, she thought, I could have used her
credstick!) but they were exceptionally similar.
Between the grades and the tolerance level, it seemed to Caroline that
Angela would have made a superb decker.
Where was she?
An ugly possibility occurred to her. When Angela disappeared, Caroline's
body had been captive in Montaigne Paradisio. Perhaps they had not
wanted to free her physically, preferring to maintain that hold over her--
but had wanted her to do something that demanded physical form. Perhaps
they intended her to possess Angela, aided by the physical similarity and
by Angela's passionate desire to *be* Jayhawk. Aliantha had done such
things, or so Martha had implied. Caroline remembered her terror at the
prospect of becoming Aliantha's host. Was that what had been in store for
her? Was it still? Not victim, but agressor?
She wanted to take human form again; but not at Angela's expense. She
felt an odd sense of responsibility for the girl.
She considered hiring a private eye. She had no money--apparently her
friends had ransacked and closed out her account, and she could hardly
blame them--but she could steal some, if she had to. But if Paradisio
had Angela, would it do any good? She might well be at the High Temple,
or somewhere equally inaccessable.
A brief visit to Anubis established that if there was a link from the
Life-game in the CPU to any outside location, as there had once been to
Caroline's body, it was too subtle for either Caroline or Jayhawk to
Caroline returned to the Matrix, rather subdued, and found that it was
time for her meeting with Michael. Time seemed to flow unpredictably
differently between the Overnet and the Matrix; she was having no
success at predicting how long she'd be gone.
To her surprise, Michael spotted her at the same time that she saw him.
"New sensor code!" he said jubilantly. "I told them that I was having
trouble spotting things, and they got it for me right away. Straight
from Singapore, they said."
They spent the evening pulling the sensor code apart, at Caroline's
suggestion, looking for traps. There were several neatly interwoven
traces, but nothing else that she could spot. Sandwiched among the
technical details, he told her about meeting Angela's friends. He had
no doubt that she was real, though he *had* used email....none of them
would see him in person; apparently the authorities had harassed them
Toward morning he asked her how her run had gone. "Still underway," she
said, "and I'm scared to death. I have to make a leap in the dark,
trust someone or not...." She could tell that any hint of personal
involvement in the conversation made him nervous, but she wanted
desperately, for another human being to acknowledge her.
"Don't worry. I'm sure you'll do fine." In a challenging voice, "You
have to, you still haven't explained that flying trick, and I can't even
get started figuring out how you did it."
"I don't know either."
"Sure you don't." He snorted. "Okay, okay, I can take a hint."
"Forked Lightning, would you want to do...what I've done?"
"How can I tell? I don't know anything about it."
She turned away, looking up into the shadowy overhang of the Matrix sky.
They were in the University grid, weaving among the densely packed
systems. "What would you say if I told you that I only exist here and
on the Overnet, that there's nothing physical left?"
"I always did figure you for an AI," he said in a voice that was only
"Am I? Do I seem that...inhuman?"
"How do you tell an AI from a human being? *I* don't know. You seem
all right to me." He mused for a moment. "Would I do that? I'm not
sure. Probably--to be as good as you are."
"I have to go," she said awkwardly.
"All right. I'll see you tomorrow," he said forcefully. "Is that a
"No. But I'll do the best I can."
She wanted to stay, desperate for some kind of comfort or reassurance, but
he didn't understand, couldn't. She toyed with the idea of writing to
Kurt or Yoichi, but that didn't seem any better. Martha understood, at
least a little, but she didn't want to call Martha again. 'I can't do
this very many more times,' Martha had said, and Caroline was resolved
to make the next one count.
Jayhawk was waiting, back at Anubis. There was really nowhere else to go.
Having seen firsthand how her system could be penetrated, Jayhawk
settled herself to the task of plugging the hole. She quickly discovered
just how difficult it was going to be. The "hole" was a basic
part of Anubis' nature, its function as a gateway between the planes.
She couldn't close it, and she had a lot of trouble seeing how she could
It occured to her that she would understand better from within.
Jayhawk lay back in her hammock, considered that. It *would* be more
efficient to work from within the machine, all of its capabilities at
her disposal. It would let her solve the problem in minutes rather than
weeks; find a solution, perhaps, that she would never see otherwise.
And sooner or later it would wear away her personality and will, until
nothing was left but Anubis.
She wasn't entirely sure she cared. The twelve seconds--she remembered
each one of them individually, like days, like years--that she had spent
within Anubis had been...she groped for words, found them unsatisfactory.
Contentment seemed too passive, ecstasy too distracted....there had
been no distractions; only effortless power, and the delight of
experiencing her full capabilities--that was how it had felt, as if
Anubis had always been meant to be a part of her, or she of it. It was
hard to endure the separation, a second lack to add to the loss of
But she remembered, with the same crystalline, perfect clarity, how
difficult it had been to escape, how far she had scattered herself into
the machine. In eleven seconds. Anubis was stronger than she....no,
that wasn't it exactly. She didn't have the strength in herself to
deal with what she was being offered, to possess Anubis rather than
being possessed. Anubis was perfect as she had created it, powerful as
it should be. *She* was lacking.
Dissolved in the glory of the machine...nothing would be lost; she had
seen herself recorded in the patterns of code, everything she was. Only
changed, changed beyond recall.
She could almost see how to do it without Kurt's code, by will and
intuition. She wrapped her arms around her, hiding her hands from the
temptation of touch, the possibility....
It hurt, a physical ache in her chest and throat. She remembered
Matrix deprivation. That had been addiction; this was not, it seemed
to her--Anubis had cleansed her of such weaknesses. It was simply
desire. The Matrix had been barely a shadow of what there was to be
*Anubis is mine! Why can't I survive it, what's wrong with me?*
*Incomplete.* She remembered looking at the code that was herself,
wondering what was lacking in it. Even in the embrace of the machine,
she had still felt that lack. She was not whole without Caroline.
"Mine," she said aloud, heard the faint echo of her voice in the
recesses of the CPU. "I *need* her."
She went back to her work, resolutely, struggling with the indirect
access that was all she could manage in her embodied state. Once her
control of Anubis from the CPU had seemed so perfect, impossible to
improve on. She knew better now. But she did make progress, slowly
ruling out approaches one after another. No answer presented itself.
She had created Anubis as a jewel of light in the midst of darkness, its
silver bridges suspended over starless black pools, dark depths yawning
beneath the watchtowers, the CPU itself dim as starlight. But it had
never seemed like night to Caroline until now.
She and Jayhawk shared the long night in their private node, sitting
together on the soft black-padded shelf high above the uncertain and
broken flooring, the lights of Anubis' functioning a continual soft flow
about them. Slowly, feeling her way, she told Jayhawk the story of
everything that had happened to her since their intial separation.
Her frustration and jealousy, her despair that everything she did seemed
to serve Lefty's plan, the Dragon's plan, especially her dealings with
Angela. Shame that she might have helped Paradisio sacrifice an
innocent, and that she cared what they thought of her, that the title of
High Priestess stirred a sick pride and desire in her.
The wild freedom of flight, the terror of defying the Hawk, denying the
Balance, and the pain of its gift. The worse pain of Jayhawk's
mistrust, driving them apart.
She'd told most of it before, but not so honestly, not in such detail.
It didn't come easily. She'd never been good at talking about personal
"You've changed," said Jayhawk at last.
"I know." She looked up, met silver-blue eyes like a mirror of her own.
"But not to suit them. No matter what they say, no matter how they try
to twist it around." Whispered, looking down: "I will die before I
serve *him*. And damn it all, I don't intend to die."
"I know," the other whispered, voice as like hers as an echo. "I
believe you, too." She uncurled, lay face-down on the shelf, staring
down into the node, and spun her own story in return. Piebald and the
perverse trust they had come to share. Her helpless fury at the fetus,
at all the intrusions she didn't have the power or control to stop. And
worst of all, the delight of Anubis, of power, completion, effortless
clarity--and the knowledge that it would destroy her, unravel her
personality strand by strand until, though every fiber remained, the
tapestry was gone. "I have no soul," she whispered. "Or something like
that. You have your power, your flight, your visions and your freedom.
I have Anubis; or I thought I did."
Caroline put her arms around Jayhawk, felt the sharp tingle of her
presence. Words came unbidden to mind: *Whatever power or surety I
have, I share with you now.* She wanted it to be now....Sharp as Matrix
withdrawal, deep as the knife-cut of death that had touched her twice
now, desire ached at her.
"How can we do it?" she said simply, and Jayhawk, understanding,
replied: "Go back to your garden, remake Anubis as you see it
should be. I'll hold things together from here as long as I can, and
then go within. Work quickly, Caroline. I want to live too."
"What about the Life-game?"
"It will have to take its chances, and so will we. I'm not willing to
wait any longer. I don't want to lose you. I don't want to lose *me*.
And...in the long run I think Martha was right the first time. We don't
survive like this."
She leaned her head back, resting it against Caroline. "I think it will
be...a lot like dying. What will that make it, three times?"
Unexpectedly she laughed, a soft clear sound like an echo of the
system's chimes. "I've thought about it, and I have a spell for you, o
magician. 'I embrace you, and claim all your power, your knowledge,
your soul. I accept your embrace, and surrender to you all my
knowledge, my power, my soul.' It has to be both." Her voice was
ragged. "Or one of us dies, at least. Maybe both. We're both very
Caroline nodded, afraid to speak, and pushed herself off the platform,
hovering in the shadows of the node. She spread her arms, the garment
she had woven of her life-thread spilling about her like wings. From
the platform, Jayhawk reached out a hand, waving goodbye or perhaps
reaching for her, as if to share her flight.
Sunlight in the garden, and the islands spread out below her, waiting
for the touch of transformation.
[And then the GM called a two-week time out so that he could think about
Copyright 1991 Mary K. Kuhner