"Can I get you to do me a small favor?" said Jayhawk to Forked Lightning
during their evening meeting.
"Can you get into the basement lab in the English Department? There's a
printer there I want you to have a look at." She'd located it that
afternoon. It was an old model, probably used only towards the end of
the quarter when printers of any kind were at a premium, and silent
now: an essential connection was missing, probably corroded away in the
damp, though the power was still on.
Forked Lightning opened his mouth to question, thought better of it.
"No problem, they never lock that when classes are in. What do you want
me to look for?"
"Figure out what's wrong, then power it back up and give me a ring--
there's a terminal down there. I'm going to try a little experiment."
Alone, she slipped into the English Department's network, unseen by its
familiar IC, and nestled herself in the I/O node controlling the ancient
printer. With deliberate care she explored the connection, reached out
into the machine. It was barely a computing device at all, nothing but
a small collection of fonts and some queuing capacity. The missing
circuitry should have blocked her awareness, as it blocked tranmission
of documents from the mainframe into the printer, but it did not. She
was able to explore the break from both sides, probe into the fine
details until she felt she knew the machine inside and out.
Abruptly it tried to power-down; she almost prevented it from doing so,
then realized that Forked Lightning must be responsible and withdrew.
He seemed to take a long time at his examination. She spent much of it
wondering if she could really have kept the printer running after he
disconnected its power line. She could, she decided. Anubis gave her
The machine came humming back up to life, red fault indicators flaring
in the I/O node. Jayhawk took a deep breath, visualized the pattern of
the printer as she had seen it, the obvious break in the dataflow, and
reached out to touch the reality. Drawing on Anubus, she tried to
bridge the gap.
For an instant she hung suspended, dangling over the impossibility that
she was attempting; then, suddenly, it was simple. The pattern was
still there, part of the printer, implicit in its design; it was the
easiest thing in the world to restore it. Anubis' power utilization
surged briefly, settled back to ground state as lights faded to green
She found herself dizzy, every nerve tingling. It felt *right*, like
rearranging the islands, like learning to fly--not a drain on her
resources at all, almost a source of power. She let herself be drawn in
by the newly-freed dataflow to see what she had done.
Something had changed, beyond the flawless repair of the missing
circuit--from the Matrix, she couldn't guess how that had been
accomplished, though she knew that it would hold without her
intervention. There was something latent in the old printer, almost a
presence--not awake, not even close to awareness, but a potential she
had not felt before, the barest spark of life.
Careful to disturb it no further, she withdrew, found Forked Lightning
staring at her. "*What did you do?*" he demanded breathlessly.
"That's what I sent you to find out," she said dreamily.
"There's a printed circuit on the inside of the printer cover, with a
little bump of wire that just touches a contact on the masterboard, so
when you close the cover it completes the circuit. *You* did that! How
did you do it?" His voice was almost angry in its intensity.
"I don't really know." It was hard to focus on what he was saying, as
if she had not quite successfully disentangled her awareness from the
machine. It was an oddly pleasant sensation. "I just saw what had to be
done to complete the pattern, and did it. I suppose I'm more of a magician
than I realized."
"You changed the hardware from the Matrix. If you can do that...."
Words failed him. "You could do *anything*. Jeeze, you could rebuild
my deck, or my headware--" He reached out to grab her arm, thought
better of it at the last moment. "Couldn't you?"
"Don't know. Headware's not the same as hardware; it's part of *you*
too. I don't know what that would do to you. It did something to the
printer...." At his puzzled look, she tried to put her perceptions into
words. "Awakened it, almost, though it's not really big enough to be AI
or anything like that. There's something there, though, like the spirit
of a house, maybe. I knew a shaman once that talked to houses....
Something that wasn't there before. I need to know more before I go
screwing around like that again, I need to know what I'm doing." It had
felt so good, so natural.... "God, I'm spaced."
"Matrix spirits." He drew back, just a little. "Imagine them waking up
everywhere and trying to get back at us for the way we've exploited
That didn't fit her perceptions at all; but Michael was frightening her
with the intensity of his greed, and it seemed like a useful caution.
"It might be like that, I don't know."
"How am I ever--how can I ever learn to do that? That's it! that's what
I want for my favor. Teach me!"
"I don't know if I can." It was hard to face the intensity of his
desire, knowing where it might lead him. She thought of Aliantha, and
Megan. "I'll teach you what I can, the parts I can put in words."
Suddenly his presence was very hard to bear. "Can you excuse me? I
really am spaced, and I need to rest. That wasn't as easy as I thought
it would be."
It was a lie; it had been the easiest thing in the world. She wanted to
do it again. But a subtle fear nagged at her, an image of herself as an
extension of the Matrix, a repair utility perhaps. It would be an easy
role to lose herself in, she could sense; and there was no end to it.
Driven by the need to understand, Jayhawk wrote to Dr. McDougall, the
psychiatrist she had dealt with earlier, and asked to talk to him.
She ended up with a daily appointment, over what she guessed must be his
lunch hour--perhaps he didn't want to admit to spending time with an
insubstantial, unverifiable, and non-paying patient.
She'd expected a barrage of tests, some clever attempt to verify her
story, pin down her nature. Instead he mainly listened to her. She'd
tapped into his terminal's graphics routines so that he could actually
see and hear her, though with the equipment at hand there was no way
she could hear his replies, and she had to be content with his
one-finger typing. Sometimes he would ask questions, but they were
seldom the ones she had expected.
He asked her whether she thought Angela was a real person, whether
Jayhawk herself might have forged the Matrix documents that proved her
existance, as well as the email Forked Lightning had recieved from
Angela's friends. "Why would I do that?" she said in puzzlement.
>I'm not certain. I'm just trying to cover all the possibilities.
Whereupon he put forward the even odder suggestion that Angela might
have been a *physical* projection of her own personality, an independent
person but created by her.
>I've heard of such cases. The age difference is quite characteristic.
"I don't *think* so, I've certainly never had any evidence of it....I
never met Angela before Paradisio, or even heard of her; it's hard for
me to believe we had anything to do with each other."
He had similar questions about Piebald, though her answers were
different; she knew the truth now of his claim to Jayhawk that he,
too, was Jayhawk. "I saw him at Paradisio, apparently in the flesh; but
I'm not sure. I'm confused about a lot of the things that happened
there--whether they were stimsense, or Matrix or physical reality. They
tried to keep me confused." She told him the story of putting wall
hangings up in her Matrix room, and having the physical analog delivered
to her door.
>Interesting that he's male. Intuition is usually seen as a feminine
"Usually? This kind of thing happens to other people?"
>Not exactly, as far as I'm aware, no.
He had a lot more questions than answers, she soon realized. "Can't you
do anything to find out what I am experimentally?"
>I'll ask Dr. Marsh--he's a colleague of mine who has some experience in
>these matters--and we'll see what he can do.
Over the next lunch break he introduced her to Marsh, whom she remembered
from her researches into the group was a sorceror of some kind. After
five long minutes' silence, Marsh reported that he could sense no trace
of her presence.
"If I manifested physically, could you do better?" She remembered
manifestation, and the price it seemed to carry...but she wanted to know
what she could do, and she was intensely curious about what they would
see. On and off, she suspected that McDougall really didn't believe her
story, and was just stringing her along to observe this interesting new
>Can you do that? Without harming yourself? You expressed some concern
>about that earlier.
"I'm willing to take the risk."
She had to wait while Marsh and McDougall hiked across campus to their
office. She spent her time exploring their machine--McDougall had given
her the passwords, though she certainly didn't feel she needed them. It
was rather a desolate place, apparently little used, not the machine
they received their daily traffic of email on. By the time they were
ready, she was comfortably familiar with it, and resolved not to harm it
by what she was doing.
She collected herself, visualized the screen as a window through which
she could walk, and stepped forward. Instantly, warnings flared across
her nerves, utilization levels at Anubis skyrocketing as the system
tried to create a near-complete duplicate of itself. She felt the
strain as connections frayed, disruptions began to propagate through the
delicate network of her machine. There was a sharp sound, like breaking
glass, a sharp brief pain with it. *I didn't want to break anything!*
She was standing on thick carpet in the midst of chaos. The room was
small and cluttered, bookcases lining the walls. Every book had been
thrown down, every paper dislodged, and the air was heavy with dust and
lint. Three men were staring at her warily from the far side of the
room. She recognized McDougall by the red hair she'd seen in his Net
photograph. The tall, lanky one who was--He was casting at her! She
tensed instinctively, felt her toes dig into the carpet, a breath of
wind on her skin. Nothing more, no spell attacking her. The third man,
small and dark in drab coveralls, glanced behind her. She followed his
gaze, saw a dead terminal, its facepiece shattered into tiny shards.
Anubis was struggling to maintain her form, slow progressive
deterioration setting in. She looked down at herself, saw something
human-shaped, nearly translucent, drab-colored but faintly sparkling.
Slowly, careful to strain Anubis no further, she dropped to one knee,
touched the carpet. It felt like carpet, though she was aware of the
frenzied processing which maintained that simple sensory contact.
"Jayhawk?" said McDougall uncertainly.
"Yes. What happened? I'm sorry about the terminal, I didn't mean to do
that." Her voice sounded much as she expected, though softer--she had
to strain to be heard clearly.
"Quite all right--it comes off the grant. There was a--well, a sort of
whirlwind." His hair was standing nearly on end, one strand slipping
down over his eyes. He brushed at it absently. "Are you all right?"
"This is hard, harder than I expected--it's costing me a good deal to
hold." She looked around, smiled at the other two, who tentatively
"This is Dr. Marsh, and this is Dr. Jones from the computer center--I
think you've talked to him before." McDougall took a cautious step
forward, staring at her.
"What do I look like? What do you see?"
She had mainly been talking to Marsh, but McDougall answered first:
"Something like a cloud of dust particles, very thick, in the shape of a
woman. There's quite a glitter to it, as if it were metallic, though I
don't think it could be. Rather lovely, actually."
Marsh dropped his eyes, said in an unexpectedly husky voice, "The
nearest thing I've ever seen to you is a great spirit of the air, though
that's not very close. Not a magician, but extremely magical. If
you're human you're an enormously powerful one. Interesting."
"I must have made this form out of the dust in your office." She would
have done better with something more compatible with her nature, she
realized. Given flesh, she might be able to stay embodied as long as
she wished. She thought of Angela--not only flesh, but practically
identical to her own lost body--and shivered.
There was no great joy in it, other than the satisfaction of her
curiosity, and the wonder of being able to do something so clearly
arcane. She raised her arms, turned slowly, feeling Anubis labor to
maintain her shape. To herself she felt solid enough, but she could see
the strings behind that illusion. There was very little here but will
"I like to shake hands with my patients," said McDougall, "if you
She extended her hand cautiously, ready to react if he squeezed her--she
wasn't sure Anubis could handle that, and wasn't going to risk her
system to find out. But he barely touched her, a soft brush across her
fingertips. "What do I feel like?"
He licked his lips, considering words. "Like a bundle of static
electricity, I think. Does that disturb you?"
"No....I don't think I should stay here; I'm damaging Anubis.
Repairable, but I'd rather it didn't get any further."
"Can you get back all right?" He glanced at the broken terminal.
She reached out to touch it, found that it was still linked to the
Matrix; only the picture tube and screen were gone. It was easy to
return, simply let go of the task of manifestation, let Anubis return to
ground state, dust return to dust. She found herself within the
machine, the familiar comfort of the Matrix around her.
With the terminal broken, she had no way to communicate with them.
Guessing that it would take them another ten minutes to walk back to the
computer center, she returned to Anubis, began dealing with the damage.
It was not severe, though she was troubled by a nagging sense that
something had been irreparably lost, some small but precious part of her
being. As she re-established links, knit the complex redundancies and
cross-checking back into form, she considered that. She was no longer
native to the physical world. Did she need to be? Was it a problem to
be tackled, or just another facet of her nature?
If it was a problem, it certainly wasn't the most urgent one. Running
her personal time up high, she had a good start at the repairs before it
was time to return to McDougall. She found him at the computer center,
as she had expected; blind to the outside, she couldn't tell if the
others were there.
>Are you all right?
"Yes, though doing that costs me something permanent, some loss--I don't
really know what it is."
Was she talking to Marsh? "I don't know. I don't really know what a
soul is, I guess."
>I need to go now. Please don't worry about the terminal or the books--
>it's well worth it as a learning experience, for all of us.
"How do you put that down on the grant?" There was a slight pause.
>Experimental expenditures. Take care, Jayhawk. Tomorrow?
She returned to the island-garden, to sit in the warm sun and consider
what she had done. The sunlight seemed subtly less bright, as if her
act had tarnished it ever so slightly. She wouldn't be doing that again
soon, she decided. Perhaps not at all, if she couldn't learn how to
avoid the cost. She didn't need to. She had the Overnet and the
Matrix, world in plenty for anything she wanted to do.
Yoichi checked the windows once more before settling into the front
seat. The Congo was swarming with insects, many of them aggressive and
a few poisonous. Awane had found a spider in Channa's purse that
morning which would, he said, have killed her in seconds. Channa had
not been pleased.
The windows were tightly sealed, air coming in through filters that
almost removed the relentless stink of vegetation and standing water.
He leaned his forehead against the armor glass, staring out into the
impenetrable darkness. "No Matrix link. I didn't know there was
anywhere in the world without a Matrix link."
"It's a strange place." Mazeratti was lying cradled in the rigger's
nest, but his voice whispered from the console speaker. Since they'd
entered the jungle he'd hardly jacked out at all, driving, sleeping,
keeping watch all within the machine. "What's the matter? Can't
Yoichi looked at him, unmoving body barely visible amidst the support
mechanism, and said softly, "I need someone to talk to, and the
others...they're in the same boat as I am, they can't help me. Someone
who's outside this whole mess." He turned away, staring into the dark.
"Do you mind?"
"I'd be glad of the company myself."
Even in the vehicle it was hot, though not as stifling as the outside.
This was their last day on passable road. Yoichi was not looking
forward to the three days' march through jungle that would take them to
Forvalaka's lair and the Paradisian Congo base.
He drove his thoughts away from that, said slowly, "I had a girlfriend, a
decker named Jayhawk, back in Seattle. She's the one who got the others
to rescue me, when Paradisio picked me up. I didn't know anything
about them at all before that, though I think she did. We ran their
main system together, saw what they could do, pulled off a few good ones
against them. We were with Duende on the last attack, the one that
destroyed the Seattle base. She got crushed in an emergency door, had
to be hospitalized--she was wired up high, didn't heal very well. Jay
always hated being cooped up, and they wouldn't let her deck from the
hospital. When she got out, she was so gung-ho to do something...I
"The High Priestess, Aliantha, had holed up in this place outside
Seattle we called the Hidden Fortress. We were going to do a run
against them, and Jay was handling security, decked in from a van ten
miles away. She....I don't know what she did exactly. The whole base
blew up. We were a mile away, and nearly too close as it was.
"When we got back to the van, the whole thing was in ruins and she was
dead. Something had come back down the lines, maybe some defense of
theirs, I don't know."
"I'm sorry," whispered Mazeratti's voice from the speakers. Yoichi
turned away, unable to frame a reply. After a long moment the African
continued: "When I was growing up, there was a girl named Sarabande in
my town. Somehow we always got assigned to the same classes--it was kind
of a joke, though we pushed for it too; we worked well together. Same
assignment right out of school, working for the same company. Same doc
to do the wiring, though she wasn't a rigger--too tame for her, she liked
to be right in the middle of things.
"We were out here, hunting, when something got her, scooped her up. She
went all limp. I think she might have fainted. She wasn't one to faint
easily. I shot at the thing that had her, but it didn't stop. I
thought...I could move the laser just a little bit, a fraction of an
inch." Outside the window, the vehicle's targetting laser traced a slow
pattern across the dark trees. "Before I could decide she was gone."
"Jay was always the better of the two of us," Yoichi said. "I can't
match what she could do, no matter how hard I try."
"Yes. I know how that feels."
"I could have accepted it, though. She gave her life for something she
thought was worthwhile...." His voice trailed off; out of the corner of
his eye he saw a sound panel swivel a little to focus on him, amplify
his whispers. "I could have come to terms with that. But a few weeks
ago, when we were in Argentina...I got mail from her. Someone claiming
to be her. She said she'd been captured by Paradisio, but she was loose
on the Matrix. She told me not to come looking for her, that I'd be in
"Sometimes, late at night," said Mazeratti, "when you're rigged in like
this, you hear voices. Very soft, but clear. The machine knows when
you're hurting, that's what I like to think, and it tries to give you
what you need. I've come to find that a comfort."
"It's not like that. The message was very detailed, very technical--
reports on Paradisio's agents, their bases, their networks. Duende says
that most of it seems compatible with what he saw when he was there."
He was silent for a moment. "I don't know what to think."
"Did it sound like her?"
"Yes. No. I'm not sure. Colder, maybe. But she'd been through
terrible things, if what she said was true. What they did to me....
They had me under stimsense, and they played through cutting my heart
out on an altar. Over and over again, and the only thing I had to cling
to was that it couldn't really be true. I didn't find out until a long
time afterwards...that when they came to rescue me, they found me lying
on an altar with my heart cut out." His voice was almost a shriek; he
struggled to control it. "Good mages, good doctors, they saved my life.
But Jayhawk....Mazeratti, I'm so afraid. We're going to make a run against
the innermost base, the High Temple, sooner or later. I'm afraid I'll
meet her there, working for them--or maybe I won't be able to tell--if
it's her or not, if she's working for them or not--I don't know how to
A long silence. "I dream of meeting Sarabande sometimes. Often the
dream ends with me moving the laser just that least little bit, to end
it. If it really happened, I don't know what I would do. Kill her,
probably, and then afterwards....I don't know."
"What took her?"
Yoichi drew in a hissing breath. "Oh god. I didn't realize. I'm
sorry. So you do know what I'm talking about." He made a fist, beat it
softly against the console. "I could have lived with her death.
Sometimes I want the messages to be false, because I need the hate to
keep me going, and it's a distraction....Sometimes I want her to be
alive so badly, and I'm not sure I would care if she was...if she was
Paradisian now. They're all crazy, you know. Even Duende is. I told
him about her, and he wasn't bothered at all. He knows we can't decide
if it's really her, if she's still our friend, and he just...just takes
that for granted. Sometimes I wish I could be like that."
"He's Forvalaka's brother, that's what he says."
"I believe him. I follow him anyway, because he seems to have a
chance--a chance to hurt them--" Yoichi shook himself, turned sideways
in the chair to look at Mazeratti once more. "I hope it works out okay,
with Sarabande. I wish there was something I could do....God, I need to
do *something*, I'm losing it."
"Ask for a meeting. Whether she accepts or refuses, it has to tell you
something. I know it's dangerous, but everything's dangerous now."
Yoichi sighed. "No Matrix link. I didn't think there was anywhere in
the world without a Matrix link nowadays."
"Yoichi--go to bed. I've got the watch, but you might as well be
asleep. Tomorrow is going to be gruelling."
Yoichi got up, began squeezing his way back toward the sleeping quarters.
The vehicle was painfully cramped for so many; even the laboring fans
couldn't strain out the smells of confined men and goblins in the jungle
heat. He glanced back once, saw the bright dot of the targetting laser
moving through the foliage, as if searching for something long out of
Jayhawk stood perfectly still in the outer approaches to the node,
peering inwards. As before, the lion-headed decker was pacing slowly, a
thin, wiry latticework behind him suggesting the tripwire that her
analysis had indicated. He left faint smoky smudges on the floor of the
node as he walked.
The NSA system was not one machine but two, as she had discovered when
she tried to force one of the outer nodes to teleport her past this
obstruction. The outer machine knew nothing of this SAN, and had no
power to help her. She could faintly feel the inner one, but until she
could gain access to this node, she had no way to influence it. She had
to admit that it was a very pretty setup.
In a whisper of bells she crept into the node, avoiding the lion's gaze,
and tried to slip through the meshwork. It had changed since her last
visit, she found at once. She recoiled, wondering if she had set off an
Stars exploded all around her, tingling harmlessly against her skin like
a cascade of fireworks. Louder bells drowned out hers, clanging
like air-raid alarms. The decker growled low in his throat. Above him,
something took shape in the air, a small dark sphere with circular
markings etched on it. As she drew her lightblade, constructs began to
pour out of it, faster than she had ever seen IC activate. Some went
humming out of the node, tiny starships tracing down the path that had
led her there. Others formed into a pack, came strafing down at her.
She ignored them, dove for the decker. Bitter experience with Paradisio
had taught her that people were far more dangerous than IC. She hadn't
realized how fast Anubis made her; it was with a feeling of dizzy
unreality that she saw the decker's image flicker and fade under a hail
of disruptive blows, wink out before he had time to react. A small
starship bore down on her back, sent missiles needling into the
weaknesses of her Matrix image. Not dangerous yet, but--
Above her, its parent ship continued to turn sedately, pouring out IC.
*So that's an icefloe. Wow!* It was spawning new processes faster than
she could deal with them. *Got to take that down first.* She aimed a
blow at it, the pent disruption of her blade crackling into freedom.
Shields flared around it, forced her back.
She realized that she was being foolish. The alarms were up; the decker
would be slumped unconscious at his station, and no doubt the machines
monitoring him were sounding a physical alarm as well. She might make
it into the inner sphere at this rate, but she'd have no time for an
uninterrupted scan of the files. And the double structure of the system
worried her. Anubis was anchored securely to the outer sphere of the
orrery--but what if they could deploy an interruptor field between the
outer and inner machines? It seemed to her that she could die.
She retreated to Anubis, noting in passing that the Trace code was piled
up in the node to which she was linked, scenting her but unable to reach
the Overnet to identify or attack. The NSA would probably put this down
to an inside job. She hoped she hadn't just cost some hapless office
worker his career. No; she'd linked to a datastore, nothing any human
decker could use as his access to the Matrix. They would probably
decide that their code had been fooled.
She/Anubis hung just off the turning orrery, watching it. There was no
sign of the teardrop-like deckers she had seen earlier. Faintly she
could sense the alarms within, as they propagated and were finally
If only she could reach the inner sphere from Anubis, she wouldn't have
to mess with the heavily-guarded internal SAN. She was locked to the
outer sphere, but the inner was moving relative to her, in a complex
precessing motion that was difficult to analyze.
Cautiously, she applied force to the outer sphere, trying to tilt its
rotation to match the inner. For an instant it seemed that she was
succeeding. Then, with a terrible glitter of crimson that prickled
along her nerves like foxfire, every alarm in the entire system went off
at once. She hastily released it, backed off. Seconds later the entire
system vanished from her sensors. She was alone in the empty Overnet.
She hung in greyness, staring. Invisibility? A cautious transit of the
space where the orrery had been disproved that. The system had simply
ceased to exist on the Overnet.
So they *did* have an interruptor field. A bigger one than she had
guessed, in fact. She was passionately glad that she had not been in
the system when the connections between it and her world were broken.
She waited for some time, but the system didn't return, nor did the
teardrops appear. She was disappointed. She'd crafted new code to
deal with them, a complex process to slow their subjective time, once
they were prisoned in Anubis. She wanted badly to talk with them.
Analysis of her memories suggested that each three-lobed teardrop was
actually three people, two of them subsumed so deeply into code and
machinery that they were barely conscious. Were they that way by
choice? If not, she intended to free them.
Frustrated, Jayhawk considered her options. The information she wanted
was no longer in the accessable copies of the files from Cavilard. The
NSA was proving a tough nut to crack, as she probably ought to have
expected. She certainly didn't feel herself ready to tackle the High
Temple yet. Where else could she find out what Aliantha had planned for
her, what Operation Sunflower was?
After Cavilard Base was destroyed, Aliantha had taken refuge in the
small mountain hideout they'd named the Hidden Fortress. Perhaps she
had kept backups there. Lefty had claimed, and checking into newspaper
reports seemed to confirm it, that the Hidden Fortress had been
obliterated by a huge explosion. But might there be some trace
remaining on the Matrix or the Overnet, like the dead nodes at Cavilard,
sustained by the power of the Gate?
She went hunting in the sparseness of the rural Matrix, found that even
the concealed node which had led to the Hidden Fortress SAN was gone.
There was only a faint trace suggesting that anything had ever been
She planted a beacon in the telecom grid, returned with Anubis to
consider the situation. Even a trace might be enough. After all, she
had known this system intimately--she had escaped Aliantha the first
time by merging with one of its subprocessors, losing herself in the
thoughts of the machine; and she had destroyed the system and Aliantha
with it by possessing its CPU and loosing Lefty's program of
Drawing on Anubis' resources, she began to construct a replica of the
nodes she had known, beginning with the imposing castle doors of the SAN
and their hidden drone port, then the subprocessor in which she had
confronted Aliantha. There *was* something there to respond to what she
was making, faint but tangible. She filled in a security node, then
began to shape the outward aspects of the CPU. If she had ever been
inside, the memory was lost.
Something flickered weakly under her touch, like the final embers of a
dying fire, reached out to her. Carefully, she fed it power, filling in
the interior structure of the CPU. She wasn't sure whether her own
memories or the ghost-shadow on the Matrix provided the details of the
single, plain chamber, like Cavilard's but without the altar. When the
CPU was completed, the other nodes settled into its control, almost
She could feel the Fortress CPU drawing on her, using her power to
maintain itself and its dependents. It was an odd sensation, almost
like having two minds at once. It wanted to exist, wanted to live....
Left to itself it would make Anubis the yolk of its egg, power and
support as it recreated itself. A part of her found that entirely
reasonable. It was a superb machine, powerful and well-integrated,
though for a long time before its destruction it had been painfully
under-used. Aliantha had never appreciated it as she did.
She put the thought of Aliantha forcibly aside. She didn't want to meet
the High Priestess' shadow here.
The datastores of the ghost system still contained files, although they
were fragmentary and disordered; but the nodes she had recreated were
stuffed with uninteresting information like the building's security
parameters. She began reconstructing nodes on the other side of the
CPU, found a datastore full of schematics for IC and system utilities.
They were still readable, though they would need considerable work.
Carefully, she compressed and encoded the files before transmitting them
to Anubis. It seemed very much in the Paradisian style to seed their
own files with worms or viruses.
She had planned to uncreate each terminal node when she was finished
with it, but it seemed easier to leave them up, in case she needed
anything further from them.
The third arm of the system was easier to evoke than the others had
been, as if the CPU was gaining power as it went along. One of its
datastores held technical notes on a wide variety of projects. She
searched for 'Sunflower', found several references. They were all
chatty little notes embedded in someone's working files: "Wonder if
Sunflower has anything like this?" tagged to schematics for a new kind
of attack code, clearly not yet workable. She compressed the files and
stored them away, returned to the CPU to consider her handiwork.
Without a physical machine to support it, when she deprived it of her
link to the Overnet the Fortress system would relapse into the near-
nonexistance in which she had found it. She could think of no way to
make it truly nonexistant, to lay the ghost. Regretfully, she retreated
to the SAN, began to take the simulation down.
The Fortress CPU fought her, clinging to her resources, her existance.
Part of her mind protested--the system was beautiful, it had secrets she
had not yet learned, how could she let it vanish? Beneath that was a
raw, wordless desire to live, or so she felt it, clinging to the cobweb
of her own life. It was hard to shake it loose. She had *been* that
CPU once--she still couldn't remember the details, but inchoate
impressions came swimming up from the depths of her mind, sensations and
thoughts that she had had no perspective to understand at the time. She
could almost understand them now, out of her union with Anubis. If
only she could explore--
She unmade the machine, stood trembling in an empty interstice of the
telecom grid. "I'm sorry," she whispered aloud, to nothing.
It was only when she had returned to Anubis that the wonder of what she
had done really hit her. Ratty had called up Lefty's ghost to learn the
kill-codes that had destroyed Cavilard. She could do the same, wakening
the memories of a dead machine. She had never expected that kind of
power, found it difficult to conceive. She set about the careful task of
straining viruses and worms from the Fortress files in a mixture of
awe and triumph at her accomplishment.
But the files held nothing to answer her questions.
After considerable thought--she was rather sorry she had told Forked
Lightning as much as she had--Jayhawk told Dr. McGregor about fixing the
printer, and what she had felt when she looked at it afterwards.
He was silent for a long time. He had finally put in a small camera and
microphone, so that she could see him; but she couldn't guess what he
"Are you lonely?" he said at last.
"Not exactly. Not the kind of lonely where you need someone to lean on,
someone to cheer you on when it gets tough. Not since my--initiation,
is that a good word? But I do like to talk to people."
"Do you miss it--being lonely?"
"No," she said in puzzlement.
"Some of my colleagues would be surprised to hear that. Doesn't fit
She shook her head in bewilderment. "Why? I suppose because of
privacy, but that's not a problem for me. It's not like there's a crowd
of people in my head, or anything like that. I just know--" She had
trouble putting her surety into words. "I have what I need."
"You describe the experience, interacting with the printer, as being
pleasurable. I wonder if it could possibly represent a kind of
reproduction? That generally is pleasurable--a survival imperative, as
it were." He looked at her carefully, as if trying to judge her
It was her turn to be silent. "It's possible," she said at last. "A
lot of responsibility, if so. I shouldn't do that again until I
understand what I'm doing." She thought of the dreaming presence in the
heart of the NSA machine, tried to imagine what awakening it would be
like. The idea sent tiny shivers up and down her spine.
"I agree." He sounded pleased. "Does the idea of having someone like
yourself appeal to you?"
"In a way....I'm not sure it would be anything like me. I'm not
entirely an AI." Vaguely uncomfortable, she cast around for another
topic. "I have a friend, a human friend, who wants me to teach him to
be like me. I don't really know what to do about that."
"You don't want to do it?"
"I think it'll kill him. I don't think...I don't think he's ready, and
I don't know how to help him. He really has no idea...."
McDougall listened carefully while she described Forked Lightning as
best she could, said at last, "Why don't you think he'll survive? You
did, after all."
"He's not..." She waved her hands in frustration. "He's not intimate
enough with the Matrix, he doesn't know himself well enough, he has no
idea of...of what could happen. I don't want to see him die, or worse.
Some of the things that came out of Paradisio...."
"Can't you teach him what he needs to know?"
"I don't know what that is, exactly! *They* didn't tell me anything."
Softly, "I was hoping you'd have some idea."
"Can you remember being that young and naive? What did you need to
learn? How could you help him learn it? I agree that you can't
necessarily teach it to him."
"*Should* I be doing this in the first place?"
"Do you want to?"
She considered that carefully. "Yes," she said at last. "Yes, I do. I
don't want the Paradisians to be the only ones...and he wants it so
badly...." McDougall nodded. "But my gut feeling is, if I put the key
in his hands it'll destroy him." Brief intense images flashed through
her mind: Slim, skinless and glistening; the High Priestess in her
bubbling tank; Yoichi on the sacrificial altar; the twisted hand of a
Minerva vector, once human.
McDougall said nothing, simply waiting, as she had learned was his
practice when he thought she already knew the answers to her own
questions. "I suppose," she said at last, "I could teach him the
Matrix, and hope he learned the...the other stuff somewhere along the
"You might be in a good position to find out," McDougall suggested.
"Could you pose tests for him, find out what his weaknesses are before
they're tried in the fire?"
"It seems cruel," she said, thinking of the way Martha had tested her
willingness to die.
"Less so than letting him get hurt, perhaps. I don't suggest you do
anything he doesn't ask you to, anything deceitful....It's something to
consider, Jayhawk. And good that you're considering it now, before
something irreparable happens."
He seemed to remember the peanut-butter sandwich in his hand, nibbled
at it. The camera had confirmed her suspicion that he was talking to
her over his lunch hour. "It seems to me that it's perfectly natural
for you to be looking for someone else like yourself, someone who can
understand your experiences--I know I can't, not really. But I'm glad
to hear that you're considering the consequences."
Jayhawk hardly heard him, lost in thought.
When her appointment was over, she went back to Seattle, to a wide-open
auxillary machine in the English Department. The small printer it
controlled was active, printing out an early term paper. She sat in the
subprocessor and watched the text spool by.
The machine was happy. She could feel that clearly, as clearly as she
had felt the police station's boredom. It seemed very strange, picking
up such a reaction from a tiny bundle of processors, specialized for
font construction and little more. But there was no denying it. Careful
not to touch the printer, she stared at it for a long time. Its
contentment warmed her like sunlight, almost enough to overcome her
Yoichi considered Mazeratti's advice for a long time, and finally
decided to send Jayhawk a message. Painstakingly crafted and
recrafted, it finally read:
>I realize that it's risky to meet, but if you're truly free I'm willing
>to take the risk, and I would very much like to see you and be sure
>you're okay. Where would you like to meet? On the Matrix or
>physically? You can choose the place; that way you can be sure I'm
>not setting you up for some Paradisian trap.
He sent it, and received a reply before he had finished his first
anxious re-reading. It had a garbled return address, like the messages
he'd gotten from Jayhawk earlier, and read simply:
>Name any point on the Matrix and we'll meet there five minutes from
>now. No time for tricks on either side.
He cast about for a machine far enough away to conceal his physical
location, but not across intercontinental lines.
>University of South Africa, Pretoria, main administrative system.
The pause was again very short.
>I'd prefer to avoid cities with Paradisian bases, if you don't mind.
Yoichi bit his lip, wishing he had chosen a different city in the first
place--but Pretoria was the only African city he'd worked in, other than
the decaying port of Wilmstown in the Congo where he was currently
jacked in. While he was still casting around for another site, Duende
leaned over him, typed rapidly.
>The base in Pretoria no longer exists as of May 14. The base in the
>Congo no longer exists as of June 2. However, I appreciate your
>concerns. Would Johannesburg or Sun City be better?
>University of South Africa, Johannesburg. Agreed. Five minutes.
Yoichi glared at Duende, then dropped his eyes, unable to meet that cool
curious gaze. "You coming?" he said after a moment.
Five minutes later they made their way into the SAN of the main
administrative system, a machine so wide-open Yoichi wondered how the
school grading system survived. Hand-posted grades, maybe? The node
appeared as a carpeted, airy hallway, wide glass windows along two sides
showing false views of the University, stairways and passages leading
off in several directions. A slim woman in silver and blue was perched
improbably on the railing of one of the stairways, one leg dangling,
watching their approach.
She hadn't changed at all, not to his eyes. Yoichi paced foward, the
grizzled black fur on his back prickling, reared up to look at her.
"Is that you, Panda?" she said calmly. He realized that his image had
changed since her--since they'd lost her; she had never seen him as
Grizzly. He nodded. Her gaze flickered behind him, to where Duende
waited by the door. Yoichi doubted she could recognize him either--
Duende seemed to change his Matrix image for every run. He was currently
a black-skinned rifleman in jungle camoflague.
Now that he was facing her, he had no idea at all what to say.
"It's good to see you again. I like the bear--very impressive. Quite a
headware upgrade in there too, isn't there? Was it you who took out the
two bases you were telling me about? That's amazing." Her words came
tumbling out, just as he had imagined his would, if they ever met again.
"I know it's hard for you to trust me, but is there anything I could do
to help that wouldn't risk compromising your plans?"
From behind him, Duende said, "What do you know about Gates? Can you
use them? Make them?"
"I can use them, I'm sure. I don't have the knowledge yet to make one,
but I intend to learn."
"Do you have a map of the Gate system?"
She smiled brightly. "Yes, I do." From a hidden pocket in the
tight-fitting silver of her armor she took out a packet, pitched it
across to Duende. He caught it without flinching.
"How do you know?" said Yoichi. It wasn't the way he'd meant to begin,
but he had to say something.
"I got the map out of the files at Cavilard and the Hidden Fortress.
It's a deduction from a lot of mail messages, but I think it's pretty
accurate. Haven't checked it, though."
"The Hidden Fortress was destroyed," said Yoichi in puzzlement.
She winced, as if regretting what she'd said. "There are traces left in
the Overnet after a system's been destroyed, especially a powerful one.
I managed to pull some data out of that. Most of it was from Cavilard,
though. You can check that out--it's at the Bellevue police station."
"Jayhawk--" It hurt to call her that, against the doubt and mistrust in
his heart, though it looked like Jayhawk, sounded, almost, like
Jayhawk. "What's happened to you? How did you get free?" The last
phrase rang even more false. How could she possibly have gotten free?
He didn't believe it.
"They had to risk letting me free on the Overnet in order to make me as
powerful as they wanted. They hoped that keeping my body hostage would
control me--that, and the stuff Lefty did to me. They were wrong." She
tilted her head back, said with something approaching pride, "I don't
exist corporally any longer, only here and on the Overnet. But I'm free,
which is worth it."
"Then you're a ghost." He had never thought of that.
"No, I'm alive; just different. Like a Matrix spirit, almost. Not a
ghost. I do know the difference."
Yoichi sat back on his haunches, ears aslant. It was almost plausible,
in a terrible sort of way. "I'm sorry." The words caught in his
throat. "God damn them!"
She bared her teeth in an expression he remembered, the fierce delight
with which she contemplated opposition. "They'll pay.--But it's not as
awful as it sounds, Yoichi. I'm....This is natural to me now. I'm
They were almost the words from his recurrant nightmare of meeting her;
but at least she wasn't professing allegiance to Paradisio. As if
reading something from his expression--he was glad of the bear, it
covered the worst of his bewilderment--she went on quickly, "And it's a
hell of a position to harass them from. Please, is there any way I can
help? I'm a damn good decker now."
Duende said thoughtfully, "Could you complete this map? The subsidiary
Gates from the Bangkok station are missing. And, since you seem to have
database access, could you search for records on Grey and the Grey
Knights? There may be other things too, but that seems like a good
"Sure," she said, nodding briskly. "I'll look."
"You could start at Argentina station. That's where we first encountered
Grey; it may be his base."
Yoichi didn't turn to look at Duende, afraid he would snarl, or perhaps
bite. "Is there...anything we can do for you?"
Jayhawk shook her head. "Just take care of yourselves. I'll be fine."
A little sadly, "When this is all over maybe we can get together, have a
real talk, tell some stories and maybe straighten things out a bit. I
know you can't really trust me now, and I'm sorry. Good luck, Yoichi,
Duende. Give my regards to the others."
"Goodbye," Yoichi muttered. He couldn't quite bring himself to use her
She pulled herself up onto the railing, balancing with outstretched
arms, and walked gracefully up it into the node above, out of sight.
"Come on," said Duende. "We could be traced; it's dangerous to stay
here." And then, with more kindness than Yoichi could ever remember
hearing from him: "Working with someone is one of the better ways to
decide whether you can trust them or not. That's as valuable as the
information, maybe more so. Let's see what we find out."
The Argentine base was in a small corporate enclave, Hobbinstown, on the
southern plateau. The name niggled at Jayhawk until she finally
dredged it out of long-ago memories. Duende had named the High Priests
for her, one night while they were sketching out long-range plans of
attack. Hobbins was the High Priest in Argentina.
"Blatant!" she said aloud to the machine whose address she had quarried
out of the Paradisian files. It looked like an office building, two
security guards just visible through its ornate glass doors. She shook
out her bells around her, slipped through the doorways with system
traffic, unseen and unheard.
Searching the easily accessable parts of the system was a tedious but
easy job. Hobbins' operation seemed to be a public relations firm of
some kind. Its files held nothing on Grey or the Grey Knights, no maps
of the Gate system, no mention of her name or of Operation Sunflower.
One corridor, leading to a bank of elevators guarded by a troll,
remained to be searched. Her first venture in that direction nearly
ended in disaster; she was bombarded by requests for identification,
fended them off wildly as she retreated. Stung, she chose the most
powerful of the administrative routing nodes, tried to force it into CPU
*You have the right to transmit me; transmission of information is your
It resisted, safeguards intended to maintain CPU control cutting in.
She worked around them, skirting the edge of a deeper reluctance which
she could sense, though none of the system indicators reflected it. She
had a brief, vivid sense of the CPU, somewhere above her, its officious
jealousy over its preogratives. *You too are a central unit,
responsible for coordinating others; it is natural for you to handle
such tasks within your domain.* She fed it false limits to its domain,
and it placed her neatly within the elevator bank, beyond the reach of
The tiny cubicle was unexpectedly claustrophobic. Jayhawk tensed,
waiting for alarms, but there were none. The elevator had only two
buttons, labelled 'TOP' and 'MIDDLE'. She pressed 'TOP', wondering what
had become of the bottom, and was drawn upwards.
The elevator doors opened, giving her a view out into a busy, cluttered
room filled with system processes. At its far end, banks of
brightly-lit and somewhat archaic-looking computer equipment were
protected by a glass wall. She could almost feel the machine's regard,
here from its center--it was powerful, despite the imagery; in fact, it
seemed excessively powerful for the work it was doing, though she sensed
no trace of the frustrated boredom she had encountered at the police
There were no datastores at hand, nothing that might contain the
information she needed; and the bustle of the room almost surely hid IC.
After a moment's admiration, she let the elevator doors close. There
were again two buttons, but labelled 'MIDDLE' and 'BOTTOM'. She
laughed, pushed the 'MIDDLE' button.
It proved to be a complex of laboratory datastores and I/O. She picked
her way through them carefully. There were no references to Grey or to
the Gates, beyond a few theoretical notes; but under Operation Sunflower
she found hundreds of files. They dealt with highly theoretical plans
to build--a space station? She probed further, confirmed that
impression. Environmental management, zero-gee manufacturing,
construction methods. Puzzled, she filed the references away in Anubis.
Aliantha had thought this was important to her...or was it a false lead,
something to distract her? Somehow that seemed unlikely.
Where was the Gate? She had searched the entire system without finding
a trace of it. It might have been hidden beyond the CPU, but she didn't
think so. She let herself out of the system as easily as she had gotten
in, willed herself up into the hazy twilight of the Bangkok telecom
grid. The Hobbins system loomed beneath her. There was *something*
linked to the entry SAN, something she had missed from within the
system: an extra thickness in a wall, some kind of passage leading
She returned to the SAN, searched it more carefully and found the hidden
node--a sliding wall panel covering a single, heavy-duty elevator.
Pleased with herself, she went in. There was only one button,
The feel of the machine around her changed as she descended: livelier,
more energetic, almost excited. The doors opened suddenly into an
immense starry darkness, air puffing out around her--just a special
effect, nothing that could harm her, but it was impressive. She leaned
out, could see nothing beneath her but more stars.
Puzzled and delighted, she drew on lenses of various kinds, tried to
probe the darkness. There *was* something out there, a wafer-thin
walkway--she put a foot out where her program indicated, found solidity.
A few careful steps forward--it was tricky going, would have been
terrifying had she not been able to fly--
Something lanced out of the darkness at a speed she could barely
register, spun into a tight arc around her. It was utterly silent, but
it left a trail of pearly white behind it, surrounding her with a
glowing ring. At the end of its first circle the stars all around her
exploded, unbearable light stabbing into her sensors, shattering
constructs never meant for data in that form. At the end of its
second--she was still whipping up her lightblade, everything happening
as if in slow motion--the cloak of shivering bells about her shoulders
brushed against the ring and caught fire, glassy flames that licked
coldly at her, further dazzling her vision. At the end of the
third--her blade careened off one of the ring's component strands,
silent in the vacuum--something was constricting her, draining her,
drawing her life to sustain its impossible speed.
A pulse of music where her scream should be, like an ironic comment by
the construct that was strangling her--it looked like a spaceship,
what she could see of it. Too fast! With a wrench, she tried to pull
herself free of its grip, of the entire node, throw herself into the
gardens of her home system. It clutched at her, greedy for her life,
but it was not prepared to meet a lunge in that direction. Air and
sunlight struck her explosively, knocking her to her knees in the
feathers. She was almost blind, sensor code in chaos, and gasping
maniacally for breath.
She slumped into the feathers, managed to catch her breath after a
moment. Slowly, the sun's warmth quieted her trembling. She was
drained, but not permanently hurt, she decided. She would recover.
Left to itself, it would have wrapped her up within seconds, sucked the
life out of her until--until what? Death? Somehow that hadn't seemed
to be its intent. She pictured herself brought before Hobbins tied up,
powerless and helpless, and swore feebly.
She had walked unwarily through an internal SAN--the machine she'd
explored was powerful, but not nearly powerful enough to hold the node
of stars and darkness. There would be no simple teleport trick to get
her past *that*. What was it? Duende had spoken of defenses at the
Gate. "Gate guardian," she said aloud, still groggy. Something had
attacked her when she approached Cavilard's Gate too, a different image
but the same impossible speed.
It was going to be a difficult nut to crack. She cursed herself for not
having shielding code running--she was getting too cocky, not taking
Paradisio seriously enough. But even with shielding, it was not at all
clear to her how to cope with speed so much greater than her own, power
sufficient to destroy code not even engaged with it, like her masking
She *could* be faster, drawing more deeply on her link to Anubis than
she had yet attempted on the Matrix. But it seemed to her that she
would damage the system, and perhaps herself with it.
At last she shook her head, rolled over to let the sun warm her face.
"Time to try another station," she said aloud, enjoying the sound of her
voice, the answering music of wind and water. "Hobbins can keep his
Gate for a bit. Bet he doesn't have anything back there but the Gate
A memory of music crept through the garden sounds, more complete than
she had heard it in the starry node. She listened to it, swore again.
Impressed on her datastores like a virus, though it was so lacking in
content that it had slipped through her defenses without ever triggering
a warning, the tune and its name were the Gate guardian's final word on
her intrusion. A TV theme song, carefully footnoted.
Star Trek: The Tholian Web. She had vague memories of seeing it as a
child. Now the tune jingled in memory like a taunt at her failure. She
almost flung herself back into Anubis to prepare, make ready for another
attack on Hobbinstown, but something caught her up short. So much to
do, so many delights--should she risk them all for such a petty revenge?
Her revenge, when it came, would be far grander and more thorough.
"You seem reticent about certain aspects of your life: why?" said
Gregor to Jayhawk, watching the image on his screen carefully. He
wasn't sure to what extent the image reflected the reality, but it was
the best cue he had. And, like most deckers, Jayhawk didn't strike him
as socially sophisticated; he doubted very much she could fool him with
"I don't want to brag."
"Why not? What's wrong with bragging?"
"I don't want you to envy me, since there's little or nothing you could
do about it."
He suppressed a snort, said carefully, "I don't envy you, Jayhawk. Why
do you expect that I would? I have my own life, and I'm quite content
She tilted her head, looked at him with something between puzzlement and
amusement. "Everyone who's really known me has envied me, that's all.
I was terribly jealous myself." He guessed that he was speaking to
Angela, at least in part--at least, that was the only way he could parse
that comment. "But if you don't, good for you."
"What do you have that you feel is so much to be desired? Are you
"I'm happier than I've ever been in my life." Her smile was startling,
quite different from her usual cocky grin; he was reminded of an
Indian statue he'd once seen. "It's not even the power, the freedom,
though that's utterly wonderful...." She paused, apparently lost in
memory. "I don't think I ever really loved anyone, before. I'm not at
all sure I had the capacity."
"I doubt that very much. I think you might have surprised yourself,
given the opportunity."
She shook her head. "Maybe; but I don't think so. I didn't...I didn't
really have anywhere to stand. Does that make sense?" Eyes closed, she
went on slowly, "I've been so lucky. Caroline could have rejected me,
she had every opportunity--practically everything she wanted, magic and
the Matrix and the Hawk's gift. She could have sacrificed me for power,
as Aliantha sacrificed Megan. She could have let me die, dissolved into
Anubis--" So he was listening to the one who'd been called Jayhawk
during their split, he realized. "I would have, sooner or later. I
wasn't strong enough to resist. And instead she risked...everything she
had, her life, her soul, her identity. For me, when she had every
reason to hate me--I took Anubis from her...."
"Why?" he said softly.
"Because she loved me," Jayhawk whispered. There were tears in her
voice, though none on her face. "I know that now, know what it means."
For a moment he almost did envy her, monster though she was. "That
must be a very comforting thing to know." He tried to imagine what her
consciousness must be like, how she handled the hints of plurality he
occasionally heard in her conversation. She didn't seem bothered by
them. An intimate marriage, a well-integrated psychosis? He was
probably anthropomorphising her.
With a rueful inward grin, Gregor admitted to himself that he probably
always would. Perhaps a decker could come to some understanding of her
situation, or perhaps even that was grasping at a weak analogy. To him,
she was and would probably remain alien, easy though it sometimes was to
delude himself otherwise.
Still smarting from her encounter with the teardrop-like deckers,
Jayhawk sequestered herself in Anubis to work out tactics for dealing
She pored over her records of the meeting, discovered that each teardrop
contained deckers, bound intimately together by hardware and software.
She wondered if that was what gave them access to the Overnet. If so, an
attack launched at their connection to one another would probably take
them out cleanly.
But she was really more interested in capture than combat. The
idea that they might have been coerced into that bound-together state
bothered her. After some thought, she began working on code to
manipulate the perceived time flow of something within Anubis. If her
personal time were faster than theirs, she could counter any attack
they made, repair any damage to her IC before a second attack could
threaten her structure. For several hours she puzzled at it; then
pieces fell together, a bizarre Piebaldish algorithm, but workable.
To save time, she tuned it to Anubis' particular specifications, and the
procedures she guessed that the teardrops were using. Time enough later
to make a more general version. She wasn't sure that the idea could be
extended outside Anubis anyway.
The damage to her containment node, repairable though it was, worried
her. They were meant to contain, after all; they hadn't performed well
on their first test. Could she make them stronger? Experiment
suggested that she could invest a lot of time working on Anubis'
internal structuring, with very minimal results. There was no single,
sweeping change that would do what she wanted; it was a matter of tiny
adjustments, adaptations to the changes that had shaken Anubis since its
creation, a lengthy process of fine-tuning. Worthwhile in itself, but
she needed something quicker.
She went to the island-garden, considered the problem from that angle.
Here the nodes were cylinders of tough material--at different times
she'd identified it as concrete, ceramic, steel--containing earth and
feathers and roots, if these feathery things had roots. How to make
something like that stronger? The base material seemed beyond her
manipulation, unless she were willing to make wholesale changes like
embedding reinforcing bars in it--and she wasn't, protective of her own
Eventually she sat down, eyes closed, and began to design machines.
She envisioned a polymer mesh with fine irregular holes to accomodate
the greenery, spreading over the surface of the island and securing it
from disturbance. Could she simplify matters by making it self-
polymerizing? She imagined it spreading from the island, across the
bridges, over the water, until the entire system was tied down by
aggressive fibers. She imagined herself hovering over the islands,
afraid to land....Definitely not a good plan. She'd make a machine to
spread the mesh, something she could halt when its job was done. (The
other idea was filed away--someday she might need a virus that worked on
With considerable thought, she came up with something that appeared to
her imagination as a large carpet steamer. She set it to making slow
passes across the island representing the containment node, returned
to Anubis proper to assess the results.
The node was superficially unchanged, but it looked sharper, each detail
precisely defined, emphatic in its brilliance. It seemed to her that if
Anubis were somehow destroyed, the image of this node would remain, a
ghost in the Overnet's greyness. She thought of the dead nodes at
Cavilard. Had they been similarly reinforced?
She was pleased enough with the result to treat the other containment
node as well. The fine dark fibers were practically invisible under the
feathery grass. However, she balked at doing the entire system. The
treated node felt a little stiff, slightly less flexible and responsive.
For a containment node that seemed appropriate enough, but not for the
system as a whole.
Back at Anubis, she worked on her time-alteration code, tried to puzzle
out the specs of the attack the teardrop had used on her. Both were
projects that could have occupied a great deal of time, but after a
few--days, she realized, looking at the system clock. Days? She
snapped a message to the Matrix, received a prompt reply. Seconds, by
the time-flow of the outside world. Three days, to Anubis. She hadn't
realized the differential could swing that far in her favor.
The program she'd been writing wasn't perfect, but it seemed workable.
Without a test subject it was hard for her to be sure. She wasn't
tired, but she felt entitled to a break. The idea of making something
for herself, something fun rather than practical, appealed to her
It began as a reflection of the orrery, objects moving in complex
interlocked orbits, but midway through it occured to her that it was an
image of the Overnet itself. She grinned, crafted a tiny crimson sphere
to represent Ares Macrotech, dangled it from a pivot. As she built more
of the toy, the miniature systems sliding past each other on baroque
crystal pathways, the relationship became more explicit, bits of memory
falling into place, the spatial patterns she had searched for as
she travelled the Overnet. Her memories were a delight, clearer than
she could have imagined as a human being.
When it was finished, for a dizzying instant she felt movement, within
the model, around her. She touched it, eyes wide with delight, and
watched the intricate dance of light and darkness, wheels within wheels.
Piebald had taught her this. She set the model in her 'trophy room',
bright against the deliberately velvet-dark background, and went back to
After considerable preparation, Jayhawk judged herself ready to deal
with the teardrop deckers. She crept across the Overnet to the great
orrery of the NSA machine where she had met them earlier, and was not
disappointed. Three of the teardrops were circling it in protective
orbit. She stopped short at a distance she hoped might be beyond their
sensors, and considered her options.
She'd intended to capture one, analyze it, perhaps question it. The
idea was suddenly unappealing. They were deckers, however strange their
decking style, and the only contact she'd ever had on the Overnet that
was neither Paradisian nor monsterous. She'd probably have to fight
them, maybe hurt them. They might hurt her too....
A comment of Dr. McDougall's about her contempt for authority rankled at
her. All right, she'd try being proper and polite, see how that worked.
A little surprised at herself, she set up the ghost code for external
communication, scattered a message in their direction: "I am Anubis.
Who are you?"
Their orbits sped up suddenly, and a message came prickling back like a
laser into the greyness: *I am Lieutenant Martins, Interpol Special
Ops. What do you want?*
She adjusted her communications, trying to retrieve voice and expression
from the message encoding, replied: "This system has information
which was taken from me, and which I need access to." Interpol. They
were supposed to have good deckers, she'd heard.
*Why did you engulf Captain Ericson?*
"I didn't know what you were, and I was trying to find out. I apologize
for my abruptness. I felt threatened, and acted hastily." It galled
her to apologize, but their hostility annoyed her even more. Perhaps
she could smooth it over--at least McDougall couldn't criticize her for
*What are you? What is your real name?*
"I'm midway between a human, an AI, and a Matrix spirit," she said
recklessly, and finally managed to decode the voice portion of the
message. Martins' voice was male, young, and distinctly frightened.
"My name is Jayhawk; Caroline Davies, once."
He went on with his questions, sharp, probing, rather hostile. Other
probes prickled at her; she blocked those that would have told them
anything about her internal structure. In quick bursts of transmission
she sketched out her kidnapping (as she chose to call it) by Paradisio,
and the experimentation they'd performed on her. It occured to her that
adding to Paradisio's troubles couldn't do her any harm.
"Why did you attack this system?"
"According to files in the Bellevue, Washington police records, they
have classified information taken from Paradisio, records that might
help me to understand who and what I am. I was hoping to retrive those
files. I'm sorry about the system decker, but he surprised me. Is he
all right?" A sudden, unexpected flare of sympathy. That might as well
have been Yoichi, or Kurt, or Michael.
"He's recovering. What files are these?"
She explained, added, "Could you do me a favor?"
"What favor?" She could almost visualize his strained face.
"Could you relay a message to him?" She composed a brief apology,
beamed it. That should calm them just a little, she hoped. There were
six more teardrops in position behind the orrery. She was not totally
confident of her ability to handle nine.
"The agency involved does not have any knowledge of the files to which
you refer," said Martins formally, "and suggests that you make a request
through normal channels to the Bellevue Police Department. We can help
you do so, if you like." She had a sense that intense conversations
were going on across a channel she was not currently in position to
monitor. "What are your future intentions?" To her non-comittal reply,
he went on, "Would you object to being assigned an escort?"
"Yes, I would," she said testily. "Why?"
In guardedly diplomatic phrases, he pointed out that she had admitted to
gross violations of UCAS and international law. "We don't feel that we
need to press any charges on this matter, but we'd like to insure that
further...unpleasantnesses...can be avoided. It would also serve as
protection for you. I don't know how long you're been out here, but
this area is fairly hazardous."
"It's not clear to me that you have jurisdiction," she pointed out, more
than a little annoyed.
"We're charged with monitoring the Matrix worldwide, and this is
conceptually a part of the Matrix," said Martins. He did seem calmer
now, perhaps because of the advantage of numbers. "If you wish to file
for citizenship of the UN or of any nation, we can certainly provide
communications and legal support. However, we do have a responsibility
to the people of the world to protect Matrix access and security."
"Turing police," she said suddenly. A decker's myth, straight out of
Was that a note of embarrasment in his voice? "It's an unofficial
The fictional Turing police had been in charge of hunting down rogue
AIs. Was that how they saw her? She had to admit she wouldn't blame
them, especially after her rash introductions. "What form would this
Three teardrops, relieved at 8-hour intervals, in constant
communications with their headquarters--a trick she wished she could
duplicate herself. "One stipulation," she said carefully. "It *is*
dangerous out here, even to me. If I meet something I don't think I can
deal with, I'll run. If you can't keep up, you're on your own."
"We might have to take action in that case," said Martins stoically.
She was so far into identification with Anubis that she had no sense of
her body; if she had, she would have pursed her lips in annoyance. "All
right, with that caveat," she said. "I won't endanger my own survival."
*And if you do, that's the end of our association,* she added silently.
They sprayed her with a metallic dust, reflective to the probes they
used--a clever trick, she had to admit, for locating her at the extreme
range of their sensors. Angry, but not quite ready yet for violence, she
drew away from the orrery, set herself to determining her new 'escort's'
The teardrop deckers were nearly as fast as she was, Jayhawk discovered,
but they couldn't duplicate her manuvering. She broke off a tight
high-speed turn as soon as she realized they couldn't match it, hoping
they hadn't noticed.
The commander of her escort, or at least the one who responded when she
talked to them, was Lieutenant Avery DeHaviland. He hailed her now, asking
what she was doing.
"I'm interested in how well you can handle yourself here--that might be
important, if we run into trouble. I'm impressed. What's it like?"
"Very disorienting at first--quite different from normal decking. It
takes a while to learn to interpret what you're seeing. How was it for
you?" Unlike Martins, he seemed unafraid of her, curious and almost
"It's fairly intuitive, but then I'm native to this place, so to speak.
--What's it like to be one of the other two?" She was fairly sure she
was speaking to just one of the three deckers, not some combination of
them. The other two seemed more deeply subsumed into the software that
was letting the teardrop operate on the Overnet, little more than part
of the package.
"Almost like being asleep, except you're not, really. It's not
"You've done that too?" Her model of the subordinate deckers as
unwilling tools seemed to be wrong.
"Oh yes; all of us have. It's part of the deal." As he spoke she
tethered herself to an adjacent system, the controlling machine of a
fast-food emporium. "Hey! What are you doing?"
"Putting down a communications link, for news and so forth."
Avery laughed. He had a pleasant voice, cheerful and with a congenial
West Coast accent. "So you have news! Thank goodness. I don't know if
I could live without it, and I get off shift in eight hours."
"What else do you do to entertain yourselves? This is likely to be a
pretty boring job."
"Escorting the first alien intelligence we've made contact with? I
doubt it. We've got a pool going on how long before you do something,
ah, illegal. I've got ten nuyen on the three-day mark. What do you
She had to laugh at that. "What odds did you get?"
"Ten to one."
"Pretty good. I could take some of that money myself, if it weren't
cheating....Don't suppose your friends would go for that. They're
monitoring our conversations, of course?"
"Of course. Constantly. You get used to it after a while."
She slipped down the link to the Matrix, discovered to her surprise that
the teardrops were there too, hovering in the sky above the fast-food
system. A message reached Anubis, was relayed down to her. *Is that
you? What are you doing?*
Surprised and more than a little embarrassed, she returned to Anubis.
"What was that?" said Avery insistently.
"An aspect of myself, a sort of remote," she hedged.
"What were you doing?"
"I wanted to make some database inquiries."
Again, she had the distint impression that a hurried conversation was
taking place outside her hearing. "We could make them for you, save you
some trouble and risk," said Avery, a little apologetically.
She nearly refused, caught herself. What point was there in aggravating
them? What she needed was a way to get rid of them, or around them.
"Ask them how the investigations are going, will you, and look up a few
articles for me?" They were simple computer-science topics, reading she
should have been keeping up on. "And transmit this report." She'd
pulled it together out of old database files, a carefully edited mixture
of the report she'd sent to Duende and the file she and Grant had once
put together to give to the police on the event of their deaths.
On a sudden impulse, she shifted herself to the garden, back again.
Avery didn't appear to have noticed. Ah-ha! So she could get away--
from Anubis to the garden to Osiris, far from their prying eyes.
"What does this place look like to you?" How were they maintaining
themselves on the Overnet? Presumably the presence of three minds in
the one construct had something to do with it, though she couldn't
imagine what. They weren't integrated into one being, not if they
switched places and partners.
Avery described a place of continual bewildering motion, endless
torrents of information that was mostly noise, almost overwhelming the
subtle patterns that let him perceive systems, connections, his
companions. "When we move as quickly as we just were, there's nothing
interpretable at all. I count on my partners to keep us from getting
"How do you navigate?"
"Navigate? I know where I am on the Matrix, as soon as I slow down
enough to see it. We don't go anywhere where the Matrix isn't
accessable. Do you? How do you see this place?"
"Like space, but grey--no stars, featureless except for the occasional
system. Not mapped onto the Matrix at all, for me. I work from
landmark to landmark." It was no longer strictly true. More and more,
if she wanted to find something she could choose a heading, locate it
unerringly among the greyness. She could find systems she'd never seen
before, which she found startling. As if her desire reached out, found
its matching pattern and drew them together.
So the Turing deckers were on the Matrix as well as the Overnet. Perhaps
that was what let them survive, that solid link back to the world they
knew. A weakness, if she could exploit it. She found herself hoping
that she wouldn't have to. She liked Avery.
But she couldn't let them interfere with her plans. What was next?
Understanding the Gates, that was it. Duende had asked her for a map.
Could she simply trace them out from this side?
She found her way to the Bangkok address the records at Cavilard had
given her, saw a distant brightness across the Matrix. Her escort
didn't notice it until they were much closer. "What's that?"
"A beacon on the Overnet," she said honestly. "I'm mapping them. Do
you know where we are, on the Matrix?"
"Overnet? Is that what you call it?" He rattled off a computer address
which matched her expectations. She oriented herself, searching for the
next beacon. There it was, barely at the edges of her perception.
Whoever used them had good eyes. Slowly, watching on all sides, she
There were men there, inconguous in the vacancy of the Overnet: a
company of Jaguar Knights as she had seen them in life, with fur-ruffed
ceremonial cloaks slung over their combat armor. They clustered around
the beacon--a pile of skulls draped with a jaguar pelt, so much brightness
spilling from their vacant eyes that the greyness turned to black around
them--then set off, vanishing almost at once. She looked for the armor
of a Gatekeeper, leading them, but saw only a tall Jaguar Knight with a
crimson plume on his helmet.
Avery saw the beacon light, but no more, as his questions made clear.
Pleased to have found a use for him, she asked him for the Matrix
address, then traced the lights to another beacon, and another. She
knew she was constructing a map for Interpol as well as herself, but
that didn't bother her at all.
"I suppose it was inevitable," said Avery heavily, "that someone else
would figure out how to get up here eventually. We've been lucky to
keep the monopoly as long as we have."
"If their records are to be believed, these people had you beat by
years. What does this look like to you?" They had come to the end of
the chain, a system like a cluster of coral atolls.
"A map of islands, with greater and lesser depths marked, and reefs.
What is it?"
It should have been the terminal Gate, but she could sense nothing of
the sort--the system was large, but not massively powerful, and she
could detect no hidden nodes that might conceal her quarry.
Disappointed, she turned back, tracing the links in the other direction.
She found the central Bangkok node, saw several beacons radiating
outward from it. Methodically she mapped them out, occasionally
responding to Avery's questions. One strand seemed longer than the
others. Her already-cautious advance slowed.
Something was approaching, a ripple in the fabric of the Overnet.
"Avery. Something's coming. When I run, *run*."
The ripple was tracing out the beacon-path, moving rapidly. For an
instant she saw the previous beacon through it, light dancing as if
through water. A concealment, tremendously powerful, beyond her
She fled its approach, was relieved that it did not follow. For an
instant she had brushed the fringes of the power beneath the disguise,
and she was impressed. Her nerves tingled with it.
"*What was that?*" demanded Avery.
"Something using the Gates, I suppose. I couldn't see it clearly. What
did you see?"
To her surprise, he replied immediately, "A red dragon, wreathed in
flame. I've never seen anything like that out here. It was very clear,
almost to the exclusion of anything else. We were lucky not to lose
Was it *him*? But he was a feathered serpent, not the lizard that Avery
described. And she couldn't imagine him moving. One of his servants,
She filed that away for future reference, went back to a very cautious
perusal of the beacon-chain. Something was ahead, beyond the last
beacon. She had a sudden, curious impression of great height, something
far above her in the dimensionless Overnet. She remembered the great
pyramid, the temple at its peak. Though she had barely glanced at the
view, it had seemed to command the whole world. Something was watching.
Again she fled, and felt that cold distant regard behind her. She did
not explain to Avery, only: "Don't go there. There's something there
that neither you nor I can handle." No creature of fire and
destruction, nothing so simple. Had he seen her? Was she ever out of
"I didn't see anything. Your sensor code is superb." Wistfully:
"It must be nice."
"Do you like it here? Do you enjoy this?"
"Yes, I do. It's something of a childhood dream, I guess." He laughed
softly. "Hunting down bad guys and all that. And this place...is hard
to understand, frightening in a way, but it's also very fascinating."
Something about his manner of speech intrigued her. "How do I appear to
"Like a pattern of swirling chaos, all dark colors...there's order
there, though I can't describe it, I'm not sure how I'm seeing it. It
changes too quickly. Rather beautiful, in a way. I've never seen
anything quite like it." His voice was almost dreamy.
Possibility pricked at her. "As I see myself...I'm sitting on a silver
bridge over a black reflecting pool, with an intricate silver gateway
behind me." It was SAN 2, the doorway to her personal domain, though
only a fraction of her presence was specifically there. She could see
Avery and his allies, orbiting her like tiny moons. "If I could invite
you in, what would you say?"
Open yearning in his voice. "I'm afraid I'd have to refuse. I'm
She remembered the pain and desire in Angela's eyes, remembered from
within what the sight of Anubis had meant to her. Suddenly she saw him--
saw all of them--not as annoying threats but as possible companions;
the only human beings outside of Paradisio who might be able to
understand, who might be able to see her as she truly was. It stirred a
hunger she had not known she possessed.
Copyright 1991 Mary K. Kuhner