109. Sword Curious about the new owners, and hoping to learn something from the Gate's pro

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109. Sword Curious about the new owners, and hoping to learn something from the Gate's programming if it hadn't been deleted, Jayhawk went back to Cavilard Base. The hedgerow SAN was still there, but alive now, supported by an active machine. Her sensors probed into its defenses until an image clicked suddenly into place. There was a tentacle woven into the hedge, long and sinuous. She frowned at it. Perhaps it was coincidence; but she had seen a similar tentacle all too recently, at Westking, attached to a construct that still made her shiver when she thought of it. She tried to slip through the hedge, felt the cold curl of a branching tendril she had missed settle on the back of her neck. Tasting her, it probed out into the telecom grid, seeking her source. She wasn't sure that it could find Anubis, but she wasn't sure it couldn't, either; she shook herself free, annihilated the tentacle with a cascade of disruptive code. The hedge looked thin without it. It had been much more extensive than she thought. She hesitated in the node, wondering if she could put together a fake tentacle quickly enough; but she hadn't even been able to see its full extent, which suggested that she wouldn't be able to copy it convincingly. She settled for quieting the node alarm, hoping that no one would respond. A heartbeat later she sensed motion, a decker headed her way. She hesitated on the edge of flight, wondering if she could hide from him. If he used code she understood-- The construct that entered the node looked like a flaming sword, gleaming and sharp, one of the most inhuman Matrix images she had ever seen. Its voice was male, fluent but faintly accented. "Who are you? What are you doing here?" Clearly he was having no trouble seeing her. "I'm Meg," Jayhawk said on impulse. "What are *you* doing here?" Was he Paradisian? The blade froze, a transmission flicking out from it toward the CPU. With a fraction of her attention she tapped it on the Overnet, though she didn't manage to keep it from going through. It said *Get down here! I've got a rogue G-prime loose!* Aloud, he said, "It's my system; why shouldn't I be here?" She thought she detected anxiety in his voice, though the sword image offered no clues. "It's *my* system," she said with a smile. "I'm just checking up to see how you're treating it." Might he mistake her for Aliantha? The idea amused her. "*Who are you*?" "I told you, I'm Meg. Who do you think I am?" "I think you're dead," he said in a voice somewhere between satisfaction and dismay. "Am I?" She laughed, trying to imitate the High Priestess' silvery voice. This was more fun than she'd expected. "What are you doing here?" There was a strange feeling in the machine around her, had been ever since she entered it; a quivering expectancy. The Gate was not open, but it was very close to opening, and the machine waited, tensely, for that moment. A message sped from the CPU to her questioner: *Coming!* "Why are you reopening my Gate?" she hazarded. "You're making the machine terribly nervous." "You can tell that?" He almost sounded impressed. "You can't?" She tsked in disapproval. "I want you to take good care of my system, see that it's not damaged. I don't mind you using it, but be sure you return it in good condition." It was hard not to giggle. This was as fun as trying to bluff Aliantha had been, and she was having *much* better luck. A ripple in the computer's processes reached her--CPU teleport! In the instant of transition she smiled brightly at the sword, stepped through into her garden. Balanced on the balls of her feet, lightblade in hand, she stood waiting for pursuit; but as she had expected, there was none. Martha had said that even she couldn't reach this place. Jayhawk felt fairly sure that no ordinary decker could; and the sword had been no more than that, though a talented one, from his speed and the clarity of his image. After a moment her laughter faded. Were they Paradisians? She thought so, from the sword's comment that she was dead. Probably they had mistaken her for Aliantha, guessing that 'Meg' was short for 'Megan'. Or perhaps they had known her as herself. In any case, she had better find out who was there and what they were up to. Duende and his allies might not trust her, but if she could tell them the numbers and disposition of Paradisians at Cavilard, she thought they might listen. 110. Weasel Jayhawk went back to the Cavilard system with two thoughts in mind. She wanted to find out if its new occupants were really Paradisian; and if they intended to open a Gate, she wanted to see how they did it. Even her Void crossing had not taught her that. This time she got through the tentacle in the hedge undetected. The system felt just as it had before: tense, expectant, shivering with anticipation. Careful not to set foot on the bridge, she ghosted across the chasm which separated the Gate node from the rest of the system, crept cautiously up the conical mountainside. The flat top of the mountain bore new construction, a half-finished structure like the stub of a temple. A framework for IC, she guessed. Beside it, at the mountain's very center, was a huge, elaborate symbol-- a star in a circle, each line inscribed with complex patterns that reminded her of wiring diagrams. She could make no sense of them. She lingered there, probing into the node. It was very plain and bare, almost empty. The attendant datastore was completely vacant. No IC, no utilities, just a lot of power and the two constructs she could see. It was a little surprising. She'd expected a Gate to need more set-up than that. After an hour's interesting but unproductive analysis, she caught a flicker in the datastream: someone coming. She took a deep breath, steeling herself. She hadn't merged with a machine other than Anubis since her initiation, and she wasn't sure what it would be like. But the code was there, the capability was there, and she couldn't think of a better vantage on their Gate-making than within the supporting node. Always before, Kurt's program had broken down the walls between her and the machine--sometimes losing her in its impersonal activities, sometimes allowing her consciousness to guide and control. It wasn't like that now. She felt the Gate node, knew every aspect of its operations--but it was far smaller than she, and couldn't begin to contain her. Instead, her presence made it like a part of Anubis, a fragment of herself. She stretched, felt control slip into place--it was like riding a fine motorcycle, every nerve attuned to its balance and response, but retaining her own perspective to enjoy it. A good feeling. An instant later that was driven from her attention as people started to pour in. There were two deckers represented by figures in gray combat armor, helmets sealed; extending her senses, she could perceive links to the Overnet, capability beyond what she'd seen in most deckers. They were not like Martha, but they were powerful. Next came a huge creature, white-furred from head to toe, blue eyes like glacier ice. Then two more in gray, but ordinary deckers this time; one carried a small banner, a mailed fist grasping a horse-headed chesspiece. And then-- Herself? After a startled instant she saw the difference: no access to the Overnet, only the almost imperceptible link back to flesh and blood. But the likeness was exact. Herself as she had once seen herself, black-haired and armored in silver, light-blade at her side: her Matrix image, carefully designed so many years ago. She searched for discrepancies, found none. Six more deckers in grey, lances at their sides, completed the party. She felt a presence remaining in the CPU, wondered if it was the sword-like decker. The twelve took positions around the starred figure, evenly spaced. The one with the banner planted it solidly: a quick command, which she let go through, rooted its process in her. She was finding it hard to maintain a decker's normal vision while possessing the node in this way: its own perceptions were quite different. She tried to encompass both, realized she had better make recordings. She was too far from Anubis to rely on its storage, not without risking notice. She had an unused datastore here--why not? As the two armored figures who had entered first raised their arms, began to chant, she hastily wove together a simple recording utility, shunted it off to the datastore. She could understand nothing of what they were saying. The others responded occasionally in unison. The false Jayhawk was accurate down to the voice, down to a tendency to fidget between responses. Was it Angela? She wanted desperately to find out, perhaps to offer help--was the other a prisoner, helping Paradisio against her will? Or--could it really be *her*, a lost fragment of herself, now subject to them? A message reached her from the CPU, an odd, undefinable air of panic about it: *Cease recording, delete all records.* Her first impulse was to obey, as this node naturally obeyed--it was the CPU's right to command. She stifled that reaction with an effort of will. She was Jayhawk, and it was her right to override. She stopped recording-- clearly she was triggering some kind of telltale, and she didn't want them to come and investigate--and shuffled the records into compressed storage elsewhere in her datastore. Another message reached her: *Verify deletion.* It was hard to lie to the CPU, even harder than disobediance. She told herself firmly that she *had* deleted the information from those memory locations, and sent back the appropriate response. The group chanting seemed to reach an end; now only the two grey-armored leaders were speaking, alternating at intervals of a minute or so. One was a woman, from the voice. The language sounded vaguely like Spanish to her. Duende's native language had been, so he had said, a Portuguese-flavored Spanish. Or was it Latin, or something more arcane? Without access to a translation utility, she had no way to tell. The other Jayhawk fidgetted. Cradled in the node like a rigger in her vehicle, Jayhawk also felt the impulse, but restrained it. Surely something would happen soon. The node's expectancy prickled in her nerves, though she couldn't pin it down to anything explicit in its programming, its bare suite of utilities. An hour dragged by. She tried to think about her various projects, but it was difficult to pull her concentration away from the activities within her, meaningless though they were. And the other Jayhawk nagged at her. Who was she? How could she find out? It occured to her that the Paradisians--she was sure she was looking at the people Duende had asked her to research, Grey and his Grey Knights-- wouldn't want to interrupt what had already been a tediously long affair. She could speak to the other Jayhawk, sending her messages as the node would. The channels that carried status queries and handshaking could also be made to carry text. With luck, the other wouldn't dare do anything in response, afraid to break the ritual. *Don't make a fuss or you'll ruin everything. Careful!* The other Jayhawk jumped perceptibly, barely controlled herself. *Who are you?* *I'm Meg; who are you? What are you doing?* A message flicked out from her, toward the CPU--but through Jayhawk, who didn't even have to exert herself to intercept it. The headers were meaningless to her, but the message was in plaintext: *Help! She's talking to me! What do I do?* Jayhawk reversed the order of the address lines and appended a message to return to her: *Lead her on, find out what she wants.* The other Jayhawk considered that for a moment, shivering a little--Jay could feel her movements as the node reacted to them. The Matrix image was flawless. At last she responded: *I'm Jayhawk. What are you doing here? You aren't supposed to be here yet!* *I just wanted to talk to you, see what you're doing.* A few months ago, she would have reacted with scorn and anger to anyone else claiming to be her. Now she knew it was possible. *I'm surprised to find you here, working with them.* *Why shouldn't I be? They have something I want, they know what I want to know.* *I thought you were more independent than that. Didn't like working for the corps.* *I don't!* She looked around wildly, received no response from the others. *Careful, you'll screw up the ritual. Wouldn't want that, would you? Not when it's almost done.* *Hours yet.* *Why are you helping them?* *What is this, some kind of loyalty test?* *No, not at all. This is private between you and me. I wondered... whether you might be in trouble. Whether you might need help.* *Who the hell are you? You're not Aliantha! They would know! Why won't you tell me the truth?* *You're summoning Aliantha?* A shiver went through her, fear and excitement. *They are; I'm just support.--WHO ARE YOU?* *I don't think you'd believe me.* *Try me!* *I'm Jayhawk.* It was an impulse decision, and the response to it was equally impulsive; the other Jayhawk yelled out loud "Jayhawk's here!" Eyeless visors turned toward her, back to the center of their circle. She paled, her hands knotted together. *Shh! Stupid girl! I thought you had more guts than that.* She'd hoped that they would finish the summoning without realizing she was there; this person would probably warn them immediately afterwards, but she was quicker than human, and might turn the time to her advantage. That plan was certainly spoiled. *You're dead! How can you be talking to me?* *I'm not dead. Just different.* *You're dead. Go away. You're going to get me in trouble.* *Aren't you in trouble already? Didn't you once swear that you'd never work for them? Or are you not really Jayhawk?* *I'm Jayhawk. And I have a right to change my mind.* *What would Yoichi say? You're cooperating with the people who cut him open on an altar!* She wished she could transmit and receive voice, but she didn't have the bandwidth. She wanted to hear the other's voice, her reactions. Was it Angela? Working for them? She felt an aching sense of responsibility and protective love. *Yoichi sees it the same way I do. He's with us now too.* A moment's pause. *Where are you, anyway? How are you talking to me?* *You don't remember? How can you not remember that? It was your own innovation. Unless, of course, you're not really Jayhawk....* She firmly put aside the image of Yoichi in the hands of Paradisio. She'd spoken to him only days ago. She would have known. Wouldn't she? *I am Jayhawk!* *Then I can't be dead, can I? If I'm Jayhawk--* *I don't get it. Where are you?--Oh! The Kurt code! You're in the node!* Aloud: "Hey! She's in the node!" The male ritualist raised one hand in a sharp silencing gesture, returned to his chant without missing a beat. *Shh! Don't you want the summoning to work?* *No; I don't particularly want to see her. Ghosts, you're all ghosts. Go away.* *Not even curious about who I am, what it's like?* She found herself hoping that this was not a stray fragment of herself. What would it take to kill her curiosity? *You faked that message, didn't you! Admit it! Trying to get me to tell you something--but it won't work.* She crossed her arms defiantly across her chest, stared into the circle. Nothing Jayhawk could say got a reaction. Frustrated, she considered her options. It might be herself, terribly bound and diminished. It might be Angela, though that didn't quite ring true either. It might be someone else, perhaps running off the stimsense tapes that Angela had experienced. Jayhawk couldn't tell from her conversation. It occured to her suddenly that she could get the information directly, accessing the other decker as if she were a datastore. 'I could just take it from you,' Aliantha had said to her long ago. 'You're not defended against me.' *She* could do that now. Cruel, as cruel as Channa's mindreading; but she had to know. If it were herself, if it were Angela....She reached out, made the access. It was surprisingly easy from here. The chanting was cut across by a terrible scream: "She's in my MIND!" A stream of profanity, words Jayhawk didn't even recognize. "I didn't sign up for this!" And the link she had forced was wrenched by the sudden static of jack-out as the other Jayhawk vanished. At the center of the circle, something laughed, a silvery familiar sound. Jayhawk tried to prevent the escape, but too late. The node around her shivered as the ritual fell apart, barely-sensed lines of force snapping like thread. The male ritualist staggered, caught himself with his lance. Beside him, the white-furred creature let out a roar, reached out-- Jayhawk threw herself into CPU emulation, against violent opposition both from within and from the CPU, and teleported herself to the outer SAN. She didn't want to return to the garden yet. There was still a trace of contact. She probed along it--and it was broken with violence that sent a stab of pain through her. The system shrilled with alarms. With a cry of frustration, she sent herself into the sudden silence and tranquillity of her gardens. When she was sure that there would be no pursuit, she considered what she had learned. It was almost as if each aspect of herself had taken that instant to ask a single question, receive the briefest answer. Jayhawk had asked: Who are you? And the answer had been *Weasel*. Caroline had asked: Do you believe that you are Jayhawk? And the answer had been *No*. Angela, on a more personal level: Do you want to be Jayhawk? And again the answer had been *No*. And Piebald, odd man out as always: *What do you think of me?* And the answer had been terror, stark and absolute. Weasel had felt the probe, and it spoke to her worst fears. She was angry--at Weasel, at the Paradisians, at...she wasn't sure. She had wanted to be able to offer help, she realized. She wanted badly to touch someone, to make a difference in their life. Weasel had scorned her help--had never wanted it, probably, was no doubt a Paradisian agent. But somehow she felt jilted. What on earth had they been doing? Why masquerade as her? The answer seemed clear as soon as the question was posed: They had been trying to fool Aliantha. They wanted something from the shade of the High Priestess, something they thought that her image could evoke. 111. Summoning Jayhawk found a nearly-unused machine in the Architecture Department, probably bought for a need that had never materialized, and used it as a base for her programming. The tools she needed were at hand, though it was odd to be working in such a cold, empty place. But she felt that what she was doing shouldn't be done in Anubis. She was making an image of Aliantha as she had seen her in the gardens: a small, graceful woman with wavy brown hair framing a heart-shaped face, dressed in a grey jogging suit with pink stripes down the sides. Under that appearance was decking code--she'd taken the core of it from the programming of her own Matrix image, though carefully stripped of anything specific to herself. Matrix images were normally tuned to the user, and hers was extremely fine-tuned. She undid all that, setting each parameter at the default a factory-built deck might use. She was trying to create something with the limitations of a decker--no more access to the Matrix or the Overnet than standard code would allow. It occured to her as she worked that she'd need to anchor the image somewhere, as a decker was linked back to deck and body. She puzzled over that for some time. To another machine? She imagined Aliantha laughing at her and slipping off into the Matrix along the link. To the ghost of the Hidden Fortress itself? But that would be sustained by Anubis; a link leading back to *her*. Off into nothingness? That idea made her obscurely uncomfortable. When the image was nearly finished, her discomfort crystallized into action. She went to the hedge maze that surrounded her islands, stood with hands on hips looking around at it. As a maze it wasn't much; it echoed the structure of Anubis, which was not designed to lose intruders. She recalled the peacock who had spoken to her during her initiation, how it had first appeared as a shifting feathered wall. An hour's work established that she could make such walls herself, sliding at her command across open passageways, channeling intrusion where she pleased. In the course of her work she kept an eye out for the black crow feather she'd abandoned here, and eventually found it, bedraggled but intact, caught in a bush. She wove it into the final barrier. The crow had confused her; perhaps its token would confuse others. Or was she just giving it a way in? She thought about that for a while without coming to any conclusions; but she left the feather where it was. Returning to the Matrix, she finished her image. It was almost a convincing decker, complete in everything but life and will. Compressing its code into storage, she went off to resurrect the Hidden Fortress. Grey and his allies had needed hours of ritual to call up Aliantha...but it seemed to her that they'd been in the wrong place. The High Priestess hadn't died at Cavilard. There was not even a trace of connection left at the telecom node which had led to the Hidden Fortress. Jayhawk sat down in the emptiness, closed her eyes and dug through memory. She had known that machine, known it intimately. Slowly images and shadows built around her, called from someplace inside that she hadn't known she could reach. The Hidden Fortress was dead, but it lingered--not on the Matrix, not any longer, that route was closed. In her. While she lived, it would never be totally gone. An errant thought: If I loved a man and he died, would he become a ghost? She opened her eyes to see the shadow of the SAN wavering before her. Within it was only greyness. Walking into it, she called on Anubis' power to give it strength, solidity. She was almost emulating the machine from scratch. Only the faint response from something that was not Anubis told her otherwise. Ghosts and memories were providing perhaps one percent of what she was making; but without that one percent, it seemed to her that her plan would fail. There was a moment of disconnection, dismay: the Matrix address of this machine had been reassigned to another, and it was encountering opposition. She told it a quick lie, revising its address, and the node steadied around her. She recreated the five nodes that spanned from SAN to CPU, but not the CPU itself, remembering how it had pulled at her, trying to save itself. She didn't want to give Aliantha such an ally. The system had a peculiar unreality without its CPU, but she hoped that it would be enough. In the routing node where she had first met Aliantha, she set up the image, linked it out through an I/O port. She was giving it access to Anubis, potentially, but she would have to trust to her defenses. It stood empty-eyed and lifeless, though she could feel its processes as an infinitesimal load on Anubis, motion if not life. She had met the High Priestess three times. Once here, on the Matrix. Once a voice out of dead storage and memory, in the island-garden. And once in nightmare, memory of her first kidnapping, still blocked from consciousness except in dreams. She searched for the common thread that united all three images, said softly aloud into the empty node "Megan...." It was not the name she had intended to use, but it felt right. Something stirred among the memories, like a soft breeze against her skin, a chill caress. She saw the fragility of the virtual system she was inhabiting, saw dimly through its walls into the greyness. Felt a presence, suddenly and sharply, then another--the inhabitants of her dreams, she who had built walls around her mind, he who had lent her strength. She felt their fear at the sudden realization of an intruder's presence. Something whispered by her, like a dark cloud across the night sky, heading for the non-existant CPU. *This is past! I summon you now, in the present!* She followed it, lending the ghost-node ahead enough solidity to support her presence. The empty eyes of the image were on her back. Darkness lay gashed across the inside of the CPU like a tear in the fabric of the world. For a brief instant she saw herself, hanging pinioned against the darkness; then it pulled the mirror-Jayhawk through. Saw the glass tank that had held Aliantha braced before the swiftly-closing opening; and a swarm of black flies descending upon it as all around them the system shattered. All semblance of the CPU vanished, though somewhere outside she could still feel the ghost system, held in tenuous stability by Anubis desite damage that should have obliterated it utterly. Around her she could see only roiling greyness. Not the Overnet...darker, and more alive. Glass shattered, somewhere behind her. She turned, saw the image she had made walking toward her in a curl of cinnamon smoke. Its eyes were far more dead than they had been when it was uninhabited, and did not blink. Though there was some kind of floor below her, she found that she wasn't standing on it, but hovering in the grey as if flying, one leg crossed behind the other knee. In that posture she was looking down slightly on the image of Aliantha. It was a small comfort. She licked her lips, said carefully, "By what name would you choose to be called?" In a still, toneless voice, the image replied, "By what name would you choose to call me?" *Was* it Aliantha or Megan? Suddenly she wasn't sure it was either. "By the name you had when you still hoped." "Call me as you choose. Does it matter?" She considered that for a moment. "It does to me. I would like to know who answers." "You have questions of importance to ask me, and that is not one of them." Jayhawk raised her head, said formally, "I have four questions for you, of which that is one." With a smile that came nowhere near the coldness of its eyes, the image replied, "But you only get three." Though she tried not to show it, she was relieved to get even three. She had spent a good deal of time considering ways to bribe or coerce or trick Aliantha into telling her what she wanted to know; but none of her plans had seemed entirely convincing. She licked her lips again, said: "For what purpose--" She had learned her lesson about asking 'why?' "For what purpose was I chosen and taken?" "Is that one?" "That is one," she said tightly. The smile widened infinitesimally, showing a gleam of teeth. "For understanding, for knowledge, to transform an enemy into a friend." A deliberate pause. "*She* had no clear intentions. She hoped that you could do something she lacked the strength and cleverness to do, attempt something she was no longer free to attempt." Not Aliantha. Suddenly the image of black flies clicked together with memory, an echo out of nightmare. She was speaking to Marianne, the Queen of the Ghouls; or something of hers. And to the creature that had attacked her on the slopes of Cavilard Gate, probed into her with a ghoul's three-fingered hand. She had almost blotted that encounter out of her mind, put it down simply as a Gate guardian. It was more than that. She remembered the mind-links that Ratty had described, binding Marianne to each of her victims, into death and beyond. Had she somehow gotten at Aliantha too? "What task did Aliantha wish me to accomplish?" "She was not sure. Perhaps a new leader. Perhaps a powerful agent. Perhaps something more." Her suspicions confirmed: "What did she know about *him*?" And cursed herself. It was a Paradisian habit not to mention *his* name, though she knew it; Duende had told her. "A great creature, immortal, powerful, writhing on a rack of steel and glass, mad with pain. She hoped to heal him, and she failed. He hopes to heal himself, and he will fail; he will die." More softly, a whisper like wind in an empty place: "And that must not be." It was almost Aliantha's voice. "He will die, and the magic will end. And that must not be." Not Aliantha's voice at all, though there was passion in it. Jayhawk dropped lightly to the unseen floor, so that she was on a level with the image. "Wait," it whispered. "There is more. Will you bargain for it?" "Do I need to bargain with you?" "Do you? You are strong; perhaps you can accomplish something, ignorant as you are. She was strong too, in her way." She reached out, trying to decide whether she had any control over her summoning, any way to compel it to speech. As far as she could tell, she didn't. "What bargain do you offer?" "Your aid, for the city, for us." "What do you want me to do?" "We do not know yet. Only your word that when we ask, you will come, you will help us. Once only." She considered that, biting her lip. "No. I'm sorry. I cannot." "Humans say that all the time," said the image simply. "It means nothing." It turned and walked away into the fog. Hastily she reached out, unknit the programming that held her creation together. It melted into the surrounding mist, chilling the air. She released her hold on the Hidden Fortress, felt the machine collapse back into nothingness, no existance except in her memory. She was alone in a foggy place, nowhere she knew. She probed into the fog, trying to orient herself. Partly on the Matrix, partly on the Overnet, partly...elsewhere....She felt as if she was spread out, vulnerable from more directions than she had known existed. With a shiver, she pulled herself together, stood in evening sunlight in the island-garden, her walls solid around her. 112. Stranger Channa settled herself on the folded-out cot at the back of the van, next to the unconscious girl, and looked up at Yoichi. He was hovering over her, eyes tense. With an effort, she dismissed him from her thoughts. A word, a gesture to focus the gift, reach out-- A babble of incomprehensible vision and sound exploded in her mind, shattering the delicate pattern of her spell, snapping the link. She recoiled, trying frantically to defend herself from an intrusion that was already over by the time she could respond to it. "What--?" began Yoichi, then caught himself and was silent. Trying to make sense out of what she'd touched, Channa managed to pull together an image of the room where Casey had found the young woman--she couldn't think of her as Jayhawk, despite the striking resemblance. But the rest of the information that had come bubbling across the link was gibberish, masses of numbers and symbols that meant nothing to her. It was even worse than the time she'd touched Jayhawk's mind when she was still enmeshed in the thoughts of the computer; here there was no human processing or imagery at all. Already the information was fading, impossible to organize. She wondered if Yoichi could have understood it. "I touched something that felt more like a machine than a person," she said to him. He nodded sharply, said nothing, though she could feel the pressure of his desperation as clearly as if he'd shouted it aloud. Every night for the past week she'd tasted Yoichi's dreams muddled into her own, her gift running wild from exhaustion and stress. That memory drove her to try the probe again, against her best instincts. He needed to know. She brushed the machine-thoughts, like a surface of reflective silver, managed not to break the surface and bring that chaos swarming back into her mind. Underneath, deep under and quiet with the drug's effects, she touched something more human. A young woman sleeping. *Who are you?* She followed that question to its answer, a name, an image. Angela Whitechapel. Nobody special, just another freshman struggling through her classes, bored with life. Eighteen years old. Channa probed deeper, could find no memory of capture or imprisonment. *What cyberware do you have?* Only a datajack, the girl recalled. Her father--Channa had a brief image of a corporate stuffed-shirt, neither loved nor particularly hated--hadn't wanted her to have cyberware yet. Maybe when she graduated. "Yoichi," she said softly. "Look up 'Angela Dolores Whitechapel' in the public database." He almost flung himself into the front seat of the RV; she couldn't hear typing, and guessed he was using the direct link through his deck. She let her contact with Angela relax, but didn't drop it; she might have further questions. "Got it," said Yoichi after a moment, in the toneless voice of someone still focusing most of his attention into the otherworld of the Matrix. "Kidnapped from a play on May 23; there was a police investigation which is now closed. Her parents are offering--" He checked for an instant. "A million nuyen reward for information leading to her safe recovery." "A *million*? Good grief, whose daughter is she?" Angela's memories of her father were of a top-level executive, more devoted to his job than his family, well-off but hardly a millionaire. Were those memories false, or did her father have connections she'd never known about? Never even suspected? "Richard Aaron Whitechapel, vice-president, CC Corporation. A bigwig, but not that big, if this entry's for real. Maybe he's Yak." "Maybe this isn't really her.--Check the results from Grant's medscan. That ought to tell you if she's really Angela." "Matches," said Yoichi after a moment. "Let me look at Jayhawk's records." She looked up, saw him huddled around his deck in an almost fetal position, eyes closed, face blank. "Not a match. Real close, though. Too close for random people, if I'm using this package right. I don't know anything about biomed." Channa frowned, puzzled--and in the instant of her distraction the inhuman presence she'd touched before probed out at her, filled her mind with harsh, meaningless bits of data. She broke the link reflexively, both hands making groping warding gestures toward the girl. "What *is* that?" she whispered. "I don't think the reward is for Angela. There's something else in there." "You shouldn't be trying to use magic to identify code," said Yoichi. "That's my job." He got up abruptly, began disconnecting the RV computer from its antenna coupling. "Let me take this off-line, and I can run some tests. I don't think this program should be able to do much without a Matrix link." "Unless it's Paradisian." "Do we have any reason to think so? Other than that she looks like Jayhawk?" He shook his head. "I don't know. But we need to find out--unless you want to just turn her in for the reward." His tone said clearly that he did not. Channa sat back, watching him make his preparations. His movements were sharp, anxious, full of suppressed violence. But he touched the sleeping girl gently, hardly disturbed her as he connected the dataline. He'd turned the screen to face her; in the instant of connection it filled with small, square windows on a greenish background, text scrolling through each one faster than she could follow. One by one they closed like eyes, until there was only a single block of text in the middle of a blank green screen. It cleared, one sentence visible. /Group identification, query? Yoichi hestitated, then typed rapidly. She couldn't make out what he said, but the final window-eye closed, leaving the screen blank. His fingers rattled on the keyboard for a moment more, were still. With infinite care he leaned forward, disconnected the dataline. "No luck?" she said. He looked up suddenly, as if startled by her voice. "What? No, I can't get in directly, but I had a trap on it--lots of stuff there to analyze. Give me a few hours." He curled up in the front seat, reconnected his deck. "You should get some sleep." "Later. You don't need me anyway--what do I know about planning a military strike? This is my end here." Channa wriggled under the girl's blanket, pillowed her head on her arms. She wanted to keep an eye on Angela, on Yoichi, but she was too tired. Her presence would have to substitute for her attention. Dawn woke her, filtering in through the curtains of the RV. Yoichi was asleep in the front seat, his deck tucked in beside him. There was a message on the console screen, white on black: her name caught her eye, and she bent to read it. >Channa-- >The program we saw was high-spec analysis routine, not commercial. Has >Ren'raku stamps and internal validation. Probably experimental. >That's all I could get. Wake me if she wakes up. Yoichi She shook her head, remembering the alien presence. Ren'raku experimental cyberware and programming. She didn't envy Angela that awakening. For a moment Channa was gripped with a weary, hopeless anger. It wasn't even Paradisio's doing. Just another of the world's random cruelties....They might win one fight, though she was finding that harder and harder to believe. But Angela was a bitter reminder that even defeating Paradisio would never her let go back to the remembered decency of her youth. It had been an illusion, she saw that now. She missed it desperately. 113. Marsh Gregor sat behind his desk, half a tuna sandwich forgotten in front of him, and watched his colleague Marsh argue with Jayhawk. She had asked him about shamanic initiation--what it was, how it was accomplished, what it meant--and he didn't want to answer her without knowing the reason behind the question. "I have to guide someone else through it." Marsh pulled at his moustache. "Isn't that rather arrogant? Most of the traditions I'm familiar with insist that initiation is only accomplished by the one initiated." "Maybe that's not the right word, then. I don't know. Maybe 'rebirth' would be better." "What makes you think you have the right to do such a thing?" Gregor, looking at the set of Marsh's shoulders from behind, felt his own nerves prickle. The sorceror was angry, or afraid. He'd been working with Marsh for three years, and he'd only seen him that upset twice. Neither was a pleasant memory. "I think I'm the only one who can," said Jayhawk with dangerous softness, "and it needs doing. I hoped you could help." "I'm reluctant to tell you anything," said Marsh, just as softly, just as dangerously, "until I know just what you think is going on. A matter of trust." Jayhawk was silent, motionless--thinking, he'd come to realize; thinking so hard that she didn't bother to update her image on the screen. "Paradisio is going to destroy itself in a very ugly fashion," she said at last. "Either I help them, make *sure* they die, or I try to find another way." "Destroy itself? How?" In level, clipped tones: "There is a multinational operation called Project Sunflower, a set of unmanned satellites which can project a field blocking out magic. They intend to use that to destroy *his* magical defenses, and then follow with the deathblow--a fusion explosion, probably." "And you think they'll use this power to *destroy* themselves? Have you reported this to the authorities?" She shook her head. "I don't think that would do any good. And yes, I believe Martha when she says she'll try to destroy them, though I'm not sure she'll succeed. Maybe I should do it myself. I know I can." Marsh leaned foward in his chair, almost touching the screen. "You're one of them, then." "No!" Gregor tensed, waiting for the explosion, as Marsh plowed forward: "You're just as guilty in what they do as the man who leaves a loaded gun in the hands of terrorists. You may not have the blood on your own hands, but you have the power to stop it--how can you live with that?" "I don't want to stop them from being destroyed," said Jayhawk very softly. "I want them to be destroyed. I'll do it myself if I have to." "You've bought into their lies--why on earth would anyone gain power like that and use it for self-destruction?" "I know Martha. I believe her when she says that's what she wants." "That's one person. What about everyone else in the organization?" "As far as I know, there are only two living people who can do this. Sunflower's well protected. One of them is Martha, and the other is me. Aliantha perhaps, but she's dead." "As far as you know. Is that good enough?" His tone was almost insulting. *Careful!* Gregor wanted to say, but he didn't dare. "It's going to have to be. I'm the one in position to decide." With sudden fury: "What the hell do you want me to do?" "Report it! Get the authorities in on this! Stop trying to play Lone Ranger! Or give me the information, and I'll do it." "I have a friend in Interpol. I don't want to see him die. And that's about all reporting this is going to accomplish. The authorities are not in a position to deal with Paradisio. They just don't have the resources." "And you do." Openly insulting now. "You're willing to take responsibility for all the deaths--" Bells chimed dissonantly as Jayhawk shook her head wildly. "I haven't killed anyone! Dammit, I came to you asking for help in preventing this!" She took a deep breath: her eyes searched out Gregor, sitting pale and tense behind his desk. "Which I see that I'm not going to get. Your decision." The screen went blank, and the small panel of lights behind it died. "Good God, she's killed your machine," said Marsh, drawing back. He turned, met Gregor's eyes with an expression somewhere between fury and sheepishness. "I'm sorry," he said, with a toss of his head toward the terminal. "It won't be broken," said Gregor slowly, reaching for calmness. "She wouldn't damage a machine to make a point." Marsh reached out, stabbed a button viciously. The screen flared to life in a start-up pattern. He snorted, turned back to Gregor. "What are you going to do now?" "Apologize." Marsh sighed. "Up to you, I suppose. I imagine she'll refuse to talk to me anymore--" "I agree." "I only hope I got something through." His voice was defiantly loud. "I don't understand--" "I know," said Gregor wearily. "We've argued this before. You don't understand why I treat her as I do, and I don't understand her well enough to gamble on anything harsher. I only hope you got through what you intended." *I don't think so,* he wanted to add, but innate diplomacy kept him from it. Marsh was not fooled. "You think I was wrong to do that." Gregor picked up the neglected sandwich, stared at it wearily. In a kinder voice, Marsh said, "I'm sorry, Gregor. You can tell her I said so, if it helps." By the next morning he had a reply to his carefully composed apology: the only response, he suspected, he was ever going to see. >Dr. McDougall, > >You can tell Dr. Marsh that I've notified Interpol, as he suggested. >I hope he enjoys the consequences; I think he should keep careful track >of them. > >Perhaps when all this is over we'll have an opportunity to talk. >Until then, best wishes. I don't think I'll be able to see you again. > >Jayhawk 114. Journey Jayhawk slept briefly among the feathers, dreamed of the Dragon. When she woke, she bathed in the pools, remembering something she'd read about preparing oneself for magic. The water didn't cling to the bright garment of her life-thread, but her hair was full of glittering droplets. She rose into the air, shook herself until they scattered like raindrops, and tried to choose a direction. She was resolved to find the Hawk who had aided her own initiation, and ask it to teach her how to heal the Dragon. It seemed to her that she remembered where the great tree had been, but fifteen minutes' flight did nothing to bring it in sight. Then she saw a dark speck, also flying, approaching. For a moment she thought she'd found the Hawk, sooner and more easily than she'd expected; but this was a larger and uglier bird, bare-headed and with a long hooked beak. It bent its flight to circle her, regarding her with a pale yellow eye. "By what right?" it said suddenly, in the voice of a querulous old man. Jayhawk hovered, one foot behind the other knee, and considered that. The bird circled her at a distance--it didn't look like a very manuverable flyer. It was not an easy question. She had almost formulated a good answer when it said harshly, "By no right, then," and began to accelerate. "What I'm doing needs to be done," she said to it, "and it seems as if I'm the one who's in a position to do it. That's my right." It made no reply, continuing to accelerate. It was almost a blur around her. She spread her arms, preparing to dive under and out-- Something hit her with bone-jarring force, knocked her out of the sky. She hit water, hard, then something harder beneath the water. Struggling and sputtering, she thrashed upwards to the surface. She was in the deepest pool of the island-gardens, nowhere near where she had been. Rising into the air, she shook furiously, water spraying in all directions. She hadn't been harmed in any way, as far as she could tell. Just sent back, rudely and emphatically. Apparently the bird hadn't liked her answer. She flew in the same direction, but much lower to the trees. The bird hadn't seemed very agile; she doubted it could pull that trick again if she flew within the thick canopy. But there was no sign of it, no sign of the great tree and its nest, nothing to break the monotony of the treetops. After half an hour, she landed, walked on intead. Perhaps the trees were hiding something from her. In any case, it was pleasantly cool under the feathery trees, and she enjoyed her feeling of security in a place which would once have terrified her. A flicker of black ahead drew her attention. She ran toward it, spotted a familiar black bird perched on a branch several meters overhead. "Cark!" it said conversationally. "Hoi, small, dark and tricky!" Matrix-trained, she found nothing particularly surprising about talking birds. "Do you know where I can find the Hawk?" "Cark! Why would you want to find the Hawk? That looks like it was painful. Want another?" Her hand went automatically to the scar on her forehead, though it wasn't sore at all, hadn't been since her physical death. "No, to be honest. But if that's what it takes--" It settled itself, preening one wing. "I know how to find the Hawk. I know a lot. Why should I tell you? Do you have something for me?" It was eyeing her garment, spun of the thread of her own life. "Not that," said Jayhawk immediately. She patted her belt pouch, came up with a small, heart-shaped flask. It had been abandoned on top of the Red Tower at Cavilard. The power it contained intruigued her, but she was afraid to use it. "What do you think? Isn't it pretty?" The flask glittered like ruby in the light, though she suspected that its color came from the liquid within. "Hm, pretty!" It turned its head on one side, admiring the flask. "Give it to me, and I'll tell you how to find the Hawk." "Tell me how to find the Hawk, and I'll give it to you. Come on, I'm honest." It gave out a harsh, cawing snort. "Too small, anyway. Want a *real* pretty. Bet you don't have one though." "I've seen the most beautiful thing in the world," said Jayhawk softly. "What? What?" "The Dragon at Paradisio." "That? That's not pretty!" "It all depends in how you look." The bird's head disappeared for a moment, leaving its body sitting truncated on the branch. It reappeared as abruptly, feathers in disarray. "*That's not pretty!*" It fluttered upwards, toward the open sky; hastily she followed it. No matter how fast she flew, it kept a constant three meters above. "There's still this--" She turned the bottle so it flashed in the sun. "Cheapskate," it said morosely. "Why should I tell you how to get there? Bothersome human, always poking in where she's not wanted." "Come on," she coaxed. "How else can you prove how wise you are? I came all this way to hear your advice, since it was so good last time." "Was it?" It let out a small caw, drifted a little lower, but still well out of reach. "Cark! You don't have anything nice for me, you pulled my tail, why should I do you any favors?" "Oh-ho!" she said, struck by a sudden idea. "I see! You don't know how to find the Hawk at all! You're just leading me on, trying to waste my time and take my pretties. What a cheat! What a cheapskate!" "I do know! I am not!" "Prove it!" With a sudden lunge it dove downward--she tensed, thinking it would strike her, but it dove past, toward the tree canopy. She plunged after it, afraid to lose it. With a raucous caw of anger, it veered abruptly, and she saw a flicker in the air before it. She veered too, saw the bird vanish into nothingness, saw the opening flicker out of existance inches away-- WHUMP! as she hit the treetops with staggering force, went crashing and plunging through the branches. They felt none too feathery, poking and plucking at her body. A last, bruising bounce off of a wide limb, and she hit water with a tremendous splash. A moment later her head poked up above the surface; she caught her breath, laughing. She was in the pools of the island-garden, of course. But it had been a good try--workable, she sensed, if only she'd been a little quicker. And the bruises would fade, were fading already, repaired by the system that supported her. It felt good. 115. Hummingbird When she'd recovered from the bruising fall, Jayhawk set out once more, looking for the great tree and the Hawk. Nothing challenged her right to fly where she pleased, but she found nothing; eventually she landed and walked, hoping that that would be more productive. She was a little less amused, now. She wondered how much time was passing outside. It had been the eighteenth of June when she came here. Midsummer was the twenty-first. A flash of bright color ahead caught her eye. She crept up on it, spotted a tiny jewel-like bird hovering among the feathery leaves. Its wings made a faint whirring hum. "Hoi, bird," she said to it. "Hi!" it chirruped back, in a voice like the ring of metal on glass. "Do you know where to find the Hawk?" "Yep!" It buzzed towards her, circled her head, just out of reach. "Where?" "Nope!" "Please? Pretty please?" "Nope!" She folded her arms across her chest, glared at it. "Why not? Are you afraid of it?" "Nup!" Had she heard that right? "Nup? What do you mean?" "Yope!" She was beginning to get annoyed. "Hey, bird. I'll let you taste something nice if you'll tell me where to find the Hawk." It had a long, needle-like beak; she vaguely remembered seeing a picture of such a bird drinking from a flower. She took out the heart-shaped bottle, unstoppered it. The bird darted closer, hovered. She'd never seen a real bird fly like that. "Yup! Yup!" "Will you show me how to get to the Hawk?" "Yup!" It hovered by her hand, dipped its beak into the bottle. She watched it with tight lips, snatched the bottle away as its level began to dwindle. "Now show me." She was resolved that if the little bird didn't keep its word, it would end up stowed in the belt pouch, to be given to her next questioner. It darted away, up and into a heavy mass of foliage. She threw herself after it, dove into an impenetrable screen of leaves--hit water, then something hard beneath the water, and scrabbled up sputtering and coughing in fury. She looked around wildly for the bird, hanging dripping in the air with her lightblade hissing and sparking in her hand. Only then did she realize, more through feel than her blurry vision, that she was not back at the island-garden, not in Anubis. Pillars of stone rose around her, carved with birds of all kinds. Behind her loomed an enormous tree, leafless but strong, with a great nest visible at its very top, hundreds of feet above. She was hovering above a shallow, mossy pool which she didn't recall having seen before--she reflected wryly that it might have helped break her fall, had it been there on her previous visit. She shook herself free of water, rose upward. On that previous visit, the nest had been above her flight ceiling, out of reach. She was pleased to discover that she had apparently improved, though it was still near her limit. There was nothing inside, neither Hawk nor egg. She circled, looking out over the forest. No breaks were apparent in the dense canopy. Something bothered her about the scene; she was still trying to put a finger on it when a soft "Cark!" from behind startled her. She whirled in midair, saw a familiar-looking black bird perched on the edge of the nest. "Cark yourself!" she snapped back, then thought better of it. "Hello, bird. Glad to see you got here." In a voice totally unlike the one she remembered, slow and thoughtful and vaguely drawled, the bird said: "Why are you here?" She landed on the edge of the nest, balancing carefully. Something in its bearing suggested that it should be taken seriously, though she wondered if her small, dark antagonist was playing a trick on her. "I'm trying to find the Hawk." "Why?" "I want to ask it some questions. It helped me before, and I hoped it might be able to do it again." "By what right do you come here?" It turned its head sideways, listening to her intently. She licked her lips, said carefully, "I'm doing something that I think needs to be done, and I seem to be the one who has to do it. By the right of necessity." It regarded her in silence for a moment. "Why wings?" She guessed that that meant *Why can you fly?* "For speed; to overcome obstacles and see a long way; to show my freedom." "Do you seek more of those things?" "No. I don't need any further power or freedom for myself. I have what I need. I'm looking for advice; that's all." It nodded, apparently approving. "When you come before the Hawk, remember this: the Hawk sees all who are not hawks as predators or prey." She nodded, silently resolving: *Not me.* "How do I find it?" "You may begin from here. I cannot show you your way. Each person has his own way to the Hawk." She bowed slightly, not particularly pleased, but forcing herself to be polite. "Thank you." And turned and leaped, out into the wind's embrace, a direction chosen at random--by intuition, she hoped. There were no landmarks. Only as she left the tree behind did she realize what had bothered her about the scene. The great tree was feathered, like the trees in her garden. She was sure that hadn't been the case before. 116. Amnesia Channa was making tea when she heard Angela stirring behind her. She turned quickly, saw the girl struggling to sit up, propped up against the side of the seat-turned-bed at the back of the RV. "Easy does it," she said quickly. "You're bound to be a bit shaky. You've had a rough time." "Where am I?" said the girl. Her voice was not as much like Jayhawk's as her face, to Channa's relief. "In a park south of Tacoma, at the moment. You were in a good deal of trouble when we found you, but it's going to be all right now. Would you like something to drink?" "Who are you?" She reached out for the cup, held it with great concentration. "My name's Channa. Who are you?" The girl looked down into the steaming tea, expression unreadable. "I...don't know." Channa frowned. In the girl's sleeping mind she'd touched confusion and distress, but nothing to suggest amnesia. "We ran a medical check on you when we rescued you--you were being held hostage on a farm near Olympia. The records suggest that you're Angela Whitechapel of Seattle. Does that ring any bells?" "No," the girl said after a moment. It seemed to Channa that she was shading the truth, or at least doubtful of it. "Why was I being held hostage?" "We don't know; we're trying to find out." Angela looked up at her with suddenly narrowed eyes. "You--you're a telepath, aren't you? You've been in my mind." How did she know? Was the machine inside her telling her? It had certainly been aware of Channa's presence. She'd felt no recognition from the girl herself. "Yes, I am. We were concerned about you, and wanted to find out whether you were all right. I won't do it again without your permission, I promise." She regretted the promise almost immediately as the girl sat and stared at her, eyes wide and dark and lost. For three days, while the planning for the final attack on Paradisio went on all around her, Angela lived in the RV with them, watched over by Channa, Casey and Yoichi. She professed to remember a little bit of her school career, brief flashes of her parents, nothing else. Yoichi spent a great deal of time with her, something that Channa noted with a mixture of relief and anxiety. Since the death-run on the Congo he'd been clinging to the edge; but she wasn't sure that living with an image of Jayhawk was good for him either. Whenever anyone pressed Angela too hard on her past, her intentions, whether or not she wanted to go home, she would roll over and go back to sleep. Frustrated, Channa shook her once, spoke sharply to her, and found that she didn't respond; not asleep but deeply unconscious. They contacted Ramone, their usual fixer for matters of ransoms and payments, to ask about collecting the million nuyen, and ran into a brick wall. He wouldn't touch the job, and he advised them to drop it. "Forget you ever heard of Angela Whitechapel, that's the best help I can give you. She's too hot to handle. No way I'm going to be able to swing a payment for you--I know people who would try, and I'll put you onto them if you want, but I don't recommend it." At that point Grant suggested that they simply release Angela and run. Yoichi wouldn't hear of it, and Channa found herself backing him. The connection to Jayhawk might be purely illusory--though she still couldn't quite bring herself to believe it--but the young woman's predicament struck a responsive chord. It seemed clear that the price on her head reflected whatever lived in her headware, and not any particular love that her parents felt for her; and Channa guessed that freeing her or turning her in would doom her to, at best, life in a Ren'raku corporate research lab. Angela herself would express no opinion, beyond a quiet desire simply to stay here, making no decisions, out of reach of the past that she couldn't remember. 117. Ascent As before, Jayhawk could find nothing from the air. Eventually she landed, walked onwards. The trees were no longer feathery here, and there was an airy lightness to the forest. It became lighter still as the ground began sloping up. Unexpectedly she came on a path, a narrow rut that wound among the trees, heading in roughly the direction she was going. She looked at it dubiously. It felt like a trap, somehow; but it was a guide of sorts in the vast forest. She decided to keep to it as long as it didn't veer from her direction. The climb became steeper, with open areas from which she could look out and down, though the upwards slope was always veiled by trees. She was picking her way across a stony meadow, the trail angling back and forth, when she was hailed from behind. "Hey! Wait up!" She whirled, expecting another bird; but it was a woman, a sturdy big-boned woman wearing jogging clothes and hiking boots, with a heavy pack on her shoulders. She was following the same path as Jay, puffing a little at its steepness. "Hello! Good afternoon to be climbing." Something about her cheerful, practical look reminded Jayhawk of Martha, though there was no particular resemblance; and the jogging suit reminded her of Aliantha. She said cautiously, "Yes, it's very nice. Where are you going?" "Right up to the top. Seven times now--quite a climb, isn't it?" She reached Jayhawk, offered a wide, slightly grimy hand. "I'm Martha." Names flashed through Jayhawk's mind; after just an instant's pause she settled on "I'm Jay." She took the other woman's hand; it was warm and slightly sweaty from the climb. "Looks as though we're going the same way for a while. Mind if I join you?" "Sure." They walked a moment in silence--Jayhawk, baffled, was trying to think of something to say. "Been up here before?" Martha asked. "Not near here. Other parts of the woods, yes." What on earth was she talking to? Yet another fragment, lost and confused? But she didn't look like Martha. Something deceitful? Somebody else who just happened to be named Martha, just happened to be in the forest? "What's it like?" "It's beautiful, the view from the top. You wouldn't believe how far you can see. What brings you here, then?" "I'm looking for a hawk." "A hawk? I've seen them from the top, circling on the thermals. But you sound like you have a particular one in mind. Are you a bird-tamer?" "No, just interested. I saw this one before, and it...seemed to have something to say to me about a problem I had. I thought I'd try it again." "Hm. Never heard of a hawk solving someone's problems, but then you never know." She paused a moment to take a deep breath, look out over the forest below. They were higher up than Jayhawk had realized: the canopy stretching off to the horizon was almost featureless with distance. "I just like to look down, see things straight, as it were. And then there's the climb." "Good for you, eh?" said Jayhawk with a laugh. She could fly, the climb was little challenge to her-- Could she? She was getting tired, which she hadn't expected. She had a sudden suspicion that if she claimed to be able to fly, Martha would look at her in bewilderment, and she wouldn't be able to do it. She didn't want to embarrass herself in front of another human being--the birds were one thing, but this woman (whoever she was) seemed so normal, so mundane.... "It's a good chance to get your thoughts straight, climbing," said Martha seriously. "How long will it take?" "To the summit? All day." She looked at Jayhawk critically. "Are you planning to go all the way up? If you'll excuse me, you don't look quite, well, equipped for it." She patted her backpack. "I think I'll manage." They traded small talk for a while, comments on the forest, the weather, the path. Martha seemed to have tired of questions, and Jayhawk felt disinclined to press her. If she were innocent of all her name's bloody and arcane associations, why trouble her with them? On a high ridge cloaked in small, tight-set green trees, Martha said softly, almost to herself, "So you do know then." "So I do know what?" "What your question is, silly. That's good. I think our ways part here. Have a good climb." With a resolute air, she turned off the path, began to force her way among the trees, along the line of the ridge. The path went on, still climbing. Jayhawk stared after her, torn with conflicting emotions. "Have a good climb!" she called at last, when the figure was almost out of sight. "Take care!" She received a wave in return, and then the woman pushed through a screen of undergrowth and disappeared into the forest. Jayhawk took a deep breath, turned and continued up the path. She was tired, but not too tired to go on. Experimentally, she raised her arms above her head, willed herself upward; but as she had rather expected, nothing happened. Some time later it occured to her that she might never have seen Martha in the flesh before, and didn't really know what the woman had looked like, when she still wore a human body. Brown-haired and tan-skinned, the hiker hadn't much resembled the swarthy Amerind she remembered; but her own body hadn't resembled her Matrix image very closely either. Her feelings confused her intensely. She tried to put them aside, drown her confusion and frustrated affection and fear in the steady rhythm of the ascent. 118. Image Yoichi sat with Angela in the front seats of the RV, playing games with the vehicle's on-board computer. Most of the others were away on one errand or another, preparing for the final strike. It was not going to be a decker's operation, and he felt rather at loose ends, part of the operation but unable to contribute much to it. He occupied himself trying to cheer Angela up. They'd been talking about the Matrix, about how a Matrix image was chosen and constructed. She had a good deal of graphical talent, and was weaving pictures out of his image-generation code, geometrical forms and laser-show webworks. "What would you look like, if you could look like anything at all?" he asked her. "I don't know." She considered the pattern of pyramids she'd constructed, shook her head, erased it. "What do you look like on the Matrix?" He reached over her, brought up his Matrix image on-screen; a grizzly bear, black fur touched with the polychrome sheen of a laser-disc surface, wide eyes with a point of icy light inside. She shivered. "I don't think I could do that." "It took some getting used to." His old image, the rainbow panda, had stopped working for him after Jayhawk was lost, after the massive cyberware upgrades Duende had funded. It didn't match the way he felt anymore. The grizzly did, though it disturbed him too. "I had a friend who looked like this--" Impulsively, he brought up Jayhawk's image, silver-armored and armed with light. "Oooh," Angela breathed. "I like that." She touched the controls, and the static image whirled into motion, a preprogrammed demonstration of its functions, or perhaps a memory of Jayhawk in action--Yoichi found he wasn't sure. "The people we're fighting killed her," Yoichi said softly, knowing that he wasn't supposed to discuss Paradisio with her, but not caring. "She looked a lot like you." "I'm sorry." She looked distressed, or perhaps embarrassed. "Was she a good decker?" "She was superb. Much better than I am. Much braver, too." He still had Kurt's interface code stored away, but he'd never used it, and he suspected he never would. "What is the Matrix really like?" Yoichi came to a sudden, reckless decision, got up to begin disconnecting the antenna from the telecom driver. "I could show you, if you want. My deck's rigged for hitcher. You wouldn't be able to do anything, and we can't go out of this system, but we could have a look round here." He knew Channa would forbid this, afraid that the program she sensed within Angela's headware would do something. But with the machine off-line, he didn't see how it could hurt anyone but him, and at the moment he didn't care about that. "Would you?" Her smile was not quite Jayhawk's; younger, more wistful. He settled down beside her, showed her how to attach the leads, made the connection himself. He couldn't see her on the Matrix, with no deck or headware to support an image, but he heard her delighted voice: "Oh, that's wonderful! You're lucky, Yoichi. You can go anywhere you want, you can do so much...." Sparked by her wonder, the narrow, angular confines of the RV's onboard computer were new to him too; they spent an hour wandering there, until Angela reluctantly conceeded exhaustion. She dozed off in the front seat, living him sitting in the gathering twilight, a silver and black image dancing in front of his eyes, across the greyness of the dead screen. 119. Construct Ahead of her in the forest Jayhawk heard a low humming, growing steadily as she climbed. It didn't sound like any bird she knew, but that didn't mean much--she was beginning to wish she'd studied biology in college, as well as computer science. The path levelled off, opened up into a wide grassy clearing. In the center of it was an incongruous object. Half again Jayhawk's height, it consisted of two pyramids pressed base to base, with a fringe of flat, sharp-looking triangles around its waist. It had the distinctive, slightly unfocussed look of mediocre computer graphics. If she had encountered it on the Matrix, she would instantly have identified it as standard attack IC. Its surface was patterned in mottled white, a moire pattern she might have programmed herself. It was clearly the source of the humming; as she approached cautiously, the tempo of its spin and the pitch of the hum both increased, and it began to slide toward her. The bottom point was just above the grass. She put her hand to the lightblade's hilt, then reconsidered. "Hello? Do you talk?" The only response was an increasingly strident hum. She waited until it was within a few meters, then burst into a sudden run, trying to slip past it. It veered to follow her, but as she had hoped, she was the faster. To her disappointment, there was no sign of the trail on the other side of the clearing; she pushed into the trees anyway, glanced behind her to see that it was not pursuing. It stood in the center of the clearing, the spinning and whir decaying to a soft, slow murmur. She'd come to rely on the path, and the forest was difficult going; branches plucked at her, roots dragged at her feet. The upwards slope seemed to have disappeared. She began to worry that she might be walking in circles, as she'd heard lost hikers did. None of the trees looked as though she could climb them, and she still couldn't fly. Without landmarks, she was well on her way to getting lost. She'd been lost to start with, looking for something she had no idea how to find. But it was distressing to lose the apparent guide of the trail. She stopped, thought for a little while. Was she doing something wrong? She felt as though she'd betrayed some opportunity. Eventually, with a curse, she tried to locate the humming again. For some time she couldn't pick it up, and she began to believe she was really lost; surely she'd walked back much further than she'd come? Then a breeze brought a faint, intermittant sound to her. She followed it carefully, with many pauses to listen, and after another fifteen minutes found herself back at the clearing. She walked out into it, stood waiting. The construct began to spin more rapidly, gliding toward her. The triangular points looked very sharp indeed; she fancied she saw something wet glistening on their edges. She put out her hands, one at shoulder height and one at waist height, hoping to avoid the belly-level blades and block the construct if it ran into her. Her stomach felt as though it was trying to hide behind her navel. She'd been hurt badly by the incorporeal constructs of the Matrix, spent weeks in the hospital while the damage to wiring and nerves was treated. She sensed that this had equal capacity to hurt her. It stopped just a milimeter from her outstretched hands. On the moire- patterned surface of its upper face, words appeared, plain square lettering like an archaic computer. WHAT DO YOU FEAR? Another guardian, like the birds. She considered carefully, trying to ignore the continual whirr, the wind of its movement brushing against her. "Failure. Not being able to accomplish what I've set out to do." WHY? "What I'm doing...I think it's terribly important, to me, to a lot of people. There's someone I care about a lot tied up in it, and something...very great." The words spun away and were not replaced, as if it was waiting for elaboration. "I guess...what I fear the most is finding that I'm not really myself anymore, that I've changed so much that I don't know who I am, don't understand why I do things. That I might not be free, or might be free but so much changed that I'd hate myself if I knew." It was an insight she had shied away from, even with Gregor. PREPARE YOURSELF FOR SELF-REFLECTION. It spun forward, and against her instincts Jayhawk dropped her hands. She wanted to go forward--she *would* go forward, IC or no IC, and the blind run into the forest was a dead end, she'd known that as soon as she'd seen it. The blades sliced into her. She'd thought they would stop, had wanted to believe that....She screamed, felt something tear and part inside, abstract as computer code, but terribly close to her. Pain washed over her, pain that blossomed into darkness. 120. Pyramid Jayhawk found herself sitting cross-legged in a space barely large enough to contain her: a pyramid of silver stuff that flowed like water visually, though to the touch it was hard and cold as steel. It rose to a point just above her head. The flat, smooth surface before her reflected--herself? Angela. Black-haired, with fair skin dusted with freckles across the nose, wide curious blue eyes. It might almost have been Caroline Davies as she'd appeared in life, except for the hair, but subtle differences said otherwise. She reached out, felt cold metal as the image mirrored her movement. At the very center of the triangular face she sensed a faint warmth, as if something living brushed her through a hair-thin foil. She looked at her own arms, saw the flawlessly fair skin and faint silver traceries of the image she had chosen as her own after the merger. The faces to her right and left reflected almost identical images, her Matrix form, sheathed in silver armor, eyes bright as crystal. The rightward one wore a gossamer of silver-dark thread over her armor, shot with flickers of sapphire blue. Caroline. And Jayhawk as she had been during the split, she guessed. She peered behind the images, expecting to see double and triple reflections, but there was only flowing silver. She turned around with some difficulty--the space was very tight--and found herself looking into a single yellow eye in a very narrow face. Piebald's three-cornered hat drooped down over his face, giving him a rather disreputable look. He mirrored her movements exactly. Twisting about, she even managed to see both his eyes at once. They were inhumanly far back on his face. She knew the view from those eyes, knew it intimately, but she had never looked into them this way before. It was oddly disconcerting. Below her, barely visible around her folded legs, Anubis hung in space; also a reflection, though it mirrored only her gross movements. She snorted in puzzlement. She was in a box--why? Had she made a mistake, or was this a strange step on her journey, perhaps a test? The Angela-reflection regarded her with soft, anxious blue eyes. She put a palm flat against the hard surface, touching the reflected palm, and called her name softly, as she had called Aliantha's shadow from death itself. A whirlpool spread about her hand, seemed to draw her in. For a dizzy moment she was in two places, *there* and *here*, drawn thin between them. Then the world settled. She was looking into Jayhawk's eyes, sapphire brushed with sunlit gold, with opalescent white. With a panicky, trapped feeling, she twisted around, looked at the others. As far as she could tell she hadn't moved, except for the shift of the single image. The space was very tight, with no perceptible ventilation. The enormity of what she was doing clung to the back of her throat, a lump impossible to swallow or spit out. Planning to face *him*, try to convince him of her certainty, her ability to do what neither he nor all Paradisio had accomplished....It was ridiculous. And they were counting on her. The reflected eyes were on her like inescapable reminders--she didn't dare close her own, or the claustrophobic smallness of the pyramid would overwhelm her. Martha was counting on her; she'd claimed that she could help, made her hope again. She saw now how cruel that had been. Perhaps even *he* was. She turned around with an effort, faced Piebald. The reflected bells were silent, making him seem unreal. She remembered her desperate decision, the strangeness that had followed. It didn't make much sense that she was here, now, to make it again.... A wash of frightened, bashful affection. She would do it the same, if she had it to do over. Like healing the Dragon, it was right, no matter how wrong it sounded. Angela reached out, touched trembling fingertips to Piebald's, let the whirlpool draw her through. For an instant in two places, *here* and *there*-- Bells jingled around him as if trying to draw out an idea. They needed an idea, of that he was certain. For one thing, this was much too slow. He struggled until he was lying on his back, pressed against the image of Anubis, and put a hand on each of two walls, a bare foot on each of the other two. All around him, images copied him with greater or lesser degrees of dignity. Thinking about Anubis, he realized that if he were to go *there* he wouldn't be able to return. Hastily he turned his thoughts away. One image at a time was too slow. Could he think about all four at once? He frowned deeply, trying to concentrate. Wait! What about the edges? Or the top? Righting himself, he ran fingers along each crack, poked up at the pyramid point. They were cold and hard and impassable. He lay back down, tried again to think of everyone at once. Whirlpools tickled at his palms, the soles of his feet. He thought of feathers, of Caroline; realized his error when the tickling drew him in, *here* and *there*, an amusing and confusing sensation. She shook her head to clear it, watched Piebald's bells dance inaudibly. Something about this situation felt wrong to her, drastically wrong. Her merger had been completed, once and for all; why was she seeing herself as fragments now? Was this all illusory? Perhaps she'd made a lethal mistake with the spinning IC-construct, though she didn't think so. It had felt like the right decision, painful though it had been. She struck the wall before her, hard, with a balled-up fist. The entire chamber around her shook; for a moment she thought it might topple. But there was no give in it, and she wasn't ready to risk breaking it. Not as she was. Intuition whispered to her of escape--through the reflective floor, into Anubis. But then she would be Caroline, for ever and ever. She wanted more than that. She wanted to see the Hawk in glory, face it with her full resources. Going back to Anubis would be a terrible mistake. She was not quite its master; she'd given that up in creating Jayhawk, daughter-process, companion, rival. She turned to look into that image's sapphire eyes, remembering their embrace. It would be sweet to be with her for a little while--being one, complete, whole, that was wonderful, but she felt a loneliness it didn't quite cure. She thought of Martha, shook her head. Even if she succeeded in healing *him*, would she ever be able to sit quietly with Martha and talk? Would Martha exist any longer? Would she? She held out her hand as she had done to give Jayhawk the key, felt the dizzying whirlpool answer her, draw her in. *There* and *here* at once, as she had felt Jayhawk in the first moments of their independent existance-- Jay put her palms flat on the cramped floor beneath her, staring down at Anubis. Escape. She could choose life, live forever in the embrace of her machine--at the cost of the others. She shook her head violently, pulled away before the silver could warm to her touch. She had no access to Anubis, beyond that touch. It was a feeling she'd never expected to know again, lonely and empty. She turned slowly to look at the others, reflected eyes no comfort to her solitude. They didn't know how to get past this, no more than she did. But she felt certain that the answer lay with Jayhawk as she had become, not with her fragments, incomplete as they were. She settled herself again, reached out to make the transfer, let control pass to that central program. For an instant it seemed to her that both were operating, that she touched the hand of someone who was herself and not herself, *there* and *here* at once-- Jayhawk let out a soft breath. Her problem, then. That made sense; her resources were all of theirs and more. At the moment they felt terribly inadequate. She didn't want to break the pyramid, even if she could; somehow that felt wrong, dangerously wrong. But she could see no other way to escape. -- Copyright 1992 Mary K. Kuhner


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