Islands in the Net by Bruce Sterling



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Islands in the Net
by Bruce Sterling
1
The sea lay in simmering quiet, a slate-green gumbo

seasoned with warm mud. Shrimp boats trawled the horizon.

Pilings rose in clusters, like blackened fingers, yards out in

the gentle surf. Once, Galveston beach homes had crouched

on those tar-stained stilts. Now barnacles clustered there, gulls

wheeled and screeched. It was a great breeder of hurricanes,

this quiet Gulf of Mexico.

Laura read her time and distance with a quick downward

glance. Green indicators blinked on the toes. of her shoes,

flickering with each stride, counting mileage. Laura picked

up the pace. Morning shadows strobed across her as she ran.

She passed the last of the pilings and spotted her home, far

down the beach. She grinned as fatigue evaporated in a flare.

of energy.

Everything seemed worth it. When the second wind took

her, she felt that she could run forever, a promise of inde-

structible confidence bubbling up from the marrow. She ran

in pure animal ease, like an antelope.

The beach leapt up and slammed against her.

Laura lay stunned for a moment. She lifted her head, then

caught her breath and groaned. Her cheek was caked with

sand, both elbows numbed with the impact of the fall. Her

arms trembled as she pushed herself up onto her knees. She

looked behind her.

Something had snagged her foot. It was a black, peeling

length of electrical cable. Junked flotsam from the hurricane,

buried in the sand. The wire had whiplashed around her left

ankle and brought her down as neatly as a lariat.

She rolled over and sat, breathing hard, and kicked the

loosened wire off her shoe. The broken skin above her sock

had just begun to bleed, and the first cold shock gave way to

hot smarting pain.

She stood up and threw off the shakiness, brushing sand

from her cheek and arms. Sand had scratched the plastic

screen of her watchphone. Its wrist strap was caked with grit.

"Great," Laura said. A belated rush of anger brought her

strength back. She bent and pulled at the cable, hard. Four

feet of wet sand furrowed up.

She looked around for a stick or a chunk of driftwood to

dig with. The beach, as usual, was conspicuously clean. But

Laura refused to leave this filthy snag- to trip some tourist.

That wouldn't do at all-not on her beach. Stubbornly, she

knelt down and dug with her hands.

She followed the frayed cord half a foot down, to the

peeling, chromed edge of a home appliance. Its simulated

plastic wood grain crumbled under Laura's fingers like old

linoleum tile. She kicked the dead machine several times to

loosen it. Then, grunting and heaving, she wrenched it up

from its wet cavity in the sand. It came up sullenly, like a

rotten tooth.

It was a video cassette recorder. Twenty years of grit and

brine had made it a solid mass of corrosion. A thin gruel of

sand and broken shell dripped from its empty cassette slot.

It was an old-fashioned unit. Heavy and clumsy. Limping,

Laura dragged it behind her by its cord. She looked up the

beach for the local trash can.

She spotted it loitering near a pair of fishermen, who stood

in hip boots in the gentle surf. She called out. "Trash can!

The can pivoted on broad rubber treads and rolled- toward

her voice. It snuffled across the beach, mapping its way with

bursts of infrasound. It spotted Laura and creaked to a stop

beside her.

Laura hefted the dead recorder and dropped it into the open

barrel with a loud, bonging thump. "Thank you for keeping

our beaches clean," the can intoned. "Galveston appreciates

good citizenship. Would you like to register for a valuable

cash prize?"

"Save it for the tourists," Laura said. She jogged on

toward home, favoring her ankle.

Home loomed above the high-tide line on twenty sand-

colored buttresses.

The Lodge was a smooth half cylinder of dense concretized

sand, more or less the color and shape of a burnt bread loaf.

A round two-story tower rose from the center. Massive con-

crete arches held it a dozen feet above the beach.

A broad canopy in candy-stripe red and white shaded the

Lodge's walls. Under the canopy, a sun-bleached wooden

walkway girdled the building. Behind the walkway's railings,

morning sunlight gleamed from the glass doors of half a

dozen guest rooms, which faced east to the sea.

A trio of guest kids were already out on the beach. Their

parents were from a Rizome Canadian firm, and they were all

vacationing at company expense. The kids wore navy blue

sailor suits and nineteenth-century Fauntleroy hats with trail-

ing ribbons. The clothes were souvenirs from Galveston's

historical district.

The biggest kid, a ten-year-old, ran headlong toward Laura,

holding a long wooden baton over his head. Behind him, a

modern window-sculpture kite leapt from the others' arms, wing

after tethered wing peeling loose in blue and green pastels.

Yanked free, each fabric aerofoil flapped into shape, caught

the wind, and flung itself into flight. The ten-year-old slowed

and turned, fighting its pull. The long kite bucked like a

serpent, its movements eerily sinuous. The children screamed

with glee.

Laura looked up at the Lodge's tower roof. The flags of

Texas and Rizome Industries Group slid up the tower's flag-

pole. Old Mr. Rodriguez waved at her briefly, then disappeared behind the satellite dish.. The old man was doing the

honors as usual, starting another day.

Laura limped up the wooden stairs to the walkway. She

pushed through the heavy doors of the front lobby. Inside, the

Lodge's massive walls still held the coolness of night. And

the cheerful reek of Tex-Mex cooking-peppers, cornmeal,

and cheese.

Mrs. Rodriguez was not at the front desk yet she was a

late riser, not as spry as her husband. Laura walked through

the empty dining room and up the tower stairs.

The tower's trapdoor slid open at her approach. She emerged

through the tower's lower floor, into a round conference room

lined with modem office equipment and padded swivel chairs.

Behind her, the trapdoor accordioned shut.

David, her husband, was stretched out on a wicker couch,

with the baby on his chest. They were both fast asleep. One

of David's hands spread cozily across little Loretta's pajama'd back.

Morning light poured through the tower's thick, round

windows, slanting high across the room. It lent a strange

Renaissance glow to their faces. David's head was propped

against a pillow, and his profile, always striking, looked like

a Medici coin. The baby's relaxed and peaceful face, her skin

like damask, was hauntingly fresh and new. As if she'd

popped into the world out of cellophane.

David had kicked a woolen comforter into a wad at the foot

of the couch. Laura spread it carefully over his legs and the

.baby's back.

She pulled up a chair and sat by them, stretching out her

legs. A wash of pleasant fatigue came over her. She savored

it a while, then gave David's bare shoulder a nudge.

"Morning."

He stirred. He sat up, cradling Loretta, who slept on in

babylike omnipotence. "Now she sleeps," he said. "But not

at three A.M. The midnight of the human soul."

"I'll get up next time," Laura said. "Really."

"Hell, we ought to put her in the room with your mother."

David brushed long black hair from his eyes, then yawned

into his knuckles. "I dreamed I saw my Optimal Persona last night."

"Oh?" Laura said, surprised. "What was it like?"

"I dunno. About what I expected, from the stuff I read

about it. Soaring and foggy and cosmic. I was standing on the

beach. Naked, I think. The sun was coming up. It was hyp-

notic. I felt this huge sense of total elation. Like I'd discov-

ered some pure element of soul."

Laura frowned. "You don't really believe in that crap."

He shrugged. "No. Seeing your O.P. it's a fad. Like folks

used to see UFO's, you know? Some weirdo in Oregon says

he had an encounter with his personal archetype. Pretty soon,

everybody and his brother's having visions. Mass hysteria,

collective unconscious or some such. Stupid. But modern at

least. It's very new-millennium." He seemed obscurely pleased.

"It's mystic bullshit," Laura told him. "If it was really

your Optimal Self, you should have been building something,

right? Not beachcombing for Nirvana."

David looked sheepish. "It was just a dream. Remember

that documentary last Friday? The guy who saw his O.P.

walking down the street, wearing his clothes, using his charge

card? I got a long way to go just yet. ",He looked down at her

ankle and started. "What'd you do to your leg?"

She looked at it. "I tripped over a piece of hurricane junk.

Buried in the sand. A VCR, actually." Loretta woke up, her

tiny face stretching in a mighty toothless yawn.

"Really? Must have been there since the big one of '02.

Twenty years! Christ, you could get tetanus." He handed her

the baby and fetched a first-aid kit from the bathroom. On the

way back he touched a console button. One of the flat display

screens on the wall flared into life.

David sat on the floor with limber grace and put Laura's

foot in his lap. He unlaced her shoe and glanced at its

readout. "That's pretty rotten time. You must have been

limping, babe."

He peeled off her sock. Laura held the wriggling baby to

her shoulder and stared at the screen, distracting herself as

David dabbed at her raw skin.

The screen was running David's Worldrun game-a global

simulation. Worldrun had been invented as a forecasting tool

for development agencies, but a glamorized version had found

its way onto the street. David, who was prone to sudden

enthusiasms, had been playing it for days.

Long strips of the Earth's surface peeled by in a simulated

satellite view. Cities glowed green with health or red with

social disruption. Cryptic readouts raced across the bottom of

the screen. Africa was a mess. "It's always Africa, isn't it?"

she said.

"Yeah." He resealed a tube of antiseptic gel. "Looks like

a rope burn. It didn't bleed much. It'll scab.

"I'll be okay." She stood up, lifting Loretta, and disguis-

ing the pain for his sake. The rawness faded as the gel soaked

in. She smiled. "I need a shower."

David's watchphone beeped. It was Laura's mother,

calling from her guest room in the Lodge, downstairs.

"Ohayo, y'all! How about helping Granny surround some breakfast?"

David was amused. "I'll be down in a minute, Margaret.

Don't eat anything with the hide still on it." They went

upstairs to their bedroom.

Laura gave him the baby and stepped into the bathroom,

which shut behind her.

Laura could not understand why David actively liked her

mother. He'd insisted on her right to see her grandchild,

though Laura hadn't met her mother face to face in years.

David was taking naive pleasure in his mother-in-law's stay,

as if a week-long visit could smooth over years of unspoken resentment.

To David, family ties seemed natural and solid, the way

things should be. His own parents doted on the baby. But

Laura's parents had split when she was nine, and she'd been

raised by her grandmother. Laura knew that family was a

luxury, a hothouse plant.

Laura stepped into the tub and the curtain shunted shut.

The sun-warmed water washed the tension from her; she put

family troubles out of mind. She stepped out and blew her

hair dry. It fell into place-she wore a simple cut, short, with

light feathery bangs. Then she confronted herself in the mirror.

After three months, most of her postnatal flab had suc-

cumbed to her running campaign. The endless days of her

pregnancy were a fading memory, though her swollen body

image still lurched up sometimes in her dreams. She'd been

happy, mostly-huge and achy, but cruising on motherhood's

hormones. She'd given David some rough times. "Mood

swings," he'd said, smiling with fatuous male tolerance.

In the last weeks they'd both been spooked and twitchy,

like barnyard animals before an earthquake. Trying to cope,

they talked in platitudes. Pregnancy was one of those arche-

typal situations that seemed to breed cliche's.

But it was the right decision. It had been the right time.

Now they had the home they'd built and the child they'd

wanted. Special things, rare things, treasures.

It had brought her mother back into her life, but that would

pass. Basically, things were sound, they were happy. Nothing

wildly ecstatic, Laura thought, but a solid happiness, the kind

she believed they had earned.

Laura picked at the part in her hair, watching the mirror.

That light threading of gray-there hadn't been so much

before the baby. She was thirty-two now, married eight years.

She touched the faint creases at the corners of her eyes,

thinking of her mother's face. They had the same eyes-set

wide, blue with a glimmer of yellow-green. "Coyote eyes,"

her grandmother had called them. Laura had her dead father's

long, straight nose and wide mouth, with an upper lip that fell

a little short. Her front teeth were too big and square.

Genetics, Laura thought. You pass them on to the next

generation. Then they relax and start to crumble on you. They

do it anyway. You just have to pay a little extra for using the

copyright.

She lined her eyes, touched on lipstick and video rouge.

She put on hose, knee-length skirt, long-sleeve blouse in

patterned Chinese silk, and a dark blue business vest. She

stuck a Rizome logo pin through the vest's lapel.

She joined David and her mother in the Lodge's dining

room. The Canadians, here for the last day, were playing

with the baby. Laura's mother was eating the Nipponese

breakfast, little cakes of pressed rice and tiny popeyed fish

that smelled like kerosene. David, on the other hand, had

fixed the usual: cunningly disguised food-oid stuff. Fluffy

mock scrambled eggs, soybean bacon, pancakes from batter

made of thick, yellow scop.

David was a health-food nut, a great devotee of unnatural

foods. After eight years of marriage, Laura was used to it. At

least the tech was improving. Even the. scop, single-cell

protein, was better these days. It tasted all right, if you could

forget the image of protein vats crammed with swarming bacteria.

David wore his overalls. He was going out house wrecking

today. He had his heavy toolbox and his grandfather's old

oil-company hard hat. The prospect of bashing up houses-

filthy, crowbar-swinging muscle work-always filled David

with childlike glee. He drawled more than usual and put hot

sauce on his eggs, infallible signs of his good mood.

Laura's mother,. Margaret Alice Day Garfield Nakamura

Simpson, wore a Tokyo original in blue crepe de chine, with

a trailing waist sash. Her woven-straw sun hat, the size of a

bicycle wheel, was tied across her back. She called herself

Margaret Day, since she had recently divorced Simpson, a

man Laura scarcely knew.

"It's not the Galveston I remember anymore," Laura's

mother said.

David nodded. "You know what I miss? I miss the wreck-

age. I mean, I was ten when the big disaster hit. I grew up in

the wreckage down the island. All those beach homes, snapped

off, washed up, tossed around like dice... It seemed infi-

nite, full of surprises."

Laura's mother smiled. "That's why you stayed here?"

David sipped his breakfast juice, which came from a pow-

dered mix and was of a color not found in nature. "Well,

after '02, everyone with sense pulled out. It left all the more

room for us diehards. We BOI's, Born on the Island folks,

we're a weird breed." David smiled self-consciously. "To

live here, you have to have a kind of dumb love for bad luck.

Isla Malhaldo, that was Galveston's first name, you know.

Isle of Bad Luck."

"Why?" Laura's mother said obligingly. She was humoring him.

"Cabeza de Vaca called it that. His galleon was ship-

wrecked here in 1528. He was almost eaten by cannibals.

Karankawa Indians."

"Oh? Well, the Indians must have had some name for the place. "

"Nobody knows it," David said. "They were all wiped

out by smallpox. True Galvestonians, I guess-bad luck."

He thought it over. "A very weird tribe, the Karankawas.

They used to smear themselves with rancid alligator grease-

they were famous for the stench."

"I've never heard of them," Margaret Day said.

"They were very primitive," David said, forking up an-

other scop pancake. "They used to eat dirt! They'd bury a

fresh deer kill for three or four, days, until it softened up,

and--


"David!" Laura said.

"Oh," David said. "Sorry." He changed the subject.

"You ought to come out with us today, Margaret. Rizome

has a good little side, biz with the city government. They

condemn it, we scrap it, and it's a lot of fun all around. I

mean, it's not serious money, not by zaibatsu standards, but

there's more to life than the bottom line-"

" `Fun City,' " her mother said.

"I see you've been listening to our new mayor," Laura said.

"Do you ever worry about the people drifting into Galves-

ton these days?" her mother said suddenly.

"What do you mean?" Laura said.

"I've been reading about this mayor of yours. He's quite a

strange character, isn't he? An ex-bartender with a big white

beard who wears Hawaiian shirts to the office. He seems to

be going out of his way to attract-what's the word?-fringe

elements. "

"Well, it's not a real city anymore, is it?" David said.

"No more industry. Cotton's gone, shipping's gone, oil went

a long time ago. About all that's left is to sell glass beads to

tourists. Right? And a little, uh, social exotica is good for

tourism. You expect a tourist burg to run a little fast and loose."

"So you like the mayor? I understand Rizome backed his

campaign. Does that mean your company supports his policies?"

"Who's asking?" Laura said, nettled. "Mother, you're on

vacation. Let Marubeni Company find their own answers."

The two of them locked eyes for a moment. "Aisumimasen."

her mother said at last. "I'm very sorry if I seemed to pry. I

spent too much time in the State Department. I still have the

reflexes. Now that I'm in what they laughingly call private

enterprise." She set her chopsticks across her plate and reached

for her hat. "I've decided to rent a sailboat today. They say

there's an offshore station-an OPEC, or something like that."

"OTEC," David corrected absently. "The power station.

Yeah, it's nice out there."

"I'll see you at supper then. Be good, you two."

Four more Canadians came in for breakfast, yawning. Mar-

garet Day filtered past them and left the dining room.

"You had to step on her toes," David said quietly. "What's

wrong with Marubeni? Some creaky old Nipponese trading

company. You think they sent Loretta's grandma here to

swipe our microchips or something?"

"She's a guest of Rizome," Laura said. "I don't like her

criticizing our people."

"She's leaving tomorrow," David said. "You could go a

little easier on her." He stood up, hefting his tool chest.

"All right, I'm sorry," Laura told him. There wasn't time

to get into it now. This was business.

She greeted the Canadians and took the baby back. They

were part of a production wing from a Rizome subsidiary in

Toronto, on vacation as a reward for increased production.

They were sunburned but cheerful.

Another pair of guests came in: Senor and Senora Kurosawa,

from Brazil. They were fourth-generation Brazilians, with

Rizome-Unitika, a textile branch of the firm. They had no

English, and their Japanese was amazingly bad, laden with

Portuguese loan words and much Latin arm waving. They

complimented Laura on the food. It was their last day, too.

Then, trouble arrived. The Europeans were up. There were

three of them and they were not Rizome people, but bankers

from Luxembourg. There was a banker's conference in the

works tomorrow, a major do by all accounts. The Europeans

had come a day early. Laura was sorry for it.

The Luxembourgers sat morosely for breakfast. Their leader

and chief negotiator was a Monsieur Karageorgiu, a tawny-

skinned man in his fifties, with greenish eyes and carefully

waved hair. The name marked him as a Europeanized Turk;

his grandparents had probably been "guest workers" in Ger-

many or Benelux. Karageorgiu wore an exquisitely tailored

suit of cream-colored Italian linen.

His crisp, precise, and perfect shoes were like objets d'art,

Laura thought. Shoes engineered to high precision, like the

power plant of a Mercedes. It almost hurt to see him walk in

them. No one at Rizome would have dared to wear them; the

righteous mockery would have been merciless. He reminded

Laura of the diplomats she'd seen as a kid, of a lost standard

in studied elegance.

He had a pair of unsmiling companions in black suits:

junior executives, or so he claimed. It was hard to tell their

origins; Europeans looked more and more alike these days.

One had a vaguely Corte d'Azur look, maybe French or

Corsican; the other was blond. They looked alarmingly fit and

hefty. Elaborate Swiss watchphones peeked from their sleeves.

They began complaining. They didn't like the heat. Their

rooms smelled and the water tasted salty. They found the

toilets peculiar. Laura promised to turn up the heat pump and

order more Perrier.

It didn't do much good. They were down on hicks. Espe-

cially doctrinaire Yankees who lived in peculiar sand castles

and practiced economic democracy. She could tell already

that tomorrow was going to be rocky.

In fact the whole setup was fishy. She didn't know enough

about these people-she didn't have proper guest files on

them. Rizome-Atlanta was being cagey about this bankers'

meeting, which was most unusual for headquarters.

Laura took their breakfast orders and left the three bankers

trading sullen glares with the Rizome guests. She took the

baby with her to the kitchen. The kitchen staff was up and

banging pans. The kitchen staff was seventy-year-old Mrs.

Delrosario and her two granddaughters.

Mrs. Delrosario was a treasure, though she had a mean

streak that bubbled up whenever her advice was taken with

anything less than total attention and seriousness. Her grand-

daughters mooched about the kitchen with a doomed, submis-

sive look. Laura felt sorry for them and tried to give them a

break when she could. Life wasn't easy as a teenager these days.

Laura fed the baby her formula. Loretta gulped it with

enthusiasm. She was like her father in that-really doted on

goop no sane person should eat.

Then Laura's watchphone beeped. It was the front desk.

Laura left the baby with Mrs. Delrosario and took the back

way to the lobby, through the staff rooms and the first-floor

office. She emerged behind the desk. Mrs. Rodriguez looked

up in relief, peering over her bifocals.

She had been talking to a stranger-a fiftyish Anglo woman

in a black silk dress and a beaded choker. The woman had a

vast mane of crisp black hair and her eyes were lined dramati-

cally. Laura wondered what to make of her. She looked like a

pharaoh's widow. "This is her," Mrs. Rodriguez told the

stranger. "Laura, our manager."

"Coordinator," Laura said. "I'm Laura Webster."

"I'm the Reverend Morgan. I called earlier."

"Yes. About the City Council race?" Laura touched her

watch, checking her schedule. The woman was half an hour

early. "Well," she said. "Won't you come around the desk?

We can talk in my office."

Laura took the woman into the cramped and windowless

little suboffice. It was essentially a coffee room for the staff,

with a data-link to the mainframe upstairs. This was where

Laura took people from whom she expected the squeeze. The

place looked suitably modest and penurious. David had dec-

orated it from his wrecking expeditions: antique vinyl car

seats and a modular desk in aged beige plastic. The ceiling

light shone through a perforated hubcap.

"Coffee?" Laura said.

"No, thank you. I never take caffeine."

"I see." Laura put the pot aside. "What can we do for

you, Reverend?"

"You and I have much in common," Reverend Morgan

said. "We share a confidence in Galveston's future. And we

both have a stake in the tourist industry." She paused. "I

understand your husband designed this building."

"Yes, he did."

"It's `Organic Baroque,' isn't it? A style that respects

Mother Earth. That shows a broad-minded approach on your

part. Forward-looking and progressive."

"Thank you very much." Here it comes, Laura thought.

"Our Church would like to help you expand services to

your corporate guests. Do you know the Church of Ishtar?"

"I'm not sure I follow you," Laura said carefully. "We at

Rizome consider religion a private matter."

"We Temple women believe in the divinity of the sexual

act." Reverend Morgan leaned back in her bucket seat, strok-

ing her hair with both hands. "The erotic power of the

Goddess can destroy evil."

The slogan found a niche in Laura's memory. "I see,"

Laura said politely. "The Church of Ishtar. I know your

movement, but I hadn't recognized the name."

"It's a new name-old principles. You're too young to

remember the Cold War." Like many of her generation, the

reverend seemed to have a positive nostalgia for it the good

old bilateral days. When things were simpler and every morn-

ing might be your last. "Because we put an end to it. We

invoked the Goddess to take the war out of men. We melted

the cold war with divine body heat. " The reverend sniffed.

"Male power mongers claimed the credit, of course. But the

triumph belonged to our Goddess. She saved Mother Earth

from the nuclear madness. And She continues to heal society

today."

Laura nodded helpfully.



"Galveston lives by tourism, Mrs. Webster. And tourists

expect certain amenities. Our Church has come to an arrange-

ment with the city and the police. We'd like an understanding

with your group as well."

Laura rubbed her chin. "I think I can follow your reason-

ing, Reverend."

"No civilization has ever existed without us," the reverend

said coolly. "The Holy Prostitute is an ancient, universal

figure. The Patriarchy degraded and oppressed her. But we

restore her ancient role as comforter and healer."

"I was about to mention the medical angle," Laura said.

"Oh, yes," said the reverend. "We take the full range of

precautions. Clients are tested for syphilis, gonorrhea,

chlamydia, and herpes, as well as the retroviruses. All our

temples have fully equipped clinics. Sexual disease rates drop

dramatically wherever we practice our art-I can show you

statistics. We also offer health insurance. And we guarantee

confidentiality, of course."

"It's a very interesting proposal," Laura said, tapping her

desk with a pencil. "But it's not a decision I can make on my

own. I'll be happy to take your ideas to our Central Commit-

tee." She took a breath. The air in the tiny room held the

smoky reek of the reverend's patchouli. The smell of mad-

ness, Laura thought suddenly. "You have to understand that

Rizome may have some difficulties with this. Rizome favors

strong social ties in its associates. It's part of our corporate

philosophy. Some of us might consider prostitution a sign of

social breakdown."

The reverend spread her hands and smiled. "I've heard

about Rizome's policies. You're economic democrats-I ad-

mire that. As a church, a business, and a political movement,

we're a new-millennium group ourselves. But Rizome can't

change the nature of the male animal. We've already ser-

viced several of your male associates. Does that surprise you?"

She shrugged. "Why risk their health with amateur or criminal

groups? We Temple women are safe, dependable, and eco-

nomically sensible. The Church stands ready to do business."

Laura dug into her desk. "Let me give you one of our

brochures. "

The reverend opened her purse. "Have a few of ours. I

have some campaign pamphlets-I'm running for City

Council."

Laura looked the pamphlets over. They were slickly printed.

The margins were dotted with ankh symbols, yin-yangs, and

chalices. Laura scanned the dense text, spotted with italics

and words in red. "I see you favor a liberal drug policy."

"Victimless crimes are tools of Patriarchal oppression."

The reverend dug in her purse and produced an enameled

pillbox. "A few of these will argue the case better than I

can." She dropped three red capsules on the desktop. "Try

them, Mrs. Webster. As a gift from the Church. Astonish

your husband."

"I beg your pardon?" Laura said.

"Remember the giddiness of first love? The sense that the

whole world had new meaning, because of him? Wouldn't

you like to recapture that? Most women would. It's an intoxi-

cating feeling, isn't it? And these are the intoxicants."

Laura stared at the pills. "Are you telling me these are love

potions?"

The reverend shifted uncomfortably, with a whisper of

black silk against vinyl. "Mrs. Webster, please don't mistake

me for a witch. The Church of Wicca are reactionaries. And

no, these aren't love potions, not in the folklore sense. They

only stir that rush of emotion-they can't direct it at anyone.

You do that for yourself."

"It sounds hazardous," Laura said.

"Then it's the sort of danger women were born for!" the

reverend said. "Do you ever read romance novels? Millions

do, for this same thrill. _ Or eat chocolate? Chocolate is a

lover's gift, and there's reason behind the tradition. Ask a

chemist about chocolate and serotonin precursors sometime."

The reverend touched her forehead. "It all comes to the

same, up here. Neurochemistry." She pointed to the table.

"Chemistry in those pills. They're natural substances, cre-

ations of the Goddess. Part of the feminine soul."

Somewhere along the line, Laura thought, the conversation

had gently peeled loose from sanity. It was like falling asleep

on an air raft and waking up far out to sea. The important

thing was not to panic. "Are they legal?" Laura said.

Reverend Morgan picked up a pill with her lacquered nails

and ate it. "No blood test would show a thing. You can't be

prosecuted for the natural contents of your own brain. And

no, they're not illegal. Yet. Praise the Goddess, the Patriar-

chy's laws still lag behind advances in chemistry."

"I can't accept these," Laura said. "They must be valu-

able. It's conflict of interest." Laura picked them up and

stood, reaching over the desk.

"This is the modern age, Mrs. Webster. Gene-spliced bacte-

ria can make drugs by the ton. Friends of ours can make them

for thirty cents each." Reverend Morgan rose to her feet.

"You're sure?" She slipped the pills back in her purse.

"Come and see us if you change your mind. Life with one

man can go stale very easily. Believe me, we know. And if

that happens, we can help you." She paused meditatively.

"In any of several different ways."

Laura smiled tightly. "Good luck with your campaign,

Reverend."

"Thank you. I appreciate your good wishes. As our mayor

always says, Galveston is Fun City. It's up to all of us to see

it stays that way."

Laura ushered her outside. She watched from the walkway

as the reverend slipped into a self-driven van. The van whirred

off. A flock of brown pelicans crossed the island, headed for

Karankawa Bay. The autumn sun shone brightly. It was still

the same sun and the same clouds. The sun didn't care about

the landscape inside people's heads.

She went back in. Mrs. Rodriguez looked up from behind

the front desk, blinking. "I'm glad my old man is no young-

er, " she said. "La puta, eh? A whore. She's no friend to us

married women, Laurita."

"I guess not," Laura said, leaning against the desk. She

felt tired already, and it was only ten o'clock.

"I'm going to church this Sunday," Mrs. Rodriguez de-

cided. "Que brujeria, eh? A witch! Did you see those eyes?

Like a snake." She crossed herself. "Don't laugh, Laura."

"Laugh? Hell, I'm ready to hang garlic." The baby wailed

from the kitchen. A sudden Japanese phrase leapt into Laura's

head. "Nakitsura ni hachi," she blurted. "It never rains but

it pours. Only it's better in the original. `A bee for a crying

face.' Why can't I ever remember that crap when I need it?"


Laura took the baby upstairs to the tower office to deal

with the day's mail.

Laura's corporate specialty was public relations. When

David had designed the Lodge, Laura had prepared this room

for business. It was equipped for major conferences; it was a

full-scale node in the global Net.

The Lodge did most of its business as telex, straight print

sent by wire, such as guest dossiers and arrival schedules.

Most of the world, even Africa, was wired for telex these.

days. It was cheapest and simplest, and Rizome favored it.

"Fax" was more elaborate: entire facsimiles of documents,

photographed and passed down the phone lines as streams of

numbers. Fax was good for graphics and still photos; the fax

machine was essentially a Xerox with a phone. It was great

fun to play with.

The Lodge also took plenty of traditional phone traffic: voice

without image, both live and recorded. Also voice with im-

age: videophone. Rizome favored one-way prerecorded calls

because they were more efficient. There was less chance of

an expensive screwup in a one-way recorded call. And re-

corded video could be subtitled for all of Rizome's language

groups, a major advantage for a multinational.

The Lodge could also handle teleconferencing: multiple

phone calls woven together. Teleconferencing was the expen-

sive borderland where phones blurred into television. Run-

ning a teleconference was an art worth knowing, especially in

public relations. It was a cross between chairing a meeting

and running a TV news show, and Laura had done it many times.

Every year of her life, Laura thought, the Net had been

growing more expansive and seamless. Computers did it.

Computers melted other machines, fusing them together.

Television-telephone-telex. Tape recorder-VCR-laser disk.

Broadcast tower linked to microwave dish linked to satellite.

Phone line, cable TV, fiber-optic cords hissing out words and

pictures in torrents of pure light. All netted together in a web

over the world, a global nervous system, an octopus of data.

There'd been plenty of hype about it. It was easy to make it

sound transcendently incredible.

She'd been more into it when she'd been setting it up.

Right now it seemed vastly more remarkable that Loretta was

sitting up much straighter in her lap. "Looook at you, Lo-

retta! Look how straight you can hold your head! Look at

you, sweetie-face. . . . Wooga woog-woog-woog ... "

The Net was a lot, like television, another former wonder of

the age. The Net was a vast glass mirror. It reflected what it

was shown. Mostly human banality.

Laura zoomed one-handed through her electronic junk mail.

Shop-by-wire catalogs. City Council campaigns. Charities.

Health insurance.

Laura erased the garbage and got down to business. A

message was waiting from Emily Donato.

Emily was Laura's prime news source for the backstage

action in Rizome's Central Committee. Emily Donato was a

first-term committee member.

Laura's alliance with Emily was twelve years old. They'd

met in college at an international business class. Their shared

backgrounds made friendship easy. Laura, a "diplobrat," had

lived in Japan as an embassy kid. For Emily, childhood

meant the massive industrial projects of Kuwait and Abu

Dhabi. The two of them had shared a room in college.

After graduation, they'd examined their recruiting offers

and decided together on Rizome Industries Group. Rizome

looked modern, it looked open, it had ideas. It was big

enough for muscle and loose enough for speed.

The two of them had been double-teaming the company

ever since.

Laura punched up the message and Emily's image flashed

onto the screen. Emily sat behind her antique desk at home in

Atlanta, Rizome's headquarters. Home for Emily was a high-

rise apartment downtown, a cell in a massive modern beehive

of ceramic and composite plastic._

Filtered air, filtered water, halls like streets, elevators like

vertical subways. A city set on end, for a crowded world.

Naturally everything about Emily's apartment struggled to

obscure the facts. The place abounded in homey quirks and

little touches of Victorian solidity: cornices, baroque door

frames, rich mellow lighting. The wall behind Emily was

papered in paisley arabesques, gold on maroon. Her polished

wooden desktop was set as carefully as a stage: low keyboard

at her right hand, pen and pencil holders with a slanting

peacock plume, a gleaming paperweight of gypsum crystal.

The Chinese synthetic of Emily's frilled gray blouse had

the faint shimmer of mother-of-pearl. Emily's chestnut-brown

hair had been done by machine, with elaborate braids and

little Dickensian curls at the temple. She wore long malachite

earrings and a round cameo hologram at her neck. Emily's

video image was very twenties, a modem reaction against the

stark, dress-for-success took of generations of businesswomen.

To Laura's eye, the fashion suggested an antebellum southern

belle filled to gushing with feminine graciousness.

"I've got the Report's rough draft," Emily announced.

"It's pretty much what we expected."

Emily pulled her copy of the Quarterly Report from a drawer.

She flipped pages. "Let's get to the major stuff. The

Committee election. We've got twelve candidates, which is a

joke, but three frontrunners. Pereira's an honest guy, you

could play poker with him by telex, but he can't live down

that Brasilia debacle. Tanaka pulled a real coup with that

Osaka lumber deal. He's pretty flexible for an oldline salary

man, but I met him in Osaka last year. He drank a lot and

wanted to pinch me. Besides, he's into countertrade, and

that's my turf.

"So we'll have to back Suvendra. She came up through the

Djakarta office, so the East Asian contingent's behind her.

She's old, though." Emily frowned. "And she smokes. An

ugly habit and it tends to rub people the wrong way. Those

clove-scented Indonesian cancer sticks-one whiff and you're

ready for a biopsy." She shuddered.

"Still, Suvendra's our best bet. At least, she'll appreciate

our support. Unfortunately that moron Jensen is running again

on a youth platform, and that'll cut into the votes we can

swing. But to hell with it." She pulled at a coil of hair. "I'm

tired of playing the young ingenue anyway. When I run again

in '25 I think we should aim for the Anglo and feminist vote."

She flipped pages, frowning. "Okay, a quick review of the

party line. Let me know if you need more data on the

arguments. Philippines farm project: no way. Farming's a

black hole and Manila's price supports are bound to collapse.

Kymera joint project: yes. Russian software deal: yes. The

Sovs still have hard-currency problems, but we can cut a

good countertrade in natural gas. Kuwaiti housing project: no.

Islamic Republic: the terms are good but it stinks politically.

No."

She paused. "Now here's one you didn't know about.



Grenada United Bank. The Committee's slipping this one

in." For the first time, Emily looked uneasy. "They're an

offshore bank. Not too savory. But the Committee figures it's

time for a gesture of friendship. It won't do our reputation

much good if the whole thing is hashed out in public. But it's

harmless enough-we can let it go."

Emily yanked open a wooden drawer with a squeak and put

the Report away. "So much for this quarter. Things look

good, generally." She smiled. "Hello, David, if you're watch-

ing. If you don't mind, I'd like a private word with Laura now."

The screen went blank for a long moment. But the time

elapsing didn't cost much. Prerecorded one-way calls were

cheap. Emily's call had been compressed into a high-speed

burst and sent from machine to machine overnight, at midnight rates.

Emily reappeared on the screen, this time in her bedroom.

She now wore a pink-and-white satin night-robe and her hair

had been brushed out. She sat cross-legged in her wooden

four-poster bed, a Victorian antique. Emily had refinished her

ancient, creaking bed with modern hard-setting shellac. This

transparent film was so mercilessly tough and rigid that it

clamped the whole structure together like cast iron.

She had attached the phone camera to one. of the bedposts.

Business was over now. This was personal. The video eti-

quette had changed along with Emily's expression. She had a

hangdog look. A new camera angle, looking down into the

bed from a somewhat superior angle, helped convey the

mood. She looked pitiful.

Laura sighed, pausing the playback. She shifted Loretta in

her lap and nuzzled her absently. She was used to hearing

Emily's problems, but it was hard to take before lunch.

Especially today. Weirdness beginning to mount. She lifted

her finger again.

"Well, I'm back," Emily intoned. "I suppose you can

guess what it is. It's Arthur again. We had another fight. A

brutal one. It started as one of those trivial things, about

nothing really. Oh, about sex I guess, or at least that's what

he said, but it came out of the blue for me. I thought he was

being a bastard for no reason. He started sniping at me, using

That Tone of Voice, you know. And once he gets that way he's

impossible.

"He started shouting, I started yelling, and things just went

straight to hell. He almost hit me. He clenched his fist and

everything." Emily paused dramatically. "I ran back in here

and locked the door in his face. And he didn't say a damned

thing. He just left me in here. When I came out he was gone.

And he took . . . " Her voice shook for a moment and she

waited it out, pulling at a long strand of hair. "He took that

photo he made of me, the black-and-white one in period

dress, that I really liked. And that was two days ago and he

doesn't answer his goddamn phone.

She looked close to tears. "I don't know, Laura. I've tried

everything. I've tried men in the company, men outside, and

it's just no luck at all. I mean, -either they want to own you

and be the center of the universe, or they. want to treat you

like some bed-and-breakfast service and expose you to Christ

knows what kind of disease. And it's been worse since I've

been on the Committee. Rizome men are a lost cause now.

They tiptoe around me like I was a goddamn land mine."

She looked off-camera. "C'mon, kitty." A Persian cat

jumped onto the bed. "Maybe it's me, Laura. Other women

come to decent terms with men. You certainly did. Maybe I

need outside help." She hesitated. "Someone put an anony-

mous post on the trade division board. About a psychiatric

drug. Marriage counselors are using it. Romance, they call it.

You ever hear of it? I think it's illegal or something." She

stroked her cat absently.

She sighed. "Well, this is nothing new. Emily's sob story,

year thirty-two. I think it's through between me and Arthur

now. He's an artistic type. A photographer. Not in business at

all. I thought it might work out. But I was wrong as usual."

She shrugged. "I should look at the bright side, right? He

didn't ask me- for money and he didn't give me a retrovirus.

And he wasn't married. A real prince."

She leaned back against the mahogany headboard, looking

tired and defenseless. "I shouldn't tell you this, Laura, so be

sure to erase it first thing. This Grenada Bank deal-that

meeting you're about to hold is part of it. Rizome's sponsor-

ing a meeting on data banking and data piracy. That doesn't

sound like anything new, but listen: it's with actual live

pirates. Sleazy offshore types from the data havens. Re-

member the fight we put through to get your Lodge equipped

for major meetings?"

Emily grimaced and spread her hands. "Well, the Europe-

ans should be there already. They're the tamest of the bunch-

the closest to legit. But you can expect some Grenadians in

tomorrow, with one of our security people. The Committee's

sent you the schedule already, but not the full details. As far

as you know, they're all legitimate bankers. Be nice to them,

all right? They may be the crooks to us, but what they do is

completely legal in their little enclaves."

She frowned. The cat dropped to the floor with a thump

off-camera. "They've been taking bites out of us for years,

and we've got to talk some sense into them. It looks bad for

Rizome to cozy up to pirates, so keep it quiet, all right? I'm

being stupid here, because I wanted to give you a break. If it

comes out that I leaked this, the Committee will slap me

down hard. So you'd better be a lot more discreet than I am.

Okay, end of message. Send me a tape of the baby, all right?

Say hi to David." The screen went blank.

Well, now she had it all. She erased the tape. Thanks, Em.

Pirate data bankers, no less. Creepy little hustlers from some

offshore data haven-the kind of guys that chewed matchsticks

and wore sharkskin suits. That explained the Europeans. Bank-

ers my eye. They were all rip-off artists. Crooks.

They were nervous, that was it. Jumpy. And no wonder.

The general potential for embarrassment in this situation was

vast. One phone call to the Galveston police and they could

all be in machismo hot water.

She was a little mad at the Committee for being cagey about

it. But she could see their reasons. And the more she thought

about it, the more she recognized it as a gesture of trust. Her

Lodge was going to be right in the middle of some very

delicate action. They could easily have taken it to another

Lodge-like the Warburtons in the Ozarks. This way they

were going to have to level with her. And she was going to

see it all.


After a late lunch, she took the Canadians into the confer-

ence room in the tower. They logged in to Atlanta and picked

up their last messages. They killed a couple of hours before

departure, grinning into videophones and gossiping. One of

the women had run out of video rouge and had to borrow Laura's.

At four, the fall Quarterly Report came on line, a little

early. The printers chattered hard copy. The Kurosawas picked

up their Portuguese translation and left.

David showed up at five o'clock, and he'd brought his

wrecking crew. They stomped into the bar, raided the beer,

and rushed upstairs to see the baby. Laura's mother arrived,

sunburned from her boat trip to the OTEC. Galveston's Ocean

Thermal Energy Converter was a civic pride and joy, and one

of David's crew had been on the project. Everyone seemed

delighted to trade notes.

David was peppered head to foot with grime and sawdust.

So were his four wrecking buddies. In their work shirts,

denim overalls, and heavy boots, they looked like Depression

hoboes. Actually David's friends were a dentist, two marine

engineers, and a biology professor, but appearances counted.

She tugged his shoulder strap. "Did the European bankers see

you; coming in?"

David beamed paternally as his friends admired Loretta's

amazing new skill at clenching her sweaty little fists. "Yeah,

so?"

"David, you reek."



"A little honest sweat!" David said. "What are we, Marx-

ists? Hell, they envy us! Those Luxembourg paper shufflers

are dying for a day's honest work."
Supper with David's friends was a 'great success. David

broke his principles and ate the shrimp, but refused to touch

the -vegetables. "Vegetables are full of poisons!" he insisted

loudly. "They're crammed with natural insecticides! Plants

use chemical warfare. Ask any botanist!"

Luckily no one pursued the subject. The wrecking crew

called vans and left for home. Laura locked up for the night

while the staff loaded the dishes. David took a shower.

Laura limped up to the top floor to join him. It was sunset.

Mr. Rodriguez lowered the flags on the roof and tottered back

down three flights of stairs to staff quarters. He was a stoic

old man, but Laura thought he looked tired. He'd had life-

guard duty. The Canadians' manic brood had run him ragged.

Laura kicked off her sandals and hung her vest and skirt in

the bedroom closet. She shrugged out of her blouse, then sat

on the bed and peeled off her hose. Her injured ankle had

swollen and was now an impressive blue. She kicked her legs

out straight and leaned back against the headboard. A ceiling

vent came on and cool air poured over the bed. Laura sat in

her underwear, feeling tired and vaguely squalid.

David stalked naked out of the bathroom and disappeared

into the baby's room. She heard him making soothing goo-`

goo noises. Laura checked tomorrow's schedule on her

watchphone. Her mother was leaving tomorrow. Her depar-

ture flight to Dallas was scheduled just before the Grenadians

arrived. Laura grimaced. Always more trouble.

David emerged from the baby's room. His long hair was

parted in the middle and wet-combed down, flatly, over his

ears and neck. He looked like a demented Russian priest.

He flopped down onto the bed and gave her a big, knowing

grin. Make that a demented Russian priest with a yen for

women, Laura thought with a sinking feeling.

"Great day, huh?" He stretched. "Man, I worked my ass

off. I'll be sore tomorrow. Feel great now, though. Lively."

He watched her with narrowed eyes.

Laura was not in the mood. A sense of ritual settled over

both of them, a kind of unspoken bargaining. The object was

to make your mood set the tone of the evening. Souring it

was a foul.

There were multiple levels of play. Both sides won big if

you both reached the same mood quickly, through sheer

infectious charisma. You won second-class if you got your

own way without feeling guilty about it. Pyrrhic victory was

when you got your own way but felt rotten. Then there were

the various levels of giving in: Gracious, Resigned, and

Martyr to the Cause. .

Fouls were easiest, and then you both lost. The longer the

ritual lasted, the more chances there were to screw up. It was

a hard game to play, even with eight years' practice.

Laura wondered if she should tell him about the Church of

Ishtar. Thinking about the interview revived her sense of

sexual repulsion, like the soiled feeling she got from seeing

pornography. She decided not to mention it tonight. He was

sure to take it all wrong if he thought his overtures made her

feel like a hooker.

She buried the idea and cast about for another one. The

first twinge of guilt nibbled her resolve. Maybe she should

give in. She looked down at her feet. "My leg hurts," she

said.

"Poor babe." He leaned over and had a closer look. His



eyes widened. "Jesus." Suddenly she had become an invalid.

The mood shifted all at once, and the game was over. He

kissed his fingertip and tapped it lightly on the bruise.

"Feels better, she said, smiling. He leaned back in bed

and got. under the sheet, looking resigned and peaceable. That

was easy. Victory class one for the Poor Little Lame Girl.

Now it was overkill, but she decided to mention her mother

anyway. "I'll be fine when things get back to normal. Mother

leaves tomorrow."

"Back to Dallas, huh? Too bad, I was just getting used to

the old gal. "

Laura kicked her way under the sheet. "Well, at least she

didn't bring some obnoxious boyfriend."

David sighed. "You're so hard on her, Laura. She's a

career woman of the old school, that's all. There were mil-

lions like her-men, too. Her generation likes to get around.

They live alone, they cut their ties, they stay fast and loose.

Wherever they walk families crumble." He shrugged. "So

she had three husbands. With her looks she could have had twenty."

"You always take her side. Just because she likes you."

Because you're like Dad, she thought, and blocked the thought

away.


"Because she has your eyes," he said, and gave her a

quick, snaky pinch.

She jumped, shocked. "You rat!"

"You big rat," he corrected, yawning.

"Big rat," she agreed. He'd broken her out of her mood.

She felt better.

"Big rat that I can't live without."

"You said it," she said.

"Turn out the light." He turned onto his side, away from her.

She reached out to give his hair a final ruffle. She killed

the lights, touching her wrist. She put her arm over his

sleeping body and slid up against him in darkness. It was good.


2
After breakfast, Laura helped her mother pack. It

surprised her to see the sheer bulk of bric-a-brac her

mother hauled around: hatboxes, bottles of hairspray and

vitamins and contact-lens fluid, a video camera, a clothes

steamer, a portable iron, hair curlers, a sleeping mask, six

pairs of shoes with special wooden lasts to keep them from

mashing down in her luggage. She even had a special intaglio

box just for earrings.

Laura held up a red leather-bound travel diary. "Mother,

why do you need this? Can't you just call up the Net?"

"I don't know, dear. I spend so much time on the road - it's

like home for me, all of these things." She packed

dresses with a swish of fabric. "Besides, I don't like the Net.

I never even liked cable television." She hesitated. "Your

father and I used to fight about that. He'd be a real Net-head

now, if he was still alive."

The idea sounded silly to Laura. "Oh, Mother, come on."

"He hated clutter, your father. He didn't care for nice

things-lamps, carpets, dinner china. He was a dreamer, he

liked abstractions. He called me a materialist." She shrugged.

"My generation always got bad press for that."

Laura waved her arm about the room. "But, Mother, look

at these things. "

"Laura, I like my possessions and I've paid for all of

them. Maybe people don't prize possessions now like we did

in the premillennium. How could they? All their money goes

into the Net. For games, or business, or television-things

that come over the wires." She zipped her bag shut. "Young

people these days, maybe they don't hanker after a Mercedes

or a Jacuzzi. But they'll brag like sixty about their data access."

Laura felt impatient. "That's silly, Mother. There's noth-

ing wrong with being proud of what you know. A Mercedes

is just a machine. It doesn't prove anything about you as a

person." Her watchphone beeped; the van had arrived downstairs.

She helped her mother take her luggage down. It took three

trips. Laura knew she'd have a wait in the airport, so she took

the baby along, in a canvas travel sling.

"Let me get this trip," her mother said. She slipped her

card into the van's charge slot. The door clicked open and

they loaded the bags and stepped in.

"Howdy," the van said. "Please announce your destina-

tion clearly into the speaker. Anunce usted su destinacion

claramente en el microfono por favor."

"Airport," Laura said, bored.

". .. sss . . . ank you! Estimated travel time is twelve

minutes. Thank you for using the Galveston Transit System.

Alfred A. Magruder, Mayor." The van accelerated slug-

gishly, its modest engine whining. Laura lifted her brows.

The van's spiel had ' been changed. "Alfred A. Magruder,

Mayor?" she murmured.

"Galveston is Fun City!" the van responded. Laura and

her mother traded glances. Laura shrugged.

Highway 3005 was the main artery down-the-island. The

road's glory days were long gone; it was haunted by the

memories of cheap oil and private cars doing sixty miles per.

Long sections of tarmac had been potholed into ruin and

replaced with plastic mesh. The mesh crackled loudly be-

neath the tires.

On their left, to the west, bare cracked slabs of concrete

fringed the road like fallen dominoes. Building foundations

had no scrap value. They were always the last to go. Beach

scrub flourished everywhere: salt grass, spreading mats of

crisp glasswork, leathery clumps of reed. To their right, along

the shore, surf washed the stilts from vanished beach homes.

The stilts leaned at strange angles, like the legs of wading

flamingos.

Her mother touched Loretta's thin curls, and the baby

gurgled. "Does it ever bother you, this place, Laura? All this

ruin . "

"David loves it here," Laura said.

Her mother spoke with an effort. "Does he treat you all

right, dear? You seem happy with him. I hope that's true."

"David's fine, mother." Laura had dreaded this talk.

"You've seen how we live, now. We have nothing to hide."

"Last time we met, Laura, you were working in Atlanta.

Rizome's headquarters. Now you're an innkeeper." She hesi-

tated. "Not that it's not a nice place, but ... "

"You think it's a setback to my career." Laura shook her

head. "Mother, Rizome's a democracy. If you want power,

you have to be voted in. That means you have to know

people. Personal contact means everything with us. And

innkeeping, as you put it, is great exposure. The best people

in our company stay in the Lodges as guests. And that's

where they see us."

"That's not how I remember it," her mother said. "Power

is where the action is."

"Mother, the action's everywhere now. That's why we

have the Net." Laura struggled for politeness. "This. isn't

something David and I just stumbled into. It's a showcase for

us. We knew we'd need a place while the baby was small, so

we drew up the plans, we carried it through the company, we

showed initiative, flexibility.... It was our first big project

as a team. People know us now."

"So," her mother said slowly. "You worked it all out very

neatly. You have ambition and the baby. Career and the

family. A husband and a job. It's all too pat, Laura. I can't

believe it's that simple."

Laura was icy. "Of course you'd say that, wouldn't you?"

Silence fell heavily. Her mother picked at the hem of her

skirt. "Laura, I know my visit hasn't been easy for you. It's

been a long time since we went our separate ways, you and I.

I hope we can change that now."

Laura said nothing. Her mother went on stubbornly. "Things

have changed since your grandmother died. It's been two

years, and she's not there for either of us now. Laura, I want

to help you, if I can. If there's anything you need. Anything.

If you have to travel-it would be fine if you left Loretta with

me. Or if you just need someone to talk to."

She hesitated, reaching out to touch the baby, a gesture of

open need. For the first time, Laura truly saw her mother's

hands. The wrinkled hands of an old woman. "I know you

miss your grandmother. You named the baby after her. Lo-

retta." She stroked the baby's cheek. "I can't take her place.

But I want to do something, Laura. For my grandchild's sake."

It seemed like a decent, old-fashioned family gesture, Laura

thought. But it was an unwelcome favor. She knew she'd

have to pay for her mother's help-with obligations and

intimacy. Laura hadn't asked for that and didn't want it. And

didn't even need it-she and David had the company behind

them, after all, good solid Rizome gemeineschaft. "That's

very nice, mother," she said. "Thank you for the offer.

David and I appreciate it." She turned her face away, to the

window.

The road improved as the van reached a section zoned for



redevelopment. They passed a long marina clustered with

autopilot sailboats for hire. Then a fortresslike mall, built,

like the Lodge, from concretized beach sand. Vans crowded

its parking lot. The mall flashed past in bright commercial

garishness: T-SHIRTS BEER WINE VIDEO Come On In, It's Cool Inside!

"Business is good, for a weekday," Laura said. The crowd

was mostly middle-aged Houstonians, freed for the day from

their high-rise warrens. Scores of them wandered the beach,

aimlessly, staring out to sea, glad of an unobstructed horizon.

Her mother continued to press. "Laura, I worry about you.

I don't want to run your life for you, if that's what you're

thinking. You've done very well for yourself, and I'm glad

for it, truly. But things can happen, through no fault of your

own." She hesitated. "I want you to learn from our

experience-mine, my mother's. Neither of us had good

luck-with our men, with our children. And it wasn't that we

didn't try."

Laura's patience was eroding. Her mother's experience-it

was something that had haunted Laura every day of her life.

For her mother to mention it now-as if it were something

that might have slipped her daughter's mind-struck Laura as

grossly thoughtless and crass. "It's not enough to try, Mother.

You have to plan ahead. That was something your generation

was never any good at." She gestured at the window. "Don't

you see that out there?"

The van had reached the southern end of the Galveston

Seawall. They were passing a suburb, once a commuter's

haven with fresh green lawns and a golf course. Now it was a

barrio, with sprawling houses subdivided, converted into bars

and Latin groceries.

"The people who built this suburb knew they were running

out of oil," Laura said. "But they wouldn't plan for it. They

built everything around their precious cars, even though they

knew they were turning the downtowns into ghettos. Now the

cars are gone, and everyone with money has rushed back

downtown. So the poor are shoved out here instead. Only

they can't afford the water bills, so the lawns are full of

scrub. And they can't afford air conditioning, so they swelter

in the heat. No one even had the sense to build porches. Even

though every house built in Texas had porches, for two

hundred years!"

Her mother stared obediently out the window. It was noon,

and windows were flung open from the heat. Inside them, the

unemployed sweated before their subsidized televisions. The

poor lived cheap these days. Low-grade scop, fresh from the

vats and dried like cornmeal, cost only a few cents a pound.

Everyone in the ghetto suburbs ate scop, single-cell protein.

The national food of the Third World.

"But. that's what I'm trying to tell you, dear," her mother

said. "Things change. You can't control that. And bad luck

happens."

Laura spoke tightly. "Mother, people built these crappy

tract homes, they didn't grow there. They were built for

rip-off quick profit, with no sense of the long term. I know

those places, I've helped David smash them up. Look at them!"

Her mother looked pained. "I don't understand. They're

cheap houses where poor people live. At least they have

shelter, don't they?"

"Mother, they're energy sieves! They're lathwork and

sheetrock and cheap tinsel crap!"

Her mother shook her head. "I'm not an architect's wife,

dear. I can see you're upset by these places, but you talk as if

it were my fault."

The van turned west up 83rd Street, heading for the air-

field. The baby was asleep against her chest; Laura hugged

her tighter, feeling depressed and angry. She didn't know

how she could make it any clearer to her mother without

-being bluntly rude. If she could say: Mother, your marriage

was like one of these cheap houses; you used it up and moved

on.... You threw my father out of your life like last year's

car, and you gave me to Grandmother to raise, like a house

plant that no longer fit your decor.... But she couldn't say

that. She couldn't force the words out.

A shadow passed low overhead, silently. A Boeing passen-

ger plane, an intercontinental, its tail marked with the red and

blue of Aero Cubana. It reminded Laura of an albatross, with

vast, canted, razorlike wings on a long, narrow body. Its

engines hummed.

The sight of planes always gave Laura a nostalgic lift. She

had spent a lot of time in airports as a child, in the happy

times before her life as a diplomat's kid fell apart. The plane

dropped gently, with computer-guided precision, its wings

extruding yellow braking films. Modern design, Laura thought

proudly, watching it. The Boeing's thin ceramic wings looked

frail. But they could have cut through a lousy tract house like

a razor through cheese.

They entered the airport through gates in a chain-link fence

of red plastic mesh. Outside the terminal, vans queued up in

the taxi lane.

Laura helped her mother unload her bags onto a waiting

luggage trolley. The terminal was built in early Organic

Baroque, with insulated, fortresslike walls and double sliding

doors. It was blessedly cool inside, with a sharp reek of floor

cleaner. Flat display screens hung from the ceiling, shuffling

arrivals and departures. Their luggage trolley tagged along at

their heels.

The crowd was light. Scholes Field was not a major air-

port, no matter what the city claimed: The City Council had

expanded it after the last hurricane, in a last-ditch attempt to

boost Galveston's civic morale. A lot of taxpayers had quickly

used it to leave Galveston for good.

They checked her mother's luggage. Laura watched her

mother chat with the ticket clerk. Once again she was the

woman Laura remembered: trim and cool and immaculate,

self-contained in a diplomat's Teflon shell. Margaret Day:

still an attractive woman at sixty-two. People lasted forever,

these days. With any luck, her mother could live another

forty years.

They walked together toward the departure lounge. "Let

me hold her just once more," her mother said. Laura passed

her the baby. Her mother carried Loretta like a sack of

emeralds. "If I've said anything to upset you, you'll forgive

me, won't you? I'm not as young as I was and there are

things I don't understand."

Her voice was calm, but her face trembled for a moment,

with a strange naked look of appeal. For the first time Laura

realized how much it had cost her mother to go through

this-how ruthlessly she had humbled herself. Laura felt a

sudden empathetic shock-as if she'd met some injured stranger

on her doorstep. "No, no," she mumbled, walking. "Every-

thing was fine."

"You're modern people, you and David," her mother said.

"In a way you seem very innocent to us, oh, premillennium

decadents." She smiled wryly. "So free of doubts."

Laura thought it over as they walked into the departure

lounge. For the first time, she felt a muddy intuition of her

mother's point of view. She stood by her mother's chair, out

of earshot from the sprinkling of other passengers for Dallas.

"We seem dogmatic. Smug. Is that it?"

"Oh, no," her mother said hastily. "That's not what I

meant at all."

Laura took a deep breath. "We don't live under terror,

Mother. That's the real difference.. No one's pointing missiles

at my generation. That's why we think about the future, the

long term. Because we know we'll have one." Laura spread

her hands. "And we didn't earn that luxury. The luxury to

look smug. You gave it to us." Laura relaxed a little, feeling

virtuous.

"Well ..." Her mother struggled for words. "It's some-

thing like that but.. The world you grew up in-every

year it's more smooth and controlled. Like you've thrown a

net over the Fates. But Laura, you haven't, not really. And I

worry for you."

Laura was surprised. She'd never known her mother was

such a morbid fatalist. It seemed a weirdly old-fashioned

attitude. And she was in earnest, too-as if she were ready to

nail up horseshoes or count rosary beads. And things had

been going rather oddly lately. . . . Despite herself, Laura

felt a light passing tingle of superstitious fear.

She shook her head. "All right, Mother. David and I-we

know we can count on you."

"That's all I asked." Her mother smiled. "David was

wonderful-give him my love." The other passengers rose,

shuffling briefcases and garment bags. Her mother kissed the

baby, then stood and handed her back. Loretta's face clouded

and she began snuffling up to a wail.

"Uh-oh," Laura said lightly. She accepted a quick, awk-

ward hug from her mother. "Bye."

"Call me."

"All right." Bouncing Loretta to shush her, Laura watched

her mother leave, blending in with the crowd at the exit ramp.

One stranger among others. Ironic, Laura thought. She'd

been waiting for this moment for seven days, and now that it

was here, it hurt. Sort of. In a way.

Laura glanced at her watchphone. She had to kill an hour

before the Grenadians arrived. She went to the coffee shop.

People stared at her and the baby. In a world so crammed

with old people, babies had novelty value. Even total stran-

gers turned mushy, making faces and doing little four-finger

waves.


Laura sat, sipping the airport's lousy coffee, letting the

tension wash out of her. She was glad that her mother was

gone. She could feel repressed bits of her personality rising

slowly back into place. Like continental shelves lifting after

an ice age.

A young woman two booths away was interested in the

baby. Her eyes were alight and she kept mugging at Loretta,

big open-mouthed grins. Laura watched her, bemused. Some-

thing about the woman's broad-cheeked, freckled face struck

Laura as quintessentially Texan. A kind of rugged, cracker

look, Laura thought -a genetic legacy from some hard-eyed

woman in calico, the sort who rode shotgun through Comanche

country and had six kids without anesthetic. It showed even

through the woman's garish makeup-blood-red waxy lipstick,

dramatically lined eyes, hair teased into a mane.... Laura

realized with a start that the woman was a hooker from the

Church of Ishtar.

The Grenadians' flight was announced, a connection from

Miami. The Church hooker leapt up at once, a flush of

excitement on her face. Laura trailed her. She rushed at once

to the embarkation lounge.

Laura joined her as the plane emptied. She cataloged pas-

sengers at a glance, watching for her guests. A family of

Vietnamese shrimpers. A dozen shabby but optimistic Cubans

with shopping bags. A group of serious, neatly dressed black

collegians in fraternity sweaters. Three offshore oil-rig rough-

necks, wrinkled old men wearing cowboy hats and engineer-

ing boots.

Suddenly the Ishtar woman drew near and spoke to her.

"You're with Rizome, aren't you?"

"Rye-zoam," Laura said.

"Well, then, you'd be waiting for Sticky and the old

man?" Her eyes sparkled. It gave her bony face a strange

vivacity. "Did the Rev'rend Morgan talk to you?"

"I've met the reverend," Laura said carefully. She knew

nothing about anyone named Sticky.

The woman smiled. "Y'all's baby is cute.... Oh, look,

there they are!" She raised her arm over her head and waved

excitedly, the deep-cut neckline of her blouse showing fringes

of red brassiere. "Yoo-hoo! Sticky!"

An old-fashioned Rastaman in dreadlocks cut his way out

of the crowd. The old man wore a long-sleeved dashiki of

cheap synthetic, over baggy drawstring pants, and sandals.

The Rastaman's young companion wore a nylon wind-

breaker, sunglasses, and jeans. The woman rushed forward

and embraced him. "Sticky!" The younger man, with sudden

wiry strength, lifted the Church woman off her feet and spun

her half around. His dark, even face was expressionless be-

hind the glasses.

"Laura?" A woman had appeared at Laura's elbow, si-

lently. It was one of Rizome's security coordinators, Debra

Emerson. Emerson was a sad-looking Anglo woman in her

sixties with etched, delicate features and thinning hair. Laura

had often spoken to her over the Net and had met her once in

Atlanta.

They exchanged brief formal hugs and cheek kisses in the

usual Rizome style. "Where are the bankers?" Laura said.

Emerson nodded at the Rastaman and his companion. Laura's

heart sank. "That's them?"

"These offshore bankers don't follow our standards," Em-

erson said, watching them.

Laura said, "Do you realize who that woman is? The

group she's with?"

"Church of Ishtar," Emerson said. She didn't look happy

about it. She glanced up into Laura's face. "We haven't told

you all we should yet, for reasons of discretion. But I know

you're not naive. You have good Net connections, Laura.

You must know how things stand in Grenada."

"I know Grenada's a data haven," Laura said cautiously.

She wasn't sure how far to go.

Debra Emerson had once been a high muckety-muck at the

CIA, back when there had been a CIA and its muckety-mucks

were still in vogue. Security work had no such glamor nowa-

days. Emerson had the look of someone who had suffered in

silence, a sort of translucency around the eyes. She favored

gray corduroy skirts and longsleeve blouses in meek beiges

and duns.

The old Rastaman shambled over, smiling. "Winston

Stubbs," he said. He had the lilt of the Caribbean, softened

vowels broken by crisp British consonants. He shook Laura's

hand. "And Sticky Thompson, Michael Thompson that is."

He turned. "Sticky!"

Sticky came up, his arm around the Church girl's waist.

"I'm Laura Webster," Laura said.

"We know," Sticky said. "This is Carlotta."

"I'm their liaison," Carlotta drawled brightly. She pushed

her hair back with both hands and Laura glimpsed an ankh

tattooed on her right wrist. "Y'all bring much luggage? I got

a van waiting."

"I-and-I have business up-the-island," Stubbs explained. "We

be in to your Lodge later this night, call you on the Net, seen?"

Emerson broke in. "If that's the way you want it, Mr.

Stubbs. "

Stubbs nodded. "Later." The three of them left, calling a

luggage trolley.

Laura watched them go, nonplussed. "Are they supposed

to be running around loose?"

Emerson sighed. "It's a touchy situation. I'm sorry you

were brought here for nothing, but it's just one of their little

gestures." She tagged the strap of her heavy shoulder bag.

"Let's call a cab."

After their arrival, Emerson vanished upstairs into the Lodge's

conference room. Usually, Laura and David ate in the dining

room, where they could socialize with the guests. That night,

however, they joined Emerson and ate in the tower, feeling

uneasily conspiratorial.

David set the ' table. Laura opened a covered tray of chile

rellenos and Spanish rice. David had health food.

"I want to be as open and straightforward with you as I

possibly can," Emerson murmured. "By now, you must have

realized the nature of your new guests."

"Yes," David said. He was far from happy about it.

"Then you can understand the need for security. Naturally

we trust the discretion-of you and your staff."

David smiled a little. "That's nice to know."

Emerson looked troubled. "The Committee has been plan-

ning this meeting for some time. These Europeans you've

been sheltering are no ordinary bankers. They're from the

EFT Commerzbank of Luxembourg. And tomorrow night a

third group arrives. The Yung Soo Chim Islamic Bank of

Singapore. "

David paused with a fork halfway to his mouth. "And

they're also-?"

"Data pirates, yes."

"I see," Laura said. She felt a sudden surge of chilly

excitement. "This is big."

"Very," Emerson said. She let that sink in for a while.

".We offered them any of six possible locations for the meet-

ing. It could just as easily have been the Valenzuelas in

Puerto Vallarta. Or the Warburtons in Arkansas."

"How long do you expect this to last?" David said.

"Five days. Maybe a week at the outside." She sipped her

iced tea. "It's up to us to supply airtight security once the

meeting is under way. You understand? Locked doors, drawn

curtains. No running in and out. "

David frowned. "We'll need supplies. I'll tell Mrs. Delrosario."

"I can take care of supplies."

"Mrs. Delrosario's very particular about where she shops,"

David said.

"Oh, dear," said Ms. Emerson sincerely. "Well, groceries

are not a major problem." She picked carefully at the skin of

her stuffed pepper. "Some of the attendees may bring their

own food."

David was stunned. "You mean they're afraid to eat our

food? They think we'll poison them, is that it?"

"David, it's a sign of their great trust in Rizome that the

three banks have agreed to meet here in the first place. It's not

us that they distrust. It's one another."

David was alarmed. "What exactly are we getting into?

We have a small child here! Not to mention our staff."

Emerson looked hurt. "Would you feel better if this Lodge

was full of armed guards from Rizome? Or if Rizome even

had armed guards? We can't confront these people by force,

and we shouldn't try to. That's our strength."

Laura spoke up. "You're saying that because we're harm-

less, we won't be hurt."

"We want to reduce tension. We don t mean to arrest these

pirates, prosecute them, crush them. We've decided to nego-

tiate. That's a modern solution. It worked for the arms race,

after all. It has been working for the Third World."

"Except for Africa," David said.

Emerson shrugged. "It's a long-term effort. The old East-

West Cold War, the North-South struggle . . . those were both

old fights. Struggles we inherited. But now we face a truly

modem challenge. This meeting is part of it."

David looked surprised. "Come on. These aren't nuclear

arms talks. I've read about these havens. They're fleabag

pirates. Sleazy rip-off artists who won't pull their own weight

in the world. So they call themselves bankers, so they wear

three-piece suits. Hell, they can fly private jets and shoot

boars in the forests of Tuscany. They're still cheap rip-off

bastards. "

"That's a very correct attitude," Emerson said. "But don't

underestimate the havens. So far, as you say, they're only

parasites. They steal software, they bootleg records arid vid-

eos, they invade people's privacy. Those are annoyances, but

it's not yet more than the system can bear. But what about the

potential? There are potential black markets for genetic engi-

neering, organ transplants, neurochemicals . . . a whole gal-

axy of modern high-tech products. Hackers loose in the Net

are trouble enough. What happens when a genetic engineer

cuts one corner too many?"

David shuddered. "Well, that can't be allowed."

"But these are sovereign national governments," said Em-

erson. "A small Third World nation like Grenada can profit

by playing fast and loose with new technologies. They may

well hope to become a center of innovation, just as the

Cayman Islands and Panama became financial centers. Regu-

lation is a burden, and multinationals are always tempted to

move out from under it What happens to Rizome.. if our

competitors evade the rules, offshore?"

She let them mull over that for a while. "And there are

deeper questions that affect the whole structure of the modern

world. What happens when tomorrow's industries are pion-

eered by criminals? We live on a crowded planet, and we

need controls, but they have to be tight. Otherwise corruption

seeps in like black water.

"It's a tough agenda," David said, thinking it over. "In

fact, it sounds hopeless."

"So did the Abolition," said Emerson. "But the arsenals

are gone." She smiled. The same old line, Laura thought.

The old baby-boom generation had been using it for years.

Maybe they thought it would help explain why they were

still running everything. "But history never stops_ Modern

society faces a new central crisis. Are we going to control the

path of development for sane, human ends? Or is it going to

be laissez-faire anarchy?"

Emerson polished off the last of her chile relleno. "These

are real issues. If we want to live in a world we can recog-

nize, we'll have to fight for the privilege. We at Rizome have

to do our part. We are doing it. Here and now."

"You make a pretty good case," David said. "But I

imagine the pirates see things differently."

"Oh, we'll be hearing their side soon enough." She smiled.

"But we may have some surprises for them. The havens are

used to multinational corporations in the old style. But an

economic democracy is a different animal. We must let them

see that for themselves. Even if it means some risk to us."

David frowned. "You don't seriously think they'll try anything?"

"No, I don't. If they do, we'll simply call the local police.

It would be scandalous for us-this is, after all, a very

confidential meeting-but worse scandal, I think, for them."

She placed fork and knife neatly across her plate. "We know

there's some small risk. But Rizome has no private army. No

fellows in dark glasses with briefcases full of cash and hand-

guns. That's out of style." Her eyes flashed briefly. "We

have to pay for that luxury of innocence, though. Because we

have no one to take our risks for us. We have to spread the

danger out, among Rizome associates. Now it's your turn.

You understand. Don't you?"

Laura thought it over, quietly. "Our number came up," she

said at last.

"Exactly. "

"Just one of those things," David said. And it was.


The negotiators should have arrived at the Lodge all at the

same time, on equal terms. But they didn't have that much

sense. Instead they'd chosen to screw around and attempt to

one-up each other.

The Europeans had arrived early-it was their attempt to

show the others that they were close to the Rizome referees

.and dealing from a position of strength. But they soon grew

bored and were full of peevish suspicion.

Emerson was still mollifying them when the Singapore

contingent arrived. There were three of them as well: an

ancient Chinese named Mr. Shaw and his two Malay compa-

triots. Mr. Shaw was a bespectacled, balding man in an

oversized suit, who spoke very little. The two Malays wore

black songkak hats, peaked fore and aft, with sewn-on em-

blems of their group, the Yung Soo Chim Islamic Bank. The

Malays were middle-aged men, very sober, very dignified.

Not like bankers, however. Like soldiers. They-walked erect,

with their shoulders squared, and their eyes never stopped moving.

They brought mounds of luggage, including their own

telephones and a refrigerated chest, packed with foil-sealed

trays of food.

Emerson made introductions. Karageorgiu glared aggres-

sively, Shaw was woodenly aloof. The escorts looked ready

to arm-wrestle. Emerson took the Singaporeans upstairs to the

conference room, where they could phone in and assure their

home group that they had arrived in one piece.

No one had seen the Grenadians since the day before, at

the airport. They hadn't called in, either, despite their vague

promises. Time passed. The others saw this as a studied insult

and fretted over their drinks. They broke at last for dinner.

The Singaporeans ate their own food, in their rooms. The

Europeans complained vigorously about the barbarous Tex-

Mex cuisine. Mrs. Delrosario, who had outdone herself, was

almost reduced to tears.

The Grenadians finally showed up after dusk. Like Ms.

Emerson, Laura had become seriously worried. She greeted

them in the front lobby. "So glad to see you. Was there any trouble?"

"Nuh," said Winston Stubbs, exposing his dentures in a

sunny smile. "I-and-I were downtown, seen. Up-the-island. "

The. ancient Rastaman had perched a souvenir cowboy hat on

his gray shoulder-length dreadlocks. He wore sandals and an

explosive Hawaiian shirt.

His companion, Sticky Thompson, had a new haircut. He'd

chosen to dress in slacks, long-sleeved shirt, and business

vest, like a Rizome associate. It didn't quite work• on him

though; Sticky looked almost aggressively conventional. Car-

lotta, the Church girl, wore a sleeveless scarlet beach top, a

short skirt, and heavy makeup. A brimming chalice was

tattooed on her bare, freckled shoulder.

Laura introduced her husband and the Lodge staff to the

Grenadians. David gave the old pirate his best hostly grin:

friendly and tolerant, we're all just-folks here at Rizome.

Overdoing it a bit maybe, because Winston Stubbs had the

standard pirate image. Raffish. "Howdy," David said. "Hope

y'all enjoy your stay with us."

The old man looked skeptical. David abandoned his drawl.

"Cool cunnings," he said tentatively.

"Cool runnings," Winston Stubbs mused. "Have nah hear

that in forty year. You like those old reggae albums, Mr.

Webster?"

David smiled. "My folks used to play them when I was a kid."

"Oh, seen. That would be Dr. Martin Webster and Grace

Webster of Galveston."

"That's right," David said. His smile vanished.

"You designed this Lodge,". Stubbs said. "Concretized

sand, built from the beach, eh?" He looked David up and

down. "Mash-it-up appropriate technology. We could use

you in the islands, mon."

"Thanks," David said, fidgeting. "That's very flattering."

"We could use a public relations, too," Stubbs said, grin-

ning crookedly at Laura. His eye whites were veined with

red, like cracked marbles. "I-and-I's reputation could use an

upgrade. Pressure come down on I-and-I. From Babylon

Luddites. "

"Let's all gather in the conference room," Emerson said.

"It's early yet. Still time for us to talk."


They argued for two solid days. Laura sat in on the meet-

ings as Debra Emerson's second, and she realized quickly

that Rizome was a barely tolerated middleman. The data

pirates had no interest whatsoever in taking up new careers as

right-thinking postindustrialists. They had met to confront a

threat.


All three pirate groups were being blackmailed.

The blackmailers, whoever they were, showed a firm grasp

of data-haven dynamics. They had played cleverly on the

divisions and rivalries among the havens; threatening one

bank, then depositing the shakedown money in another. The

havens, who naturally loathed publicity, had covered up the

attacks. They were deliberately vague about the nature of the

depredations. They feared publicizing their weaknesses. It

was clear, too, that they suspected one another.

Laura had never known the true nature and extent of haven

operations, but she sat quietly, listened and watched, and

learned in a hurry.

The pirates dubbed commercial videotapes by the hundreds

of thousands, selling them in poorly policed Third World

markets. And their teams of software cracksters found a ready

market for programs stripped of their copy protection. This

brand of piracy was nothing new; it dated back to the early

days of the information industry.

But Laura had never realized the profit to be gained by

evading the developed world's privacy laws. Thousands of

legitimate companies maintained dossiers on individuals: em-

ployee records, medical histories, credit transactions. In the

Net economy, business was impossible without such informa-

tion. In the legitimate world, companies purged this data

periodically, as required by law.

But not all of it was purged. Reams of it ended up in the

data havens, passed on through bribery of clerks, through taps

of datalines, and by outright commercial espionage. Straight

companies operated with specialized slivers of knowledge.

But the havens made a business of collecting it, offshore.

Memory was cheap, and their databanks were huge and growing.

And they had no shortage of clients. Credit companies, for

instance, needed to avoid bad risks and pursue their debtors.

Insurers had similar problems. Market researchers hungered

after precise data on individuals. So did fund raisers. Special-

ized address lists found a thriving market. Journalists would

pay for subscription lists, and a quick sneak call to a databank

could dredge up painful rumors that governments and compa-

nies suppressed.

Private security agencies were at home in the data demi-

monde. Since the collapse of the Cold War intelligence apparats,

there were legions of aging, demobilized spooks scrabbling

out a living in the private sector. A shielded phone line to the

havens-was a boon for a private investigator.

Even computer-dating services kicked in their bit.

The havens were bootstrapping their way up to Big Brother

status, trading for scattered bits of information, then collating

it and selling it back-as a new and sinister whole.

They made a business of abstracting, condensing, index-

ing, and verifying-like any other modern commercial database.

Except, of course, that the pirates were carnivorous. They ate

other databases when they could, blithely ignoring copyrights

and simply storing everything they could filch. This didn't

require state-of-the-art computer expertise. Just memory by

the ton, and plenty of cast-iron gall.

Unlike old-fashioned smugglers, the haven pirates never

had to physically touch their booty. Data had no substance.

EFT Commerzbank, for instance, was a legitimate corpora-

tion in Luxembourg. Its illegal nerve centers were safely

stowed away in Turkish Cyprus. The same went for the

Singaporeans-, they had the dignified cover of an address in

Bencoolen Street, while the machinery hummed merrily in

Nauru, a sovereign Pacific Island nation with a population of

12,000. For their part, the Grenadians simply brazened it out.

All three groups were monetary banks as well. This was

handy for laundering client funds, and a ready source of

necessary bribes. Since the invention of electronic funds trans-

fer, money itself had become just another form of data. Their

host governments were not inclined to quibble.

So, Laura thought, the basic principles of operation were

clear enough. But they created, not solidarity, but bitter rivalry.

Names were freely exchanged during the more heated mo-

ments. The ancestral lineage of the havens saddled them with

an unhelpful and sometimes embarrassing heritage. During

occasional bursts of frankness, whole whale-pods of these

large and awkward facts surfaced and blew steam, while

Laura marveled.

The EFT Commerzbank, she learned, drew its roots mainly

from the old heroin networks of the south of France, and from

the Corsican Black Hand. After the Abolition, these clunky

gutter operations had been modernized by former French spooks from

"La Piscine," the legendary Corsican school for

paramilitary saboteurs. These right-wing commandos, tradi-

tionally the rogue elephants of European espionage, drifted

quite naturally into a life of crime once the French govern-

ment had cut off their paychecks.

Additional muscle came from a minor galaxy of French

right-wing action groups, who abandoned their old careers of

bombing trains and burning synagogues, to join the data

game. Further allies came from the criminal families of the

European Turkish minority, accomplished heroin smugglers

who maintained an unholy linkage with the Turkish fascist underground.

All this had been poured into Luxembourg and allowed to

set for twenty years, like some kind of horrible aspic. By now

a kind of crust of respectability had formed, and the EFT

Commerzbank was making some attempt to disown its past.

The others refused to make it easy for them. Egged on by

Winston Stubbs, who remembered the event, Monsieur

Karageorgiu was forced to admit that a member of the Turkish

"Gray Wolves" had once shot a pope.

Karageorgiu defended the Wolves by insisting that the

action was "business." He claimed it was a revenge opera-

tion, recompense for a sting by the Vatican's corrupt Banco

Ambrosiano. The Ambrosiano, he explained, had been one of

Europe's first truly "underground" banks, before the present

system had settled. Standards had been different then-back

in the rough-and-tumble glory days of Italian terrorism.

Besides, Karageorgiu pointed out smoothly, the Turkish

gunman had only wounded Pope John Paul II. No worse than

a kneecapping, really. Unlike the Sicilian Mafia-who were

so annoyed at the Banco's misdeeds that they had poisoned

Pope John Paul I stone dead.

Laura believed very little of this-she noticed Ms. Emer-

son smiling quietly to herself-but it was clear that the other

pirates had few doubts. The story fit precisely into the folk

mythos of their enterprise. They shook their heads over it

with a kind of rueful nostalgia. Even Mr. Shaw looked vaguely impressed.

The Islamic Bank's antecedents were similarly mixed. Triad

syndicates were a major factor. Besides being criminal broth-

erhoods, the Triads had always had a political side, ever since

their ancient origins as anti-Manchu rebels in seventeenth-

century China.

The Triads had whiled away the centuries in prostitution,

gambling, and drugs, with occasional breaks for revolution,

such as the Chinese Republic of 1912. But their ranks had

swollen drastically after the People's Republic had absorbed

Hong Kong and Taiwan. Many diehard capitalists had fled to

Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, where the oil money still

ran fast and deep. There they prospered, selling rifles and

shoulder-launched rockets to Kurdish separatists and Afghani

mujahideen, whose bloody acres abounded, in poppies and

cannabis. And the Triads waited, with ghastly patience, for

the new Red dynasty to crack.

According to Karageorgiu, the Triad secret societies had

never forgotten the Opium Wars of the 1840s, in which the

British had deliberately and cynically hooked the Chinese

populace on black opium. The Triads, he alleged, had delib-

erately promoted heroin use in the West in an attempt to rot

Western morale.

Mr. Shaw acknowledged that such an action would only

have been simple justice, but he denied the allegation. Be-

sides, he pointed out, heroin was now out of favor in the

West. The drug-using populace had dwindled with the aging

of the population, and modern users were more sophisticated.

They preferred untraceable neurochemicals to crude vegetable

extracts. These very neurochemicals now boiled out of the

high-tech drug vats of the Caribbean.

This accusation wounded Winston Stubbs. The Rastafarian

underground had never favored "steel drugs." The substances

they made were sacramental, like communion wine, meant to

assist in "i-tal meditation."

Karageorgiu scoffed at this. He knew the real sources of

the Grenadian syndicate and recited them with relish. Cocaine-

crazed Colombians cruising the streets of Miami in armored

vans crammed with Kalashnikovs. Degraded Cuban boat-

lifters, speckled with prison tattoos, who would kill for a

cigarette. Redneck American swindlers like "Big Bobby"

Vesco, who had specialized in the sucker's shell game with a

series of offshore fronts.

Winston Stubbs heard the man out peaceably, trying to

defuse Laura's horror with skeptical brow wrinkling and little

pitying shakes of his head. But he bristled at this last remark.

Mr. Robert Vesco, he said indignantly, had at one point

owned the government of Costa Rica. And in the legendary

LOS scam, Vesco had liberated $60 million of illegally in-

vested CIA retirement funds. This action showed that Vesco's

heart was righteous. There was no shame in having him as

forefather. The man was a duppy conqueror.

After the second day's negotiations broke up, Laura shakily

joined Debra Emerson out on the seaside verandah for a

private conference. "Well," said Emerson cheerfully. "This

has certainly cleared the air."

"Like lifting the lid of a cesspool," Laura said. A salt

breeze blew in from offshore, and she shuddered. "We're

getting nowhere with these negotiations. It's obvious they

have no intention of reforming. They barely tolerate us. They

think we're saps."

"Oh, I think we're progressing nicely," Emerson said.

Since the talks had started, she had relaxed into a glazed

professional ease. Both she and Laura had made an effort to

break past their formal roles and to establish the kind of

gut-level personal trust that held Rizome together as a

postindustrial company. Laura was reassured that Emerson

took the company's principles so seriously.

It was good, too, that the Committee had fully acknowl-

edged Laura's need to know. For a while she had been afraid

that they would try some security bullshit, and that she would

have to go on the company Net and make a stink about it.

Instead they had taken her into the core of negotiations. Not

at all a bad thing, career-wise, for a woman still officially on

infancy furlough. Laura now felt vaguely guilty about her

earlier suspicions. She even wished that Emily Donato hadn't

told her anything.

Emerson nibbled a praline and gazed out to sea. "It's all

been skirmishing so far, just macho one-upmanship. But soon

they'll be getting down to business. The critical point is their

blackmailers. With our help, with a little guidance, they'll

join forces in self-defense."

A seagull noticed Emerson eating. It swooped up and

hovered hopefully above the walkway's railing, its flat yellow

eyes gleaming. "Join forces?" Laura said.

"It's not as bad as it sounds, Laura. It's their small scale

and fast reflexes that make the data havens dangerous. A

large, centralized group will become bureaucratic."

"You think so?"

"They have weaknesses we don't," Emerson said-,settling

deeper into her reclining chair. She cracked off a chip of her

praline and studied the floating bird. "The major weakness of

criminal groups is their innate lack of trust. That's why so

many of them rely on family blood ties. Especially families

from oppressed minorities-a double reason for group loyalty

against the outside world. But an organization that can't rely

on the free loyalty of its members is forced to rely on

gesellschaft. On industrial methods."

She smiled, lifting her hand. "And that means rule books,

laws, stiff formal hierarchies. Violence is not Rizome's strong

suit, Laura, but we do understand management structures.

Centralized bureaucracies always protect the status quo.. They

don't innovate. And it's innovation that's the real threat. It's

not so bad that they rip us off." She tossed her chip of candy

and the gull caught it instantly. "The problem comes when

they outthink us."

"The bigger, the stupider, is that the strategy?" Laura

said. "What happened to good old divide and conquer?"

"This isn't politics. This is technology. It's not their power

that threatens us, it's their imagination. Creativity comes

from small groups. Small groups gave us the electric light,

the automobile, the personal computer. Bureaucracies gave us

the nuclear power plant, traffic jams, and network television. The

first three changed everything. The last three are memories now."

Three more freeloading gulls swooped up from nowhere.

They jostled gracefully for space, with creaking screams of

greed. Laura said, "Don't you think we ought to try some-

thing a little more vigorous? Like, say, arresting them?"

"I don't blame you for thinking that," Emerson said. "But

you don't know what these people have survived. They thrive

on persecution, it unites them. It builds a class chasm be-

tween them and society, it lets them prey on the rest of us

without a twinge of conscience. No, we have to let them

grow, Laura, we have to give them a stake in our status quo.

It's a long-term struggle. Decades long. Lifetimes. Just like

the Abolition."

"Mmmm," Laura said, not liking this much. The older

generation was always going on about the Abolition. As if

abolishing bombs intended to destroy the planet had required

transcendent genius. "Well, not everyone shares that philoso-

phy. Or else these data sharks wouldn't be here now, trying

to roll with the punches." She lowered her voice. "Who do

you think is blackmailing them? One of them, maybe? Those

Singaporeans ... they're so aloof and contemptuous. They

look pretty suspicious. "

"Could be," Emerson said placidly. "Whoever it is, they're

professionals." She threw the last of her candy to the gulls

and stood up, shivering. "It's getting chilly."

They went in. Inside the Lodge, a routine had emerged.

The Singaporeans always retired to their rooms after negotia-

tions. The Europeans amused themselves in the conference

room, running up the Lodge's telecom bills.

The Grenadians, on the other hand, seemed deeply inter-

ested in the Lodge itself. They had inspected it from tower to

foundation, asking flattering questions about computer design

and concretized sand. Since then the Grenadians seemed to

have taken-an awe liking to David. They had gathered with

him in the downstairs lounge for the third night running.

Laura went to help with the washing. The staff was bearing

up well, despite the security requirements. They found it

exciting to have actual live criminals in the place. Mrs.

Rodriguez had stuck appropriate nicknames on the guests:

Los Opios, Los Morfinos, and, of course, Los Marijuanos.

Winston Stubbs, El Jefe de los Marijuanos, was a staff favor-

ite. Not only did he look most like a proper pirate, but he had

tried to tip them several times. The Morfino Europeans,

however, were on everyone's shit list.

Debra Emerson had not escaped-no one called her any-

thing but "La Espia." Everyone agreed that she was weird.

Poca loca. But she was Rizome, so it was okay. .

Laura had not gone running in three days. Her ankle was

better now but the forced confinement was making her antsy.

She needed a drink. She joined David and the Grenadians in

the bar.


David was showing off his music collection. He collected

old Texas pop music-western swing, blues, polkas, conjunto

border ballads. A sixty-year-old conjunto tape played over the

lounge's speakers, rapid accordion riffs punctuated with high-

pitched wails. Laura, who had grown up with synthesizers

and Russian pop music, still found the stuff eerie as hell.

She poured herself a glass of the house red and joined them

around a low table. The old man sat slumped in a chair,

looking drowsy. Sticky Thompson and the Church woman sat

together on a couch.

During the debates, Sticky had been very animated, almost

hyper at. times. Among his luggage, Sticky had brought a

thermos of what he claimed was acidophilus milk. He was

drinking it now. Laura wondered what was in it. Sticky

couldn't be older than twenty-two or three, she thought. He

was a little young to have ulcers.

Carlotta had a glass of orange juice. She had made it clear

that she never touched coffee or alcohol. She sat intimately

close to Sticky, pressing her black-stockinged thigh against

his leg, tugging lightly at the curls at the back of his neck.

Carlotta had never taken part in the debates, but she shared

Sticky's room. She watched him with animal raptness-like

the gulls outside.

The sight of Carlotta and Sticky-young love played at 78

rpm-gave Laura a sense of unease. There was something

horribly bogus about their ambience, as if they were deliber-

ately mimicking a romance. She pulled a chair close to David's.

"So what do y'all think?" David said.

"It's better than those yodeling cowboys," Sticky said, his

amber eyes gleaming. "But you can't say this is your roots,

mon. This is Third World music."

"The hell you `say," David said mildly. "It's Texas music,

I'm a Texan."

"That's Spanish they're singing, mon."

"Well, I speak Spanish," David said. "Maybe you didn't

notice our staff are Texan, Hispanics."

"Oh, seen, I notice them," Sticky said. This was the first

time Sticky had used such a thick patois. "I noticed you sleep

up in the castle tower." Sticky pointed upstairs. "While they

sleep down here by the kitchen."

"Oh, you reckon so?" David drawled, stung. "You want

those old folks to walk up two flights of stairs, I guess. While

we keep the baby down here to wake our guests.

"I see what I see," Sticky said. "You say, no more wage

slaves, equal rights in the big mother Rizome. Everybody

votes. No bosses--coordinators. No board-a Central Com-

mittee. But your wife still give orders and they still cook and

clean. "


"Sure," Laura broke in. "But not for us, Sticky. For you."

"That's a good one," Sticky said, riveting his hot eyes on

Laura. "You talk a good line after those P.R. courses at the

university. Diplomatic, like your mother. "

There was a sudden silence. "Chill out, Sticky," the old

man murmured. "You gettin' red, boy."

"Yeah," David said, still smarting. "Maybe you better

take it a little easy on that milk."

"There's nothing in this milk," Sticky said. He shoved the

thermos at Laura, who was closest. "You try it."

"All right, Laura said abruptly. She had a sip. It was

cloyingly sweet. She handed it back. "That reminds me.

David, did you feed the baby?"

David grinned, admiring her bravado. "Yeah."

There was nothing in the milk, she decided. Nothing was

going to happen to her. She sipped her wine to wash the taste away.

Carlotta laughed suddenly, breaking the tension. "You're a

caution, Sticky." She started rubbing his shoulders, "It's no

use you bein' down on Mr. and Mrs. Married Life. They're

straights, that's all. Not like us."

"You don't see it yet, girl. You haven't heard 'em talk

upstairs." Sticky had lost his temper, and his accent. He was

starting to sound more and more like a cable news announcer,

Laura thought. That flat Mid-Atlantic television English. Global

Net talk. Sticky pulled Carlotta's hand away and held it.

"Straights aren't what they used to be. They want it all

now-the whole world. One world. Their world." He stood

up, pulling her to her feet. "Come on, girl. The bed needs shaking."

"Buenas noches," David called out as they left. "Suenos

dukes, cuidado con las chinches!" Sticky ignored him.

Laura poured herself another glass and knocked back half

of it. The old man opened his eyes. "He's young," he said.

"I was rude," David said contritely. "But I dunno, that

old Imperialist America line-it gets me where I live. Sorry."

"Not America, no," the old man said. "You Yankees

aren't Babylon. You only part of her, now. Babylon-she-

multinational, Babylon-she-multilateral." He chanted the words.

"Babylon she come to get us where we live." He sighed.

"You like it here, I know. I ask the old women, they say they

like it too. They say you nice, you baby's cute. But where

she growing up, that baby, in your nice one world with its

nice one set of rules? She have no place to run. You think

that over, seen? Before you come down on us. " He stood up,

yawning. "Tomorrow, eh? Tomorrow." He left.

Silence fell. "Let's go to bed," Laura said at last. They

went upstairs.

The baby was sleeping peacefully. Laura had been check-

ing her crib monitor with the watchphone. They pulled their

clothes off and slid into bed together. "What a weird old

duck that Stubbs is," David said. "Full of stories. He said

... he said he was in Grenada in '83 when the U.S. Marines

invaded. The sky was full of choppers shooting Cubans. They

took over the radio station and played Yankee pop music. The

Beach Boys, he said. I thought he meant the Marines at first.

Beach boys."

Laura frowned. "You're letting him get to you, David.

That nice old codger and his poor little island. His poor little

island is taking a big bite out of our ass. That snotty remark

about Mother-they must have dossiers on both of us, the

size of phone books. And what about that Church girl, huh? I

don't like that business one bit."

"We've got a lot in common with Grenada," David said.

"Galveston was a pirate haven, once upon a time. Good old

Jean Lafitte, remember? Back in 1817. Hijacking shipping,

yo-ho-ho, bottle of rum, the whole routine. David grinned.

"Maybe you and I could start a haven, okay? Just a snug

little one that we could run from the conference room. We'd

find out how many teeth old Sticky's grandmother has."

"Don't even think it," Laura said. She paused. "That girl.

Carlotta. You think she's attractive?"

He sank down into his pillow. "A little," he said. "Sure."

"You kept looking at her."

"I think she was high on those Church pills," he said.

"Romance. It does something for a woman, to have that

glow. Even if it's fake."

"I could take one of those pills," Laura said carefully.

"I've been totally nuts about you before. It didn't do any

permanent damage."

David laughed. "What's gotten into you tonight? I couldn't

believe you drank that milk. You're lucky you're not seeing

little blue dogs leaping out of the wall. " He sat up in bed,

waving his hand. "How many fingers?"

"Forty," she said, smiling.

"Laura, you're drunk. " He pinned her down and kissed

her. It felt good. It was good to be crushed under his weight.

A warm, solid, comfortable crush. "Good," she said. "Give

me ten more." His face was an inch away and she smelled

wine on her own breath.

He kissed her twice, then reached down and gave her a

deep, intimate caress. She threw her arms around him and

closed her eyes, enjoying it. Good strong warm hand. She

relaxed, sinking into the mood. A nice little trough of chemis-

try there, as scratchy pleasure melted into lust. The wariness

that took her through the day evaporated as she relaxed into

arousal. Good-bye, calculating Laura; hello, connubial Laura,

long time no see. She started kissing him seriously, the kind

she knew he liked. It was great to do it, and know he liked it.

Here we go, she thought. A nice solid slide inside her.

Surely nothing was ever better than this. She smiled up into

David's face.

That look in his eyes. It had scared her sometimes, the first

times, and excited her. That look of sweet David gone and

something else in his place. Some other part of him, primal.

Something that she couldn't control, that could take her own

control away. Sex had been like that in the first days of their

affair, something wild and strong and romantic, and not

entirely pleasurable. Too close to fainting, too close to pain.

Too strange . . .

But not tonight. They slipped into a good thumping rhythm.

A good mauling hug and a good solid pounding. Fine' solid,

dependable sex. Building up to orgasm like laying bricks.

Angel architects laid bricks like this in the walls of heaven.

Level one, level two, taking their time, level three, almost

done now, and there it was. Climax washed through her, and

she moaned happily. He was still at it. It was no use aiming

for another one, and she didn't try, but it came anyway, a

small little twinge with a pleasure all its own, like smelling

brandy in another room.

Then he was through. He rolled onto his side of the bed,

and she felt his sweat cooling on her skin. A good feeling,

intimate as a kiss. "Oh, lord," he said, not meaning any-

thing, just breathing the words out. He slid his legs under the

covers. He was happy, they were lovers, all was right in the

world. They would be sleeping soon.

"David?"

"Yes, light of my life?"

She smiled. "Do you think we're straight?"

He laced his hands behind his head against the pillow. He

looked at her sidelong. "Tired of the missionary position?"

"You're such a help. No, I mean it."

He saw that she was serious and shrugged. "I don't know,

angel. We're people, that's all. We have a kid and a place in

the. world.... I don't know what that means." He grinned

tiredly, then rolled onto his side, throwing one leg over hers,

She dimmed the lights with her watchphone. She didn't say

anything more, and in a few minutes he was asleep.


The baby woke her, whimpering. This time Laura managed

to force herself from bed. David sprawled himself over, into

her space. Fine, she thought. Let him sleep in the wet spot.

She got the baby up, changed her diaper. This had to be a

sign of something, she thought sourly. Surely avant-garde

rebel enemies of the system never had to change diapers.

Laura warmed Loretta's formula and tried to feed her, but

she wouldn't be comforted. She was kicking and. arching her

spine and wadding up her little face. . . . She was a very

good-tempered baby, in daylight at least, but if she woke at

night she became a bag of nerves.

The sound wasn't her hungry cry, or her lonely cry, but

tremulous, high-pitched noises that said she didn't know what

to do with herself. Laura decided to take her out on the

walkway. That usually calmed her down. It looked like a nice

night, anyway. She shrugged into her night-robe.

A three-quarter moon was up. Laura walked barefoot on

the damp boards. Moonlight on the surf. It had a numinous

look. It was so beautiful that it was almost funny, as if nature

had decided to imitate, not Art, but a sofa-sized velvet painting.

She walked back and forth, crooning to Loretta, whose

wails had finally died into crotchety whimpers. Laura thought

about her mother. Mothers and daughters. This time around it

would be different.

A sudden prickling sensation washed over her. Without

warning, it turned to fear. She looked up, feeling startled, and

saw something she didn't believe.

It perched in midair in the moonlight, humming. An hour-

glass, cut by a shimmering disk. Laura shrieked aloud. The

apparition hung there for a moment, as if defying her to

believe in it. Then it tilted in midair and headed out to sea. In

a few moments she had lost it.

The baby was too scared to cry. Laura had crushed her to

her breasts in panic, and it seemed to have scared the baby

into some primeval reflex. A reflex from cave times when

voodoo horrors stalked outside the firelight, things that smelled

milk and knew young flesh was tender. A spasm of trembling

shook Laura from head to foot.

One of the guest room doors opened. Moonlight glinted on

the gray hair of Winston Stubbs. A shaman's dreadlocks. He

stepped out onto the boardwalk, wearing only his jeans. His

grizzled chest had the sunken look of age, but he was strong.

And he was someone else.

"I hear a scream," he said. "What's wrong, daughter?"

"I saw something," Laura said. Her voice shook. "It

scared me. I'm sorry."

"I was awake," he said. "I hear the baby outside. Us old

people, I-and-I don't sleep much. A prowler, maybe?" He

scanned the beach. "I need my glasses."

Shock began seeping out of her. "I saw something in the

air," she said, more firmly. "A kind of machine, I think."

"A machine," said Stubbs. "Not a ghost."

"No."

"You look like a duppy come ready to grab your child,



girl," Stubbs said. "A machine, though.... I don't like

that. There are machines and machines, seen? Could be a spy."

"A spy," Laura said. It was an explanation, and it got her

brain working again. "I don't know. I've seen drone aircraft.

People use them to crop-dust. But they have wings. They're

not like flying saucers."

"You saw a flying saucer?" Stubbs said, impressed. "Cru-

cial! Where did it go?"

"Let's go in," Laura said, shivering. "You don't want to

see it, Mr. Stubbs."

"But I do see," said Stubbs. He pointed. Laura turned to look.

The thing was sweeping toward them, from over the water.

It whirred. It. swept over the beach at high speed. As it closed

on them, it opened fire. A chattering gout of bullets slammed

into Stubbs's chest and belly, flinging him against the wall.

His body bloomed open under the impact.

The flying thing veered off above the roof, its whine dying

as it slipped into darkness. Stubbs slid to the boards of the

walkway. His dreadlocks had slipped askew. They were a

wig. Below them, his skull was bald.

Laura lifted one hand to her cheek. Something had stung

her there. Little bits of sand, she thought vaguely. Little bits

of sand that had jumped from those impact holes. Those

pockmarks in the wall of her house, where the bullets had

passed through the old man. The holes looked dark in the

moonlight. They were full of his blood.


3
Luara watched as they took the body away. The dead

Mr. Stubbs. Smiling, cheerful Winston Stubbs, all winking

piratical wickedness, now a small bald corpse with its

chest smashed open. Laura leaned on the wet walkway rail-

ing, watching as the ambulance van cleared the cordon of

lights. Unhappy city cops in wet yellow slickers manned the

road. It had begun to rain with morning, a bleak September

front off the mainland.

Laura turned and pushed through the lobby door. Inside,

the Lodge felt empty, a havoc area. All the guests were gone.

The Europeans had abandoned their luggage in their panic

flight. The Singaporeans, too, had slunk off rapidly during

the confusion.

Laura walked upstairs to the tower office. It was just after

nine in the morning. Within the office, Debra Emerson prere-

corded calls for the Central Committee, her quiet murmur

going over the details of the killing for the fourth time. The

fax machine whined on copy.

Laura poured herself coffee, slopping some onto the table.

She sat down and picked up the terrorists' publicity release.

The assassins' statement had come online at the Rizome

Lodge only ten minutes after the killing. She had read it three

times already, with stunned disbelief. Now she read the state-

ment over one more time. She had to understand. She had to

deal with it.
F.A.C.T. DIRECT ACTION BULLETIN-SPECIAL

RELEASE TO AGENCIES OF LAW ENFORCEMENT

At 07:21 GMT September 12, 2023, designated com-

mandos of the Free Army of Counter-Terrorism carried

out sentence on Winston Gamaliel Stubbs, a so-called

corporate officer in the piratical and subversive organized-

crime unit known as the United Bank of Grenada. The

oppressed people of Grenada will rejoice at this long-

delayed act of justice against the drug-running crypto-

Marxist junta which has usurped the legitimate political

aspirations of the island's law-abiding population.

The sentence of execution took place at the Rizome

Lodge of Galveston, Texas, U.S.A. (telex GALVEZRIG,

ph. (713) 454-9898), where Rizome Industries Group,

Inc., an American-based multinational, was engaged in

criminal conspiracy with the Grenadian malefactors.

We accuse the aforesaid corporation, Rizome Indus-

tries Group, Inc., of attempting to reach a cowardly

accommodation with these criminal groups, in an im-

moral and illegal protection scheme which deserves the

harshest condemnation from state, national, and interna-

tional law enforcement agencies. With this act of short-

sighted greed, Rizome Industries Group, Inc., has

cynically betrayed the efforts of legitimate institutions,

both private and public, to contain the menace of crimi-

nally supported state terrorism.

It is the long-sustained policy of the Free Army of

Counter-Terrorism (FACT) to strike without mercy at

the cryptototalitarian vermin who pervert doctrines of

national sovereignty. Behind its mask of national legal-

ity, the Grenada United Bank has provided financial,

data, and intelligence support to a nexus of pariah orga-

nizations. The executed felon, Winston Stubbs, has in

particular maintained close personal involvement with

such notorious groups as the Tanzanian Knights of Jah,

the Inadin Cultural Revolution, and the Cuban Capitalist Cells.

In eliminating this menace to the international order,

FACT has performed a valuable service to the true cause

of law enforcement and global justice. We pledge to

maintain our course of direct military action against the

economic, political, and human resources of the so-called

United Bank of Grenada until this antihuman and oppres-

sive institution is entirely and permanently liquidated.

A further intelligence dossier on the crimes of the

deceased, Winston Stubbs, may be accessed within the

files of the United Bank itself: Direct-dial (033) 75664543,

Account ID: FR2774. Trapdoor: 23555AK. Password:

FREEDOM.
So flat, Laura thought, setting the printout aside. It read

like computer-generated prose, long, obsessive streams of

clauses ... Stalinist. No grace or fire in it, just steam-driven

robot pounding. Any pro in P. R. could have done better-she

could have done better. She could have done a lot better in

making her company, and her home, and her people, and

herself, look like garbage.... She felt a sudden surge of

helpless rage, so powerful that tears came. Laura fought them

back. She peeled away the printout's perforated strip and

rolled it between her fingers, staring at nothing.

"Laura?" David emerged from downstairs, carrying the

baby. The mayor of Galveston followed him.

Laura stood up jerkily. "Mr. Mayor! Good morning."

Mayor Alfred A. Magruder nodded. "Laura." He was a

hefty Anglo in his sixties, his barrel paunch wrapped in a

garish tropical dashiki. He wore sandals and jeans and had a

long Santa Claus beard. Magruder's face was flushed and his

blue eyes in their little pockets of suntanned fat had the rigid

look of contained fury. He waded into the room and flung his

briefcase onto the table.

Laura spoke quickly. "Mr. Mayor, this is our security

coordinator, Debra Emerson. Ms. Emerson, this is Alfred

Magruder, Galveston's mayor."

Emerson rose from the console. She and Magruder looked

each other up and down. They summed each other up with

slight involuntary winces of distaste. Neither offered to shake

hands. Bad vibes, Laura thought shakily, echoes from some

long-buried social civil war. Already things were out of control.

"There's some heavy heat coming down here soon,"

Magruder announced, looking at Laura. "And now your old man

here tells me that your pirate friends are at large on my island. "

"It was quite impossible for us to stop them," Emerson

said. Her voice had the infuriating calmness of a grade school teacher.

Laura cut in. "The Lodge was strafed by a machine gun,

Mr. Mayor. It woke the whole staff-threw us into panic.

And the-the guests-were up and out of here before the rest

of us could think of anything. We called the police---

"And your corporate headquarters," Magruder said. He

paused. "I want a record of all the calls in and out of this place."

Laura and Emerson spoke at once.

"Well of course I called Atlanta-"

"That will need a warrant-"

Magruder cut them off. "The Vienna Convention heat will

seize your records anyway. Don't screw me around on technicalities,

okay? We're all walking fast and loose here, that's

the point of Fun City. But y'all have gone way over the line

this time. And someone's ass is gonna fry, okay?"

He glanced at David. David nodded once, his face frozen

in a bogus look of chipper nice-guy alertness. -

Magruder plunged on. "Now who's it gonna be? Is it

gonna be me?" He thumbed his baggy shirt, prodding a

splashy yellow azalea. "Is it gonna be you? Or is it gonna be

these pirate assholes from off-the-island?" He drew a breath.

"This is a terrorist action, comprende? That kind of crap isn't

supposed to come down anymore."

Debra Emerson was all strained politeness. "It still does,

Mr. Mayor."

"Maybe in Africa," Magruder grunted. "Not here!"

"The point is to cut the feedback relationship between

terrorism and the global media," Emerson said. "So you

needn't worry about bad publicity. The Vienna Convention

specifies-"

"Look," Magruder said, turning the full force of his glare

on Emerson. "You're not dealing with some cracker hippie

here, okay? When this blows over you can sneak back to your

spook warren in Atlanta, but I'll still be down here trying to

make a go of a city on the fucking ropes! It's not the press

that scares me-it's the cops! Global cops, too-not the

locals, I can deal with them. I don't want to go down on their

bad-boy list with the data-haven mafiosi. So do I need you

using my island for your clapped-out shenanigans? No, ma'am,

I don't."

Rage boiled up in Laura. "What the hell is this? Did we

shoot him? We got shot at, Your Honor, okay? Go outside

and look at my house." .

They stared at her, shocked at her outburst. "They could

have killed us. They could have blown the whole Lodge up."

She snatched up the printout and shook it at Magruder.

"They even wrote directly to us and taunted us! The F.A.C.T.

-whoever they are-they're the killers, what about them?"

The baby's face clouded up and she tried a tentative sob.

David rocked her in his arms, half turning away. Laura

lowered her voice. "Mr. Mayor, I see what you're getting at.

And I guess I'm sorry about this, or whatever the hell you

want me to say. But we have to face the truth. These data-

haven people are professionals, they're long gone. Except

maybe the other Grenadian, Sticky Thompson. I think I know

where Thompson is. He's gone underground here in Galves-

ton, with the Church girl. I mean your friends here in the

Church of Ishtar, Mr. Mayor."

She shot a quick look at David. David's face had thawed,

he was with her. He looked encouragement: go on, babe.

"And we don't want them looking at the Church, do we?

They're all webbed together, these fringe groups. Pull one

thread and the whole thing comes apart."

"And we end up bare-ass naked," David put in. "All of us."

The mayor grimaced, then shrugged. "But that's exactly

what I was saying."

"Damage limitation," Emerson said.

"Right, that's it."

Emerson smiled. "Well, now we're getting somewhere."

Laura's watchphone beeped. She glanced at the board. It was a

priority call. "I'll take it downstairs and !et y'all talk," she said.

David followed her downstairs, with Loretta in the crook

of his arm. "Those two old boomers," he muttered.

"Yeah." She paused as they stepped into the dining room.

"You were great," he said.

"Thanks '

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm okay. Now." The Lodge staff, red-eyed with

lack of sleep, sat around the largest table, taking in Spanish.

They were disheveled and shaky. The gunfire had jolted them

out of bed at two in the morning. David stopped with them.

Laura took her call in the little downstairs office. It was

Emily Donato, calling from Atlanta. "I just heard," Emily

said. She was pale. "Are you all right?"

"They shot up the Lodge," Laura said. "They killed him.

The old Rastaman, I was standing right next to him." She

paused. "I was scared of the spy machine. He came out to

protect me. But they were waiting for him, and they shot him

dead right there."

"You're not hurt, though."

"No, it was the walls, y'know, concretized sand. The

bullets sank right in. No ricochets." Laura paused again and

ran her fingers through her hair. "I can't believe I'm saying this."

"I just wanted to say.... Well, I'm with you all the way

on this one. You and David. All the way." She held up two

fingers, pressed together. "Solidarity, okay?"

Laura smiled for the first time in hours. "Thanks, Em."

She looked at her friend's face gratefully. Emily's video

makeup looked off; too much blusher, eyeliner shaky. Laura

touched her own bare cheek. "I forgot my vid makeup,"

Laura blurted, realizing it for the first time. She felt a sudden

unreasoning surge of panic. Of all the days-a day when

she'd be on the Net all the time.

There was noise in the lobby. Laura glanced through the

open door of the office and past the front desk. A woman in

uniform had just pushed through the lobby door from outside.

A. black woman. Short hair, military blouse, big leather gun

belt, cowboy hat in her hand. A Texas Ranger.

"Oh, Jesus, the Rangers are here," Laura said.

Emily nodded, her eyes wide. "I'm loggin' off, I know

you have your hands full.

"Okay, bye." Laura hung up. She hurried past the desk

into the lobby. A blond man in civvies followed the Ranger

into the Lodge. He wore a charcoal-gray tailored suit vented

at the waist, wide, flamboyant tie in computer-paisley.... He

had dark glasses and had a suitcase terminal in his hand. The

Vienna heat.

"I'm Laura Webster," Laura told the Ranger. "The Lodge

coordinator." She offered her hand. The Ranger ignored it,

giving her a look of blank hostility.

The Vienna spook set down his portable terminal, took

Laura's hand, and smiled sweetly. He was very handsome,

with an almost feminine look-high Slavic cheekbones, a

long, smooth swoop of blond hair over one ear, a film-star

mole dotting his right cheekbone. He released her hand reluc-

tantly, as if tempted to kiss it. "Sorry to greet you in such

circumstances, Ms. Webster. I am Voroshilov. This is my

local liaison, Captain Baster. "

"Baxter," the Ranger said.

"You witnessed the attack, I understand," Voroshilov said.

"Yes.'


"Excellent. I must interview you." He paused and touched

a small stud on the corner of his dark glasses. A long fiber-

optic cord trailed from the earpiece down into the vest of his

suit. Laura saw now that the sunglasses were videocams, the

new bit-mapped kind with a million little pixel lenses. He was

filming her. "The terms of the Vienna Convention require me

to tell you of your legal position. First, your speech is being

recorded and you are being filmed. Your statements will be

kept on file by various agencies of Vienna Convention signatory

governments. I am not required to specify these agencies or

the amount or location of the data from this investigation.

Vienna treaty investigation are not subject to freedom-of-

information or privacy laws. You have no right to an attorney.

Investigations under the convention have global priority

over the laws of your nation and state."

Laura nodded, barely following this burst of rote. She had

heard it all before, on television shows. TV thrillers were

very big on the Vienna heat. Guys showing up, flicking

hologram ID cards, overriding the programming on taxis and

zooming around on manual, chasing baddies. They never

forgot their video makeup, either. "I understand, Comrade

Voroshilov. "

Voroshilov lifted his head. "What an interesting smell. I

do admire regional cooking."

Laura started. "Can I offer you something?"

"Some mint tea would be very fine. Oh, just tea, if you

have no mint."

"Something for you, Captain Baxter?"

Baxter glared. "Where was he killed?"

"My husband can help you with that...." She touched

her watchphone. "David?"

David looked into the lobby through the dining room door.

He saw the police, turned, and shot some quick, urgent

border-Spanish over his shoulder at the staff. All Laura caught

was los Rinches, the Rangers, but chairs scraped and Mrs.

Delrosario appeared in a hung.

Laura made introductions. Voroshilov turned the intimidat-

ing videoglasses on everyone in turn.. They were creepy-

looking things-at a certain angle Laura could see a fine-etched

golden spiderwebbing in the opaque lenses. No moving parts.

David left with the Ranger.

Laura found herself sipping tea with the Vienna spook in

the downstairs office. "Remarkable decor," Voroshilov ob-

served, easing back in the vinyl car seat and shooting an inch

of creamy-looking shirtcuff through his charcoal-gray coat

sleeves.


"Thank you, Comrade."

Voroshilov lifted his videoglasses with a practiced gesture,

favoring her with a long stare from velvety blue pop-star

eyes. "You're a Marxist?"

"Economic democrat," Laura said. Voroshilov rolled his

eyes in brief involuntary derision and set the glasses back

onto his nose. "Have you heard from the F.A.C.T. before today?"

"Never," Laura said. "Never heard of them."

"The statement makes no mention of the groups from

Europe and Singapore."

"I don't think they knew the others were here," Laura

said. "We-Rizome, I mean-we were very careful on security. Ms.

Emerson, our security person, can tell you more about that."

Voroshilov smiled. "The American notion of `careful security.'

I'm touched." He paused. "Why are you involved in

this? It's not your business."

"It is now," Laura said. "Who is this F.A.C.T.? Can you

help us against them?"

"They don't exist," Voroshilov said. "Oh, they did once.

Years ago. All those millions your American government

spent, little groups here, little groups there. Ugly little spin-

offs from the Old Cold Days. But F.A.C.T. is just a front

now, a fairy story. F.A.C.T. is a mask the data havens hide

behind to shoot at each other." He made a pistol-pointing

gesture. "Like the old Red Brigades, pop-pop-pop against

NATO. Angolan UNITA, pop-pop-pop against the Cubans."

He smiled. "So here we are, yes, we sit in these nice chairs,

we drink this nice tea like civilized people. Because you

stepped into the rubbish left over because your grandfather

didn't like mine. "

"What do you plan to do?"

"I ought to scold you," Voroshilov said. "But I'm going

to scold your ex-CIA commissar upstairs. And my Ranger

friend will scold too. My Ranger friend doesn't care for the

nasty mess you make of the nice reputation of Texas." He

flipped up the screen of his terminal and keyed in commands.

"You saw the flying drone that did the shooting."

"Yes.'


"Tell me if you see it here."

Images flashed by, four-second bursts of nicely shaded

computer graphics. Stubby-winged aircraft with blind fuse-

lages-no cockpit, they were radio controlled. Some were

spattered in camouflage. Others showed ID numbers in sten-

ciled Cyrillic or Hebrew. "No, not like that," Laura said.

Voroshilov shrugged and touched the keys. Odder-looking

craft appeared: two little blimps. Then a skeletal thing, like a

collision between a helicopter and a child's tricycle. Then a

kind of double-rotored golfball. Then an orange peanut. "Hold

it," Laura said.

Voroshilov froze the image. "That's it," Laura said. "That

landing gear-like a barbecue pit." She stared at it. The

narrow waist of the peanut had two broad counterrotating

helicopter blades. "When the blades move, they catch the

light, and it looks like a saucer," she said aloud. "A flying

saucer with big bumps on the top and the bottom."

Voroshilov examined the screen. "You saw a Canadair

CL-227 VTOL RPV. Vertical Take-Off and Landing, Re-

motely Piloted Vehicle. It has a range of thirty miles-miles,

what a silly measurement. He typed a note on his

Cyrillic keyboard. "It was probably launched somewhere on

this island by the assassins . . . or perhaps from a ship. Easy

to launch, this thing. No runway."

"The one I saw was a different color. Bare metal, I

think. "


"And equipped with a machine gun," Voroshilov said.

"Not standard issue. But an old craft. like this has been on the

black arms markets for many, many years. Cheap to buy if

you have the contacts."

"Then you can't trace the owners?"

He looked at her pityingly.

Voroshilov's watchphone beeped. It was the Ranger. "I'm

out here on the walkway," she said. "I have one of the

slugs. "

"Let me guess," Voroshilov said. "Standard NATO 35

millimeter. "

"Affirmative, yes."

"Think of those millions and millions of unfired NATO

bullets," mused Voroshilov. "Too many even for the African

market, eh? An unfired bullet has a kind of evil pressure in it,

don't you think? Something in it wants to be fired...." He .

paused, his blank lenses fixed on Laura. "You're not following me."

"Sorry, I thought you were talking to her." Laura paused.

"Can't you do anything?"

"The situation seems clear," he said. "An `inside job,' as

they say. One of the pirate groups had collaborators on this

island. Probably the Singapore Islamic Bank, famous for

treachery. They had the chance to kill Stubbs and took it."

He shut down the screen. "During my flight into Galveston, I

accessed the file in Grenada, on Stubbs, that was mentioned

in the FACT communiqué. Very interesting to read. The

killers exploited the nature of data-haven banking-that the

coded files are totally secure, even against the haven pirates

themselves. Only a haven would turn a haven's strength

against itself in this humiliating way."

"You must be able to help us, though. "

Voroshilov shrugged. "The local police can carry out cer-

tain actions. Tracing the local ships, for instance-see if any .

were close offshore, and who hired them. But I am glad to

say that this was not an act of politically motivated terrorism.

I would classify this as a gangster killing. The FACT

communiqué is only an attempt to muddy the waters. A

Vienna Convention case has certain publicity restrictions that

they, find useful."

"But a man was killed here!"

"It was a murder, yes. But not a threat to the political

order of the Vienna Convention signatories."

Laura was shocked. "Then what good are you?"

Voroshilov looked hurt. "Oh, we are very much good at

easing international tension. But we are not a global police

force." He emptied his teacup and set it aside. "Oh, Moscow

has been pressing for a true global police force for many

years now. But Washington stands in the way. Always trifling

about Big Brother, civil liberties, privacy laws. It's an

old story."

"You can't help us at all."

Voroshilov stood up. "Ms. Webster, you invited these

gangsters into your home, I didn't. If you had called us first

we would have urged you against it in the strongest possible

terms." He hefted his terminal. "I need to interview your

husband next. Thank you for the tea."

Laura left him and went upstairs to the telecom office.

Emerson and the mayor were sitting together on one of the

rattan couches, with the satisfied look of people who had

beaten a debate into submission. Magruder was forking his

way through a belated Tex-Mex breakfast of migas and refried beans.

Laura sat down in a chair across the table and leaned

forward, vibrating with anger. "Well, you two look comfortable."

"You've been talking to the Vienna representative," Emerson said.

"He's no goddamn use at all."

"KGB," Emerson sniffed.

"He says it's not political, not their jurisdiction."

Emerson looked. surprised. "Hmmph. That's a first for them."

Laura stared at her. "Well, what do we do about it?"

Magruder set down a glass of milk. "We're shutting you

down, Laura."

"Just for a while," Emerson added.

Laura's jaw dropped. "Shutting down my Lodge? Why? Why?"

"It's all worked out," Magruder said. "See, if it's criminal,

then the media get to swarm all over us. They'd play it

up big, and it'd be worse for tourism than a shark scare. But

if we shut you down, then it looks like spook business.

Classified. And nobody looks too deep when Vienna comes

calling." He shrugged. "I mean, they'll figure it eventually,

but by then it'd be old news. And the damage is limited." He

stood up. "I need to talk to that Ranger. You know. Assure

her that the city of Galveston will cooperate in every way

possible." He picked up his briefcase and lumbered down the stairs.

Laura glared at Emerson. "So that's it? You shut down the

scandal, and David and I pay the price?"

Emerson smiled gently. "Don't be impatient, dear. Our

project isn't over because of this one attack. Don't forget-

it's because of attacks like this that the pirates agreed to meet

in the first place."

Laura was surprised. She sat down. Hope appeared amidst

her confusion. "So you're still pursuing that? Despite all this?"

"Of course, Laura. The problem has scarcely gone away,

has it? No, it's closer to us than ever before. We're lucky we

didn't lose you-you, a very valued associate."

Laura looked up, surprised. Debra Emerson's face was set

quite calmly-the face of a woman simply relaying the truth.

Not flattery-a fact. Laura sat up straighter. "Well, it was an

attack on Rizome, wasn't it? A direct attack on our company."

"Yes. They found a weakness in us-the F.A.C.T. did, or

the people behind that alias." Emerson looked grave. "There

must have been a security leak. That deadly aircraft-I sus-

pect it's been waiting in ambush for days. Someone knew of

the meeting and was watching this place."

"A security leak within Rizome?"

"We mustn't jump to conclusions. But we will have to find

out the truth. It's more important than this Lodge, Laura.

Much more important." She paused. "We can come to terms

with the Vienna investigators. We can come to terms with the

city of Galveston. But that's not the hardest part. We prom-

ised safety to the people at this conference, and we failed.

Now we need someone to smooth the waters. In Grenada."
Rizome's Chattahoochee Retreat was in the foothills of the

Smokies, about sixty miles northeast of Atlanta. Eight hun-

dred acres of wooded hills in a valley with a white stony

creek that was dry this year. Chattahoochee was _a favorite of .

the Central Committee; it was close enough to the city for

convenience, and boondocky enough for people to stay out of

the Committee's collective face.

New recruits were often brought here-in fact this was

where Emily had first introduced her to David Webster. Back

in the old stone farmhouse, the one without the geodesics.

Laura couldn't look at these Chattahoochee hills without re-

membering that night: David, a stranger, tall and thin and

elegant in midnight blue, with a drink in his hand and black

hair streaming down his back.

In fact everybody in that party, all the sharper recruits

anyway, had gone out of their way to dress in penthouse

elegance. To go against the grain a bit, to show they weren't

going to be socialized all that easily, thank you. But here they

were, years later, out in the Georgia woods with the Central

Committee, not new recruits but full-fledged associates, playing

for keeps.

Of course the Committee personnel were all different now,

but certain traditions persisted.

You could tell the' importance of this meeting by the elabo-

rate informality of their dress. Normal problems they would

have run through in Atlanta, standard boardroom stuff, but

this Grenada situation was a genuine crisis. Therefore, the

whole Committee were wearing their Back-slapping Hick

look, a kind of Honest Abe the Rail-Splitter image. Frayed

denim jeans, flannel work shirts rolled up to the elbow... .

Garcia-Meza, a hefty Mexican industrialist who looked like he

could bite tenpenny nails in half, was carrying a big straw picnic

basket.

It was funny to think of Charlie Cullen being CEO.. Laura



hadn't met Cullen face to face since his appointment, though

she'd networked with him a little when they were building the

Lodge. Cullen was a biochemist, in construction plastics

mostly, a nice enough guy. He was a great caretaker Rizome

CEO, because you trusted him instinctively-but he didn't

much come across as an alley fighter. Since' his appointment

he'd taken to wearing a gray fedora perched on the back of

his head. Less like a hat than a halo or crown. It was funny

how authority affected people.

Cullen's whole face had changed. With his square chin and

broad nose, and mouth gone a little severe, he was starting to

look like a black George Washington. The original, primeval

George Washington, not the recent black president by the same name.

Then there were the others. Sharon McIntyre, Emily Donato's

mentor on the Committee, and Emily herself, her ringleted

hair caught under a scarf so that she looked like she'd just

been cleaning a stove. Kaufmann, the realpolitik European,

managing to look refined and natty even in jeans and knap-

sack. De Valera, self-styled firebrand of the Committee, who

tended to grandstand, but was. always coming up with the

bright idea. The professorial Gauss, and the cozy-conciliatory

Raduga. And bringing up the rear of the group, the ancient

Mr. Saito. Saito was wearing a kind of Ben Franklin fur hat

and bifocals, but he leaned on a tall knotted staff, like some

hybridized Taoist hermit.

Then there were herself, and David, and Debra Emerson.

Not Committee members, but witnesses.

Cullen crunched to a stop in a leaf-strewn autumn glade.

They were meeting far from wires for security reasons. They'd

even left their watchphones behind, in one of the farmhouses.

McIntyre and Raduga spread a large checkered picnic cloth.

Everyone shuffled into a circle and sat. They joined hands

and sang a Rizome anthem. Then they ate.

It was fascinating to watch. The Committee really worked

at it, that sense of community. They'd made a practice of

living together for weeks on end. Doing each other's laundry,

tending each other's kids. It was policy. They were elected,

but once in power they were given wide authority and ex-

pected to get on with it. For Rizome, getting on with it meant

a more or less open, small-scale conspiracy.

Of course the fashion for gemeineschaft intensity came and

went. Years ago, during Saito's period as CEO, there had

been a legendary time when he'd taken the whole Committee

to Hokkaido. When they rose before dawn to bathe naked in

freezing waterfalls. And ate brown rice and, if rumor were

true, had killed, butchered, and eaten a deer while living for

three days in a cave. No one on the Committee had ever

talked much about the experience afterward, but there was no

denying that they'd become one hell of a group.

Of course that was the sort of bullshit half-legendry that

clumped around any center of corporate power, but the Com-

mittee fed the mystique. And Rizome instinctively fell back

on gut-level solidarity in times of trouble.

It was far from perfect. You could see it by the way they

were acting-the way, for instance, that de Valera and

Kaufmann made an unnecessarily big deal over who was

going to cut and serve the bread. But you could see that it

worked, too. Rizome association was a lot more than a job. It

was tribal. You could live and die for it.

It was a simple meal. Apples, bread, cheese, some "ham

spread" that was obviously tailored scop. And mineral water.

Then they got to business-not calling anybody to order, but

drifting into it, bit by bit.

They started with the F.A.C.T. They were more afraid of

them than of Grenada. The Grenadians were thieving pirates,

but at least they'd stayed in deep background, whereas the

F.A.C.T., whoever they were, had seriously embarrassed the

company. Thanks to that, they had Vienna to worry about

now, though Vienna was vacillating. Even more than usual.

Rizome was determined to track down the F.A.C.T. They

didn't expect that it would be simple or easy, but Rizome was

a major multinational with thousands of associates and out-

posts on five continents. They had contacts throughout the

Net and a tradition of patience. Sooner or later they would get

at the truth. No matter who was hiding it.

The immediate target of suspicion was Singapore, either

the Islamic Bank or the Singapore Government, though the

lines between the two were blurry. No one doubted Singapore

was capable of carrying out the killing in Galveston. Singa-

pore had never signed the Vienna Convention, and they boasted

openly of the reach of their military and intelligence services.

It was hard to understand, though, why they would pick a

fight with Grenada, after agreeing to negotiate. Especially a

rash provocation like the Stubbs killing, guaranteed to enrage

Grenada without doing real strategic damage. Singapore was

arrogant, and technologically reckless, but no one had ever

said they were stupid.

So the Committee agreed to suspend judgment while await-

ing further evidence. There were too many possibilities at

present, and to try to cover every every contingency would only

bring paralysis. In the meantime they would move with the

initiative, ignoring the terrorist communiqué.

FACT was obviously a threat, assuming FACT had a separate

existence from the people they were already dealing with.

But they'd had a clear chance to kill a Rizome associate-

Laura-and had chosen not to take it. That was some small comfort.

The discussion moved to the Grenada situation.

"I don't see what we can do on the ground in Grenada that

we can't manage over the Net," Raduga said.

"It's time we stopped making that false distinction!" de

Valera said. "With our newest online stuff-the tech Vienna

uses-we are the Net. I mean-in MacLuhanesque terms-a

Rizome associate in videoshades can be a cognitive spearhead

for the entire company:..."

"We're not Vienna," Kaufmann said. "It does not mean it

will work for us."

"We're in a one-down situation with Grenada now," said

Cullen. "We're not in a position to talk media invasion."

"Yes, Charlie," de Valera said, "but don't you see, that's

exactly why it will work. We go in apologizing, but we come

out indoctrinating.

Cullen frowned. "We're responsible for the death of one of

their top people. This Winston Stubbs. It's. as if one of us had

been killed. Like we'd lost Mr. Saito."

Simple words, but Laura could see it hit them. Cullen had

a knack for pulling things down to human scale. They were

wincing.

"That is why I should go to Grenada," Saito said. He

never said much. He didn't need to.

"I don't like it," said Garcia-Meza. "Why make this an

eye-for-eye situation? It's not our fault that the pirates have

enemies. We didn't shoot them. And we are not one down,

because they were never up on our level." Garcia-Meza was

the hard-liner of the group. "I think this diplomatic approach

was a mistake. You don't stop thieves by kissing them." He

paused. "But I agree that we can't back out now. Our

credibility's at stake."

"We can't allow this to degenerate into a gangster power

struggle," Gauss declared. "We have to restore the trust that

we went to such pains to establish. So we must convince

Grenada of three things: that it was not our doing, that we are

still trustworthy, and that they can gain from cooperation with

us. Not from confrontation."

That kind of plonking summation was typical of Gauss. He

had killed the conversation. "I think Heinrich has hit it on the

head," Cullen said at last. "But we can't do any of that

convincing by remote control. We need to send people in who

can press the flesh and get right on the Grenadians, hand to

hand. Show them what we're made of, how we operate."

"All right," David said sharply. Laura was surprised.

She'd felt the pressure building, but she'd assumed he would

let her pick the moment. "It's obvious," he said. "Laura and

I are the ones you need. Grenada knows us already, they've

got dossiers on us a foot thick. And we were there when

Stubbs was killed. If you don't send us-the eyewitnesses-

they're bound to wonder why not."

The Committee members were silent a moment-either

wondering at his tone, or maybe appreciating the sacrifice.

"David and I feel responsible," Laura added. "Our luck's

been bad so far, but we're willing to see the project through.

And we have no other assignments, since Galveston shut our

Lodge down."

Cullen looked unhappy. Not with them-with the situation.

"David, Laura, I appreciate that correct attitude. It's very

courageous. I know you're aware of the danger. Better than

we are, since you've seen it personally."

David shrugged it off. He never reacted well to praise.

"Frankly, I'm less afraid of the Grenadians than the people

who shot them."

"An excellent point. I also note that the terrorists shot

them in America," Gauss said. "Not in Grenada, where the

security is much stronger."

"I should go," Saito objected. "Not because I would be

better at it." A polite lie. "But I am an old man. I have little

to lose."

"And I'll go with him," said Debra Emerson, speaking for

the first time. "If there's any blame in this security debacle,

it's certainly not the Websters'. It's my own. I was also at the

Lodge. I can testify as well as Laura can."

"We can't go into this expecting that our people will be

shot!" de Valera said passionately. "We must arrange things

so they never even think we might be prey. Either that, or not

go in at all. Because if that confidence fails, it's gonna be

war, and we'll have to become gangland soldiers. Not eco-

nomic democrats."

"No guns," Cullen agreed. "But we do have armor, at

least. We can give our diplomats the armor of the Net.

Whoever goes will be online twenty-four hours. We'll know

exactly where they are, exactly what they're doing. Every-

thing they see and hear will be taped and distributed. All of

Rizome will be behind them, a media ghost on their shoulder.

Grenada will respect that. They've already agreed to those terms."

"I think Charlie's right," Garcia-Meza said, unexpectedly.

"They won't harm our diplomats. What's the point? If they

want to savage Rizome, they won't start with the Websters

just because they are close at hand. They are not so naive. If

they shoot us, they will shoot for the head. They will go for

us-the Committee."

"Jesus," de Valera said. .

"We are feasting with tigers here," Garcia-Meza insisted.

"This is a vital operation and we'll have to watch each step.

So I'm glad we have those Vienna glasses. We'll need them."

"Let me go," Ms. Emerson begged. "They're young and

they have a baby."

"Actually," de Valera said, "I think that's the Websters'

major advantage as candidates. I think the Websters should

go, and I think they should take their baby with them." He

smiled at the circle, enjoying the stir he'd created. "Look,

think about it. A peaceable young married couple, with a

baby. It's a perfect diplomatic image for our company, because

it's true. It's what they are, isn't it? It may sound

cold-blooded, but it's a perfect psychological defense."

"Well," said Garcia-Meza, "I don't often agree with de

Valera, but that's clever. These pirates are macho. They

would be ashamed to fight with babies."

Kaufmann spoke heavily. "I did not want to mention this.

But Debra's background in American intelligence . . . that is

simply not something that a Third World country like Gre-

nada will accept. And I do not want to send a Committee

member, because, frankly, such a target is too tempting." He

turned to them. "I hope you understand, David and Laura,

that I mean no reflection on your own high value as associates. "

"I just don't like it," Cullen said. "Maybe there's no other

choice, but I don't like risking company people."

"We're all in danger now," Garcia-Meza said darkly. "No

matter what choices we make."

"I believe in this initiative!" de Valera declared. "I pushed

for this from the beginning. I know the consequences. I truly

believe the Grenadians will go for this-they're not barbar-

ians, and they know their own best interests. If our diplomats .

are hurt on duty, I'll take the heat and resign my post."

Emily was annoyed by this grab for the limelight. "Don't

be non-R, de Valera! That won't do them much good."

De Valera shrugged off the accusation. "David, Laura, I

hope you understand my offer in the meaning I intended.

We're associates, not bosses and pawns. If you're hurt, I

won't walk from that. Solidarity."

"None of us will walk," Cullen said. "We don't have that

luxury. Laura, David, you realize what's at stake. If we fail

to smooth things with Grenada, it could plunge us into disas-

ter. We're asking you to risk yourselves-but we're giving

you the power to risk all of us. And that kind of power is very

rare in this company."

Laura felt the weight of it. They wanted an answer. They

were looking to the two of them. There was no one else for

them to look to.

She and David had already talked it out, privately. They

knew they could duck this assignment, without blame. But

they had lost their home, and it would leave all their plans

floundering. It seemed better to seize the risk, go with the

flow of the crisis, and depend on their own abilities to deal

with it. Better that than to sit back like victims and let

terrorists trample their lives with impunity. Their minds were

made up.


"We can do it," Laura said. "If you back us."

"It's settled then." And that was that. They all rose and

folded up the picnic. And went back to the farmhouses.

Laura and David began training immediately with the videoglasses.

They were the first the company had bought, and

they were grotesquely expensive. She'd never realized it before,

but each set cost as much as a small house.

They looked it, too-at close range they had the strange

aura of scientific instruments. Nonconsumer items, very spe-

cialized, very clean. Heavy, too-a skin of tough black plas-

tic, but packed tight with pricy superconductive circuitry.

They had no real lenses in hem-just thousands of bitmapped light

detectors. The raw output was a prismatic blur-

visual software handled all the imagery, depth of focus, and

so on. Little invisible beams measured the position of the

user's eyeballs. The operator, back at his screen, didn't have

to depend on the user's gaze, though. With software he could

examine anything in the entire field of vision.

You could see right through them, even though they were

opaque from outside. They could even be set to adjust for

astigmatism or what have you.

They made custom-fitted foam earpieces for both of them.

No problem there, that was old tech.

Chattahoochee Retreat had a telecom room that made the

Galveston Lodge's look premillennial,. They did a crash course

in videoglass technique. Strictly hands-on, typical Rizome

training. The two of them took turns wandering over the

grounds, scanning things at random, refining their skills. A

lot to look at: greenhouses, aquaculture ponds, peach or-

chards, windmills. A day-care crèche where a Retreat staffer

was baby-sitting Loretta. Rizome had given the crèche system

a shot, years ago, but people hadn't liked it-too kibbutzish,

never caught on.

The Retreat had been a working farm once, before single

cell protein came in and kicked the props out of agriculture. It

was a bit Marie Antoinette now, like a lot of modem farms.

Specialty crops, greenhouse stuff. A lot of that commercial

greenhouse work was in the cities now, where the markets were-..'

Then they would go inside, and watch their tapes, and get

vertigo. And then try it again, but with books balanced on

their heads. And then take turns, one monitoring the screen

and the other out walking and taking instruction and bitching

cheerfully about how tough it was. It was good to be working

at something. They felt more in control.

It was going to work, Laura decided. They were going to

run a propaganda number on the Grenadians and let the

Grenadians run a propaganda number on them, and that would

be it. A risk, yes-but also the widest exposure they'd ever

had within the company, and that meant plenty in itself. The

Committee hadn't been crass enough to talk directly about

reward, but they didn't have to; that wasn't how things were

done in Rizome. It was all understood.

Dangerous, yes. But the bastards had shot up her house.

She'd given up the illusion that anyplace would be truly safe

anymore. She knew it wouldn't. Not until this was all over.
They had a two-hour layover in Havana. Laura fed the

baby. David stretched out in his blue plastic seat, propping

his sandaled feet one atop the other. Crude overhead speakers

piped twinkling Russian pop music. No robot trolleys here-

porters with handcarts, instead. Old janitors, too, who pushed

brooms like they'd been born pushing them. In the next row

of plastic seats, a bored Cuban kid dropped an empty soft-

drink carton and stomped it. Laura watched dully as the

mashed carton started to melt. "Let's get plastered, David

said suddenly.

"What?"

David tucked his videoglasses into the pocket of his suit,



careful not to smudge the lenses. "I look at it this way.

We're gonna be online the whole time in Grenada. No time to

relax, no time for ourselves. But we got an eight-hour flight

coming up. Eight hours in a goddamn airplane, right? That's

free license to puke all over ourselves if we want. The

stews'll take care of us. Let's get wasted."

Laura examined her husband. His face looked brittle. She

felt the same way. These last days had been hell. "Okay,"

she said. David smiled.

He picked up the baby's tote -and they trudged to the

nearest duty-free shop, a little cubbyhole full of cheap straw

hats and goofy-looking heads carved from coconuts. David

bought a liter flask of brown Cuban rum. He paid with cash.

The Committee had warned them against using plastic. Too.

Too easy to trace. Data havens were all over the electric money

business.

The Cuban shopgirl kept the paper money in a locked

drawer. David handed her a 100-ecu bill. She handed over his

paper change with a sloe-eyed smile at David-she was dressed

in red, chewing gum and listening to samba music over

headphones. Little hip-swaying motions. David said some-

thing witty in Spanish and she smiled at him.

The ground wouldn't settle under Laura's shoes. The ground

in airports wasn't part of the world. It had its own logic-

Airport Culture. Global islands in a net of airline flight paths.

A nowhere node of sweat and jet lag with the smell of luggage.

They boarded their flight at Gate Diez-y-seis. Aero Cubana.

Cheapest in the Caribbean, because the Cuban government

was subsidizing flights. The Cubans were still touchy about

their Cold War decades of enforced isolation.

David ordered Cokes whenever the stewardess came by and

topped them off with deadly layers of pungent rum. Long

flight to Grenada. Distances were huge out here. The Carib-

bean was flecked with cloud, far-down fractal wrinkles of

greenish ocean surge. The stews showed a dubbed Russian

film, some hot pop-music thing from Leningrad with lots of

dance sequences, all hairdos and strobe lights. David watched

it on headphones, humming and bouncing Loretta on his

knee. Loretta was stupefied with travel-her eyes bulged and

her sweet little face was blank as a kachina doll's.

The rum hit Laura like warm narcotic tar. The world

became exotic. Businessmen in the aisles ahead had plugged

their decks into the dataports overhead, next to the air vents.

Cruising forty thousand feet over Caribbean nowhere, but still

plugged into the Net. Fiber-optics dangled like intravenous drips.

Laura leaned her seat back and adjusted the blower to puff

her face. Airsickness lurked down there somewhere below the

alcoholic numbness. She sank into a stunned doze. She

dreamed. . . . She was wearing one of those Aero Cubana

stewardess outfits, nifty blue numbers, kind of paramilitary

1940s with chunky shoulders and a pleated skirt, hauling

her trolley down the aisle. Giving everyone little plastic

tumblers full of something ... milk.... They were all reach-

ing out demanding this milk with looks of parched despera-

tion and pathetic gratitude. They were so glad she was there

and really wanted her help-they knew she could make things

better.... They all looked frightened, rubbing their sweating

chests like something hurt there... .

A lurch woke her up. Night had fallen. David sat in a pool

of light from the overhead, staring at his keyboard screen. For

a moment Laura was totally disoriented, legs cramped, back

aching, her cheek sticky with spit. . . . Someone, David prob-

ably, had put a blanket over her. "My Optimal Persona," she

muttered. The plane jumped three or four times.

"You awake?" David said, plucking out his Rizome ear-

plug. "Hitting a little rough weather."

"Yeah?"

"September in the Caribbean." Hurricane season, she



thought he didn't have to say it. He checked his new,

elaborate watchphone. "We're still an hour out." On the

screen, a Rizome associate in a cowboy hat gestured elo-

quently at the camera, a mountain range looming behind him.

David froze the image with a keytouch.

"You're answering mail?"

"No, too drunk," David said. "Just looking at it. This guy

Anderson in Wyoming-he's a drip." David winked the

screen's image off. "There's all kinds of bullshit-oh, sorry,

I mean democratic input- pilin' up for us in Atlanta. Just

thought I'd get it down on disk before we leave the plane."

Laura sat up scrunchily. "I'm glad you're here with me, David."

He looked amused and touched. "Where else would I be?"

He squeezed her hand.

The baby was asleep in the seat between them, in a collaps-

ible bassinet of chromed wire and padded yellow synthetic. It

looked like something a high-tech Alpine climber would haul

Oxygen in. Laura touched the baby's cheek. "She all right?"

"Sure. I fed her some rum, she'll be sleeping for hours."

Laura stopped in mid-yawn. "You fed her-" He was

kidding. "So you've come to that," Laura said. "Doping our

innocent child." His joke had forced her awake. "Is there no

limit? To your depravity?"

"All kinds of limits-while I'm online," David said. "As

we're about to be, for God knows how many days. Gonna

cramp our style, babe."

"Mmmm." Laura touched her face, reminded. No video

makeup. She hauled her cosmetics kit from the depths of her

shoulder bag and stood up. "Gotta get our vid stuff on before

we land."

"Wanna try a quickie in the bathroom, standing up?"

"Probably bugged in there," Laura said, half stumbling

past him into the aisle.

He whispered up at her, holding her wrist. "They say

Grenada has scuba diving, maybe we can mess around under

water. Where no one can tape us."

She stared down at his tousled head. "Did you drink all

that rum?"

"No use wasting it," he said.

"Oh, boy," she said. She used the bathroom, dabbed on

makeup before the harsh steel mirror. By the time she re-

turned to her seat they were starting their descent.


4
A stewardess thanked them as they stepped over the

threshold. Down the scruffy carpeted runway into Point

Salines Airport. "Who's online?" Laura murmured.

["Emily,"] came the voice in her earplug. ["Right with

you."] David stopped struggling with the baby's tote and

reached up to adjust his volume. His eyes, like hers, hidden

behind the gold-fretted videoshades. Laura felt nervously for her

passport card, wondering what customs would be like. Airport

hallway hung with dusty posters of white Grenadian beaches,

ngratiating grinning locals in fashion colors ten years old,

splashy holiday captions in Cyrillic and Japanese katakana.

A young, dark-skinned soldier leaned out from against the

wall as they approached. "Webster party?"

"Yes?" Laura framed him with her videoglasses, then

scanned him up and down. He wore a khaki shirt and trou-

sers, a webbing belt with holstered gun, a starred beret,

sunglasses after dark. Rolled-up sleeves revealed gleaming

ebony biceps.

He fell into stride ahead of them, legs swinging in black

lace-up combat boots. "This way." They paced rapidly across

the clearing area, heads down, ignored by a sprinkling of

fatigue-glazed travelers. At customs their escort flashed an ID

card and they breezed through without stopping.

"They be bringin' you luggage later," the escort muttered.

"Got a car waiting.", They ducked out a fire exit and down a

flight of rusting stairs. For a brief blessed moment they

touched actual soil, breathed actual, air. Damp and dark; it

had rained. The car was a white Hyundai Luxury Saloon with

one-way mirrored windows. Its doors popped, open as they

approached.

Their escort slid into the front seat; Laura and David

hustled in back with the baby. The doors thunked shut like

armored tank hatches and the car slid into motion. Its suspen-

sion whirled them with oily ease across the pitted and weedy

tarmac. Laura glanced back at the airport as they left-pools

of light over a dozen pedicabs and rust-riddled manual taxis.

The saloon's frigid AC wrapped them in antiseptic chill.

"Online, can you hear us in here?" Laura said.

["A little image static, but audio's fine,"] Emily whis-

pered. ["Nice car, eh?"]

"Yeah," David said. Outside the airport grounds, they

turned north onto a palm-bordered highway. David leaned

forward toward their escort in the front seat. "Where we

going, amigo?"

"Takin' you to a safehouse," said their escort. He turned

in his seat, throwing one elbow over the back. "Maybe ten

mile. Sit back, relax, seen? Twiddle you big Yankee thumbs,

try and look harmless." He took off his dark glasses.

"Hey!" David said. "It's Sticky!"

Sticky smirked. " `Captain Thompson' to you, Bwana."

Sticky's skin was now much darker than it had been in

Galveston. Some kind of skin dye, Laura thought. Disguise,

maybe. It seemed best to say nothing about it. "I'm glad to

see you safe," she said. Sticky grunted.

"We never had a chance to tell you," Laura said. "How

sorry we are about Mr. Stubbs."

"I was busy," Sticky said. "Trackin' those boys from

Singapore." He stared into the lenses of Laura's glasses,

visibly gathering himself up, talking through her to the Rizome

videotapes spooling in Atlanta. "This, while our Rizome

security still dancin' like a chicken with its head lick off,

mind. The Singapore gang ran off first thing after the killing.

So I track 'em in darkness. They run maybe half a mile south

down the coast, then wade out to a smart yacht, waitin', so

cozy, right offshore. A good-size ketch; two other men aboard.

I get the registry number." He snorted. "Rented by Mr. Lao

Binh Huynh, a so-call `prominent Viet-American business-

man,' live in Houston. Rich man this Huynh-run half a

dozen groceries, a hotel, a truckin' business."

["Tell him we'll get right on that,"] Emily's whisper urged.

"We'll get right on that," David said.

"You a little late, Bwana Dave. Mr. Huynh vanish some

days back. Somebody snatch him out of his car."

"Jesus," David said.

Sticky stared moodily out the window. Rambling white-

walled houses emerged from darkness in the Hyundai's head-

lights, the walls gleaming ;like shellac. A lone drunk scurried

off the road when the car honked once, sharply. A deserted

marketplace; tin roofs, bare flagpole, a colonial statue, bits of

trampled straw basket. Four tethered goats-their eyes shone

red in the headlights like something out of a nightmare.

."None of that proves anything against the Singapore Bank,"

Laura said.

Sticky was annoyed; his accent faltered. "What proof?

You think we're planning to sue them? We're talking war."

He paused. "Too funny, Yankees asking for proof, these

days! Somebody blow up your battleship Maine, seen-two

months later wicked Uncle Sam invade Cuba. No proof at all."

"Well, that goes to show you how we've learned our

lesson," David said mildly. "The invasion of Cuba, it failed

really. . badly. Bay of Pork-Bay of Pigs, I mean. A big

humiliation for imperial Yankeedom."

Sticky looked at him with amazed contempt. "I'm talking

eighteen ninety-eight, mon!"

David looked startled. "Eighteen ninety-eight? But that

was the Stone Age."

"We don't forget." Sticky gazed out the window. "You in

the capital now. Saint George."

Multistory tenements, again with that strange plastic-looking

whitewash sheen. Dim greenish bursts of foliage clustered the

rising hillside, shaggy jagged-edged palms like dreadlocked

Rasta heads. Satellite dishes and skeletal TV antennas ridged

the tenement rooftops. Old dead dishes stood face-up on the

trampled lawns-birdbaths? Laura wondered. "These are the

government yards," Sticky said. "Public housing." He pointed

away from the harbor, up the rising hillside. "That's Fort

George on the hill-the prime minister, live up there."

Behind the fort, a trio of tall radio antennas flashed their

aircraft warning lights in sync. Red blips raced from ground

to sky, seeming to fling themselves upward, into stellar black-

ness. Laura leaned to peer through David's window. The dim

bulk of Fort George's battlements, framed against the racing

lights, gave her a buzz of unease.

Laura had been briefed about Grenada's prime minister.

His name was Eric Louison and his "New Millennium Move-

ment" ruled Grenada as a one-party state. Louison was in his

eighties now, rarely seen outside his secretive cabinet of data

pirates. Years ago, after first seizing power, Louison had

made a passionate speech in Vienna, demanding investigation

of the "Optimal Persona phenomenon." It had earned him a

lot of uneasy derision.

Louison was in the unhappy Afro-Caribbean tradition of

ruler-patriarchs with heavy voodoo. Guys who were all Papa

Docs and Steppin' Razors and Whippin' Sticks. Looking up

the hill, Laura had a sudden clear mental image of old

Louison. Skinny, yellow-nailed geezer, tottering sleepless

through the fort's torchlit dungeons. In a gold-braided jacket,

sipping hot goat blood, his naked feet stuck in a couple of

Kleenex boxes .. .

The Hyundai cruised through town under amber street-

lights. They passed a few Brazilian three-wheelers, little

wasplike buggies in yellow and black, chugging on alcohol.

Saint George had the sleepy look of a town where they roll up

the pavements on week nights. By modern Third World

standards it was a small city-maybe a hundred thousand

people. Half a dozen high-rises loomed downtown, in the old

and ugly International Style, their monotonous walls stippled

with glowing windows. A fine old colonial church with a tall

square clock tower. Idle construction cranes jutted over the

geodesic skeleton of a new stadium. "Where's the Bank?"

David said.

Sticky shrugged. "Everywhere. Wherever the wires are."

"Good-lookin' town," David said. "No shantytowns, no-

body camping under the overpasses. You could teach Mexico

City something." No response. "Kingston, too."

"Gonna teach Atlanta something," Sticky retorted. "Our

Bank-you think we're thieves. No so, mon. It's your banks

what been sucking these people's blood for four hundred

years. Shoe on the other foot, now."

The lights of the capital receded. Loretta stirred in her tote,

waved her arms, and noisily filled her diaper. "Uh-oh,"

David said. He opened the window. The wet-dust smell of

hot tropic rain filled the car. Another aroma crept under it,

spicy, pungent, haunting. A kitchen smell. Nutmeg, Laura

realized. Half the world's nutmeg came out of Grenada. Real

natural nutmeg, off trees. They rounded a bay-lights glit-

tered from an offshore station, lights on still water, industrial

glare on gray clouds overhead.

Sticky wrinkled his nose and looked at Loretta as if she

were a bag of garbage. "Why bring that baby? It's dangerous here."

Laura frowned, and reached for a fresh diaper. David said,

"We're not soldiers. We don't pretend to be fair targets."

"That's a funny way to think," Sticky said.

"Maybe you think she'd be safer at our home," Laura

said. "You know, the place that got machine-gunned." Okay," Sticky

shrugged. "Maybe we can cut it a bulletproof bib."

Emily spoke online. ["Oh, he's funny. They're wasting

him here, he ought to be in network comedy. "]

Sticky noticed their silence. "Don't worry, Atlanta," he

said loudly. "We be takin' better care of these guests than

you did of ours."

I"Ouch,"] the whisper said.

They covered more miles in silence. ["Look,"] Emily said,

["y'all shouldn't waste this time so I'm going to play you

selected highlights of the Committee campaign speeches ..."]

Laura listened intently; David played with the baby and

looked out the window.

Then the Hyundai slid west off the highway, onto a grav-

eled track. Emily cut off a speech about Rizome's Pacific

Rim holdings in lumber and microchips. The car cruised

uphill, through thick stands of casuarina trees. It stopped in

darkness.

"Car, honk," Sticky told the Hyundai, and it did. Arc

lights flashed on from two iron poles at the gates of a

plantation estate. The tops of the compound's fortress walls

gleamed wickedly with embedded broken glass.

A guard hustled up belatedly, a rumpled-looking teenage

militiaman with a blunderbuss tangle-gun slung on his back.

Sticky left the car. The guard looked jolted from sleep and

guilty about it. As the gates swung open, Sticky pulled rank

and hassled the kid. "Hey, check this cheap-shot fascist

shit," David muttered, just for the record.

The car rolled into a graveled courtyard with a dead marble

fountain and wet, weed-choked rosebushes. The distant gate

lights showed low whitewashed stairs up to a long screened

verandah. Above the verandah, windows glowed in a pair of

goofy-looking turrets. Some Victorian colonial's idea of class.

.["Check it out!"] Emily commented.

"A Queen Anne mansion!" David said.

The car stopped at the stairs and its doors swung open.

They stepped out into rich-smelling tropic dampness, hauling

the baby and their carry-ons. Sticky rejoined them, pulling a

key card.

"Whose place is this?" David said.

"Yours, for now." Sticky motioned them up the stairs and

across the dark, open porch. They passed a flat, dust-shrouded

table. A ping-Pong ball glanced off David's foot, tick-ticking

off into darkness and the skeletal gleam of aluminum lounge

chairs. Sticky slid his key card into double doors of brass-

studded rosewood.

The doors opened; hall lights flashed on. David was sur-

prised. "This old place has a house system installed."

"Sure," sniffed Sticky. "It belong to Bank brass once-

old Mr. Gelli. He fix it up." The voices of strangers echoed

down the hall. They entered a living room: flocked velvet

wallpaper, flower-printed couch and two matching recliners,

kidney-shaped coffee table, wall-to-wall carpet in a purulent

shade of maroon.

Two men and a woman, dressed in servants' whites, knelt

beside a toppled drinks trolley. They stood up hastily, looking

flustered.

"She not workin'," the taller man said sullenly. "Been

chasin' us around all day."

"This is your staff," Sticky said. "Jimmy, Rajiv, and

Rita. The place a little musty now, but they'll make you cozy. "

Laura looked them over. Jimmy and Rajiv looked like

pickpockets and Rita had eyes like hot black marbles-she

looked at little Loretta as if wondering how she'd go in a

broth with carrots and onions. "Are we doing entertaining?"

Laura said.

Sticky looked puzzled. "No."

"I'm sure Jimmy, Rajiv, and Rita are very capable,"

Laura said carefully. "But unless there's a pressing need for

staff, I think we'd be cozier on our own."

"You had servants in Galveston," Sticky said.

Laura gritted her teeth. "The Lodge staff are Rizome associates.

Our coworkers."

"The Bank picked these people for you," Sticky said.

"They had good reason." He shepherded Laura and David

toward another door. "Master bedroom in here."

They followed Sticky into a room with a massive canopied

waterbed and closet-lined walls. The bed was freshly made.

Gardenia incense smoldered atop an old mahogany bureau.

Sticky closed the door behind them.

"Your servants protect you from spies," Sticky told them

with an air of put-upon patience. "From people, and things

too, things with wings and cameras, seen? We don't want them

wondering what you are, why you here." He paused to let that

sink in. "So this the plan: we pass you off for mad doctors."

David said, "For what?"

"Techies, Bwana. Hired consultants. High-technocrats, the

Grenada upper crust." Sticky paused. "Don't you see it?

How do you think we run this island? We got mad doctors all

points round in Grenada. Yankees, Europeans, Russians, they

come here for perks, like this place, seen? Big houses, with

servants. " He winked deliberately. "Plus other tasty things. ".

"That's just great," David said. "Do we get field hands, too?"

Sticky grinned. "You a sweet pair, you really are."

"Why not pass us off for tourists, instead?" Laura said.

"You must get some, right?"

"Lady, this is the Caribbean," Sticky said. "America's

backyard, seen? We're used to seeing Yankees runnin' round

without their pants. It nah shock us, any." He paused, con-

sidering, or pretending to. "Except that retrovirus-fancy

Yank V.D.-it do take a toll on the workin' girls.

Laura throttled her temper. "Those perks don't tempt us,

Captain. "

"Oh, sorry," Sticky said. "I forgot you were online back

to Atlanta. You under heavy manners, must nah talk rude

... while they can hear."

["Oh,"J Emily whispered suddenly, ["if y'all are hypo-

crites, that means he has a right to be an asshole. "I

"You want to prove that we're hypocrites," David said.

"Because that makes it right to insult us." Caught off guard,

Sticky hesitated. "Look," David soothed. "We're your guests.

If you want to surround us with these so-called `servants,'

that's your decision."

Laura caught on. "Maybe you don't trust us?" She pre-

tended to think it over. "Good idea to have some houseboys

watching us, just in case we decide to swim back to Galveston."

"We'll think about it," Sticky said grudgingly. The door-

bell sounded, the bell plonking out the first verse of an old

pop song. "I'm dream-ing of a White Christ-mas," David

chanted, recognizing it. They hurried to the door, but the

servants had beaten them there. Their luggage had arrived.

Rajiv and Jimmy were already hauling bags from the van.

"I can take the baby, madam," Rita volunteered at Laura's

elbow. Laura pretended not to hear her, staring through the

verandah screen. Two new guards lurked under the arc lights

at the gate.

Sticky handed them matched key cards. "I'm going-got

business elsewhere tonight. You make yourselves real cozy.

Take what you want, use what you want, the place is yours.

Old Mr. Gelli, he won't be complaining."

"When do we meet with the Bank?" Laura said.

"Soon come," Sticky said meaninglessly. He rambled down

the steps; the Hyundai opened and he slipped in without

breaking stride. The car took off.

They rejoined the servants in the living room and stood

about uncomfortably in a knot of unresolved tension. "A

little supper, sir, madam?" Rajiv suggested.

"No, thank you, Rajiv." She didn't know the proper term

for Rajiv's ethnic background. Indo-Caribbean? Hindu-Grenadian?

"Draw madam a bath?"

Laura shook her head. "You could. start by calling us

David and Laura," she suggested. The three Grenadians looked

back stonily.

Loretta adroitly chose this moment to burst into sobs.

"We're all a bit tired from the trip," David said loudly. "I

think we'll, uh, retire to the bedroom. So we won't need you

tonight, thanks." There was a brief struggle over the bags,

which Rajiv and Jimmy won. They triumphantly carried the

luggage into the master bedroom. "We unpack for you,"

Rajiv announced.

"Thank you, no!" David spread his arms and herded them

through the bedroom door. He locked it behind them.

"We be upstairs if you need us, madam," Jimmy shouted

through the door. "The intercom nah work, so yell real

good!"

David plucked Loretta from her tote and set about fixing



her formula. Laura fell backward onto the bed, feeling a

sapping rush of stress fatigue. "Alone at last," she said.

"If you don't count thousands of Rizome associates,"

David said from the bathroom. He emerged and set the baby

on the bed. Laura roused herself to one elbow and held

Loretta's bottle.

David checked all the closets. "Seems safe enough in this

bedroom. No other ways in or out-this is great old wood-

work, too." He pulled his earpiece loose with a wince, then

set his videoglasses on a bedside table. He aimed them care-

fully at the door.

["Don't mind me,"] Emily said in Laura's ear. ["If David

wants to sleep in the raw, I'll edit it."]

Laura laughed, sitting up. "You two and your in-jokes,"

David said.

Laura changed the baby and got her into her paper paja-

mas. She was doped with food, sleepy and content, her eyes

rolling under half-shut flickering lids. Sweet little hand-clenching

motions, like she was trying to hold on to wakefulness but

couldn't quite remember where she put it. It was funny how

much she looked like David when she slept.

They undressed, and he hung his clothes in the closet.

"They still got the old guy's wardrobe here," he said. He

showed her a tangle of leather. "Nice tailor, huh?"

"What the hell is that? Bondage gear?"

"Shoulder holster," David said. "Macho bang-bang stuff."

"Terrific," Laura said. More goddamned guns. Tired as

she was, she dreaded sleep; she could smell another night-

mare waiting. She plugged her gear into a clockphone from

the biggest bag. "How's that?"

["It ought to do."] Emily's voice came loudly from the

clockphone's speakers. ["I'm logging off, but the night shift

will watch over you." ]

"Good night." Laura slid under the sheets. They nestled

the baby between them. Tomorrow they'd look for a crib.

"Lights, turn off."


Laura came sluggishly out of sleep. David was already

wearing jeans, an unbuttoned tropical shirt, and his videoglasses.

"The doorbell," he explained. It rang again, plonking through

its antique melody.

"Oh." She looked gummy-eyed at the bedside clock. Eight

A.M. "Who's online?"

["It's me, Laura,"] the clock said. ["Alma Rodriguez."]

"Oh, Mrs. Rodriguez," Laura said to the clock. "Um,

how are you?"

["Oh, the old man, his bursitis pretty bad today."]

"Sorry to hear that," Laura muttered. She struggled to sit

up, the waterbed rippling queasily.

["This Lodge, it's pretty empty without you or the guests,"]

Mrs. Rodriguez said brightly. ["Mrs. Delrosario, she says

her two girls are running around downtown like wild animals. "]

"Well, why don't you tell her that, uh .. Laura stopped,

suddenly stunned by culture shock. "I don't know where the

hell I am."

["Are you all right, Laurita?"]

"Sure, I guess " She looked wildly around the strange

bedroom, located the bathroom door. That would help.

When she returned she dressed quickly, then slipped on the

shades. ["Ay, it's strange when the picture moves like that,"]

Mrs. Rodriguez said from Laura's earplug. ["Makes me

seasick!"]

"You and me both," Laura said. "Who's David talking to

out there? The so-called servants?"

["You won't like it,"] Mrs. Rodriguez said drily..["It's

the witch girl. Carlotta."]

"Jesus, now what?" Laura said. She picked up the squirm-

ing, bright-eyed baby and carried her into the living room.

Carlotta sat on the couch; she had brought a wicker basket

full of groceries. "Chow," she announced, nodding at the food.

"Good," Laura said. "How are you, Carlotta?"

"I'm jus' fine," Carlotta said sunnily. "Welcome to Grenada!

Real nice place you have here, I was just telling your mister."

"Carlotta gets to be our liaison today," David said.

"I don't mind, since Sticky's pretty busy," Carlotta said.

"Besides, I know the island, so I can tour y'all around. You

want some papaya juice, Laura?"

"Okay," Laura said. She took the other armchair, feeling

restless, wanting to run on the beach. No chance for that

though, not here. She balanced Loretta on her knee. "So the

Bank trusts you to show us around?"

"I'm wired for sound," Carlotta said, pouring. A light pair

of earphones circled her neck, trailing wire to a telephone on

her studded belt. She wore a short-sleeved cotton top, with

eight inches of bare freckled stomach between it and her red

leather miniskirt. "Y'all gotta be a little careful of the food

around here," Carlotta said. "They got houngans on this

island that can really fuck you up."

" 'Houngans?' " David said. "You mean those designer drug people?"

"Yeah, them. They got voodoo poisons here that can do

stuff to your CNS that I wouldn't do to a Pentagon Chief of

Staff! They ship those mad doctors in, high bio-techies, and

kind of crossbreed 'em with those old blowfish-poison zom-

bie masters, and they come out mean as a junkyard dog!"

She passed Laura a glass of juice. "If I was in Singapore

right now, I'd be burnin' joss!"

Laura stared unhappily into her glass. "Oh, you're fine and

safe with me," Carlotta said. "I bought all this in the

market myself."

"Thanks, that's very thoughtful," David said.

"Well, us Texans gotta stick together!" Carlotta reached

for the basket. "Y'all can try some of these little tamale

things, 'pastels' they call 'em. They're like little curries in

pastry. Indian food. East Indians I mean, they snuffed all the

local Indians a long time ago."

["Don't eat it!"] Mrs. Rodriquez protested. Laura ignored

her. "They're good," she said, munching.

"Yeah, they chased 'em off Sauteur's Point, Leaper's Point

that means," Carlotta said to David. "The Carib Indians.

They knew the Grenada settlers had their number, so they all

jumped off a cliff into the sea together, and died. That's

where we're going today-Sauteur's point. I got a car outside."

After breakfast they took Carlotta's car. It was a longer,

truck version of the Brazilian three-wheelers, with a kind of

motorcycle grip for manual driving. "I like manual driving,"

Carlotta confessed as they got in. "High speed, that's a big

premillennium kick." She beeped merrily with a thumb but-

ton as they rolled past the guards at the gate. The guards

waved; they seemed to know her. Carlotta gunned her engine,

spraying gravel down the weaving hillside road, until they hit

the highway.

"You think it's safe to leave the household slaveys with

our gear?" Laura asked David.

David shrugged. "I woke 'em up and put 'em to work.

Rita's weeding the roses, Jimmy's cleaning the pool, and

Rajiv gets to strip the fountain pump."

Laura laughed.

David cracked his knuckles, his eyes clouded with anticipa-

tion. "When we get back, we can hit it a lick ourselves."

"You want to work on the house?"

David looked surprised. "A great old place like that? Hell,

yes! Can't just let it rot!"

The highway was busier in daylight, lots of rusting old

Toyotas and Datsuns. Cars inched past a construction bottle-

neck, where a pick-and-shovel crew were killing time, sitting

in the shade of their steamroller. The crew stared at Carlotta,

grinning, as she inched the three-wheeler past. "Hey darleeng!"

one of them crowed, waving.

Suddenly a canvas-topped military truck appeared from the

north. The crew grabbed their picks and shovels and set to

with a will. The truck rumbled past them on the road's

shoulder-it was full of bored-looking NMM militia.

A mile later, they passed a town called Grand Roy. "I stay

at the Church here," Carlotta said, waving her arm as the

engine sputtered wildly. "It's a nice little temple, local girls,

they have funny ideas about the Goddess but we're bringin'

'em around."

Cane fields, nutmeg orchards, blue mountains off to the

west whose volcanic peaks cut a surf of cloud. They passed

two more towns, bigger ones: Gouyave, Victoria. Crowded

sidewalks with black women in garish tropical prints, a few

women in Indian saris; the ethnic groups didn't seem to mix

much. Not many children, but lots of khaki-clad militia. In

Victoria they drove past a bazaar, where weird choking music

gushed from chest-high sidewalk speakers, their owners sit-

ting behind fiberboard tables stacked high with tapes and

videos. Shoppers jostled coconut vendors and old men shov-

ing popsicle carts. High on the walls, out of reach of scrib-

blers, old AIDS posters warned against deviant sex-acts in

stiffly accurate health-agency prose.

After Victoria they turned west, circling the shoreline at the

northern tip of the island. The land began to rise.

Red loading cranes sketched the horizon over Point Sauteur,

like skeletal; sky-etching filigree. Laura thought again of the

red radio towers with their eerie leaping lights.... She reached

for David's hand. He squeezed it and smiled at her, below the

glasses; but she couldn't meet his eyes.

Then they were over a hill and suddenly they could see all

of it. A vast maritime complex sprawled offshore, like a steel

magnate's version of Venice, all sharp metallic angles and

rising fretworks and greenish water webbed with floating

cables.... Long protective jetties of white jumbled boulders,

stretching north for miles, spray leaping here and there against

their length, the inner waters calmed by fields of orange

wave-breaker buoys... .

"Mrs. Rodriguez," David said calmly. "We need an

oceaneering tech online. Tell Atlanta."

["Okay David, right away. "]

Laura counted thirty major installations standing offshore.

They were full of people. Most of them were old jackup

oil-drilling rigs, their fretted legs standing twenty stories tall,

their five-story bases towering high above the water. Martian

giants, their knees surrounded by loading docks and small

moored barges. Grenada's tropic sunlight gleamed fitfully

from aluminum sleeping cabins the size and shape of mobile

homes, seeming as small as toys aboard their rigs.

A pair of round, massive OTECS chugged placidly, suck-

ing hot seawater to power their ammonia boilers. Octopus

nests of floating cables led from the power stations to rigs

piled high with green-and-yellow tangles of hydraulics.

They pulled off the highway. Carlotta pointed: "That's

where, they jumped!" The cliffs of Point Sauteur were only

forty feet high, but the rocks below them looked nasty enough.

They would have looked better with raging romantic break-

ers, but the jetties and wave baffles had turned this stretch of

sea into a mud-colored simmering soup. "On a clear day you

can see Carriacou from the cliffs," Carlotta said. "Lot of

amazing stuff out on that little island-it's part of Grenada,
She parked the three-wheeler on a strip of white gravel

beside a drydock. Inside the drydock, blue-white arc welders

spat brilliance. They left the car.

A sea breeze crept onshore, stinking of ammonia and urea.

Carlotta threw her arms back and inhaled hugely. "Fertilizer

plants," Carlotta said. "Like the old days on the Gulf Coast,

huh?"

"My granddad used to work in those," David said. "The



old refinery complexes . . . you remember those, Carlotta?"

"Remember 'em?" She laughed. "These are them, I reckon.

They got all this dead tech dirt cheap-bought it, abandoned

in place." She slipped on her earphones and listened. "Andrei's

waiting . . . he can explain for y'all. C'mon."

They walked under the shadows of towering cranes, up the

limestone steps of a seawall, down to the waterfront. A

deeply tanned blond man sat on the stone dock, drinking

coffee with a pair of Grenadian longshoremen. All three men

wore loose cotton blouses, multipocketed jeans, hard hats,

and steel-toed deck shoes.

"At last, here they are," said the blond man, rising.

"Hello, Carlotta. Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Webster. And this

must be your little baby. What a cute little chicken." He

touched the baby's nose with a grease-stained forefinger. The

baby gurgled at him and gave him her best toothless smile.

"My name is Andrei Tarkovsky," the technician said. "I

was from Poland." He looked at his dirty hands apologeti-

cally. "Forgive me for not shaking."

"S'okay," David said.

"They have asked me to show you some of what we do

here." He waved at the end of the pier. "I have a boat."

The boat was a twelve-foot swamp runner with a blunt

prow and a water jet outboard. Andrei handed them life

jackets, including a small one for the baby. They belted up.

Loretta, amazingly, took it cheerfully. They climbed down a

short ladder onto the boat.

David sat in the stern. Laura and the baby took the bow,

facing backward, sitting on a padded thwart. Carlotta sprawled

in the bottom. Andrei shoved off and thumbed the engine on.

They scudded north over the slimy water.

David turned to Andrei and said something about catalytic

cracking units. At that moment a new voice came online.

["Hello Rizome-Grenada, this is Eric King in San Diego... .

Could you give me another look at that distillation unit.... No,

you, Laura, look at the big yellow thing-"]

"I'll take it," Laura shouted to David, putting her hand

over her ear. "Eric, where is it you want me to look?"

["To your left-yeah-jeez, I haven't seen one like that in

twenty years.... Could you give me just a straight, slow

scan from right to left. . . . Yeah, that's great." ] He fell silent

as Laura panned across the horizon.

Andrei and David were already arguing. "Yes, but you pay

for feedstocks," Andrei told David passionately. "Here we

have power from ocean thermals"-he waved at a chugging

OTEC-"which is free. Ammonia is NH3. Nitrogen from the

air, which is free. Hydrogen from the seawater, which is free.

All it costs is capital investment."

["Yeah, and maintenance,"] Eric King said sourly. "Yeah,

and maintenance," Laura said loudly.

"Is not a problem, with the modern polymers," Andrei

said smoothly. "Inert resins ... we paint them on ... reduce

corrosion almost to nothing. You must be familiar with these."

"Expensive," David said.

"Not for us," Andrei said. "We manufacture them."

He piloted them below a jackleg rig. When they crossed

the sharp demarcation of its shadow, Andrei cut the engine.

They drifted on; the rig's flat, two-acre flooring, riddled with

baroque plumbing, rose twenty feet above the shadowed wa-

ter. At a sea-level floating dock, a dreadlocked longshoreman

looked them over coolly, his face, framed in headphones.

Andrei guided them to one of the rig's four legs. Laura

could see the thick painted sheen of polymer on the great

load-bearing pipes and struts. There were no barnacles at the

waterline. No seaweed, no slime. Nothing grew on this struc-

ture. It was slick as ice.

David turned to Andrei, waving his hands animately. Car-

lotta slouched in the bottom of the boat and dangled her feet

over the side, smiling up at the bottom of the rig.

["I wanted to mention that my brother, Michael King,

stayed in your Lodge last year,"] King said online. ["He

spoke; really highly of it. "]

"Thanks, that's nice to know," Laura said into the air.

David was talking to Andrei, something about copper poison-

ing and embedded biocides. He ignored King, turning down

the volume on his earpiece.

["I've been following this Grenadian affair. Under the

awful circumstances, you've been doing well."]

"We appreciate that support and solidarity, Eric."

["My wife agrees with me on this-though she thinks the .

Committee could have managed better.... You're support-

ing the Indonesian, right? Suvendra?"]

Laura paused. She hadn't thought of the Committee elec-

tions in a while. Emily supported Suvendra. "Yeah, that's right."

["What about Pereira?"]

"I like Pereira, but I'm not sure he has the stuff," Laura

said. Carlotta grinned to see her, like an idiot, muttering into

midair at an unseen presence. Schizoid. Laura frowned. Too

much input at once. With her eyes and ears wired on separate

realities, her brain felt divided on invisible seams, everything

going slightly waxy and unreal. She was getting Net-burned.

["Okay, I know Pereira blew it in Brasilia, but he's honest.

What about Mr. Suvendra and this Islamic Bank business? That

doesn't bother you?"]

David, still rapt in conversation with the émigré Pole,

stopped suddenly and put his hand to his ear. "Islamic Bank

business," Laura thought, with a little cold qualm. Of course.

Someone from Rizome was negotiating with the Singapore

data pirates. And of course, it would be Suvendra. It fell

neatly into place: Ms. Emerson, and Suvendra, and Emily

Donato. The Rizome old girls' network in action.

"Um ... Eric," David said aloud. "This is not a private

line."

["Oh,"] King said in a small, now-I've-done-it voice.



"We'd be glad to have your input, if you could write it up

and send e-mail. Atlanta can encrypt it for you."

["Yeah, sure,"] King said. ["Stupid of me . . . my

apologies."] Laura felt sorry for him. She was glad David

had gotten him off her back, but she didn't like the way it

sounded. The guy was being frank and up-front, in very

Rizome-correct fashion, and here they were telling him to

mind his manners because they were on spook business. How

would it look?

David glanced at her and jerkily spread his hands, frown-

ing. He looked frustrated.

Television. A kind of shellac of television surrounded and

shielded both of them. It was like reaching out to touch

someone's face, but feeling your fingers hit cold glass instead.

Andrei fired up the engine again. They picked up speed,

scudding out to sea. Laura settled her videoglasses back

carefully, blinking as her hair whipped around her head.

Caribbean water, smiling tropical sun, the cool, gleaming

rush of speed below the bows. Intricate chunks of heavy

industry loomed above the polluted shallows, huge, peculiar,

ambitious ... full of insistent thereness. Laura closed her

eyes. Grenada! What in hell was she doing here? She felt

dazed, culture-shocked. A garbled crackling of talk from Eric

King. Suddenly the distant Net seemed to be digging into

Laura's head like an earwig. She felt a quick impulse to strip

off the glasses and fling them into the sea.

Loretta squirmed in her arms and tugged her blouse in a.

tight little fist. Laura forced her eyes open. Loretta was

reality, she thought, hugging her. Her unfailing little guide.

Real life was where the baby was.

Carlotta edged closer across the damp bottom of the boat.

She waved her arm around her head. "Laura, you know why,

all this?"

Laura shook her head.

"It's practice, that's what. Any one of these rigs-it could

hold the whole Grenada Bank!" Carlotta pointed at a bizarre

structure off to starboard-a flattened geodesic egg surrounded

by buttressed pontoons. It looked like a fat soccer ball on

bright orange spider's legs. "Maybe the Bank's computers

are in there," Carlotta insinuated. "Even if the Man comes

down on Grenada, the Bank can just duck aside, like electric

judo! All this ocean tech-they can jackleg way out into

international waters, where the Man just can't reach."

"The `Man'?" Laura said.

"The Man, the Combine, the Conspiracy. You know. The

Patriarchy. The Law, the Heat, the Straights. The Net. Them."

"Oh," Laura said. "You mean 'us.' "

Carlotta laughed.

Eric King broke in incredulously. ["Who is this strange

woman? Can you give me another scan of that geodesic

station? Thanks, uh, David . . . wild! You know what it looks

like? It looks like your Lodge!"]

"I was just thinking that!" David said loudly, cupping his

earphone. His eyes were riveted on the station and he was

half leaning over the gunwale. "Can we cruise by it, Andrei?"

Andrei shook his head.

The stations fell behind them, their angular derricks framed

against the curdled tropical green of the shoreline. The water

grew choppier. The boat began to rock, its flat prow spanking

each surge and flicking Laura's back with spray.

Andrei shouted and pointed off the port bow. Laura turned

to look. He was pointing at a long, gray-black dike, a seawall.

A four-story office building stood near one end of it.

The installation was huge-the black dike was at least sixty

feet high. Maybe a quarter mile long.

Andrei headed for it, and as they drew nearer, Laura saw

little white spires scratching the skyline above the dike-tall

street lights. Bicyclists rolled along the roadbed like gnats on

wheels. And the office building looked more and more peculiar as

they drew near-each story smaller than the last, stacked on a

slant, with long metal stairs on the outside. And on its roof, a

lot of tech busywork-satellite dishes, a radar mast.

The top story was round and painted nautical white. Like a

smokestack.

It was a smokestack.

["That's a U.L.C.C.!"] Eric King said.

"A what, Eric?" Laura said.

["Ultra-Large Crude Carrier. A supertanker. Biggest ships

ever built. Used to make the Persian Gulf run all the time,

back in the old days."] King laughed. ["Grenada has super-

tankers! I wondered where they'd ended up."]

"You mean it floats?" Laura said. "That seawall is a ship?

The whole thing moves?"

"It can load half a million tons," Carlotta said, luxuriating

in Laura's surprise. "Like a skyscraper full of crude. It's

bigger than the Empire State Building. Lots bigger." She

laughed. "Course they don't have no crude in it, now. It's a

righteous city now. One big factory."

They cruised toward it at full speed. Laura saw surface

surges cresting against its bulk, whacking against it like a

cliffside. The supertanker didn't show the slightest movement

in response. It was far, far too big for that. It wasn't like any

kind of ship she'd ever imagined. It was like someone had cut

off part of downtown Houston and welded it to the horizon.

And on the closer edge of the mighty deck she could

see-what? Mango trees, lines of flapping laundry, people

clustered at the long, long railing•.... Hundreds of them. Far

more than anybody could need for a crew. She spoke to

Carlotta. "They live there, don't they."

Carlotta nodded. "A lot goes on in these ships."

"You mean there's more than one?"

Carlotta shrugged. "Maybe." She tapped her own eyelid,

indicating Laura's videoglasses. "Let's just say Grenada makes

a pretty good flag of convenience."

Laura stared at the supertanker, scanning its length care-

fully for the sake of Atlanta's tapes. "Even if the Bank

bought it for junk-that's a lot of steel. Must have cost

millions. "

Carlotta snickered. "You're not too hip about black mar-

kets, huh? The problem's always cash. What to do with it, I

mean. Grenada's rich, Laura. And gettin' richer all the time."

"But why buy ships?"

"Now you're getting into ideology," Carlotta told her.

"Have to ask of Andrei about that."

Now Laura could see how old the monster was. Its sides

were blotted with great caking masses of rust, sealed shut

under layers of modem high-tech shellac. The shellac clung,

but badly; in places it had the wrinkled look of failing plastic

wrap. The ship's endless sheet-iron hull had flexed from heat

and cold and loading stress, and even the enormous strength

of modem bonded plastics couldn't hold. Laura saw stretch

marks, and broken-edged blisters of "boat pox," and patches

of cracked alligatoring where the plastic had popped loose in

plates, like dried mud. All this covered with patches of new

glue and big slathery drips of badly cured gunk. A hundred

shades of black and gray and rust. Here and there, work

gangs had spray-bombed the hull of the supertanker with

intricate colored graffiti. "TANKERSKANKERS," "MON-

GOOSE CREW-WE OPTIMAL," "CHARLIE NOGUES

BATALLION."

They tied up at a floating sea-level dock. The dock was

like a flattened squid of bright yellow rubber, with radiating

walkways and a floating bladder-head in the center. A bird-

cage elevator slid down the dock's moored cable from a

deck-level gantry seventy feet up. They followed Andrei into

the cage and it rose, jerkily. David, who enjoyed heights,

watched avidly through the bars as the sea shrank below

them. Below his dark glasses, he grinned like a ten-year-old.

He was really enjoying this, Laura realized as she clutched

the baby's tote, white-knuckled. It was all right up his alley.

The gantry swung them over the deck. Laura saw the

gantry's operator as they passed-she was an old black woman

in dreadlocks, shuffling her knobbed gearshifts and rhythmi-

cally chewing gum. Below them, the monstrous deck stretched

like an airport runway, broken with odd-looking functional

clusters: dogged hatches, ridged metal vents, fireplugs, foam

tanks, foil-wrapped hydraulic lines bent in reverse U's over

the bicycle paths. Long tents, too, and patches of garden:

trees in tubs, stretched greenhouse sheets of plastic over rows

of citrus. And neatly stacked mountains of stuffed burlap bags.

They descended over a taped X on the deck and settled

with a bump. "Everybody off," Andrei said. They stepped

out and the elevator rose at once. Laura sniffed the air. A

familiar scent under the rust and brine and plastic. A wet,

fermenting smell, like tofu.

"Scop!" David said, delighted. "Single-cell protein!"

"Yes," Andrei said. "The Charles Nogues is a food ship."

"Who's this 'Nogues'?" David asked him.

"He was a native hero," Andrei said,, his face solemn.

Carlotta nodded at David. "Charles Nogues threw himself

off a cliff."

"What?" David said.. "He was one of those Carib Indians?"

"No, he was a Free Coloured. They came later, they were

anti-slavery. But the Redcoat army showed up, and they died

fighting." Carlotta paused. "It's an awful fuckin' mess, Gre-

nada history. I learned all this from Sticky."

"The crew of this ship are the vanguard of the New Millen-

nium Movement," Andrei declared. The four of them fol-

lowed his lead, strolling toward the distant, looming high-rise

of the ship's super-structure. It was hard not to see it as some

peculiar office complex, because the ship itself felt so city-

solid underfoot. Traffic passed them on the bicycle paths,

men pedaling loaded cargo-rickshaws. "Trusted party cad-

res," said blond, Polish Andrei. "Our nomenklatura."

Laura fell a step behind, hefting the baby in her tote, while

David and Andrei walked forward, shoulder to shoulder.

"It's starting to make a certain conceptual sense," David told

him.-"This time, if you get chased off your own island like

Nogues and the Caribs, you'll have a nice place to jump to.

Right?" He waved at the ship around them.

Andrei nodded soberly. "Grenada remembers her many

invasions. Her people are very brave, and visionaries too, but

she's a small country. But the ideas here today are big,

David. Bigger than boundaries."

David looked Andrei up and down, taking his measure.

"What the hell is a guy from Gdansk doing here, anyway?"

"Life is dull in the Socialist Bloc," Andrei told him airily.

"All consumer socialism, no spiritual values. I wanted to be

with the action. And the action is South, these days. The

North, our developed world-it is boring. Predictable. This is

the edge that cuts."

"So you're not one of those 'mad-doctor' types, huh?"

Andrei was contemptuous. "Such people are useful, only.

We buy them, but they have no true role in the New Millen-

nium Movement. They don't understand people's Tech."

Laura could hear the capital letters in his emphasis. She

didn't like the way this was going at all.

She spoke up. "Sounds very nice. How do you square that

with dope factories and data piracy?"

"All information should be free," Andrei told her, slowing

his walk. "As for drugs-" He reached into a side pocket in

his jeans. He produced a flat roll of shiny paper and handed it

to her.

Laura looked it over. Little peel-off rectangles of sticky-



backed paper. It looked like a blank roll of address labels.

"So?"


"You paste them on," Andrei said patiently. "The glue

has an agent, which carries the drug through the skin. The

drug came from a wetware lab, it is synthetic THC, the active

part of marijuana. Your little roll of paper is the same, you

see, as many kilograms of hashish. It is worth about twenty

ecu. Very little." He paused. "Not so thrilling, so romantic,

eh? Not so much to get excited about."

"Christ," Laura said. She tried to hand it back.

"Please keep it, it means very little."

Carlotta spoke up. "She can't hold this, Andrei. Come on,

they're online and the bosses are lookin'." She stuffed the

roll of paper into her purse, grinning at Laura. "You know,

Laura, if you'd point those glasses over there to starboard, I

can slap a little of this crystal on the back of your neck, and

nobody in Atlanta will ever know. You can rush like Niagara

on this stuff. Crystal THC, girl! The Goddess was cruisin'

when She invented that one."

"Those are mind-altering drugs," Laura protested. She

sounded stuffy and virtuous, even to herself. Andrei smiled

indulgently, and Carlotta laughed aloud. "They're danger-

ous," Laura said.

"Maybe you think it will jump off the paper and bite

you," Andrei said. He waved politely at a passing Rastaman.

"You know what I mean," Laura said.

"Oh, yes"-Andrei yawned-"you never use drugs your-

self, but what about the effect on people who are stupider and

weaker than you, eh? You are patronizing other people.

Invading their freedoms."

They walked past a huge electric anchor winch, and a giant

pump assembly, with two-story painted tanks in a jungle of

pipes. Rastas with hard hats and clipboards paced the cat-

walks over the pipes.

"You're not being fair," David said. "Drugs can trap

people. "

"Maybe," Andrei said. "If they have nothing better in

their lives. But look at the crew on this ship. Do they seem

like drugged wreckage to you? If America suffers from drugs,

perhaps you should ask what America is lacking."

["What an asshole,"] Eric King commented suddenly.

They ignored him.

Andrei led them up three flights of perforated iron stairs,

bracketed to the portholed superstructure of the Charles Nogues.

There was an intermittent flow of locals up and down the

stairs, with chatting crowds on the landings. Everyone wore

the same pocketed jeans and the standard-issue cotton blouses.

But a chosen few had plastic shirtpocket protectors, with

pens. Two pens, or three pens, or even four. One guy, a

beer-bellied Rasta with a frown and bald spot, had half a

dozen gold-plated fibertips. He was followed by a crowd of

flunkies. "Whoopee, real Socialism," Laura muttered at

Carlotta.

"I can take the baby if you want." Carlotta said, not

hearing her. "You must be getting tired."

Laura hesitated. "Okay." Carlotta smiled as Laura handed

her the tote. She slung its strap over her shoulder. "Hello,

Loretta," she cooed, poking at the baby. Loretta looked up at

her doubtfully and decided to let it pass.

They stepped through a hatch door, with rounded corners

and a rubber seal, into the fluorescent lights of a hall. Lots of

old scratched teak, scuffed linoleum. The walls were hung

with stuff-"People's Art," Laura guessed, lots of child-

bright tropical reds and golds and greens, dreadlocked men

and women reaching toward a slogan-strewn blue sky... .

"This is the bridge," Andrei announced. It looked like a

television studio, dozens of monitor screens, assorted cryptic

banks of knobs and switches, a navigator's table with elbowed

lamps and cradled telephones. Through a glassed-in

wall above the monitors, the deck of the ship stretched out

like a twenty-four-lane highway. There were little patches of

ocean, way, way down there, looking too distant to matter

much. Glancing through the windows, Laura saw that there

were a pair of big cargo barges on the supertanker's port side.

They'd been completely hidden before, by the sheer rising

bulk of the ship. The barges pumped their loads aboard

through massive ribbed pipelines. There was a kind of uneasy

nastiness to the sight, vaguely obscene, like the parasitic

sexuality of certain deep-sea fish.

"Don't you wanna look?" Carlotta asked her, swinging the

baby back and forth at her hip. Andrei and David were

already deeply engrossed, examining gauges and talking a

mile a minute. Really absorbing topics, too, like protein

fractionation and slipstream turbulence. A ship's officer was

helping explain, one of the bigwigs with multiple pens. He

looked weird: velvety black skin and straight blond flaxen

hair. "This is more David's sort of thing," Laura said.

"Well, could you go offline for a second, then?"

"Huh?" Laura paused. "Anything you want to tell me,

you ought to be able to tell Atlanta."

"You gotta be kidding," Carlotta said, rolling her eyes.

"What's the deal, Laura? We talked private all the time at the

Lodge, and nobody bothered us then."

Laura considered. "What do you think, online?"

["Well, hell, I trust you,"] King said. ["Go for it! You're

in no danger that I can see."]

"Well . . . okay, as long as David's here to watch over

me." Laura stepped to the navigator's table, took off her

videoglasses and earplug, and set them down. She backed

away and rejoined Carlotta, careful to stay in view of the

glasses. "There. Okay?"

"You've got really strange eyes, Laura," Carlotta murmured.

"Kind of yellow-green.... I'd forgotten how they

looked. It's easier to talk to you when you don't have that rig

on-kinda makes you look like a bug."

"Thanks a lot," Laura said. "Maybe you ought to take it a

little easy on the hallucinogens."

"What's this high-and-mighty stuff?" Carlotta said. "This

grandmother of yours, Loretta Day, that you think so much

of-she got busted for drugs once. Didn't she?"

Laura was startled. "What's my grandmother got to do

with it?"

"Only that she raised you, and looked after you, not like

your real mother. And I know you thought a lot of old

granny." Carlotta tossed her hair, pleased at Laura's look of

shock. "We know all about you . . . and her . . . and

David. . . . The farther you go back, the easier it is to sneak

the records out. 'Cause no one's keeping guard on all the

data. There's just too much of it to watch, and no one really

cares! But the Bank does-so they've got it all."

Carlotta narrowed her eyes. "Marriage certificates-divorces

-charge cards, names, addresses, phones. . . . Newspapers,

scanned over twenty, thirty years, by computers, for every

single mention of your name.... I've seen their dossier on

you. On Laura Webster. All kinds of photos, tapes, hundreds

of thousands of words." Carlotta paused. "It's really

weird. . . . I know you so well, I feel like I'm inside your

head, in a way. Sometimes I know what you'll say even

before you say it, and it makes me laugh."

Laura felt herself flush. "I can't stop you from invading

my privacy. Maybe that gives you an unfair advantage over

me. But I don't make final decisions-I'm only representing

my people." A group of officers broke up around one of the

screens, leaving the bridge with looks of stern devotion to

duty. "Why are you telling me this, Carlotta?"

"I'm not sure ..." Carlotta said, looking genuinely puz-

zled, even a little hurt. "I guess it's cause I don't want to see

you walk blind into what's coming down for you. You think

you're safe cause you work for the Man, but the Man's had

his day. The real future's here, in this place." Carlotta low-

ered her voice and stepped closer; she was serious. "You're

on the wrong side, Laura. The losin' side, in the long run.

These people have hold of things that the Man don't want

trifled with. But there's not a thing the Man can do about it,

really. Cause they got his number. And they can do things

here that straights are scared to even think about."

Laura rubbed her left ear, a little sore from its plug-in

phone. "You're really impressed by that black market tech,

Carlotta?"

"Sure, there's that," Carlotta said, shaking her tousled

head. "But they got Louison, the Prime Minister. He can

raise up his Optimals. He can call 'em out, Laura-his Perso-

nas, understand? They walk around in broad daylight, while

he never leaves that old fort. I've seen 'em . . . walkin' the

streets of the capital .... little old men." Carlotta shivered.

Laura stared at Carlotta with mixed annoyance and pity.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Don't you know what an Optimal Persona is? It's got no

substance, time and distance mean nothing to it. It can look

and listen . . . spy on you. . . . Or maybe walk right through

your body! And two days later you drop dead without a mark

on you. "

Laura sighed; Carlotta had had her going for a moment

there. She could understand outlaw tech; but mystic bullshit

had never done much for her. David and the Polish émigré

were going over a CADCAM readout, all smiles. "Does

Andrei believe all this?"

Carlotta shrugged, her face closing up, becoming distant

again. "Andrei's a political. We get all kinds in Grenada... .

But it all adds up in the end."

"Maybe it does . . . if you're batshit."

Carlotta gave her a look of pious sorrow. "I better put my

rig back on," Laura said.
They had lunch with the ship's captain. He was the potbel-

lied character with the six gold pens. His name was Blaize.

Nineteen of the ship's other commissars joined him in the

supertanker's cavernous dining room, with its hinged chande-

liers and oak wainscoting. They dined off old gold-rimmed

china with the insignia of the P&O Shipping Line and were

served by teenage waiters in uniform, hauling big steel tu-

reens. They ate scop. Various hideous forms of it. Soups.

Nutmeg-flavored mock chicken breast. Little fricasseed things

with toothpicks in them.

Eric King didn't wait through lunch. He signed offline,

leaving them with Mrs. Rodriguez.

"We are by no means up to capacity," Captain Blaize

announced in a clipped Caribbean drawl. "But we come, by

and by, a little closer to the production quotas each and every

month. -By this action, we relieve the strain on Grenada's

productive soil ... and its erosion ... and the overcrowding

as well, you understand, Mr. Webster " Blaize's voice

drifted through a singsong cadence, causing strange waves of

glazed ennui to course through Laura's brain. "Imagine, Mr.

Webster, what a fleet of ships, like this, could do, for the

plight of Mother Africa."

"Yeah. I mean, I grasp the implications," David said,

digging into his scop with gusto.

Light background music was playing. Laura listened with

half an ear. Some kind of slick premillennium crooner on

vocals, lots of syrupy strings and jazzy razzing saxophones

..."(something something) for you, dear ... buh buh buh

boooh ..." She could almost identify the singer ... from

old movies. Cosby, that was it. Bing Cosby.

Now digitizing. effects started creeping in and something

awful began to happen. Suddenly a bandersnatch had jumped

into Cosby's throat. His jovial white-guy Anglo good vibes

stretched like electric taffy-arrooooh, werewolf noises. Now

Bing was making ghastly hub hub hub backward croonings,

like a sucking chest wound. The demented noise was filtering

around the diners but no one was paying attention.

Laura turned to the young three-pen cadre on her left. The

guy was waving his fingers over Loretta's tote and looked up

guiltily when she asked. "The music? We call it didge-Ital

... dig-ital, seen, D.J.-Ital.... Mash it up right on the ship."

Yeah. They were doing something awful to poor old Bing

while he wasn't looking. He sounded like his head was made

of sheet metal.

Now Blaize and Andrei were lecturing David about money.

The Grenadian rouble. Grenada had a closed; cash-free economy;

everybody on the island had personal credit cards, drawn on the

bank. This policy kept that "evil global currency," the ecu, out of

local circulation. And that "razored off the creeping tentacles"

of the Net's "financial and cultural imperialism."

Laura listened to their crude P.R. with sour amusement.

They wouldn't crank out this level of rhetoric unless they

were trying to hide a real weakness, she thought. It was clear

that the Bank kept the whole population's credit transactions

on file, just so they could look over everybody's shoulders.

But that was Orwell stuff. Even bad old Mao and Stalin

couldn't make that kind of crap work out.

- David raised his brows innocently and asked about "left-

hand payments," an old tag line from East Bloc premillennium

days. Andrei got a stiff and virtuous look on his face. Laura

hid her smile with a forkful of mock carrots. She'd bet

anything that a wad of paper ecu, under the table, would buy

the average Grenadian body and soul. Yeah, it was just like

those old-time Russki hustlers, who used to pester tourists in

Moscow for dollars, back when there were dollars. Big fleas

had little fleas, big black markets had little black markets.

Funny!

Laura felt pleased, sure she was on to something. Tonight



she'd have to write Debra Emerson in Atlanta, on an encrypted

line, and tell her: yeah, Debra, here's a place to stick a

crowbar. Debra'd know how, too: it was just like bad old

CIA work before the Abolition. . . . What did they used to

call it? Destabilization.

"It's not like the Warsaw Pact, _before openness," contin-

ued Andrei, shaking his handsome blond head. "Our island is

more like little OPEC country-Kuwait, Abu Dhabi. . . . Too

much easy money eats the social values, makes life like

Disneyland, all fat Cadillacs and the cartoon mouses ... empty,

meaningless. "

Blaize smiled a little, his eyes half closed, like a dreadlocked

Buddha. "Without Movement discipline," he rumbled smoothly,

"our money would flow back, like water downhill . . . from

the Third World periphery, down to the centers of the Net.

Your `free market' cheats us; it's a Babylon slave market in

truth! Babylon would drain away our best people, too ... they

would go to where the phones already work, where the streets

are already paved. They want the infrastructure, where the

Net is woven thickest, and it's easiest to prosper. It is a

vicious cycle, making Third World sufferation."

"But today the adventure is here!" Andrei broke in, leaning

forward. "No more frontiers in your America, David, my

friend! Today it's all lawyers and bureaucrats and `social

impact statements'.... "

Andrei sneered and slapped his fork on the tabletop. "Huge

prison walls of paperwork to crush the life and hope from

modern pioneers! Just as ugly, just such a crime, as the old

Berlin Wall, David. Only more clever, with better public

relations." He glanced at Laura, sidelong. "Scientists and

engineers, and architects, too, yes-we brothers, David, who

do the world's true work-where is our freedom? Where, eh?"

Andrei paused, tossing his head to flick back a loose wing

of blond hair. Suddenly he had the dramatic look of an orator

on a roll, a man drawing inspiration from deep wells of

sincerity. "We have no freedom! We cannot follow our

dreams, our visions. Governments and corporations break us

to their harness! For them, we make only colored toothpaste,

softer toilet paper, bigger TVs to stupefy the masses!" He

chopped air with his hands. "It's an old man's world today,

with old man's values! With soft, cozy padding on all the

sharp corners, with ambulances always standing by. Life is

more than this, David. Life has to be more than this!"

The ship's officers had stopped to listen. As Andrei paused,

they nodded among themselves. "I-rey, mon, star righ-

teous Laura watched them trade sturdy looks of macho

comradeship. The air felt syrup-thick with their ship crew's

gemeineschaft, reinforced by the Party line. It felt familiar to

Laura, like the good community feeling at a Rizome meeting,

but stronger, less rational. Militant-and scary, because it felt

so good. It tempted her.

She sat quietly, trying to relax, to see through their eyes

and feel and understand. Andrei blazed on, hitting his stride

now, preaching about the Genuine Needs of the People, the

social role of the Committed Technician. It was a mishmash:

Food, and Liberty, and Meaningful Work. And the New Man

and New Woman, with their hearts with the people, but their

eyes on the stars.... Laura watched the crew. What must

they be feeling? Young, most of them; the committed Move-

ment elite, taken from those sleepy little island towns into a

place like this. She imagined them running up and down the

deck stairs of their strange steel world, hot and fervid, like

hopped-up lab rats. Sealed in a bottle and drifting away from

the Net's laws and rules and standards.

Yeah. So many changes, so many shocks and novelties;

they broke people up inside. Dazzled by potential, they longed

to throw out the rules and limits, all the checks and balances-

all discredited now, all lies of the old order. Sure, Laura

thought. This was why Grenada's cadres could chop genes

like confetti, rip off data for their Big Brother dossiers, and

never think twice. When the People march in one direction, it

only hurts to ask awkward questions.

Revolutions. New Orders. For Laura the words had the

cobwebby taste of twentieth-century thinking. Visionary mass

movements were all over the 1900s, and whenever they broke

through, blood followed in buckets. Grenada could be 1920s

Russia, 1940s Germany, 1980s Iran. All it would take was a war.

Of course it wouldn't be a big war, not nowadays. But

even a little terror war could turn things septic in a little place

like Grenada. Just enough killing to raise the level of hysteria

and make every dissident a traitor. A little war, she thought,

like the one beginning to seethe already... .

Andrei stopped. David smiled at him uneasily. "I can see

you've given this speech before."

"You are skeptical about talk," Andrei said, throwing

down his napkin. "That's only wise. But we can show you

the facts and the practice." He paused. "Unless you want to

wait for dessert."

David looked at Laura and Carlotta. "Let's go," Laura

said. Sweetened scop was nothing to linger for.

They nodded at the crew, thanked the captain politely, left

the table. They exited the dining room by another hallway

and stopped by a pair of elevators. Andrei punched a button

and they stepped in; the doors slid shut behind them.

Static roared in Laura's head. "Jesus Christ!" David said,

clutching his earpiece. "We just went offline!"

Andrei glanced once, over his shoulder, skeptically. "Re-

lax, yes? It's only a moment. We can't wire everything."

"Oh," David said. He glanced at Laura. Laura stood

clutching the tote as the elevator descended. Yeah, they'd lost

the armor of television, and here they stood helpless: Andrei

and Carlotta could jump them . jab them with knockout

needles.... They'd wake up somewhere strapped to tables

with dope-crazed voodoo doctors sewing little poisoned time

bombs into their brains.... ;

Andrei and Carlotta stood flat-footed, with the patient,

bovine look of people in elevators. Nothing whatever happened.

The doors slid open. Laura and David rushed out into the

corridor, clutching their headsets. Long, long seconds of

crackling static. Then a quick staccato whine of datapulse.

Finally, high-pitched anxious shouting in Spanish.

"We're fine, fine, just a little break," Laura told Mrs.

Rodriguez. David reassured her at length, in Spanish. Laura

missed the words, but not the distant tone of voice: frantic

little-old-lady fear, sounding weak and tremulous. Of course,

good old Mrs. Rodriguez, she was only worried for them; but

despite herself, Laura felt annoyed. She adjusted her glasses

and straightened self-consciously.

Andrei was waiting for them, suffering fools gladly, hold-

ing a side door. Beyond it was a scrubbing room, with

shower stalls and stainless-steel sinks under harsh blue light,

and air that smelled of soap and ozone. Andrei yanked open a

rubber-sealed locker. Its shelves were stacked with fresh-

pressed scrub garments in surgical green: tunics, drawstring

pants, hairnets and surgical masks, even little crinkly, tie-on

galoshes.

"Mrs. Rodriguez," David said, excited. "Looks like we

need a Rizome bio-tech online."

Andrei stretched over a sink, catching an automatic drip

feed of pink disinfectant. He lathered up vigorously. Beside

him, Carlotta caught water in a sterile paper cup. Laura saw

her palm a red Romance pill from her purse. She knocked it

back with the ease of long practice.

From within her tote, Loretta wrinkled up her little eyes.

She didn't like the scrub room's light, or maybe it was the

smell. She whimpered rhythmically, then began screaming.

Her yells echoed harshly from the walls and scared her into

new convulsions of effort. "Oh, Loretta," Laura chided her.

"And you've been so good lately, too." She kicked down the

tote's wire rocker stand and rocked it on the floor; but Loretta

only turned tomato-red and flung her chubby arms wildly.

Laura checked her diaper and sighed. "Can I change her in

here, Andrei?"

Andrei was rinsing his neck; he pointed with his elbow at a

disposal chute. Laura dug in the back of the tote and unrolled

the changing pad from its tube. "That's cute," Carlotta said,

crowding up and peering over her shoulder. "Like a window shade. "

"Yeah," Laura said. "See, you press this button on the

side, and little bubble-cell padding pops up." She spread the

pad over a laminated counter and set Loretta on it. The baby

wailed in existential terror.

Her little kicking rump was caked with shit. By this time,

Laura had learned to look at it without really seeing it. She

cleaned it deftly with an oiled napkin, not saying anything.

Carlotta was squeamish and looked away, at the tote.

"Wow! This thing is really intricate! Hey look, these flaps

pop out and you can make it into a baby bath . . . "

"Hand me the powder, Carlotta." Laura puffed dry spray

on the baby's rump and sealed her in a new diaper. Loretta

howled like a lost soul.

David came up. "You get scrubbed, I'll take her." Loretta

had one look at her father's surgical mask and screamed in

anguish. "For heaven's sake," David said.

["You shouldn't take your baby into a bio-hazard zone,"]

said a new voice online.

"You don't think so?" David shouted. "She won't like

wearing the mask, that's for sure."

Carlotta looked up. "I could take her," she said meekly.

["Don't trust her,"] online said at once.

"We can't let the baby out of our sight," David told

Carlotta. "You understand."

"Well," Carlotta said practically, "I could wear Laura's

headset. And that way, Atlanta could watch everything I did.

And meanwhile Laura would be safe with you."

Laura hesitated. "My earplug's custom-made."

"It's flexible, I. could wear it for a while. C'mon, I can do

it, I'd like to."

"What do you think, online?" David said.

["It's me, Millie Syers, from Raleigh,"] online told them.

["You remember. John and I and our boys were in your

Lodge, last May."]

"Oh, hello," Laura said. "How are you, Professor Syers?"

["Well, I got over my sunburn."] Millie Syers laughed.

["And please don't call me Professor; it's very non-R. Any-

way, if you want my advice, I wouldn't leave any baby of

mine with some data pirate dressed like a hooker."]

"She is a hooker," David said. Carlotta smiled.

["Well! I guess that explains it. Must not see many babies

in her line of work.... Hmmm, if she wore Laura's rig, I

suppose I could watch what she did, and if she tries anything

I could scream. But what's to keep her from dropping the

glasses and running off with the baby?"]

"We're in the middle of a supertanker, Millie," David

said. "We got about three thousand Grenadians all around us."

Andrei looked up from tying his galoshes. "Five thousand,

David," he said, over the baby's piercing sobs. "Are you not

sure you are both carrying this a bit far? All these little

quibbles of security?"

"I promise she'll be all right," Carlotta said. She raised

her right hand, with the center finger bent down into the

palm. "I swear it by the Goddess."

["Good heavens, she's one of"] said Millie Syers, but

Laura lost the rest as she stripped off her rig. It felt glorious

to have it out of her head. She felt free and clean for the first

time in ages; a weird feeling, with the sudden strange urge to

jump in a shower stall and soap down.

She locked eyes with Carlotta. "All right, Carlotta. I'm trusting

you, with what I love best in the world. You under-

stand that, don't you? I don't have to say anything more."

Carlotta nodded soberly, then shook her head.

Laura scrubbed and got quickly into the gear. The baby's

howling was driving them out of the room.

Andrei ushered them to another elevator, at the back of the

scrub room. She looked back one last time at the door and

saw Carlotta walking back and forth with the baby, singing.

Andrei stepped in after them, turned his back, and pushed

the button. "We're losing the signal again," David warned.

The steel doors slid shut.

They descended slowly. Suddenly Laura was shocked to

feel David tenderly pat her ass. She jumped and stared at him.

"Hey, babe," he murmured. "We're offline. Wow."

He was starved for privacy.

And here they had almost thirty seconds of it. As long as

Andrei didn't turn and look. She glanced at David in frustration,

wanting to tell him what? To reassure him that it wasn't so bad.

And that she felt it, too. And that they could tough it out together,

but he'd better behave himself. And yeah, that it was a funny thing to

do, and she was sorry she was jumpy.

But absolutely none of it could get across to him. With the

surgical mask and the gold-etched glasses, David's face had

turned totally alien. No human contact.

The doors opened; there was a sudden rush of air and their

ears popped. They turned left into another hall. "It's okay,

Millie," David said distractedly. "We're fine, leave Carlotta

alone... .

He kept mumbling from behind his mask, shaking his head

and talking into the air. Like a madman. It was odd how

peculiar it looked when you weren't doing it yourself. This

hall looked peculiar, too: strangely funky and makeshift, the

ceiling tilted, the walls out of true. It was cardboard, that

was it-brown cardboard and thin wire mesh, but all of it

lacquered over with a thick, steel-hard ooze of translucent

plastic. The lights overhead were wired with extension cord,

cheap old household extension cord, all stapled to the ceiling

and sealed under thick lacquered gunk. It was all stapled,

there wasn't a nail in it anywhere. Laura touched the wall,

wondering. It was quality plastic, slick and hard as porcelain,

and she knew from the feel of it that a strong man couldn't

dent it with an axe. But there was so much of it-and it cost so much

to make! Yeah, but maybe not so much-if you didn't pay insurance,

or worker's comp, and never shut down for safety inspec-

tions, and didn't build failsafes and crashproof control sys-

tems and log every modification in triplicate. Sure; even

nuclear power was cheap if you played fast and loose.

But bio-safety rules were ten times as strict, or supposed to

be. Maybe plutonium was bad, but at least it couldn't jump

out of a tank and grow by itself.

"This hall is made of cardboard! David said.

"No, it's thermal epoxy over cardboard," Andrei told him.

"You see that plug? Live steam. We can boil this entire hall

at any moment. Not that we would need to, of course."

At the hall's end, they stopped by a tall sealed hatchway. It

had the international symbol of bio-hazard: the black-and-

yellow, triple-horned circle. Good graphic design, Laura thought

as Andrei worked the hatch wheel; as frightening in its ele-

gant way as a skull and crossbones.

They stepped through.

They emerged on a landing of lacquered bamboo. It stood

forty feet in the air, overlooking a steel cavern the size of an

aircraft hangar. They'd reached a section of the supertanker's

hold; its floor-the steel hull-was gently curved. And lit-

tered with surreal machinery, like the careless toys of some

giant ten-year-old with a taste for chemistry sets.

The cardboard corridor, and their bamboo landing, and its

sloping, spidery catwalks, were all bolted to a monster bulk-

head at their backs. The hangar's far bulkhead rose in the

distance, a great gray wall of girder-stiffened steel-this one

spread with a giant polychrome mural. A mural of men and

women in berets and fatigue shirts, marching under banners,

their pie-cut painted eyes as big as basketballs, fixed in

midair . . . their brown arms rounded and monolithic, gleam-

ing like wax in a strange underwater glare.

The hangar's eerie lighting flowed from liquid chandeliers.

They were glass-bottomed steel tubs, big as children's wading

pools, full of cool and oozy radiance. Thick, white, lumines-

cent goo. It threw weird shadows on the dents and ripples of

the cardboard ceiling.

It was loud here: industrial chugging and gurgling, with the

busy whir of loaded motors and the thrum and squeal of

plumbing. The warm, moist air smelled bland and pleasant,

like boiled rice. With strange reeks cutting through-the chemi-

cal tang of acid, a chalk-dust whiff of lime. A plumber's dope

dream: great towers of ribbed stainless steel, jutting three

stories tall, their knobby bases snaked with tubing. Indicator

lights in Christmas-tree red and green, glossy readout panels

shining like cheap jewelry. . . . Scores of crew people in

white paper overalls-checking readouts, leaning over long,

glass-topped troughs full of steamy, roiling oatmeal .. .

They followed Andrei down the stairs, David carefully

scanning everything and mumbling into his set. "Why aren't

they wearing scrub gear?" Laura asked.

"We wear the scrub gear," Andrei said. "It's clean down

here. But we have wild bugs on our skin." He laughed.

"Don't sneeze or touch things."

Three flights down, still above the hull, they detoured onto

a catwalk. It led to glass-fronted offices, which overlooked

the plant from a bamboo pier.

Andrei led them inside. It was quiet and cool in the offices,

with filtered air and electric lights. There were desks, phones,

office calendars, a fridge beside stacked cartons of canned

Pepsi-Cola. Like an office back in the States, Laura thought,

looking around. Maybe twenty years behind the times .. .

A door marked "PRIVATE" opened suddenly, and an Anglo

man backed through it. He was working. a pump-piston aero-

sol spray. He turned and noticed them. "Oh! Hi, uh, Andrei

"Hello," Laura said. "I'm Laura Webster, this is David,

my husband...."

"Oh, it's you folks! Where's your baby?" Unlike everyone

they'd seen so far, the stranger wore a suit and tie. It was an

old suit, in the flashy "Taipan" style that had been all the

rage, ten years ago. "Didn't want to bring the little guy down

here, huh? Well it's perfectly safe, you needn't have wor-

ried." He peered at them; light gleamed from his glasses.

"You can take off those masks, it's okay inside here.... You

don't have, like, flu or anything?"

Laura pulled her mask below her chin. "No."

"I'll have to ask you not to use the, um, toilets." He

paused. "It's all linked together down here, see-all sealed

tight and recycled. Water, oxygen, the works! Just like a

space station." He smiled.

"This is Dr. Prentis," Andrei told them.

"Oh!" Prentis said. "Yeah. I'm kind of the head honcho

down here, as you must've guessed. . . . You're Americans,

right? Call me Brian."

"A pleasure, Brian." David offered his hand.

Prentis winced. "Sorry, now, that's not kosher, either....

You guys want a Pepsi?" He set his sprayer on a desk and

opened the fridge. "Got some Doo-Dads, Twinkies, beef

jerky . . . "

"Uh, we just ate...." David was listening to something

online. "Thanks anyway."

"All plastic-sealed, all perfectly safe! Right out of the

carton! You're sure? Laura?" Prentis popped a Pepsi. "Oh,

well, all the more for me."

"My contact online," David said. "She wants to know if you're

the Brian Prentis who did the paper on ... I'm sorry, I

didn't quite catch that-polysaccharide something."

Prentis nodded, shortly. "Yeah. I did that."

"Reception's a little scratchy down here," David apologized.

"At Ohio State. Long time ago," Prentis said. "Who is

this person? Somebody from your Rizome, right?"

"Professor Millie Syers, a Rizome Fellow at North Carolina State ... "

"Never heard of her," Prentis said. "So! What's new

Stateside, huh? How about that `L. A. Live' comedy show? I

never miss an episode."

"They say it's very funny," Laura said. She never watched it.

"Those guys who do the 'Breadhead Brothers,' they slay

me." Prentis paused. "We can get everything down here,

y'know. Anything that hits the Net-not just American! Those

Stateside cable companies, they edit out a lot. Brazilian exot-

ics ..." He winked clumsily. "And that Japanese blue

stuff-whew!"

"Porn doesn't sell like it used to," Laura said.

"Yeah, they're stuffy, they're uptight," Prentis nodded.

"I don't hold with that. I believe in Total openness ... honesty,

y'know? People shouldn't go through life with blinders on."

"Can you tell us what you do here?" Laura said.

"Oh. Surely. We use auxotrophic E. coli, they're homoserine

auxotrophs mostly, though we use double auxotrophy if we're

trying anything ticklish.... And the fermenters, the tower

rigs, those are saccharomyces.... It's a standard strain, Pruteen

copyright, nothing very advanced, just tried-and-true scop

technology. At eighty percent capacity, we pump about fif-

teen metric tons per rig per day, dry weight. . . . Of course

we don't leave it raw, though. We do a lot of what they call

cosmetics-palate work."

Prentis walked toward the windows. "Those smaller troughs

are bell-and-whistle rigs. Texture, flavoring, secondary fer-

mentation ..." He smiled at Laura, glassily. "It's very

much the normal things that any housewife might do in the

comfort of her own kitchen! Blenders, microwaves, eggbeaters;

just a little scaled up, that's all."

Prentis glanced at David and away; the dark glasses both-

ered him. He looked to Laura, gazing raptly at her bustline.

"It's not so new, really. If you've ever eaten bread or cheese

or beer, you're eating molds and yeasts. All that stuff: tofu,

soy sauce; you'd be amazed what they have to go through to

make soy sauce. And believe it or not, it's far safer than

so-called natural foods. Fresh vegetables!" Prentis barked

with laughter. "They're chock-full of natural poisons! There

are cases on record where people have died outright from

eating potatoes!"

"Hey," David said, "you're preaching to the converted, amigo

Laura turned away toward the windows. "This isn't ex-

actly new to us, Dr. Prentis. Rizome has a synthetic foods

division. . . . I did some P.R. for them once."

"But that's good, that's good!" Prentis said, nodding in

surprise. "People have, you know, absurd prejudices.... About

`eating germs.' "

"Maybe they did years ago," Laura said. "But nowadays

it's mostly a class thing-that it's poor people's food. Cattle

feed. "


Andrei folded his arms. "A bourgeois Yankee notion.

"Well, it's a marketing problem," Laura said. "But I agree with you. Rizome sees nothing wrong with feeding

hungry people. We have our own expertise in this--and it's

the kind of technology transfer that might be very helpful to a

developing industry...." She paused. "I heard your speech

upstairs, Andrei, and there's more common ground between

us than you may think."

David chimed in, nodding. "There's a game in the States

now called Worldrun. I play it a lot, it's very popular.... Protein

tech, like this, is one of your major tools for world stability.

Without it, there are food riots, cities crumble, governments

go down. . . . And not just in Africa, either."

"This is work," Andrei said. "Not a game."

"We don't make that distinction," David told him seri-

ously. "We don't have `work' in Rizome just things to do,

and people to do them." He smiled winningly. "For us, play

is learning ... you play Worldrun, and you learn that you

can't sit on your ass and let things go to hell. You can't just

take a salary, make a profit, be a dead weight in the system.

In Rizome, we know this-hell, that's why we came to Grenada. "

He turned to Prentis. "I got a copy on my rig-call me up,

I can download it, for you. You too, Andrei."

Prentis snickered. "Uh, I can access the Bank from here,

David.... Computer games, they've got a couple hundred

thousand on file, all kinds, all languages...."

"Pirated?" Laura said.

Prentis ignored her. "But Worldrun, I'll give it a shot,

could be fun, I like to keep up with what's new...."

David touched his earpiece. "How long have you been in

Grenada, Dr. Prentis?"

"Ten years four months," Prentis said. "And very reward-

ing work, too." He gestured out at the thudding rigs outside

the glass. "You look at this and you may think: secondhand

plant, jury-rig, corner cutting.... But we got something they'll

never match Stateside. We got the True Entrepreneurial

Spirit...." Prentis stepped behind the desk and yanked

open a bottom drawer.

He started piling things on the scarred tabletop: pipe cleaners,

X-acto knives, a magnifying glass, a stack of tape cas-

settes held with a rubber band. "We'll tackle anything here,

shake it, turn it upside down, look at any angle . . . you can

blue-sky it, brainstorm. . . . The money boys here, they're

not like those jaspers back Stateside; once they trust you, well,

it's just like a block grant, only better. You get True Intellectual

Freedom.... " More crap hit the desk: rubber stamps, paperweights,

molecular tinker toys. "And they know how to party, too! You

might not think so to see those Movement cadres up-deck, but

you never seen a carnival fete in Grenada. . . - They go ape!

They really know how to get loose. . . . Oh, here it is." He

pulled out an unmarked tube; it looked like toothpaste. "Now

this is something!"

"What is it?" David said.

"What? Just the greatest suntan lotion ever made, that's

all!" He tossed it to David. "We invented this right here in

Grenada. It's not just sunscreens and emollients. Hell, that

old crap just layers the epidermis. But this soaks right into the

cells, changes the reaction structure...."

David unscrewed the cap. A sharp, minty reek filled the

room. "Whew!" He recapped it.

"No, keep it."

David stuck the tube in his pocket. "I haven't seen this on

the market... .

"Hell, no, you haven't. And you know why? 'Cause the

Yankee health feds flunked it, that's why. A 'mutagen risk.'

`Carcinogenic.' In a pig's eye, brother!" Prentis slammed the

drawer shut. "Raw sunlight! Now that's a real cancer risk.

But no, they'll let that go, won't they? 'Cause it's `natural.' "

Prentis sneered. "Sure, you use that lotion every day for forty

years, maybe you get a little problem. Or maybe you already

got gastric ulcers from booze! That'll wreck you from top to

bottom, but you don't see them banning alcohol, do you?

Goddamn hypocrites."

"I take your point," Laura said. "But look what's been

done about cigarettes. Alcohol's a drug too, and people's

attitudes-"

Prentis stiffened. "You're not gonna start in on that, are

you? Drugs?" He glared at Andrei.

"The Charles Nogues is a food ship," Andrei said. "I

have told them this already."

"I don't make dope!" Prentis said. "You believe that?"

"Sure," David said, surprised.

"People come down here, they try and hit off me," Prentis

complained. "They say, `Hey Brian, pal, bet you got tons of

syncoke, never miss a couple teaspoons for us, huh?"' He

glared. "Well, I'm off that. Totally."

Laura blinked. "We weren't trying to imply-"

Prentis pointed angrily at David. "Look, he's listening.

What are they telling you on the Net, huh? All about me, I

bet. Jesus Christ." Prentis stamped out from behind the desk.

"They never forget, do they? Sure, I'm famous! I did

it-the Prentis Polysaccharide Process-man, I made millions

for Biogen. And they had me on hot proteins, too...." He

held up thumb and finger. "I was that far from the Nobel,

maybe! But that was live bioactives, Type Three Security. So

they made me piss in a cup." He glared at Laura. "You

know what that means."

"Drug tests," Laura said. "Like for airline pilots...."

"I had this girl friend," Prentis said slowly. "Kind of a

live wire. Not one of those Goddess types, but, you know, a

party girl. . . . `Brian,' she says, `you'll make it really smooth,

behind a couple lines.' And she was right!" He whipped off

his glasses. "Goddamn it, she was the most fun I ever had."

"I'm sorry," Laura said in the sudden embarrassed si-

lence. "Did they fire you?"

"Not at first. But they took me off everything important,

wanted to give me to their goddamn shrinks. . . . A lab like

that, it's like a fuckin' monastery. 'Cause what if you crack,

y'know, what if you run out with some Jell-O in your pocket

... dangerous Jell-O . . . patented Jell-O."

"Yeah, it's tough," David told him. "I guess they pretty

much run your social life."

"Well, more fools they," Prentis said, a little calmer now.

"Guys with imagination ...visionaries ... we need elbow

room. Space to relax. An outfit like Biogen, it ends up with

bureaucrats. Drones. That's why they're not getting any-

where." He put his glasses back on. Then he sat on the desk,

swinging his feet. "A conspiracy, that's what it is. All those

Net multinationals, they're in each other's pockets. It's a

closed market, no real competition. That's why they're fat

and lazy. But not here."

"But if it's dangerous . . . " Laura began.

"Dangerous? Hell, I'll show you dangerous." Prentis bright-

ened. "Stay here, I'll be back, you gotta see this. Everybody

oughta see this."

He hopped down and vanished into his back office.

Laura and David traded uneasy glances. They looked at

Andrei. Andrei nodded. "He's right, you know."

Prentis emerged. He was brandishing a yard-long scimitar.

"Jesus Christ!" David said.

"It's from Singapore," Prentis said. "They make 'em for

the Third World market. You ever see one of these?" He

waved it. David stepped backward. "It's a machete," Prentis

said impatiently. "You're a Texan, right? You must have

seen a machete before."

"Yeah," David said. "For clearing brush ..."

Prentis slammed the machete down, overhand. It hit the

desk with a shriek. The desk's corner flew off and hit the

floor, spinning.

The machete blade had sheared completely through the

wooden desk. It had sliced off an eight-inch triangle of

tabletop, including two sections of desk wall and the back of

a drawer.

Prentis picked up the severed chunk and set it on the desk

like a little wooden pyramid. "Not a splinter! You want to

give it a try, Dave?"

"No thanks," David said.

Prentis grinned. "Go ahead! I can superglue it right back; I

do this all the time. You're sure?" He held the machete

loosely, at arm's length, and let it fall. It sank half an inch

into the desktop.

"A wicked knife," Prentis said, dusting his hands. "Maybe

you think that's dangerous, but you don't see it all, yet. You

know what that,is? That's peasant technology, brother. It's

slash-and-burn agriculture. You know what that might do to

what's left of the planet's tropical forests? It'll make every

straw-hat Brazilian into Paul Bunyan, that's what. The most

dangerous bio-tech in the world is a guy with a goat and an

axe.


"Ax, hell," David blurted, "that thing's a monster! It

can't be legal!" He leaned toward the desk and scanned it

with his glasses. "I can see I never thought this through . . .

I know we use .ceramic blades in machine-tools . . . but that's

in factory settings, with safety standards! You can't just

sell 'em to all and sundry-it's like handing out personal

flame-throwers!"

Andrei spoke up. "Don't tell us, David-tell Singapore.

They are radical technical capitalists. They don't care about

forests-they have no forests to lose."

Laura nodded. "That's not farming, it's mass destruction.

That'll have to be stopped," she said.

Prentis shook his head. "We got one chance to stop it, and

that's to put every goddamn farmer in the world out of

business." He paused. "Yeah, honest old Mr. Yeoman Farmer,

and the wife, and his million goddamn kids. They're eating

the planet alive."

Prentis reached absently through the hole in the desk and

pulled out a tube of glue. "That's all that matters. Sure,

maybe we've cooked a little dope in Grenada, liberated a few

programs, but that's just for start-up money. We make food.

And we make jobs to make food. See all those people work-

ing down there? You wouldn't see 'em in a Stateside plant.

The way -we do it here, it's labor-intensive-people who

might have been farmers, making their own food, for their

own country. Not just handouts, dumped from some charity

plane by rich nations."

"We have no quarrel with that," Laura said.

"Sure you do," Prentis said. "You don't want it stripped

down and cheap. You want it expensive, and controlled, and

totally safe. You don't want peasants and slum kids with that

kind of technical power. You're afraid of it." He pointed to

the machete. "But you can't have it both ways. All tech is

dangerous--even with no moving parts."

Long silence. Laura turned to Andrei. "Thanks for bring-

ing us down here. You've brought us in touch with a genuine

problem." She turned to Prentis. "Thank you, Brian."

"Sure," said Prentis. His gaze flickered upward from her

breasts. She tried to smile at him.

Prentis set the glue down carefully. "You want to tour the

plant?"

"I'd love to," David said.



They left the office, reassuming their masks. They went

down among the workers. The crew didn't look much like

"slum kids"-they were mostly middle-aged cadres, most of

them women. They wore hair nets and their paper overalls

had the shiny look of old bakery bags. They worked in

twenty-four-hour shifts-a third of the crew was asleep, in

soundproof acoustic cubicles, clustered under the giant mural

like Styrofoam barnacles.

Backed by Millie Syers, David asked alert questions about

the equipment. Any containment spills? No. Souring trouble?

Just the usual throwbacks to the wild state-tailored bacteria

did tend to revert, after millions of generations. And wild

bugs wouldn't produce-they just ate goop and freeloaded.

Left to multiply at the expense of the worthy, these backslid-

ers would soon take over, so they were scorched from the

tanks without mercy.

What about the rest of the Charles Nogues, beyond the

bulkheads? Why, she was full of factories like this from bow

to stern, all safety-sealed so spoiling couldn't spread. Lots of

careful slurry-pumping back and forth between units-they

used the old tanker pumps, still in fine condition The ship's

containment systems, built to prevent petroleum gas explosions,

were ideal for bio-hazard work.

Laura quizzed some of the women. Did they like the work?

Of course-they had all kinds of special perks, credit-card

boosts whenever they beat the quotas, TV links with their

families, special rewards for successful new recipes.... Didn't

they feel cooped up down here? Heavens no, not compared to

the crowded government yards down-the-island. A whole

month vacation time, too. Of course, it did itch a bit when

you got that skin bacteria back. . .

They toured the plant for over an hour, climbing bamboo

stiles over the hull's six-foot reinforcement girders. David

spoke to Prentis. "You said something about bathrooms?"

"Yeah, sorry. E. coli, that's a native gut bacterium. . . . If

it gets loose, we have a lot of trouble."

David shrugged,. embarrassed. "The food upstairs was good,

I ate a lot. Uh, my compliments to the chef."

"Thanks," Prentis said.

David touched his glasses. "I think I've scanned pretty

much everything. . . . If Atlanta has questions, could we get

in touch?"

"Uhmmm ..." Prentis said. Andrei broke in. "That's a

bit difficult, David." He didn't elaborate.

David forgot and offered to shake hands again. When they

left, they could see Prentis stalking behind the office glass,

pumping his spray gun.

They retraced their steps up the catwalk. Andrei was pleased.

"I'm glad you met Dr. Prentis. He's very dedicated. But he

does get a bit lonely for his native countrymen."

"He does seem to lack a few of the amenities," David said.

"Yeah," Laura said. "Like a girl friend."

Andrei was surprised. "Oh, Dr. Prentis is married. To a

Grenadian worker."

"Oh," Laura said, feeling the gaffe. "That must be won-

derful.... How about you, Andrei? Are you married?"

"Only to the Movement," Andrei said. He wasn't kidding.
The sun was setting by the time they returned to their

safehouse. It had been a long day. "You must be tired,

Carlotta," Laura said as they climbed stiffly from the three-

wheeler. "Why don't you come in and have supper with us?"

"It's nice to ask," Carlotta said, smiling sweetly. Her eyes

glistened and there was a soft rosy glow to her cheeks. "But I

can't make it tonight. I have Communion."

"You're sure?" Laura said. "Tonight's good for us."

"I can come by later this week. And bring my date, maybe."

Laura frowned. "I might be testifying then."

Carlotta shook her head. "No, you won't. I haven't even

testified yet." She reached from the driver's seat and patted

the baby's tote. "Bye, little one. Bye, y'all. I'll call or

something. She gunned the engine, kicking gravel, and

drove through the gates.

"Typical," Laura said.

They walked up onto the porch. David pulled his key card.

"Well, Communion, that sounds pretty important-"

"Not Carlotta, she's just a klutz. I mean the Bank. It's a

ploy, don't you see? They're gonna make us cool our heels

here in this big old barn, instead of letting me make my case.

And they're calling Carlotta to testify first, just to rub it in."

David paused. "You think so, huh?"

"Sure. That's why Sticky was giving us the runaround

earlier." She followed him into the mansion. "They're work-

ing on us, David; this is all part of a plan. That tour,

everything. . . . What smells so good?"

Rita had dinner waiting. It was stuffed pork with peppers

and parsley, Creole ratatouille, hot baked bread and chilled

rum soufflé for dessert. In a candlelit dining room with fresh

linen and flowers. It was impossible to refuse. Not without

offending Rita. Someone they had to share the house with,

after all. . . . At the very least, they had to try a few bites,

just for politeness sake. . . . And after all that nasty scop,

too.... It was all so delicious it stung. Laura ate like a

wolverine.

And no dishes to wash. The servants cleared everything,

stacking it onto little rosewood trolleys. They brought brandy

and offered Cuban cigars. And they wanted to take the baby

too. Laura wouldn't let them.

There was a study upstairs. It wasn't much of a study-no

books-just hundreds of videotapes and old-fashioned plastic

records, but they retired to the study with their brandies

anyway. It seemed the proper thing to do, somehow.

Lots of old framed photos on the study's walls. Laura

looked them over while David shuffled curiously through the

tapes. It was clear who Mr. Gelli, the former owner, was.

He was the puffy-faced hustler throwing a good-buddy arm

over vaguely familiar, vaguely repulsive Vegas show-biz

types.... Here he was toadying up to some snake-eyed goof-

ball in a long white dress-with a start, Laura realized it was

the Pope.

David loaded a tape. He sat on the couch-an overstuffed

monster in purple velour-and fired up the TV with a clunky

remote. Laura joined him. "Find something?"

"Home movies, I think. He's got lots-I picked out the most recent."

A party at the mansion. Big ugly cake in the dining room,

smorgasbord groaning with food. "I shouldn't have eaten so

much," Laura said.

"Look at that jerk in the party hat," David said. "That's a

mad doctor, for sure. Can you see that, Atlanta?"

Faint squeaking came from Laura's earpiece; she was wear-

ing it loose, and it dangled. She felt a little funny about

having shared the earpiece with Carlotta; kind of like sharing

a toothbrush, or like sharing a . . . well, best not to think

about that one. "Why don't you take that off, David?" She

removed her own glasses and pointed them at the door,

guarding them from intruders. "We're safe here, right? No

worse than the bedroom."

"Well . . . " David froze the tape and got up. He punched

an intercom button by the door. "Hello. Urn, Jimmy? Yeah, I

want you to bring us that plug-in clock by the bedside. Right

away. Thanks." He returned to the couch.

"You shouldn't do that," Laura said.

"You mean order them around like they were servants?

Yeah, I know. Very non-R. I got some ideas though-I want

to talk to Personnel about it, tomorrow...." Discreet knock

at the door. David took the clock from Jimmy. "No, nothing

else . . . okay, go ahead, bring the bottle." He plugged his

headset into the clock. "How's that, Atlanta?"

["You might as well point one set at the TV,"] the clock

told him loudly. ["Watching that door's pretty boring."]

Laura didn't recognize the guy's voice; some Rizomian on the

night shift, she'd given up caring at this point.

The tape spooled on; David had muted the sound. "Lotta

Anglos at this gig," David commented. "I miss the Rastas."

Laura sipped her brandy. It wrapped her mouth in molten

gold. "Yeah," she said, inhaling over the glass. "There's a

lot of different factions on this island, and I don't think they

get along too well. There's the Movement revolutionaries

... and the Voodoo mystics . . . and the high-techies . . . and

the low-techies ... "

"And the street poor, just looking for food and a roof ..."

Knock knock knock; the brandy had arrived. David brought

it to the couch. "You realize this could be poisoning us."

He refilled their snifters.

"Yeah, but I felt worse when I left Loretta behind with

Carlotta, she's been so good since then, I was afraid Carlotta'd

slipped her some kind of happy-pill...." She kicked off her

shoes and curled her legs beneath her.. "David, these people

know what they're doing. If they want to poison us they

could do it with some speck of something we would never

even see."

"Yeah, I kept telling myself that, while I ate the ratatouille. "

Some rich drunk had collared the cameraman and was shout-

ing gleefully into the lens. "Look at this clown! I forgot to

mention the local faction of pure criminal sleazebags.... Takes

all kinds to make a data haven, I guess."

"It doesn't add up," Laura said, sinking easily into brandy-

fueled meditation. "It's like beachcombing after a storm, all

kinds of Net flotsam thrown up on the golden Grenadian

shore.... So if you push on these people, maybe they go

neatly to pieces, if you hit the right flaw. But too much

pressure, and it all welds together and you got a monster on

your hands. I was thinking today-the old Nazis, they used to

believe in the Hollow Earth and all kinds of mystical

crap.... But their trains ran on time and their state cops

were efficient as hell David took her hand, looking at her

curiously. "You're really into this, aren't you?"

"It's important, David. The most important thing we've

ever done. You bet I'm involved. All the way."

He nodded. "I noticed you seemed a little tense when I

grabbed your ass in the elevator. "

She laughed, briefly. "I was nervous . . . it's good to relax

here, just us." Some moron in a bow tie was singing on a

makeshift stage, some slick-haired creep pausing to make

wisecracks and snappy in-joke banter. . . . Camera kept mov-

ing to men in the audience, Big Operators laughing at them-

selves with the bogus joviality of Big Operators laughing at

themselves... .

David put his arm around her. She leaned her head onto his

shoulder. He wasn't taking this as seriously as she did, she

thought. Maybe because he hadn't been standing there with

Winston Stubbs . . .

She cut off that ugly thought and had more brandy. "You

should have picked an earlier tape," she told him. "Maybe

we could get a look at the place before old Gelli brought his

decorators in."

"Yeah, I haven't seen our pal Gelli in any of this. Must be

his nephew's party, or something.... Whoa!"

The tape had switched scenes. It was later now, outside, by

the pool. A late-night swim party, lots of torches, towels

... and opulent young women in bikini bottoms. "Holy cow,"

David said in his comedian's voice. "Naked broads! Man,

this guy really knows how to live!"

A crowd of young .women, next to nude. Sipping drinks,

combing wet hair with long, sensuous strokes and their el-

bows out. Lying full length, drowsy or stoned, as if expecting

a tan by torchlight. A full-color assortment of them, too.

"Good to see some black people have finally shown up,"

Laura said sourly.

"Those girls must have crashed the gig," David said. "No

room in that gear for invites."

"Are they hookers?"

"Gotta be. "

Laura paused. "I hope this isn't going to turn into an orgy

or anything."

"No," David said callously, "look at the way the camera

follows their tits. He wouldn't be getting this excited if there

was anything hot and heavy coming up." He set his empty

glass down. "Hey, you can see part of the old back garden in

that shot-" He froze the image.

["Hey,"] the clock protested.

"Sorry," David said. The tape kept rolling. Men enjoyed

seeing women this way-rolling hips, jiggle, that soft acreage

of tinted female skin. Laura thought about it, the brandy

hitting her. It didn't do much for her. But despite David's

pretended nonchalance she could feel him reacting a little.

And in some odd, vicarious way that itself was a little exciting.

For once there was no one looking at them, she thought

wickedly. Maybe if they curled up on the couch and were

very, very, quiet . . .

A slim brown girl with ankle bracelets mounted the diving

board. She sauntered to the end, bent gracefully, and went

into a hand-stand. She held it for five long seconds, then

plunged head-fist Jesus Christ!" David said. He froze

it in mid-splash.

Laura blinked. "What's so special about-"

"Not her, babe. Look." He ran it backward; the girl flew

up feet-first, then grabbed the board. She bent at the waist,

strolled backward . . . She froze again. "There," David said.

"There to the far right, by the water. It's Gelli. Lying in that

lawn chair."

Laura stared. "It sure is . . . he looks thinner."

"Look at him move...." The girl walked the board

... and Gelli's head was wobbling. A spastic movement,

compulsive, with his chin rolling in a ragged figure eight, and

his eyes fixed on nothing at all. And then he stopped the

wobbling, caught it somehow, leering with the pain of effort.

And his hand came up, a wizened hand like a bundle of

sticks, bent down acutely at the wrist.

In the foreground, the girl balanced gracefully, slim legs

held straight, toes pointed like a gymnast. And behind her

Gelli went touch-touch-touch, three little dabs of movement

to his face-fast, jerky, totally ritualized. Then the girl plunged,

and the camera slid away. And Gelli vanished.

"What's wrong with him?" Laura whispered.

David was pale, his mouth tight-set. "I don't know. Some

nerve disorder, obviously. "

"Parkinson's disease?"

"Maybe. Or maybe something we don't even have a name

for. "


David killed the television. He stood up and unplugged the

clock. He put on his glasses, carefully. "I'm gonna go an-

swer some mail, Laura."

I'll come with you." She didn't sleep for a long time. And

there were nightmares, too.
Next morning, they inspected the foundations for settling

and dry rot. They opened every window, making note of

cracked glass and warped lintels. They checked the attic for

drooping joists and moldy insulation, checked the stairs for

springy boards, measured the slopes of the floor, cataloged

the multitude of cracks and bulges in the walls.

The servants watched them with growing anxiety. At lunch

they had a little discussion. Jimmy, it transpired, considered

himself a "butler," while Rajiv was a "majordomo" and

Rita a "cook" and "nanny." They weren't a construction

crew. To David this sounded ludicrously old-fashioned; things

needed doing, so why not do them? What was the problem?

They responded with wounded pride. They were skilled

house staff, not no-account rudies from the government yards.

They had certain places to fill and certain work that came

with the places. Everybody knew this. It had always been so.

David laughed. They were acting like nineteenth-century

colonials, he said; what about Grenada's high-tech, anti-

imperialist revolution? Surprisingly, this argument failed to

move them. Fine, David said at last. If they didn't want to

help, it was no problem of his. They could prop up their feet

and drink pina coladas.

Or maybe they could watch some television, Laura sug-

gested. As it happened, she had some Rizome recruiting tapes

that might help explain how Rizome felt about things... .

After lunch Laura and David continued their inspection

remorselessly. They climbed up into the turrets, where the

servants had their quarters. The floors were splintery, the

roofs leaked, and the intercoms had shorted out. Before they

left Laura and David deliberately made all the beds.

During the afternoon David caught some sun in the bottom

of the dead pool. Laura played with the baby. Later David

checked the electrical system while she answered the mail.

Supper was fantastic, again. They were tired and made an

early night of it.

The Bank was ignoring them. They returned the favor.

Next day David got out his tool chest. He made a little

unconscious ritual of it, like a duke inspecting his emeralds.

The toolbox weighed fifteen pounds, was the size of a large

breadbox, and had been lovingly assembled by Rizome crafts-

men in Kyoto. Looking inside; with the gleam of chromed

ceramic and neat foam sockets for everything, you could get a

kind of mental picture of the guys who had made it-white-

robed Zen priests of the overhead lathe, guys who lived on

brown rice and machine oil... .

Pry bar, tin snips, cute little propane torch; plumbing snake,

pipe wrench, telescoping auger; ohm meter, wire stripper,

needlenose pliers . . . Ribbed ebony handles that popped off

and reattached-to push drills and screwdriver bits . . David's

tool set was by far the most expensive possession they owned.

They worked on the plumbing all morning-starting on the

servants' bathroom. Hard, filthy work, with lots of creeping

about on one's back. After his afternoon sun worship David

stayed outside. He'd found some gardening tools in a shed

and tackled the front acreage, stripped to the waist and wear-

ing his videoshades. Laura saw that he had fast-talked the two

gate guards into helping him. They were trimming wild ivy

and pruning dead branches and joking together.

She had nothing to report to Atlanta, so she spent her time

catching flack. Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of gratuitous

advice from every comer of the compass. Several idiots

expressed grave disappointment that they had not yet toured a

secret Grenadian drug lab. A Rizome graphics program was

showing up as a pirate knock-off in Cuba-was the Bank

involved? Rizome had contacted the Polish government-

Warsaw said Andrei Tarkovsky was a black-market operator,

wanted for forging false passports.

The Rizome elections were heating up. It looked like the

Suvendra race was going to be close. Pereira-Mr. Nice

Guy-was making a surprisingly strong showing.

David came in to shower for supper. "You're gonna burn

up out there," she told him.

"No, I won't, smell." He reeked of rank male sweat with

an undertone of mint. His skin looked waxed.

"Oh no!" she said., "You haven't been using that tube

stuff, have you?"

"Sure," David said, surprised. "Prentis claimed it was the

best ever-you don't expect me to take that on faith, surely."

He examined his forearms. "I used it yesterday, too. I'd

swear I'm darker already, and no burn either."

"David, you're hopeless...."

He only smiled. "I think I may have a cigar tonight!"

They had supper. The servants were upset by the recruiting

tapes. They wanted to know how much of it was true. All of

it, Laura said innocently.

As they lay in bed, she got Atlanta to slot her a Japanese-

language tape-mystery stories of Edogawa Rampo. David

fell asleep at once, lulled by the meaningless polysyllables.

Laura listened as she drifted off, letting the alien grammar

soak in to those odd itchy places where the brain stored

language. She like Rampo's straight journalistic Japanese,

none of those involved circumlocutions and maddening veiled

allusions....

Hours later she was shaken awake in darkness. Harsh

babble of English. "Babe, wake up, it's news...."

Emily Donato spoke out of the darkness. ["Laura, it's

me."]

Laura twisted in the lurching waterbed. The room was dim



purples and grays. "Lights, turn on!" she croaked. Flash of

overhead glare. She winced at the clock. Two A.M. "What is

it, Emily?"

["We got the fact,"] the clock proclaimed, in Emily's

familiar voice.

Laura felt a pang of headache. "What fact?"

["The F.A.C.T., Laura. We know who's behind them.

Who they really are. It's Molly."]

"Oh, the terrorists," Laura said. A little jolt of shock and

fear coursed through her. Now she was awake. "Molly?

Molly who?"

["The government of Molly,"] Emily said.

"It's a country in North Africa," David said from his side

of the bed. "The Republic of Mali. Capital Bamako, main

export cotton, population rate two percent. " David, the

Worldrun player.

"Mali." The name sounded only vaguely familiar. "What

do they have to do with anything?"

["We're working on that. Mali's one of those Sahara

famine countries, with an army regime, it's nasty there.... The

F.A.C.T. is their front group. We've got it from three differ-

ent sources."]

"Who?" Laura said.

["Kymera, I. G. Farben, and the Algerian State Department."]

"Sounds good," Laura said. She trusted Kymera Corporation

-the Japanese didn't throw accusations lightly. "What does

the Vienna heat say?"

["Nothing. To butt out. They're covering something up, I

think. Mali never signed the Vienna Convention.... "] Em-

ily paused. ["The Central Committee meets tomorrow. Some

people from Kymera and Farben are flying in. We all think it

smells."I

"What do you want us to do?" Laura said.

["Tell the Bank when you testify. It wasn't Singapore that

killed their man. Or the European Commerzbank either. It

was the secret police in Mali."]

"Jesus," Laura said. "Okay ..."

["I'm sending you some backup data on a coded line....

Good night, Laura. I'm up late, too, if it helps."]

Emily signed off.

"Wow ..." Laura shook her head, clearing the last cob-

webs. "Things are really moving...." She turned to her

husband-''Yike!"

"Yeah," David said. He stretched out one arm, showing it

to her. "I'm, uh, black."

"David ... you're black!" Laura yanked the sheet back,

revealing his bare chest and stomach. She could feel her neck

bristle in astonishment. "David, look at you. Your skin is

black! All over!"

"Yeah ... I was sunbathing nude in the pool. " He shrugged

sheepishly, his shoulders dark against the crisp white pillow.

"You remember that ship's officer-a blond, black guy-back

on the Charles Nogues? I wondered, when I saw him . . . "

Laura blinked, trying to think back. "The blond black man

... Yeah, but I thought he'd dyed his hair...."

"His hair was natural, but he'd changed his skin. It's that

suntan oil Prentis gave me. It affects the skin pigment, the

melanin, I guess. It's a little patchy down here by my, uh,

crotch ... like I got very dark freckles, but big, kinda

splotchy.... I should've asked how it works."

"It's obvious how it works, David-it makes you black!"

Laura began laughing, her mind pinched between the shock-

ing and the ridiculous. He looked so different.... "Do you

feel all right, sweetheart?"

"I feel fine," he said coolly. "How do you feel about it?"

"Let me look at you She sneaked a look at his

crotch and began giggling helplessly. "Oh . . . It's not that

funny but. .. Oh, David, you look like a horny giraffe." She

rubbed his shoulder, hard, with her thumb. "It's not coming

off, is it.... Honey, you've really done it this time."

"This is revolutionary," he said soberly.

A fit of laughter seized her.

"I mean it, Laura. You can be black, from a tube. Don't

you see what that means?"

She bit her knuckle until she got control of herself. "Da-

vid, people don't want to risk skin cancer, just so they can be

black. "

"Why not? I would. We live under a hard Texas sun. All

Texans ought to be black. In that kind of climate, it's best for

you. Sensible."

She stared at him, biting her lip. "This is just too, too

weird. . . . You're not really black, David. You've got an

Anglo nose, and Anglo mouth. Oh look, here's a patch on

your ear that you missed!" She shrieked with laughter.

"Stop that, Laura, you're making me mad." He sat up

straighter. "Okay, maybe I'm not black, up close.... But in

a crowd, I'm a black man. Same in a car, or walking on the

street. Or at a political meeting. That could change everything."

His passion surprised her. "Not everything, David, come

on. Rizome's CEO is black. America's had a black president,

even."

"Bullshit, Laura, don't pretend racism's a dead issue, why



do you think Africa's in the mess it's in? Goddamn it, these

Grenadians have really got something! I'd heard rumors of

stuff like this, but the way they painted it, it was some kind

of risky freak experiment.... But it's easy! I wonder how

much they've made? Pounds? Tons?"

David's eyes were full of visionary fire. "I'm gonna walk

up to the first Third Worlder I see, and say,. 'Hi! I'm a white

American imperial exploiter, and I'm black as the ace of

spades, compadre.' This is the greatest thing I've ever heard.

Laura frowned a little. "It's just color. It doesn't change

how you feel about yourself, inside. Or the way you act,

either. "

"The hell you say. Even a new haircut can do that much."

He leaned back against the pillow, cradling his head. His

armpits were splotchy. "I gotta get more of this stuff."

Now he was involved. At last. It had taken something very

weird to jolt him, but now he was with her all the way. He'd

found something to galvanize him, and he was off and run-

ning. He had that look in his eyes again. Just like when they

were first married, back when they were planning the Lodge

together. She felt glad.

She reached across his chest, admiring the svelte contrast

of her arm against his dark ribs. "You look good, David,

really.... It suits you somehow. . . . I guess I never told you

this, but I always had a kind of minor thing for black guys."

She kissed his shoulder. "I knew this guy in high school, he

and I--

David clambered suddenly out of bed. "Atlanta, who's



online?"

["Uh, the name's Nash, Thomas Nash, you don't know

me..."]

"Tom, I want you to get a look at this." David picked up



his glasses and scanned himself head to foot. "What do you

think of that?"

["Um, seem to be having some trouble with brightness

levels, Rizome Grenada. Also, you're not wearing clothes.

Right?"]

Laura waited for David to come back to bed. Instead he

started calling people. She fell asleep again while he was still

ranting.
5


They were under the mansion's foundations with a

hydraulic jack when they heard Sticky calling. "Yo

Bwana, Blondie! You be comin' out now, time to face the

music...'

They wormed their way back into afternoon sunlight. Laura

hauled herself through the foundation's concrete crawl hole

and got to her feet. "Hello, Captain." She picked at her hair,

and came away with strings of cobweb.

David crawled out after her. His jeans and denim work

shirt were caked at the knees and elbows with stale mud.

Sticky Thompson grinned at David's darkened face. "You

datin' locals now, Blondie? Where's the Great White Hunter?"

"Very funny," David said.

Sticky led them back around the mansion's west wing. As

they walked under newly pruned ylang-ylang trees, David

juggled his glasses and jammed the earplug in. "Who's online?

Oh. Hi. What? Hell, I got mud on my lenses." He cleaned

them with his shirt tail, ruefully.

Two military jeeps were waiting on the gravel drive-olive-

drab hardtops with silvered windows. Three uniformed mili-

tiamen sat on the flat, square bumpers, sipping soft drinks

from paper cartons. Sticky whistled sharply; the skinniest

guard leapt to attention and opened one door. A colored decal

flashed on the door panel: garish red, gold, and green-the

Grenadian flag. "Truth-tellin' time, Mrs. Webster. We ready

when you are."

"She'll need to change-" David said.

"No, I won't," Laura broke in. "I'm ready at any time.

Unless your Bank thinks I'll soil their upholstery." She pulled

her glasses from a buttoned shirt pocket.

Sticky turned to David, pointing to the second jeep. "We

got a special tourist show for you, today. This other jeep be

escort duty for you, they driving you down to the beach. We

got some very special building projects. You be loving this

one, Dave."

"Okay," David told him. "But I gotta finish some bracing

work under the house first, or the kitchen falls in." He gave

Laura a sudden hard hug. "Looks like I'm taking the baby

today." He whispered into her ear. "Luck, babe. Give 'em

hell." She kissed him hard. The soldiers grinned at them.

Laura climbed up into the jeep's front passenger seat. One

of the soldiers got in back, his assault rifle clattering. Sticky

lingered outside. He had slipped on a pair of polarized glasses.

He scanned the sky carefully, shading his eyes with both

hands. Satisfied, he vaulted into the driver's seat and slammed

the door.

Sticky fired the engine with an old-fashioned ignition key.

He took the estate's winding curves at hair-raising speed,

driving loosely, easily, one dark hand on the steering wheel.

Laura understood now why his skin color had varied. It

wasn't makeup, but chameleon technical tricks, right down in

the cells. Lots of changes-maybe too many. The little half-

moons of his fingernails looked oddly yellowish. He'd been

gnawing them, too.

He grinned at her breezily-now that he was driving, he

seemed elated, high. Stimulants, Laura thought darkly. "Aren't

you a sight," Sticky told her. "I can't believe you didn't call

time for pattin' on a little rouge."

Laura touched her cheek involuntarily. "You mean video

makeup, Captain? I understood this was to be a closed hearing."

"Oooh," Sticky said, amused at her formality. "That's

seen, now. Long as the camera not lookin', you can run

around in you grubbies, play dress-up all workin' class,

huh?" He laughed. "What if you college-girl pal see you?

The one what dress up all southern belle slavery drag? Emily

Donato?"


"Emily's my closest friend," Laura told him tightly. "She's

seen me a lot worse than this, believe me."

Sticky raised his brows. He spoke lightly. "You ever

wonder about this Donato and your husband? She knew him

before you did. Introduced you, even."

Laura throttled her instant spurt of anger. She waited a

moment. "You been having fun, Sticky? Running barefoot

through my personnel file? I'll bet that gives you a real

feeling of power, huh? Kind of like bullying teenage guards

in this toy militia of yours."

Sticky glanced sharply at the rearview mirror. The guard in

the back pretended not to have heard.

They took the highway south. The sky was leaden with

overcast, the greenish mounds of trees gone dusky and strange

on misty volcanic slopes. "You think I don't know what you

up to?" Sticky said. "All this workin' on the house? For no

pay just to make an impression. Giving the servants propa-

ganda tapes.... Tryin' to bribe our people."

"A position in Rizome is hardly bribery," Laura said

coolly. "If they work with us, they deserve a place with us."

They passed an abandoned sugar factory. "It's tough on

them, doing our housework and moonlighting as your domestic spies.

Sticky glared at her. "Those bloodclot fuckin' glasses," he

hissed suddenly.

"Atlanta, I'm going offline,"- Laura said. She ripped off

her rig and yanked open the map compartment. A cardboard

egg carton of tanglegun ammo fell on her foot. She ignored it

and stuffed the rig in-it was squawking-and slammed the

little steel door.

Sticky sneered. "That'll be trouble for you. You'd better

put them back on."

"Fuck it," Laura told him. "It's worth it just to hear you

cut that goddamn accent." She grinned at him humorlessly.

"C'mon, soldier. Let's have it out. I'm not gonna have you

pick on me all the way to the Bank, just to psych me out, or

whatever the hell it is you think you're doing."

Sticky flexed his muscular hands on the steering wheel.

"Aren't you afraid to be alone with me? Now you're off the

Net, you're kind of soft and helpless, aren't you?" He gave

her a sudden poke in the ribs with his finger, like testing a

side of beef. "What if I drive off into those trees and get rude

with your body?"

"Jesus." That had never even occurred to her. "I dunno,

Captain. I guess I tear your goddamned eyes out."

"Oh, tough!" He didn't look at her-he was watching the

road, driving fast--but his right hand darted out with unbe-

lievable quickness and caught her wrist with a slap of skin on

skin. Her hand went funny-bone numb and a rolling pain shot

up her arm. "Pull free," he told her. "Try."

She tugged, feeling the first surge of real fear. It was like

pulling on a bench vise. He didn't even quiver.. He didn't

look that strong, but his bare brown arm had locked like cast

iron. Unnatural. "You're hurting me," she said, trying for

calmness. A hateful little tremor in her voice.

Sticky laughed triumphantly. "Now, you listen to me, girl.

All this time, you-"

Laura sank suddenly in her seat and stamped the brake.

The jeep skidded wildly; the soldier in the back cried out.

Sticky let her go as if scalded; his hands slapped the wheel

with panic speed. They swerved, hit potholes in the road

shoulder. Their heads banged the hard ceiling. Two seconds'

of lurching chaos. Then they were back on the road, weaving.

Safe. Sticky drew a long breath.

Laura sat up and rubbed her wrist silently.

Something truly nasty had happened between them. She

felt no fear yet, even though they'd almost died together. She

hadn't known it would be so bad-a manual jeep-she'd just

done it. On impulse. Rage that had boiled up suddenly, when

their inhibitions had vanished, gone with the glass eye of the

Net's TV.

Both acting like raging drunks when the Net was gone.

It was over now. The soldier-the boy-in the. back seat

was gripping his rifle in panic.' He hadn't been feeling the

Net it was all a mystery to him, that sudden gust of vio-

lence, like a hurricane wind. There for no reason, gone for no

reason . . . he didn't even know it was over yet.

Sticky drove on, his jaw set, his eyes straight ahead.

"Winston Stubbs," he said at last. "He was my father."

. Laura nodded. Sticky had told her this for a reason-it was

the only way he knew how to apologize. The news didn't

surprise her much, but for a moment she felt her eyes sting-

ing. She leaned back against the seat, relaxing, breathing.

She had to be careful with him. People should be careful with

each other... .

"You must have been very proud of him," she said.

Gently, tentatively. "He was a special kind of man." No

answer. "From the way he looked at you, I know that-"

"I failed him," Sticky said. "I was his warrior and the

enemy took him."

"We know who did it now," Laura told him. "It wasn't

Singapore. It was an African regime-the secret police in the

Republic of Mali."

Sticky stared at her as if she'd gone insane. His polarized

shades had bounced off during the near wreck and his yellow-

ish eyes gleamed like a weasel's. "Mali's an African coun-

try," he said.

"Why should that make a difference?"

"We're fighting for African people! Mali ... they're not

even a data haven. They a sufferation country. They have no

reason." He blinked. "They're lying to you if they tell you

that. "

"We know that Mali is the F.A.C.T.," Laura said.



Sticky shrugged. "Anyone can use those letters. They're

asking shakedown money, and we know where that's going.

To Singapore." He shook his head slowly. "War's coming,

Laura. Very bad times. You should never have come to this

island. "

"We had to come," Laura said. "We were witnesses."

"Witnesses," Sticky said with contempt. "We know what

happened in Galveston, we never needed you for that. You're

hostages, Laura. You, your man, even the lickle baby. Hos-

tages for Rizome. Your company is in the middle, and if they

favor Singapore against us, the Bank will kill you."

Laura licked her lips. She straightened in her seat. "If it

comes to war, a lot of innocent people are going to die."

"They've played you for a fool. Your company. They sent

you here, and they knew!"

"Wars kill people," Laura said. "David and I are not as

innocent as some."

He slammed the wheel with his hand. "Aren't you afraid,

girl?"

"Are you, Captain?"



"I'm a soldier."

Laura forced a shrug. "What does that mean in a terror

war? They murdered a guest in my house. In front of me and

my baby. I'm going to do what I can to get them. I know it's

dangerous."

"You're a brave enemy," Sticky said. He pulled onto a

secondary road, through a wretched little village of red dirt

and rusted tin. They began winding uphill, into the interior.

The sun split the clouds for a moment and branches dappled

the windshield.

From a hairpin turn high on a hillside, Laura saw the

distant clustered harbor of colonial Grand Roy-sleepy red

roofs, little white porch-pillars, crooked, sloping streets. A

drill rig crouched offshore like a spider from Mars.

"You're a fool," Sticky told her. "You're trying to. push

some propaganda bullshit that you think will make everybody

play nice. But this isn't some mama-papa Yankee shopping

mall where you can sell everybody peace like Coca-Cola. It

nah going to work. . . . But I don't think you ought to die for

tryin'. It's not righteous."

He snapped orders. The militiaman reached behind him and

passed Laura a flak jacket and a black, hooded robe. "Put

these on," Sticky said.

"All right." Laura buckled the bulky jacket over her work

shirt. "What's this bathrobe?"

"It's a chador. Islamic women wear them. Real modest

... and it'll hide that blond hair. There been spy planes

where we're going. I don't want 'em seeing you."

Laura tunneled into the robe and pulled the hood over her

head. Once inside the baggy thing, she caught a lingering

whiff of its previous user-scented cigarettes and attar of

roses. "It wasn't the Islamic Bank--

"We know it's the Bank. They been running spy planes in

every day, puddle jumping over from Trinidad. We know the

plantation they're using, everything. We have our own

sources-we don't need you to tell us anything." He nodded

at the map compartment. "You might as well put on your TV

rig. I've said everything I'm saying."

"We don't mean to hurt you or your people, Sticky. We

don't mean you anything but good-"

He sighed. "Just do it."

She pulled the glasses out. Emily screeched into her ear.

["What are you doing!? Are you all right?"]

"I'm fine, Emily. Cut me some slack."

["Don't be stupid, Laura. You're gonna damage our credi-

bility in this. No secret negotiations! It looks bad-like they

might be getting at you. It's bad enough now, without people

thinking that you're going through back channels offline."]

"We be goin' to Fedon's Camp," Sticky said loudly,

liltingly. "You listenin', Atlanta? Julian Fedon, he was a

Free Coloured. His time was the French Revolution and he

preach the Rights of Man. The French smuggle him guns, and

he take over plantations, free the slaves, and arm them. He

burned out the baccra slaveocrats with righteous fire. And he

fight with a gun in his hand when the Redcoats invade . . . it

took an army months to break his fort."

They had come into a broken bowl of hills-ragged, vol-

canic wilderness. A tropical paradise, dotted with tall watch-

towers. At first sight they looked blankly harmless, like water

towers. But the rounded storage tanks were armored pillboxes,

ridged with slotted gun slits. Their gleaming sides were pocked

with searchlights and radar blisters, and their tops were flat-

tened for helicopter pads. Thick elevator taproots plunged

deep into the earth-no doors were visible anywhere.

They drove uphill on a tall stone roadway of hard, black

blasted rock. Excavation rubble. There were mounds of it

everywhere, leg-breaking dykes of sharp-edged boulders, half

hidden under bird-twittery flowering vines and scrub... .

Fedon's Camp was a new kind of fortress. There were no

sandbags, no barbed wire, no gates or guards. Just the ranked

towers rising mutely from the quiet green earth like deadly

mushrooms of ceramic and steel. Towers watching each other,

watching the hills, watching the sky.

Tunnels, Laura thought. There must be underground tun-

nels linking those death towers together-and storage rooms

full of ammunition. Everything underground, the towers mush-

rooming from under the surface in a geometry of strategic fire

zones.


What would it be like to attack this place? Laura could

imagine angry, hungry rioters with their pathetic torches and

Molotov cocktails-wandering under those towers like mice

under furniture. Unable to find anything their own size-

anything they could touch or hurt. Growing frightened as

their yells were answered by silence-beginning to creep, in

muttering groups, into the false protection of the rocks and

trees. While every footstep sounded loud as drumbeats on

buried microphones, while their bodies glowed like human

candles on some gunner's infrared screens... .

The road simply ended, in a half-acre expanse of weedy

tarmac. Sticky killed the engine and found his polarized

glasses. He peered through the windshield. "Over there,

Laura. See?" He pointed into the sky. "By that gray cloud,

shaped like a wolf s head . . . "

She couldn't see anything. Not even a speck. "A spy

plane?"

"Yeah. From here, they can count your teeth on telephoto.



Just the right size, too.... Too small for a stupid missile to

find, and the smart ones cost more than it does." A rhythmic

thudding above them. Laura winced. A skeletal shadow crossed

the tarmac. A cargo helicopter was hovering overhead.

Sticky left the jeep. She saw the shadow drop a line, heard

it clunk as it hit the hard top of the jeep. Latches clacked shut

and Sticky climbed back in. In a moment they were soaring

upward. Jeep and all.

The ground fell dizzily. "Hold tight," Sticky said. He

sounded bored. The chopper lowered them atop the nearest

tower, into a broad yellow net. The net's arms creaked on

heavy springs, the whole jeep listing drunkenly; then the arms

lowered and they settled to the deck.

Laura climbed out, shaking. The air smelled like dawn in

Eden. All around them mountainsides too steep for farming:

green-choked hills wreathed with ink-gray mist like a Chinese

landscape. The other towers were like this one: their tops

ringed by low ceramic parapets. On the nearest tower, fifty

yards away, half-naked soldiers were playing volleyball.

The chopper landed, stuttering, on the black trefoil of its

pad nearby. Rotor wind whipped Laura's hair. "What do you

do during hurricanes?" she shouted.

Sticky took her elbow and led her toward a hatchway.

"There are ways in, besides choppers," he said. "But none

you need to know about." He yanked the twin hatch covers

open, revealing a short flight of stairs to an elevator.

["Hold it,"] came an unfamiliar voice in her ear. ["I can't

handle both of you at once, and I'm not a military architect.

This seaside stuff is weird enough. . . . David, do you know

of anyone in Rizome who can handle military? I didn't think

so..Laura, could you kill about twenty minutes?")

Laura stopped short. Sticky looked impatient. "You won't

be seeing much, if that's what's stopping you. We goin'

down fast."

"Another elevator," Laura told Atlanta. "I'll be going offline."

"It's wired," Sticky assured her. "They knew you were coming."

They dropped six stories, fast. They emerged into a striated

stone tunnel the size of a two-lane highway. She saw military

storage boxes stenciled in old Warsaw Pact Cyrillic. Sagging

tarps over vast knobby heaps of God-knew-what. Sticky am-

bled forward, his hands in his pockets. "You know the

Channel Tunnel? From Britain to France?"

It was cold. She hugged her arms through the chador's

baggy sleeves. "Yeah?"

"They learned a lot about tunnel making. All on open

databases, too. Handy." His words echoed eerily. Ceiling

lights flickered on overhead as they walked and died as they

moved on. They were walking the length of the tunnel in a

moving pool of light. "You ever see the Maginot Line?"

"What's that?" Laura asked.

"Big line of forts the French dug ninety years ago. Against

the Germans. I saw it once. Winston took me." He adjusted

his beret. "Big old steel domes still rusting in the middle of

pastures. There are railroad tunnels underneath. Sometimes

tourists ride 'em." He shrugged. "That's all they're good

for. This place, too, someday."

"What do you mean?"

"The tankers are better. They move."

Laura matched his stride. She felt spooked. "It reeks down

here, Sticky. Like the tankers . . . "

"That's tangle-gun, plastic," Sticky told her. "From war-

game drills. You get hit by a tangle-gun, there's a funny stink

while the plastic sets. Then it's like you're wrapped in barbed

wire... .

He was lying. There were labs down here somewhere.

Somewhere off in the fungal darkness. She could feel it. That

faint acid reek .. .

"These are the killing grounds," he said. "Where the

invaders will pay. Not that we can stop them, any more than

Fedon did. But they'll pay blood. These tunnels, they're full

of things to jump you out of darkness...." He sniffed.

"Don't worry, not your Yankees. Yankees nah have much

nerve these days. But whoever. Babylon."

" `The Man,' " Laura said.

Sticky grinned.

The Bank's Directors were waiting for her. They were

simply there, in the tunnel, under a pool of light. They had a

long, rectangular meeting table and some comfortable leather

chairs. Coffee thermoses, ashtrays, some keypads and pen-

cils. They were chatting with each other. Smiling. Little curls

of cigarette smoke rising under the light.

They rose when they saw her. Five black men. Four in

well-tailored suits; one was wearing a uniform with starred

shoulder boards. Three sat on the table's left, two on the right.

The chair at the head of the table was empty. So was the

chair at its right-hand side. Sticky escorted her to the seat at

the table's foot.

The general spoke. "That will be all, Captain." Sticky

saluted sharply and turned on his heel. She heard his boots

ring as he-marched off into darkness.

"Welcome to Grenada, Mrs. Webster. Please be seated."

Everyone sat, with . squeaks of leather. They all had brass

nameplates, thoughtfully turned her way. DR. CASTLEMAN. MR.RAINEY.

MR. GOULD. GEN. CREFT. MR. GELLI. Mr. Gelli was the

youngest man, among them. He looked about forty; he was

Italian, and his skin was black. The empty seats had name-

plates, too. MR. STUBBS. And P.M. ERIC LOUISON ...

"My name is Mr. Gould," Mr. Gould announced. He was

a heavyset, black-skinned Anglo, about sixty-five, wearing

video rouge and a wiry toupee. "I'm acting as chairman for

this special panel of inquiry, examining the circumstances of

the death of a Grenadian citizen, Mr. Winston Stubbs. We are

not a court and cannot decide legal issues, though we can

offer advice and counsel to the prime minister. Under Grenadian

law, Mrs. Webster, you are not entitled to counsel before a

special panel of this kind; however, false testimony carries

the penalty of perjury. Mr. Gelli will administer your oath.

Mr. Gelli?"

Mr. Gelli rose quickly to his feet. "Raise your right hand,

please. Do you solemnly swear, or affirm ..." He read her

the whole thing.

"I do," Laura said. Castleman was the weirdest of the lot.

He was grossly fat and had shoulder-length hair and a scrag-

gly beard; he was smoking a cigarillo down to the filter. His

eyes were blue and spacy. He tapped left-handed at a little

keyboard deck.

Rainey was bored. He was doodling at his paper and

touching his large black Anglo nose as if it ached. He had an

emerald earring and a bracelet of heavy gold link. General

Creft looked like he might be a genuine black person, though

his cream-and-coffee skin was the lightest of the lot. He had

the unblinking eyes of a crocodile and a street brawler's

scar-knuckled hands. Hands that would look natural clutching

pliers or a rubber hose.

They quizzed her for an hour and a half. They were polite,

low-key. Gould did most of the talking, pausing to page

through notes on his deck. Rainey didn't care-the thrill level

here was obviously too low for him; he would have been

happier running speedboats past the Florida Coast Guard.

Creft took center stage when they asked about the killer

drone. Creft had a whole portfolio of printout photos of the

Canadair CL-227-the orange peanut refitted with a dreadful

variety of strafing guns, napalm squirters, gas dispensers.... She

pointed out the model that looked closest to the profile she

remembered. Creft passed it silently down the row. They all

nodded... .

Gelli didn't say much. He was the junior partner. The older

model of Gelli, obviously hadn't kept up with the times.

Somebody had scrapped him... .

She waited for the right moment to spring her news about

the F.A.C.T. She called her deck back in the mansion,

downloaded the evidence Emily had sent her, and spilled it in

their laps. They looked it over, hemming and hawing.

(Castleman zipped through it at 2400 baud, his fat-shrouded

eyes devouring whole paragraphs at once.)

They were polite. They were skeptical. The president of

Mali, one Moussa Diokite, was a personal friend of Prime

Minister Louison. The two countries shared fraternal bonds

and had contemplated cultural-exchange missions. Unfortu-

nately, plans for peaceful exchange had fallen through, be-

cause of the constant state of crisis in all the Sahara countries.

Mali had nothing at all to gain from an attack on Grenada;

Mali was desperately poor and racked by civil disorder.

And the evidence was bad. Algeria and Mali had a long-

standing border dispute; Algeria's State Department would

say anything. 1. G. Farben's list of F.A.C.T. terrorist actions

in Turkish Cyprus was impressive and useful, but proved

nothing. Kymera Corporation were paranoid, always blaming

foreigners for the actions of Japanese yakuza crime gangs.

Blaming Mali was a wild flight of fancy, when the Singaporeans

were clearly the aggressors.

"How do you know it's Singapore?" Laura asked. "Can

you prove that Singapore killed Mr. Stubbs? Did Singapore

attack the Rizome Lodge in Galveston? If you can prove that

you dealt faithfully, while the Islamic Bank broke the terms, I

promise that I'll support your grievances in every way I can."

"We appreciate your position," said Mr. Gould. "Legal

proof in a murder committed by remote control is, of course,

rather difficult.... Have you ever been to Singapore?"

"No. Rizome has an office there, but ..."

"You've had a chance to see what we do here, on our own

island. I think you understand now that we're not the mon-

sters we've been painted. "

General Creft's lean face creased with a gleam of fangs. He

was smiling at her, or trying to. Castleman stirred with a

grunt and began hitting function keys.

"A trip to Singapore might enlighten you," Gould said.

"Would you be interested in going there?"

Laura paused. "In what capacity?"

"As our negotiator. As an officer in the United Bank of

Grenada." Mr. Gould tapped at his deck. "Let me point

out," he said, watching the screen, "that Rizome operates

under severe legal strictures. Very likely the Vienna Convention

will soon shut down Rizome's investigations entirely."

He glanced up at her. "Unless you join us, Mrs. Webster,

you will never learn the truth about who attacked you. You

will have to go back to that bullet-riddled Lodge of yours,

never knowing who your enemy was, or when they will strike

again... .

Mr. Rainey spoke up. He had the drawl of an old-time

Florida cracker. "I reckon you know that we have a lot of

data on you and your husband. This is no sudden decision on

our part, Mrs. Webster. We know your abilities-we've even

seen the work you -did, on that safehouse where we've been

protecting you." He smiled. "We like your attitude. To put it

short, we believe in you. We know how you had to fight

within Rizome, to get a chance to build your Lodge and put

your ideas into practice. With us, you'd have no such fight.

We know how to leave creative people to their work."

Laura touched her earphone. There was dead silence on the

line. "You've cut me off the Net," she said.

Rainey spread his hands, his gold wristlet catching the

light. "It did seem wisest."

"You want me to defect from my company."

"Defect. my, that's an ugly word! We want you to join

us. Your husband, David, too. We can promise you both a

level of support that might surprise you." Rainey nodded at

the deck screen before her. A financial spreadsheet was com-

ing up. "Of course, we know about your personal financial

worth. We were surprised to see that, without Rizome, you

scarcely own anything! Sure, you've got shares, but the

things you've built don't belong to you-you just run them

for your corporation. I've known plumbers with bigger salaries

than you have! But things are different here. We know

how to be generous."

"You seem to enjoy the plantation house," Gould said.

"It's yours-we could sign over title today. You can hire

your own staff, of course. Transportation's no problem-we'll

put a chopper and pilot at your disposal. And I can assure you

that you'll be better protected under Bank security than you

could ever be back in the States."

Laura glanced at the screen before her. A sudden shock-

they were talking millions. Millions of Grenadian roubles, she

realized. Funny money. "I don't have anything to offer you

that's worth this amount," she said.

"We have an unfortunate public image," Gould said sadly.

"We've turned our back on the Net, and we've been vilified

for it. Repairing that damage would be your job in the long

run, Mrs. Webster-it should suit your skills. In the short

run, we have this Singapore crisis. There's no love lost

between us and our rival bank. But escalating warfare doesn't

suit either of us. And you are a perfect candidate for convey-

ing a peace proposal."

"Pure as the driven snow," murmured Mr. Castleman. He

was gazing at the shiny surface of his gold cigarillo case. He

popped it open and fired up another.

"You do have a credibility with Singapore that our own

ambassadors lack," Mr. Gould said. A little twitch of irritation

had passed his face at Castleman's indiscretion.

"I can't possibly give you an answer without checking

with my company," Laura said. "And my husband."

"Your husband seems to like the idea," Gould said. "Of

course we broached the idea to him already. Does that affect

your thinking?"

"My company is going to be very upset that you've cut me

offline," Laura said. "That wasn't in our agreement."

"We haven't exactly cut you off," Castleman said. "The

line's still up, but we're feeding it a simulation...." His

pudgy fingers flickered in midair. "An easy graphics job-no

backgrounds, just light, darkness, a tabletop and talking heads.

None of this exists, you see. We haven't been existing for

some time now."

Gelli laughed nervously.

"Then I'm closing this meeting of our investigative panel,"

said Mr. Gould. "You could have told me, Castleman."

"Sorry," Castleman said lazily.

"I mean that I would have officially closed the investigation, even before we went offline for the recruitment effort."

"I'm sorry, Gould, really," Castleman said. "You know I

don't have your flair for this sort of thing."

"But now we can reason together," Rainey said, with an

air of relief. He bent and reached beneath the table. He rose

clutching a Rastafarian hookah of speckled bamboo, with a

bowl of curving ramshorn, burnt sticky-black with resin. It

looked a thousand years old, mummy-wrapped in antique

leather thongs and crude dangling beads. "Will His Excel-

lency join us?" Rainey asked.

"I'll check," Castleman said. He tapped rapidly at his

keyboard. The lights dimmed to a mellow glow.

Rainey slapped a leather bag onto the tabletop and pulled

its drawstring with a hiss. "Lamb's bread!" he exulted,

pulling a handful of chopped green weed. He began stuffing

the pipe with deft, flashy gestures.

The prime minister was sitting at the head of the table. A

little black man wearing dark shades and a high-collared

military jacket. He'd materialized out of nowhere.

"Welcome to Grenada," he said.

Laura stared.

"Please don't be alarmed, Mrs. Webster," said Prime

Minister Louison. "This is not a formal proceeding. We often

reason together in this manner. In the sacrament of meditation."

Rainey slid the pipe across the table. Louison took it and

fired it with a chrome lighter, puffing loudly. The marijuana

ignited with an angry hiss and bluish flames danced above the

bowl.


"Burn the Pope!" said General Creft.

Louison's head was wreathed in smog. He blew a stream to

his right, across Stubbs's empty chair. "In memory of a good

friend." He passed the pipe to Rainey. Rainey sucked loudly-

the pipe bubbled. "Fire and water," he said, giving it to

Gelli.


Gelli huffed enthusiastically and leaned back in his chair.

He slid it to Laura. "Don't be scared," Gelli said. "None of

this is happening, really."

Laura slid the pipe toward General Creft. The air was

growing blue with sweetish smoke. Creft puffed and blew

with great hyperventilating wheezes.

Laura sat tensely on the edge of her seat. "I'm sorry I can't

join your ceremony,". she said. -"It would discredit me as a

bargaining partner. In the eyes of my company."

Rainey cawed with laughter. They chuckled all around.

"They won't know," Gelli told her.

"They won't understand," Castleman said, breathing smoke.

"They won't believe," said Gould.

The prime minister leaned forward, his shades gleaming.

His medals glistened in the light. "Some mon deal with

information," he told her. "And some mon deal with the

concept of truth. But some mon deal with magic. Information

flow around ya. And truth flow right at ya. But magic-it

flow right through ya."

"These are tricks," Laura said. She gripped the table.

"You want me to join you-how can I trust you? I'm not a

magician We know what you are," Gould said, as if talking to a

child. "We know all about you. You, your Rizome, your

Net-you think that your world encompasses ours. But it

doesn't. Your world is a subset of our world." He slapped

the table with his open palm-a gunshot bang of noise. "You

see, we know everything about you. But you know nothing at

all about us."

"You have a little spark, maybe," Rainey said. He was

leaning back in his chair, steepling his fingertips, his eyes

slitted, and already reddening. "But you'll never see the

future-the real future-until you learn to open up your

mind. To see all the levels ... "

"All the levels under the world," Castleman said. - 'Tricks,'

you call it. Reality's nothing but levels and levels of tricks.

Take that stupid black glass off your eyes, and we can show

you ... so many things...."

Laura jumped to her feet. "Put me back on the Net! You

have no right to do this. Put me back at once."

The prime minister laughed. A dry little wizened chuckle.

He set the fuming pipe under the table. Then he sat back up,

lifted both hands theatrically, and vaporized.

The Bank's Directors stood in a body, shoving their chairs

back. They were laughing and shaking their heads. And

ignoring her.

They strolled off together, chuckling, muttering, into the

pitch blackness of the tunnel. Leaving Laura alone under the

pool of light, with the glowing decks and cooling mugs of

coffee. Castleman had forgotten his cigarette; case... .

["Oh my God,"] came a quiet voice in her ear. ["They all

vanished! Laura, are you there? Are you all right?"]

Laura's knees buckled. She half fell backward into her chair.

"Ms. Emerson," she said. "Is that you?"

["Yes, dear. How did they do that?"]

"I'm not sure," Laura said. Her throat was sandpaper dry.

She poured herself some coffee, shakily, not caring what

might be in it. "What exactly did you see them do?"

["Well . . . it seemed quite a reasonable discussion... .

They said that they appreciate our mediation, and don't blame

us for Stubbs's death.... Then suddenly this. You're alone.

One moment they were sitting and talking, and the next, the

chairs were empty and the air was full of smoke."] Ms.

Emerson paused. ["Like a video special effect. Is that what

you saw, Laura?"]

"A special effect," Laura said. She gulped warm coffee.

"Yes . . . they chose this meeting ground, didn't they? I'm

sure they could rig it somehow."

Ms. Emerson laughed quietly. ["Yes, of course. It did give

me a turn.... For a moment I was afraid you'd tell me they

were all Optimal Personas. Ha ha. What a cheap stunt." ]

Laura set her mug down carefully. "How did I, uh, do?"

["Oh, very well, dear. You were quite your usual self. I

did offer a few minor suggestions online, but you seemed

distracted.... Not surprising, in such an important meet-

ing.... Anyway, you did well. "]

"Oh. Good," Laura said. She gazed upward. "I'm sure if

I could reach that ceiling and dig around behind those lights,

I'd find holograms or something."

["Why waste your time?"] Ms. Emerson chuckled. ["And

spoil their harmless little touch of drama.... I notice that

David has also had a very interesting time.... They tried to

recruit him! We've been expecting that."]

"What did he say?"

["He was very polite. He did well, too."]

She heard footsteps. Sticky ambled out of the darkness.

"So," he said. "You sittin' here talkin' to thin air again."

He sprawled carelessly into Gelli's chair. "You okay? You

look a fickle pale." He glanced curiously at one of the

screens. "They give you a hard time?"

"They're a hard bunch," Laura told him. "Your bosses."

"Well it's a hard world," Sticky shrugged. "You'll be

wanting to get back to that baby of yours.... I got the jeep

waitin' up on the roof.... Let's move."
The swaying descent from the tower turned her stomach.

She felt greenish and clammy as they took the winding road

back to the coast. He drove far too fast, the steep, romantic

hills lurching and dipping with the shocks, like cheap back-

stage scenery. "Slow down, Sticky, she said. "I'll throw

up if you don't. "

Sticky looked alarmed. "Why you nah tell me? Hell, we'll

stop." He bounced off the road into the shelter of some trees,

then killed the engine. "You stay here," he told the soldier.

He helped Laura out of her seat. She hung on his arm. "If

I could just walk a little," she said. Sticky led her away from

the jeep, checking the sky again, by reflex.

A light pattering of rain rustled the leaves overhead. "What's

this?" he said. "You hanging all over me. You been taking

Carlotta's pills or something?"

She let him go reluctantly. He felt warm and solid. Made

of human flesh. Sticky laughed to see her swaying there

flat-footed. "What's the matter? Uncle Dave not givin' you

any?"

Laura flushed. "Didn't your mother teach you not to be



such a fucking chauvinist? I can't believe this."

"Hey," Sticky said mildly. "My mother was just one of

Winston's gals. When he snap a finger, she jump like a

gunshot. Not everyone touchy like you, you know." He

squatted beneath a tree, bracing. his back, and picked up a

long twig. "So. They give you a scare, do they?" He juggled

the twig between his fingers. "Tell you anything about the war?"

"Some," Laura said. "Why?"

"Militia's been on full alert for three days," Sticky said.

"Barracks talk says the terries gave the Bank an ultimatum.

Threaten brimstone fire. But we through payin' shakedown

money. So looks like we gonna start poppin' caps."

"Barracks talk," Laura said. Suddenly she felt stifled in

the long black chador. She stripped it, over her head.

"Better keep the flak jacket," Sticky told her. There was a

gleam in his eyes. He liked seeing her throw clothes off.

"Lickle gift from me to you."

She looked around herself, breathing hard. The fine wet

smell of tropic woods. Bird calls. Rain. The world was still

here. No matter what went on in people's heads... .

Sticky jabbed at a termite nest in the tree's roots, waiting

for her.


She felt better now. She understood Sticky. The vicious

fight they'd had earlier seemed almost comfortable now-like

a necessary thing. Now he was giving her a look-not like a

side of beef or an enemy, but a kind of look she was used to

getting from men. He wasn't so different from other young

men. Kind of a jerk maybe, but a human being. She felt a

sudden gush of comradely human feeling for him-almost felt

she could hug him. Or at least invite him to dinner.

Sticky looked down at his boots. "Did they say you a

hostage?" he said tightly. "Say they were gonna shoot you?"

"No," Laura said. "They want to hire us. To work for Grenada."

Sticky began laughing. "That's good. That's real good.

That's funny." He stood up loosely, happily, as if shrugging

off a weight. "You gonna do it?"

"No.'

"I nah think so." He paused. "You ought to, though."



"Why don't you have dinner with us tonight?" Laura said.

"Maybe Carlotta can come. We'll have a good talk together.

The four of us."

"I have to watch what I eat," Sticky said. Meaningless.

But it meant something to him.

Sticky left her at the mansion. David arrived an hour later.

He kicked open the door and came down the hall whooping,

banging the baby on his hip. "Home again, home again.

Loretta was crowing with excitement.

Laura was waiting in the hideous living room, nursing her

second rum punch. "Mother of my child!" David said. "Where

are the diapers, and how was your day?"

"They're supposed to be in the tote."

"I used all of those. God, what smells so good? And what

are you drinking?"

"Rita made planter's punch."

"Well, pour me some." He vanished with the baby and

brought her back freshly changed, with her bottle.

Laura sighed. "You had a good time, David, didn't you?"

"You wouldn't believe what they have out there," David

said, sprawling onto the couch with the baby in his lap. "I

met another one of the Andreis. I mean his name's not

Andrei, but he acted just like him. Korean guy. Big Buckminster

Fuller fan. They're making massive arcologies out of noth-

ing! For nothing! Concretized sand and seastone.... They

sink these iron grates into the ocean, run some voltage through,

and get this: solids begin to accrete ... calcium carbonate,

right? Like seashells! They're growing buildings offshore.

Out of this 'seastone.' And no building permits . . . no impact

statements . . . nothing."

He gulped three inches of cloudy rum and lime, then

shuddered. "Man! I could do with another of these.... Laura,

it was the hottest thing I ever saw. People are living in 'em.

Some of them are under water ... you can't tell where the

walls end and the coral starts."

Little Loretta grabbed her bottle avidly. "And get this-I

was walking around in my work clothes and nobody paid any

attention. Just another black guy, right? Even with old uhmm

... Jesus, I forgot his name already, the Korean Andrei.... He

was giving me the tour, but it was really low-key, I got to see

everything. "

"They want you to work on it?" Laura said.

"More than that! Hell, they offered me a fifteen-million -

rouble budget and carte blanche to get on with whatever I

like." He took off his glasses and set them on the arm of the

couch. "Of course I said no dice-no way I'm staying here

without my wife and kid.-but if we could work out some

kind of co-op thing with Rizome, hell, yes, I'd do it. I'd do it

tomorrow."

"They want me to work for them, too," Laura said.

"They're worried about their public image. "

David stared at her and burst into laughter. "Well of

course they are. Of course. Well, hell, pour me another one.

Tell me all about the meeting."

"It was bizarre," Laura said.

"Well, I believe that! Hell, you ought to see what they're

up to out on the coast. They've got ten-year-old kids out there

who were born-I mean literally born-in seawater. They

have these maternity tanks. . . . They have women at term,

right ... they take 'em out into these birthing tanks Did__

I mention the dolphins?" He sipped his drink.

"Dolphins."

"You ever hear of laser acupuncture? I mean right here

along the spine...." He leaned forward, jostling the baby.

"Oh, sorry, Loretta." He switched arms. "Anyway, I can

tell you all that later. So, you testified, huh? Were they tough?"

"Not tough exactly.... "

"If they want us to defect, it can't have been that bad."

"Well ..." Laura said. It was all slipping away from her.

She was feeling increasingly hopeless. There was no way she

could tell him what had really happened . . . what she thought

had happened . . . especially not online, in front of Atlanta's

cameras. There'd be a better time later. Surely. "If we could

only talk privately ..."

David smirked. "Yeah, it's a bitch, online... Well, I can

have Atlanta send us back the tapes of your testimony. We'll

look over 'em together, you can tell me all about it." Silence.

"Unless there's something you have to tell me right now."

"No...

"Well, I have something to tell you." He finished his



drink. "I was gonna wait till after supper, but I just can't

hold it." He grinned. "Carlotta made a pass at me."

"Carlotta?" Laura said, shocked. "She did what?" She sat

up straighter.

"Yeah. She was there. We were offline together for just a

second in one of the aquaculture rooms. It wasn't wired, see.

And she kind of sways over, slips her hand up under my

shirt, and says . . . I don't remember exactly, but it was

something like: `Ever wonder what it would be like? We

know a lot of things Laura doesn't.' "

Laura turned livid. "What was that?" she demanded. "What

about her hand?"

David blinked, his smile fading. "She just ran her hand

over my ribs. To show she meant business, I guess." He was

already defensive. "Don't blame me. I wasn't asking for it."

"I'm not blaming you, but I'm the one that means your

business," Laura told him. Long silence. "And I kind of

wish you weren't so gleeful about it."

David could not hide his grin. "Well ... I guess it was

kind of flattering. I mean, everybody we know, knows we

have a solid thing together, so it's not like the woods are full

of women flinging themselves at me.... Y'know, it wasn't

even so much that Carlotta herself was making a pass.... It

was sort of a generic hooker pass. Like a business proposition."

He let Loretta grip his fingers. "Don't think too much of

it. You were right when you said they were trying to get at

us. It's like, they use whatever they can. Drugs-we don't go

for that. Money-well, we're not breadheads.... Sex-I think

they just told Carlotta to try it, and she said she would. None

of that means much. But man--creative potential-I'm not

ashamed to say that got me where I lived."

"What a shitty thing to do," Laura said. "At the very

least, she could have sent some other Church girl. "

"Yeah," he mused, "but maybe another girl would have

looked better. . . . Oh, sorry. Forget I said that. I'm drunk."

She forced herself to think about it. Maybe he'd been

offline for just five minutes in that offline netherworld they

had here, and maybe, just maybe, he'd done it. Maybe he'd

slept with Carlotta. She could feel her world cracking at the

thought, like ice over deep black water.

David played with the baby, a harmless tra-la-la expression

on his face. No. No way he could have done it. She'd never

even doubted him before. Never like this.

It was like a dozen years of confident adulthood had split

open in black crevasses. Way down there, raw scars of the

world-eating fear she'd felt, when she was nine years old and

her parents broke up. Rum soured in her stomach, and she

felt a sudden cramping pang.

It was another ploy, she thought grimly. They weren't

going to do this to her. Everyone had insecurities. They knew

about hers-they knew her personal history. But they weren't

going to play on her private feelings of dread and make her

start doubting reality. She wouldn't let them. No. No more

weaknesses. Nothing but stern resolve. Until she'd put an end

to this.

She stood up and walked quickly through the bedroom, to

the bath. She threw off her filthy clothes. There was a stain.

Her period had started. The first she'd had since the. preg-

nancy. "Oh, fuck," she said, and burst into tears. She got

into the shower and let the needle-thin gush of odd-smelling

water blast her face.

The weeping helped. She flushed the weakness out like

poison in her tears. Then she put on mascara and eye shadow,

so he wouldn't see the redness. And she wore a dress for

dinner.

David was still full of the things he'd seen, so she let him



talk, and just smiled and nodded, in Rita's candlelight.

He was serious about staying in Grenada. "The tech is

more important than the politics," he told her blithely. "That

crap never lasts, but a real innovation's like a permanent

infrastructural asset!" The two of them could form a real

`Rizome Grenada'-it would be like arranging the Lodge, but

on a scale twenty times bigger, and with free money. They

would show them what a Rizome architect could do-and it'd

be a foothold for some sane social values. Sooner or later the

Net would civilize the place-wean them away from their

crazy piracy bullshit. Grenada didn't need dope, it needed

food and shelter.

They went to bed, and David reached for her. And she had

to tell him she had her period. He was surprised, and glad. "I

thought you were looking a little stressed," he said. "It's

been a whole year, hasn't it? Must feel pretty weird to have it

back. "

"No," she said, "it's just . . . natural. You get used to it."



"You haven't said much tonight," he said. He rubbed her

stomach gently. "Kind of mysterious."

"I'm just tired," she said. "I can't really talk about it just

now."


"Don't let 'em get you down. Those Bank creeps aren't so

much," he said. "I hope we get a chance to meet old

Louison, the prime minister. Down in the projects, people

were talking about him like these Bank hustlers were just his

errand boys." He hesitated. "I don't like the way they talked

about Louison. Like they were really scared."

"Sticky told me there's a lot of war talk," Laura told him.

"The army's on alert. People are tense."

"You're tense," he said, rubbing her. "Your shoulders are

like wood." He yawned. "You know you can. tell me any-

thing, Laura. We don't keep secrets, you know that."

"I want to see the tapes tomorrow," she said. "We'll go

over 'em together, like you said." There was bound to be a

flaw in them, she thought. Somewhere, a little flicker, or a

misplaced chunk of pixels. Something that would prove that

they were faked, and that she wasn't crazy. She couldn't have

people thinking she was cracking up. It would ruin everything.

She was unable to sleep. The day tossed through her mind,

over and over. And the cramps were bad. At half past mid-

night she gave up and put on a robe.

David had made Loretta a crib-a little square corral,

padded all around with blankets. Laura looked over her little

girl and cradled her with a glance. Then back at David. It was

funny how much they looked alike when they slept. Father

and daughter. Some strange human vitality that had passed

through her, that she'd nurtured within herself. Wonderful,

painful, eerie. The house was still as death.

She heard distant thunder. From the north. Hollow, re-

peated booms. It was going to rain. That would be nice. A

little tropic rain to soothe her nerves.

She walked silently through the living room onto the porch.

She and David had cleared the junk away and swept the

place; it was comfortable there now. She swung out the arms

of an old Morris chair and reclined in it, propping up her tired

legs. Warm garden air with the heavy-lidded perfume reek of

ylang-ylang. No rain yet. The air was full of tension.

The distant lights at the gate flashed on. Laura winced and

lifted her head. The two night guards-she didn't know their

names yet-had come out and were conferring over their belt

phones.


She heard a pop overhead. Very quiet, unobtrusive, like a

rafter settling. Then another one: a faint metallic bonk, and a

rustle. Very quiet, like birds landing.

Something had dropped onto the roof. Something had hit

the top of one of the turrets-bonked off its tin roof onto the

shingles.

White glare sheeted over the yard, silently. White glare

from the top of the mansion. The guards looked up, startled.

They flung their arms up in surprise, like bad actors.

The roof began crackling.

Laura stood up and screamed at the top of her lungs.

She dashed through the darkened house to the bedroom.

The baby had jerked awake and was howling in fear. David

was sitting up in bed, dazed. "We're on fire," she told him.

He catapulted out of bed and stumbled into his pants.

"Where?"


"The roof. In two places. Fire bombs, I think."

"Oh, Jesus," he said. "You grab Loretta and I'll get the

others. "

She strapped Loretta into her tote and tossed their decks

into a suitcase. She could smell smoke by the time she'd

finished. And there was a steady crackling roar.

She hauled the baby and the suitcase out into the yard. She

left Loretta in her tote, behind the fountain, then turned to

look. One of the turrets was wrapped in flames. A leaping

ulcer of fire spread over the west wing.

Rajiv and Jimmy came out, half carrying a coughing,

weeping Rita. Laura ran to them. She sank her nails into

Rajiv's naked arm. "Where's my husband, you stupid bastard!"

"Very sorry, madam," Rajiv whimpered. He tugged ner-

vously at his drooping pants. "Sorry, madam, very sorry . . . "

She shoved him aside so hard' that he spun and fell. She

vaulted the stairs and rushed back in, ignoring their yells.

David was in the bedroom. He was crouched almost dou-

ble, with a wet washcloth pressed to his face. He was wearing

his videoglasses, and had hers propped on his head. The

bedside clock was clamped under his armpit. "Just a sec," he

muttered, fixing her with blank, gold-etched eyes. "Gotta

find my toolbox."

"Fuck it, David, go!" She hauled at his arm. He went

reluctantly, stumbling.

Once outside, they had to back away from the heat. One by

one, the upper rooms were beginning to explode. David

dropped his washcloth, numbly. "Flashover," he said, staring.

A fist of dirty flame punched out an upstairs window.

Shards of glass fountained across the lawn. "The heat builds

up," David muttered clinically. "The whole room ignites at

once. And the gas pressure just blows the walls out."

The soldiers pushed them back, holding their stupid, use-

less tangle-guns at chest level, like police batons. David went

reluctantly, hypnotized by destruction. "I've run simulations

of this, but I've never seen it happen," he said, to no one in

particular. "Jesus, what a sight!"

Laura shoved one of the teenage soldiers as he trampled her

bare foot. "Some help you are, asshole! Where in hell is the

fire department or whatever you use in this godforsaken place?"

The boy backed off, trembling, and dropped his gun. "Look

at the sky!" He pointed northeast.

Low scud of burning clouds on the northern horizon. Lit

like dawn with ugly, burning amber. "What the hell," David

said, marveling. "That's miles away.... Laura, that's Point

Sauteur. It's the whole fucking complex off there. That's a

refinery fire!"

"Brimstone fire," the soldier wailed. He started sobbing,

dabbing at his face. The other soldier, a bigger man, kicked

him hard in the leg. "Pick up you weapon, bloodclot!"

A distant dirty flash lit the clouds. "Man, I hope they

haven't hit the tankers," David said. "Man, I hope the poor

bastards on those rigs have lifeboats. " He tugged at his

earpiece. "You getting all this, Atlanta?"

Laura pulled her own rig off his head. She backed away

and fetched Loretta in her tote. She pulled the screaming baby

free of the thing and cradled her against her chest, rocking her

and murmuring.

Then she put the glasses on.

Now she could watch it without hurting so much.


The mansion burned to the ground. It took all night. Their

little group huddled together in the guardhouse, listening to

tales of disaster on the phones.

Around seven A.M., a spidery military chopper arrived and

set down by the fountain.

Andrei, the Polish émigré, hopped out. He took a large box

from the pilot and joined them at the gates.

Andréi's left arm was wrapped in medicinal gauze, and he

stank of chemical soot. "I have brought shoes and uniforms

for all survivors," he announced. The box was full of flat,

plastic-wrapped packs: the standard cadre's jeans and short-sleeved

shirts. "Very sorry to be such bad hosts," Andrei

told them somberly. "The Grenadian People apologize to you."

"At least we survived," Laura told him. She slipped her

bare feet gratefully into the soft deck shoes. "Who took

credit?"


"The malefactors of the F.A.C.T. have broken all civilized bounds. "

"I figured," Laura said, taking the box. "We'll take turns

changing inside the guardhouse. David and I will go first."

Inside, she shucked out of her flimsy nightrobe and buttoned

on the stiff, fresh shirt and heavy jeans. David put on a shirt

and shoes.

They stepped out and Rita went in, shivering. "Now, you

will please join me in the helicopter," Andrei said. "The

world must know of this atrocity...."

"All right," Laura said. "Who's online?"

["Practically everybody,"] Emily told her. ["We got you

on a live feed throughout the company, and to a couple of

news services. Vienna's gonna have a hard time holding this

one.... It's just too big."]

Andrei paused at the chopper's hatchway. "Can you leave the baby?"

"No way," David said flatly. They climbed into two crash

couches in the back, and David held Loretta's tote in his lap.

Andrei took the copilot's seat and they buckled in.

Up and away in a quiet hiss of rotor blades.

David glanced out the bulletproof window at the mansion's

black wreckage. "Any idea what hit our house?"

"Yes. There were many of them. Very small, cheap

planes-paper and bamboo, like children's kites. Radar-

transparent. Many have crashed now, but not before they

dropped their many bombs. Little thermite sticks with flaming jelly."

"Were they hitting us in particular? Rizome, I mean?"

Andrei shrugged in his shoulder harness. "It is hard to say.

Many such houses have burned. The communiqué does men-

tion you.... I have it here." He passed them a printout.

Laura glanced at it: date and tag line, and block after block of

the usual Stalinist garbage. "Do you have a casualty count?"

"Seven hundred so far. It is rising. They are still pulling

bodies from the offshore rigs. They hit us with antiship 'missiles."

"Good God," David said.

"Those were heavy armaments. We have choppers out

looking for ships. There may have been several. But there are

many ships in the Caribbean, and missiles have a long range."

He reached into his shirt pocket. "Have you seen these before?"

Laura took the object from his fingers. It looked like a big

plastic paper clip. It was speckled camo-green and brown,

and weighed almost nothing. "No."

"This one is defused-it is plastic explosive. A mine. It

can blow the tire off a truck. Or the leg off a woman or

child." His voice was cold. "The small planes scattered

many, many hundreds of them. You will not be traveling by

the road anymore. And we will not set foot around the complex. "

"What kind of crazy bastard-" David said.

"They mean to deny us our own country," Andrei said.

"These devices will shed our blood for months to come."

Land slid below them; suddenly they were over the Carib-

bean. The chopper wheeled. "Do not fly into the smoke,"

Andrei told the pilot. "It is toxic."

Smoke still billowed from two of the offshore rigs. They

resembled giant tabletops piled high with burning cars. A pair

of fire barges spewed long, feathered plumes of chemical

foam over them.

The jackleg rigs had cranked themselves down to the sur-

face; their ornate hydraulics were awash with saltwater. The

water was full of blackened flotsam-blobs of fabric, writh-

ing plastic snakes of cable. And stiff-armed floating things

that looked like dummies. Laura looked away with a gasp of pain

"No, look very well," Andrei told her. "They never even

showed us a face.... Let these people have faces, at least."

"I can't look," she said tightly.

"Then close your eyes behind the glasses."

"All right." She pressed her blind face to the window.

"Andrei. What are you going to do?"

"You are leaving this afternoon," he said. "As you see,

we can no longer guarantee your safety. You will leave as

soon as the airport is swept for mines." He paused. "These

will be the last flights out. We want no more foreigners. No

prying journalists. And none of the vermin from the Vienna

Convention. We are sealing our borders."

She opened her eyes. They were hovering over the shoreline. Half-naked Rastas were pulling corpses up onto the

docks. A dead little girl, limp clothes sheeting water. Laura

bit back a shriek, grabbing David's arm. Her gorge rose. She

slumped back into the seat, fighting her stomach.

"Can't you see my wife is sick?" David said sharply.

"This is enough."

"No," Laura said shakily. "Andrei's right.... Andrei,

listen. There's no way that Singapore could have done this.

That's not gang war. This is atrocity."

"They tell us the same," Andrei admitted. "I think they

are afraid. This morning, we captured their agents in Trini-

dad. It seems they have been playing with toy planes and matches."

"You can't attack Singapore!" Laura said. "More killing

can't help you!"

"We are not Christs or Gandhis," Andrei said. He spoke

slowly, carefully. "This is terrorism. But there is a deeper

kind of terror than this . . . a fear far older and darker. You

could tell Singapore about that terror. You know something

about it, Laura, I think."

"You want me to go to Singapore?" Laura said. "Yes. I'll

go there. If it'll stop this."

"They need not fear little toy planes," Andrei said. "But

you can tell them to be afraid of the dark. To be afraid of

food-and air-and water-and their own shadows."

David looked at Andrei, his jaw dropping.

Andrei sighed. "If they are innocent of this, then they must

prove it and join us immediately."

"Yes, of course," Laura said quickly. "You have to make

common cause. Together. Rizome can help."

"Otherwise I pity Singapore," Andrei said. He had a look

in his eyes that she had never seen in a human face. It was the

farthest thing from pity.
Andrei left them at the little military airstrip at Pearls. But

the evacuation flight he'd promised never showed-some

kind of foulup. Eventually, after dark, a cargo chopper ferried

Laura and David to the civilian airport at Point Salines.

The night was pierced with headlights and the airport road

was snarled with traffic. A company of mechanized infantry

had seized the airport gates. A blasted truck on the roadside

smoldered gently-it had wandered through a scattering of

paper-clip mines.

Their chopper carried them smoothly over the fence. In-

side, the airport was a jumble of luxury saloons and limos.

Militia in flak jackets and riot helmets were beating the

airport bounds with long bamboo poles. Minesweepers. As

the chopper settled to the weedy tarmac, Laura heard a sharp

crack and flash as a pole connected.

"Watch you step," the pilot said cheerily, flinging open

the hatch. A militia kid in camo, about nineteen-he looked

excited by the night's action. Any kind of destruction was

thrilling-it didn't seem to matter that it was his own people.

Laura and David decamped onto the tarmac, carrying the

sleeping baby in her tote.

The chopper lifted silently. A little baggage cart scurried

past them in the darkness. Someone had crudely wired a pair

of push brooms to the cart's front. Laura and David shuffled

carefully toward. the lights of the terminal. It was only thirty

yards away. Surely somebody had swept it for mines

already. . . . They eased their way around a mauve sports car.

Two fat men, wearing elaborate video makeup, were asleep

or drunk in the car's plush bucket seats.

Soldiers yelled at them, beckoning. " 'Ey! Get away! You

people! No robbin', no lootin'!"

They stepped into the long floodlit portico of the terminal.

Some of the glass frontage had been smashed or blown out;

inside, the place was crammed. Excited crowd noise, waft of

body heat, popping, scuffling. A Cuban airliner lifted off, its

graceful hiss of takeoff drowned by the crowd.

A soldier in shoulder bars grabbed David's arm. "Papers.

Passport card."

"Don't have 'em," David said. "We were burned out."

"No reservation, no tickets?" the colonel said. "Can nah

come in without tickets." He examined their cadre's uni-

forms, puzzled. "Where you get those telly-glasses?"

"Gould and Castleman sent us," Laura lied smoothly. She

touched her glasses. "Havana's just a stopover for us. We're

witnesses. Outside contacts. You understand."

"Yah," the colonel said, flinching. He waved them inside.

They filtered quickly into the crowd. "That was brilliant!"

David told her. "But we still got no tickets."

["We can handle that,"] Emerson said. ["We have the

Cuban airline online now. They're running the evacuation-we

can get you the next flight."

"Great. "

["You're almost back-try not to worry. "]

"Thanks, Atlanta. Solidarity." David scanned the crowd.

At least three hundred of them. "Man, it's a mad doctor's

convention

Like kicking over a rotten log, Laura thought. The airport

was crawling with tight-faced Anglos and Europeans-they

seemed split pretty evenly between well-dressed gangster ex-

iles and vice-dazzled techies gone native. Dozens of refugees

sprawled on the floor, nervously clutching their loot. Laura

stepped over the feet of a slim black woman passed out on a

heap of designer luggage, a dope sticker glued to her neck.

Half a dozen hustlers in Trinidadian shirts were shooting

craps on the floor, shouting excitedly in some East European

language. Two screaming ten-year-olds chased each other

through a group of men methodically smashing tape cassettes.

"Look," David said, pointing. A group of white-clad women

stood at the edge of the crowd. Faint looks of disdain on their

faces. Nurses, Laura thought. Or nuns.

"Church hookers!" David said. "Look, that's Carlotta!"

They shouldered their way through, skidding on trash.

Suddenly a scream erupted to their left. "What do you mean,

you can't change it?" The shouter was waving a Grenadian

credit card in the face of a militia captain. "There's fucking

millions on this card, asshole!" A portly Anglo in a suit and

jogging shoes-the shoes flickered with readouts. "You'd

better call your fucking boss, Jack!"

"Sit down," the captain ordered. He gave the man a shove.

"Okay," the man said, not sitting. He stuffed the card

inside his lapel. "Okay. I changed my mind. I'm choosing

the tunnels instead. Take me back to the tunnels, pal." No

response. "Don't you know who you're fucking talking to?"

He grabbed the captain's sleeve.

The captain knocked the grasping hand loose with a quick

chop to the arm. Then he kicked the man's feet out from

under him. The complainer fell heavily on his ass. He lurched

back to his feet, his fists clenching.

The captain shrugged his tangle-gun free and shot the man

pointblank. A high-speed splattering punch of wet plastic. A

serpent's nest of stinking ribbon flew over the Anglo's chest,

trapping his arms, his neck, his face, and a nearby piece of

luggage. He hit the floor squalling.

A roar of alarm from the crowd. Three militia privates

rushed to their captain's aid, guns drawn. "Sit down!" the

captain shouted, pumping another round into the chamber.

"Everyone! Down, now!" The tangle-victim started to choke.

People sat. Laura and David, too. people sat in a spreading

wave, like a sporting event. Some laced their hands behind

their heads, as if by reflex. The captain grinned and bran-

dished his gun over them. "Better." He kicked the man,

casually.

Suddenly the nuns approached in a body. Their leader was

a black woman; she pulled back her wimple, revealing gray

hair, a lined face. "Captain," she said calmly. "This man is

choking. "

"He a t'ief, Sister," the captain said.

"That may be, Captain, but he still needs to breathe."

Three of the Church women knelt by the victim, tugging at

the strands around his throat. The old woman-an Abbess,

Laura thought unwillingly-turned to the crowd and spread

her hands in the crook-fingered Church blessing. "Violence

serves no one," she said. "Please be silent."

She walked away, her sisters following without a word.

They left the tangle-victim where he lay, wheezing quietly.

The captain shrugged, and slung his gun again, and turned

away, gesturing to his men. After a moment people began to stand up.

["That was well done,"] Emerson said.

David helped Laura to her feet and picked up the baby's

tote. "Hey! Carlotta!" They followed her.

Carlotta spoke briefly to the Abbess, pulled her wimple

back, and stepped away from her sisters.

"Hello," she said. Her frizzy mane of hair was pulled

back. Her sharp-cheeked face looked naked and bleak. It was

the first time they'd ever seen Carlotta without makeup.

"I'm surprised to see you leaving," Laura told her.

Carlotta shook her head. "They hit our temple. A temporary setback."

"Sorry," David said. "We were burned out, too."

"We'll be back," Carlotta shrugged. "Where there's war,

there's whores."

The speakers crackled into life-a Cuban stewardess speak-

ing Spanish. "Hey, that's us," David said suddenly. "They

want us at the desk." He paused. "You hold Loretta, I'll

go." He hurried off.

Laura and Carlotta stared at each other.

"He told me what you did," Laura said. "In case you

were wondering."

Carlotta half smirked. "Orders, Laura."

"I thought we were friends."

"Friends maybe. But not Sisters," Carlotta said. "I know

where my loyalties lie. Just as well as you do."

Laura-hefted Loretta's tote and slipped its strap onto her

shoulder. "Loyalty doesn't give you the right to trash my

family life."

Carlotta blinked. "Family, huh? If family meant so much

to you, you'd be taking care of your man and baby in Texas,

not dragging them here into the line of fire."

"How dare you," Laura said. "David believes in this as

much as I do. "

"No, he doesn't. You hustled him into this so you could

crawl up your company hierarchy." She raised a hand. "Laura,

he's just a man. You need to get him away from the guns.

The old evil's loose again. Men are full of war poison."

"That's craziness!"

Carlotta shook her head. "You're out of your league,

Laura. Are you willing to put your body between a gun and a

victim? I am. But you're not, are you? You don't have faith."

"I'm faithful to David," Laura said tightly. "I'm faithful

to my company. What about you? What about faithful old

Sticky?"


"Sticky's a buffalo soldier," Carlotta said. "Cannon fodder,

full of war evil."

"So that's it?" Laura said, amazed. "You just drop him?

Write him off, just like that?"

"I'm off Romance now," Carlotta said, as if that ex-

plained everything. She reached into her robes and handed

Laura a vial of red pills. "Look, take these, I don't need 'em

now-and stop being so stupid. All that crap you think is so

important two of these'll put it all out of your mind. Go

back to Galveston, Laura, check into a hotel somewhere, and

fuck David's brains out. Snuggle up under the covers and stay

out of the way where you won't get hurt."

Carlotta folded her arms and refused to take the vial back.

Laura stuffed it angrily into her jeans pocket. "So it really

was completely artificial," she said. "You never felt any-

thing genuine for Sticky at all."

"I was watching him for the Church," she said. "He kills people."

"I can't believe this," Laura said, staring at her. "I don't

much like Sticky, but I accept him. As a person. Not a

monster. "

"He's a professional hit man," Carlotta said. "He's killed

over a dozen people."

"I don't believe you."

"What did you expect-that he'd carry an axe and drool?

Captain Thompson doesn't follow your rules. The houngans

have been workin' on him for years. He's not an 'acceptable

person'-he's like an armed warhead! You wondered about

drug factories-Sticky Thompson is a drug factory."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Laura said.

"I mean his guts are full, of bacteria. Special ones-little

drug factories. Where do you think he got that nickname

Sticky? He can eat a carton of yogurt and it turns him into a

killing machine."

"A killing machine?" Laura said. "A carton of yogurt?"

"It's the enzymes. The bugs eat 'em. Make him fast-

strong-feeling no pain, no doubt at all. They're gonna sic

him on Singapore, and wow, I feel sorry for that little island. "

Sticky Thompson-a drug-crazed assassin. She still couldn't

believe it. But what did hit men look like, anyway? Laura's

head spun. "Why didn't you tell me all this before?"

Carlotta looked at her pityingly. "Because you're a straight,

Laura.'


"Stop calling me that!" Laura said. "What makes you so different?"

"Look at you," Carlotta said. "You're educated. You're

smart. You're beautiful. You're married to a goddamn archi-

tect. You have a wonderful baby and friends in high places."

Her eyes narrowed; she began to hiss. "Then look at me.

I'm a cracker. Ugly. No family. Daddy used to beat me up. I

never finished school-I can't hardly read and write. I'm

diselxic, or whatever they call it. You ever wonder what

happens to people who can't read and write? In your fucking

beautiful Net world with all its fucking data? No, you never

thought of that, did you? If I found a place for myself, it was

in the teeth of people like -you."

She pulled her wimple back over her head. "And getting

older, too. I bet you never even wondered what happens to

old Church girls. When we can't work that old black magic

on your precious husbands. Well, don't worry about me,

Mrs. Webster. Our Goddess stands by Her own. Our Church

runs hospitals, clinics, rest homes-we take care of people.

The Goddess gave me my life, not you or your Net. So I

don't owe you nothing!" She looked ready to spit. "Never

forget that."

David came up with the tickets. "It's all set. We're out of

here. Thank God." The speaker announced a flight the

crowd broke into hubbub. The baby began whimpering. David took

her tote. "You okay, Carlotta?"

"I'm jus' fine," Carlotta said, smiling on him sunnily.

"Y'all come visit me in Galveston, won't y'all? Our Rever-

end Morgan just won a seat on the City Council. We got big

plans for Galveston."

"This is our flight," David said. "Good thing we don't

have any luggage--but man, I'm gonna miss that toolbox."
6
Twas a nightmarish flight-like a cattle car. Luggage

crammed everywhere, every seat taken, and refugees

crouching in the aisles. Nothing to eat or drink. An instant

black market, packed into a flying aluminum jail.

There were five armed Cuban flight marshals onboard.

They kept fending back entrepreneurs-sweaty hustlers trying

to scrape together some global cash. Their tinker-toy Grenadian

roubles were meaningless now; they needed ecu and were

selling anything-pinky rings, strips of drug stickers, sisters

if they had them. . . . Cut off from the world, thirty thousand

feet above the Caribbean, but still going through the ritual

motions. But faster now, senselessly, jumping and flickering .. ' .

"Like a lizard throwing off its tail," Laura said. "That's

what the Bank did with these people. Let the Net have 'em,

let the Vienna heat work 'em over. To distract attention."

"You told Andrei you'd go to Singapore," David said.

"Yeah."

"No way," David said. In his toughest voice.



"We're in too deep to back out now."

"The hell," he said. "We could have been killed today.

This isn't our problem-not anymore. It's way too big for us.

"So what do we do? Go back to our Lodge and hope they forget all

about us?"

"There's lots of other Lodges," David said. "We could go

into a Retreat. You and I, we could do with a good Retreat

sabbatical. Relax a little, get away from the televisions. Get

our thoughts together."

A Retreat. Laura didn't like the idea. Retreats were for

Rizome's retired people, or failures, or blunderers. A place

to rusticate while other people made the decisions. "That

won't wash," she said. "It would discredit Rizome's attempt

to negotiate. But we were right to try it. We have to do

something. It's coming to a head-this proves it.

"Then it should be the U.S. State Department," David

said. "Or the Vienna heat-somebody global. Not our company. "

"Rizome is global! Besides, Grenada would shoot a Yan-

kee diplomat on sight. State Department-come on, David,

you might as well send in guys with big placards around their

neck that say `hostage.' " She sniffed. "Besides, the Feds

don't have any clout."

"This is a war. Governments run wars. Not corporations."

"That's premillennium talk," Laura said. "The world's

different now."

"You could have been one of those dead bodies in the

water. Or me, or the baby. Don't your realize that?"

"I know it better than you," she said grimly. "You weren't

standing next to me when they killed Stubbs."

David flushed. "That's a shitty thing to say. I'm standing

next to you now, aren't I?"

"Are you?"

His jaw muscles clenched and he stared at his hands as if

willing them not to punch her. "Well, I guess that depends,

doesn't it? On what you think you're doing."

"I know my long-term goals, Laura said. "Which is

more than you can say." She touched the baby's cheek. "What

kind of world will she live in? That's what's at stake."

"That sounds really noble," he said. "And just a hair away

from megalomania. The world's bigger than the two of us.

We don't live in the `globe,' Laura. We live with each other.

And our child."

He took a deep breath, let it out. "I've had it, that's all.

Maybe my number came up once--okay, I'll stand in the

front lines for Rizome. I'll do one tour of duty. I'll watch

dead bodies, I'll have my house burned over my head. But

they don't pay me enough to die."

"Nobody's ever paid that much," Laura said. "But we

can't watch people be murdered, and say it's fine and dandy

and none of our business."

"We're not indispensable. Let somebody else have a shot

at playing Joan of Arc."

"But I know what's happening," she said. `.'That makes

me valuable. I've seen things other people didn't. Even you,

David. "

"Oh, great," David said. "So now you're going to start in

on how I walk through life in a fog. Listen, Mrs. Webster, I

saw more of the real Grenada than you ever did. The real

things-not this trivial power-play bullshit that you run with

your old girls' network. Goddamn it, Laura! You've got to

learn to take some setbacks and accept your limits!"

"You mean your limits," Laura said.

He stared. "Sure. If you want to see it that way. My

limits. I've reached them. That's it. End of discussion."

She sank back into her seat, raging. Fine. He'd given up

listening. Let's see how some silence suited him.

After a few hours of silence she realized she'd made a

mistake. But it was too late to go back then.


Police boarded the plane at Havana Airport. The passen-

gers were marched off-not exactly at gunpoint, but close

enough not to matter much. It was dark and raining. Behind a

distant line of striped sawhorses, the Spanish-language press

lifted cameras and shouted questions. One exile tried to wan-

der in their direction, waving his arms-he was quickly herded

back.

They entered a wing of the terminal, surrounded by jeeps. It



was crawling with customs men. And the Vienna heat-

exquisitely dressed plainclothesmen with their portable termi-

nals and speckled glasses.

Police began hustling the refugees into ragged lines. Cuban

cops, locals, demanding ID. They escorted a group of trium-

phantly grinning techs past the glowering Viennese. Law -

enforcement turf battles. Cuba had never been all that hot

about the Convention.

Someone called out in Japanese. "Laura-san ni o-banashi

shitai no desu ga!"

"Koko desu," she answered. She spotted them--a young

Japanese couple, standing near an exit door beside a uni-

formed Cuban cop. "C'mon," she told David-her fast word

to him in hours and walked toward them. "Donata ni goyo

desu ka?"

The woman smiled shyly, bowing, "Rara Rebsta?"

"Hai," Laura said. "That's me." She gestured at David.

"Kore wa David Webster to iu mono desu."

The woman reached for Loretta's tote. Surprised, David let

her take it. The woman wrinkled her nose. "0-mutsu o

torikaetea hoga iito omoimasu."

"Yeah, we ran out of them," Laura said. Blank looks.

"Diapers. Eigo wa shabere masuka?" They shook their heads

glumly. "They don't speak English," she told David.

"Que tal?" David said. "Yo no hablo japones-un poquito

solo. Uhh ... iquien es Ustedes? j su amigo interesante?"

"Somos de Kymera Havana," the man said happily. He

bowed and shook David's hand. "Bienvenidos a Cuba, Senor

Rebsta! Soy Yoshio, y mi esposa, Mika. Y el Capitan Reyes,

del Habana Securidad ... "

"It's Kymera Corporation," David said.

"Yeah, I know."

"Looks like they've made some kind of arrangement with

the local police." He paused. "Kymera-they're with us,

right? Economic democrats."

"Solidaridad," Yoshio told him, holding up two fingers.

He winked and opened the door.

Kymera had a car waiting.

Kymera was very well prepared. They had everything.

New passports for them-legal ones. New decks. Diapers and

baby formula. A change of clothes that almost fit, or would

have if they hadn't been eating Rita's banquets. And they'd

cooled things with the Cuban police. Laura thought it was

best not to ask how.

They spent a quiet evening in miraculous, cozy safety at

one of Kymera's Havana compounds. And off the Net, in

privacy-a kind of ecstasy, like getting over an illness. Their

rooms were smaller and everything was closer to the floor,

but otherwise it was like old home week in a Rizome Lodge.

They chatted in Japanese and Spanish over seafood and sake,

and met the Takedas' adorable four-year-old.

"Rizome has shown us some of your tapes," Yoshio said,

pausing for translations. "We are coordinating. Putting all

cards on the table between us."

"You saw the-terrorist attack, then," Laura said.

Yoshio nodded. "Mali has gone too far."

"You're sure it's Mali?"

"We know," Yoshio said. "We used to hire them."

Laura was stunned. "Kymera hired the F.A.C.T.?"

Yoshio looked sheepish, but determined to have it out.

"We suffered much from piracy. The `Army of Counter-

Terrorism' offered us their services. To frighten the pirates,

discourage them. Yes, even kill them. They were efficient.

We paid them secretly for years. So did many other companies.

It seemed better than making armies of our own people. "

David and Laura conferred. David was scandalized. "The

Japanese hired terrorist mercenaries?"

Yoshio looked impatient. "We're not Japanese! Kymera is

incorporated in Mexico."

"Oh.'


"You know how things are in Japan," Yoshio scoffed.

"Fat! Lazy! Full of elderly people, far behind the times ..."

He tapped his cup and Mika poured him sake. "Too much

success in Japan! It's Japanese politics that created this world

crisis. Too much behind the scenes. Too many polite lies-

hipokurasi . . . " He used the English word. The Japanese terms

for the word hypocrisy sounded too much like compliments.

"We thought the Free Army was a necessary evil," he

continued. "We never knew they were so ambitious. So

smart, so fast. The Free Army is the dark side of our own

conglomerates-our keiretsu."

"But what does Mali have to .gain?"

"Nothing! The Free Army owns that country. They con-

quered it while it was weak with famine. They've grown

stronger and stronger, while we quietly paid them and pre-

tended not to know that they existed. They used to hide, like

a rat-now they are grown large, like a tiger."

More translations. "What are you saying?" David said.

"I say the Net has too many holes. All these criminals-

Singapore, Cyprus, Grenada, even Mali itself, which we

creaed-must be crushed. It had to happen. It is happening

today. The Third World War is here."

Mika giggled.

"It is a little war," Yoshio admitted. "Does not live up to

its press, eh? Small, quiet, run by remote control. Fighting in

places where no one looks, like Africa. Places we neglected,

because we could not make profit there. Now we must stop

being so blind."

"Is this Kymera's official policy line these days?" Laura

said.


"Not just ours," Yoshio said. "Talk is spreading fast,

since the attack. We were prepared for something like this.

Kymera is launching a diplomatic offensive. We are taking

our case to many other multinationals. East, West, South,

North. If we can act in concert, our power is very great.'

"You're proposing some kind of global security cartel?"

Laura said.

"Global Co-Prosperity Sphere!" Mika said. "How does

that sound?"

"Uhmm," David mused. "In America, that's known as

`conspiracy in restraint of trade.' "

"What is your loyalty?" Yoshio asked soberly. "America

or Rizome?"

Laura and David exchanged glances. "Surely it wouldn't

come to that," Laura said.

"Do you think America can set things to rights? Rearm,

invade the data havens, and impose peace?"

"No way," David said. "The other Vienna signatories

would be all over us.... `Imperial America'-Christ, it

wouldn't be six months before people were car-bombing us

all over the world." He prodded glumly with his chopsticks

at a lump of sukiyaki. "And ay de mi, los Rusos-not that the

Soviets amount to much these days, but would they ever be

pissed.... Look, the real agency to handle these matters is the

Vienna Convention. The Vienna spooks are licensed to stop

terrorism-that's their job."

"Then why aren't they doing it?" Yoshio said.

"Well," David said uneasily, "I guess it's like the U.N.

used to be. A good idea, but when it comes down to it, no

sovereign government really wants to-"

"Exactamente," Yoshio said. "No government. But we

could be very happy with a global police force. And Vienna

is global. Un grupo nuevo-millennario. Just like a modem

keiretsu."

Laura shoved her plate away, struggling with her Japanese.

"Vienna exists to protect `the political order.' To protect

governments. They don't belong to us. Corporations can't

sign diplomatic treaties." .

"Why not?" Yoshio said bluntly. "A treaty is only a

contract. You're talking like my grandmother. It's our world

now. Now there's a tiger loose in it! A tiger we made-

because we foolishly paid other people to be the claws and

teeth of our corporations."

"Who bells the cat?" said Mika in English. She poured

fresh sake into the little electric kettle.

Yoshio laughed at them. "Such long faces. Why be so

shocked? You were acting as Rizome diplomats already-

subverting Grenada for your corporate politics. Don't be so-

what's the word? Inscrutable! Be more modem!" He stretched

out his kimono'd arms. "Grab the problem with both hands."

"I don't see how that's possible," Laura said.

"It's very possible," Yoshio said. "Kymera and. Farben

have studied this problem. With help from other allies, such

as your Rizome, we could multiply Vienna's budget many

times, quickly. We could hire many mercenaries and put

them under Vienna's command. We could launch a sudden

attack on Mali and kill the tiger immediately."

"Is that legal?" David said.

Yoshio shrugged. "Who do you ask? Who makes that

decision? Governments like America? Or Japan? Or Mali or

Grenada? Or do we decide, instead? Let's vote." He raised

his hand. "I say it's Legal."

Mika raised her hand. "Me too."

"How long can we wait?" Yoshio said. "The Free Army

attacked a little island, but it could have been Manhattan

Island. Should we wait for that?"

"But you're talking about bribing the global police," Laura

said. "That sounds like a coup d'etat!"

" `Kudetah?' " Yoshio said, blinking. He shrugged. "Why

work through governments anymore? Let us cut out the

middleman."

"But Vienna would never agree. Would they?"

"Why not? Without us, they will never be a true global

army. "Let me get this straight," Laura said. "You're talking

about a corporate army, without any legal national backing,

invading sovereign nations?"

"A revolution is not a dinner party," Mika said. She rose

gracefully and began clearing dinner away.

Yoshio smiled. "Modern governments are weak. We have

made them weak. Why pretend otherwise? We can play them

against one another. They need us worse than we need them."

"Traicion," David said. "Treason."

"Call it a labor strike," Yoshio suggested.

"But by the time you got all your corporations together,"

Laura said, "government police would be arresting your con-

spirators right and left."

"It is a little race, isn't it?" Yoshio observed brightly.

"But let us see who controls the Vienna police. They will do

much arresting before this is over. The bureaucrats call us

`traitors'? We can call them 'terrorist sympathizers.' "

"But you're talking global revolution!"

"Call it `rationalization,' " Yoshio suggested, handing Mika

a plate. "It sounds nicer. We remove unnecessary barriers in

the flow of the global Net. Barriers that happen to be

governments. "

"But what kind of world would that give us?"

"It would depend on who made the new rules," Yoshio

said. "If you join the winning side, you get to vote. If not,

well ..." He shrugged.

"Yeah? What if your side loses?"

"Then the nations get to fight over us, to try us for

treason," Mika said. "The courts could sort it out. In fifty

years maybe."

"I think I'd burn my Japanese passport and become a

Mexican citizen," Yoshio mused. "Maybe all of us could

become Mexican citizens. Mexico wouldn't complain. Or we

could try Grenada! We could try a new country every year."

"Don't betray your own government," Mika suggested.

"Just betray everyone else's government. No one ever called

-_,that treason."

"Rizome elections are coming up soon," Yoshio said.

"You say you're economic democrats. If you believe in the

Net if you believe your own morality-you cannot escape

this issue. Why not put it to a vote?"


Even at Atlanta's airport, Laura felt that hemmed-in, antsy

feeling the city always gave her. The megalopolis, that edgy

tempo ... So many Americans, with their clean, expensive

clothes and bulging luggage. Milling under the giant, slanting

openwork of multimillion-ecu geodesics, sleek designer geometries of light and space. Rose-pink abstract mobiles, reacting

to the crowd flow, dipped and whirled slowly overhead. Like

exploded cybernetic flocks of flamingos ...

"Wow," David said, nudging her with the baby's tote.

"Who's the fox with Emily?"

Two women approaching. One, short and round-faced, in

long skirt and frilled blouse: Emily Donato. Laura felt a surge

of pleasure and relief. Emily was here, Rizome's cavalry.

Laura waved.

And Emily's companion: a tall black woman with a lovely

machine-curled mane of auburn hair, carrying herself like a

runway model. Lean and elegant, with coffee-colored skin

and cheekbones to die for. "Whoa," Laura said. "That's-

what's her name-Arbright something."

"Dianne Arbright on cable news," David said, gawking.

"A media talking head. Look, she's got legs just like a real

human being!"

David gave Emily a hard, crunching hug, lifting her off the

floor. Emily laughed at him and kissed his cheeks. "Hi,"

Laura said to the TV journalist. She shook Arbright's cool,

muscular hand. "I suppose this means we're famous."

"Yeah, this crowd's full of journos," Arbright told her.

She flicked the lapel of her saffron silk business vest. "I'm

wired for sound, by the way."

"So are we, I think," Laura said. "I got a telly-rig in my

carry-on. "

"I'll pool my data with the other correspondents," Arbright

said. There was the faintest beading of sweat on her upper lip,

below the sleek mocha perfection of her video makeup. "Not

that we can air it, but ... we network behind the scenes."

She glanced at Emily. "Y'all know how it is."

Laura watched Arbright with an eerie sense of dislocation.

Meeting Dianne Arbright in person was a bit like seeing the

"real" Mona Lisa-some essential reality leached out by too

many reproductions. "Is it Vienna?" she said.

Arbright allowed herself a grimace. "We ran some of

Rizome's disaster footage two days ago. We know how bad it

is there-the casualty counts, the forms of attack. But since

then, Grenada's -sealed its borders. And Vienna censors ev-

erything we air."

"But this is too big to contain," Emily said. "And every-

body knows it. This goes way past the limits-somebody just

trashed an entire country, for Christ's sake."

"It's the biggest terrie operation since Santa Vicenza,"

,Arbright said.

"What happened there?" David asked innocently.

Arbright gave David the bIank look one gives to the termi-

nally out-of-it. "Maybe you an tell me exactly what hap-

pened at your Lodge in Galveston," Arbright said at last.

"Oh," David said. "I, uh, guess I see what you mean."

" `Damage limitation,' " Laura said. "That's what hap-

pened in Galveston. "

"And in a lot of other places-for years," Arbright said.

"So you two are nonpeople, deep-background, off the record.

Kinda tough on the good old First Amendment ... " Arbright

flashed some high sign at a brown-suited stranger in the

crowd, who grinned and nodded at her. "But Vienna can't

stop us from discovering the truth-just from publicizing it."

They filtered toward one of the exists. Arbright tapped her

platinum watchphone. "I got a limo waiting...."

"The Vienna heat's here!" David said.

Arbright glanced up placidly. "Nah. It's just some guy

wearin' viddies."

"How can you tell?" David said.

"He's got the wrong vibe for Vienna," Arbright told him

patiently. "Viddies don't mean much-I wear 'em myself

sometimes. "

"We've been wearing viddies for days," Laura said.

Arbright perked up. "You mean you've got it all? Your

whole tour of Grenada? On tape?"

"Every minute," David told her. "Damn near."

"It's worth plenty," Arbright said.

"Oughta be," David grumbled. "It was a living hell."

"Emily," Arbright said, "who owns the rights, and what

are you asking?"

"Rizome doesn't peddle news for money," Emily said

virtuously. "That's gesellschaft stuff.... Besides, there's the

little matter of explaining what Rizome personnel were doing

in a pirate data haven."

"Mmm," Arbright said. "Yeah, that's a tough angle."

Glass double doors hissed open and shut for them, and

Arbright's stretch limo flung its door over curb amid a

line of taxis. The limo had mirrored windows d a set of

microwave beamers in its roof that looked like water-cooled

ray guns. They jumped in, following Arbright's lead. The

limo slid away.

"Now we're cool," Arbright announced. She popped down

a sliding cabinet door and checked her makeup in a stage

mirror. "My people have worked this limo over-it's

surveillance-right. "

They headed down a curving access ramp. It was an ugly

day, gray September overcast cutting across the Atlanta sky-

line. A mountain range of skyscrapers: postmodern, neo-

Gothic, Organic Baroque, even a few boxy premillennium

relics, dwarfed by their weird progeny. "Three cars are fol-

lowing us," Emily said.

"Jealous of my sources." Arbright smiled, her eyes light-

ing up to television wattage. David turned to look.

"They're tracking all of us," Emily said. "The whole

Rizome committee. Got our apartments staked out-and I

think Vienna's tapping our lines." She rubbed her eyelids.

"Dianne-you got a wet bar in this thing?"

Arbright picked up an eyebrow pencil. "Just tell the

machine. "

"Car, make me a Dirty Kimono," Emily commanded. She

rubbed her neck, mashing curls. "Not much sleep lately-I'm

a little wired."

"They're really after us? Vienna?" David said.

"They're after everybody. Like an anthill jabbed with a

stick." The car gave Emily a cloudy mix that reeked of sake.

"This meeting we held with Kymera and Farben-'summit,'

they called it...." She blinked and sipped her drink. "Laura,

I missed you."

"Getting crazy," Laura said. An old tag line from their

college. days together. How tired Emily looked-crow's feet

in the fine-boned hollow of her temples, more gray threading

'in her hair-tired hell, why mince words, Laura thought, they

were both in their thirties now. Not college kids. Old. An

impulse struck her, and she rubbed Emily's shoulders. Emily

almost dropped her glass in gratification. "Yeah," she said.

"Who are you with?" David asked Arbright.

"You mean my company?"

"I mean your basic loyalties."

"Oh," Arbright said. "I'm a professional. An American

journalist."

David looked tentative. " `American?' "

"I don't believe in Vienna," Arbright declared. "Spooks

and censors telling Americans what we can and can't say.

Cover-ups to deny the terries publicity-that was always a

half-assed idea." She tossed her head. "Now the whole

system, the whole political structure . . . is gonna blow to

hell!" She slapped the seat with the flat of her hand. "I've

been waiting for this for years! Man, I'm as happy about it as

a cutworm in corn!" She looked surprised at herself. "As my

granddad used to say ... "

"Sounds kind of anarchical...." David rocked the tote

on his knees. Little Loretta didn't like the sound of political

stridency. Her face was clouding up.

"Americans used to live like that all the time! We called it

`freedom.' "

David looked dubious. " I meant, realistically speaking

the global information structure ... " He let Loretta grip

his fingers and tried to shush her.

"I'm saying we need to pull the masks off and tackle our

problems head-on," Arbright said. "Okay, Singapore's a

pariah state, they just trashed their rivals-fine. Let 'em pay

the price for aggression."

"Singapore?" David said. "You think Singapore is the

F.A.C.T?"

Arbright leaned back in her seat and looked at all three of

them. "Well. I see the Rizome contingent has another opin-

ion." A dangerous lightness in her voice.

Laura had heard that tone before. During interviews, just

before Arbright was about to nail some poor bastard.

The baby wailed aloud.

"Don't all speak up at once," Arbright said.

"How do you know it's Singapore?" Laura said.

"How? Okay. I'll tell you." Arbright shoved her makeup

cabinet shut with the toe of her Italian boot. "I know it

because the pirate databanks in Singapore are full of it.

Y'know, we journos-we need a place to trade information,

where Vienna can't get on our case. That's why every damned

one of us worth his salt is a data pirate."

"Oh ...


"And they're laughing about it in Singapore. Bragging.

It's all over the boards." She looked at them. "All right. I've

told you. Now you tell me.''

Emily spoke up. "The F.A.C.T. is the secret police of the

Republic of Mali."

"Not that again," Arbright said, crestfallen. "Look, you

hear ugly rumors about Mali all the time. It's nothing new.

Mali's a starvation regime, full of mercenaries, and their

reputation stinks. But they wouldn't dare try a stunt as huge

and flagrant as FACT's attack on Grenada. Mali, defying Vienna

with an international terror atrocity? It doesn't make sense."

"Why not?" Laura said.

"Because Vienna could knock over Mali tomorrow-there's

nothing to stop them. Another coup in Africa wouldn't even

make the midnight news. If FACT were Mali, Vienna would've

wiped them out long ago. But Singapore-well! Have you

ever seen Singapore?"

"No, but-"

"Singapore hates Grenada. And they loathe Vienna. They

hate the whole idea of a global political order-unless they're

running it. They're fast and strong and reckless, and they've

got a lot of nerve. They make those little Grenadian Rastas

look like Bill Cosby."

"Who?" David broke in. "You mean 'Bing' Cosby?"

Arbright stared at him for a moment. "You're not really black,

are you? Either that, or that's not really your baby, fella."

"Huh?" David said. "Actually, uh, there's this, uh, sun-

tan lotion...."

Arbright cut the air with her hand. "It's okay, I've been to

Africa, and they tell me I look French. But Mali-that's just

disinformation. They've got no money and no motive, and

it's an old rumor...." The limo came to a stop and inter-

rupted her.

"Oxford Towers, Miss Arbright. "

"That's our stop," Emily said, putting her drink aside.

"We'll get back to you, Dianne."

Arbright sagged back into the cushions. "Look. I want

those Grenada. tapes. "

"I know.'

"And they won't be worth as much if Vienna makes a

major move. That'll crowd everything else off the wires."

"Car, open the door." Emily got out. Laura and David

hustled after her. "Thanks for the lift, Dianne."

"Stay in touch." The limo's doors slammed.

The bottom floor of Oxford Towers was a minor city.

Healthy-looking fake sunlight poured from fluorescents over

the little gourmet groceries and discreet boutiques. Private

security dressed like Keystone Kops, cute tall hats and brass-

buttoned coats. Meek-looking teenagers on recliner bikes cruised

the pastel storefronts.

They ducked into a grocery for diapers and baby food and

put it on Emily's card. They joined a group of two dozen

bored tenants waiting on curved hardwood benches. An ele-

vator arrived, and everyone shuffled aboard it and took a

pew. Floors zipped past in ghastly mag-lev silence with only

the occasional sniffle or rustle of newsprint.

They got off on Emily's floor and their ears popped. The

air smelled just the least bit fried and stuffy here, fifty floors

up. Arcane color-coded maps on the walls. They caught a hall

bus. Crabbed little nooks and crannies branched off, leading

into patios-what the sociologists called "defensible space."

Emily led them off the bus and up a nook. A security mouse

scuttled along the floor-nasty-looking little microbot with

fretted eyes and a muzzle clotted with dirt. Emily carded the

door open.

Three-room place-stark Art Deco black-and-white. David

took the baby into the bathroom, while Emily stepped into the

little open kitchen. "Wow," Laura said. "You sure have

changed the place."

"This isn't mine," Emily said. "It's Arthur's. You know,

the photographer."

"That guy you were dating?" The walls were hung with

Arthur's blowups: moody landscape studies, bare trees, a

round-faced model in Garbo black-and-white with a cat-eating-

cream look on her face . . . "Whoa," Laura half laughed,

pointing. "That's you! Hey! Nice."

"You like it?" Emily said. "Me too. Almost unretouched-

okay, a little digitizer work." She peered into the freezer.

"We got chicken almondine-catfish-Rajaratnam's Ready-

2-Eat Lamb Curry ... "

"Something bland and American," Laura suggested. "Last

thing I heard you and Arthur were on the outs.

"Now we're on the very heavy ins," Emily said smugly.

"Sorry the food's not better, but Arthur and I, we don't do

much cooking in here.... Y'know, they got my place staked

out, but it's eight floors down-and in a rat nest like Oxford

Towers, that might as well be in Dallas.... This place is as

good a safehouse as anywhere. Arthur's cool about it-I think

he's a little thrilled by all the hubbub, actually." She grinned.

"I'm his mystery woman."

"Do I get to meet him?"

"He's out of town right now, but I hope so." Emily slotted

trays into the microwave. "I have a lot of hopes these

days.... I'm thinking maybe I finally got it figured. The

method of modem romance."

Laura laughed. "Yeah?"

"Better living through chemistry," Emily said, and blushed.

"Romance. Did I tell you about it?"

"Oh, Em, no." Laura reached into her jeans pocket, past a

wad of change and some salted airline peanuts. "You mean

these?"

Emily stared at the plastic vial. "Jesus! You mean you



walked through Customs with a pocketful of Red-Hots?"

Laura winced. "They're not illegal, are they? I forgot all

about them."

"Where'd you get 'em?"

"In Grenada. From a hooker."

Emily's jaw dropped. "Is this the Laura Webster I know?

You're not high on those, are you?"

"Well, have you been taking them?"

"Just a couple of times. . . . Can I see that?" Emily shook

the little vial. "Boy, these look like megadosage.... I dunno,

I took 'em, they kind of made an idiot of me.... I guess

you'd say I went crawling back to Arthur, after that fight we

had, but it seemed to do us both good. I mean, maybe it's

wrong to be too proud. Take one of those, and it makes the

other stuff, the problems, feel kind of pointless.... You and

David aren't having trouble, are you?"

"No ... " Laura hedged. David emerged from the bath-

room carrying the freshly changed baby. Emily quickly swept

the vial into a kitchen drawer.

"What's up?" David said. "You two have that in-joke

look again."

"Just saying how y'all have changed," Emily told him.

"You know something, Dave? Black suits you. You look

really good."

"I put on some weight in Grenada," David said.

"On you it looks fine."

He half smiled. "That's it, flatter the moron.... You two

talking company politics, right? Might as well let me hear the

worst." He sat on a black-and-chrome counter stool. "As-

suming it's safe to talk in here . . . "

"Everyone's talking about y'all," Emily, said. "You Web-

sters earned beaucoup brownie points on this one."

"Good. Maybe we can coast a little now."

"I dunno," Emily said. "Frankly, you're gonna be in pretty

heavy demand. The Committee wants you for a council session.

You're our situation experts now! And then there's Singapore.

"The hell," David said.

"Singapore's Parliament is holding open hearings on their

data-haven policy. Suvendra's there right now. She's been our

contact with the Islamic Bank, and she's going to testify."

Emily paused. "It's kind of complicated."

"Suvendra can handle that," David said.

"Sure," Emily said, "but if she handles it really well, her

Committee election's a shoe-in. "

David's eyes widened. "Wait a minute-"

"You don't know how this has been playing Stateside,"

Emily told him. "A month ago it was a side show, but now

it's a major crisis. You heard how Dianne Arbright was

talking. A month ago a top-rank journo like Arbright wouldn't

have given me the time of day, but now suddenly we're

sisters, very heavy solidarity." Emily held up two fingers.

"Something's gonna give, and soon. You can smell it com-

ing. It's gonna be like Paris '68, or early Gorbachev. But

global." She was serious. "And we can be right on top of it. "

"We can be six feet fucking under it!" David shouted.

"What are you up to? You been talking to those crackpots

from Kymera?"

Emily flinched. "Kymera ... That corpocracy stuff doesn't

cut much ice with us, but it sure bears watching.... Vienna's

acting screwy."

"Vienna knows what it's doing," David said.

"Maybe, but is it what we want?" Emily pulled plates and

plasticware. "I think Vienna's waiting. They're gonna let it

get bad this time-until somebody, somewhere, gives them

political carte blanche. To clean house, globally. A new

world order, and a new world army."

"I don't like it," David said.

"It's what we have now, but without the ratholes."

"I like ratholes."

"In that case, you'd better go talk some sense to Singa-

pore." The microwave dinged. "It's only for a few days,

David. And Singapore's got a real government, not some

goofy criminal front like Grenada's. Your testimony to their

Parliament could make a major difference in their policy.

Suvendra says-"

David's face turned leaden. "We're gonna get killed," he

said. "Don't you understand that yet? All the little ratholes

are gonna be battle zones. There are people out there who

would kill us for nothing at all, and if they can kill us for

profit, they're thrilled! And they know who we are, that's

what scares me. We're valuable now...."

He rubbed his stubbled cheek. "We're getting the hell out

of here, into a Lodge or a Retreat, and if you want to take

care of Singapore, Emily, well, call Vienna and finance

Rizome's Fightin' Armor Division. 'Cause they mean busi-

ness these pirates and we're never gonna sweet-talk 'em into

anything! Not till we put a tank on every fucking street

comer! Until we find the sons-of-bitches who pressed the

buttons that killed those drowned little kids in Grenada. But

not my kid! Never again!"

Laura punctured the foil over her steaming chicken almondine.

She felt no appetite. Those drowned bodies ... stiff and dead

and moving on dark currents ... dark currents of rage. "He's

right," she said. "Not my Loretta. But one of us has to go.

To Singapore."

David gaped. "Why?"

"Because we're needed there, that's why. Because it has

what we want," she said. "Power to control our own lives.

And the real answers.' The truth!"

David stared at her. "The truth. You think you can get it?

You think you're that important?"

"I'm not important," Laura said. "I know I'm nothing

much now-the sort of person who gets pushed around,

insulted, and has her house shot up. But I might make myself

important, if I worked at it. It could happen. If Suvendra

needs me, I'm going."

"You don't even know Suvendra!"

'I know she's Rizome, and I know she's fighting for us.

We can't turn our backs on an associate. And whoever shot

up our Lodge is going to pay for it."

The baby started to whimper. David slumped in his chair.

He spoke very quietly. "What about us, Laura-you and me

and Loretta? You could die over there. "

"This isn't just for the company-it's for us! Running

away can't make us safe."

"Then what am I supposed to do?" David said. "Stand on

the dock and blow kisses? While you sail off to make the

world safe for democracy?"

"So what? Women always did that in wartime!" Laura

struggled to lower her voice. "You're needed here anyway,

to counsel the Committee. I'll go to Singapore."

"I don't want you to go." He was trying to be curt and

tough, lay it down in front of Emily like an ultimatum, but all

the force was out of it. He was afraid for her, and it was half a

plea.

"I'll come back and I'll be fine," she said. The words



sounded like a reassurance, instead of a refusal. But he

wasn't any less hurt.

Taut silence. Emily looked wretched. "Maybe this isn't the

time to talk about it. You've both been under a lot of strain.

No one says you're acting non-R."

"They wouldn't have to say it," Laura said. "We know

how to feel it without any words."

David spoke up. "You're going to do it no matter what I

say to you, aren't you.

It was no use hesitating now. Better to get it over with.

"Yes. I have to," she told him. "It's gotten to me now. It's

inside me, David. I've seen too much of it. If I don't work

through this somehow, I'll never really sleep again."

"Well," he said. "Then it's no use arguing, is it? This is

where I beat you into submission, or threaten divorce." He

got off his barstool, jerkily,, and began pacing. Wired with

tension, his feet stuffing the carpet. Somehow she forced herself

to stay quiet and let him struggle with himself.

At last he spoke aloud. "I guess we're in the thick of it

now, whether we like it or not. Hell, for all we know, half of

Rizome's on some terrorists' hit list, just because we took a

stand. If we cower to criminals, we'll never live it down.

He stopped and looked at her.

She'd won. She felt her face, set stiff and stubbornly,

break into a smile. Helpless and radiant, a smile for him. She

was very proud of him. Proud just because of what he was;

and proud, too, that Emily had seen it.

He sat on his barstool again and locked eyes with her.

"But you're not going," he told her. "I am."

She took his hand and looked at it, held it in her fingers.

Good, strong, warm hand. "That's not how it works with

us," she told him gently. "You're the idea man, David. I'm

the one who hustles people."

"Let me get shot," he said. "I couldn't stand it if anything

happened to you. I mean that."

She hugged him hard. "Nothing will happen, sweetheart.

I'll just do the goddamned job. And I'll come back. Covered

with glory."

He broke away from her, got to his feet. "You won't even

give me that much, will you?" He headed for the door. "I'm

going out."

Emily opened her mouth. Laura grabbed her arm. David

left the apartment.

"Let him go," Laura said. "He's like that when we fight.

He needs it."

"I'm sorry," she said.

Laura felt close to tears. "It's been real bad for us. All that

time online. He has to blow off some steam."

"You're just jet-lagged. And Net-burned. I'll get you some

Kleenex. "

"I'm better with him, usually." She forced a smile. "But

right now I'm on-rag."

"Oh, gosh." Emily gave her a tissue. "No wonder."

"Sorry."


Emily touched her shoulder gently. "I always hassle you

with my problems; Laura. But you never lean on me. Always

so controlled. Everyone says so." She hesitated. "You and

David need some time together."

"We'll have all the time in the world when I get back."

"Maybe you ought to think it over."

"It's no use, Emily. We can't get away from it." She

wiped her eyes. "It was something Stubbs told me, before

they killed him. One world means there's no place to hide."

She shook her head, tossed her hair back, forced the sting in

her eyes to fade. "Hell, Singapore's just a phone call away.

I'll call David from there every day. Make it up to him."

Singapore.
7
SINGAPORE. Hot tropic light slanted through brown

wooden shutters. A ceiling fan creaked and wobbled,

creaked and wobbled, and dust motes did a slow atomic

dance above her head.

She was on a cot, in an upstairs room, in an elderly

waterfront barn. Rizome's HQ in Singapore-the Rizome godown.

Laura sat up, reluctantly, blinking. Thin wood-grain lino-

leum, cool and tacky under her sweating feet. The siesta had

made her head hurt.

Massive steel I-beams pierced through floor and ceiling,

their whitewash peeling over lichen patches of rust. The walls

around her were piled high with bright, unstable heaps of

crates and cardboard boxes. Canned hairspray that was bad

for the atmosphere. Ladies' beauty soap full of broad-spectrum

antibiotics. Quack tonics of zinc and ginseng that claimed to

cure impotence and clarify the spleen. All this evil crap had

come with the place when the previous owners went bank-

rupt. Suvendra's Rizome crew refused to market it.

Sooner or later they would toss it out and take the loss, but

in the meantime a clan of geckos had set up housekeeping in

the nooks and crannies. Geckos-wall-walking lizards with

pale, translucent skins, and slitted eyes, and swollen-fingered

paws. Here came one now, picking its way stealthily across

the water-stained ceiling. It was the big matronly-looking one

that liked to crouch overhead by the light fixture. "Hello,

Gwyneth," Laura called to it, and yawned.

She checked her wrist. Four P.M. She was still far behind

on her sleep, hurry and worry and jet lag, but it was time to

get up and get back after it.

She stepped into her jeans, straightened her T-shirt. Her

deck sat on a small folding table, behind a big woven basket

of paper flowers. Some Singapore politico had sent Laura the

bouquet as a welcome gift. Customary. She'd kept it, though,

because she'd never seen paper flowers like they made here in

Singapore. They were extremely elegant, almost scary look-

ing in their museum-replica perfection. Red hibiscus, white

chrysanthemum, Singapore's national colors. Beautiful and per-

fect and unreal. They smelled like French cologne.

She sat, and turned the deck on, and loaded data. Pop-

topped a jug of mineral water and poured it in a dragon-

girdled teacup. She sipped, and studied her screen, and was

absorbed.

The world around her faded. Into black glass, green letter-

ing. The inner world of the Net.


PARLIAMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE

Select Committee on Information PolicyPublic hearings, October 9, 2023


COMMITTEE CHAIR

S. P. Jeyaratnam, M.P. (Jurong), P.I.P.


VICE-CHAIR

_Y. H. Leong, M.P. (Moulmein), P.I.P.


A. bin Awang, M.P. (Bras Basah), P.I.P.

T. B. Pang, M.P. (Queenstown), P.I.P.

C. H. Quah, M.P. (Telok Blangah), P.I.P.

Dr. R. Razak, M.P. (Anson), Anti-Labour Party


Transcript of Testimony
MR. JEYARATNAM: ... accusations. scarcely less than libelous!

MRS. WEBSTER: I'm well aware of the flexibility of the local

laws of libel.

MR. JEYARATNAM: Are you slurring the integrity of our legal system?

MRS. WEBSTER: Amnesty International has a list of eighteen

local political activists, bankrupted or jailed through

your Government's libel actions.

MR. JEYARATNAM: This committee will not be used as a

globalist soapbox! Could you apply such high standards

to your good friends in Grenada?

MRS. WEBSTER: Grenada is an autocratic dictatorship

practicing political torture and murder, Mr. Chairman.

MR. JEYARATNAM: Indeed. But this has not prevented

you Americans from cosying up to them. Or from attacking us: a

fellow industrial democracy.

MRS. WEBSTER: I'm not a United States diplomat, I'm

a Rizome associate. My direct concern is with your

corporate policies. Singapore's information laws promote

industrial piracy and invasion of privacy. Your

Yung Soo Chim Islamic Bank may have a better screen

of legality, but it's damaged my company's interests as

badly as the United Bank of Grenada. If not more so.

We don't want to offend your pride or your sovereignty

or whatever, but we want those policies changed. That's

why I came here.

MR. JEYARATNAM: You equate our democratic government

with a terrorist regime.

MRS. WEBSTER: I don't equate you, because I can't

believe that Singapore is responsible for the vicious

attack that I saw. But Grenadians do believe it, because

they know full well that you and they are rivals in

piracy, and so you have a motive. And for revenge, I

think ... I know, that they are capable of almost anything.

MR. JEYARATNAM: Anything? How many battalions does this witch doctor have?

MRS. WEBSTER: I can only tell you what they told me.

Just before I left, a Grenadian cadre named Andrei

Tarkovsky gave me a message for you. (Mrs. Webster's

testimony deleted)

MR. JEYARATNAM: Order, please! This is rank terrorist

propaganda.... Chair recognizes Mr. Pang for a motion.

MR. PANG: I move that the subversive terrorist message

be stricken from the record.

MRS. QUAH: Second the motion.

MR. JEYARATNAM: It is so ordered.

DR. RAZAK: Mr. Chairman, I wish to be recorded as

objecting to this foolish act of censorship.

MRS. WEBSTER: Singapore could be next! I saw it

happen! Legalisms-that won't help you if they sow

mines through your city and firebomb it!

MR. JEYARATNAM: Order! Order, please, ladies and gentlemen.

DR. RAZAK:... a kind of innkeeper?

MRS. WEBSTER: We in Rizome don't have "jobs, Dr.

Razak. Just things to do and people to do them.

DR. RAZAK: My esteemed colleagues of the People's

Innovation Party might call that "inefficient."

MRS. WEBSTER: Well, our idea of efficiency has more

to do with personal fulfillment than, uh, material

possessions.

DR. RAZAK: I understand that large numbers of Rizome

employees do no work at all.

MRS. WEBSTER: Well, we take care of our own. Of

course a lot of that activity is outside the money economy.

An invisible economy that isn't quantifiable in dollars.

DR. RAZAK: In ecu, you mean.

MRS. WEBSTER: Yes, sorry. Like housework: you don't

get any money for doing it, but that's how your family

survives, isn't it? Just because it's not in a bank doesn't

mean it doesn't exist. Incidentally, we're not "employ-

ees," but "associates."

DR. RAZAK: In other words, your bottom line is ludic

joy rather than profit. You have replaced "labour," the

humiliating specter of "forced production," with a series of

varied, playlike pastimes. And replaced the greed

motive with a web of social ties, reinforced by an elective power

structure.

MRS. WEBSTER: Yes, I think so ... if I understand your

definitions.

DR. RAZAK: How long before you can dispose of "work"

entirely?
Singha Pura meant "Lion City." But there had never been

lions on Singapore island.

The name had to make some kind. of sense, though. So

local legend said the "lion" had been a sea monster.

On the opposite side of Singapore's National Stadium, a

human sea lifted their flash cards and showed Laura their

monster. The Singapore "merlion," in a bright mosaic of

cardboard squares.

Loud, patriotic applause from a packed crowd of sixty

thousand.

The merlion had a fish's long, scaled body and the lion

head of the old British Empire. They had a statue of it in

Merlion Park at the mouth of the Singapore River. The thing

was thirty feet high, a genuinely monstrous hybrid.

East and West like cats and fishes-never the twain shall

meet. Until some bright soul had simply chopped the fish's

head off and stuck the lion's on: And there you had it:

Singapore.

Now there were four million of them and they had the

biggest goddamn skyscrapers in the world.

Suvendra, sitting next to Laura in the bleachers, offered her

a paper bag of banana chips. Laura took a handful and

knocked back more lemon squash.. The stadium hawkers were

selling the best fast food she'd ever eaten.

Back across the field there was another practiced flurry. A

big grinning face this time, flash-card pixels too big and

crude, like bad computer graphics.

"It is the specimen they are showing," Suvendra said

helpfully. Tiny little Malay woman in her fifties, with oily

hair in a chignon and frail; protuberant ears. Wearing a

yellow sundress, tennis hat, and a Rizome neck scarf. Next to

her a beefy Eurasian man chewed sunflower seeds and care-

fully spat the hulls into a small plastic trash bag.

"The what?" Laura said.

"Spaceman. Their cosmonaut."

"Oh, right." So that was Singapore's astronaut, grinning

from his space helmet. It looked like a severed head stuck in

a television.

A roar from the western twilight. Laura cringed. Six matte-

black pterodactyls buzzed the stadium. Nasty-looking things.

Combat jets from the Singapore . Air Force, the precision

flyers, Chrome Angels or whatever they called themselves.

The jets spat corkscrewed plumes of orange smoke from their

canted wing tips. The crowd jumped gleefully to their feet,

whooping and brandishing their programs.

The Boys and Girls Brigades poured onto the soccer field,

in red-and-white T-shirts and little billed caps. They assumed

formation, twirling long, ribbony streamers from broomsticks.

Antiseptic marching school kids, of every race and creed,

though you wouldn't guess it to look at them.

"They are very well trained, isn't it?" Suvendra said.

"Yeah,


A video scoreboard towered at the eastern end of the field.

It showed a live feed of the televised coverage from the

Singapore Broadcasting Service. The screen flashed a closeup

from within the stadium's celebrity box. The local bigwigs,

watching the kids with that beaming, sentimental look that

politicos reserved for voters' children.

Laura studied them. The guy in the linen suit was S. P.

Jeyaratnam, Singapore's communications czar. A spiky-

eyebrowed Tamil with the vaguely unctuous look of a sacred

Thuggee strangler. Jeyaratnam was formerly a journalist, now

chief hatchet man for the People's Innovation Party. He had a

talent for invective. Laura hadn't liked tangling with him.

Singapore's prime minister noticed the camera. He tipped

his goldbridged sunglasses down his nose and peered at the

lens. He winked.

The crowd elbowed each other and squirmed with delight.

Chuckling amiably, the P.M. murmured to the woman

beside him, a young Chinese actress with high-piled hair and

a gold chiton. The girl laughed with practiced charisma. The

P.M. flicked back the smooth, dark wing of hair across his

forehead. Gleam of strong, young teeth.

The video board left the celebs and switched to the plung-

ing, bootclad legs of a majorette.

The kids left the stadium to fond applause, and two long

lines of military police marched in. White chin-strapped hel-

mets, white Sam Browne belts, pressed khakis, spit-polished

boots. The soldiers faced the stands and began a complex rifle

drill. Snappy over-the-shoulder_ high toss, in a precisely timed

cascade.

"Kim looks good today," Suvendra said. Everybody in

Singapore called the prime minister by his first name. His

name was Kim Swee Lok-or Lok Kim Swee, to his fellow

ethnic Chinese.

"Mmm," Laura said.

"You are quiet this evening." Suvendra put a butterfly

touch on Laura's forearm. "Still tired from testimony, isn't it?

"He reminds me of my husband," Laura blurted.

Suvendra smiled. "He's a good-looking bloke, your husband."

Laura felt a tingle of unease. She'd flown around the world

with such bruising speed-the culture shock had odd side

effects. Some pattern-seeking side of her brain had gone into

overdrive. She'd seen Singapore store clerks with the faces of

pop stars, and street cops who looked like presidents. Even

Suvendra herself reminded Laura somehow of Grace Web-

ster, her mother-in-law. No physical resemblance, but the

vibe was there. Laura had always gotten on very well with Grace.

Kim's practiced appeal made Laura feel truly peculiar. His

influence over this little city-state had a personal intimacy that

was almost erotic. It was as if Singapore had married him.

His People's Innovation Party had annihilated the opposition

parties at the ballot box. Democratically, legally-but the

Republic of Singapore was now essentially a one-party state.

The whole little republic, with its swarming traffic and

cheerful, disciplined populace, was now in the hands of a

thirty-two-year-old visionary genius. Since his election to

Parliament at twenty-three, Kim Lok had reformed the civil

service, masterminded a vast urban development scheme, and

revitalized the army. And while carrying on a series of highly

public love affairs, he had somehow managed to pick up

advanced degrees in engineering and political science. His

rise to power had been unstoppable, buoyed by a strange mix

of menace and playboy appeal.

The soldiers finished with a flourish, then snapped to atten-

tion, saluting. The crowd rose to sing the national anthem: a

ringing ditty called "Count On Me, Singapore." Thousands

of smiling, neatly dressed Chinese and Malays and Tamils-

all singing in English.

The crowd resumed their bleacher seats with that loud,

peculiar rustle emitted by tons of moving human flesh. They

smelled of sassafras and suntan oil and snow cones. Suvendra

lifted her binoculars, scanning the bulletproof glass of the

celebrity box. "Now comes the big speech," she told Laura.

"He may start with the space launch, but shall end with the

Grenada crisis, as usual. You could be taking the measure of

this fellow."

"Right." Laura clicked on her little tape deck.

They turned and stared expectantly at the video screen.

The prime minister rose, carelessly tucking his shades into

his suit pocket. He gripped the edge of the podium with both

hands, leaning forward, chin tilted, shoulders tense.

A tight, attentive silence seized the crowd. The woman

next to Laura, a Chinese matron in stretch pants and straw

hat, clamped her knees together nervously and jammed her

hands in her lap. The guy eating sunflower seeds set his bag

between his feet.

Closeup. The prime minister's head and shoulders loomed

thirty feet high on the video board. A silkily amplified voice,

smooth and intimate, rang from the elaborate P.A. system.

"My dear fellow citizens," Kim said.

Suvendra whispered hastily. "This shall be major, eh,

definitely!" Sunflower Seeds hissed for silence.

"In the days of our grandparents," Kim intoned, "Ameri-

cans visited the moon. At this moment, an antique space

station from the Socialist Bloc still circles our Earth.

"Yet until today, the greatest -adventure of humanity has

languished. The power brokers outside our borders are no

longer interested in new frontiers. The globalists have stifled

these ideals. Their clumsy, ancient space rockets still mimic

the nuclear missiles with which they once threatened the planet.

"--`But ladies and gentlemen-fellow citizens-today I can

stand before you and tell you that the world did not reckon

with the vision of Singapore!"

(Frantic applause. The prime minister waited, smiling. He

lifted a hand. Silence.)

"The orbital flight of Captain Yong-Joo is the greatest

space achievement of our era. His feat proves to all that our

republic now owns the most advanced launch technology on

Earth. Technology that is clean, swift, and efficient-based

on modem breakthroughs in superconductivity and tunable

lasers. Innovations that other nations seem unable to achieve-or

even to imagine."

(Wry smile from Kim. Fierce cries of glee from the sixty thousand.)

"Today, men and women around the world turn their eyes

to Singapore. They are bewildered by the magnitude of our

achievement-a cold fact that puts the lie to years of globalist

slander. They wonder how our city of four million souls has

triumphed where continental nations have failed.

"But our success is not a secret. It -was inherent in our very

destiny as a nation. Our island is lovely-but cannot feed us.

For two centuries, we of the Lion City have earned every

mouthful of rice by our own wits."

(A stern frown on the enormous video-board face. Excited

ripples through the crowd.)

"This struggle gave us strength. Harsh necessity forced

Singapore to shoulder the burden of excellence. Since Merdeka,

we have matched the achievements of the developed world-

and surpassed them. There has never been room here for sloth

or corruption. Yet while. we forged ahead, those vices have

eaten into the very core of global culture."

(A gleam of teeth-almost a sneer.)

"Today the American giant slumbers-its Government re-

duced to a televised parody. Today, the Socialist Bloc pur-

sues its hollow dreams of consumer avarice. Even the

once-mighty Japanese have grown cautious and soft.

"Today, under the malignant spell of the Vienna Conven-

tion, the world slides steadily toward gray mediocrity.

"But the flight of Captain Yong-Joo marks a turning point.

Today our historic struggle enters a new phase-for stakes

higher than any we have faced before.

"Empires have always sought to dominate this island. We

fought Japanese oppressors through three merciless years of

occupation. We sent the British imperialists packing, back to

their European decay. Chinese communism, and Malaysian

treachery, sought to subvert us, without success.

"And today, at, this very moment, the globalist media net

seethes with propaganda, targeted against our island."

(Laura shivered in the balmy tropic air.)

"Tariffs are raised-export quotas imposed on our products-

conspiracies launched against our pioneering industries by

foreign multinationals. Why? What have we done to deserve

such treatment?

"The answer is simple. We have beaten them on their own

ground. We have succeeded where the globalists have failed!"

(His hand cut the air with a sudden flash of cuff link.)

"Travel through any other developed nation in the world

today! You will find laziness, decay, and cynicism. Every-

where, an abdication of the pioneering spirit. Streets littered

with trash, factories eaten by rust. Men and women aban-

doned to useless lives on the dole queue. Artists and intellec-

tuals, without goals or purpose, playing empty games of

listless alienation. And everywhere the numbing web of one-

world propaganda.

"The regime of Gray Culture stops at nothing to defend,

and extend, its status quo. Gray Culture cannot fairly match

the unleashed vigor of Singapore's free competition. So they

pretend to despise our genius, our daring. We live in a world

of Luddites, who give billions to preserve ugly jungle

wilderness-but nothing for the highest aspirations of humanity.

"Lulled by the empty promise of security, the world out-

side our borders is falling asleep.

"It is an ugly prospect. Yet there is hope. For Singapore

today is alive and awake as no society has ever been before.

"My fellow citizens-Singapore will no longer accept an

imposed and minor role in the world's periphery. Our Lion

City is no one's backyard, no one's puppet state! This is an

Information Era, and our lack of territory-mere topsoil-no

longer restrains us. In a world slipping into medieval slum-

ber, our Singapore is the potential center of a renaissance!"

(The woman in stretch pants clutched her husband's hand.)

"I have risen before you today to tell you that a battle is

coming-a struggle for the soul of civilization. Our Singapore

will lead that battle! And we will win it!"

(Frenzied applause. Throughout the stadium, men and

women-Party cadres perhaps?-leapt to their feet. Catching

the cue, the entire crowd rose in surges. Laura and Suvendra

stood, not wanting to be conspicuous. Shouts died down, and

the stadium rang with cadenced applause.)

("He's nasty," Laura muttered. Suvendra nodded, pretending to clap.)

"Dear ladies and gentlemen," the prime minister murmured. (The

crowd settled back like angry surf.)

"We have never been a people of complacency. We

Singaporeans. have never abandoned our wise tradition of

universal military service. Today we profit by that long sacri-

fice of time and effort. Our small but highly advanced armed

forces now rank with the finest in the modern world. Our

adversaries have threatened and blustered for years, but they

dare not trifle with Fortress Singapore. They know very well

that our Rapid Deployment Forces can carry swift, surgical

retribution to any corner of the globe!

"So the battle we face will be subtle, without clear bound-

aries. It will challenge our will, our independence, our

traditions-our very survival as a people.

"The first skirmish is already upon us. I refer to the recent

terrorist atrocity against the Caribbean island of Grenada.

"The Grenadian government-I use the term loosely ..."

(A tension-relieving burst of laughter.)

"Grenada has publicly alleged that certain elements in

Singapore bear responsibility for this attack. I have called on

Parliament to conduct a thorough and public investigation of

the affair. At present, dear ladies and gentlemen, I cannot

comment on this matter fully. I will not prejudice the investi-

gation, nor will I endanger our vital intelligence sources.

However-I can tell you that Grenada's enemies may have

used Singapore's commercial conduits as a blind.

"If this is true, I pledge to you today that the- parties

responsible will pay a heavy price."

(Look of grim sincerity. Laura checked the faces of the

crowd. They sat on the edges of their seats, looking serious

and glowing and ennobled.),

"Dear ladies and gentlemen, we of this island bear no ill

will toward, the suffering people of Grenada.. Through diplo-

matic channels, we have already reached out to them, offering

them medical and technical assistance in their time of crisis.

"These acts of goodwill have been rejected. Stunned by

the cruel attack, their government is in shambles, and their

rhetoric is scarcely rational. Until the crisis settles, we must

stand firm against acts of provocation. We must have pa-

tience. Let us remember that the Grenadians have never been

a disciplined people. We must hope that when their panic

fades they will come to their senses."

(Kim released his white-knuckled grip on the podium and

brushed the smooth lock of hair. from his eyes. He paused a

moment, working his fingers as if they itched.)

"In the meantime, however, they continue to utter belliger-

ent threats. Grenadia has failed to recognize our basic com-

monality of interest."

(Laura blinked. "Grenadia?" )

"An attack on Grenadia's sovereignty is a potential threat

to sour own. We must recognize the possibility-the probability

-of a covert divide-and-conquer strategy at work. Happening

... today ... "

(Kim glanced away from the camera. There were sudden

beads of sweat on his powdered forehead-on the giant screen,

they looked as big as soccer balls. Long seconds passed.

Little knots of anxious murmuring rose among the crowd.)

"Today-tomorrow-I will be declaring a state of emergency

-granting the executive . . . power. Necessary to protect our

citizenry from possible subversion . . . from attack. By either

the Gray globalists, or the blacks. The Gremadies. The ... Ne-

gro niggers!"

(Kim lurched from the podium, half reeling. He glanced to his

left again, dizzily, searching for support. Someone off-camera

murmured drowned words, anxiously. Kim muttered aloud.)

"What did I say?"

He tugged at his pocket kerchief, and his shades clattered

to the floor. He mopped his forehead, his neck. Then a

sudden convulsion seized him. He stumbled forward, slap-

ping his podium. His face congested and he screamed into the

microphones.

"Dogs fucked Vienna! Ladies and gentlemen, I . . . I'm

afraid I'm sorry that the pariah dump-dogs fucked the Ayatollah!

Lick my ass! You should-shit on the Space Captain fucking

laser launch-"

Horrified screams. A roar and rustle as the crowd of thou-

sands rose in bewilderment.

Kim slumped and fell behind the podium.

Suddenly he vaulted up again, like a puppet. He opened his mouth.

Suddenly, hellishly, he vomited blood and fire. A torrent

of livid flame gushed from his mouth and eyes. In seconds his

giant video face was blackening with impossible heat. A

deafening agonized scream shook the stadium. A sound like

damned souls and sheet metal torn apart.

His hair flared like a candle, his skin crisped. He clawed at

his burning eyes. The air became a hurricane of obscene

metallic noise.

Suddenly, people from the lower stands were scrambling

onto the soccer field. Vaulting, stumbling, clambering over

the rails, over each other. Sweeping the white helmets of

police away, like buoys in a tidal wave.

The noise went on and on.

There was a hard tug at Laura's knee. It was Suvendra. She

was crouching low beneath the bleacher, hunkered on knees

and elbows. She shouted something impossible to hear. Then

gestured-get down!

Laura hesitated, looked up, and suddenly the crowd was all over her.

It poured down the slope like a juggernaut. Elbows, knees,

shoulders, murderous stampeding feet. A sudden slamming

body block, and Laura tumbled backward, downhill, over the

bleacher. She slammed down into something that buckled

spongily-a human body.

Concrete rose and smacked her' face. She was down and

trampled-a crushing blow across her back that drove the air

from her lungs. Winded, blinded. Dying!

Raw seconds of black panic. Then-she found herself scram-

bling. Squirming, like Suvendra, under a denting, rocking

bleacher. People pouring over her now. An endless, mad

threshing engine of pistoning legs. A sandaled foot mashed

her fingers and she snatched her hand back.

A little boy spun past her headlong. His shoulder smashed

against the hard edge of a bleacher, and he was down.

Shadows and rising heat and the stink of fear and noise,

bodies falling, scrambling-

Laura clenched her teeth and lunged out into a beating. She

grabbed the boy's waist and hauled him back with her. She

wrapped her arms around him, huddled him under her.

He buried his face against her shoulder, clutching her so

hard it hurt. Concrete trembled under her, the stadium quaking

to the avalanche of human meat.

Suddenly the hellish racket from the speakers vanished.

Laura's ears rang. With shocking suddenness, she could hear

the boy sobbing. Wails of shock and pain bloomed in the

sudden silence.

The soccer field was awash with the mob. The bleachers

around her were littered with abandoned trash: shoes, hats,

splattered dripping drinks. Down at the railing, the dazed and

wounded staggered like drunks. Some knelt, sobbing. Others

lay sprawled and broken.

Laura sat up slowly onto the bleacher, holding the boy on

her lap. He hid his face against her shoulder.

Streaks of television static hissed soundlessly on the giant

display board. She breathed hard, trembling. As long as it

had lasted, there had been no time, just a maddened, deafen-

ing eternity. Madness had streaked through the crowd like a

tornado. Now it was gone.

It had lasted maybe forty seconds.

An elderly turbanned Sikh limped past her, his white beard

dripping blood.

Down in the soccer field the crowd was milling, slowly.

The police had rallied here and there, clumps of white hel-

mets. They were trying to make people sit. Some were doing

it, but most were shying away, dumb and reluctant, like

cattle.


Laura sucked her mashed knuckles and gazed down in wonder.

It was all for nothing. Sensible, civilized people had boiled

out of their seats and trampled each other to death. For no

sane reason at all. Now that it was over, they weren't even

trying to leave the stadium. Some of them were even return-

ing to their seats in the bleachers. Faces drained, legs rubbery-

the look of zombies.

At the far end of Laura's bleacher, a .fat woman in a

flowered sari was shaking and screaming. She was hitting her

husband with her floppy straw hat, over and over again.

There was a touch on Laura's shoulder. Suvendra sat be-

side her, her binoculars in her hand. "You are all right?"

"Mama," the little boy begged. He was about six. He had

a gold ID bracelet and a T-shirt with a bust of Socrates.

"I hid. Like you did," Laura told Suvendra. She cleared

her throat shakily. "That was smart."

"I have seen such troubles before, in Djakarta," Suvendra said.

"What the hell happened?"

Suvendra tapped her binoculars and pointed at the celebrity

box. "I have spotted Kim there. He is alive."

"Kim! But I saw him die...."

"You saw a dirty trick," Suvendra said soberly. "What

you saw was not possible. Even Kim Swee Lok cannot spit

fire and explode." Suvendra winced a little, sourly. "They

knew he was scheduled to speak today. They had time to

prepare. The terrorists."

Laura knotted her hands. "Oh, Jesus."

Suvendra nodded at the static-laden screen. "The authori-

ties have shut it down, now. Because it was sabotaged, yes?

Someone pirated that screen and put on a nightmare. To

frighten the city."

"But what about that weird, vile stuff Kim was babbling....

He looked doped!" Laura smoothed the boy's hair absently.

"But that had to be faked, too. It was all a faked tape. Right?

So Kim's all right, really. "

Suvendra touched her binoculars. "No, I saw him. They

were carrying him.... I'm afraid the celebrity box was booby-

trapped. Kim fell into a trap."

"You mean all that really happened? Kim actually said

that? All about dogs and . . . oh, God, no."

"To drug a man so to play a fool, then make him seem to

burn alive-that might seem pleasant-to a voodoo man."

Suvendra stood up, tying the ribbons of her sun hat under her chin.

"But Kim ... he said he wanted peace with Grenada."

"Hurting Kim is a stupid blunder. We could have worked

things out sensibly," Suvendra said. "But then, we are not

terrorists." She opened her purse and dug out a cigarette.

A woman in a torn satin blouse limped up the aisle,

screaming for someone named Lee.

"You can't smoke in public," Laura said blankly. "It's illegal here."

Suvendra smiled. "Rizome must help these poor mad people. I hope

you are remembering your first-aid training."


Laura lay in her Rizome camp bed, feeling like shredded

confetti. She touched her wrist. Three A.M. Singapore time,

Friday, October 13. The window glowed palely with the

bluish light of arc lamps from the wharfs of East Lagoon.

Longshore robots on big lugged tires rolled unerringly through

patches of darkness. A skeletal crane dipped into the holds of

a Rumanian cargo clipper, the vast iron arm moving with

mindless persistence, shuffling giant cargo containers like

alphabet blocks.

A television flickered at the foot of Laura's cot, its sound

off. Some local newsman, a government-approved flunky like

all the newsmen here in Singapore ... like newsmen every-

where, when you came right down to it. Reporting from the

hospitals .. .

When Laura closed her eyes, she could still see chests

.laboring beneath tom shirts and the gloved, probing fingers of

the paramedics. Somehow the screams had been the worst,

more unnerving than the sight of blood. That nerve-shredding

din of pain, the animal sounds people made when their dig-

nity was ripped away .. .

Eleven dead. Only eleven, a miracle. Before this day she'd

never known how tough the human body was, that flesh and

blood were like rubber, full of unexpected elasticity. Women,

little old ladies, had been at the bottom of massive, scram-

bling pileups and somehow come out alive. Like the little

Chinese granny with her ribs cracked and her wig knocked

off, who had thanked Laura over and over with apologetic

nods of her threadbare head, like the riot was all her own

fault.

Laura couldn't sleep, still dully tingling with an alchemy of



horror and elation. Once again the black water of her night-

mares had broken into her life. But she was getting better at

it. This time she had actually saved someone. She had jumped

out into the. middle of it and rescued someone, a random

statistic: little Geoffrey Yong. Little Geoffrey, who lived in

Bukit Timah district and was in first grade and took violin

lessons. She'd given him back, alive and whole, to his mother.

"I have a little girl myself," Laura had told her. Mrs.

Yong had given her an unforgettable spirit-lifting look of vast

and mystical gratitude. Battlefield gallantry, from sister-soldiers

in the Army of Motherhood.

She checked her watchphone again. Just now noon, in

Georgia. She could phone David again, at his hideout at a

Rizome Retreat. It would be great to hear his voice again.

They missed each other terribly, but at least he was there on the

phone, to give her the view from the outside world and

tell her she was doing well. It made all the difference, took

the weight off. She needed desperately to talk about what had

happened. To hear the baby's sweet little voice. And to make

arrangements to get the hell out of this no-neck town and

back where she belonged.

She tapped numbers. Dial tone. Then nothing. Damned

thing was broken or something. Cracked in the crush.

She sat up in bed and tried some functions. Still had all her

appointment notes, and the list of tourist data they'd given her

at customs. . . . Maybe the signal was bad, too much steel in

the walls of this stupid barn. She'd slept in some dumps in

her day, but this retro-fitted godown was pushing it, even for

Rizome.

A flicker on the television. Laura glanced down.



Four kids in white karate outfits-no, Greek tunics-had

rushed the reporter. They had him down on the pavement

outside the hospital, and they were methodically kicking and

punching him. Young guys, students maybe. Striped bandan-

nas hid their mouths and noses. One of them batted at the

camera with a protest sign in hasty, splattered Chinese.

The scene blinked away to an anchor room where a middle-

aged Eurasian woman was staring at her monitor aghast.

Laura quickly turned up the sound. The anchor woman

jerkily grabbed a sheaf of printout. She began speaking Chinese.

"Damn!" Laura switched channels.
Press conference. Chinese guy in medical whites. He had

that weird, repulsive look common to some older Singaporeans

-the richer ones. A tightened vampire face, sleek, ageless

skin. Part hair dye, part face-lift, part monkey glands maybe,

or weekly blood changes tapped how teenage Third Worlders ...

. . full function, yes," Dr. Vampire said. "Today,

many people with Tourette's Syndrome can live quite normal lives."

Mumble mumble mumble from the floor. This thing looked

taped. Laura wasn't sure why. Somehow it lacked that fresh feeling.

"After the attack, Miss Ting held the prime minister's

hands," said Dr. Vamp. "Because of this, the transfer agent

contaminated her fingers also. Of course, the drug dosage

was much lower than that received by the prime minister. We

still have Miss Ting under observation. But the convulsions

and so forth were, ah, never in question in her case."

Laura felt a surge of shock and loathing. That poor little

actress. They got Kim through something he touched, and she

held his hands. Holding the hands of her country's leader

while he was foaming and screaming like some rabid baboon.

Oh, Christ. What did Miss Ting think when she realized she

was getting it, too? Laura missed the next question. Mumble

mumble Grenada mumble.

Frown, dismissive wave. "The use of biomedicine for

political terrorism is ... horrifying. It violates every conceiv-

able ethical code."

"You fucking hypocrite!" Laura shouted at the box.

Light rap at her door. Laura started, then tugged her cotton

T-shirt lower, over her underwear. "Come in?"

Suvendra's husband peeked around the door, a natty little

man wearing a hair net and paper pajamas. "I am hearing you

awake," he said politely. His accent was even less compre-

hensible than Suvendra's. "There is a messenger at loading

gate. He ask for you!"

"Oh. Okay. Be right down." He left and Laura jumped

into her jeans. Grenadian cadre jeans-now that she'd broken

them in, she liked them. She kicked on cheap foam sandals

she'd bought locally for the price of a pack of gum.

Out the room, up the hall, down the catwalk stairs, under

the arching girders and the dusty arc-lit glass. Walls lined

with domino stacks of container shipping, socketed steel boxes

the size of mobile homes. A dock robot sprawled wheelless

on a hydraulic lift. Smell of rice and grease and coffee beans

and rubber.

Outside the godown, at the truck dock, one of Suvendra's

Rizome crew was talking with the messenger. They spotted

her, and there was a quick flare of red as the Rizome kid

stomped out a cigarette.

The messenger's sandaled feet were propped on the handle-

bars of his rickshaw, an elegant, springy tricycle framed in

lacquered bamboo and piano wire.

The boy leapt from his seat with easy, balletic grace. He

wore a white muscle shirt and cheap paper slacks. He looked

about seventeen, a Malay kid with brown shoe-button eyes

and arms like a gymnast. "Good evening, madam."

"Hi," Laura said. They shook hands, and he stuck his

knuckle into her palm. A secret-society shake.

"He is `lazy' and 'stupid,' " the Rizome kid hinted. Like

the rest of Suvendra's local crew, the Rizome kid was not

Singaporean, but a Maphilindonesian, from Djakarta. His

name was Ali.

"Huh?" Laura said.

"I am `unfit for conventional employment,' " the messen-

ger said, meaningfully.

"Oh. Right," Laura said, realizing. The kid was from the

local opposition. The Anti-Labour Party.

Suvendra had scraped up a little solidarity with the leader

of the Anti-Labourites. His name was Razak. Like Suvendra,

Razak was a Malay, a minority group in a city 80 percent

Chinese. He had managed to cobble together a fragile local

mandate: part ethnic, part classbased, but mostly pure lunatic

fringe.

Razak's political philosophy was bizarre, but he had held



out stubbornly against the assaults of Kim's ruling party.

Therefore, he was now in a position to raise embarrassing

questions on the floor of Parliament. His interests partly

coincided with Rizome's, so they were allies.

And the Anti-Labourites made full use of the alliance, too.

Ragged bands of them hung out at the Rizome godown, cadg-

ing handouts, using the phones and bathroom, running off

peculiar handbills on the company Xerox. In the mornings

they grouped together in the city parks, eating protein paste

and practicing martial arts in their torn paper pants. People

gathered to laugh at them.

Laura gave the kid her best conspiratorial glance. "Thanks

for coming so late. I appreciate your, uh, dedication."

The boy shrugged "No problem, madam. I am the ob-

server for your civil rights."

Laura glanced at Ali. "What?"

"He is staying this place all night," Ali said. "He is

observing for our civil rights."

"Oh. Thank you," Laura said vaguely. It seemed as good

an excuse to loiter as any. "We could send down some food

or something."

"I eat only scop," the boy said. He plucked a crumpled

envelope from a hidden slot under his rickshaw seat. Parliamentary

stationery.: THE HONORABLE DR. ROBERT RAZAK, M.P. (Anson).

"It's from Bob," Laura told them, hoping to retrieve some

lost prestige. She opened it.

A hasty scrawl of red ink above a printout.
Despite our well-founded ideological opposition we of

the Anti-Labour Party do of course maintain files in the

Yung Soo Chim Islamic Bank, and this message arrived

at 2150 hrs local time, tagged for you. If reply is

necessary, do not use local phone system. Wishing you

the best of luck in these difficult times. Message fol-

IOWS: YDOOL EQKOF UHFNH HEBSG HNDGH QNOQP LUDOO.

JKEIL KIFUL FKEIP POLKS DOLFU JENHF HFGSE! IHFUE KYFEN

KUBES KUVNE KNESE NHWQQ KVNEI? JEUNF HFENA OBGHE

BHSIF WHIBE. QHIRS QIFES BEHSE IPHES HBESA HFIEW HBEIA!


DAVID
"It's from David," Laura blurted. "My husband."

"Husband," the Party kid mused. He seemed sorry to hear

that she had one.

"Why this? Why didn't he just phone me?" Laura said.

"The phones being out of order," the boy said. "Full of

spooks. "

"Spooks?" Laura said. "You mean spies?"

The boy muttered something in Malay. "He means demons," Ali

translated. "Evil spirits."

"You kidding?" Laura said.

"It tell me they are evil spirits, said the boy calmly.

" `Uttering terrorist threats intended to sow panic and dissen-

sion.' A felony under Article 15, Section 3." He frowned.

"But only in English, madam! It did not use Malay language

although use of Malay is officially mandated in Singapore

Constitution. "

"What did the demon say?" Laura demanded.

" `The enemies of the righteous to burn with brimstone

fire,' " the boy quoted. " 'Jah Whirlwind to smite the

oppressor.' Much else in similar bloody vein. It call me by

name." He shrugged. "My mother cried."

"His mother thinks he should get a job," Ali confided.

"The future belong to the stupid and lazy," the boy de-

clared. He doubled up his legs and perched expertly on the

bamboo strut of his rickshaw.

Ali rubbed his chin. "Chinese and Tamil languages-were

these also neglected?"

A gust of wind blew in from offshore. Laura rubbed her

arms. She wondered if she should tip the kid. No, she

remembered-the A-L.P. had some kind of strange phobia

against touching money. "I'm going back inside."

The boy examined the sky. "Sumatra monsoon coming,

madam." He popped hinges and pulled up the accordioned

canopy of his rickshaw. The white nylon was painted in red,

black, and yellow: a Laughing Buddha, crowned with thorns.

Inside the godown, Mr. Suvendra squatted on a quilted

gray loading mat under the watery light of the geodesics. He

had a television and a pot of coffee. Laura joined him, sitting

cross-legged. "I am not like this graveyard shift," he said.

"Your message, it is saying?"

"What do you make of this? It's from my husband."

He examined the paper. "Not English.... A computer

cipher. "

A dock robot rolled in with a shipping container on its

back. It stacked the box with a powerful wheeze of hydrau-

lics. Mr. Suvendra ignored it. "You and husband have a

cipher, yes? A code. For hiding the meaning, and showing

the message is truly from him."

"We never used anything like that! That's Triad stuff."

"Triad, tong." Suvendra smiled. "Like us, good gemeineschaft .

"Now I'm worried! I've got to call David right now!"

Suvendra shook his head. "The telly say the phones are

bloody down. Subversives. "

Laura thought it over. "Look, I can take a taxi across the

causeway and call from a phone in Johore. That's Malaysian

territory. Maphilindonesian, I mean."

"In the morning," Suvendra said.

"No! David could be hurt. Shot! Dying! Or maybe our

baby ..." She felt a racing jolt of guilt and fear. "I'm

calling a taxi right now. " She accessed the tourist data on her

watchphone.

"Taxis," the phone announced tinnily. "Singapore has

over twelve thousand automated taxis, over eight thousand of

them air-conditioned. Starting fare is two ecu for the first

fifteen hundred meters or part thereof .. .

"Get on with it," Laura grated.

.. hailed in the street or called by telephone: 452-5555..."

"Right." Laura punched numbers. Nothing happened.

"Shit!"

"Have some coffee," Suvendra offered.



"They've killed the phones!" she said, realizing it again,

but with a real pang this time. "The Net's down! I can't get

on the goddamn Net!"

Suvendra stroked his pencil mustache. "So very important,

is it? In your America."

She slapped her own wrist, hard enough to hurt. "David

should be talking here right now! What kind of jerkwater

place is this?" No access. Suddenly it seemed hard to breathe.

"Look, you must have another line out, right? Fax machine

or telex or something."

"No, sorry. Is a bit rough and ready here in Rizome

Singapore. Just lately we move into this wonderful palace."

Suvendra waved his arm. "Very difficult for us." He shrugged.

"You are relaxing, having some coffee, Laura. Could be

message is nothing. A trick by the Bank."

Laura smacked her forehead. "I bet that Bank has a line out. Sure. Guarded fiber-optics! Even Vienna can't crack

them. And they're right downtown on Bencoolen Street."

"Oh, dear me," said Suvendra. "Very bad idea."

"Look, I know people there. Old Mr. Shaw, a couple of

his guards. They were my house guests. They owe me."

"No, no." He put a hand to his mouth.

"They owe me. Stupid bastards, what else are they good

for? What are they going to do, shoot me? That'd look great

in Parliament, wouldn't it? Hell, I'm not afraid of them-I'm

going down there right now." Laura stood up.

"It's very late," Suvendra said timidly.

"They're a bank, aren't they? Banks are open twenty-four hours. "

He looked up at her. "Are they all like you, in Texas?"

Laura frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Can't call taxi," he said practically. "Can't walk in rain.

Catching cold." He stood up. "You are waiting-here, I get

my wife." He left.

Laura went outside. Ali and the Party kid were sitting

together in the back seat of the rickshaw, under the canopy,

holding hands. Didn't mean anything. Different culture. Prob-

ably not, anyway .. .

"Hi," she said. "Ummm . . . I didn't catch your name."

"Thirty-six," the boy said.

"Oh.... Is there a taxi stand near here? I need one."

"A taxi, is it," Thirty-six said blankly.

"For the Yung Soo Chim Bank. On Bencoolen Street?"

Agent Thirty-six hissed a little between his teeth. Ali dug

out a cigarette.

"Can I have one of those?" Laura said.

Ali lit it and handed it to her; grinning. She took a puff. It

tasted like clove-scented burning garbage. She felt her taste

buds dying under a lacquer of cancerous spit. Ali was pleased.

"Okay, madam," said Thirty-six, with a fatalist's shrug.

"I am taking you." He elbowed Ali out of the rickshaw's

back seat, then gestured to Laura. "Get on, madam. Start

pedaling. "

She pedaled briskly out of the docks and a kilometer up

Trafalgar Street. Then the skies opened up like a water bal-

loon, and rain came down in unbelievable pounding torrents.

She stopped and bought a nickel raincoat from a street-corner

vending machine.

She turned up Anson Road, pedaling hard, steaming inside

her cheap plastic. Rain sheeted from the wheels and steamed

off the sidewalks and gushed down the spotless, trashless

gutters.


There were a few old colonial-vintage piles by the docklands:

white columns, verandahs, and railings. But as they neared

downtown the city began to soar. Anson Road became a

narrow defile into a mountain range of steel and concrete and

ceramic.

It was like downtown Houston. But more like Houston than

even Houston had ever had the nerve to become. It was an

anthill, a brutal assault against any sane sense of scale.

Nightmarishly vast spires whose bulging foundations covered

whole city blocks. Their upper reaches were pocked like

waffle irons with triangular bracing. Buttresses, glass-covered

superhighways, soared half a mile above sea level.

Story after story rose silent and dreamlike, buildings so

unspeakably huge that they lost all sense of weight; they hung

above the earth like Euclidean thunderheads, their summits

lost in sheets of steel-gray rain.

Here and there the rounded tunnels of Singapore's mag-lev

trains; she saw one flit silently above Tanjong Pagar, wheelless

and bright, the carriages gleaming in Singapore's Coca-Cola

white-and-red.

Agent Thirty-six guided her off the street through the auto-

matic doors of a mall. Air conditioning gripped her wet shins.

Soon she was pedaling past rank after silent rank of clothing

stores, video places, creepy-looking health centers offering

cut-rate blood fractionation.

They drove on for over a mile, through ceramic halls thick

with garish, brain-damaging ads. Meandering up and down

empty ramps, pausing once to enter an elevator. Thirty-six

casually popped the rickshaw onto its rear wheels, telescoped

the front, and walked it along behind him like a luggage tote.

The malls were almost deserted; an occasional all-night

eatery or coffee bar, its sober, well-groomed customers qu-

ietly munching their salads under vivid, spiritless murals of

daisies and seagulls. Once they saw some cops, Singapore's.

finest, in neatly pressed blue Gurkha shorts, with tangle-guns

and yard-long lathi sticks.

She no longer knew where the ground was. It didn't seem

to mean much here.

They cruised a walkway. Below them lurked a teenage

cycle gang: well-dressed Chinese boys with oiled quiffs, crisp

white silk shirts, and gleaming chromed recliner bikes. Thirty-

six, who had been lounging in the back with his feet up, sat

up and yelled. He shot the boys a series of cryptic gestures,

the last unmistakably obscene.

He leaned back again. "Pedal fast," he urged Laura. The

boys downstairs hastily split up into hunting packs.

"Let me pedal," Thirty-six said. Laura jumped panting

into the back. Thirty-six stood on his pedals and the trike took

off like a scalded ape. They took corners on two wheels, his

hard, plunging legs rasping in their paper trousers.

They crossed the Singapore River half a mile above the

ground, inside a glassed-in archway offering snack stands and

rented telescopes. Swollen with tropical rain, the little river

surged hopelessly in its neatly managed concrete culvert.

Something about the sight depressed her enormously.

The rain had stopped by the time they reached Bencoolen

Street. Tropical dawn the color of hibiscus was touching the

highest steel peaks downtown.

The Yung Soo Chim Islamic Bank was a modest little

place, 1990s vintage, a mirror-glass office carton, sixty sto-

ries high.

There was a line of people outside it a block long. Agent

Thirty-six cruised by silently, languidly dodging the automatic

taxis. "Wait a minute," Laura muttered into empty air. "I

know these people."

She'd seen them all before. In the Grenada airport, just

after the attack. The vibe was uncanny. The same people-

only instead of Yanks and Europeans and South Americans,

these were Japanese, Koreans, Southeast Asians. The same

mix though-seedy-looking techies, and hustlers with vacant

money-eyes, and nasty-looking bullshit artists in wrinkled

tropical suits. That same jittery, verminous look of people

native to the woodwork and very unhappy outside of it .. .

Yeah. It was like the world had sloughed off a layer of

crime in a bathtub, and this city block was its sink trap, full

of suds and hair.

Flotsam, floating garbage, to be racked up and tidied away.

Suddenly she imagined the quiet and itchy-looking line of

people all lined up and shot. The image gave her a rush of

ugly joy. She felt bad. Losing control here. Bad vibrations .

"Stop," she said. She jumped out of the rickshaw and

dodged across the street. She walked deliberately toward the

front of the line: a pair of nervous Japanese techs. "Konnichi-

wa!" The two men looked at her sullenly. She smiled.

"Denwa wa doko ni arimasu ka?"

"If we had a telephone we'd be using it right now," said

the taller Japanese. "And you can knock it off with the

high-school nihongo; I'm from Los Angeles."

"Really?" Laura said. "I'm from Texas."

"Texas-" His eyes widened. "Jesus, Harvey, look. It's

her. What's-her-face."

"Webster," Harvey said. "Barbara Webster. What the

fuck happened to you, girlie? You look like a drowned fuck-

ing rat. " He looked over the rickshaw and laughed. "Did you

ride here on that little fucking bike?"

"How do I cut through this crap and get to the Net?" she said.

"Why should we tell you?" Los Angeles smirked. "You

crucified us in Parliament. You oughta break your goddamn legs. "

"I'm not the Bank's enemy," Laura said. "I'm an integrationist. I

thought I made that clear in my testimony."

"Bullshit," Harvey said. "You telling me there's room in

your little Rizome for guys who do musketeer chips? Fuck

it! Are you as straight as you act? Or were you turned, in

Grenada? Me, I figure you're turned! 'Cause I don't see how

any mama-papa bourgeois democrat is gonna fuck with the

P.I.P. out of principle."

Thirty-six had now successfully crossed the street, towing

his folded rickshaw. "You could being more polite to madam,"

he suggested.

Los Angeles examined the kid. "Don't tell me you're

hanging with these little fuckers...." Suddenly he shrieked

and grabbed at his thigh. "Goddamn it! There it is again!

Something fucking bit me, man!"

Thirty-six laughed at him. Los Angeles's face clouded

instantly. He aimed a shove at the kid. Thirty-six twisted

aside easily. With a muted clack, Thirty-six yanked one of

the rickshaw's lacquered bracing bars from its sockets. He

gripped it and smiled, and his shoebutton eyes gleamed like

two dollops of axle grease.

Los Angeles stepped backward out of the line and ad-

dressed the crowd. "Something stung me!" he screamed.

"Like a fucking wasp! And if it was this kid, like I think it

was, somebody here ought to break his fucking back! And

goddamn it, I've been standing out here all night! How come

fucking big shots like this chick here get to go right in and,

hey! This is that Webster bitch, everybody! Lauren Webster!

Pay attention, goddamn it!"

The crowd ignored him, with the inhuman patience of

urbanites ignoring a drunk. Thirty-six quietly juggled his

bamboo club.

A Tamil came limping up the pavement. He wore a dhoti,

the ethnic skirt of a south Indian. He had a bandage on his

bare, dark shin and an ornate walking cane. He gave Harvey

a sharp poke with the cane's rubber tip. "Calming your friend

down, la!" he advised. "Behaving like civilized fellows!"

"Fuck you, crip!" Harvey offered indifferently.

An automatic taxi pulled up to the curb and flung open its door.

A mad dog leapt out.

It was a big ugly mongrel that looked half Doberman, half

hyena. Its hide was wet and slick, with something thick and

oily, like vomit or blood. It erupted from the taxi with a

frenzied snarl and tore into the crowd as if fired from a cannon.

It bowled into them, raging. Three men fell screaming. The

crowd billowed away in terror.

Laura heard the dog's jaws snap like castanets. It tore a

chunk from a fat man's forearm, then leapt up with an

obscene, desperate wriggle and dashed toward the front of the

bank. Great choking barks and shrieks, like some language of

the damned. Flesh and shoes slapped damp pavement, the

jostle and rush of panic-

The dog leapt six feet into the air, like a hooked marlin.

Its fur smoldered. A wedge of flame split it along the spine,

bursting its body open.

Flame poured out of it.

It exploded wetly. A grotesque air-burst of steam and stink,

spattering the crowd. It flopped to the pavement, dead in-

stantly, a bag of burning flesh. Threads of impossible heat

glimmered in it .. .

Laura was running.

The Tamil had her by the wrist. The crowd was running,

everywhere, nowhere, into the streets where taxis screeched

to sudden halts with robot honks of protest. . . "In here,"

the Tamil said helpfully, jumping into a cab.

It was silent inside the cab, air-conditioned. It took a right

at the first curb and left the bank behind. The Tamil released

her wrist, leaned back, smiled at her.

"Thanks," Laura said, rubbing her arm. "Thanks a lot, sir."

"No problem, la," the Tamil said. "The cab waiting for

me." He paused, then tapped his cast with the cane. "My

leg, you see."

Laura took a deep breath, shuddered. Half a block passed

as she got a grip on herself. The Tamil looked her over, his

eyes bright. He'd moved very fast for an injured man-he'd

almost sprained her wrist, dragging her. "If you hadn't stopped

me, I'd still be running," she told him gratefully. "You're

very brave."

"So are you," he said.

"Not me, no way," she said. She was trembling.

The Tamil seemed to think it was funny. He nudged his

chin with the head of his cane. A languid, dandyish gesture.

"Madam, you were fighting in the street with two big data

pirates."

"Oh," she said, surprised. "That. That's nothing." She

paused, embarrassed. "Thanks for taking my part, though."

" `An integrationist,' " the Tamil quoted. He was mimick-

ing her. He looked down deliberately. "Oh, look-the nasty

voodoo spoilt your nice coat."

There was a foul splattered blob on Laura's raincoat sleeve.

Red, glistening. She gasped in revulsion and tried to shrug

her way out of it. Her arms were caught behind her... .

"Here," the Tamil said, smiling, as if to help. He held

something under her nose. She heard a snap.

A wave of giddy heat touched her face. Then, without

warning, she passed out.


A sudden sharp reek dug into Laura's head. Ammonia. Her

eyes watered. "Lights . . ." she croaked.

The overheads dimmed to murky amber. She felt old, sick,

like hours had marched through her on hangover feet. She

was half-buried in something-she struggled, sudden claus-

trophobic rush ...

She was lying in a beanbag chair. Like something her

grandmother might have owned. The room around her was

bluish with the grainy light of televisions.

"You back to the land of the living, Blondie."

Laura shook her head hard. Her nose and throat felt scorched.

"I'm . . ." She sneezed, painfully. "Goddamn it!" She got

her elbows into the shifting pellets of the beanbag and levered

herself up.

The Tamil was sitting in a chair of plastic and tubing,

eating Chinese takeout food off a formica table. The smell of

it, ginger and prawns, made her stomach tighten painfully.

"Is that you?" she said at last.

He looked down at her. "Who you thinkin', eh?"

"Sticky?"

"Yeah," he said, with the chin-swiveling nod of the Tamils.

"I and righteous I."

Laura knuckled her eyes. "Sticky, you're really different

this time ... your goddamn cheeks are all wrong and your

skin ... your hair.... You don't even sound the same."

He grunted.

She sat up. "What the hell have they done to you?"

"Trade secrets," Sticky said.

Laura looked around. The room was small and dark, and it

stank. Bare plywood shelving weighted down with tape cas-

settes, canvas bags, frazzled spools of wiring. Heaps of poly-

urethane sheeting, and styrofoam noodles, and tangled cellulose.

A bolted wall rack held a dozen cheap Chinese televisions,

alive with flickering Singapore street scenes. Against the

other wall were heaped dozens of eviscerated cardboard boxes:

bright commercial colors, American cornflakes, Kleenex, laun-

dry soap. Gallon paint cans, tubing, rolls of duct tape. Some-

one had tacked swimsuit shots of Miss Ting inside the grimy

kitchenette.

It was hot. "Where the hell are we?"

"Don't ask," Sticky said.

"This is Singapore, though, right?" She glanced at her

bare wrist. "What time is it?"

Sticky held up the smashed wreckage of her watchphone.

"Sorry. Nah sure I could trust it." He gestured across the

table. "Take a seat, memsahib." He grinned tiredly. "You, I trust."

Laura got to her feet and made it to the second chair. She

leaned on the table. "You know something? I'm goddamn

glad to see you. I don't know why, but I am."

Sticky shoved her the remnants of his food. "Here, eat.

You been out a while." He scrubbed his plastic fork on a

paper napkin and gave it to her.

"Thanks. There a ladies' room in this dump?"

"Over there," he nodded. "You feel a sting, back at the

Bank? You be sure to check you legs for pinholes in there."

The bathroom was the size of a phone booth. She had wet

herself while unconscious-not badly, luckily, and the stains

didn't show through her Grenadian jeans. She mopped herself

with paper and came back. "No pinholes, Captain."

"Good," he said, "I'm happy I don't have to dig one of

those Bulgarian pellets out of you ass. What the fock you

doin' in that Bank crowd, anyway?"

"Trying to call David," she said, "after you screwed up the phones."

Sticky laughed. "Why you nah have the sense to stay with

your Bwana? He nah as stupid as he look-have the sense not

to be here, anyway."

"What are you doing here?"

"Having the time of my life," he said. "The last time,

maybe." He rubbed his nose-they'd done something to his

nostrils, too; they were narrower. "Ten years they train me

for something like this. But now I'm here and doin' it, it's . . . "

It seemed to drift away from him then, and he shrugged

and waved it past. "I see your testimony, right? Some of it.

Too late, but at least you tell them the same things you tell

us. Same in Galveston, same in Grenada, same here, same

everywhere for you, nah?"

"That's right, Captain."

"That's good," he said vaguely. "Y'know, wartime

... mostly, you do nothing. Time to think ... meditate

... Like down at the Bank, we know those fockin' bloodclots

hurry down there when the phones shut down, and we know

they be just like those bloodclots we got, but to see them

... see it happen like that, so predictable ..."

"Like wind-up toys," Laura said. "Like bugs ... like

they just don't matter at all."

He looked at her, surprised. She felt surprised herself. It

had been easy, to say, sitting there together with him in the

darkness. "Yeah," he said. "Like toys. Like wind-up toys

pretending to have souls. . . . It's a wind-up city, this place.

Full of lying and chatter and bluff, and cash registers ringin'

round the clock. It's Babylon. If there ever was a Babylon,

it's here."

"I thought we were Babylon," Laura said. "The Net, I

mean. "


Sticky shook his head. "These people are more like you

than you ever were."

"Oh," Laura said slowly. "Thanks, I guess."

"You wouldn't do what they did to Grenada," he said.

"No. But I don't think it was. them, Sticky."

"Maybe it wasn't," he said. "But I don't care. f hate them. For

what they are, for what they want to be. For what

they want to make of the world."

Sticky's accent had wavered, from Tamil to Islands patois.

Now it vanished completely into flat Net English. "You can

burn down a country with toys, if you know how. It shouldn't

be true, but it is. You can knock the heart and soul out of

people. We know it in Grenada, as well as they do here. We

know it better."

He paused. "All that Movement talk your David thought

was cute, cadres and feed the people. . . . Come the War, it's

gone. Just like that. In that madhouse under Fedon's Camp,

they're all chewing. on each other's guts. I know I'm getting

my orders from that fucker Castleman. That fat hacker, who's

got no real-life at all just a screen. It's all principles now.

Tactics and strategy. Like someone has to do this, doesn't

matter where or who, just to prove it's possible...."

He bent in his chair and rubbed his bare leg, briefly. The

cast was gone now, but there were buckle marks on his shin.

"They planned this thing in Fedon's Camp," he said. "This

demon thing, DemonStration Project. . . . They been working

under there for twenty years, Laura, they've got tech like

... not human. I didn't know about it-nobody knew about

it. I can do things to this city-me, just a few brother soldiers

smuggled in, not many-things you can't imagine."

"Voodoo," Laura said.

"That's right. With the tech they gave us, I can do things

you can't tell from magic."

"What are your orders?"

He stood up suddenly. "You're not in them." He walked

into the kitchenette and opened the rust-spotted refrigerator.

There was a book on the table, a thick looseleaf pamphlet.

No spine, no title. Laura picked it up and opened it. Page

after page of smudgy Xerox: The Lawrence Doctrine and

Postindustrial Insurgency by Colonel Jonathan Gresham.

"Who's Jonathan Gresham?" she said.

"He's a genius," Sticky said. He came back to the table

with a carton of yogurt. "That's not for you to read. Don't

even look. If Vienna knew you'd touched that book, you'd

never see daylight again."

She set it down carefully. "It's just a book."

Sticky barked with laughter. He started shoveling yogurt

into his mouth with the pinched look of a little boy eating

medicine. "You see Carlotta lately?"

"Not since the airport in Grenada."

"You gonna leave this place? Go back home?"

"I sure as hell want to. Officially, I'm not through testify-

ing in Parliament. I want to know their decision on informa-

tion policy...."

He shook his head. "We'll take care of Singapore."

"No, you won't," she said. "No matter what you can do,

you'll only drive the data bankers underground. I want them

out in the open-everything out in the open. Where everyone

can deal with it honestly."

Sticky said-nothing. He was breathing hard suddenly, look-

ing greenish. Then he belched and opened his eyes. "You

and your people-you're staying on the waterfront, in Anson

District."

"That's right."

"Where that Anti-Labour fool, Rashak .. .

"Dr. Razak, yes, that's his electoral district."

"Okay," he said. "Razak's people, we can let them alone.

Let him run this town, if there's anything left of it. Stay there

and you'll be safe. Understand?"

Laura thought it over. "What is it you want from me?"

"Nothing. Just go home. If they'll let you."

There was a moment of silence. "You gonna eat that, or

what?" Sticky said at last. Laura realized that she had picked

up the plastic fork. She'd been bending it in her fingers, over

and over, as if it were glued to her hand.

She set it down. "What's a `Bulgarian pebble,' Sticky?"

" 'Pellet,' " Sticky said. "Old Bulgarian KGB use 'em

long ago. Tiny lickle piece of steel, holes drilled in, and

sealed with wax. Stick it in a man, wax melts from his body

heat, poison inside, ricin mostly, good strong venom. . . . Not

what we use. "

"What?" Laura said.

"Carboline. Wait." He left the table, opened a kitchen

cabinet, and pulled out a sealed bubble pack. Inside it was a

flat black plastic cartridge. "Here."

She looked it over. "What's this? A printer ribbon?"

"We wire 'em up to the taxis," Sticky said. "Has a spring

gun inside, twenty, thirty pellets of carboline. When the taxi

spots a man in the street, sometimes the gun fires. An un-

manned taxi is easy to steal and rig. The taxis outside that

bank were full of these toys. Carboline is a brain drug, it

makes terror. Terror in his blood, slow, steady leak, to last

for days and days! Why work to terrorize some fool when you

can just terrorize him, simple and sweet?"

Sticky laughed. He was beginning to talk a little faster

now. "That Yankee Jap in the line ahead of you, he's gonna

toss, and turn, and sweat, and dream bad dreams. I could

have killed him, just as easy, with venom. He could be dead

right now, but why kill a flesh, when I can touch a soul? For

everyone around him now, he'll talk dread and fear, dread

and fear, just like burning meat stinks."

"You shouldn't tell me this," Laura said.

"Because you have to go tell the government, don't you?"

Sticky sneered. "You do that for me, go ahead! There are

twelve thousand taxis in Singapore, and after you tell it, they

have to search every damn one! Too much work to wreck

their transport system, when we can get they own cops to do

it for us! Don't forget to say this too: we rig their magnet

trains. And we got plenty more such lickle guns left."

She set it down on the table. Carefully. As if it were made

from spun glass.

The words began to tumble from him. "By now they know

that sticky gum their boss man, Kim, touched." He pointed.

"You see those paint cans?" He laughed. "Evening gloves

comin' back to fashion in Singapore! Raincoats and surgery

masks, those are smart, too!"

"That's enough!"

"You don't want to hear about the paper-clip mines?"

Sticky demanded. "How cheap they are, to blow a fockin'

leg off at the knee!" He slammed his fist into the table.

"Don't you cry at me!"

"I'm not crying!"

"What's that on you face then?" He lurched to his feet,

kicking back his chair. "Tell me you cry when they haul me

out of here dead!"

"Don't!"


"I'm the devil in a cathedral! Stained glass everywhere,

but me with lightning under every fingertip! I'm Steppin'

Razor, Voice of Destruction, they're gonna bust every black

man in this town lookin' for us and they fockin' multiracial

social justice, I mean chaos!" He was shrieking at her. "Not

a stone on a stone! Not a board standing, not a mirror glass

that don't cut to the bone!" He danced across the room,

flailing his arms, kicking trash underfoot. "Jah fire! Thunder!

I can do it, girl! It's easy! So easy ..."

"No! Nobody has to die!"

"It's great! And grand! A great adventure! It's glorious! To -

have the mighty power in you, and let it run, that's a war-

rior's life! That's what I have, right now, right here, worth

everything, anything!"

"No, it's not!" she screamed at him. "It's craziness!

Nothing's easy, you've got to think it through-"

He vanished before her eyes. It was quick, and simple. He

gave a sort of sideways jump and wriggle first, as if he'd

greased himself to slide through a hole in reality. Gone.

She rose from her chair, legs still a little weak, a pain

behind her knees. She looked around herself carefully. Si-

lence, the sound of dust settling, the damp warm smell of

garbage. She was alone.

"Sticky?" she said. The words fell on emptiness. "Come

back, talk to me."

A rush of human presence. Behind her, at her back. She

turned, and there he stood. "You a silly girl," he said,

"somebody's mother." He snapped his fingers under her

nose.

She tried to shove him away. He seized her neck with



whiplash speed. "Go on," he crooned, "just breathe."
8
A monsoon breeze whipped at her hair. Laura looked

over the city from the roof of the Rizome godown.

The Net was a broken spiderweb. No phones at all. Televi-

sion shut down, except for a single, emergency government

channel. Laura felt the dead electric silence in her bones.

The dozen Rizome associates were all on the roof, mo-

rosely spooning up breakfasts of seaweed and kashi. Laura

rubbed her bare, phoneless wrist, nervously. Below her, three

stories down by the loading docks, a gang of Anti-Labourites

practiced their morning Tai Chi Chuan. Soft, languorous,

hypnotic movements. No one led them, but they moved in unison.

They had barricaded the streets, their bamboo rickshaws

laden with stolen sacks of cement and rubber and coffee

beans. They were defying the curfew, the government's sud-

den and draconic declaration of martial law, which lay over

Singapore like a blanket of lead. The streets were the army's

now. And the skies, too.... Tall monsoon clouds over the

morning South China Sea, a glamorous tropic gleam like

puffed gray silk. Against the clouds, the dragonfly cutouts of

police helicopters.

At first, the Anti-Labourites had claimed, as before, that

they were "observing for civil rights." But as more and more

of them had gathered during the night of the fourteenth, the

pretense had faded. They had broken into warehouses and

offices, smashing windows, barricading doors. Now the reb-

els were swarming through the Rizome godown, appropriat-

ing anything they felt was useful. . . .

There were hundreds of them, up and down the waterfront,

viper-eyed young radicals in blood-red headbands and wrinkled

paper clothes, wearing disposable surgical masks to hide

their identities from police video. Grouping on street corners,

exchanging elaborate ritual handshakes. Some of them mut-

tering into toy walkie-talkies.

They had gathered here deliberately. Some kind of contin-

gency plan. The docklands of East Lagoon were their strong-

hold, their natural turf.

The docks had been depressed for years, half abandoned

from the global embargoes inflicted on Singapore. The pow-

erful Longshoreman's Union had protested to the P.I.P. ruler-

ship with increasing bitterness. Until the troublesome union

had been simply and efficiently disemployed, as a deliberate

act, by a government investment in industrial robots.

But with the embargoes, even the robots were idle much of

the time. Which was why Rizome had been able to buy into the

shipping business cheaply. It was hard for Singapore to turn

down such a sucker bet: even knowing that Rizome's intentions

were political, an industrial beachhead.

The P.I.P. 's attack on the union, like most of their actions,

was smart and farsighted and ruthless. But none of it had

worked out quite the way the Government had planned. The

union hadn't broken, but bent, twisted, mutated, and spread.

Suddenly they had stopped demanding work at all, and started

demanding permanent leisure.

Laura could see them down there now, in the streets. A

few were women, a few older men, but mostly classic young

troublemakers. She'd read somewhere once that 90 percent of

the world's havoc was committed by men between fifteen and

twenty-five. They were branding the walls and streets with

neat stenciled slogans. "PLAY FOR KEEPS! WORKERS OF THE

WORLD, RELAX!"

Razak's Rejects, their bellies full of cheap bacterial chow. For

years they'd lived for next to nothing, dossing down in abandoned

warehouses, drinking from public fountains. Politics filled their

days, an elaborate ideology, as convoluted as a religion.

Like most Singaporeans, they were sports nuts. Day after

day they gathered in their polite, penniless hordes, keeping fit

with healthful exercise. Except in their case it was unarmed

combat-a very cheap sport, requiring no equipment but the

human body... .

You could tell them in the streets by the way they walked.

Heads held high, eyes glazed with that calm karate look that

came from the knowledge that they could break human bones

with their hands. They were worthless and proud, languidly

accepting any handout the system offered, but showing noth-

ing even close to gratitude. Legally and constitutionally speak-

ing, it was hard to say why they shouldn't be allowed to do

nothing.... Except, of course, that it struck at the very heart

of the industrial ethic.

Laura left the parapet. Mr. Suvendra had jury-rigged a

coat-hanger antenna for his battery-powered TV, and they

were struggling to catch a broadcast from Johore. The broad-

cast flickered on suddenly, and everyone crowded around the

television. Laura shouldered her way in between Ali and

Suvendra's young niece, Derveet.

Emergency news. The anchorman was a Malay-speaking

Maphilindonesian. The image was scratchy. It was hard to

tell whether it was a simple. TV screwup or deliberate jam-

ming by Singapore.

"Invasion talk," Suvendra translated gloomily. "Vienna

are not liking this state of emergency: they call it coup d'etat,

la!"

A young newswoman in a chiffon Muslim chador gestured



at a map of the Malay peninsula. Nasty-looking storm fronts

showed the potential striking range of Singaporean planes and

ships. A weather girl for warfare, Laura thought.

"Definitely, Vienna could not invasion against all that, la...."

"Singapore Air Force are flying up Nauru, to protect the

launch sites!"

"I hope their giant lasers are not hitting their own fellow in

orbit!"


"Those poor little Pacific Island fellows, they must bitterly

regretting the day they started on Singapore client-state!"

Despite its awful news, the television was cheering every-

one up. The sense of contact with the Net sent a quick, racing

sense of community over them. Half circled, shoulder to

shoulder before the TV, they were almost like a Rizome

council session. Suvendra felt it, too-she looked up with her

rust smile in hours.

Laura was discreetly silent. The crew were still chagrined

at her for disappearing earlier. She had run off to get in touch

with David and had come back unconscious in a cab. She had

told them about meeting Sticky. Their first thought was to

inform the Government-but the Government had all that

news already. The spring guns, the pellets, the mines-the

acting prime minister, Jeyaratnam, had announced all that on

television. Warned the populace-and shut them up in their own homes.

Suvendra clapped her hands. "Council session?"

A young associate manned the television, off on the corner

of the roof. The rest linked hands and briefly sang a Rizome

song, in Malay. Amid the city's menacing silence, their

raised voices felt good. It almost made Laura forget that

Rizome Singapore were now refugees skulking on the roof of

their own property... .

"For me," Suvendra told them seriously, "I think we have

done all we can. The Government is martial law now, isn't it?

Violence is coming, isn't it? Do any of us want to fight

Government? Hands?"

No one voted for violence. They'd already voted with their

feet-by running upstairs to avoid the rebels.

Ali spoke up. "Could we escape the city?"

"Out to sea?" suggested Derveet hopefully.

They looked over the waterfront: the unmanned cargo ships,

the giant idle cranes, the loading robots shut down by Anti-

Labourite longshoremen who had seized the control systems.

Out to sea were the skidding white plumes of navy hydrofoils

on patrol.

"This isn't Grenada. They're not letting anyone go," Mr.

Suvendra said with finality. "They'd shoot at us."

"I agree," said Suvendra. "But we could demand arrest,

Ia. By the Government. "

The others looked gloomy.

"Here we are radicals," Suvendra told them. "We are

economic democrats in authoritarian regime. It is Singapore

reform we are demanding, but chance is spoilt, now. So the

proper place for us in Singapore is jail."

Long, meditative silence. Monsoon thunder rolled in from, offshore.

"I like the idea," Laura said meekly.

Ali tugged at his lower lip. "Safe from voodoo terrorists,

in jail."

"Also less chance that the fascist Army might accidentally

shoot us on purpose, Ia. "

"We must decide for us. We can't ask Atlanta," Suvendra

pointed out.

They looked unhappy. Laura had a brainstorm. "'Atlanta-it

has a famous jail. Martin Luther King "stayed there."

They broke into eager discussion.

"But we shan't do any good from jail, la."

"Yes, we can. Embarrass the government! Martial law can't last."

"We do no good here anyway, if Parliament is spoilt. "

Distant echoed shouting rose from the streets. "I'll go

look," Laura told them, standing up.

She strode across the hot, flat rooftop to the parapet again.

The noise grew louder: it was a police bullhorn. For a mo-

ment she glimpsed it, two blocks away: a red-and-white

police car moving cautiously across a deserted intersection. It

stopped before the ragged burlap heap of a street barricade.

Ali joined her. "We voted," he told her. "It's jail."

"Okay. Good."

Ali studied the police car, listening to it. "It's Mr. bin

Awang," he said. "Malay M. P. from Bras Basah. "

"Oh, yeah," Laura said. "I remember him from the hearings. "

"Surrender talk. Go peacefully, back to families, he says."

Rebels emerged from the shadows. They swaggered toward

the car, lazily, fearlessly. Laura could see them shouting at the

bulletproof glass, gesturing to the cop behind the wheel-

turn around, go back. Verboten. Liberated territory .. .

The roof-mounted bullhorn bleated arguments.

One of the kids began spray-painting a slogan onto the

hood. The prowl car emitted an angry siren wail and began

backing up.

Suddenly the kids pulled weapons. Short, heavy swords, hid-

den in their shirts and pants. They began hacking furiously at the

prowl can's tires and door hinges. Unbelievably, the car gave way,

with tortured screeches of metal audible for blocks around....

Laura and Ali shouted in astonishment. The rebels were

using those deadly ceramic machetes, the same as she'd seen

in Grenada. The long high-tech knives that had chopped a

desk in half.

The other Rizomians ran up. The rebels hacked the hood

off in seconds and efficiently butchered the engine. They

wrenched the door off with ear-torturing screeches.

They were pulling the car apart.

They fished out the astonished cops, rabbit-punching them

into submission. They got the M. P., too.

But then, suddenly, there was a chopper overhead.

Tear-gas canisters fell, shrouding the scene in up-rushing

columns of mist. The rebels scattered. A burly longshoreman,

wearing a diving mask, lifted a stolen police blunderbuss and

fired tangle-rounds upward. They splattered harmlessly on the

chopper's undercarriage in wads of writhing plastic, but it

backed off anyway.

More siren howls and three more backup prowl cars rushed

into the intersection. They skidded to a halt before the shat-

tered car. Kids were still running from the wreckage, doubled

over, clutching stolen tangle-ammo and stenciled canisters.

Some wore rubber swim goggles, giving them a weirdly

squinty, professorial look. Their surgical masks seemed to

help against the tear gas.

Doors flung open and the cops deployed, wearing full riot

gear: white helmets, perspex face shields, tangle-guns, and

lathi sticks. Kids scuttled for cover into the surrounding

buildings. The cops conferred briefly, pointing at a doorway,

ready to charge.

There was a sudden feeble whump from the wreckage of the

prowl car. The car seats belched flame.

In a few moments, a Molotov column of burning uphol-

stery was rising over the waterfront.

Ali yelled in Malay and pointed. Half a dozen rebels had

appeared a block away from the fight, hauling an unconscious

cop through a rathole in the side of a warehouse. They had

chopped their way through the concrete blocks with their machetes.

"They have parangs!" Ali said with a kind of horrified

glee. "Like magic kung-fu swords, la!"

The cops looked unhappy about charging the doorways. No

wonder. Laura could imagine it: dashing bravely forward with

tangle-gun drawn ... only to feel a sudden pain and fall down

and find that some rat-faced little anarchist behind the door

had just razored your leg off at the knee.... Oh, Jesus, those

fucking machetes! They were like goddamned lasers.... What

kind of stupid short-term-thinking bastard had invented those?

She felt cold as the implications mounted. . . . All that

stupid theatrical kung-fu, the dumbest idea in the world, that

silly-ass martial artists with no tanks or guns could resist

modern cops or trained soldiers. . . . No, the A-L.P. couldn't

fight cops head-on, but room-to-room, with walls riddled with

holes, they could sure as hell weasel up from ambush and .. .

People were going to die here, she realized. They meant it.

Razak meant it. People were going to die... .

The cops got back into their prowl cars. They retreated. No

one came out to yell or jeer, and somehow it was worse that

they didn't... .

The rebels were busy elsewhere. Dramatic columns of

smoke were rising all along the waterfront. Black, foul,

billowing towers, bent like broken fingers by the monsoon

breeze. No television, maybe, no phones-but now the whole

of Singapore would know that hell was breaking loose. Smoke

signals still worked. And their message was obvious.

Down on the docks behind the Rizome godown, three

activists sloshed a ribbed jerry can over a heap of stolen truck

tires. They stood well back and threw a lit cigarette. The

untidy heap went up with a whump, tires jumping like a

dropped plate of doughnuts. The tires settled to roast and

crackle and spew... .

Derveet wiped at her eyes. "It stinks...."

"For me, I like up here better than down in those streets,

definitely!"

"We could surrender to a helicopter," Suvendra said practi-

cally. "There is room here up on the roof for setdown, and if

we signal white flag, they could arrest us, quickly."

"Very good idea, la!"

"Getting a bed sheet if they have left us any.

Mr. Suvendra and an associate named Bima left for a raid

downstairs.

Long, tiring minutes passed. There was no violence for the

moment, but the quiet didn't help at all. It only made them

feel more paranoiac, more besieged.

Down in the loading docks, groups of rebels clustered

around their walkie-talkies. The radios were mass-produced

kid's toys, Third World export, costing a few cents. Who the

hell needed walkie-talkies when you could carry a telephone

on your wrist? But the A-L.P. didn't think like that... .

"I don't think the cops can handle this," Laura said.

"They'll have to call in the Army."

Mr. Suvendra and Bima returned at last, with wadded bed

sheets and a few packs of junk food overlooked by the

looters. The rebels hadn't bothered them; they had scarcely,

seemed to notice.

The crew spread a sheet out on the roof. Kneeling, Suvendra

broke open a fibertip pen and smeared a thick black SOS

across the fabric. They tore up another sheet for a white flag

and white armbands.

"Crude, but efficient," Suvendra said, rising.

"Now we flag up chopper, la...."

The kid monitoring the television yelled. "The Army is in

Johore!"

They dropped everything and rushed to the TV.

The, Johore announcers were stunned. Singapore's Army

had blitzkrieged across the causeway into Johore Bahru. An

armored column was racing through the city, meeting no

resistance-not that Maphilindonesia could put up much, at

the moment. Singapore described it as a "police action."

"Oh, God," Laura said, "how could they be so fucking stupid?"

"They are seizing the reservoirs," said Mr. Suvendra.

"What?"


"Main Singapore water supply on the mainland. Can't

defending Singapore with no water."

"They did it before once, during Konfrontation," said

Mrs. Suvendra. "Malaysia government very angered at

Singapore try to shut off their water supply."'

"What happened then?" Laura said.

"They storm through Johore and head for Kuala Lumpur,

the Malaysia capital. . . . Malaysia army runs away, stupid

Malaysia government falls ... next thing we know, is new

Maphilindonesia Federation. New federal government was

very nice to Singapore, till they agree to go back in their borders,

"They learn not to bite the `Poisonous Shrimp,' " said Mr.

Suvendra. "Very hard-working Army in Singapore."

"Singapore Chinese work too hard," said Derveet. "Causing all

these troubles, la."

"Now we are enemy aliens, too," said Bima unhappily.

"What to do."

They waited for a police chopper. Finding one wasn't

difficult. By now a dozen lurked over the waterfront, silent,

swaying, dodging the columns of smoke.

The Rizome crew waved their white flag enthusiastically as

one cruised nearby, with insolent ease.

The chopper hovered above them, its invisible blades hiss-

ing. A cop stuck his helmeted head from the bay, flipping up

his face plate.

Confused yelling followed. "Not to worry, Rizome!" shouted

the cop at last. "We rescue you, no problem!"

"How many of us?" Suvendra yelled, clamping her sun

hat to the top of her head.

"Everyone! Whole thing!"

"In one chopper?" Suvendra shouted, confused. The little

police craft might have held three passengers at most.

The chopper made no attempt to land. In a few seconds it

rose again, heading north in a smooth, determined arc.

"They could hurry," said Suvendra, glancing at the mon-

soon front. "Weather turning nasty soon, definitely!"

They wadded up their SOS. bed sheet, in case the rebels

decided to come up and check on them. Negotiating with the

A-L.P. was a possibility, but in council session Rizome had

decided not to press them. The rebels had already seized the

Rizome godown; they might just as easily seize the Rizome

personnel. They'd already kidnapped two cops and a Member

of Parliament.-The situation's hostage potential was obvious.

Another boring and horrible twenty minutes passed, a tense

and morbid silence that fooled nobody. The sun topped the

monsoon front, and tropical midmorning blazed over the

silent city. So eerie, Laura thought-a blackout of people ...

Another chopper, larger this time and twin-rotored, buzzed

the waterfront. It spun on its axis and hovered momentarily

over a comer of the godown. Three black-clad men leapt

from the bay doors onto the rooftop. The chopper rose again

immediately.

The three men paused a moment, patting gear, then stalked

toward them. They wore black fatigues, black combat boots,

black webbing belts hung with brass-snapped holsters and

utility pouches and ammo kits. They carried short-muzzled,

arcane-looking submachine guns.

"Good morning, all!" said their leader cheerfully. He was

a big, ruddy-faced Englishman with close-cropped white hair,

a veiny nose, and a permanent tropical sunburn. He looked

about sixty, but ominously well preserved, for his age. Blood

fractionation? Laura thought.

"Morning . . ." someone said dazedly.

"Hotchkiss is the name. Colonel Hotchkiss, Special Weap-

ons and Tactics. This is Officer Lu and Officer Aw. We're

here for your safety, ladies and gentlemen. So not to worry,

okay?" Hotchkiss showed them a rack of white teeth.

Hotchkiss was huge. Six and a half feet tall, well over two

hundred pounds. Arms like tree trunks. She'd almost forgot-

ten how big Caucasians could be. With his thick black boots

and heavy, elaborate gear, he was like something from an-

other planet. Hotchkiss nodded at Laura, surprised. "I've

seen you on telly, dear."

"The hearings?"

"Yeah. I've---

There was a sudden bang as the sheet-metal door to the

rooftop burst open. A shouting. gang of rebels scrambled

forward, clutching bamboo clubs.

Hotchkiss spun from the hip and opened up on the doorway

with his submachine gun. There was a nerve-shattering racket.

Two rebels sprawled, punched backward by impact. The

others fled screaming, and suddenly everyone was down,

gripping the pebbled surface of the roof in terror.

Lu and Aw kicked the door shut and fired a tangle-round

against the jamb, sealing it. They pulled thin loops of plastic

from their belts and handcuffed the two fallen, gasping rebels.

They sat them up.

"Okay, okay," Hotchkiss told the rest of them, waving his

beefy hand. "Only jelly-rounds. See? No problem, la."

The Rizome group rose slowly. As the truth dawned on

them, there were nervous, embarrassed titters. The two reb-

els, teenagers, had been strafed across their chests, tearing

gaping holes in their paper shirts. Beneath it, their skins

showed fist-sized blotches of indelible purple dye.

Hotchkiss chivalrously helped Laura to her feet. "Jelly

bullets don't kill," he announced. "Still pack plenty of sting,

however. "

"You shot us with a machine gun!" said one of the rebels

sullenly.

"Shut up, son," Hotchkiss offered kindly. "Lu, Aw, these

two are too small. Throw 'em back, eh?"

"Door is secured, sir," Lu pointed out.

"Use your head, Lu. You have your ropes."

"Yes, sir," Lu said, grinning. He and Officer Aw frog-

marched the two boys toward the front of the roof. They

began snapping their first captive into a set of chromed

rappelling gear. From the loading docks three stories below,

furious, bloodthirsty yells rose from the roused A-L.P.

"Well," Hotchkiss said casually. "Seems the rioters have

made an operations nexus out of your HQ." Lu kicked one

captive over the edge of the roof and paid out rappelling line

as the boy hissed helplessly downward.

"But not to worry," Hotchkiss said. "We can break them

wherever they stand."Suvendra winced. "We saw them demolition your squad car....

"Sending that car in was the politicals' idea," Hotchkiss

sniffed. "But now it's our business."

Laura noticed the SWAT leader's complex military watch-

phone. "What can you tell us, Colonel? We're starved for

news up here. Is the Army really in Johore?"

Hotchkiss smiled at her. "This isn't your Texas, dearie.

The Army's just on the other side of the causeway just a

little bridge. A few minutes away." He held up two fingers,

an inch apart. "All miniature, you see."

The two Chinese SWAT officers hooked the second rebel

to their ropes. Below them, the angry rioters vented howls of

frustrated abuse. Flung bricks arched up to crack on the roof.

"Throw a few dye-rounds into them," Hotchkiss shouted.

The two Chinese unlimbered their sidearms and cut loose

over the parapet. The guns blasted a fearsome racket, spitting

spent cartridges. Below them, the crowd shrieked in fear and

pain. Laura heard them scatter. She felt a surge of nausea.

Hotchkiss gripped her elbow. "You all right?"

She swallowed hard. "I saw a man killed by a machine gun,

once."


"Oh, really?" said Hotchkiss, interested. "You've been to

Africa?"


"No-„

"You look a bit young to have seen real action.... Oh,

Grenada, eh?" He let her go. Frenzied pounding was shaking

the roof door. Hotchkiss fired the remaining jelly-rounds of

his magazine against it. Brutal pounding and splattering. He

flung the empty magazine away, and fitted a second with the

casual look of a man chain-smoking cigarettes.

"Isn't this 'real action'?' Laura shouted. Her ears were

ringing.

"This is only theater, dearie," Hotchkiss said patiently.

"These little parlor radicals don't even have carbines. Try

something like this in the bad old days-in Belfast or Beirut-

and we'd be lying here with great Armalite sniper holes in

us. "


" `Theater.' What's that supposed to mean?" Laura said.

Hotchkiss chuckled. "I've fought real war! Falkland Is-

lands, '82. That was a classic. Scarcely any televisions ..."

"So you're British, then, Colonel? European?"

"British. I was S.A.S." Hotchkiss wiped sweat. "Europe!

What kind of outfit is that, the European Common Army?

Bloody joke, is what that is. When we fought for Queen and

Country . . oh, hell, girl, you wouldn't understand any-

way." He glanced at his watch. "Okay, here come our boys."

Hotchkiss stalked toward the front of the building. The

Rizome crew followed in his wake.

A six-wheeled armored personnel carrier, like some great

gray, rubber-wheeled rhinoceros, surged easily over and through

the street barricade. Bags burst and squashed aside. Its turret-

mounted water cannon swung alertly.

Behind it came two wire-windowed paddy wagons. The

wagons flung open rear double doors and cops decamped by

the numbers, falling rapidly into disciplined ranks: shields,

clubs, helmets.

No one showed to offer resistance. Wisely, because a pair

of choppers hung like huge malignant wasps above the street.

Their side bays were open and cops crouching inside were

manning tear-gas launchers and Gatling tangle-guns.

"Very simple," said Hotchkiss. "No use street-fighting

when we can seize the riot's leaders at will. Now we'll grab

ourselves a building full of them, and . . . oh, bloody hell."

The entire front of the godown collapsed like cardboard

and six giant cargo robots roared into the street.

The cops scattered, stumbling. The robots rushed forward

with vim. There was a crude dementia in their actions, the

sign of rotten programming. Crude, but efficient. They were

built to haul cargo the size of trailers. Now they were grap-

pling wildly at anything remotely the right size.

The paddy wagons toppled over at once, sides denting

loudly, tires whirling helplessly at the air. The APC opened

up with its water cannon, as three robots tugged and mauled

and punched at it with ruthless mechanical stupidity. Finally

they levered it over, toppling it stupidly onto the exposed arm

of the third robot, which tried to back away, screeching and

buckling. The cannon fountained aimlessly, a furious white

plume, four stories high.

The rebels were all over the cops. The streets gleamed with

water, sloshed under charging feet. Headlong melee, mind-

less and angry, like a bed of giant ants.

Laura watched in absolute amazement. She could not be-

lieve that it had come to this. One of the best-organized cities

in the world, and men were beating the shit out of each other

in the streets with sticks.

"Oh, Jesus Christ," said Hotchkiss. "We're better armed,

but our morale's blown.... The air support will tell, though."

The copters were firing tangle-rounds at the melee's edges-

without much success. Too crowded, too chaotic and slip-

pery. Laura flinched as a skidding dock robot knocked three

cops headlong.

Renewed .pounding came from the door. Someone had

jammed the ceramic edge of a machete through and was saw-

ing vigorously at the tangle-tape. They turned to face it-and

saw, beyond it, over the waterfront, one of the loading cranes.

The skeletal arm was spinning on its axis, gathering speed

with ponderous grace. At the end of its cables was a cargo

fridge container, rising high above the docks with centrifugal

force.


Suddenly the crane let loose. The heavy cargo box, half the

size of a house, spun free and arched dizzily through space. It

flew almost gently, arcing and tumbling, like a softball tossed

underhand.

Its flight ended suddenly. It slammed, with cybernetic

precision, into a black police chopper hovering over the

waterfront. There was an explosive burst as the fridge car

ruptured, with gaseous jets of frost and the bright cartwheeling

of hundreds of cardboard boxes. The chopper snapped,

buckled, and splashed dramatically into dirty seawater. It lay

sprawled amid the floating boxes like a dragonfly crushed by

a car grill.

"Mrs. Srivijaya's Frozen Fish Sticks," little Derveet mur-

mured, at Laura's elbow. She'd recognized the cargo.

The crane slithered downward, its claws clanking for an-

other grab.

"How did they do that?" Hotchkiss demanded.

"It a very smart machine," said Mr. Suvendra.

"I'm getting old," Hotchkiss said sadly. "Where do they

control that damned thing?"

"Inside the godown," Mr. Suvendra said. "There are consoles-"

"Fine." Hotchkiss grabbed Mr. Suvendra's skinny wrist.

"You take me there. Lu! Aw! We're moving!"

"No," Mr. Suvendra said.

Suvendra grabbed her husband's other arm. Suddenly they

were tugging at him like a rag doll. "We don't do violence!"

she said.

"You what?" Hotchkiss said.

"We don't fight," Suvendra said passionately. "We don't

like you! We don't like your government! We don't fight!

Arrest us!"

"That bloody crane is going to kill our pilots"

"Then you stop fighting! Send them away!" Suvendra

lifted her voice, shrilly. "Everyone, sit!"

The Rizome crew froze wherever they stood and sat in

place, as one person. Mr. Suvendra sat too, though he still

dangled by one arm from Hotchkiss's huge, freckled paw.

"You fucking politicals," Hotchkiss said in amazed con-

tempt. "I don't believe this. I'm ordering you, as citizens-"

"We're not your citizens," Suvendra said flatly. "We don't

obey your illegal martial-law regime, either. Arrest us!"

"I bloody well will arrest you, the lot of you! Hell, you're

as bad as they are. "

Suvendra nodded, taking a deep breath. "We are nonviolent.

But we are your Government's enemies, Colonel, believe it!"

Hotchkiss looked at Laura. "You too, eh?"

Laura glared up at him, angry to see him single her out

from her people. "I can't help you," she told him. "I'm a

globalist, and you're an arm of the State."

"Oh bloody Christ, you're a sorry bunch of milk-and-water

sons-of-bitches," Hotchkiss said mournfully. He looked them

over, making a decision. "You," he told Laura. He pounced on

her, handcuffing her arms behind her back.

"He's stealing Laura!" Suvendra yelled, scandalized. "Get

in his way!"

Hotchkiss levered Laura to her feet. She didn't want to go,

but stumbled up quickly as agonizing pain hit her shoulder

sockets. The Rizome crew crowded around him, waving their

arms, shouting. Hotchkiss yelled something wordless, kicked

Ali in the kneecap, then pulled his tangle-pistol. Ali, and Mr.

Suvendra, and Bima went down, clawing at swarming blobs

of tape. The others ran.

The rebels were breaking through again. A gap showed at

the top of the door. Hotchkiss shouted at Officer Lu, who

snatched a black knobby cylinder from his belt and tossed it

through.


Two seconds passed. There was a cataclysmic flash from

behind the door, a horrific bang, and the door jumped open,

gushing smoke. "Go!" Hotchkiss yelled.

The upper stairwell was littered with rebels, deafened,

blinded, howling. One was still on his feet, slashing frenziedly

at empty air with a ceramic sword and screaming, "Martyr!

Martyr!" Lu knocked him flat with a burst of jelly-rounds.

Then they marched in, firing with their tangle-pistols into the

heaving crowd.

Aw tossed another flash-grenade onto the landing below.

Another cataclysmic wham. "Okay," Hotchkiss said from

behind Laura. "You wanna play Gandhi, you'll do it with

two broken arms. March!'-' He shoved her forward through

the door.

"I protest!" Laura shouted, dancing to avoid arms and legs.

Hotchkiss jerked her backward against his chest. "Look,

Yankee," he said with chilling sincerity. "You're a cute little

blonde who looks real nice on telly. But if you muck about

with me, I'll blow your brains out-and say the rebels did it.

Where are the goddamn controls?"

"Ground floor," Laura gasped. "In the back-glassed in. "

"Okay, we're moving. Go! Go!" Vicious racket as Lu

opened up with the gun again. In the enclosed stairwell the

hellish noise of it spiked right into her head. Laura felt a

sudden burst of sweat drench her from head to foot. Hotchkiss

yanked her along, his hand wedged under her armpit. He was

crashing down two, three steps at a time, half carrying her. A

big man, unbelievably strong-like being dragged by a gorilla.

The throat-catching sting of smoke. Great bubbling spatters

on the cheerful pastel walls: purple dye, or smeared blood.

Rebels down whimpering, some screaming, hands cupped over

eyes or ears. Rebels glued to the stair railings, black-faced

and gasping in the grip of tangle-tape. She stumbled on the

sprawled legs of a boy, unconscious or dead, his face punched

open by a jelly-bullet, blood streaming from a ruined eye... .

Then they were down on the first floor, and out the stair-

well door. Distant sunlight poured through the smashed-out

front of the godown, where the cops and rebels were still in

pitched battle, the rebels getting the better of it. Inside the

cavernous godown the A-L.P. were frenziedly rallying,

machete-slicing tape from some of their tangle-victims, drag-

ging captured, handcuffed cops behind a wall of crates.... They

looked up in surprise, thirty sweat-drenched, blood-smeared,

angry men, backlit by the street.

For a moment they all stood in frozen tableau. "Where's

the control room?" Hotchkiss whispered.

"I lied," Laura hissed at him. "It's on the second floor."

"You fucking cow," Hotchkiss marveled.

The A-L.P. were edging forward. Some wore stolen police

helmets and almost all had riot shields. One of them suddenly

fired a tangle-round, which narrowly missed Officer Aw and

writhed on the floor like a molten, spastic tumbleweed.

Laura sat down, heavily. Hotchkiss made a grab at her,

thought better of it, and began backing up. Suddenly they

broke and ran for the back of the godown.

Then it was maelstrom all around her. Men ran after the

retreating SWAT team, shouting. Others dashed up the stairs,

where Hotchkiss's stunned and blinded victims were moan-

ing, cursing, crying out. Laura drew up her legs, clenched the

hands cinched behind her back, tried to make herself small.

Her mind raced wildly. She should go back to the roof,

rejoin her people. No---better to help the injured. No-try to

escape, to find the police, get arrested. No, she should-

A mustached Malay teenager with a swollen, battered cheek

menaced her with a drawn sword. He gestured her up, prodding her

with his foot.

"My hands," Laura said.

The boy's eyes widened. He stepped behind her and sawed

through the tough plastic strap of her cuffs. Her arms came

free with a sudden grating rush of pleasure-pain in her shoulders.

He spat angry Malay at her. She stood up. Suddenly she

was a head taller than he was. He backed off a step, hesi-

tated, turned to someone else-

A wind and a sibilant hissing filled the godown. A chopper

had dropped to street level-it was looking in on them through

the hole in the godown's front wall. Expressionless helmets

behind the cockpit glass. An explosive huff as a gun-metal

canister jumped loose. It hit the godown floor,, rolling,

careening, gushing mist

Oh fuck. Tear gas. A sudden parching, virulent wave of it struck

and she could feel the acid grip of it on her eyeballs. Panic hit her

then. She scrambled on her hands and knees. Tearblur, savage

pain of it in her throat. No air. She bounced off people,

blinded and pushing wildly, and suddenly she was running.

Running free ...

Tears, in poisoned torrents, drenched her face. Where they

touched her lips she felt a stinging tingle and a taste like

kerosene. She kept running, shying away from the gray blur

of looming buildings on the side of the street. Her throat and

lungs felt full of fish hooks.

She reached the end of her adrenaline. She was too shocked

to feel her own fatigue, but her knees began to buckle on their

own. She headed for a doorway and collapsed into its recess.

Just then the sky opened up, and it began to rain. Another

vertical, bursting monsoon. Wave after wave of it pounded the

empty street. Laura crouched miserably in the doorway, catch-

ing rain in her cupped hands, bathing her face and the exposed

skin of her arms. At first the water seemed to make it worse a

vicious stinging, as if she'd been breathing Tabasco sauce.

She had two plastic bangles now, over the chafed raw skin

of her wrists. Her feet were soaked in their cheap, clammy

sandals-not from rain, but from the water-cannon puddles in

the street outside the godown.

She had run right through the street battle, blind. No one

had even touched her. Except-there was a long strip of

tangle-tape on her shin, still wriggling feebly, like the shed

tail of a lizard. She picked it off her jeans.

She could recognize the area now-she'd run all the way to

the Victoria and Albert Docks, just west of East Lagoon. To

the north she saw the high-rise of the Tanjong Pagar public-

housing complex-bland, dun-colored government bricks.

She sat, breathing shallowly, coughing, spitting every once

in a while. She wished she were back with her people in the

godown. But there was no way she could reach them again-it

was not a sane option.

She'd meet them in jail anyway. Get the hell out of this

battle zone and somehow manage to get arrested. Nice quiet

jail. Yeah. Sounded good.

She stood up, wiping her mouth. Three cycle-rickshaws

raced past her toward East Lagoon, each one crowded with a

clinging mass of drenched, staring rebels. They ignored her,

She made a break for it.

There were two wet, unstable street barricades between her

and Tanjong Pagar. She climbed over them in pounding rain.

No one showed to stop her.

The glass doors of the Tanjong housing complex had been

smashed out of their aluminum frames. Laura ducked into the

place, over crunchy heaps of pebbly safety glass. Air condi-

tioning bit into her wet clothes.

She was in a shabby but neat entrance hall. Her foam

sandals squelched messily on the scuffed linoleum. The place

was deserted, its inhabitants, presumably, respecting the gov-

ernment's curfew and keeping to their rooms upstairs. It was

all mom-and-pop shops down here, little bicycle repair places,

a fish market, a quack fractionation parlor. Cheerfully lit with

fluorescents, ready for business, but all deserted.

She heard the distant murmur of voices. Calm, authorita-

tive tones. She headed for them.

The sounds came from a glass-fronted television store.

Cheap low-res sets from Brazil and Maphilindonesia, color

gone garish. They'd been turned on all over the store, a few

showing the Government channel, others flickering over and

over with a convulsive, maladjusted look.

Laura eased through the doorway. A string of brass bells

jumped and rang-. Inside it reeked of jasmine incense. The

shop's walls were papered with smiling, wholesome Singapore

pop stars: cool guys in glitter tuxedos and cute babes in

straw sun hats and peplums. Laura stepped carefully over a

toppled, broken gum machine.

A little old Tamil lady had invaded the place. A wizened

granny, white-haired and four feet tall, with a dowager's

hump and wrists thin as bird bone. She sat in a canvas

director's chair, staring at the empty screens and munching on

a mouthful of gum.

"Hello?" Laura said. No response. The old woman looked

deaf as a post-senile, even. Laura crept nearer, her shoes

squelching moistly. The old woman gave her a sudden star-

tled glance and adjusted her sari, draping the shoulder flap

modestly over her head.

Laura combed at her hair with her fingers, feeling rainwa-

ter trickle down her neck. "Ma'am, do you speak English?"

The old woman smiled shyly. She pointed at a stack of the

canvas chairs, folded against the wall.

Laura fetched one. It had an inscription across the back in

wacky-looking Tamil script-something witty and amusing,

probably. Laura opened it and sat beside the old woman.

"Um, can you hear me at all, or, uh . . . "

The Tamil granny stared straight ahead.

Laura sighed, hard. It felt good -to be sitting down.

This poor dazed old woman-ninety if she was a day-had

apparently come wandering downstairs, for canary food or

something, too deaf or past-it to know about the curfew. To

find-Jesus-an empty world.

With a sudden, surreptitious movement the old gal popped

a little colored pebble into her mouth. Grape bubble gum. She

munched triumphantly.

Laura examined the televisions. The old woman had set

them for every possible channel.

Suddenly, on Channel Three, the flickering stabilized.

With the speed of, a gunfighter the old woman pulled a

remote. The Government spokesman winked out. Channel

Three rose to a static-filled roar.

The image was scratchy home video. Laura saw the image

bumping as the narrator aimed the camera at his own face. He

was a Chinese Singaporean. He looked about twenty-five,

chipmunk-cheeked, with thick glasses and a shirt crowded

with pens.

Not a bad-looking guy, really, but definitely not TV mate-

rial. Normal-looking. You wouldn't look twice at him in any

street in Singapore.

The guy sat back on his dumpy, overstuffed couch. There

was a tacky painting of a seascape behind his head. He sipped

from a coffee cup and fiddled with a microphone paper-

clipped to his collar. She could hear him swallowing, loudly.

"I think I'm on the air now," he announced.

Laura traded glances with the little old woman. The old gal

looked disappointed. Didn't speak English.

"This is my home VCR, la," said Normal Guy. "It al-

ways say: `do not hook to home antenna, can cause broadcast

pollution.' Stray signal, you see? So, I did it. I'm broadcast-

ing! I think so, anyway."

He poured himself more coffee, his hand shaking a little.

"Today," he said, "my girl and I. 1 was going to ask to

marry. She maybe not such great girl, and I'm not such great

fellow either, but we have standard. I think, when a fellow

needs to ask to many, such a thing should at least be possi-

ble. Nothing else is civilized."

He leaned in toward the lens, his head and shoulders

swelling. "But then comes this curfew business. I am not

liking this very much, but I am good citizen so I am deciding,

okay. Go right ahead Jeyaratnam. Catch the terror rascals,

give them what for, definitely. Then, the cops. are coming

into my building."

He settled back a little, twitching, a light-trail flickering

from his glasses. "I admire a cop. Cop is a fine, necessary

fellow. Cop on the beat, I always say to him, `Good morning,

fellow, good job, keep the peace.' Even ten cops are okay. A

hundred cops though, and I am changing mind rapidly. Sud-

denly my neighborhood very plentiful in cop. Thousands.

Have real people outnumbered. Barging into my flat. Search

every room, every gracious thing. Take my fingerprints, take

my blood sample even."

He showed a sticking plaster on the ball of his thumb.

"Run me through computer, chop-chop, tell me to clean up

that parking ticket. Then off they run, leave door open, no

please or thank you, four million others needing botheration

also. So I turn on telly for news. One channel only, la. Tell

me we have seize Johore reservoir again. If we have so much

water, then why is south side of city on fire apparently, la?

This I am asking myself."

He slammed down ,his coffee cup. "Can't call girl friend.

Can't call mother even. Can't even complain to local politico

as Parliament is now all spoilt. What is use of all that voting

and stupid campaigns, if it come to this, finish? Is anybody

else feeling this way, I am wondering. I am not political, but

I am not trusting Government one millimeter. I am small

person, but I am not nothing at all."

Normal Guy looked close to tears suddenly. "If this is for

the good of city then where are citizens? Streets empty!

Where is everyone? What kind of city is this become? Where

is Vienna police, they the terrorist experts? Why is this

happening? Why no one ask me if I think it okay? It not one

bit okay to me, definitely! I want to success like everyone, I

am working hard and minding business, but this too much.

Soon come they arrest me for doing this telly business. Do

you feel better off to hear of me? Is better than sit here and

rot by myself...."

There was furious pounding on Normal Guy's door. He

looked spooked. He leaned forward jerkily and the screen

went back to nothingness.

Laura's cheeks were damp. She was crying again. Her eyes

felt like they'd been scratched with steel wool. No control.

Oh, hell, that poor brave, scared little guy. Goddamn it all

anyway....

Someone shouted at the shop's doorway. Laura looked up,

startled. It was a tall, tough-looking, turbanned Sikh in a

khaki shirt and Gurkha shorts. He had a badge and shoulder

patches and he carried a leather-wrapped lathi stick. "What

are you doing, madams?"

"Uh . . . " Laura scrambled to her feet. The canvas seat of

her chair was soaked through with the rounded wet print of

her butt. Her eyes were brimming tears-she felt terrified and

deeply, obscurely humiliated.

"Don't . . ." She couldn't think of anything to say.

The Sikh guard looked at her as if she'd dropped from

Mars. "You are a tenant here, madam?"

"The riots," Laura said. "I thought there was shelter

here. "


"Tourist madam? A Yankee!" He stared at her, then pulled

black-rimmed glasses from a shirt-pocket case and put them

on. "Oh!" He had recognized her.

"All right," Laura said. She stretched out her chafed

wrists, still in their severed plastic handcuffs. "Arrest me,

officer. Take me into custody.

The Sikh blushed. "Madam, I am only private security.

Cannot arrest you." The little old lady got up suddenly and

shuffled directly at him. He sidestepped clumsily out of her

way at the last moment. She wandered out into the hall. He

stared after her meditatively.

"Thought you were looters," he said. "Very sorry."

Laura paused. "Can you take me to a police station?"

"Surely, Mrs.... Mrs. Vebbler. Madam, I am not helping

to notice that you are all wet."

Laura tried to smile at him. "Rain. Water cannon too,

actually."

The Sikh stiffened. "Is a very great sorrow to me that you

experience this in our city while a guest of the Singapore

government, Mrs. Webber."

"That's okay," Laura muttered. "What's your name, sir?"

"Singh, madam."

All Sikhs were named Singh. Of course. Laura felt like an

idiot. "I could kind of use the police, Mr. Singh. I mean

some nice calm police, well out of the riot area."

Singh tucked his lathi stick smartly under his arm. "Very

well, madam." He was struggling not to salute. "You are

following me, please."

They walked together down the empty hall. "Settling you

very soon," Singh said encouragingly. "Duty is difficult in

these times."

"You said it, Mr. Singh."

They stepped into a cargo elevator and went down a floor

into a dusty parking area. Lots of bikes, a few cars, mostly

old junkers. Singh pointed with his stick. "You are riding

pillion on my motor scooter if agreeable?"

"Sure, okay." Singh unlocked his bike and switched it on.

They climbed aboard and drove up an exit ramp with a

comical, high-pitched whir. The rain had died down for the

moment. Singh eased into the street.

"There are roadblocks," Laura told him.

"Yes, but-" Singh hesitated. He hit the brakes.

One of the cant-winged fighter jets of the Singapore Air

Force flew above them with a silken roar. With snaky sud-

denness, it flickered into a dive, as if sidestepping its own

shadow. Real hotdog flying. They watched it open-mouthed.

Something streaked from beneath its wings. A missile. It

left a pencil of smoke in the damp air. From the docklands

came a sudden violent burst of white-orange fire. Tinkertoy

chunks of ruptured loading crane balleted through the air.

Thunder rolled through the empty streets.

Singh swore and turned the bike around. "Enemies attack-

ing! We go back to safety at once!"

They rode back down the ramp. "That was a Singaporean

jet, Mr. Singh."

Singh pretended not to hear her. "Duty now is clear. You

are coming with me, please."

They took an elevator up to the sixth floor. Singh was

silent, his back ramrod-straight. He wouldn't meet her eyes.

He led her down the corridor to a hall apartment and

knocked three times.

A plump woman in black slacks and a tunic opened the

door. "My wife," said Singh. He gestured Laura inside.

The woman stared in amazement. "Laura Webster!" she said.

"Yes!" Laura said. She felt like hugging the woman.

It was a little three-room place. Very modest. Three bug-

cute children bounded into the front room: a boy of nine, a

girl, another boy still a toddler. "You have three children,

Mr. Singh?"

"Yes," Singh said, smiling. He picked up the littlest boy

and mussed his hair. "Makes many tax problems. Working

two jobs." He and his wife began talking rapidly in Bengali

or Hindi maybe, something incomprehensible, but speckled

with English loan words. Like fighter jet and television.

Mrs. Singh, whose name was Aratavari or something vaguely

similar, took Laura into the parental bedroom. "We shall get

you into some dry clothes," she said. She opened the closet

and took a folded square cloth from the top shelf. It was

breathtaking: emerald-green silk with gold embroidery. "A

sari will fit you," she said, shaking it out briskly. It was

obviously her finest garment. It looked like something a

rajah's wife would wear for ritual suttee.

Laura toweled her hair and face. "Your English is very good."

"I'm from Manchester," said Mrs. Singh. "Better oppor-

tunity here however." She turned her back politely while

Laura stripped off her sopping blouse and jeans. She put on a

sari blouse too big in the bustline and too tight around the

ribs. The sari defeated her. Mrs. Singh helped her pleat and

pin it.

Laura combed her hair in the mirror. Her gas-stung eyes



looked like cracked marbles. But the beautiful sari gave her a

hallucinatory look of exotic Sanskrit majesty. If only. David

were here. . . . She felt a sudden total rush of culture shock,

intense and queasy, like deja vu with a knife twist.

She followed Mrs. Singh back into the front room, barefoot and

rustling. The children laughed, and Singh grinned at her.

"Oh. Very good, madam. You would like drinking something?"

"I could sure do with a shot of whiskey."

"No alcohol." "You got a cigarette?" she blurted. They looked shocked.

"Sorry," she muttered, wondering why she'd said it. "Very

kind of y'all to put me up and everything."

Mrs. Singh shook her head modestly. "I should take your

clothes to the laundry. Only, curfew forbids it." The older

boy brought Laura a can of chilled guava juice. It tasted like

sugared spit.

They sat on the couch. The Government channel was on,

with the sound low. A Chinese anchorman was interviewing

the cosmonaut, who was still in orbit. The cosmonaut ex-

pressed limitless faith in the authorities. "You like curry?"

Mrs. Singh said anxiously.

"I can't stay," Laura said, surprised.

"But you must!"

"No. My company voted. It's a policy matter. We're all

going to jail."

The Singhs were not surprised, but they looked unhappy

and troubled. She felt genuinely sorry for them. "Why,

Laura?" said Mrs. Singh.

"We came here to deal with Parliament. We don't care for

this martial law at all. We're enemies of the state now. We

can't work with you anymore."

Singh and his wife conversed rapidly while the children sat

on the floor, big-eyed and grave. "You stay safely here,

madam," Singh said at last. "It's our duty. You are important

guest. The Government will understand."

"It's not the same Government," Laura said. "East

Lagoon-that whole area's a riot zone now. They're killing

each other down there. I saw it happen. The Air Force just

fired a missile into our property. Maybe killed some of my

people too, I don't know."

Mrs. Singh went pale. "I heard the explosion-but it's not

on the television She turned to her husband, who

stared morosely at the throw rug. They began talking again,

and Laura broke in.

"I have no right to get y'all in trouble." She stood up.

"Where are my sandals?"

Singh stood up too. "I am escorting you, madam."

"No," Laura said, "you'd better stay here and guard your

own home. Look, the doors are broken in downstairs, if you

haven't noticed. Those Anti-Labourites took over our godown-

they might wander into this place too, any time they like, and

take everybody hostage. They mean business, or antibusiness,

or whatever the hell they believe in. And they're not afraid to

die, either."

"I'm not afraid to die," Singh insisted stoutly. His wife

began shouting at him. Laura found her sandals-the toddler

was playing with them behind the couch. She slipped them

on.

Singh, red-faced, stormed out of the flat. Laura heard him



in the hall, shouting and whacking doors with his lathi stick.

"What's going on?" she said.

The two older children rushed Mrs. Singh and grabbed her,

burying their faces in her tunic. "My husband says, that it

was he who rescued you, a famous woman from television,

who looked like a lost wet cat. And that you have broken

bread in his house. And he will not send a helpless foreign

woman to be killed in the streets like some kind of pariah

dog."

"He's got quite a way with words, in his own language."



"Maybe that explains it," said Mrs. Singh and smiled.

"I don't think a can of guava juice really qualifies as

`breaking bread.'',

"Not guava. Soursop." She patted her little girl's head.

"He's a good man. He's honest, and works very hard, and is

not stupid, or mean. And never hits me or the children. "

"That's very nice," Laura said.

Mrs. Singh locked eyes with her. "I tell you this, Laura

Webster, because I don't want you to throw my man's life

away. Just because you're a political, and he doesn't count

for much."

"I'm not a political," Laura protested. "I'm just a person,

like you."

"If you were like me, you'd be home with your family."

Singh burst in suddenly, grabbed Laura by the arm, and

hauled her out into the hall. Doors were open up and down

the corridor, and it was crowded with confused and angry

Indian men in their undershirts. When they saw her they

roared in amazement.

In seconds they were all around her. "Namaste, Namaste,"

the Indian greeting, nodding over hands pressed together,

palm to palm. Some touched the trailing edge of the sari,

respectfully. Uproar of voices. "My son, my son," a fat man

kept shouting in English. "He's A-L.P., my son!"

The elevator opened and they hustled her inside. They

crowded it to the limit, and other men ran for the stairs. The

elevator sank slowly, its cables groaning, jammed like an

overloaded bus.

Minutes later they had hustled her out into the street. Laura

wasn't sure how the decision had been made or even if

anyone had consciously made one. Windows had been flung

open on every floor and people were shouting up and down in

the soggy midafternoon heat. More and more were pouring

out -a human tide. Not angry, but manic, like soldiers on

furlough, or kids out of school-milling, shouting, slapping

each other on the shoulders.

Laura grabbed Singh's khaki sleeve. "Look, I don't need

all this-"

"It is the people," Singh mumbled. His eyes looked glazed

and ecstatic.

"Let her speak," yelled a guy in a striped jubbah. "Let

her speak!"

The shout spread. Two kids rolled a topped trash can into

the street and set it down like a pedestal. They raised her onto

it. There was frenzied applause. "Quiet, quiet ..."

Suddenly they were all looking at her.

Laura felt a terror so absolute that she felt like fainting. Say

something, idiot-quick, before they kill you. "Thank you

for trying to protect me," she squeaked. They cheered, not

catching her words, just pleased that she could talk, like a

real person.

Her voice came back. "No violence!" she shouted. "Sin-

gapore is a modern city. " Men around her muttered transla-

tions in an undertone. The crowd continued to grow and

thicken around her. "Modem people don't kill each other,"

she shouted. The sari was slipping off her shoulder. She

tugged it back into place. They applauded, jostling each

other, whites showing around their eyes.

It was the damned sari, she thought dazedly. They loved it.

A tall foreign blonde on a pedestal, wrapped in gold and

green, some kind of demented Kali juggernaut thing .. .

"I'm just a stupid foreigner!" she screeched. A few mo-

ments before they decided to believe her-then they laughed,

and clapped. "But I know better than to hurt anyone! So I

want to go to jail!"

Blank looks. She had lost them. Inspiration saved her.

"Like Gandhi!" she shouted. "The Mahatma. Gandhiji:"

A sudden awesome silence.

"So just a few of you, very calmly, please, take me to a

jail. Thank you very much." She jumped down.

Singh steadied her. "That was good!"

"You know the way," she said urgently. "You lead us, okay?"

"Okay!" Singh swung his lathi stick over his head. "Everyone,

we are marching, la! To the jail!"

He offered Laura his arm. They moved quickly through the

crowd, which melted away before them and re-formed behind.

"To the jail!" shouted Striped Jubbah, leaping up and

down, striped arms flapping. "To Changi!"

Others took up the yell. "Changi, Changi." The destina-

tion seemed to channel their energies. The giddy sense of

explosiveness leached out of the situation, like a blowtorch

settling to a steady burn. Children ran ahead of them, to turn

and marvel at the advancing crowd. They gawked, and ca-

pered, and punched each other. People watched from street-

side buildings. Windows opened, and doors.

After three blocks, the crowd was still growing. They

marched north, onto South Bridge Road. Ahead of them

loomed the, cyclopean buildings downtown. A lean Chinese

with slicked-back hair and a schoolteacherish look appeared

at Laura's elbow: "Mrs. Webster?"

"Yes?"

"I am pleased to march with you on Changi! Amnesty



International was morally right!"

Laura blinked. "Huh?"

"The political prisoners . . ." The crowd surged suddenly

and he was swept away. The crowd had an escort now-two

police choppers, hissing above the street. Laura quailed, her

eyes burning with remembrance, but the crowd waved and

cheered, as if the choppers were some kind of party favor.

It dawned on her, then. She grabbed Singh's elbow. "Hey!

I just want to go to a police station. Not march on the

goddamned Bastille!"

"What, madam?" Singh shouted, grinning dazedly. "What

steel?"


Oh, God. If only she could make a break for it. She looked

about wildly, and people waved at her and smiled. What an

idiot she'd been to put on this sari. It was like being wrapped

in green neon.

Now they were marching through the thick of Singapore's

Chinatown. Temple Street, Pagoda Street. The psychedelic,

statue-covered stupa of a Hindu temple rose to her left. "Sri

Mariamman," it read. Polychrome goddesses leered at each

other as if they'd planned all this, just for grins. There were

sirens wailing ahead, at a major intersection. The sound of

bullhorns. They were going to walk right into it. A thousand

angry cops. A massacre.

And then it came into sight. Not cops at all, but another

crowd of civilians. Pouring headlong into the intersection,

men, women, children. Above them a banner, somebody's

bed sheet stretched between bamboo poles. Hasty daubed

lettering: LONG LIVE CHANNEL THREE ...

Laura's crowd emitted an amazing, heartfelt sigh, as if

every person in it had spotted a long-lost lover. Suddenly

everyone was running, arms outstretched. The two crowds

hit, and merged, and mingled. The hair rose on Laura's neck.

There was something loose in this crowd, something purely

magical-a mystic social electricity. She could feel it in her

bones, some kind of glad triumphant opposite to the ugly

crowd-madness she'd seen at the stadium. People fell, but

they were helping each other up and embracing each other... .

She lost Singh. Suddenly she was alone in the crowd,

tripping along in the middle of a long fractal swirl of it. She

glanced down the street. A block away, another subcrowd,

and a cluster of red-and-white police cars.

Her heart leapt. She broke from the crowd and ran toward

them.


The cops were surrounded. They were embedded in the

crowd, like ham in aspic. People-everyone, anyone-had

simply clotted around the police, immobilizing them. The

prowl cars' doors were open and the cops were trying to

reason with them, without success.

Laura edged up through the crowd. Everyone was shout-

ing, and their hands were full-not with weapons, but with

all kinds of strange stuff: bags of bread rolls, transistor ra-

dios, even a handful of marigolds snatched from some

windowpot. They were thrusting them at the police, begging

them to take them. A middle-aged Chinese matron was shout-

ing passionately at a police captain. "You are our brothers!

We are all Singaporeans. Singaporeans do not kill each other!"

The police captain couldn't meet the woman's eyes. He sat

on the edge of the driver's seat, tight-lipped, in an ecstasy of

humiliation. There were three other cops in his car, decked

out in full riot gear: helmets, vests, tangle-rifles. They could

have flattened the crowd in a few instants, but they looked

stunned, nonplussed.

A man in a silk business suit thrust his arm through the

open backseat window. "Take my watch, officer! As a sou-

venir! Please-this is a great day...." The cop shook his

head, with a gentle, stunned look. Next to him, his fellow

cop munched a rice cake.

Laura tapped the captain's shoulder. He looked up and

recognized her. His eyes rolled a little in their sockets, as if

she was all that was needed to make his experience complete.

"What do you want?"

Laura told him, discreetly. "Arrest you here?" the captain

replied. "In front of these people?"

"I can get you away," Laura told him. She clambered onto

the hood of the prowl car, stood up, and raised both arms.

"Everyone listen! You know me-I'm Laura Webster. Please

let us through! We have very important business! Yes, that's

right, move back away from the hood, ladies and gentlemen....

Thank you very much, you're such good people, I'm so

grateful..:."

She sat on the hood, propping her feet on the front bumper.

The car crept forward and the crowd peeled away to either

side, respectfully. Many of them obviously failed to recog-

nize her. But they reacted instinctively to the totem symbol of

a foreign woman in a green sari on the hood of a police car.

Laura stretched out her arms and made vague swimming

motions. It worked. The crowd moved faster.

They reached the edge of the crowd. Laura wedged herself

in the front seat, between the captain and a lieutenant. "Thank

God," she said.

"Mrs. Webster," the police captain said. His badge said

his name was Hsiu. "You are under arrest for obstruction of

justice and incitement to riot."

"Okay," Laura breathed. "Do you know what happened

to the rest of my Rizome people?"

"They are also arrested. The helicopters got them."

Laura nodded eagerly, then stopped. "Uhmm . . . they're

not in Changi, are they?"

"There's nothing wrong with Changi!" the cop said, net-

tled. "Don't listen to globalist lies."

They were tooling slowly up Pickering Street, crammed

with beauty salons and cosmetic-surgery joints. The side-

walks were crowded with grinning, larking curfew breakers,

but they hadn't yet thought to block the street. "You foreign-

ers," the captain said slowly. "You cheated us. Singapore

could have built a new world. But you poisoned our leader,

and you robbed us. This is it. Enough. All finish."

"Grenada poisoned Kim."

Captain Hsiu shook his head. "I don't believe in Grenada."

"But it's your own people who are doing this," Laura told

him. "At least you weren't invaded."

The cop gave her a salt-in-the-wounds look. "We are

invaded. Didn't you know?"

She was stunned. "What? Vienna came in?"

"No," said a cop in the back with pessimistic relish. "It's

the Red Cross."

For a moment she couldn't place the reference. "The Red

Cross," she said. "The health agency?"

"If an army came, we would chop them up," said Captain

Hsiu., "But no one shoots the Red Cross. They are already in

Ubin and Tekong and Sembawang. Hundreds of them."

"With bandages and medic kits," said the cop eating rice

cakes. " `Civil disaster relief.' " He began laughing.

"Shut up, you," said the captain listlessly. Rice Cakes

throttled it down to a snicker.

"I never heard of the Red Cross pulling a stunt like that,"

Laura said.

"It's the globalist corporations," said Captain Hsiu, darkly.

"They wanted to buy Vienna and have us all shot. But it too

expensive, and take them too long. So they buy the Red

Cross instead-an army with no guns-and kill us with kindness.

They just walk in smiling, and never walk out of

Singapore again. Dirty cowards."

The police radio squawked wildly. A mob was invading the

premises of Channel Four television, at Marina Centre. Cap-

tain Hsiu growled something foul in Chinese and turned it

off. "I knew they attack the tellies soon or later," he said.

"What to do ... '

"We getting brand-new orders tomorrow," said the lieu-

tenant, speaking for the first time. "Probably big rise in pay,

too. For us, plenty busy months ahead."

"Traitor," said Captain Hsiu without passion.

The lieutenant shrugged. "Got to live, la."

"Then we've won," Laura blurted. She was realizing it, in

all its scope, for the first time. Ballooning inside her. All that

craziness and all that sacrifice-it had worked, somehow. Not

quite the way anyone had expected-but that was politics,

wasn't it? It was over. The Net had won.

"That's right," said the captain. He turned right, onto

Clemenceau Avenue.

"Then I guess there's not much point in arresting me, is

there? The protest is meaningless now. And I'll never stand

trial for those charges." She laughed happily.

"Maybe we book you just for the fun of it," said the

lieutenant. He watched a car full of teenagers zip past, one

leaning through the open window, waving a huge Singapore

flag.


"Oh, no!" said the captain. "Then we must watch her

make more globalist moralizing speeches."

"No way!" Laura said hastily. "I'm getting the hell out of

here as soon as I can, back to my husband and baby."

Captain Hsiu paused. "You want to leave the island?"

"More than anything! Believe me."

"Could arrest her anyway," suggested the lieutenant. "Probably

take two, three week for the paperwork to find her."

"Especially if we don't file it," said the snickering cop.

He started laughing through his nose.

"If you think that scares me, go right ahead," Laura said,

bluffing. "Anyway, I couldn't get out now if I tried. There's

no way. Martial law closed the airports."

They drove across the Clemenceau Bridge. Tanks guarded

it, but they looked abandoned, and the police car cruised past

without pause.

"Not to worry," said the captain. "To be rid of Laura

Webster? No sacrifice too great!" And he took her to the Yung

Soo Chim Islamic Bank.
It was an eerie reprise. They were all on the top of the bank

building-the personnel of Yung Soo Chim. Up there amid

the white bristling forests of microwave antennas and fat

rain-stained satellite dishes.

Laura wore her sari flap hooded snugly over her head and a

pair of cop's mirrorshades that she'd begged from Captain

Hsiu. Once past the private security and into the bank build-

ing, redolent with the stink of panic and the new-mown-hay

aroma of shredded files, the rest had been easy. No one was

checking ID-she had none to check, no luggage, either.

No one bothered her-she was passing for somebody's

Eurasian mistress, or maybe some exotic tech in high Hindu

drag. If the pirates learned she was here among them, they

might do almost anything. But Laura knew with thrilling

certainty that they'd never touch her. Not here, not now, not

after all she'd come through.

She wasn't afraid. She felt bulletproof, invincible, full of

electricity. She knew now that she was stronger than they

were. Her people were stronger than their people. She could

walk in daylight, but they couldn't. They'd thought they had

teeth, in all their corner-cutting crime conspiracies, but their

bones were made of glass.

The criminal machine just didn't have it the gemeineschaft.

They were rip-off artists, flotsam, and there was nothing to

hold them together, no basic trust. They'd been hiding under

the protective crust of the Singapore Government, and now

that it was gone the Bank was wrecked. It would take them

years to stick it all back together, even if they were willing to

try, and the momentum, the world tide, was against them.

This place and its dreams were over-the future was some-

where else.

What a brag session this was going to make. How she'd

crept out of Singapore in the very midst of the pirate bankers.

A steady procession of twin-tutored Singaporean military chop-

pers was arriving on the plush landing pad on the Bank's

roof. Two, three dozen refugees at a time would cram in

helter-skelter and vanish into the leaden monsoon sky.

The others waited, perching like crows on the chain-linked

parapet and the concrete anchor blocks of the microwave

towers. Some clumped moodily around portable televisions:

watching Jeyaratnam on Channel Two, weary and beaten and

gray-faced, quoting the Constitution and urging the populace

back to their homes.

Laura edged around a luggage trolley piled high with bulg-

ing ripstop luggage in maroon and yellow synthetic. Three

men sat on the far side of it, bent forward attentively with

their elbows on their knees. 'Two Japanese guys and an

Anglo, all three in crisp new safari suits and bush hats. They

were watching television.

It was Channel Four, "On the Air-For the People,"

featuring, as a stuttering, blushing anchorwoman, Miss Ting-

Kim's old flame.

Laura watched and listened from a discreet distance. She

felt a strange sisterhood with Miss Ting, who had obviously

been swept into her current situation through some kind of

odd synchronistic karma.

It was all like that now, the whole of Singapore, giddy and

brittle and suspended in midair. Up here it might be solid

gloom, but below them the streets were full of honking cars,

one vast street party, the populace out congratulating itself on

its heroism. The last billows of smoke were fading in the

docklands. Revolutionary Singapore-vomiting. out these ex-

pensive data pirates, like ambergris from the guts of a conva-

lescent whale.

The smaller Japanese guy lifted his bush hat, and picked at

an itchy sales tag inside the brim. "Kiribati," he said.

"If we get the bloody choice we take Nauru," said the

Anglo. He was Australian.

The Japanese ripped the tag loose, his face pinched.

"Kiribati's nowhere, man. They don't have dedicated landlines."

"The heat will be all over Nauru. They're afraid of those

launch sites... .

Nauru and Kiribati, Laura thought little Pacific island

states whose "national sovereignty" could be had for a price.

Good dumping grounds for Bank gangsters, obviously. But

that was okay by her. Both islands were on the Net, and

where there were phones, there was credit. And where there

was credit, there were airline tickets. And where there were

jets, there was home.

Home, she thought, leaning giddily against the heaped trolley.

Not Galveston, not yet. The Lodge would open again sometime,

but that wasn't home anyway. Home was David and the baby.

Lying in bed with David, in warm tangled sheets, breathing

American air, a nice twilight outside maybe. Trees, leaf shadows,

red dirt and Georgia kudzu in a safe Rizome Retreat. Little

Loretta, her solid little ribs and crooked baby grin. Oh, Lord ...

The larger Japanese was staring at her. He thought she was

drunk. She straightened self-consciously, and he looked away,

bored. He muttered something Laura didn't catch.

"Bullshit," the Aussie said. "You think everybody's fire-

wired. That `spontaneous combustion' voodoo bullshit .. .

They're good, but they're not that good."

The big guy rubbed the back of his neck and shuddered.

"They didn't burn that dog on our doorstep for nothing."

"I miss poor Jim Dae Jung," said the little Japanese,

sadly. "Burnt feet still in his boots and his skull shrunk as

small as an orange...."

The Aussie shook his head. "We don't know that he caught

fire on his own toilet. Just 'cause we found his feet there...."

"Hey," said the larger Japanese, pointing.

The two others rose eagerly, expecting another chopper

flight. But there was something going on in the sky. Against

a leaden background of clouds: streaks of blood-colored va-

por. Like claw scratches on muddy skin.

Monsoon wind began quickly to distort it. Symbols in red

smoke, scrawled against the sky. Letters, numbers:

3A3...

"Skywriting," the Aussie said, sitting down again. "Wish



we had some binocs. I don't see a plane."

"Very small drone," said the big Japanese. "Or maybe

it's made of glass." By now everyone on the roof was

looking, pointing, and shading their eyes.

3 A 3 v - 0\...

"It's code," the Aussie said. "Gotta be the voodoo boys."

The wind had blown the first letters to shreds, but there

was more.... = A_-S.. .

"Three A Three Vee Blank Zero Back-slash Equals A

Blank Blank S," the Aussie repeated slowly. "What in bloody

hell are they getting at?"

"Maybe it's their evacuation signal," said the big man.

"You wish," the Aussie said.

The smaller Japanese began laughing. "No verticals in the

letters," he announced triumphantly. "Bad programming.

Grenada was never any good with drones."

"No verticals?" the Aussie said, staring upward. "Oh. I

get it. `BABYLON FALLS,' eh? Cheeky bastards."

"I guess they never really thought this would happen," the

small man said. "Or they'd have done a better job announc-

ing it."

"Still, you gotta give 'em credit," the Aussie said. "Invis-

ible finger, writing in blood on the sky . . . probably would

have scared the living crap out of people, if they hadn't

fucked it up." He chuckled. "Murphy's Law, huh? Now it's

just more weirdness."

Laura left them on their luggage trolley. Another chopper

had appeared, coming in-a small one. She decided she

would take it if she could-the talk had unsettled her.

As she neared the pad she heard low, piteous sobbing. Not

demonstrative just uncontrollable moans and snivels.

The sobbing man was crouched under the rounded bulk of

a rooftop storage tank. He was scanning the sky again and

again, as if in terror of another message.

He was a sharpie-like the villains on Chinese television.

Thirtyish bedroom-eyed guys who were all laser-cut hairdos

and jade cig holders. Only now he was squatting on his heels,

under the cool white bulk of the tank, his shoulders wrapped

in a black felt blanket clutched two-handed across his chest.

He was twitchy as a basket of crabs.

As she watched him he somehow got a grip on himself,

wiped his eyes. He looked like he'd once been important.

Years of tailored suits and handball and complaisant massage

girls. But now he looked like some kind of rat-eating terrier

from a sawdust pit.

One of those Grenadian pellets was in him somewhere,

oozing its milligrams of liquid fear. He knew it, anyone who

saw him knew it news about the pellets had been all over

Government TV But he hadn't had time to have it located

and dug out of him.

The others were avoiding him. He was bad luck.

A twin-rotored Coast Guard chopper settled to the pad. Its .

wind gust scoured the building and Laura tightened the sari

over her head. Bad Luck jumped to his feet and made a run

for it; he was there at the door, panting, before anyone else.

When it shunted open he scrambled aboard.

Laura followed him and buckled into one of the hard

plastic benches at the back. A dozen, more refugees crowded

on, avoiding Bad Luck.

A tight-faced little Coast Guard sergeant in camo flight suit

and helmet looked in on them. "Hey, missy," yelled the fat

guy ahead of Laura. "When we getting salted almonds?" The

other refugees chuckled dismally.

Power went into the rotors and the world fell away under them.

They flew southwest, through the brutal, thrusting skyscrapers

of Queenstown. Then over a cluster of offshore

islands with names like the bonging of gamelans: Samulun,

Merlimau, Seraya. Clumps of clotted tropical green cut with

towering beachfront hotels. White, sandy shorelines cinched

in by elaborate dams and jetties.

Good-bye, Singapore.

They changed course over the monsoon-ruffled waters of

the Malacca Straits. It was loud inside the cabin. The passen-

gers made a little hoarse, guarded conversation, but no one

approached her. Laura leaned her head against the bare plastic

by the little fist-sized porthole and fell into a stunned half-doze.

She came to as the chopper pulled up, yawing dizzily.

They were hovering over a cargo ship. Ships had become familiar to

her at the loading docks: this was a tramp clipper, with the strange

rotating wind columns that had been a big hit back in the 'teens.

Crewpeople-or rather, more refugees lurked on the deck, in a variety

of rumpled skivvies.

The little sergeant came back again. She had a jelly-gun slung over her shoulder. "This is it," she shouted.

"There's no landing pad!" pointed out the fat guy.

"You jump." She slung open the cargo door. Wind gusted through. They were hovering five feet over the deck. The sergeant slapped another woman on the shoulder. "You first. Go!"

Somehow they all left. Thumping, falling, sprawling onto

the gently rolling deck. Those onboard helped a little, clum-

sily trying to catch them.

The last one out was Bad Luck. He tumbled out as if

kicked. Then the chopper peeled away, showing them an

underbelly lumpy with flotation pads. "Where are we?" Bad

Luck demanded, rubbing a bruised kneecap.

A mossy-toothed Chinese technician in a songkak hat an-

swered him. "This is the Ali Khamenei. Bound for Abadan."

"Abadan!" Bad Luck screeched. "No! Not the fucking

Iranians!" People stared at him-recognizing his affliction,

some began to edge away.

"Islamic Republic," the technician corrected.

"I knew it!" Bad Luck said. "They gave us to the damn Koran thumpers! They'll chop our hands off! I'll never punch

deck again!"

"Calming down," advised the tech, giving Bad Luck a

sidelong look.

"They sold us! They dumped us on this robot ship to starve

to death!"

"Not to worry," said a hefty European woman, sensibly

dressed for catastrophe in a sturdy denim work shirt and

corduroy jeans. "We've examined the cargo-there's plenty

of Soy Moo and Weetabix." She smirked, raising one plucked

eyebrow. "And we met the ship's captain-poor little bloke!

He's got a retrovirus-no immune system left." Bad Luck went even paler.

"No! The captain has plague?"

"Who else would take such a rotten job, working all alone

on this barge?" the woman said. "He's hiding now in the

wheelhouse. Afraid of catching an infection from us. He's a

lot more afraid of us than we are of him." She looked at

Laura curiously. "Do I know you?"

Laura looked down at the deck and muttered something

about being in data processing. "Is there a phone here, la?"

"You'll have to stand in line, dearie. Everybody wants on

the Net.... You kept money outside Singapore, yes? Very

smart. "

"Singapore robbed us," Bad Luck grumbled.

"At least they got us out," said the European woman

practically. "It's better than waiting for those voodoo canni-

bals to poison us. . . . Or the globalist law courts. . . . The

Islamics aren't so bad."

Bad Luck stared at her. "They murder technicians! Anti-

Western purges!"

"That was years ago-anyway, maybe that's why they

want us now! Stop fretting, eh! People like us, we can always

find a place." She glanced at Laura. "You play bridge,

dearie?"


Laura shook her head.

"Cribbage? Pinochle?"

"Sorry." Laura adjusted her hood.

"You getting used to the chador already?" The woman

traipsed off, defeated.

Laura walked unobtrusively toward the bow, avoiding scat-

tered groups of dazed, shiftless refugees. No one tried to

bother her.

Around the Ali Khamenei the gray waters of the straits

were full of shipping-reefers, dry-bulk carriers, pallet ships.

Korean, Chinese, Maphilindonesian, some with no flag at all,

simply corporate logos.

There was real majesty in the sight. Distance-tinged blue

ships, gray sea, the distant green-humped rise of Sumatra.

These straits, between the bulk of Asia and the offshore

sprawl of Sumatra and Java and Borneo, had been one of the

world's great routes since the dawn of civilization. The loca-

tion had made Singapore; and lifting the embargoes on the

island would be like unclogging a global artery.

She had been part of this, she thought. And it was no small

thing. Now that she was standing alone at the bow's railing,

with the primordial surging of the deck beneath her feet, she

could feel what she'd done. A little moment of numinous

prompting, a mystic satisfaction. She had been doing the

work of the world-she could sense the subtle flow of its

Taoist tides, buoying her up, carrying her.

Standing there, shedding tension, breathing the damp mon-

soon air under endless gray skies, she could no longer believe

in her personal danger. She was bulletproof again.

The pirates were the ones with problems, now. The Bank's

brass were all over the deck, in little conspiratorial groups,

muttering and looking over their shoulders. There was a

surprising number of brass on this ship-the first ones aboard,

apparently. She could tell they were bosses, because they

were well dressed, and snotty looking. And old.

They had that tight-stretched, spotty vampire look that

came from years of Singapore's half-baked longevity treat-

ments. Blood filtering, hormone therapy, vitamin-E, electric

acupuncture, God knew what kind of insane black-market

bullshit. Maybe they had stretched a few extra years out of

their expensive meddling, but now they were going to have to

go off their treatments cold-turkey. And she didn't imagine it

would be easy.

At dusk, a large civilian chopper arrived with a final load

of refugees. Laura stood by one of the tall, gently hissing

wind columns as the refugees decamped. More top brass.

One of them was Mr. Shaw.

Laura flinched away in shock, and walked slowly toward

the bow, not looking back. There must have been some kind

of special arrangement, she thought-this Abadan business.

Probably Shaw and his people had set it up long ago. Singa-

pore might be finished, but the top data pirates had their own

survival instincts. No cheap-shot Naurus and Kiribatis for

them-that was for suckers. They were headed where the oil

money still ran fast and deep. The Islamic Republic was no

friend of Vienna's.

She doubted that they'd make it there scot-free, though.

Singapore might try to ditch the Bank gangsters and the

evidence, but too many people must know. There'd be a hot

trail to a ship with this many big operators on it. The video

press were already swarming into Singapore under the shadow

of the Red Cross-eager pioneers of another gunless global

army, packing mikes and minicams. Once the ship was out in

international waters, Laura was half convinced that reporters

would show up.

Should be interesting. The pirates wouldn't like it much-

their skin blistered under publicity. But at least they'd es-

caped the Grenadians.

There seemed to be an unspoken conviction among the

Singaporeans that the Grenadians had finished. That with the

Bank scattered, and the Government in ruin, there was simply

no point left in their terror campaign.

Maybe they were right. Maybe successful terrorism had

always worked like this-provoking a regime till it crumbled

under the weight of its own repression. "Babylon Falls"

-they'd bragged about it. Maybe Sticky and his friends

would now slip out of Singapore in the confusion of the revolt.

If there was any sanity left in them, they'd be glad to run,

puffed and proud, triumphant. Probably amazed to be alive.

They could swagger back to their Caribbean shadows as true

voodoo legends, new-millennium spooks nonpareil. Why not

live? Why not enjoy it?

She wanted to believe that they'd do it. She wanted it to be

over-she couldn't bear to think back to Sticky's feverish

menu of technical atrocities.

A shudder struck her where she stood. A rocketing wave of

intense, unfocused, ontological dread. For a moment she

wondered if she'd been pellet-shot. Maybe Sticky had dosed

her while she was unconscious and the fear drug was just now

coming on. . . . God, what an awful suspicion.

She remembered suddenly the Vienna agent she'd met in

Galveston, the polite, handsome Russian who had talked

about the "evil pressure in a bullet. "

Now, for the first time, she was grasping what the man had

meant. The pressure of raw possibility. If something was

possible-didn't that mean that somewhere, somehow, some-

one had to do it? The voodoo urge to truck with demons. The

imp of the perverse. Deep in the human spirit, the carnivo-

rous shadow of science.

It was a dynamic, like gravity. Some legacy of evolution,

deep in human nerves, invisible and potent, like software.

She turned around. No sign of Shaw. A few yards behind

her, Bad Luck was retching, loudly, over the guard rail. He

looked up, wiping his mouth on his sleeve.

She could have been him. Laura forced herself to smile at him.

He gave her a look of tremulous gratitude and came to join

her. She almost fled at once, but he held up a hand. "It's

okay," he said. "I know I'm dosed. It comes in waves. I'm better now."

"You're very brave," Laura said. "I'm sorry for you, sir. "

Bad Luck stared at her. "That's nice. You're nice. You

don't treat me like a leper. " He paused, hot little rat eyes

studying her. "You're not. one of us, are you? You're not

with the Bank."

"What makes you say that?" Laura said.

"You're somebody's girl friend, is it?" He grinned in a

cadaverous parody of flirtation. "Lot of bosses on this ship.

Top brass goes for those hot Eurasian girls."

"We're getting married, la," Laura said, "so you can

forget all about it, fellow."

He dug into his jacket. "Want a cigarette?"

"Maybe you'd better save them," Laura said, accepting one.

"No, no. No problem. I can get anything! Cigarettes,

blood components. Megavitamins, embryos.... My name's

Desmond, miss. Desmond Yaobang."

"Hi," Laura said. She accepted a light. Her mouth imme-

diately filled with choking poisoned soot.

She couldn't understand why she was doing this.

Except that it was better than doing nothing. Except that

she felt sorry for him. And maybe the presence of Desmond

Yaobang would keep everyone else at a distance.

"What do you think they'll do to us, in Abadan? Do with

us, I mean." Yaobang's head just topped her shoulder. There

was nothing obviously repulsive about him, but the chemical

fear had etched itself into the set of his eyes, the lines of his

face. It had soaked him through with an aura of creepiness.

She felt the strong, irrational urge to kick him. The way a

flock of crows will peck an injured one to death.

"I dunno," Laura drawled, contempt making her careless.

She looked at her sandaled feet, avoiding his eyes. "Maybe

they'll give me some decent shoes.... I'll be okay if I can

make a few phone calls."

"Phone calls," Yaobang parroted nervously, "capital idea.

Yes, get Desmond to a phone and he can get you anything.

Shoes. Surely. You want to try it?"

"Mmm. Not just yet. Too crowded."

"Tonight then. Fine, miss. Splendid. I won't be sleeping

anyway."

She turned away from him and put her back to the rail. The

sun was setting between two of the whirling wind columns.

Vast underlit cloud banks of mellow Renaissance gold. Yaobang

turned and looked as well, biting his lip, mercifully silent.

Along with the filthy brain buzz of the cigarette, it gave

Laura an expansive feeling of sublimity. Beautiful, but it

wouldn't last long-the sun sank fast in the tropics.

Yaobang straightened, pointed. "What is that?"

Laura looked. His paranoia-sharpened senses had caught

something-a distant, airborne glint.

Yaobang squinted. "Some little kind of chopper, maybe?"

"It's too small!" Laura said. "It's a drone!" Light had

winked briefly from its blades and now she'd lost it against

the clouds.

"A drone?" he said, alarmed by her tone of voice. "Is it

voodoo? Can it hurt us?"

"Shut up!" Laura shoved away from the rail. "I'm gonna

climb up to the crow's nest-I want a better look." She

hurried across the deck, her sandals flopping.

The ship's foremast had a radar horn and video for the

guidance computer. But there was access for repair and hu-

man backup: a crow's nest, three stories above the deck.

Laura grabbed the cool iron rungs, then stopped in frustra-

tion. The damned sari-it would tangle her feet. She turned

and beckoned to Yaobang.

There was a shout from above. "Hey!"

A man in a popsicle-red rain slicker was leaning over the

crow's-nest railing. "What are you doing?"

"Are you crew?" Laura shouted, hesitating.

"No, are you?"

She shook her head. "I thought I saw something"-she

pointed--over there!"

"What did you see?"

"I think it was a Canadair CL-227!"

The man's shoes clattered as he came down quickly to the

deck. "What's a canadare?" Yaobang demanded plaintively,

hopping from foot to foot. He noticed a pair of Zeiss binocu-

lars around the other's neck. "Where'd you get those?"

"Deck room," said Red Raincoat, meaninglessly.

"I know you, right? Henderson? I'm Desmond Yaobang.

Countertrade section."

"Hennessey," Red Raincoat said.

"Hennessey, yes ..."

"Give me those," Laura demanded. She grabbed the bin-

oculars. Under the flimsy poncho, Hennessey's chest was

padded and huge. He was wearing something. Bulletproof

vest?


A life jacket.

Laura tore her sunglasses off, felt hastily for a pocket-

none, in a sari-and propped them on her head. She focused

the binoculars.

She found the thing almost at once. There it was, hovering

malignantly at the twilit skyline. It had been in her night-

mares so many times that she couldn't believe she was seeing

it.


It was the drone that had strafed her Lodge. Not the

identical one, because this one was military green, but the

same model-double rotors, dumbbell shape. Even the stupid

landing gear.

"Let me see!" Yaobang demanded frantically. To shut him

up, Laura passed him the binoculars.

"Hey," Hennessey protested mildly. "Those are mine."

He was a thirtyish Anglo with prominent cheekbones and a

small, neatly trimmed mustache. He had no accent-straight

Mid-Atlantic Net talk. Below the baggy plastic poncho there

was something lithe and weaselish about him.

He smiled at her, tightly, looking into her eyes. "You

American? USA?"

Laura felt for her sunglasses. They'd pushed the sari back,

showing her blond hair.

"I see it!" Yaobang burst out excitedly. "A flying ground nut!"

Hennessey's eyes widened. He'd recognized her. He was

thinking fast. She could see him shift forward onto the balls

of his feet.

"Maybe it's Grenadian!" Yaobang said. "Better warn everyone!

I'll watch the thing-missy, you go running!"

"No, don't do that," Hennessey told her. He reached

under his poncho and tugged out a piece of machinery. It was

small and skeletal and looked like a cross between a vice-grip

wrench and a putty applicator. He stepped near Yaobang,

holding the device with both hands.

"Oh, God," Yaobang said blindly. Another wave of it was

hitting him-he was trembling so hard he could barely hold

up the binoculars. "I'm frightened," he sniveled. A cracked,

reflexive, little-boy voice. "I can see it coming.... I'm

afraid!"

Hennessey pointed the machine at Yaobang's ribs and pulled

its trigger, twice. There were two discreet little coughs, barely

audible, but the thing jumped viciously in Hennessey's hands.

Yaobang convulsed with impact, arms flying, chest buckling

as if hit with an axe. He fell over his own feet and hit the

deck with a clatter of binoculars.

Laura stared at him in stunned horror. Hennessey had just

blown two great smoking holes in Yaobang's jacket. Yaobang

lay unmoving, face livid and black. "You killed him!"

"No. No problem. Special narcotic dye," Hennessey blurted.

She looked again. Just for a second. Yaobang's mouth was

clogged with blood. She stared at Hennessey and began back-

ing away.

With a sudden smooth, reflexive motion Hennessey cen-

tered the gun on her chest. She saw the cavernous barrel of it

and knew suddenly that she was looking at death. "Laura

Webster!" Hennessey said. "Don't run, don't make me shoot!"

Laura froze.

"Police officer," Hennessey said. He glanced nervously

off the port bow. "Vienna Convention, Special Operations

Task Force. Just obey orders and everything will be fine."

"That's a lie!" Laura shouted. "There's no such thing!"

He wasn't looking at her. He kept looking out to sea. She

followed his gaze.

Something was coming toward the ship. It was rushing

over the waves, with astonishing, magic swiftness. A long

white stick, like a wand, with sharp square wings. Behind it a

slim straight billow of contrail air.

It rushed toward the bridge, at the stem, a needle on a

thread of steam. Into it. Through it.

Raw fire bloomed, taller than houses. A wall of heat and

sound surged up the deck and knocked her from her feet. She

was down, bruised, flash-blinded. The bow of the ship bucked

under her like a huge steel animal.

Roaring seconds. Pieces of plastic and steel were pattering

onto the deck. The bridge superstructure-the radar mast, the

phone antennas-was one vast, ugly conflagration. It was like

someone had built a volcano in it-thermite heat and white-

hot twisting spars of metal and lava globs of molten ceramic

and plastic. Like a firecracker in a white wedding cake.

Below them, the ship was still pitching. Hennessey had

lurched to his feet and made a run for the railing. For a

moment she thought he was going to jump. Then he was back

with a life preserver-a big ceremonial flotation ring marked

in Parsi script. He stumbled and rolled and got back to her.

There was no sign of his gun now-he'd folded it again,

tucked it away.

"Get this on!" he shouted in her face.

Laura grabbed it reflexively. "The lifeboat!" she shouted

back.

He shook his head. "No! No good! Booby-trapped!"



"You bastard!"

He ignored her. "When she goes down, you have to swim

hard, Laura! Hard, away from the undertow!"

"No!" She jumped to her feet, dancing away from his

lunging attempt to tackle her. The back of the ship was

vomiting smoke now, huge black explosive volumes of it.

People were scrambling across the deck.

She turned back to Hennessey. He was down and doubled

over, hands knotted behind his neck, bent legs crossed at the

ankles. She gaped at him, then looked to sea again.

Another missile. It slid just above the waves, its jet flare

lighting the rippled water with flashbulb briefness. It hit.

A catastrophic explosion belowdecks. Hatch covers leapt

free from their hinges and tumbled skyward like flaming

dominoes. Up-leaping geysers of fire. The ship lurched like a

gut-shot elephant.

The deck tilted, slowly, inexorably, gravity clutching at

them like the end of the world. Steam rose with a stink of

scalded seawater. She fell to her knees and slid.

Hennessey had crawled to the bow rail. He had an elbow

hooked around it and was talking into something-a military

field telephone. He paused and yanked its long antenna out

and resumed shouting. Gleefully. He caught her eye and

waved and gestured at her. Jump! Swim!

She lurched to her feet again, lusting blindly to get at him

and kill him. Strangle him, claw his eyes out. The deck

dropped under her like a broken elevator and she fell again,

bruising her knees. She almost lost the flotation ring.

Her shins were wet. She turned. The sea was coming up

over the starboard bow. Gray ugly waves thick with blasted

chunks of flotsam. The ship was eviscerated, its guts spewing

out.


Fear overwhelmed her. A panic strength to live. She ripped

and kicked her way out of the enveloping sari. Her sandals

were long gone. She pulled the ring over her. head and

shoulders. Then she scrambled to the bow rail, clambered

over it, and jumped.

The water rushed over her, warm and dank. Twilight was

leaching from the sky, but the ship's blaze lit the straits like a

battlefield.

Another minor explosion, and a flare of light by the ship's

single lifeboat. He'd killed them. Good God, they were going

to kill them all! How many people-a hundred, a hundred and

fifty? They'd been herded into a cattle car and taken out to

sea and butchered! Burned and drowned, like vermin!

A drone hummed angrily just over her head. She felt the

wind of it on her sodden hair.

She got the ring wedged under her armpits and started

swimming hard.

The sea seemed to be boiling. She thought of sharks.

Suddenly the opaque depths beneath her naked legs were full

of lurking presences. She-swam hard, until the panic strength

faded into chilly shock. She turned and looked.

It was going. Stern last, rising above the sea in the last

hissing remnants of flame, like a distant candlelit tombstone.

She watched it for long, thudding heartbeat seconds. Then it

was gone, sinking into nothingness, blackness, and ooze.

The night was overcast. Darkness came on like a shroud.

The rush of afterwash hit her and bobbed her like a buoy.

Another hum overhead. Then, in the distance, in the dark-

ness, the chatter of machine-gun fire.

They were killing the survivors in the water. Shooting them

from drones, out of darkness, with infrareds. She began

swimming again, desperately, away.

She couldn't die out here. No, not blown to shreds out

here, killed like a statistic. . . . David, the baby .. .

An inflatable boat surged by, dark man-shapes and the

quiet mutter of an engine. A slap in the water-someone had

tossed her a line. She heard Hennessey's voice. "Grab it.

Hurry up!"

She did it. It was that, or die here. They tugged her in and

hauled her up, over the inflatable's hull. Hennessey grinned

at her in his drenched clothes. He had companions: four

sailors in white round hats, neat silky uniforms, dark with a

gleam of gold.

She sprawled in the rippling bottom of the boat, against a

hull black and slick as a gut, in her sari blouse and under-

wear. One of the sailors tossed the flotation ring overboard.

They picked up speed, heading away, up the straits.

The closest sailor leaned toward her, an Anglo about forty.

His face looked as white as a sliced apple. "Cigarette, lady?"

She stared at him. He leaned back, shrugging.

She coughed on seawater, then gathered her legs in,

trembling, wretched. A long time passed. Then her brain

began to work again.

The ship had never had a chance. Not even to scream out

an SOS. The first missile had wiped out the bridge-radio,

radar, and all. The killers had cut their throat first thing.

But to kill a hundred people in the middle of the Malacca

Straits! To commit an atrocity like that-surely other ships

must have seen the explosion, the smoke. To have done such

a thing, so viciously, so blatantly .. .

Her voice, when she, finally got, it out, was cracked and

weak. "Hennessey . . . ?"

"Henderson," he told her. He tugged his drenched red rain

slicker over his head. Beneath it was a bright orange life

jacket. Under that a sleeveless utility vest, bulges and little

metal zips and Velcro flaps. "Here, put this slicker on."

He shoved it at her. She held it numbly.

Henderson chuckled. "Put it on! You want to meet a

hundred red-blooded sailors in wet underwear?"

The words didn't quite register, but she started on it any-

way. They were speeding in darkness, the boat bouncing, the

wind tearing and flapping at the raincoat. She struggled with

it for what seemed an endless time. It clung to her bare wet

skin like a bloody hide.

"Looks like you need a hand," Henderson said. He crawled

forward and helped her into it. "There. That's better."

"You killed them all," Laura croaked.

Henderson aimed amused glances at the sailors. "None of

that, now," he said loudly. "Besides, I had a little help from

the attack ship!" He laughed.

Sailor number two cut back the engine. They were coasting

forward in darkness. "Boat," he said. "A sub is a `boat.'

Sir. "

In the darkness, she heard water cascading and the gurgle



of surf. She could barely see it in the dimness, a vague

blue-black sheen. But she could smell it and feel it, almost

taste it on her skin.

It was huge. It was close. A vast black rectangle of painted

steel. A conning tower.

A monstrous submarine.


9
It was huge and alive, ticking over like some transatlantic

jet, drizzling seawater with sharp pneumatic huffing and

a deep shuddering hum. Laura heard drones hissing past her

in the darkness, taxiing in to land on the hull. Evil, waspish

sounds. She couldn't see them, but she knew the machines

could see her, lit by her own body heat.

The inflatable collided gently with the sub, a rubbery jolt.

The sailors climbed a detachable rope ladder up the dark

curving hull. Henderson waited as they left. Then he smeared

wet hair from his eyes and grabbed her arm.

"Don't do stupid shit," he told her. "Don't yell, don't act

up, don't be a bitch. I saved your life. So don't embarrass

me. Because you'll die."

He sent her up the ladder ahead of him. The rungs hurt her

hands, and the slick steel hull was deep-water-cold under her

bare feet. The flattened hull stretched out endlessly into wash-

ing darkness. Behind her, the conning tower loomed thirty

feet high. Long spines of black-and-white antennas sprouted

from its peak.

A dozen more sailors clustered on the hull, in elegant

bell-bottom trousers and long-sleeved blouses with gold-braided

cuffs. They tended to the drones, manhandling them down a

series of yawning hatches. They moved with a strange tippy-

toeing, hunch-shouldered look. As if they found the empty

night sky oppressive.

The inflatable's crew expertly hauled it up after them,

flinging rope hand over hand. They deflated it, trampling out

air in a demented sombrero dance, then stuffed the wet rubber

mass into a seabag.

It was all over in a few moments. They were jumping back

into their vast steel warren, like rats. Henderson hustled

Laura over a hatch coaming onto a recessed floor. It sank

beneath their feet. The hatch slammed over her head with an

ear-popping huff and a squeal of hydraulics.

They emerged from the elevator shaft into a vast cylindrical

warehouse lit with sullen yellow bulbs. It had two decks: a

lower floor, beneath her bare feet, of solid iron, and an upper

one of perforated grating. It was cavernous, two hundred feet

long; every ten feet it was cut, left and right, by massive

bulging elevator shafts. Shafts nine feet across, steel silos,

their bases stuck with plugs and power cables. Like bio-tech

tanks, she thought, big fermenters.

Two dozen sailors padded silently in foam-soled deck shoes

on the narrow walkways between the silos. They were work-

ing on the drones in hushed concentration. An incense stink

of hot aircraft oil and spent ammunition. Some scrambled

vibe of war and industry and church.

The compartment was painted in sky blue, the tubes in

spacy midnight indigo. Henderson headed aft. As he hauled

her along, Laura touched the cold latex surface of a tube,

wonderingly. Someone had painstakingly stenciled it with

dizzy five-pointed stars, comets with whizzing comic-book

tails, little yellow ringed Saturns. Like surfboard art. Dreamy

and cheap.

Some silos had been welder-cut and, hung with arcane

repair tools-they were retrofitted for drone launches. The

others were older, they looked intact. Still serving their origi-

nal function, whatever that was.

Henderson spun the manual wheel in the center of a water-

tight door. It opened with a thermos-bottle thump and they

ducked through. Into a coffinlike chamber plated with egg-

carton antisound padding.

Laura felt the world tilt subtly beneath •her feet. A river

rush of ballast tanks and the distant whir of motors. The sub

was diving. Then a startling junkyard chorus of pops, harsh

creaks, glass-bottle clinking, as pressure began to bite into the

hull.

Through the chamber into another room flooded with clean



white light. Supersharp fluorescents overhead, that strange

laserish light of three-peak spectrum radiance, casting

everything into edgy superrealism. Some kind of control room,

with a Christmas-tree profusion of machinery. Vast tilted

consoles loomed, with banks of switches, flickering readouts,

needle-twitching glassy dials. Sailors with short, neat haircuts

sat before them in sumptuous padded swivel chairs.

The room was full of crewmen-she kept noticing more and

more of them, their heads peeking out through dense clusters

of piping and monitors. The room was jammed floor to

ceiling with equipment and she couldn't find the walls. There

were men in it elbow to elbow, crammed into arcane little

ergonomic nooks. People sockets.

Acceleration hit them; Laura staggered a little. Somewhere,

a faint high-pitched whine and a liquid trembling as the great

steel mass picked up speed.

Just before her was a sunken area about the size of a

bathtub. A man sat in it, wearing bulging padded headphones

and clutching a knobbed steering wheel. He was like a child's

doll surrounded by pricey stereo equipment. Just above his

head was a gray gasketed lump with the stenciled legend

ANTI-COLLISION LIGHT-SWITCH TO FLASH. He was staring fixedly

at half a dozen round glass gauges.

This was the pilot, Laura thought. No way to look outside

a submarine. Just dials.

Footsteps on a curved stairway at the back of the room-

someone coming down from the upper deck. "Hesseltine?"

"Yo!" said Henderson cheerfully. He tugged Laura along

by the wrist, and she slammed her elbow jarringly into a

vertical column. "Come on," he insisted, dragging her.

They threaded the maze, to meet their interrogator. The

new man was portly, with black curled hair, pouting lips, his

eyes heavy-lidded and solemn. He wore shoulder tabs, elabo-

rate sleeve insignia, and a round black-brimmed sailor's cap

with gold lettering. REPUBLIQUE DE MALI. He shook Henderson

Hesseltine's hand. Maddeningly, the two of them began speaking

fluent French.

They climbed the spiral stairs, walked down a long dim

stifling corridor. Hesseltine's shoes squelched loudly. They

chattered in French, with enthusiasm.

The officer showed them into a set of narrow shower stalls.

"Great," said Hesseltine, stepping in and pulling Laura after

him. For the first time, he let go of her wrist. "You up to

taking your own shower, girl? Or do I have to help?"

Laura stared at him mutely.

"Relax," Hesseltine said. He zipped out of his utility vest.

"You're with the good guys now. They're gonna bring us

something new to wear. Later we'll eat." He smiled at her,

saw it wasn't working, and glowered. "Look. What were you

doing on that ship? You didn't turn data banker, did you?

Some kind of double-agent scam?"

"No, of course not!"

"You got some special reason to regret those criminals?"

The moral vacuity in it stunned her. They were human

beings. "No . . . " she blurted, almost involuntarily.

Hesseltine pulled off his shirt, revealing a narrow suntanned

chest densely packed with muscle.

She stole a sidelong glance at his utility vest. She knew he

had a gun in it somewhere.

He caught her looking and his face hardened. "Look.

We'll make this simple. Get in the shower stall and don't

come out till I say. Or else."

She got into the shower and shut its door and turned it on.

She stayed in it for ten minutes, while it squeezed out maybe

a quart of buzzing ultrasonic mist. She rinsed salt from what

was left of her clothes and ran some thin acrid soap through

her hair.

"Okay," Hesseltine shouted at her. She stepped out,-wear-

ing .the raincoat again. Hesseltine was neatly groomed. He

wore a midnight-blue naval uniform and was lacing his deck

shoes. Someone had laid out a gray terry-cloth sweatsuit for

her: drawstring pants, a hooded pullover.

She stepped into the pants, turned her back on him, threw

off the raincoat, and tunneled quickly into the pullover. She

turned back, saw that he had been watching her in the mirror.

Not with lust or even appreciation-there was a chill, vacant

look on his face, like an evil child methodically killing a bug.

As she turned back, the look vanished like a card trick.

He'd never sneaked a glimpse at all. Hesseltine was a

gentleman. This was an embarrassing but necessary situation

that the two of them were working through like adults. Somehow

Hesseltine was managing to say all this to her, while

bent over and tying his shoes. The lie was radiating out of

him. Out of his pores, like sweat.

A sailor waited for them outside, a wiry little veteran with

a gray mustache and faraway eyes. He led them aft to a tiny

cabin, where the hull formed a rounded, sloping roof. The

place was about the size of a garden tool shed. Four deathly

pale sailors, with their sleeves rolled up and collars open,

were sitting at a tiny cafe table, silently playing a checker

game.

The French-speaking officer was there. "Sit down," he



said in English. Laura sat on a cramped wall bench, close

enough to one of the four sailors that she smelled his floral

deodorant.

Across the cabin, stuck to the curved ceiling, were idealized

portrait posters of men in elaborate uniforms. She had a

quick look at two of the names: DE GAULLE, JARUZELSKI.

Meaningless.

"My name is Baptiste," said the sailor. "Political Officer

aboard this vessel. We are to have a discussion." Pause, for

two beats. "Would you like some tea?"

"Yes," Laura said. The mist-shower hadn't offered enough

for drinking. Her throat felt leathery with seawater and shock.

She felt a sudden trembling shoot through her.

She didn't delude herself that this was a situation she could

handle. She was in the hands of murderers. It surprised her

that they would pretend to consult her about her own fate.

They must want something from her, though. Hesseltine's

lean, weasely face had a look on it like something she would

have scraped from a boot. She wondered how badly she

wanted to live. What she was willing to do for it.

Hesseltine laughed at her: "Don't look that way, uh, Laura.

Stop worrying. You're safe now." Baptiste shot him a cyni-

cal look from beneath heavy eyelids. A sudden sharp cascade

of metallic pressure pops rang from the wall. Laura started

like an antelope. One of the four sailors nearby languidly

moved a checker piece with one forefinger.

She stared at Hesseltine, then took a cup from Baptiste and

drank: It was tepid and sweet. Were they poisoning her? It

didn't matter. She could die at their whim.

"My name is Laura Day Webster," she told them. "I'm

an associate of Rizome Industries Group. I live in Galveston,

Texas." It all sounded so pathetically brittle and faraway.

"You're shivering," Baptiste observed. He leaned back-

ward and turned up a thermostat on the bulkhead. Even here,

in some sort of rec room, the bulkhead was grotesquely

cluttered: a speaker grille, an air ionizer, an eight-socketed

surge-protected power plug, a wall clock reading 12:17 Green-

wich Mean Time.

"Welcome aboard the SSBN Thermopylae," Baptiste said.

Laura said nothing.

"Cat got your tongue?" Hesseltine said. Baptiste laughed."Come on," Hesseltine said. "You were chattering away like

a magpie when you thought I was a goddamn data pirate."

"We are not pirates, Mrs. Webster," Baptiste soothed.

"We are the world police."

"You're not Vienna," Laura said.

"He means the real police," Hesseltine said impatiently.

"Not that crowd of lead-assed bureaucrats."

Laura rubbed one bloodshot eye. "If you're police, then

am I under arrest?"

Hesseltine and Baptiste shared a manly chuckle over her

naivete. "We are not bourgeois legalists," Baptiste said.

"We do not issue arrests."

"Cardiac arrests," Hesseltine said, tapping his teeth with

his thumbnail. He truly believed he was being funny. Baptiste

stared at him, puzzled, missing the English idiom.

"I saw you on Singapore TV," Hesseltine told her sud-

denly. "You said you opposed the data havens, wanted them

shut down. But you sure went about it in a screwy way. The

haven bankers-my former coworkers, you know-laughed

their asses off when they saw you handing that democratic

guff to Parliament. "

He poured himself tea. "Of course, they're mostly refugees

now, and a pretty good number of the bastards are on the

bottom of the sea. No thanks to you, though-you were

trying to kiss them into submission. And you, a rootin-tootin'

cowboy Texan, too. It's a good thing they didn't try that at

the Alamo. "

Another sailor made a move in the checker game, and the

third one swore in response. Laura flinched.

"Pay them no mind," Baptiste told her quickly. "They're

off duty."

"What?" Laura said blankly.

"Off duty," he said impatiently, as if it embarrassed him.

"They are Blue Crew. We are Red Crew."

"Oh ... what's that they're playing?"

He shrugged. "Uckers."

"Uckers? What's that?"

"It's a kind of ludo. "

Hesseltine assembled, aimed, and fired a grin at her. "Sub

crews," he said. "A very special breed. Highly trained. A

disciplined elite."

The four Blue Crewmen hunched closer over their board.

They refused to look at him.

"It's an odd situation," said Baptiste. He was talking

about her, not himself. "We don't quite know what to do

with you. You see, we exist to protect people like you."

"You do?"

"We are the cutting edge of the emergent global order."

"Why did you bring me here?" Laura said. "You could

have shot me. Or left me to drown."

"Oh, come on," said Hesseltine.

"He's one of our finest operatives," explained Baptiste.

"A real artist."

"Thanks "

"Of course he would rescue a pretty woman at the end of

his assignment-he couldn't resist a final dramatic grace

note!"

"Just the kind of guy I am," Hesseltine admitted.



"That's it?" Laura said quietly. "You saved me just on a

whim? After killing all those people?"

Hesseltine stared at her. "You're gonna piss me off in a

minute. . . . Don't you think they'd have killed me if they

knew what I was? That wasn't just your mickey-mouse indus-

trial espionage, y'know. I spent months and months in a

deadly deep-cover operation for the highest geopolitical stakes!

Those Yung Soo Chim guys had background checks like

nobody's business, and they watched my ass like a hawk."

He leaned back. "But will I get credit? Hell, no, I won't."

He stared at his cup. "I mean, that's part of the whole

undercover biz, no credit

"It was a very slick operation," said Baptiste. "Compare

it to Grenada. Our attack on the Singapore criminals was

surgical, almost bloodless."

Laura realized something. "You want me to be grateful."

"Well, yeah," said Hesseltine, looking up. "A little of

that wouldn't be too out of line, after all the effort we

put into it."

He smiled at Baptiste. "Look at that face! You should've

heard her in Parliament, going on and on about Grenada. The

carpet bombing took out this big mansion the Rastas gave

her. It really pissed her off."

It was as if he'd stabbed her. "You killed Winston Stubbs

in my house! While I was standing next to him. With my

baby in my arms."

"Oh," Baptiste said, relaxing ostentatiously. "The Stubbs

killing. That wasn't us. That was one of Singapore's."

"I don't believe it," Laura said, sagging-back. "We got a

FACT communique taking credit!"

"A set of initials means very little," said Baptiste. "FACT

was an old front-group. Nothing compared to our modern

operations.... In truth, it was Singapore's Merlion-Commandos.

I don't think the Singapore civilian government ever

knew of their actions."

"Lots of ex-paras, Berets, Spetsnaz, that sort of thing,"

Hesseltine said. "They tend to run a little wild. I mean, face

it-these are guys who gave their lives to the art of warfare.

Then all of a sudden, you know, Abolition, Vienna Convention.

One day they're the shield of their nation, next day

they're bums, got their walking papers, that's about it."

"Men who once commanded armies, and billions in government funds,"

Baptiste recited mournfully. "Now, nonpersons. Spurned.

Purged. Even vilified."

"By lawyers!" said Hesseltine, becoming animated. "And

chickenshit peaceniks! Who would have thought it, you know?

But when it came, it was so sudden...."

"Armies belong to nation-states," said Baptiste. "It is

hard to establish true military loyalty to a more modern,

global institution.... But now that we own our own country-

the Republic of Mali-recruiting has picked up remarkably."

"And it helps, too, that we happen to be the global good

guys," Hesseltine said airily. "Any dumbass mere will fight

for pay for Grenada or Singapore, or some jungle jabber

African regime. But we get committed personnel who truly

recognize the global threat and are prepared to take action.

For justice." He leaned back, crossing his arms.

She knew she could not take much more of this. She was

holding herself together somehow, but it was a waking night-

mare. She would have understood it if they'd been heel-

clicking Nazi executioners ... but to meet with this smarmy

little Frenchman and this empty-eyed good-old-boy psychotic.

... The utter banality, the soullessness of it ...

She could feel the iron walls closing in on her. In a minute

she was going to scream.

"You look a little pale," Hesseltine remarked. "We'll get

some chow into you, that'll perk you up. There's always

great chow on a sub. It's a _navy tradition." He stood up.

"Where's the head?"

Baptiste gave him directions. He watched Hesseltine go,

admiringly. "More tea, Mrs. Webster?"

"Yes-thank-you ..."

"I don't think you recognize the genuine quality of Mr,

Hesseltine," Baptiste chided, pouring. "Pollard, Reilly, Sorge

... he could match with history's finest! A natural operative!

A romantic figure, orally-born out of his own true time....

Someday your grandchildren will talk about that man."

Laura's brain went into automatic pilot. She slipped into

babbling 'surrealism. "This is quite a ship you have here.

Boat, I mean."

"Yes. It's a nuclear-powered American Trident, which

cost over five hundred million of your country's dollars."

She nodded stupidly: right, yes, uh-huh. "So, this is an old

Cold War sub?"

"A ballistic missile sub, exactly."

"What's that mean?"

"It's a launch platform."

"What? I don't understand."

He smiled at her. "I think 'nuclear deterrent' is the concept

you're searching for, Mrs. Webster."

" `Deterrent.' Deterring what?"

"Vienna, of course. I should think that would be obvious."

Laura sipped her tea. Five hundred million dollars. Nuclear

powered. Ballistic missiles. It was as if he'd told her that they

were reanimating corpses on board. It was far too horrible,

way off the scale of reason and credibility.

There was no proof. He hadn't shown her anything. They

were bullshitting her. Magic tricks. They were liars. She

didn't believe it:

"You don't seem disturbed," Baptiste said approvingly.

"You're not superstitious about wicked nuclear power?"

She shook her head, not trusting herself to speak aloud.

"Once there were dozens of nuclear submarines," said

Baptiste. "France had them. Britain, U.S., Russia. Training,

techniques, traditions, all well established. You're in no

danger-these men are thoroughly trained from the original

coursework rework and documents. Plus, many modem improvements!"

"No danger."

"No."

"Then what are you going to do with me?"



He shook his head, ruefully. Bells rang. It was time to eat.

Baptiste found Hesseltine and took them both to the officers'

mess. It was a nasty little place, next to the clattering,

hissing racket of the galley. They sat at a solidly anchored

square table on metal chairs covered in green-and-yellow

vinyl. Three officers were already there, being served by a

cook in an apron and crisp paper hat.

Baptiste introduced the officers as the captain-lieutenant,

captain second rank, and the senior executive officer, who

was actually the junior of the bunch. He gave no names and

they didn't seem to miss them. Two were Europeans, Ger-

mans maybe, and the third looked Russian. They all spoke

Net English.

It was clear from the beginning that this was Hesseltine's

show. Laura was some kind of battle trophy Hesseltine had -

won, -blond cheesecake for the camera to dwell on during

slow moments in his cinema biography. She didn't have to

say anything-they didn't expect it from her. The crewmen

gave her strange, muddied looks compounded of regret, spec-

ulation, and some kind of truly twisted superstitious dread.

They dug into their meals: foil-covered microwave trays marked

"Aero Cubana: Clase Primera." Laura picked at her tray.

Aero Cubana. She'd flown on Aero Cubana, with David at

her side and the baby in her lap. David and Loretta. Oh, God ...

The officers were edgy at first, disturbed and excited by

strangers. Hesseltine oozed charm, giving them a thrilling

eyewitness account of their attack on the Ali Khamenei. His

vocabulary was bizarre: it was all "strikes" and "impacts"

and "targeting," no mention at all of burned and lacerated

human beings. Finally, his enthusiasm broke the ice, and the

officers began talking more freely, in a leaden jargon consist-

ing almost entirely of acronyms.

It had been an exhilarating day for these officers of the Red

Crew. After weeks, possibly months of what could only have

been inhuman suffocating tedium, they had successfully stalked .

and destroyed a "terrie hard target." They were going to get

some kind of reward for it, apparently-it had something to

do with "Hollywood baths," whatever that meant. The Yel-

low Crew, now on duty, would now spend their own six-hour

shift in a boring escape run across the bottom of the Indian

Ocean. As for the Blue Crew, they had missed their chance at

action and were bitterly sulking.

She wondered what they were trying to escape from. The

missiles-"Exocets," they called them-had flown for miles

before hitting. They could have been launched from almost

any large surface ship in the straits, or even from Sumatra.

No one had seen the sub.

And how would anyone suspect' its existence? A submarine

was a monster from a lost era. It was useless, designed only

for killing-there was no such thing as a "cargo sub" or a

"Coast Guard sub" or a "search-and-rescue sub."

Sure, there were little deep-sea research vessels, bathy-

scaphes or whatever the word was- just like there were still a

few manned spacecraft, both equally obscure and quaint and

funny-looking. But this thing was huge. And the truth, or a

dread strong enough to pass for one, was beginning to seep in.

It reminded her of something she'd heard when she was

eleven or so. One of those horror folk tales that kids told

each other. About the boy who accidentally swallowed a

needle. . . . Only to have it show up, years or decades later,

rusty but still whole, in his ankle or kneecap or elbow ... si-,

lent steel entity sliding unknown and unknowable through his,

living breathing body ... while he grew up and married and

held down some unremarkable service job . . . till he goes to

the doctor one day and says: Doc, I'm getting old, may be

rheumatism but I have this strange stabbing pain in my

leg. . . . Well, says kindly Doc, put 'er here under the scanner

and we'll have a look. . My word, Mr. World-Everyman,

you seem to have a vicious septic needle hiding under your

kneecap.... Oh yeah, gosh Doc, I kinda forgot about it but

as a young boy I used to play with needles habitually, in fact

most of my allowance went toward buying extremely sharp

and deadly needles which I scattered lavishly in every direc-

tion, but when I grew up and got a little wiser I was sure that

I'd picked up every last one... .

"You okay?" Hesseltine said.

"Excuse me?" Laura said.

"We're talking about you, Laura. About whether to put

you straight in a tank, or let. you hang out a while."

"I don't understand," she said numbly. "You have tanks?

I thought you were navy people."

The officers laughed, false yo-ho-ho club-room laughter.

The Russian-looking one said something about how the world's

women hadn't gotten any smarter. Hesseltine smiled at her as

if it were the first thing she'd done right.

"Hell," he said, "we'll show 'em to you. That all right, Baptiste?"

"Why not?"

Hesseltine shook hands all around and made a studied exit.

He and Baptiste and Laura emerged into a dining hall where

thirty neatly groomed Red Crewmen were eating, jammed

elbow to elbow around collapsible tables. As Hesseltine en-

tered, they set down their forks with a clatter and applauded politely.

Hesseltine offered her his elbow. Frightened by their flat,

fishlike eyes,, she took his arm. He paraded her down the

narrow aisle between rows of tables. The men were all close

enough to grab at her, to wink or grin or hoot, but none of

them did, or even looked like they wanted to. It smelled of

them: their soap and shampoo, their beef stroganoff and green

beans. In the corner a wide-screen TV was showing an illegal

kick-boxing match, two wiry Thais silently beating each other bloody.

They were out. Laura shivered helplessly and let go of his

arm, her skin crawling. "What's wrong with them?" she

hissed at him. "They're so quiet and numb...."

"What's wrong with you?" he riposted. "A long face like

that ... you're making everyone nervous."

They took her back to the first room she'd seen, with the

elevators. They emerged on the upper deck of grating. Below

them, Yellow Crewmen were at work on the drones, examin-

ing stripped-down bits of machinery on cramped little blankets

of tarpaulin.

Baptiste and Hesseltine stopped by one of the elaborately

painted silos. The crude stars and whizzing comets ... she

saw that it had a black silhouette, the nude outline of a

stylized buxom babe. Long leg kicked out, hair flung back, a

stripper's pose. And lettering: TANYA. "What's this?" Laura said.

"That's the tank's name," Baptiste said. A little apologetic,

like a gentleman forced to bring up an off-color sub-

ject. "The men did it ... high spirits . . . you know how it is."

High spirits. She couldn't imagine anything less likely

from the men she'd seen aboard. "What is this thing?"

Hesseltine spoke up. "Well, one climbs inside there, of

course, and . . . " He paused. "You're not lesbian, are you?"

"What? No ... "

"Too bad, I guess.... If you're not gay, the special features

aren't going to do much for you. . . . But even without the

simulations, they says it's very relaxing."

Laura backed a step away. "Are . . . are they all like this?"

"No," said Baptiste. "Some are drone ports, and the

others launch warheads. But five of them are our recreation

tanks-'Hollywood baths,' the men call them."

"And you want me to go inside there?"

"If you like," said Baptiste reluctantly. "We won't activate

the machinery-nothing will touch you-you simply

float within it, breathing, dreaming, in nice heated seawater."

"Keep you out of trouble a few days," Hesseltine said.

"Days?"


"They're very advanced and well designed," Baptiste said,

annoyed. "This isn't something we invented, you know."

"A few days is nothing!" Hesseltine said. "Now if they

leave you in a few weeks, you might start seeing your Optimal

Persona and all kinds of twisted shit.... But in the

meantime you're perfectly safe and happy. And we know

where you are. Sound good?"

Laura shook her head, minutely. "If you could just find me

a bunk ... a little corner somewhere.... I really don't mind."

"Not much privacy," Baptiste warned. "Crowded conditions."

He seemed relieved, though. Glad that she wouldn't

be taking up valuable tank room.

Hesseltine frowned. "Well, I don't want to hear you bitching

later."


"No, no. "

Hesseltine looked restless. He glanced at his waterproof

watchphone. "I really need to uplink with HQ and debrief."

"Please go ahead," Laura said. "You've done more than

enough. I'm sure I'll be fine, really."

"Wow," said Hesseltine. "That almost sounds like a thank you."


They found room for her in a laundry space. It was a chill,

steamy warren, stinking of detergent and crammed with sharp-

edged machinery. A bare little single bunk slid out over

chromed storage rails. Towels hung from a forest of gray,

stenciled pipes overhead: there were a couple of steam presses

inside, old laundry mangles.

And carton after strapped carton of old Hollywood movie

films, the thick mechanical kind that ran through projectors.

They were neatly labeled with hand-printed tape: MONROE #1,

MONROE #2, GRAnLE, HAYWORTH, CICCONE. There was a closed-

circuit phone on the wall, an old-fashioned sound-only handset

with a long, curly cord. The sight of it made her think of

the Net. Then, of David. Her family, her people.

She had vanished from their world. Did they think she was

dead? They were still looking for her, she was sure. But they

would look in Singapore's jails, and hospitals, and, finally,

the morgues. But not here. Never.

A Red Crewman made up her bunk with clean, sheet-

whipping efficiency.

He produced a nasty-looking pair of chromed tin snips.

"Let's see them hands," he said. The two remaining bracelets

of plastic handcuff still looped Laura's wrists. He pinched

and worried at them till they came loose, reluctantly. "Musta

been a mighty sharp knife that cut those," he said.

"Thanks '

"Don't thank me. It was your pal Mr. Hesseltine's idea."

Laura rubbed her skinned wrists. "What's your name,

sir?"


" 'Jim' will do. I hear you're from Texas."

"Yeah. Galveston."

"Me too, but down the coast. Corpus Christi."

"Jesus, we're practically neighbors."

"Yeah, I reckon so." Jim looked about thirty-five, maybe

forty. He was broad-faced and chunky, with reddish, thinning

hair. His skin was the color of cheap printout, so pale she

could see bluish veins in his neck.

"Can I ask?" she said. "What are you doing here?"

"Protectin' people," Jim said nobly. "Protecting you right

now, in case you decide to do something stupid. Mr. Hesseltine

says you're a funny little duck. Some kind of political."

"Oh," she said. "I meant, how did you get here?"

"Since you ask, I'll tell you," Jim said. He popped down

a steel-wired bunk from a space high on the wall and hoisted

himself in. He sat above her, legs dangling, neck bent to

avoid the ceiling. "Once upon a time, I was a professional

fisherman. A shrimper. My dad was, too. And his dad before

him. . . . But they put us in a squeeze we couldn't get out of.

Texas Fish & Game police, a million environment laws. Not

that I'm speakin' against those laws. But American law didn't

stop the Nicaraguans and Mexicans. They cheated. Cleaned

out the best grounds, took everything, then undersold us in

our own markets. We lost our boat! Lost everything. Went on

the Welfare, had nothin'."

"I'm sorry," Laura said.

"Not half as sorry as us.... Well, me and some friends in

the same jam, we tried to organize, protect our lives and

families.... But the Texas Rangers some goddamn informer

is what it was-caught me with a gun. And you know a man

can't own a handgun in the States these days, not even to

protect his own home! So it looked pretty bad for me.... Then

I heard from some pals in my, uhm, organization . . . about

recruitment overseas. Groups to protect you, hide you out,

teach you how to fight.

"So, that's how I ended up in Africa."

"Africa," Laura repeated. The very sound of it scared her.

"It's bad there," he said. "Plagues, and dustbowls, and

wars. Africa's full of men like me. Private armies. Palace

guards. Mercenaries, advisers, commandos, pilots. . . . But

you know what we lacked? Leadership.

"Leadership. "

"Exactly.-

"How long have you been inside this submarine?"

"We like it here," Jim said.

"You never go out, do you? Never surface or go on,

whatever they call it-shore leave?"

"You don't miss it," he said. "Not with what we have.

We're kings down here. Invisible kings. Kings of the whole

damn world." He laughed quietly, pulled up his feet, a little

balding man in deck shoes. "You look pretty tired, eh."

"I ... " There was no point. "Yeah. I am."

"You go ahead and get yourself some sleep. I'll just sit

here and watch over you."

He didn't say anything more.
Hesseltine was being sympathetic. "A little tedious."

"No, no, really," Laura said. She slid away from him,

rumpling the sheets of her bunk. "I'm fine, don't mind me."

"Don't worry!" he told her. "Good news! I straightened it

all out with HQ, while you were sleeping. Turns out you're in

their files-they know who you are! They actually commended

me for picking you up."

"HQ?" she said.

"Bamako. Mali."

"Ah."


"I knew it was a good idea," he said. "I mean, an

operative like me learns to go by his gut instincts. Seems

you're a pretty important gal, in your own little way." He

beamed, then shrugged apologetically. "Meanwhile, though,

you're stuck in this laundry."

"It s okay," she said. "Really." He stared at her. They

were alone in the tiny cabin. An awful silence. "I could wash

some clothes if you want."

Hesseltine laughed. "That's cute, Laura. That's funny.

No, I thought, as long as you're stuck here, maybe some

video games."

"What're those?"

"Computer games, you know."

"Oh!" She sat up. To get away, partially, for a while,

from these walls, from him. Into a screen. Wonderful. "You

have a Worldrun simulation? Or maybe Amazon Basin?"

"No, these are early games from the seventies, eighties....

Games played by the original sub crews, to pass time. Not

much graphics or memory of course, but they're interesting.

Clever."


"Sure," Laura said. "I can try it."

"Or maybe you'd rather read? Gotta big library onboard.

You'd be surprised what these guys are into. Plato, Nietzsche,

all the greats. And a lot of specialty stuff."

"Specialty ..."

"That's right."

"Do you have The Lawrence Doctrine and Postindustrial

Insurgency by Jonathan Gresham?".

Hesseltine's eyes widened. "You're putting me on. Where

the hell did you hear about that?"

"Sticky Thompson showed it to me." She paused. She had

impressed him. She was glad she'd said it. It was stupid and

reckless to say it, to brag at Hesseltine, but she was glad

she'd stung him somehow, put him off-balance. She brushed

hair from her eyes and sat up. "Do you have a copy? I didn't

read as much as I'd have liked."

"Who's this Thompson?"

"He's Grenadian. The son of Winston Stubbs."

Hesseltine smiled mockingly, back on his feet again. "You

can't mean Nesta Stubbs."

Laura blinked, surprised. "Is Sticky's real name Nesta Stubbs?"

"No, it can't be. Nesta Stubbs is a psycho. A drug-crazed

killer! A guy like that is voodoo, he could eat a dozen of you

for breakfast. "

"Why can't I know him?" Laura said. "I know you, don't I?"

"Hey!" Hesseltine said. "I'm no terrie-I'm on your side."

"If Sticky-Nesta-knew what you'd done to his people,

he'd be a lot more scared of you than you are of him."

"Really!" mused Hesseltine. He thought it over, then

looked pleased. "I guess he would! And he'd be damned

right, too, wouldn't he?"

"He'd come after you, somehow, though. If he knew."

"Whoa," Hesseltine said. "I can tell you'd be all broken

up about it, too. . . . Well, no problem. We kicked their ass

once, and a couple months from now there won't be a

Grenada. . . . Look, nobody with your attitude needs to be

reading a crazy fucker like Gresham. I'll have 'em bring you

the computer instead."

"Okay. "

"You won't see me again, Laura. They're flying me out on

the next Yellow shift."

It was the way it had always been with Hesseltine. She had

no idea what to say to him, but had to say something. "They

sure keep you busy, don't they."

"Don't I know it.... There's still Luxembourg, you know.

The EFT Commerzbank. They think they're safe, since they're

embedded in the middle of Europe. But their banking centers

are in Cyprus, and Cyprus is a groovy little island. You can

think of me there, when they start poppin' caps."

"I certainly will." He was lying. He wasn't going anywhere

near Cyprus. He might not even be leaving the boat.

He was probably going into a tank, she thought, to be rubbed

down by wet rubber Hollywood dolls while floating in

limbo.... But he must have some reason to want her to think

about Cyprus. And that might mean that someday they would

let her go. Or at least that Hesseltine thought they might.

But she didn't see Hesseltine again.

Time passed. The sub ran on an eighteen-hour cycle: six

hours on duty, twelve hours off. Sleep fractured between

shifts so that day and night as in all ocean depths-became

meaningless. On each shift a crewman would bring her a

meal and escort her to the head. They were careful not to

touch her.

They always took her to the same. toilet. It was always

freshly sterilized. No contact with bodily fluids, she thought.

They were treating her as if she were a retrovirus case.

Maybe they thought she was. In the old days, sailors used to

rush onshore, drink everything in sight, and fuck anything in

skirts. But then harbor hookers all over the world began dying

of retrovirus.

But the world had the virus pretty much whipped now.

Contained anyway. Under control.

Except in Africa.

Could it be that the crew had retrovirus?


The video-game machine had about as much smarts as a

kid's watchphone. The games plugged into the deck, little

spring-loaded cassettes, worn by endless play. The graphics

were crude, big stairstep pixels, and you could see the screens

refreshing themselves, jerky and Victorian. She didn't mind

the crudity-but the themes were amazing.

One game was called "Missile Command." The player

controlled little lumps on the screen meant to represent cities.

The computer attacked them with nuclear weaponry: bombs,

jets, ballistic missiles.

The machine always won annihilating all life in a big

flashy display. Children had once played this game. It was

utterly morbid.

Then there was one called "Space Invaders. " The invading

creatures were little pixeled crabs and devil dogs, UFO things

from another planet. Dehumanized figures, marching down

the screen in lockstep. They always won. You could slaughter

them by the hundreds, even win new little forts to fire things-

lasers? bombs?-but you always died in the end. The computer

always won. It made so little sense-letting the computer win

every time, as if circuitry could enjoy winning. And every

effort, no matter how heroic, ended in Armageddon. It was

all so eldritch, so twentieth century.

There was a third game that involved a kind of round

yellow consumer-the object was to eat everything in sight,

including, sometimes, the little blue pursuing enemies.

She played this game, mostly, as the level of violence was

less offensive. It wasn't that she liked them much, but as the

shifts passed, empty hours spinning over and over, she dis-

covered their compulsive, obsessive quality . . . the careless

insistence on breaking all sane bounds that was the mark of

the premillennium. She played them until her hands blistered.


Rub-a-dub-dub, three men in a tub: the butcher, the butcher,

and the butcher.... Three sailors manned the inflatable, un-

der a hot towering sun and a cloudless, -infinite sky, on an

endless flat, gentle swell of blue-green ocean. The four of

them were the only people who had ever existed. And the

little rubber blob of boat was the only land.

They sat hunched together, wearing shiny drawstring hooded

overgarments of thin reflective foil. The foil glittered pain-

fully in the pitiless tropic glare.

Laura pulled her hood off. She flicked at greasy strands of

hair. Her hair had grown longer. Since entering the sub she

had never truly managed to get it clean.

"Put your hood up," warned sailor #1.

Laura shook her head dizzily. "I want to feel the open sky."

"It's not good for you," said #1, adjusting his sleeves.

"With that ozone layer gone, you're asking for skin cancer in

sunlight like this."

Laura was cautious. "They say that ozone problem was

mostly scare talk. "

"Oh, sure," sneered #1. "If you take your government's word for it."

The other two sailors chuckled darkly, brief

laughter evaporating into utter oceanic stillness.

"Where are we?" Laura said.

Sailor # 1 looked over the side of the boat. He dipped his

pale fingers into seawater and watched it drip, murmuring.

"Coelacanth country ..."

"What time is it?" Laura said.

"Two hours to end of Yellow shift."

"What day, though?"

"I'm gonna be glad to see you go," said sailor #2 suddenly.

"You make me itch."

Laura said nothing. A dreadful silence descended again.

They were flotsam, chromed tinfoil dummies in their matte-

black floating blob. She wondered how deep the ocean was

beneath the film of hull.

"You always liked the Red Shift better," said sailor #3

with sudden shocking venom.

"You smiled at Red Crewmen over fifteen times. You hardly

ever smiled at anyone from Yellow Crew."

"I had no idea," Laura said. "I'm really sorry."

"Oh, yeah. Sure you are. Now."

"Here comes the plane," commented sailor #1.

Laura looked up, shading her eyes. The empty sky was full

of little vision blurs, strange little artifacts of sight, trailing

along with the movements of her eyeball. She wasn't sure

what they were called or what made them, but it had some-

thing to do with brightness levels. Then she saw something

opening in the sky, something shredding and, popping and,

finally, unfolding stiffly like an origami swan. Huge parafoil

wings of bright life jacket orange. It was gliding in.

Sailor #2 examined his military phone, checking for the

homing signal. Sailor #3 attached a long flabby bag to a tank

of hydrogen and began inflating it with a loud flatulent hissing.

Then another cargo drop, and another. Sailor #2 whooped

happily. Cargo dumpsters crossed the empty sky, bus-sized

brown lozenges with broad, unfolding wings of riffling dayglo-

orange plastic. They reminded Laura of June bugs, fat-bellied

flying beetles from Texas summer nights. They came down in

broad, wheeling descent.

Their curved hulls splashed and settled with surprising,

ponderous grace. Curling bow waves. Wings refolding with

loud pops and creaks.

Now she could see the plane that had dumped them, a

broad-winged ceramic air-bus, sky-blue beneath, its upper

surfaces cut with dun-and-yellow desert camouflage. Sailor

# 1 switched on the inflatable's engine, and the boat mumbled

its way toward the nearest cargo drop. The drop was bigger

than the boat, a bulging floating cylinder, its bow and sides

studded with sturdy tow rings.

Sailors #2 and #3 were fighting with the weather balloon.

They let it go, and it rushed suddenly upward, uncoiling

length after length of thin cable with a savage hiss.

"Okay," said #1. He hooked the end of the cable to a

series of clips on the back of Laura's life jacket. "You want

to hold your knees up and in, with your arms," he told her.

"Also keep your head well down and your jaw clenched. You

don't want your neck to whiplash, see, or your teeth to clack.

When you feel the aircraft snag this cable, you're gonna go

up in a real hurry. So just uncoil, let your legs go. Like a

parachute drop."

"I didn't know it would be like this!" Laura said anxiously.

"Parachuting! I don't know how to do that!"

"Yeah," said #2 impatiently, "but you've seen it, on television."

"A skyhook is just the same as a para-drop, only in

reverse," said sailor #1 helpfully. He steered them to the

bow of the first cargo bulk. "What do you suppose this one is?"

"New missile consignment," said #2.

"No, man, it's the new chow. Refrigerator drop."

"No way. That one's the fridge, over there." He turned to

Laura. "Didn't you hear a word I said? Grab your legs!"

"I-" It hit her like a car wreck. A sudden terrific jerk, as

if the skyhook wanted to yank the bones from her flesh. She

soared upward as if fired by a cannon, arms and knee joints

wrenched and burning.

Her vision went black, the blood of acceleration draining to

her feet. She was helpless, close to fainting, wind tearing

furiously at her clothes. She began to twist, blue world

flopping and spinning around her like an unlimited carousel.

Suspended in space, she felt a sudden roaring sense of mystic

ecstasy. Sublime terror, helpless awe: Sinbad yanked up by

the roc of Madagascar. East of Africa. Below her, blue bed

sheet of turning sea: toy boats, toy minds . . .

A shadow fell across her. Mighty buzz of propellers, the

whine of a whirling pulley. Then she was up and inside it, in

the belly of the plane. Underlit splash of daylight: stenciled

boxes, crates, a spiderwebbing of steel bracing cord. An

interior crane arm plucked at her cable, swung her neatly

across from the cargo bay, and plunked her onto the deck.

She lay there bruised and gasping.

Then the bay doors banged shut and pitch darkness fell.

She felt speed hit the plane. Now that it had her, it was

climbing, putting its nose up and pouring energy into conti-

nental flight.

She was in a flying black cavern smelling of plastic and

oiled tarpaulin and the sharp primal aroma of African dust. It

was dark as the inside of a thermos.

She yelled. "Lights, come on!" Nothing. She heard her

words echo.

She was alone. This plane had no crew. It was a giant

drone, a robot.

She managed to fumble blindly out of the life jacket. She

tried variants of the lighting command. She asked for general

systems help, in English and Japanese. Nothing. She was

cargo-no one listened to cargo.

It began to grow cold. And the air grew thin.

She was freezing. After days in the unchanging air of the

sub the cold bit her like electricity. She huddled in her tinfoil

survival gear. She pulled the drawstring sleeves and trouser

cuffs over her hands and feet. She put her foiled hands before

her face: too dark to see them, even an inch away. She

covered her face with her hands and breathed into them. Icy

puffs of thin Himalayan air. She curled into a ball, shivering.

Isolation and blackness and the distant trembling hum of

motors.
Landing woke her. The butterfly touchdown of cybernetic

precision. Then, half an hour of timeless anxiety as heat crept

into the cabin and dread crept into her. Had they forgotten

about her? Was she misplaced now? A computer screwup in

some F.A.C.T. datafile? An annoying detail that would be

shot and buried .. .

Creak of bay doors. White-hot light poured in. A rush, a

stink of dust and fuel.

The rumble and squeak of boarding stairs. Clomp of booted

feet. A man looked in, a sunburned blond European in a

khaki uniform. His shirt was blackened with sweat down both

sides. He spotted her where she crouched beside a tarpaulined

mass of cargo.

"Come on," he told her. He waved at her with one arm. .

There was a little snout of metal in his clenched fist,, part of a

flexible snaky thing strapped to his forearm. It had a barrel. It

was a submachine gun.

"Come on," he repeated.

Laura stood up. "Who are you? Where is this?"

"No questions." He shook his head, bored. "Now."

He marched her down into superheated, desiccating air.

She was in a desert airport.. Dust-heavy, heat-shimmered

runways, low whitewashed blockhouse with a faded wind

sock, a tricolor flag hanging limply: red, gold, and green.

Huge white aircraft hangar in the distance, pale and barnlike,

a distant angry whine of jets.

There was a van waiting, a paddy wagon, painted white

like a bakery truck. Thick lugged tires, wire-reinforced win-

dows, heavy iron bumpers.

Two black policemen opened the back of the van. They

wore khaki shorts, ribbed knee-high socks, dark glasses, billy

clubs, holstered pistols with rows of lead-tipped bullets. The

two cops were sweating and expressionless, faces blank,

radiating careless menace, calloused hands on their clubs.

She climbed into the van. Doors slammed and locked. She

was alone and afraid. The rooftop metal was too hot to touch

and the rubber-covered floor stank of blood and fear-sweat

and a nauseating reek of dried urine.

People had died in here. Laura knew it suddenly, she could

feel the presence of their dying. like a weight on her heart.

Death, beaten and bleeding, here on these filthy rubber mats.

The engine started- and the wagon lurched into movement,

and she fell.

After a while, she mustered courage and looked out the

wire-netted window. .

Flaming heat, flashbulb glare of sun, and dust. Round

adobe huts-not even real adobe, just dried red mud-with

ramshackle verandahs of plastic and tin. Filthy stretched rags

throwing patches of shade. Trickles of smoke. The little

domed huts were crowded thick as acne, an almighty slum

stretching up slopes, down slopes, through gullies and trash

heaps, as far as she could see. In the remote distance, a row

of smokestacks gushed raw filth into the cloudless sky. A

smelter? A refinery?

She could see people. None of them moved: they crouched

stunned, torpid as lizards, in the shade of doorways and tent

flaps. She could sense enormous invisible crowds of them,

waiting in hot shadows for evening, for whatever passed for

coolness in this godforsaken place. There were patches of raw

night soil in certain crooked alleys, hard yellow sunbaked

'human shit, with vast explosive hordes of African flies. The

flies were fierce and filthy and as big as beetles.

No paving. No ditches, no plumbing, no power. She saw a

few klaxon speakers mounted on poles in the midst of the

thickest slums. One rose over a fetid coffeehouse, a cobbled

superhovel of plastic and crating. There were men in front of

it, dozens of them, squatting on their haunches in the shade

and drinking from ancient glass pop bottles and playing peb-

ble games in the pitted dirt. Over their heads, the klaxon

emitted a steady squawking rant in a language she couldn't

recognize.

The men looked up as the van went past, guardedly, mo-

tionless. Their clothes were caked with filth. And they were

American clothes: ragged souvenir T-shirts and checkered

polyester pants and thick-heeled vinyl dance shoes decades out

of, fashion and laced with bits of wire. They wore long

turbans of bright quilted rag.

The van drove on, crunching through potholes, kicking up

a miasma of dust. Her bladder was bursting. She relieved

herself in a corner of the truck, the one that smelled worst.

The slums failed to end. They became, if anything, thicker

and more ominous. She entered an area where the men were

scarred and openly carried long knives on their belts, and had

shaved heads and tattoos. A group of women in greasy burlap

were wailing, without much enthusiasm, over a dead boy

stretched out in the doorway of his hovel.

She spotted familiar bits and pieces of the outside world,

her world, which had lost a grip on reality and swirled here

into hell. Burlap bags, with fading blue stencil: hands in a

friendly clasp and the legend in French and English: 100% TRITICALE

FLOUR, A GIFT TO THE PEOPLE OF MALI FROM THE PEOPLE OF CANADA.

A teenage boy wearing a Euro-Disney World T-shirt, with the

slogan "Visit the Future!" Oil barrels, blackened with trash

soot over curlicued Arabic. Pieces of a Korean pickup, plastic

truck doors and windows painstakingly cemented into a wall of

red mud. Then a foul, smoke-stained lodge or church, its long,

rambling walls carefully outlined in a terrifying iconography

of grinning, horn-headed saints. Its sloped mud roof glittered

with the round, stained-glass disks of broken bottles.

The van drove for hours. She was in the middle of a major

city, a metropolis. There were hundreds of thousands living

here. The entire country, Mali, a huge place, bigger than

Texas-this was all that was left of it, this endless rat warren.

All other choices had been stolen by the African disaster. The

drought survivors crowded into gigantic urban camps, like

this one. She was in Bamako, capital of Mali.

The capital of the F.A.C.T. They were the secret police

here, the people who ran the place. They were running a

nation ruined beyond hope, a series of monstrous camps.

In a sudden repellent flash of insight Laura understood how

FACT had casually carried out massacres. There was a sump

of misery in this camp city big enough to choke the world.

She had always known it was bad in Africa, but she'd never

known that life here meant so utterly little. She realized with

a rush of fatalistic terror that her own life was simply too

small to matter anymore. She was in hell now and they did

things differently here.

At last they rolled past a barbed-wire fence, into a cleared

area, dust and tarmac and skeletal watchtowers. Ahead-Laura's

heart leapt---the familiar, friendly look of brown, walls of

concretized sand. They were approaching a fat domed build-

ing, much like her own Rizome Lodge in Galveston. It was

much bigger, though. Efficiently built. Progressive and mod-

em, the same techniques David had chosen.

Thinking of David was something so amazingly painful

that she shut it off at once.

Then they rolled into the building, through its double walls

of solid sand four feet thick, under cruel portcullises of

welded iron.

The van stopped. A wait.

The European flung open the doors. "Out."

She stepped out into dazzling heat. She was in a bare

arena, round baked-earth exercise yard surrounded by a twostory

ring of brown fortress walls. The European led her to an

iron hatchway, an armored door leading into the prison. Two

guards loomed behind her. They went inside, into a hall lit by

cheap sunlight pipes bracketed to the ceiling. "Showers," the

European said.

The word had an evil ring. Laura stopped in place. "I

don't want to go to the showers."

"There's a toilet, too," the European offered.

She shook her head. The European looked over her shoul-

der and nodded fractionally.

A club hit her from behind, at the juncture of her neck and

shoulder. It was as if she'd been struck by lightning. Her

entire right side went numb and she fell to her knees.

Then the shock faded and pain began to seep in. True pain,

not the pastel thing she'd called "pain" in the past, but a

sensation truly profound, biological. She couldn't believe that

that was all, that she'd simply been hit with a stick. She could

already feel it, changing her life.

"Get up," he said, in the same tired voice. She got up.

They took her to the showers.

There was a prison matron there. They stripped her, and

the woman did a body-cavity search, the men examining

Laura's nakedness with distant professional interest. She was

pushed into the shower and handed a cake of raw lye that

stank of insecticide. The water was hard and briny and wouldn't

lather. It shut off before she had rinsed..

She got out. Her clothes and shoes had been stolen. The

prison matron jabbed her in the buttock with five cc's of

yellow fluid. She felt it sink in and sting.

The European and his two goons left, and two female

goons showed up. Laura was given trousers and shirt of

striped black-and-white canvas, creased and rough. She put

them on, trembling. Either the injection was beginning to take

effect or else she was scaring herself into the belief that it

was. She felt lightheaded and sick and not far from genuine

craziness.

She kept thinking that there was going to come a time

when she could take a stand and demand that they kill her

with her dignity intact. But they didn't seem anxious to kill

her; and she didn't feel anxious to die, and she was beginning

to realize that a human being could be beaten into almost

anything. She didn't want to be hit again, not till she had a

better grip on herself.

The matron said something in Creole French and indicated

the toilet. Laura shook her head. The matron looked at her as

if she were an idiot, and shrugged, and made a note on her

clipboard.

Then two female goons cuffed her hands behind her back.

One of them pulled a billy club, wrapped it cleverly through

the metal chain of the old-fashioned handcuffs, and levered

Laura's arms up in their sockets until she was forced to

double over. They then marched her out, steering her like a

grocery cart, down the hall, and up narrow stairs barred at top

and bottom. Then, on the upper floor, past a long series of

iron doors equipped with sliding peepholes.

They stopped at cell #31, then waited there until a turnkey

showed up. It took about five minutes, and they passed the

time chewing gum and wisecracking about Laura in some

Malian dialect.

The turnkey finally flung the door open and they threw her

in. The door slammed. "Hey!" Laura shouted. "I'm hand-

cuffed! You forgot your handcuffs!" The peephole opened

and she saw a human eye and part of the bridge of a nose. It

shut again.

She was in a cell. In a prison. In a fascist state. In Africa.

She began to wonder if there were worse places in the

world. Could anything be worse? Yes, she thought, she could

be sick.


She began to feel feverish.

An hour is:

A minute and a minute and a minute and a minute and a

minute.


And a minute, and a minute, and a minute and a minute

and a minute.

Then another, and another minute, and another, and yet

another, and another.

And a minute, then two more minutes. Then, two more

minutes.


Then, two minutes. Then, two minutes. Then a minute..

Then a similar minute. Then two more. And two more

again.

That's thirty minutes so far.



So do them all over again.
Laura's cell was slightly less than four paces long and

slightly more than three paces across. It was about the size of

the bathroom in the place-where-she'd-used-to-live, the place

she didn't allow herself to think about. Much of this space

was taken up by her bunk. It had four legs of tubular steel,

and a support frame of flattened iron struts. Atop the frame

was a mattress of striped cotton ticking, stuffed with straw.

The mattress smelled, faintly and not completely unpleas-

antly, of a stranger's long sickness. One end was lightly

spattered with faded bloodstains.

There was a window hole in the wall of the cell. It was a

good-sized hole, almost six inches around, the size of a

drainpipe. It was approximately four feet long, bored through

the massive concretized sand, and it had a crisscrossed grill of

thin metal at the far end. By standing directly before the hole

Laura could see a simmering patch of yellowish desert sky.

Faint gusts of heated air sometimes rippled down the tube.

The cell had no plumbing. But she learned the routine

quickly, from hearing other prisoners. You banged the door

and yelled, in Malian Creole French, if you knew it. After a

certain period, depending on whim, one of the guards would

show and take you to the latrine: a cell much like the others,

but with a hole in the floor.
She heard the screaming for the first time on her sixth day.

It seemed to be oozing up from the thick floor beneath her

feet. She had never heard such inhuman screaming, not even

during the riot in Singapore. There was a primal quality to it

that could pass through solid barriers: concrete, metal, bone,

the human skull. Compared to this howling the screams of

mob panic were only a kind of gaiety.

She could not make out any words, but she could hear that

there were pauses, and occasionally she thought she could

hear a low electrical buzzing.


They would unlock her handcuffs for meals and for the

latrine. They would then seal them up again, tightly, care-

fully, high on her wrists, so she couldn't wriggle through the

circle of her own arms and get her hands in front of her. As if

it mattered, as if she might break free with a single bound and

tear her steel door from its hinges with her fingernails.

After a week her shoulders were in a constant state of

low-level pain, and she had worn raw patches on her chin and

cheek from sleeping on her stomach. She did not complain,

however. She had briefly spotted one of her fellow prisoners,

an Asian man, Japanese she thought. He was handcuffed, his

legs were fettered, and he wore a blindfold.

During the second week, they began handcuffing her hands

from the front. This made an amazing difference. She felt

with giddy irrationality that she had truly accomplished some-

thing, that some kind of minor but definite message had been

sent her from the prison administration.

Surely, she thought, as she lay waiting for sleep, 'her mind

gently and luxuriously disintegrating, some mark had been

made, maybe only a check on a clipboard, but some kind of

institutional formality had taken place. She existed.

In the morning she convinced herself that it, could not

possibly mean anything. She began doing pushups.
She kept track of days by scratching the grainy wall under

her bunk with the edge of her handcuffs. On her twenty-first

day she was taken out, given another shower and another

body search, and taken to meet the Inspector of Prisons.

The Inspector of Prisons was a large smiling sunburned

white American. He wore a long silk djellaba, blue suit pants,

and elaborate leather sandals. He met her in an air-conditioned

office downstairs, with metal chairs and a large steel desk

topped with lacquered plywood. There were gold-framed portraits

on the walls, men in uniform: GALTIERI, NORTH, MACARTHUR.

A goon sat Laura down in a metal folding chair in front of

the desk. After sweltering days in her cell, the air condition--

ing felt arctic, and she shivered.

The goon unlatched her handcuffs. The skin below them

was calloused, the left wrist had an oozing scab.

"Good afternoon, Mrs. Webster," said the Inspector.

"Hello," Laura said. Her voice was rusty.

"Have some coffee. It's very good. Kenyan." The Inspec-

tor slid a cup and saucer across the desk. "They had good

rains this year."

Laura nodded dumbly. She picked up the coffee and sipped

it. She had been eating prison fare for weeks: scop, with the

occasional bowl of porridge. And drinking the harsh metallic

water, two liters every day, salted, to prevent heatstroke. The

hot coffee hit her mouth with an astonishing gush of richness,

like Belgian chocolate. Her head swam.

"I'm the Inspector of Prisons," said the Inspector of Pris-

ons. "On my usual tour of duty here, you see."

"What is this place?"

The Inspector smiled. "This is the Moussa Traore Penal

Reform Institute, in Bamako."

"What day is this?"

"It's ..." He checked his watchphone. "December 6,

2023. Wednesday."

"Do my people know I'm still alive?"

"I see you're getting right to the crux of matters," said the

Inspector languidly. "As a matter of fact, Mrs. Webster, no.

They don't know. You see, you represent a serious breach of

security. It's causing us a bit of a headache."

"A bit of a headache."

"Yes.... You see, thanks to the peculiar circumstances in

which we saved your life, you've learned that we possess the

Bomb."

"What? I don't understand."



He frowned slightly. "The Bomb, the atomic bomb."

"That's it?" Laura said. "You're keeping me here because

of an atomic bomb?"

The frown deepened. "What's the point of this? You've

been on the Thermopylae. Our ship."

"You mean the boat, the submarine?"

He stared at her. "Should I speak more clearly?"

"I'm a little confused," Laura said giddily. "I just spent

three weeks in solitary." She put her cup onto the desk,

carefully, hand shaking.

She paused, trying to sort her thoughts. "I don't believe

you," she told him at last. "I saw a submarine, but I don't

know that it's a genuine nuclear missile submarine. I have

only your word for that, and the word of the crew onboard.

The more I think about it the harder it is to believe. None of

the old nuclear governments were stupid enough to lose an

entire submarine. Especially with nuclear missiles onboard."

"You certainly have a touching faith in governments,"

said the Inspector. "If we have the launch platform, it scarcely

matters where or how we got the warheads, does it? The point

is that the Vienna Convention does believe in our deterrent,

and our arrangement with them requires that we keep our

deterrent secret. But you know the secret, you see."

"I don't believe that the Vienna Convention would make a

deal with nuclear terrorists."

"Possibly not," said the Inspector, "but we are counter-

terrorists. Vienna knows very well that we are doing their

own work for them. But imagine the unhappy reaction if the

news spread that our Republic of Mali had become a nuclear

superpower. "

"What reaction," Laura said dully.

"Well," he said, "the great unwashed, the global mob,

would panic. Someone would do something rash and we

would be forced to use our deterrent, unnecessarily."

"You mean explode an atomic bomb somewhere."

"We'd have no choice. Though it's not a course we would relish."

"Okay, suppose I believe you," Laura said. The coffee

was hitting her now, nerving her up like fine champagne.

"How can you sit there and tell me that you would explode

an atomic bomb? Can't you see that that's all out of proportion

to whatever you want to. accomplish?"

The Inspector shook his head slowly. "Do you know how

many people have died in Africa in the last twenty years?

Something over eighty millions. It staggers the mind, doesn't

it: eighty millions. And the hell of it is that even that has

barely got a handle on it: the situation is getting worse. Africa

is sick, she needs major surgery. The side shows we've run in

Singapore and Grenada are like public relations events compared

to what's necessary here. But without a deterrent, we

won't be left alone to accomplish what's necessary."

"You mean genocide."

He shook his head ruefully, as if he'd heard it all before

and expected better from her. "We want to save the African

from himself. We can give these people the order they need

to survive. What does Vienna offer? Nothing. Because Afri-

ca's regimes are sovereign national governments, most of

them Vienna signatories! Sometimes Vienna dabbles in sub-

verting a particularly loathsome regime-but Vienna gives no

permanent solution. The outside world has written Africa

off. "


"We still send aid, don't we?"

"That only adds to the misery. It props up corruption."

Laura rubbed her sweating forehead. "I don't understand."

"It's simple. We must succeed where Vienna has failed.

Vienna did nothing about the terrorist data havens, nothing

about Africa. Vienna is weak and divided. There's a new

global order coming, and it's not based in obsolete national

governments. It's based in modern groups like your Rizome

and my Free Army."

"No one voted for you," Laura said. "You have no author-

ity. You're vigilantes!"

"You're a vigilante yourself," the Inspector of Prisons

said calmly. "A vigilante diplomat. Interfering with govern-

ments for the sake of your multinational. We have everything

in common, you see. "

"No!"


"We couldn't exist if it weren't for people like you, Mrs.

Webster. You financed us. You created us. We serve your

needs." He drew a breath and smiled. "We are your sword

and shield."

Laura sank back into the chair. "If we're on the same side,

then why am I in your jail?"

He leaned forward, steepling his fingers. "I did tell you,

Mrs. Webster-it's for reasons of atomic security! On the

other hand, we see no reason why you shouldn't contact your

coworkers and loved ones. Let them know you're alive and

safe and well. It would mean a great deal to them, I'm sure.

You could make a statement. "

Laura spoke numbly. She'd known something like this was

coming. "What kind of statement?"

"A prepared statement, of course. We can't have you

babbling our atom secrets over a live phone link to Atlanta.

But you could make a videotape. Which we would release for

you. "


Her stomach roiled. "I'd have to see the statement first.

And read it. And think about it."

"You do that. Think about it." He touched his watchphone,

spoke in French. "You'll let us know your decision."

Another goon arrived. He took her to a different cell. They

left the handcuffs off.


Laura's new cell was the same length as the first, but it had

two bunks and was a stride and a half wider. She was no

longer forced to wear handcuffs. She was given her own

chamber pot and a larger jug. of water. There was more scop,

and the porridge was of better quality and sometimes had

soybean bacon bits.

They gave her a deck of cards, and a paperback Bible that

had been distributed by the Jehovah's Witness Mission of

Bamako in 1992. She asked for a pencil to make notes on her

statement. She was given a child's typer with a little flip-up

display screen. It typed very nicely but had no printout and

couldn't be used to scribble secret messages.

The screaming was louder under her new cell. Several

different voices and, she thought, different languages too.

The screaming would go on, raggedly, for about an hour.

Then there would be a coffee break for the torturers. Then

they would set back to work. She believed that there were

several different torturers. Their habits differed. One of them

liked to play moody French cafe ballads during his break.

One night she was woken by a muffled volley of machine-

gun fire. It was followed by five sharp coup-de-grace shots.

They had killed people, but not the people being tortured-

two of them were back next night.

It took them two weeks to bring her statement. It was

worse than she had imagined. They wanted her to tell Rizome

and the world that she had been kidnapped in Singapore by

the Grenadians and was being held in the underground tunnel

complex at Fedon's Camp. It was a ridiculous draft; she

didn't think that the person who had written it fully understood

English. Parts of it reminded her of the FACT

communiqué issued after the assassination of Winston Stubbs.

She no longer doubted that FACT had killed Stubbs and

shot up her house. It was obvious. The remote-control killing

smelled of them. It couldn't have been Singapore, poor brilliant,

struggling Singapore. Singapore's military, soldiers Like

Hotchkiss, would have killed Stubbs face-to-face and never

bragged about it afterward.

They must have launched the drone from a surface ship

somewhere. It couldn't have come from their nuclear submarine-

unless they had more than one, a horrible thought.

The sub couldn't have traveled fast enough to attack Galveston,

Grenada, and Singapore during the time of her adventure.

(She was already thinking of it as her adventure-some-

thing over, something in her past, something pre-captivity.)

But America was an open country and a lot of the F.A.C.T.

were Americans. They bragged openly that they could go

anywhere, and she believed them.

She believed now they had someone-a plant, a spy, one

of their Henderson/Hesseltines-in Rizome itself. It would be

so easy for them, not like Singapore. All he would have to do

was show up and work hard and smile.
She refused to read the prepared statement. The Inspector

of Prisons looked at her with distaste. "You really think this

defiance is accomplishing something, don't you?"

"This statement is disinformation. It's black propaganda, a

provocation, meant to get people killed. I won't help you kill

people."


"Too bad. I'd hoped you could send your loved ones a

New Year's greeting."

"I've written my own statement," Laura offered. "It doesn't

say anything about you, or Mali, or the F.A.C.T., or your

bombs. It just says I'm alive and it has a few words my

husband will recognize so that he'll know it's really me."

The Inspector laughed. "What kind of fools do you take us

for, Mrs. Webster? You think we'd let you spout secret

messages, something you'd cooked up in your cell after

weeks of your ... oh ... feminine ingenuity?"

He tossed the statement into a bottom drawer of his desk.

"Look, I didn't write the thing. I didn't make the decision.

Personally, I don't think it's all that great a statement.

Knowing Vienna, it's more likely to make them tiptoe their way

into that termite castle under Fedon's Camp, instead of shelling

it into oblivion, like they should have done way back in

'19." He shrugged. "But if you want to ruin your life, be

declared legally dead, be forgotten, then go right ahead."

"I'm your prisoner! Don't pretend it's my decision."

"Don't be silly. If it meant anything serious, I could make

you do it."

Laura was silent.

"You think you're strong, don't you?" The Inspector shook

his head. "You think that, if we tortured you, it would be

some kind of romantic moral validation. Torture's not roman-

tic, Mrs. Webster. It's a thing, a process: torture is torture,

that's all. It doesn't make you any nobler. It only breaks you.

Like the way an engine wears out if you drive it too fast, too

hard, too long. You never really heal, you never really get

over it. Any more than you get over growing old."

"I don't want to be hurt. Don't pretend I do."

"Are you going to read the stupid thing? It's not that

important. You're not that important."

"You killed a man in my house," Laura said. "You killed

people around me. You kill people in this prison every day. I

know I'm no better than them. I don't believe you'll ever let

me. go, if you can help it. So why don't you kill me too?"

He shook his head and sighed. "Of course we'll let you go.

We have no reason to keep you here, once your security

threat is over. We won't stay covert forever. Someday, very

soon, we'll simply rule. Someday Laura Webster will be an

upstanding citizen in a grand new global society."

A long moment passed. His lie had slid past her comprehension,

like something at the other end of a telescope. At

last she spoke, very quietly. "If it matters at all, then listen to

me. I'm going to go insane, alone in that cell. I'd rather be

dead than insane."

"So now it's suicide?" He was avuncular, soothing, skeptical.

"Of course you've been thinking of suicide. Everyone

does. Very few ever really do it. Even men and women doing

hard labor in death camps find reason to go on living. They

never bite their own tongues out, or open their veins with

their fingernails, or run headlong into the wall, or any of

those childish jailbirds' fantasies." His voice rose. "Mrs.

Webster, you're in the upper level here. You're in special

custody. Believe me, this city's slums are full of men and

women, and even children, who'd cheerfully kill to have it as

easy as you do."

"Then why don't you let them kill me?"

His eyes clouded. "I really wish you wouldn't be like this."

He sighed and spoke into his watchphone. After a while the

goons came and took her away.


She went on hunger strike. They let her do it for three

days. Then they sent her a cellmate.

Her new cellmate was a black woman who spoke no English.

She was short and had a broad, cheerful face and two

missing front teeth. Her name was something like Hofuette,

or Jofuette. Jofuette would only smile and shrug at Laura's

English: she had no gift for languages and couldn't remember

a foreign word two days running. She was illiterate.

Laura had poor luck with Jofuette's language. It was called

something like Bambara. It was full of aspirations and clicks

and odd tonalities. She learned the words for bed and eat and

sleep and cards. She taught Jofuette how to play Hearts. It

took days but they had a lot of time.

Jofuette came from downstairs, the lower level, where the

screaming came from. She hadn't been tortured; or, at least,

no marks showed. Jofuette had seen people shot, however.

They shot them out in the exercise yard, with machine guns.

They would often shoot a single man with five or six machine

guns; their ammunition was old, with a lot of duds that tended

to choke up the guns. They had a worldful of ammunition,

though. All the ammunition of fifty years of the Cold War

had ended up here in African war zones. Along with the rest

of the junk.

She didn't see the Inspector of Prisons again. He wasn't the

guy who ran the place. Jofuette knew the warden. She could

imitate the way he walked; it was quite funny.

Laura was pretty sure that Jofuette was some kind of trusty,

maybe even a stool pigeon. It. didn't bother her much. Jofuette

didn't speak English and Laura had no secrets anyway. But

Jofuette, unlike Laura, was allowed to go out into the exer-

cise yard and mingle with the prisoners. She could get hold of

little things: harsh, nasty cigarettes, a box of sugared vitamin

pills, a needle and thread. She was good to have around,

wonderful, better than anyone.


Laura learned about prison. The tricks of doing time. Mem-

ory was the enemy. Any connection with the outside world

would be, she knew, too painful to survive. She just did her

time. She invented antimemory devices, passivity devices.

When it was time for a cry she would have a cry. She didn't

think about what might happen to her, to David and the baby,

to Galveston, to Rizome, to the world. She thought about

professional activities, mostly. Writing public relations state-

ments. Testifying to public bodies about Malian terrorism.

Writing campaign documents for imaginary Rizome Commit-

tee candidates.

She spent several weeks writing a long imaginary sales

brochure called Loretta's Hands and Feet. She memorized it

and would spin it off sentence by sentence, silently, inside

her head, slowly, one second per word, until she reached the

end. Then she would add on a new sentence, and then start

over..

The imaginary brochure was not about the baby herself,



that would have been too painful. It was simply about the

baby's hands and feet. She described the shape and texture of

the hands and feet, their smell, their grasp, their potential

usefulness if mass-produced. She designed boxes for the hands

and feet, and old-fashioned marketing slogans, and ad jingles.

She organized a mental dress store. She had never been

much of a fashion maven, at least not since junior high school .

days, and her discovery of boys. But this was a top-of-the-

line fashion outlet, a trend-setting emporium catering to the

wealthy Atlanta crowd. There were galaxies of hats, march-

ing armies of hosiery and shoes, whirlwinds of billowing

skirts, vast technicolor brothels of sexy lingerie.

She had decided on ten years. She was going to be in this

jail for ten years. It was long enough to destroy hope, and

hope was identical with anguish.
A month, and a month, and a month, and a month.

And another month, and another and another and another.

And then three, and then one more.
A year.
She had been in prison for a year. A year was not a

particularly long time. She was thirty-three years old. She had

spent far more time outside captivity than in, thirty-two times

as much. People had done far more time in prison than this.

Gandhi had spent years in prison.

They were treating her better now. Jofuette had made some

kind of arrangement with one of the female goons. When the

goon was on duty she let Laura run in the exercise yard, at

night, when no other prisoners were present.

Once a week they brought an ancient video recorder into

the cell. It had a black-and-white TV manufactured in Alge-

ria. There were tapes, too. Most of them were old-fashioned

American football games. The old full-contact version of

football had been banned for years now. The game was

spectacularly brutal: huge lumbering gladiators in helmets and

armor. Every fourth play seemed to leave one of them sprawl-

ing and wounded. Sometimes Laura would simply close her

eyes and listen to the wonderful flow of English. Jofuette

liked the games.

Then there were movies. The Sands of Iwo Jima. The Green

Berets. Fantastic, hallucinatory violence. Enemies would be

shot and fall down neatly, like paper cutouts. Sometimes the

good guys were shot, in the shoulder or arm usually. They

would just grimace a bit, maybe bind it up.

One week a film arrived called The Road to Morocco. It

was set in the African desert and had Bing Cosby and Bob

Hope. Laura had vague memories of Bob Hope, she thought

she must have seen him when she was very young and he was

very old. He was young in the film, and quite funny, in a

quaint premillennial way. It hurt terribly to watch him, like

having a bandage ripped away, touching deep parts of her that

she had managed to numb. She had to stop the tape several

times to mop at tears. Finally she snatched the tape out and

jammed it back in the box.

Jofuette shook her head, said something in Bambara, and

plugged the tape back in. As she did so a folded slip of tissue,

cigarette paper, fell from a crevice in the box's cardboard

side. Laura picked it up.

She unfolded it as Jofuette watched the TV, riveted. It was

covered with smudgy, minuscule writing. Not ink. Blood,

maybe. A list.
Abel Lacoste-Euro. Cons. Service

Steven Lawrence-Oxfam America

Marianne Meredith-ITN Channel Four

Valeri Chkalov-Vienna

Georgi Valdukov-Vienna

Sergei Ilyushin-Vienna

Kazuo(?) Watanabe-Mitsubishi

(?)Riza-Rikabi-EFT Commerzbank

Laura Webster-Rizome IG

Katje Selous-A.C.A. Corps

and four others
10
The second year went faster than the first. She was

used to it. It had become her life. She no longer

thirsted for the things she had lost-she could no longer name

them to herself, without an effort. She was past thirst: she

was mummified. Monastic, sealed.

But she could sense the pace picking up, spiderweb tremors

of movement in the distant world outside.

There were shootings almost every night now. When they

took her down for exercise in the yard, she could see bullet-

pounded patches in the wall, cratered, just like the Lodge had

been. Below the pockmarks the baked bare earth had turned

foul, carpeted with swarming flies and the coppery reek of

blood.

One day the desert sky outside the wall hole of her cell



showed endless dark skeins of drifting smoke. Trucks squealed

in and out of the prison for hours, and they shot people all

night. Assembly style: shouts, orders, screams, pleading, fierce

chatter of machine-gun fire. Quick finishing shots. Doors

slamming, engines. Then more. Then more. Then more again.
Jofuette had been frightened for days. Finally the goons

came for her, two women. They came smiling and talking her

language, seeming to tell her that it was over, they were

going to let her go. The bigger goon grinned suggestively and

put her hands on her hips and did a bump-and-grind. A

boyfriend, she was saying-or Jofuette's husband maybe. Or

maybe she was suggesting a night on the town in glamorous

downtown Bamako.

Jofuette smiled tremulously. One of the goons gave her a

cigarette and lit it with a flourish.

Laura never saw her again.
When they brought in the video recorder for the usual

weekly session Laura waited till they were gone. Then she

picked up the machine with both hands and smashed it into

the wall repeatedly. It came apart, a tangle of wiring and

circuit cards. She was crushing them underfoot when the door

rattled and two of the male goons burst in.

They had drawn clubs. She threw herself at them with her

fists clenched.

They knocked her to the ground immediately, with con-

temptuous ease.

Then they picked her up and began beating her. With

thoroughness, methodically. They hit her on the neck, on the

kidneys. They threw her onto the bunk and hit her across the

spine. Lightning flared inside her, great electrocuting swathes,

white-hot, bloody-red. They were hitting her with axes, chop-

ping her body apart. She was being butchered with sticks.

Roaring filled her head. The world faded.
A woman sat across the cell, sitting in Jofuette's bunk. A

blond woman in a blue dress. How old-forty, fifty? Sad,

composed face, laugh lines, yellow-green eyes. Coyote eyes.

Mother ... ?

The woman looked at her: remembrance, pity, strength. It

was restful to look at the woman. Restful as dreaming: she's

wearing my favorite shade of blue.

But who is it ...?

Laura recognized her self. Of course. Rush of relief and

joy. That's who it is. It's me.

Her Persona rose from the bunk. She crossed the cell,

drifting, graceful, soundless. Radiant. She knelt silently by

Laura's side and looked into her face: her own face. Older,

stronger, wiser.

Here I am.

"I'm dying."

No, you'll live. You'll be as I am.

The hand stopped an inch from her face, caressed the air.

She could feel its warmth-she could see herself, face-down

on the bunk, beaten, paralyzed. Sad Laura. She could feel the

warm torrent of healing and sympathy rush in from outside,

Olympian, soaring. Poor beaten body, our Laura, but she

won't die. She lives. I lived.

Now, sleep.


She was sick for a month. Her urine was tinged with blood:

kidney damage. And she had huge aching patches of bruises

on her back, her arms, her legs. Deep bruises, into the

muscle, bumps swollen on the bone: hematomas, they were

called in first-aid. She was sick and creaky, barely able to

eat. Sleep was a struggle for position, for the least amount of

pain.

They had taken away the wreckage of the video machine.



She was pretty sure that someone had shot her up with

something, too: there seemed to be an injection bruise just

above her wrist, one of the few spots the goons had missed.

A woman, she thought: she had seen a woman medic, maybe

even spoken to-her semiconscious, and that was it: an Opti-

mal Persona experience.

She had been beaten up by fascist goons. And she had seen

her Optimal Persona. She wasn't sure which was the most

important but she knew that they were both turning points.

It was probably a medic that she'd seen. She'd just slotted

it in, dreamed of seeing herself. That was probably all that an

Optimal Persona ever was, for anybody: stress and illusion

and some deep psychic need. But none of that mattered.

She had had a vision. It didn't matter where it came from.

She clung to it and she was glad they were leaving her in

solitary because she could chuckle over it aloud and hug it to

herself. And cherish it.

Hatred. She'd never really hated them before, not like she

did now. She'd always been too small and too scared and too

hopeful of figuring some angle, as if they were people like

herself and could be dealt with like people. That's what

they'd pretended, but now she knew their pretense was an-

other of their lies. She would never, ever join them, or belong

to them, or see the world through their eyes. She was their

enemy till death. That was a peaceful thought.

She knew she would survive. Someday she would dance on

their graves. It made no sense, not rationally. It was faith.

They had blundered and given her faith.


She was woken by a roar. It sounded like a giant water

faucet, rush of water and the high-pitched. scream of a vibrat-

ing pipe. Coming nearer. Louder. Wa-woosh.

Then: monster drumbeats. Boom. Boom. Boom-wham-bam,

firecracker sounds. Her cell wall flashed as hot light flickered

through the window hole. Then another flash. Then a sudden

thunderous explosion, very near. Earthquake. The walls shook.

Hot red light-the horizon was on fire.

The goons ran up and down the hall, shouting at each

other. They were afraid, and Laura heard the fear in their

voices with a wild leap of animal joy. Outside, the feeble

crackle of small-arms fire. Then, distantly, belatedly, the

banshee wail of sirens.

A burst of pounding from inside the prison. Someone on level

two was beating on his door, not the bathroom pounding, but

sheer ferocious battering. Muffled shouts. The upper-

level prisoners were yelling from their cells. She couldn't

make out the words. But she knew the tone. Rage and glee.

She swung out her legs and sat up in the bunk. In the

distance, belatedly, she heard antiaircraft guns. Crump, whump,

cramp, spider webs of flak searing the sky.

Someone was bombing Bamako.

"Yeah!" Laura screamed. She jumped from bed and rushed

to the door and kicked it for all she was worth.


Next night they came in strafing. That sudden wa-whoosh

again, treetop-level fighter jets in close formation. She could

hear their aircraft cannon cutting loose, a weird convulsive

belching, thup-thup-thup-thup, the sound of it dopplering off

as the jets peeled away over the city. Then the sound of

bombs, or missiles maybe: whump, crump, sky flashbulb-

white as explosions hit.

Then the belated antiaircraft. There was more of it this

time, better organized. Batteries of cannon, and even the

hollow roar of what must be rockets, surface-to-air missiles.

But the jets were already gone. Mali's radar must be down,

she concluded smugly. Otherwise they would surely fire at

the jets as they were coming in, not too late, after they'd

already blasted the living bejeezus out of something or somebody.

The attackers had probably knocked out the radar first thing.

She had never heard anything that sounded so sublime. The

sky was full of hell, the rage of angels. She didn't even care

if they hit the prison. All the better.

Outside the guards were firing machine guns: staccato bursts

into the black sky. Bullets would rain down somewhere on a

slum. Fools. They were fools. Amateurs.
They came for her in the morning. Two goons. They were

sweating, which was nothing new, everyone sweated in the

prison, but they were twitchy and wired, their eyes wide, and

they stank-of fear.

"How's the war going?" Laura said.

"No war," said goon #1, a middle-aged male thug she'd

seen many times. He wasn't one of the ones who had hit her.

"Practice.

"Air-raid practice? In the middle of the night? In down-

town Bamako?"

"Yes. Our army. Practice. Do not worry."

"You think I believe that bullshit?"

"No talking!" They clamped her into handcuffs, hard.

They hurt. She laughed at them, inside.

They marched her downstairs, and into the courtyard. Then

they prodded her into the back of a truck. Not a secret-police

paddy wagon but a canvas-topped military truck daubed in

dun-and-yellow desert camouflage. It had wooden benches

inside for troops, and jerry cans of water and gasohol.

They shackled her legs to one of the support bars beneath

the wooden bench. She sat there exulting. She didn't know

where she was going, but it was going to be different now.

She sat sweating in the heat for ten minutes. Then they

brought in another woman. White, blond. They shackled her

to the opposite bench, and jumped out; and slammed the tailgate.

The engine started up with a roar. They jolted into movement.

Laura examined the stranger. She was blond and thin.

and bony and wearing striped canvas prison garb. She looked

about thirty. She looked very familiar. Laura realized that she

and the stranger looked enough alike to be sisters. They

looked at each other and grinned shyly.

The truck cleared the gates.

"Laura Webster!" Laura said.

"Katje Selous." The stranger leaned forward, extending

both cuffed hands. They grabbed at each other's wrists and

shook hard, clumsily, smiling.

"Katie Selous, A.C.A. Corps!" Laura said triumphantly.

"What?"


"I don't know what it means. . . . But I saw it on a list of

prisoners."

"Ah!" Selous said. "Azanian Civil Action Corps. Yes,

I'm a doctor. Relief camp."

Laura blinked. "You're from South Africa?"

"We call it Azania now. And you, you're American?"

"Rizome Industries Group."

"Rizome." Selous wiped sweat from her forehead, a jail-

bird's pallor. "I can't tell them apart, the multinationals.... "

She brightened. "Do you make suntan oil? That oil that

makes you turn black?"

"Huh? No!" Laura paused, thinking about it. "I dunno.

Maybe we do, nowadays. I've been out of touch."

"I think you do make it." Selous looked solemn. "It's

very important and wonderful."

"My husband used that stuff," Laura said. "He might

have given Rizome the idea. He's very bright, my husband.

David's his name." Speaking of David made a whole buried

section of her soul rise suddenly from the tomb. Here she

was, chained in the back of a truck headed for God knew

where, but with a few revivifying words she was part of the

world again. The big sane world of husbands and children

and work. Tears gushed suddenly down her face. She smiled

at Selous and shrugged apologetically and looked at the floor.

"They kept you in solitary, eh," Selous said gently.

"We have a baby, too," Laura babbled. "Her name's Loretta."

"They had you longer than me," Selous said. "It's been

almost a year since they took me from camp."

Laura shook her head, hard. "Did, uh . . ." She cleared

her throat. "Do you know what's going on?"

Selous nodded. "I know a little. What I heard from the

other hostages. The last two nights--those were Azanian air

raids. My people. Our commandos, too, maybe. I think they

hit some fuel dumps-the sky burned all night!"

"Azanian," Laura said aloud. So that was it. What she'd

just lived through. An armed clash between Mali and Azania.

It seemed obscure and improbable. Not that an African war

was unlikely, they happened all the time. Back pages in

newspapers, a few seconds on cable news. But that they were

for real, they took place in a real world of dust and heat and

flying metal.

The South Africans weren't in the news much. They weren't

very fashionable. "Your people must have flown a long way."

"We have aircraft carriers," Selous said proudly. "We

never signed your Vienna Convention."

"Oh. Uh-huh." Laura nodded blankly.

Selous looked at her clinically, a doctor hunting for signs

of damage. "Were you tortured?"

"What? No." Laura paused. "About three months ago

they beat me up. After I wrecked a machine." She felt

embarrassed even to have mentioned it. It seemed so inade-

quate. "Not like those poor people downstairs."

"Mmmm ... yes, they've suffered." It was a statement of

fact. Curiously detached, a judgment by someone who'd seen

a lot of it. Selous glanced out the back of the truck. They

were in the middle of Bamako now, endless nightmare land-

scape of foul shacks and huts. Wisps of evil yellowish smoke

rose from a distant refinery.

"Were you tortured, Dr. Selous?"

"Yes. A little. At first." Selous paused. "Were you assaulted?

Raped?"

"No." Laura shook her head. "They never even seemed to



think of it. I don't know why...."

Selous leaned back, nodding. "It's their policy. It must be

true, I think. That the leader of FACT is a woman."

Laura felt stunned. "A woman."

Selous smiled sourly. "Yes ... we of the weaker sex do

tend to get around these days."

"What kind of woman would. .."

"Rumor says she's a right-wing American billionaire. Or a

British aristocrat. Maybe both, eh-why not?" Selous tried to

spread her hands skeptically; her cuffs rattled. "For years

FACT was nothing much . . . mercenaries. Then quite sud-

denly ... very organized. A new leader, someone smart and

determined-with a vision. One of us modem girls." She

chuckled lightly.

There didn't seem to be more to say on that topic. It was

probably a lie anyway. "Where do you think they're taking us?"

"North, into the desert-I know that much." Selous thought

it over. "Why did they keep you locked away from the rest of

us? We never saw you. We used to see your maid, that's all."

"My what?"

"Your cellmate, the little Bambara informer from downstairs."

Selous shrugged. "Sorry. You know how it is in a

cell block. People get crazy. We used to call you the' Princess.

Rapunzel, eh."

"People get crazy," Laura said. "I thought I saw my

Optimal Persona. But it was you, wasn't it, doctor. You and I

look a lot alike. You came in and treated me after I was

beaten, didn't you."

Selous blinked doubtfully. " `Optimal Persona.' That's

very American.... Are you from California?"

"Texas. "

"It certainly wasn't me, Laura.... I've never seen you

before in my life."

Long, strange pause.

"You really think we look alike?"

"Sure," Laura said.

"But I'm a Boer, an Afrikaaner. And you have that hybrid

American look."

They had reached an impasse. The conversation hung there

as heat and dust boiled over the empty end of the truck. She

was dealing with an alien. They had missed a connection

somehow. Laura felt thirsty already and they were not even

out of the city.

She struggled to pick up the thread.

"They kept me in solitary because they said I had atomic secrets. "

Selous sat upright, startled. "Have you seen a Bomb?"

"What?'

"There are rumors of a test site in the Malian desert.



Where the F.A.C.T. tried to build a Bomb."

"First I've ever heard of that," Laura said. "I saw their

submarine, though. They said it had atomic warheads on-

board. The sub did have some missiles. I know that much,

because they hit and sank a ship I was on."

"Exocets?" Selous said gravely.

"Yes, that's right, exactly."

"But there could have been other missiles with a longer

range, eh? Long enough to hit Pretoria?"

"I guess so. But it doesn't prove they were nuclear bombs."

"But if they take us to this test site, and we find a huge

crater of sand melted into glass, that would prove something,

wouldn't it?"

Laura said nothing.

"It ties in with something the warden told me once,"

Selous said. "That they didn't really need me as a hostage-

that our cities were hostage if we only knew."

"God, why do people talk like that?" Laura said. "Gre-

nada, Singapore . . . " It made her feel very tired.

"You know what I think, Laura? I think they are taking us

to their test site. To make a statement, yes? Me, because I am

Azanian, and we Azanians are the people they need to im-

press at the moment. You, because you have witnessed their

weapon ship. Their delivery system."

"Could be, I guess." Laura thought it over. "What then?

Do they free us?"

Selous's greenish eyes went remote and distant. "I'm a

hostage. They will not let Azania attack them without a price."

Laura could not accept it. "That's not much of a price, is

it? Killing two helpless prisoners?"

"They'll probably kill us on camera. And send the tape to

Azanian Army Intelligence," Selous said.

"But you Azanians would tell everyone, anyway, wouldn't you?"

"We've been telling people about FACT from the beginning,"

Selous scoffed. "No one would trust us if we said

Mali had the bomb. No one believes what we say. They only

sneer at us and call us an 'aggressive imperialist state.' "

"Oh," Laura hedged.

"We are an empire," Selous said firmly. "President Umtali

is a great warrior. All Zulus are great warriors."

Laura nodded. "Yeah, we Americans, uh, we had a black

president ourselves."

"Oh, that fellow of yours didn't amount to anything,"

Selous said. "You Yankees don't even have a real govern-

ment-just capitalist cartels, eh. But President Umtali fought

in our civil war. He brought order, where there was savagery.

A brilliant general. A true statesman."

"Glad to hear it's working out," Laura said.

"Azanian black people are the finest black people in the world!"

They sat there sweating. Laura could not let it pass. "Look,

I'm no big Yankee nationalist, but what about . . . you know

... jazz, blues, Martin Luther King?"

Selous shifted on her bench. "Martin King. He had a

dinner party, compared to our Nelson Mandela."

"Yeah but ...'

"Your Yankee black people aren't even real black people,

are they? They're all Coloureds, actually. They look like

Europeans. "

"Wait a minute ... '

"You've never seen my black people, but I've certainly

seen yours. Your American blacks crowd all our best restau-

rants and gamble their global hard currency in Sun City and

so on.... They're rich, and soft."

"Yeah, I come from a tourist town, myself."

"We have a wartime economy, we need the exchange

money.... Fighting the chaos . . the endless nightmare

that is Africa.... We Africans know what it means to sacri-

fice." She paused. "It seems harsh, eh? I'm sorry. But you

outsiders don't understand."

Laura looked out the back of the truck. "That's true."

"It seems to be the duty of my generation to pay for

history's mistakes."

"You're really convinced they'll kill us, aren't you?"

She looked remote. "I'm sorry you should be involved."

"They killed a man in my house," Laura said. "That's

where it all started for me. I know it doesn't seem like much,

one death compared to what's happened in Africa. But I

couldn't let it pass. I couldn't shrug off my responsibility for -

what happened on my own home ground. Believe me, I've

had a long time to think about it. And I still think I was right,

even if it costs me everything."

Selous smiled.

They had picked up a convoy. Two armored half-tracks

had swung into action behind them, jouncing over the rutted

road, the long, ridged wands of machine guns swaying in the turrets.

"They think they have an answer," Selous said, looking at

the half-tracks. "It was worse in Mali before they came."

"I can't imagine anything worse."

"It's not something you can imagine-you have to see it."

"Do you have an answer?"

"We hold on and wait for a miracle-save whoever we

can.... We were getting somewhere in the camp, I think,

before the F.A.C.T. seized it. They captured me, but the rest

of our Corps escaped. We're used to raids-the desert is full

of scorpions."

"Were you stationed in Mali?"

"Niger actually, but that's a formality only. No central

authority. It's tribal warlords mostly, in the outback. Fulani

Tribal Front, the Sonrai Fraternal Forces, all kinds of bandit

armies, thieves, militias. The desert crawls with them. And

FACT's machineries, too."

"What do you mean?"

"That's how they prefer to work. By remote control. When

they locate the bandits, they attack them with robot planes.

They pounce on them in the desert. Like steel hyenas killing rats."

"Jesus."


"They're specialists, technicians. They learned things, in

Lebanon, Afghanistan, Namibia. How to fight Third Worlders

without letting them touch you. They don't even look at

them, except through computer screens."

Laura felt a thrill of recognition. "That's them all right.... I

saw all that happen in Grenada."

Selous nodded. "The president of Mali thought they. did

fine work. He made them his palace guard. He's a puppet

now. I think they keep him drugged."

"I've seen the guy who runs Grenada-I bet this Mali

president doesn't even exist. He's probably nothing but an

image on a screen and some prerecorded speeches."

"Can they do that?" Selous said.

"Grenada can-I saw their prime minister disappear into

thin air."

Selous thought it over. Laura could see it working in her

face-wondering if Laura was insane, or she herself was

insane, or whether the bright television world was brewing

something dark and awful in its deepest voodoo corners. "It's

as if they're magicians," she said at last. "And we're just

people. "

"Yeah," Laura said. She lifted two fingers. "But we have

solidarity, and they're busy killing each other."

Selous laughed.

"We're going to win, too."

They began talking about the others. Laura had long since

memorized the list. Marianne Meredith, the television corre-

spondent, had been the ringleader. It was she who had

invented-or already knew, maybe-the best methods of smug-

gling messages. Lacoste, the French diplomat, was their

interpreter-his parents had been African émigrés, and he

knew two of Mali's tribal languages.

They had tortured the three agents of Vienna. One of them

had turned, the other two had been released or, probably, shot.

Steven Lawrence had been taken from an Oxfam camp.

The camps were often raided-they were dumping grounds

for scop, the primary source of food for millions of Saharans.

The black market for single-cell protein was the major econ-

omy of the region-the "government" of Mauritania, for

instance, was little more than a scop cartel. Foreign handouts,

a few potash mines, and an army-that was Mauritania.

Chad was a malignant welfare bureaucracy, a tiny fraction

of aristocrats whose thugs periodically emptied automatic

weapons into starving crowds. The Sudan was run by a

radical Muslim lunatic who consulted dervishes while facto-

ries washed away and airports cracked and burst. Algeria and

Libya were one-party states, more or less organized in the

coastal provinces but roiling tribalist anarchy in their Saharan

outback. Ethiopia's government was preserved by Vienna's

fiat; it was as frail as a pressed bouquet, and under siege by a

dozen rural "action fronts."

All of them drawing venom from the lethal inheritance of

the last century, a staggering tonnage of outdated armaments,

passed from government to government at knock-down prices.

From America to Pakistan to mujahideen to a Somalian splin-

ter group with nothing to recommend it but a holy desperation

for martyrdom. From Russia to a cadre of bug-eyed Marxist

strongmen shooting anything that even looked like a bourgeois

intellectual.... Billions in aid had been poured into the

sub-Sahara, permanently warping governments into bizarre

funnels of debt and greed, and as the situation worsened more

and more arms were necessary for "order" and. "stability"

and "national security," the outside world heaved a cynical

sigh of relief as its lethal junk was disposed of to people still

desperate to kill each other....

At noon the convoy stopped. A soldier gave them water

and gruel. They were in the Sahara now-they'd been driving

all day. The driver unchained their legs. There was no place

to run, not now.

Laura jumped out under the hammer blow of sun. A haze

of heat distorted the horizons, marooning the convoy in a

shimmering plaza of cracked red rock. The convoy had three

trucks: the first carried soldiers, the second radio equipment,

the third was theirs. And the two armored half-tracks in the

rear. No one came out of the half-tracks or offered any food to

their crews. Laura began to suspect that they had no crews.

They were robots, big carnivorous versions of a common

taxi-bus.

The desert shimmer was seductive. She felt a hypnotic urge

to run out into it, into the silver horizon. As if she would

dissolve painlessly into the infinite landscape, vanish like dry

ice and leave only pure thought and a voice from the whirlwind.

Too long inside a cell. The horizon was strange, it was

pulling at her, as if it were trying too tug her soul out through

the pupils of her eyes. Her head filled with strange pounding

pulses of incipient heatstroke. She relieved herself quickly

and climbed back into the canvas shade of the truck.

They drove all afternoon, all evening. There was no sand,

it was various kinds of bedrock, blasted and Martian-looking.

Miles of heat-baked flints for hours and hours, then sandstone

ridges in a million shades of dun and beige, each more tedious

than the last. They passed another military convoy in the

afternoon, and once a distant airplane flew across the south-

ern horizon.

At night they left the road, drew the trucks in a circle. The

soldiers set metal stakes, pitons, into the rock all around the

camp. Monitors, Laura thought. They ate again and the sun

fell, an eerie desert sunset that lit the horizon with roseate

fire. The soldiers gave them each a cotton army blanket and

they slept in the truck, on the benches, one foot cuffed to

prevent them from sneaking up on a soldier in the dark and

tearing him apart with their fingernails.

The heat fled out of the rocks as soon as the sun was gone.

It was bitterly cold all night, dry and arctic. In the first light

of morning she could hear rocks cracking like gunshots as the

sunlight hit.

The soldiers gassed up the trucks from jerry cans of fuel,

which was too bad, because it occurred to her for the first

time that a jerry can of fuel might be poured over the trucks

and set alight, if she could get loose, and if she was strong

enough to carry one, and if she had a match.

They had more gruel, with lentils in it this time. Then they

were off again, the usual thirty miles an hour, jouncing hard,

bruised and sucking dust from the two trucks ahead.

They had told each other everything by now. How Katje

had grown up in a reeducation camp, because her parents

were verkrampte, reactionaries, rather than verligte, liberals.

It was not bad as such camps went, she said. The Boers were

used to camps. The British had invented them during the Boer

War, and in fact the very term "concentration camp" was

invented by the British as a term for the place where they

concentrated kidnapped Boer civilians. Katje's father had

actually kept up his banking job in the city while rival black

factions were busy "necklacing" one another, cramming tires

full of petrol over the heads of victims and publicly roasting

them alive... .

Azania had always been a series of camps, of migrant

laborers crammed into barracks, or black townships kept in

isolation by cops with rhino-hide whips and passcards, or

intellectuals kept for years under "the ban," in which they

were forbidden by law to join any group of human beings

numbering more than three, and thus forming a kind of

independent tribal homeland consisting of one person in a

legal bell jar... .

Laura heard her say all this, this blond woman who looked

so much like herself, and in return she could only say . . . well

... sure, I have problems too ... for instance my mother and

I don't get along all that well. I know it doesn't sound like

much but I guess if you'd been me you'd think more of it....

The trucks slowed. They were winding downhill.

"I think we're getting somewhere," Laura said, stirring.

"Let me look," Katje said casually, and got up and shuf-

fled to the back of the truck and peered outside around the

back of the canvas, bracing herself. "I was right," she said.

"I see some concrete bunkers. There are jeeps and . . . oh,

dear, it's a crater, Laura, a crater as big as a valley."

Then the half-track behind them blew up. It simply flew to

pieces like a china figurine, instantly, gracefully. Katje looked

at it with an expression of childish delight and Laura suddenly

found herself down .on the floor of the truck, where she'd

flung herself, some reflex hitting her faster than she could

think. Roaring filled the air and the maddened stammer of

automatic weapons, bullets piercing the canvas in a smooth

line of stitching that left glowing holes of daylight and crossed

the figure of Katje where she stood. Katje jumped just a bit as

the line of stitching crossed her and turned and looked at

Laura with an expression of puzzlement and fell to her knees.

And the second half-track tumbled hard as something hit it

in the forward axle and it went over smoldering, and the air

was full of the whine of bullets. Laura slithered to where

Katje crouched on her knees. Katje put both hands to her

stomach and brought them away caked with blood, and she

looked at Laura with the first sign of understanding, and lay

down on the floor of the truck, clumsily, carefully.

They were killing the soldiers in the front truck. She could

hear them, dying. They didn't seem to be shooting back, it

was all happening instantly, with lethal quickness, in sec-

onds. She heard machine-gun fire raking the cab of her own

truck, glass flying, the elegant ticking of supersonic metal

piercing metal. More bullets came and ripped the wooden

floor of the truck and bits of splinter flung themselves gaily

into the air like deadly confetti. And again it came across, the

old sword-through-a-barrel trick, thumb-sized rounds punch-

ing through the walls below the canvas mounting with joyful

shouts of impact. Silence.

More shots, close, point-blank. Mercy shots.

A dark hand clutching a gun came over the back of the

truck. A figure in dust-caked goggles with its face wrapped in

a dark blue veil. The apparition looked at the two of them and

murmured something unintelligible. A man's voice. The veiled

man vaulted over the back of the truck; landed in a crouch

and pointed the gun at Laura. Laura lay frozen, feeling

invisible, gaseous, nothing there but the whites of eyes.

The veiled man shouted and waved one arm outside the

truck. He wore a blue cloak and woolen robes and his chest

was clustered with blackened leather bags hung on thongs. He

had a bandolier of cartridges and a curved dagger almost the

size of a machete and thick, filthy sandals over bare, cal-

loused feet. He stank like a wild animal, the radiant musk of

days of desert survival and sweat.

Moments passed. Katje made a noise deep in her throat.

Her legs jerked twice and her lids closed, showing rims of

white. Shock.

Another veiled man appeared at the back of the truck. His

eyes were hidden in tinted goggles and he was carrying a

shoulder-launched rocket. He aimed it into the truck. Laura

looked at it, saw the sheen of a lens, and realized for the first

time that it was a video camera.

"Hey," she said. She sat up, and showed the camera her

bound hands.

The first marauder looked up at the second and said some-

thing, a long fluid rush of polysyllables. The second nodded

and lowered his camera.

"Can you walk?" he said.

"Yes, but my friend's hurt."

"Come on out then." He yanked down the back of the

truck, one-handed. It screeched-bullets had bent it out of

shape. Laura crawled out quickly.

The cameraman looked at Katje. "She's bad. We'll have to

leave her."

"She's a hostage. Azanian. She's important."

"The Malians will stitch her up, then."

"No, they won't, they'll kill her! You can't let her die

here! She's a doctor, she works in the camps!"

The first marauder returned at a trot, bearing the belt of the

dead driver, with rows of bullets and a ring of keys. He

studied Laura's handcuffs alertly, picked the correct key at

once, and clicked them loose. He gave her the cuffs and keys

with a little half-bow and an elegant hand to his heart.

Other desert raiders-about two dozen-were looting the

broken trucks. They were riding thin, skeletal dune buggies

the size of jeeps, all tubes, spokes, and wire. The cars bounded

along, agilely, quiet as bicycles, with a wiry scrunching of

metal-mesh wheels and faint creak of springs. Their drivers

were wrapped in cloaks and veils. They looked puffy, huge,

and ghostlike. They steered from saddles over heaps of cargo

lashed down under canvas.

"We don't have time." The big raider with the camera

waved at the others and shouted in their language. They

whooped in return and the men on foot began mounting up

and stowing loot: ammo, guns, jerry cans.

"I want her to live!" Laura shouted.

He stared down at her. The tall marauder in his goggles,

his masked and turbanned face, body cinched with belts and

weaponry. Laura met his eyes without flinching.

"Okay," he told her. "It's your decision." She felt the

weight of his words. He was telling her she was free again.

Out of prison, in the world of decisions and consequences. A

fierce sense of elation seized her.

"Take my camera. Don't touch its triggers." The stranger

took Katje in his arms and carried her to his own buggy,

parked five yards from the truck.

Laura followed him, lugging the camera. The bulldozed

roadbed scorched her bare feet and she hopped and lurched to

the shade of the buggy. She looked down the slope.

The iron stump of a vaporized tower marked Ground Zero.

The atomic crater was not as deep as she'd expected. It was

shallow and broad, marked with eerie streaks, puddles of

glassy slag broken like cracked mud. It looked mundane,

wretched, forgotten, like an old toxic-waste excavation.

Jeeps were peeling away from the bunker, roaring upslope.

They had soldiers in back, the test site's garrison, manning

swivel-mounted machine guns.

From half a mile away they opened fire. Laura saw impact

dust puffing twenty yards below them, and following that,

languidly, the distant chatter of the shots.

The stranger was rearranging his cargo. Carefully, thought-

fully. He glanced briefly at the approaching enemy jeeps, the

way a man would glance at a wristwatch. He turned to Laura.

"You ride in back and hold her."

"All right."

"Okay, help me with her." They set Katje into the vacated

cargo space, on her side. Katje's eyes were open again but

they looked glassy, stunned.

Machine-gun fire clattered off the wreckage of one of the

half-tracks.

The lead jeep. suddenly lurched clumsily into the air. It

came down hard, pancaking, men and wreckage flying. Then

the sounds. of the exploding land mine reached them. The two

other jeeps pulled up short, fishtailing in the shoulder of the

road. Laura climbed on, throwing her arm over Katje.

"Keep your head down." The stranger saddled up, threw

the buggy into motion. They whirred away. Off the track,

into wasteland.

In moments they were out of sight. It was low, rolling

desert, studded with red, cracked rubble and heat-varnished

boulders. The occasional waist-high thornbush, tinsel-thin wisps

of dry grass. The afternoon heat was deadly, blasting up from

the surface like X-rays.

A slug had hit Katje about two inches left of the navel and

exited her back, nicking the floating rib. In the fierce dry heat

both wounds had clotted quickly, dark shiny wads of con-

gealed blood on her back and stomach. She had a bad cut on

her shin, splinter damage, Laura thought.

Laura herself was untouched. She had barked a knuckle a

little, flopping down for cover in the back of the truck. That

was all. She felt amazed at her luck-until she considered the

luck of a woman who had been machine-gunned twice in her

life without even joining a goddamned army.

They covered about three miles, careening and weaving.

The marauder slowed. "They'll be after us," he shouted back

at her. "Not the jeeps-aircraft. I've got to keep moving, and

we'll spend some time in the sun. Get her under the tarp. And

cover your head. "

"With what?"

"Look in the kit bag there. No, not that one! Those are

land mines."

Laura loosened the tarp and pulled a flap over Katje, then

tugged the kit bag loose. Clothes-she found a grimy military

shirt. She draped it over her head and neck like a burnoose,

and turbanned it around her forehead with both sleeves.

With much jarring and fumbling she managed to get Katje's

handcuffs off. Then she flung both sets of them off the back

of the truck, flung away the keys. Evil things. Like metal

parasites.

She climbed up onto the cargo heap, behind her rescuer.

He passed her his goggles. "Try these." His eyes were bright

blue.


She put them on. Their rubber rims touched her face,

chilled with his sweat. The torturing glare faded at once. She

was grateful. "You're American, aren't you?"

"Californian." He tugged his veil down, showing her his

face. It was an elaborate tribal veil, yards of fabric, wrapping

his face and skull in a tall, ridged turban, the ends of it

draping his shoulders. Crude vegetable dye had stained his

cheeks and mouth, streaking his creased Anglo face with

indigo.

He had about two weeks of reddish beard stubble, shot with



gray. He smiled briefly, showing a rack of impossibly white

American teeth.

He looked like a TV journalist gone horribly and perma-

nently wrong. She assumed at once that he was a mercenary,

some kind of military adviser. "Who are you people?"

"We're the Inadin Cultural Revolution. You?"

"Rizome Industries Group. Laura Webster."

"Yeah? You must have some story to tell, Laura Web-

ster." He looked at her with sudden intense interest, like a

sleepy cat spotting prey.

Without warning, she felt a sudden powerful flash of deja

vu. She remembered traveling out to an exotic game park as a

child, with her grandmother. They'd pulled up in the car to

watch a huge male lion gnawing a carcass at the side of the

road. The memory struck her: those great white teeth, tawny

fur, the muzzle flecked with blood up to the eyes. The lion

had looked up calmly at her through the window glass, with a

look just like the one the stranger was giving her now.

"What's an Inadin?" Laura said.

"You know the Tuaregs? A Saharan tribe? No, huh?" He

pulled the brow of his turban lower, shading his bare eyes.

"Well, no matter. They call themselves the 'Kel Tamashek.'

`Tuareg' is what the Arabs call them-it means `the godforsaken.'

" He was picking up speed again, weaving expertly

around the worst of the boulders. The suspension soaked up

shock-good design, she thought through reflex. The broad

wire wheels barely left a track.

"I'm a journalist," he told her. "Freelance. I cover their

activities. "

"What's your name?"

"Gresham. "

"Jonathan Gresham?"

Gresham looked at her for a long moment. Surprised,

thinking it over. He was judging her again. He always seemed

to be judging her. "So much for deep cover," he said at last.

"What's the deal? Am I famous now?"

"You're Colonel Jonathan Gresham, author of The Lawrence Doctrine

and Postindustrial Insurgency?"

Gresham looked embarrassed. "Look, I was all wrong in

that book. I didn't know anything back then, it's theory,

half-ass bullshit mostly. You didn't read it, did you?"

"No, but I know people who really thought the world of that book."

"Amateurs."

She looked at Gresham. He looked like he'd been born in

limbo and raised on the floor of hell. "Yeah, I guess so."

Gresham mulled it over. "You heard about me from your

jailers, huh? I know they've read my stuff. Vienna read it

too-didn't seem to do them much good, though. "

"It must mean something! Your bunch of guys on little

bicycles just wiped out a whole convoy!"

Gresham winced a little, like an avant-garde artist praised

by a philistine. "If I'd had better intelligence.... Sorry about

your friend. Fortunes of war, Laura. "

"It could have just as easily been me."

"Yeah, you learn that after a while."

"Do you think she'll make it?"

"No, I don't. If one of us took a wound that bad, we'd have

just put a bullet in him." He glanced at Laura. "I could do it,"

he, said. He was being genuinely generous, she could see that.

"She doesn't need more bullets, she needs surgery. Is there

a doctor we can reach?"

He shook his head. "There's an Azanian relief camp, three

days from here. But we're not going there-we need to

regroup at our local supply dump. We have our own survival

to look after-we can't make chivalrous gestures."

Laura reached forward and grabbed the thick robe at Gresham's

shoulder. "She's a dying woman!"

"You're in Africa now. Dying women aren't rare here."

Laura took a deep breath.

She had reached bedrock.

She tried hard to think. She looked around herself, trying

to clear her head. Her mind was all rags and tatters. The

desert around her seemed to be evaporating her. All the

complexities were going-it was stark and simple and ele-

mental. "I want you to save her life, Jonathan Gresham."

"It's bad tactics," Gresham said. He kept his eyes from

her, watching the road. "They don't know she's mortally

wounded. If she's an important hostage, they'll expect us to

head for that camp. And we haven't lived this long by doing

what FACT expects."

She backed away from him. Switched gears. "If they touch

that camp the Azanian Air Force will stomp all over what's

left of their capital."

He looked at her as if she'd gone mad.

"It's true. Four days ago the Azanians hit Bamako, hard.

Fuel dumps, commandos, everything. From their aircraft

carrier. "

"Well, I'll be damned." Gresham grinned suddenly. No

reassurance there-it was feral. "Tell me more, Laura

Webster. "

"That's why they were taking us to the atom-bomb test

site. To make a propaganda statement, frighten the Azanians.

I've seen their nuclear submarine. I even lived aboard it. For

weeks. "


"Jesus Christ," Gresham said. "You saw all that? An

eyewitness?"

"Yes. I did."

He believed her. She could see it was hard for him, that it

was news that was changing the basic assumptions of his life.

Or at least the basic assumptions of his war, if there was any

difference between his living and his warring. But he recog-

nized that she was telling him the truth. It was coming across

between them, something basic and human.

"We gotta do an interview," he muttered.

An interview. He had a camera, didn't he? She felt con-

fused, relieved, obscurely ashamed. She looked back for that

moral bedrock. It was still there. "Save my friend's life."

"We can try it." He stood up in the saddle and yanked

something from his belt-a white folding fan. He flicked it

open and held it over his head, waved it, sharp semaphore

motions. For the first time Laura realized that there was

another Tuareg in sight-a buglike profile, almost lost in heat

haze, a mile to the north. A dotlike answering flicker.

Katje groaned in the back, a raw animal sound. "Don't let

her drink too much," Gresham warned. "Mop her down

instead. "

Laura moved into the back.

Katje was awake, conscious. There was something vast and

elemental, terrifying, about her ordeal. There was so little

that talking or thinking could do about it-no way to debate

with death. Her face was like a skull and she was fighting

alone.
As hours passed Laura did what she could. A word or two

with Gresham and she found what little he had that could

help. Padding for Katje's head and shoulders. Leather bags of

water that tasted flat and distilled. Some skin grease that

smelled like animal fat. Black smudge on cheekbones to cut

the glare.

The exit wound in the back was worst. It was ragged and

Laura feared it would' soon turn septic. The scab broke open

twice during the worst jolts and a little rill of blood ran across

Katje's spine.

They stopped once when they hit a boulder and the right

front wheel began complaining, Then again when Gresham

spotted what he thought were patrol planes-it was a pair of

vultures.

As the sun set Katje began muttering aloud. Bits and pieces

of a life. Her brother the lawyer. Mother's letters on flowered

stationery. Tea parties. Charm school. Her mind groped in

delirium for some vision, miles and years away. A tiny center

of human order in a circle of desolate horizon.

Gresham drove until well after twilight. He seemed to

know the country. She never saw him look at a map.

Finally he stopped in the channeled depth of an arroyo-a

"wadi," he called it. The sandy depths of the dry river were

crowded with waist-high bushes that stank of creosote and

were full of tiny irritating burrs.

Gresham dismounted, shouldering a duffel bag. He pulled

his curved machete and began chopping bushes. "The planes

are worst after dark," he said. "They use infrareds. If they

hit us at all, they'll probably take out the scoot." He began

placing bushes over the buggy, camouflaging it. "So we'll

sleep away from it. With the baggage."

"All right." Laura crawled from the back of the buggy,

battered, filthy, bone-weary. "What can I do to help?"

"You can dress yourself for the desert. Try the knapsack."

She took the knapsack around the far side of the truck and

fumbled it open. Shirts. Spare sandals.' A long, coarse tunic

of washed-out blue, wrinkled and wadded and stained. She

shrugged out of her prison blouse.

God, she was so thin. She could see every rib. Thin and

old and exhausted, like something that ought to be killed. She

tunneled into the tunic-its shoulder seams came halfway

down her biceps and the sleeves hung to her knuckles. It was

thick though, and beaten soft with long wear. It reeked of

Gresham, as if he had embraced her.

Strange thought, dizzying. She was embarrassed. She was

a spectacle, pathetic. Gresham couldn't want a madwoman....

The ground rose up and struck her. She lay in a heap of her

own arms and legs, wondering. A muddle of time passed,

vague pain and rushing waves of dizziness.

Gresham was gripping her arms.

She looked at him blankly. He gave her water. The water

revived her enough to feel her own distress. "You passed

out," he said. She nodded, understanding for the first time.

Gresham picked her up. He carried her like a bundle of

balloons; she felt light, hollow, bird-boned.

There was a lean-to pegged to the wall of the arroyo.' A

windbreak with a short arching tent roof of desert camo-cloth.

Under the roof a dark figure crouched over the white-striped

prison form of Katje-another of the Tuareg raiders, a long

sniper's rifle strapped to his back. Gresham set Laura down,

exchanged words with the Tuareg, who nodded somberly.

Laura crawled into the tent, felt rough wool beneath her

fingers-a carpet.

She curled up on it. The Tuareg was humming tonelessly to

himself, under a ramp of blazing stars.


She was woken by the steaming smell of tea. It was barely

dawn, a red auroral brightening in the east. Someone had

thrown a warm rug over her during the night. She had a

pillow too, a burlap bag stenciled in weird angular script. She

sat up, aching.

The Tuareg handed her a cup, gently, courteously, as if it

were something precious. The hot tea was dark brown and

frothy and sweet, with a sharp minty reek. Laura sipped it. It

had been boiled, not brewed, and it hit her like a hard

narcotic, astringent and strong. It was foul, but she could feel

it toughening her throat like tanned leather, bracing her for

another day's survival.

The Tuareg half turned away, shyly, and discreetly lifted

his veil. He slurped noisily, appreciatively. Then he opened a

drawstring bag and offered it to her. Little brown pellets of

something-like peanuts. Some kind of dried scop. It tasted

like sugared sawdust. Breakfast. She ate two handfuls.

Gresham emerged from the lightening gloom, an enormous

figure wrapped to the eyes, yet another bag slung over his

shoulder. He was tossing handfuls of something over the dirt,

with swift, ritual gestures. Tracer dust, maybe? She had no

idea.


"She made it through the night," Gresham told her, dust-

ing his hands. "Even spoke a little this morning. Stubborn,

those Boers."

Laura stood up, painfully. She felt ashamed, "I'm not

much use, am I?"

"It's not your world, is it." Gresham helped the Tuareg

unpeg and fold the tent. "Not much pursuit, this time.... We

planted some heat flares, maybe that sidetracked the planes.

Or they may think we were Azanian commandos.... I hope

so. We might provoke something interesting."

His relish terrified her. "But if FACT has the Bomb.... You

can't provoke people who can destroy whole cities!"

He was unimpressed. "The world's full of cities. " Gresham

glanced at a wristwatch on a braided leather bracelet. "Got a

long day ahead, let's move."

He'd repacked the buggy-shifted some of his cargo to

another truck. Katje lay in a nest of carpet, shaded by the

tarp, her eyes open.

"Good morning," she whispered.

Laura sat beside her, bracing her back and legs. Gresham

kicked the buggy into motion. It whined reluctantly as it

picked up speed-battery draining, she thought.

She took Katje's wrist. Light, fluttery pulse. "We're gonna

get you back to your own people, Katje."

Katje blinked, her lids veiny and pale. She forced the

words. "He is a savage, an anarchist...."

"Try to rest. You and I, we're gonna live through this.

Live to tell about it." The sun peered over the horizon, a

vivid yellow blister of heat.

Time passed, and the heat mounted sullenly as the miles

passed. They were leaving the deep Sahara and crossing

country with something more akin to soil. This had been

grazing land once-they passed the mummies of dead cattle,

ancient bone stick-puppets in cracked rags of leather.

She had never realized the scale of the African disaster. It

was continental, planetary. They had traveled hundreds of

miles without glimpsing another human being, without seeing

anything but a few wheeling birds and the tracks of lizards.

She'd thought Gresham was being cavalier, deliberately bru-

tal, but she understood now how truly little he must care for

FACT and its weaponry. They lived here, it was their home.

Atomic bombardment could scarcely have made it worse. It

would only make more of it.

At midafternoon a FACT pursuit plane found one of the

Tuareg buggies and torched it. Laura never even saw the

plane, no sign of the deadly encounter except a distant column

of smoke. They stopped and sought cover for half an

hour, until the drone had exhausted its fuel or ammo.

Flies found them immediately as they waited. Huge, bold

Saharan flies that settled on Katje's blood-stained clothes like

magnets. They had to be knocked loose, slapped away, be-

fore they would leave. Even then they moved only in short

buzzing arcs and lit again. Laura fought them grimly, wincing

as they landed on her goggles, tried to sip moisture from her

nose and lips.

At last the scattered caravan passed signals by their semaphore.

The driver had survived unwounded; a companion

had picked him up and packed out the usable wreckage.

"Well, that's torn it," Gresham told her as they drove on.

From somewhere he had dug up a battered pair of mirrored

sunglasses. "They know where we're heading now, if they

didn't before. If we had any sense we'd lie low, rest up, work

on the vehicles. "

"But she'll die."

"The odds say she won't even make it through the night."

"If she can make it, then we can, too."

"Not a bad bet," he said.

They stopped after dusk in a dead farming village of roof-

less, wind-carved adobe walls. There were thornbushes in the

ruins of a corral and a long, creeping gully had split the

village threshing ground. The soil in the rudimentary irrigation

ditches was so heavily salinized that it gleamed with a

salted crust. The deep stone well was dry. People had lived

here once-generation after generation, a thousand tribal years.

They left the buggy hidden in one of the ruined houses and

set up camp in the depths of a gully, under the stars. Laura

had more strength this time-she was no longer giddy and

beaten. The desert had sand-blasted her down to some reflexive

layer of vitality. She had given up worrying. It was an

animal's asceticism.

Gresham set up the tent and heated a bowl of soup with an

electric coil. Then he vanished, off on foot to check on some

outflung post of his caravan. Laura sipped the oily protein

broth gratefully. The smell of it woke Katje where she lay.

"Hungry," she whispered.

"No, you shouldn't eat."

"Please, I must. I must, just a little. I don't want to die

hungry. "

Laura thought it over. Soup. It wasn't much worse than

water, surely.

"You've been eating," Katje accused her, her eyes glazed

and ghostly. "You had so much. And I had nothing."

"All right,- but not too much."

"You can spare it."

"I'm trying to think of what's best for you. No

answer, just pain-brimming eyes full of suspicion and fever-

ish hope. Laura tilted the bowl and Katje gulped desperately.

"God, that's so much better." She smiled, an act of heart-

breaking courage. "I feel better.... Thank you so much."

She curled away, breathing harshly.

Laura leaned back in her sweat-stiff djellaba and dozed off.

She woke when she sensed Gresham climbing into the lean-to.

It was bitterly cold again, that lunar Saharan cold, and she

could feet heat radiating off the bulk of him, large and male

and carnivorous. She sat up and helped him kick his way

under the carpet.

"We made good time today," he murmured. The soft

voice of the desert, a bare disturbance of the silence. "If she

lives, we can make it to her camp by midmorning. I hope the

place isn't full of Azanian commandos. The long arm of

imperialist law and order."

" `Imperialist.' That word doesn't mean anything to me."

"You gotta hand it to 'em," Gresham said. He was-looking

down at Katje, who lay heavily, unconscious. "Once it looked

like their little anthill was sure to go, but they pulled through

somehow.... The rest of Africa has fallen apart, and every

year they move a little farther north, them and their fucking

cops and rule books."

"They're better than FACT! At least they help."

"Hell, Laura, half of FACT are white fascists who split

when South Africa went one-man, one-vote. There's not a

dime's worth of difference.... Your doctor friend may have

a carrot instead of a stick, but the carrot's just the stick by

other means. "

"I don't understand." It seemed so unfair. "What do you want?"

"I want freedom." He fumbled in his duffel bag. "There's

more to us than you'd think, Laura, seeing us on the run like

this. The Inadin Cultural Revolution-it's not just another

bullshit cover name, they are cultural, they're fighting for it,

dying for it.... Not that what we have is pure and noble, but

the lines crossed here. The line of population and the line of

resources. They crossed in Africa at a place called disaster.

And after that everything's more or less a muddle. And more

or less a crime."

Deja vu swept over her. She laughed quietly. "I've heard

this before. In Grenada and Singapore, in the havens. You're

an islander too. A nomad island in a desert sea." She paused.

"I'm your enemy, Gresham."

"I know that," he told her. "I'm just pretending otherwise."

"I belong out there, if I ever get back."

"Corporate girl. "

"They're my people. I have a husband and child I haven't

seen in two years."

The news didn't seem to surprise him. "You've been in the

War," he said: "You can go back to the place you called

home, but it's never the same."

It was true. "I know it. I can feel it inside me. The burden

of what I've seen."

He took her hand. "I want to hear all of it. All about you,

Laura, everything you know. I am a journalist. I work under

other names. Sacramento Internet, City of Berkeley Munici-

pal Video Cooperative, about a dozen others, off and on. I've

got my backers.... And I've got video makeup in one of the bags. "

He was very serious. She began laughing. It turned her

bones to water. She fell against him in the dark. His arms

surrounded her. Suddenly they were kissing, his beard raking

her face. Her lips and chin were sunburned and she could feel

the bristles piercing through a greasy lacquer of oil and sweat.

Her heart began hammering wildly, a manic exaltation as if

she'd been flung off a cliff. He was pinning her down. It was

coming quick and she was ready for it-nothing mattered.

Katje groaned aloud at their feet, a creaking, unconscious

sound. Gresham stopped, then rolled off her. "Oh, man," he

said. "Sorry."

"Okay," Laura gasped.

"Too weird," he said reluctantly. He sat up, pulling his

robed arm from under her head. "She's down there dying in

that fucking Dachau getup ... and I left my condoms in the scoot."

"I guess we need those."

"Hell, yes, we do, this is Africa. Either one of us could

have the virus and not know for years." He was blunt about

it, not embarrassed. Strong.

She sat up. The air crackled with their intimacy. She took

his hand, caressed it. It didn't hurt to do it. It was better now

between them, the tension gone. She felt open to him and

glad to be open. The best of human feelings.

"It's okay," she said. "Put your arm around me. Hold

me. It's good."

"Yeah." Long silence. "You wanna eat?"

Her stomach lurched. "Scop, God, I'm sick of it."

"I've got some California abalone and a couple of tins of

smoked oysters I've been saving for a special occasion."

Her mouth flooded with hunger. "Smoked oysters. No. Really?"

He patted his duffel bag. "Right here. In my bail-out bag.

Wouldn't want to lose 'em, even if they torched the scoot.

Hold on, I'll light a candle." He pulled the zip. Light flared.

Her eyes shrank. "Will the planes see. that?"

The candle caught, backlighting his head. Snarl of reddish-

brown hair. "If they do, let's die eating oysters." He pulled

three tins from the bottom of the bag. Their bright American

paper gleamed. Treasure marvels from the empire of consumerism.

He opened one tin with his knife. They ate with their

fingers, nomad style. The rich flavor hit Laura's shriveled taste

buds like an avalanche. The aroma flooded her whole head;

she felt dizzy with pleasure. Her face felt hot and there was a

faint ringing in her ears. "In America, you can have these

every day," she said. She had to say it aloud, just to test the

miracle of it.

"They're better when you can't have them," he said. "It's

a hell of a thing, isn't it? Perverse. Like hitting your head

with a hammer 'cause it feels so good when you stop." He

drank the juice out of the can. "Some people are wired that way."

"Is that why you came to the desert, Gresham?"

"Maybe," he said. "The desert's pure. The dunes-all

lines and form. Like good computer graphics." He set the

can aside. "But that's not all of it. This place is the core of

disaster. Disaster is where I live."

"But you're an American," she said, looking down at

Katje. "You chose to come here."

He thought about it. She could feel him working up to

something. Some deliberate confession.

"When I was a kid in grade school," he said, "some

network guys with cameras showed up in my classroom one

day. They wanted to know what we thought about the future.

They did some interviews. Half of us said they'd be doctors,

or astronauts, and all that crap. And the other half just said

they figured they'd fry at Ground Zero." He smiled distantly.

"I was one of those kids. A disaster freak. Y'know, you get

used to it after a while. You get to where you feel uneasy

when things start looking up." He met her eyes. "You're not

like that, though."

"No," she said. "Born too late, I guess. I was sure I could

make things better."

"Yeah," he said. "That's my excuse, too."

Katje stirred, listlessly.

"You want some abalone?"

Laura shook her head. "Thanks, but I can't. I can't enjoy

it, not now, not in front of her." The rich food was flooding

her system with a rush of drowsiness. She leaned her head on

his shoulder. "Is she going to die?"

No answer.

"If she dies, and you don't go to the camp, what'll you do

with me?"

Long silence. "I'll take you to my harem where I'll cover

your body with silver and emeralds."

"Good God." She stared at him. "What a wonderful lie."

"No, I won't. I'll find some way to get you back to your Net."

"After the interview?"

He closed his eyes. "I'm not sure that's a good idea after

all. You might have a future in the outside world, if you kept

your mouth shut, about FACT and the Bomb and Vienna. But

if you try to tell what you know ... it's a long shot."

"I don't care," she said. "It's the truth and the world has

to know it. I've got to tell it, Gresham. Everything."

"It's not smart," he said. "They'll put you away, they

won't listen."

"I'll make them listen, I can do it."

"No, you can't. You'll end up a nonperson, like me.

Censored, forgotten. I know, I've tried. You're not big enough

to change the Net."

"Nobody's big enough. But it's got to change."

He blew out the light.


Katje woke them before dawn. She had vomited and was

coughing. Gresham lit the candle, quickly, and Laura knelt

over her.

Katje was bloated, and radiant with fever. The scab had

broken on her stomach and she was bleeding again. The

wound smelled bad, a death smell, shit and infection. Gresham

held the candle over her. "Peritonitis, I think."

Laura felt a rush of despair. "I shouldn't have fed her."

"You fed her?"

"She begged me to! I had to! It was a mercy...."

"Laura, you can't feed someone who's been gut-shot."

"Goddamn it! There isn't any right thing to do with some-

one like this...." She brushed away tears: rage. "Goddamn

it, she's going to die, after everything!"

"She's not dead yet. We don't have that far now. Let's go."

They loaded her into the truck, stumbling in darkness.

Amazingly, Katje began to speak. Mumbles, in English and

Afrikaans. Prayers. She wouldn't die and now she was calling

on God. To whatever mad God ran Africa, as if He were

watching and condoning all this.


The camp was a square mile of white concrete block-

houses, surrounded by tall chain-link fence. They rolled up a

roadway lined by fences on either side that led to the center of

the place.

Children had rushed the fence. Hundreds of them, faces

rushing past. Laura could not look at them. She stared at a

single face among the crowd. A black teenaged girl in a

bright red polyester pinafore from some charity bale of Amer-

ican clothing. A dozen cheap plastic digital watches hung like

bangles on her rail-thin forearms.

She had caught Laura's eye. It galvanized her. She thrust

her arms through the chain-link and begged enthusiastically.

"Mam'selle, mam'selle! Le the de Chine, mam'selle! La

canne a sucre!" Gresham drove on grimly. The girl screamed

louder, shaking the fence with her thin arms, but her voice

was drowned in the shouting of others. Laura almost turned to

look back, but stopped at the last moment, humiliated.

There were gates ahead. A striped military parachute had

been spread for shade. Black soldiers in speckled desert fa-

tigues, with broad-brimmed ranger's hats pinned up on one

side with a regimental badge. Commandos, she thought, Azanian

troops. Beyond the closed gates was a smaller camp within a

camp, with taller buildings, Quonset huts, a helicopter pad.

An administrative center. Gresham slowed. "I'm not going into

this fucking place."

"It's all right, I'll handle it."

One of the guards blew a whistle, and held up his hand.

They looked curious about the lone buggy, not particularly

concerned. They looked well fed. City soldiers. Amateurs.

Laura jumped down, flopping in Gresham's spare sandals.

"Medic!" she screamed. "I've got a wounded Azanian,

she's camp personnel! Get a stretcher!"

They rushed forward to look. Gresham sat in his saddle,

looming above them aloofly, in his flowing robes, his head

wrapped in the veil and turban. A soldier with stripes ap-

proached her. "Who the fuck are you?" he said.

"I'm the one who brought her in. Hurry it up, she's dying!

Him, he's an American journalist and he's wired for sound,

so watch that language, Corporal."

The soldier stared down at her. Her stained tunic, a dirty

shirt turbanned around her head, eyes undersmudged with

black grease.

"Lieutenant," he said, hurt. "My rank is lieutenant, miss."
She talked with the Azanian administrators in one of their

long Quonset huts. Wall shelves bulged with canned goods,

medical equipment, spare parts packed in grease. Heavy insu-

lation on the rounded walls and ceiling cut the roar of their air

conditioners.

A camp trusty in a white jacket, his cheeks ridged with

tribal scars, circled among them with iced bottles of Fanta

orange pop.

She'd given them only the sketchiest version of events, but

the Azanians were jumpy and confused, and didn't seem to

expect much from a desert apparition like herself. The camp's

director was a portly pipe-smoking black Azanian named

Edmund Mbaqane. Mbaqane was bravely attempting to look

bureaucratically unflappable and very much on top of things.

"We're so very grateful, Mrs. Webster ... forgive me if I

seemed abrupt at first. To hear yet another story of this

genocidal Bamako regime-it does make one's blood boil."

Mbaqane hadn't boiled very vigorously-none of them

had. They were civilians thousands of miles from home, and

they were exposed, and they were twitchy. They were glad

they had their hostage back-one of their own crew-but she

hadn't come through government channels and they clearly

wondered what it meant.

The Azanian Civil Action Corps seemed to have been

assembled for multiracial political correctness. There were a

pair of black ("Coloured") orderlies. Briefly, earlier, Laura

had met a little slump-shouldered woman in braids and sneak-

ers, Dr. Chandrasekhar-but she was now in the clinic, tend-

ing to Katje. Laura surmised that little Dr. Chandrasekhar

was the life and soul of the place-she was the one who

talked fastest and looked most exhausted.

There was also an Afrikaaner named Barnaard, who seemed

to be some kind of diplomat or liaison. His hair was brown,

but his skin was a glossy, artificial black. Barnaard seemed to

have a better grasp of the political situation than the others,

which was probably why his breath smelled of whiskey and he

stayed close to the paratroop captain. The captain was a Zulu,

a bluff, ugly customer who looked like he'd be pretty good in

a bar fight.

They were all scared to death. Which was why they kept

reassuring her. "You may rest easy, Mrs. Webster," the

director told her. "The Bamako regime will not be trying any

more adventures! They won't be buzzing this camp again.

Not while the Azanian aircraft carrier Oom Paul is patrolling

the Gulf of Guinea."

"She's a good ship," said the paratroop captain.

Barnaard nodded and lit a cigarette. He was smoking Chi-

nese "Panda Brand" unfiltereds. "After yesterday's incident,

Niger protested the violation of her airspace in the strongest

possible terms. And Niger is a Vienna signatory. We expect

Viennese personnel here, in this very camp, by tomorrow

morning. Whatever their quarrel with us, .1 don't believe

Bamako would care to offend the Viennese."

Laura wondered if Barnaard believed what he'd said. The

isolationist Azanians seemed to have far more faith in Vienna

than people who were more in the swing of things. "You

have any of that suntan oil?" Laura asked him.

He looked a bit offended. "Sorry."

"I wanted to see the label.... You know who makes it?"

He brightened. "Surely. A Brazilian concern. Unitika-something."

"Rizome-Unitika."

"Oh, so, they're one of yours, are they?" Barnaard nod-

ded at her, as if it explained a lot. "Well, I have nothing

against multinationals! Any time you fellows would like to

begin your investments again-under proper supervision, of

course ...

A printer began chattering. News from home. The others

drifted over. Director Mbaqane moved closer to Laura. "I'm

not sure I understand the role of this American journalist you

mentioned. "

"He was with the Tuaregs."

The director tried not to look confused. "Yes, we do have

some so-called Tuaregs here, or rather, Kel Tamashek.... I

take it that he wants to assure himself that they are being

treated in a fair and equal manner?"

"It's more of a cultural interest," Laura said. "He did

mention something about wanting to talk to them."

"Cultural? They're coming along very nicely.... Perhaps

I could send out a deputation of tribal elders-put his mind to

rest. We gladly shelter any ethnic group in need-Bambara,

Marka, Songhai. . . . We have quite a large contingent of

Sarakole, who are not even Nigeran nationals."

He seemed to expect an answer. Laura sipped her orange

pop and nodded. Barnaard drifted back-he had quickly as-

sessed the message as meaningless. "Oh, no. Not another

journo, not now."

The director shut him up with a glance. "As you can see,

Mrs. Webster, we're rather pressed at the moment ... but if you

require a tour, I'm sure that Mr. Barnaard would be more than

happy to, ah, explain our policies to the international press."

"You're very thoughtful," Laura said. "Unfortunately I

have to do an interview myself."

"Well, I can understand that-it must be quite a scoop.

Hostages, freed from the notorious prisons of Bamako." He

fiddled with his pipe avuncularly. "It'll certainly be the talk

of Azania. One of our own, returned to us from bondage.

Quite a boost for our morale-especially in the midst of this

crisis." The director was talking over and through her for the

benefit of his own people. It was working, too-he was

cheering them up. She felt better about him.

He went on. "I know that you and Dr. Selous must be-

are-very close. The sacred bond between those who have

struggled together for freedom! But you needn't worry, Mrs.

Webster. Our prayers are with Katje Selous! I am sure she

will pull through!"

"I hope so. Take good care of her. She was brave."

"A national heroine! Of course we will. And if there's

anything we can do for you ... "

"I thought, maybe a shower."

Mbaqane laughed. "Good heavens. Of course, my dear.

And clothing.... Sara is about your size...."

"I'll keep this, uh, djellaba." She had puzzled him. "I'm

going on camera with it, it's a better image."

"Oh, I see-... yes."


Gresham was doing a stand-up at the edge of camp. Laura

circled him, careful to stay out of camera range.

She was shocked by the beauty of his face.. He had shaved

and put on full video makeup: eyeliner, lip rouge, powder.

His voice had changed: it was mellifluous, each word pro-

nounced with an anchorman's precision.

.. the image of a desolate wasteland. But the Sahel was

once the home of black Africa's strongest, most prosperous

states. The Songhai empire, the empires of Mali and Ghana,

the holy city of Timbuktu with its scholars and libraries. To

the Moslem world the Sahel was a byword for dazzling

wealth, with. gold, ivory, crops of all kinds. Huge caravans

crossed the Sahara, fleets of treasure canoes traveled the

Niger River ... "

She walked past him. The rest of his caravan had arrived,

and the Tuaregs had set up camp. Not the rags and lean-tos

they'd skulked under while raiding, but six large, sturdy-

looking shelters. They were prefabricated domes, covered in

desert camo-fabric. Inside they were braced with mesh-linked

metallic ribs.

From the backs of their skeletal desert cars, the hooded

nomads were unrolling long linked tracks that looked like

tank treads. In harsh afternoon sunlight the treads gleamed

with black silicon. They were long racks of solar-power cells.

They hooked the buggies' wheel hubs to long jumper cables

from the power grid. They moved with fluid ease; it was

as if they were watering camels. They chatted quietly in

Tamashek.

While one group was recharging their buggies, the others

rolled out mats in the shade of one of the domes. They began

brewing. tea with an electric heat coil. Laura joined them.

They seemed mildly embarrassed by her presence, but ac-

cepted it as an interesting anomaly. One of them pulled a tube

of protein from an ancient leather parcel and cracked it_ open

over his knee. He offered her a wet handful, bowing. She

scraped it from his long fingertips and ate it and thanked him.

Gresham arrived with his cameraman. He was wiping his

powdered face with an oiled rag, fastidiously. "How'd it go

in camp?"

"I wasn't sure they'd let me back out."

"They don't work that way," Gresham said. "It's the

desert that locks people in there...." He sat beside her.

"Did you tell them about the Bomb?"

She shook her head. "I wanted to, but I just couldn't.

They're so jumpy already, and there's commandos with

guns. . . . But Katje will tell them, if she comes around. It's

all so confused-I'm confused. I was afraid they'd panic and

lock me away. And you, too."

The thought amused him. "What, come out and tangle

with us? I don't think so." He patted the camera. "I had a

talk with that para captain, when he came out to give us the

once-over. . . . I know how he's thinking. Classic Afrikaaner

tactics: he's got his covered wagons- in a circle, every man to

the ramparts, ready to repel the Zulus. Of course he's a Zulu

himself, but he's read the rule books. . . . Got a camp full of

childlike savage refugees to keep calm and pacified. . . . He's

got us figured for friendlies, though. So far."

"Vienna's coming, too."

"Christ." Gresham thought about it. "A little Vienna, or a

lot of Vienna?"

"They didn't say. I guess it depends on what Vienna

wants. They gave me some song-and-dance about protests

from the government of Niger."

"Well, Niger's no help, eighty-year-old Soviet tanks and

an army that riots and burns down Niamey' every other

year. . . . If there's a lot of Vienna, it could be trouble. But

they wouldn't send a lot of Vienna to a refugee camp. If

Vienna were moving in force against Mali they'd just hit Bamako."

"They wouldn't ever do that. They're too afraid of the Bomb."

"I dunno. Spooks make lousy soldiers, but they took out

Grenada six months ago, and that was a tough nut to crack. "

"They did that? Invaded Grenada?"

"Wiped 'em out in their hacker ratholes.... Stupid tactics

though, frontal assault, clumsy.... They lost over twelve

hundred men." He raised his brows at her shock. "You've

been to Grenada, Laura-I thought you knew. FACT should

have told you-it was such a triumph for their goddamn

policy. "

"They never told me. Anything."

"The cult of secrecy," he said. "They live by it." He

paused, glancing toward the camp. "Oh, good. They've sent

us but some of their tame Tamashek."

Gresham withdrew within the dome, motioning Laura with

him. Half a dozen camp inmates arrived outside, trudging

reluctantly.

They were old men. They wore T-shirts and paper baseball

hats and Chinese rubber sandals and ragged polyester pants.

The Inadin Tuaregs greeted them with languid, ritual po-

liteness. Gresham translated for her. Sir is well? Yes, very

well, and yourself? Myself and mine are very well, thank

you. And sir's people, they are also well? Yes, very well.

Thanks be to God, then. Yes, thanks be to God, sir.

One of the Inadin lifted the kettle high and began pouring

tea with a long, ceremonial trickle. Everyone had tea. They

then began boiling it again, pouring some coarse sugar over a

kettle already half full of leaves. They spoke for some time

about the tea, sitting politely, brushing without irritation at

circling flies. The day's most virulent heat faded.

Gresham translated for her-strange bits of solemn plati-

tude. They stayed in the back of the tent, out of the circle.

Time passed slowly, but she was happy enough to sit beside

him, letting her mind go desert blank.

Then one of the Inadin produced a flute. A second found

an intricate xylophone of wood and gourds, bound with leather.

He tapped it experimentally, tightening a cord, while a third

reached inside his robe. He tugged a leather thong-at the

end was a pocket synthesizer.

The man with the flute opened his veil; his black face was

stained blue with sweat-soaked indigo dye. He blew a quick

trill on the flute, and they were off.

The rhythm built up, high resonant notes from the buzzing

xylophone, the off-scale dipping warble of the flute, the

eerie, strangely primeval bass of the synthesizer.

The others punctuated the music with claps and sudden

piercing shrieks from behind their veils. Suddenly one began

to sing in Tamashek. "He sings about his synthesizer,"

Gresham murmured.

"What does he say?"


I humbly adore the acts of the Most High,

Who has given to the synthesizer what is better than a soul.

So that, when it plays, the men are silent,

And their hands cover their veils to hide their emotions.

The troubles of life were pushing me into the tomb,

But thanks to the synthesizer,

God has given me back my life.
The music stopped. The camp refugees clapped a little,

then stopped, confused. Gresham glanced at his watch, then

rose to his feet, lugging his camera. "That's just a taste of

it," he told Laura. "They'll be back for more, later-and

bring their families I hope...."

"Let's do the interview."

He hesitated. "You sure you're up for it?"

"Yeah."


She followed him to another tent. It was guarded by two of

the Inadin Tuaregs and heaped with their baggage. There

were carpets underfoot and a battery, a spare one from the

buggies. Hooked to it, he had a keyboard and screen-a

custom model with a console-of hand-carved redwood.

Gresham sat cross-legged before it. "I hate this goddamned

machine," he announced, and ran his hand lingeringly over

its sleek lines. He hooked his videocam to one of the con-

sole's input ports.

"Gresham, where's your makeup case?"

He passed it to her. Laura opened the hand mirror. She was

so gaunt and thin-a look like anorexia, rage turned help-

lessly in on itself.

The hell. She jabbed her fingertips in powder, smeared her

hollow cheeks. Somebody was going to pay.

She began rouging her lips. "Gresham, we have to figure

how to hustle those Azanians. They're old-fashioned, funny

about information. They wouldn't let me near their damned

telex, and they'll want to clear everything with Pretoria."

"We don't need them," he said.

"We do if we want to reach the Net! And they'll want to

see the tape first-they'll learn everything."

He shook his head. "Laura, look around you."

She put down the mirror and humored him. They were in a .

dome. Fabric over metal ribs and chicken wire.

"You're sitting under a satellite dish," he told her.

She was stunned. "You access satellites?"

"How the hell else do you touch the Net from the middle

of the Sahara? The coverage is spotty, but during the right

tracking times you can make a pass."

"How can you do that? Where does the money come

from?" An awful thought struck her. "Gresham, are you

running a data haven?"

"No. I used to deal with them, though. All the time." He

thought about it. "Maybe I should start my own haven now.

The competition's down, and I could use the bread."

"Don't do it. Don't even think it."

"You must know that biz pretty well. You could be my

adviser." The joke fell completely flat. He looked at her,

meditatively. "You'd come right after me, wouldn't you.

You and your little legions of straight-arrow corporate people."

She said nothing.

"Sorry," he said. "It hardly matters at the moment. . . .I

wouldn't want to send this tape to a data haven anyway."

"What do you mean? Where would you send it?"

"To Vienna, of course. Let 'em see that I know-that I've

got the goods on 'em. FACT has the Bomb, and they've

blackmailed Vienna. So Vienna cut a deal with them-let 'em

beat the crap out of the havens, while they covered up for

nuclear terrorists. Vienna's failed, and I know they've failed.

To shut me up, they might try to hunt me down and kill me,

but I've gotten pretty good at avoiding that. With any luck

they'd buy me off instead. Then leave me alone-the way

they've left Mali alone."

"That's not enough! Everyone must know. The whole world."

Gresham shook his head. "I think we could hustle Vienna,

if we play it right. They don't mind buying people when they

have to. They'll pay for our silence. More than you might

think. "

She held the mirror-to her face. "I'm sorry, Gresham. I

simply, truly don't care about Vienna or its money. That's

not who I am. I care about the world I have to live in."

"I don't live in your world," he told her. "Too bad if that

makes me sound crass. But I can tell you this much-if you

want to go back, and be-who-you-are, and live your cozy life

in that whole world of yours, you'd better not try to kick its

jams out. Maybe I could survive a stunt like that, ducking and

dodging out here in the desert, but I don't think you could.

The world doesn't give a shit how noble your motives are-

it'll roll right over you.. That's how it works." He was

lecturing her. "You can hustle-cut a corner here, a corner

there-but you can't tackle the world...."

She examined her hair in the mirror. Wild prison hair.

She'd washed it in the Azanian camp and the dry heat had

fluffed it out. It stood up all over her head, like an explosion.

He kept after her. "It's no use even trying. The Net will

never run this tape, Laura. News services never run tapes of

terrorist hostages. Except for Vienna, who knows it's true,

everyone will think it's wild bullshit. That you're speaking

under duress, or that the whole thing is bogus."

"You took tape of that nuclear test site, didn't you?" she

said. "You can tag it on to my statement. Let's see 'em refute

that one!"

"I'll do that, certainly-but they could refute it anyway."

"You've heard my story," she told him. "I made you

believe it, didn't I? It happened, Gresham. It's the truth."

"I know it is." He handed her a leather canteen.

"I can do it," she told him, feeling brittle. "Tackle the

world. Not just some little corner of-it, but the whole great

grinding mass of it. I know I can do it. I'm good at it."

"Vienna will step on it."

"It's gonna step on Vienna." She squeezed a stream of

canteen water into her mouth and shoved the makeup kit out

of camera range. She set the canteen by her knee.

"It's too big for me to hold anymore," she said. "I've got

to tell it. Now. That's all I know." At the sight of the

camera, something was rising up within her, adrenaline-wild

and strong. Electric. All that fear and weirdness and pain,

packed down in an iron casing. "Put me on tape, Gresham.

I'm ready. Go."

"You're on."

She looked into the world's glass eye. "My name is Laura

Day Webster. I'm gonna start with what happened to me on

the Ali Khamenei out of Singapore ... "

She became pure glass, a conduit. No script, she was

winging it, but it came out pure and strong. Like it would

carry her forever. The truth, pouring through.

Gresham interrupted her with questions. He had a prepared

list of them. Sharp, to the point. It was like he was stabbing

her. It should have hurt, but it only broke open the flow. She

reached some level that she'd never touched before. An ec-

stasy, pure fluid art. Possession.

She couldn't keep that edge. It was timeless while she had

it, but then she could feel it go. She was hoarse and she

began stumbling a little. Sliding off at the edges, passion

slipping into babble.

"That's it," he said at last.

"Repeat the question?"

"I don't have any more. That's it. It's over." He shut off

the camera.

"Oh." She wiped her palms on the carpet, absently.

Drenched. "How long was it?"

"You talked for ninety minutes. I think I can edit it down

to an hour."

Ninety minutes. It had felt like ten. "How was I?"

"Amazing." He was respectful. "That business when they

buzzed the camp-that's the sort of thing nobody could fake."

She was puzzled. "What?

"You know. When the jets came over just now." He

stared at her. "Jets. The Malians just buzzed the camp."

"I didn't even hear it."

"Well, you looked up, Laura. And you waited. Then you

went right on talking."

"The demon had me," she said. "I don't even know what

the hell I said." She touched her cheek. It came away black

with mascara. Of course-she'd been weeping. "I've run my

makeup all over my goddamn face! And you let me."

"Cinema verite," he said. "It's real. Raw and teal. Like a

live grenade."

"Then throw it," she told him. Giddily. She let herself go

and fell back where she sat. Her head hit a buried rock under

the carpet, but the dull jolt of pain seemed a central part of

the experience.

"I didn't know it would be like this," he said. There was

real fear in his voice. It was as if, for the first time, he had

realized he had something to lose. "It might just happen-it

could get loose in the Net. People might really believe it."

He shifted uneasily where he sat. "I've gotta figure the

angles first. What if Vienna falls? That would be great, but

they might just reform and come back with bigger teeth this

time. In which case I've fucked myself and everything I've

tried to create here. Crap like that can happen, when you

throw live grenades."

"It has to get loose," she said passionately. "It will get

loose, sometime. FACT knows, Vienna knows, maybe even

governments.... A secret this huge is bound to come out,

sooner or later. It's not just our doing. We just happen to be

the people on the spot."

"I like that line of reasoning, Laura. It'll sound good if

they catch us."

"That doesn't matter. Anyway, they can't touch us, if

everybody learns the truth! Come on, Gresham! You've got

goddamn satellites, think of a way to get through, damn it!"

He sighed. "I already have," he said. He got to his feet

and walked past her, unrolling a spool of cable. After a

moment she rose on one elbow and looked out the triangular

pie slice of door, after him. It was late afternoon now, and

the Tuaregs were throwing two of the domes onto their backs.

Yawning teacup mouths open to the dry Saharan sky.

Gresham came back. He looked down at her as she sprawled

on the carpet, breathing. "You okay?"

"I'm hollow. Eviscerated. Absolved."

"Yeah," he said. "You talked just like that, the whole

time." He sat cross-legged before his console and typed

away, carefully.

Minutes passed.

A woman's voice erupted from the console.

"Attention North Africa broadcast source, latitude eighteen

degrees, ten minutes, fifteen seconds; longitude five degrees,

ten minutes, eighteen seconds. You are broadcasting on a

frequency reserved for the International Communications Con-

vention for military use. You are advised to desist at once."

Gresham cleared his throat. "Is Vassily there?"

"Vassily?"

"Yeah. Da."

"Da, okay, looking good, hold on, please."

Moments later a man's voice came on. His English wasn't

as good as the woman's. "Is Jonathan, right?"

"Yeah. How's it goin'?"

"Very well, Jonathan! You are receiving the tapes I sent?"

"Yes, Vassily, thank you, spaseba, you're very generous.

As always. I have something very special for you. this time."

The voice was cautious. "Very special, Jonathan?"

"Vassily, this is an item beyond price. Unobtainable elsewhere. "

Unhappy silence. "I must ask, can it wait for our next pass

over your area. We are having small docking problem here at

the moment. Very small docking problem."

"I really think you'd better give this one your immediate

attention, Vassily."

"Very well. I will key in scrambler." Moment's wait.

"Ready for transmission."

Gresham tapped his console. High-pitched whir. He leaned

back, turning to Laura. "This'll take a while. The scramblers

are kind of clunky up on old Gorbachev Memorial."

"That was the Russian space station?"

"Yeah." Gresham rubbed his hands briskly. "Things are looking up."

"You just sent our tape to a cosmonaut?"

"Yeah." He tucked in his legs, resting his elbows on his

knees. "I'll tell you what I think might happen. They're

gonna look at it up there. They're gonna think it's craziness-at

first. But they may believe it. And if they do, they won't be

able to hold it back. Because the consequences are just too

extreme.

"So-they'll pipe it down to Moscow, and that other

place, Star City. And the ground teams will look it over, and

the apparatchiks. And they'll copy it. Not because they think

there ought to be a lot of copies, but because it needs study.

And they're gonna start shipping it all around. To Vienna

first, of course, because their people are all over Vienna. But

to the rest of the Socialist bloc, too-just in case ..."

He yawned into his fist. "And then those guys on the station

are going to realize they've got the publicity coup of a lifetime.

And if anyone's willing to fool with it, they are. I've got a lot

of contacts, here and there, but they're the craziest bastards I

know! Five will get you ten, they start dumping it, direct

broadcast. If they can get permission from Star City. Or

maybe even without permission."

"I don't understand, Gresham. Direct broadcast? That just

sounds lunatic."

"You don't know what it's like up there! Wait a minute,

you do know-you've lived on a submarine. But see, they've

been just burning, ever since little Singapore threw that guy

up with the laser launch. Because they've been up there

for years, hanging their ass on the edge of the-infinite, and

nobody paying attention. Didn't you hear how pathetic Vassily

was? Like some ham-radio geezer locked in a basement."

"But they're cosmonauts! They're trained professionals,

they do space science. Biology. Astronomy."

"Yeah. Lot of girls and glory in those two. Boy. " Gresham

shook his head. "I give it three days at the outside."

"Okay ... what then? If it doesn't work."

"I call 'em again. Threaten to give it to somebody else.

There are other contacts. . . . And we still have the original

tape. We just keep trying, that's all. Till we get through. Or

Vienna nails us. Or till FACT makes a demonstration on a

city and makes the news obvious to everyone. Which is what

we have to expect, isn't it?"

"My God! What we've just done could cause . . . worldwide

panic.... '

He sneered. "Yeah-I'm sure that's what Vienna has been

telling itself while they sat on the truth. For years. And

covered up, and protected the people who shot up your house."

A bolt of rage short-circuited her fear. "That's right!"

He grinned at her. "It was one of the least of their crimes,

actually. But I figured it'd bring you around.

She thought aloud. "Vienna let them do it. They knew

who killed Stubbs and they came into my house and lied to

me. Because they were afraid of something worse."

"Worse? I'll say. Think of the political consequences.

Vienna exists to keep order against terrorism, and they've

been sucking up to terries for years. They're gonna pay. The

hypocrites. "

"But Gresham, what if they start bombing people? Millions could die."

"Millions? Depends on how many warheads they have.

They're not a superpower. Five warheads? Ten? How many

launch racks in that submarine?"

"But they could really do it! They could murder whole

cities of innocent people while they're sleeping, peacefully....

For no sane reason! Just stupid fascist politics and power

mongering-" Her voice caught hoarsely.

"Laura-I'm older than you. I know that situation. I re-

member it vividly." He smiled. "I'll tell you how it worked.

We just waited and went on living, that's all. It didn't happen-

maybe it'll never happen. In the meantime, what good is this

doing you?" He stood up. "We're through here. Come with

me, there are things I want you to see."

She followed him unwillingly, feeling wretched, spooked.

The way he talked about it so casually-ten warheads-but

for him it was casual, wasn't it? He'd lived through a time

where there were thousands of warheads, enough to exterminate

all human life.

Responsible for mass death. It filled her with loathing. Her

thoughts raced and suddenly she wanted to flee into the

desert, vaporize. She never wanted to be near anyone who

had ever touched such a thing, who was shadowed by that

kind of horror.

And yet they were everywhere, weren't they? People who'd

played politics with atomic weapons. Presidents, premiers,

generals . . . little old men out in parks with grandkids and

golf clubs. She had seen them, lived among them-

She was one of them.

Her mind went numb.

Gresham slowed, took her elbow. "Look."

It was evening now. A ragged crowd of about a hundred

had gathered before one of the domes. The dome had been

pulled in half, as a kind of crude amphitheater. The Inadin

musicians were playing again, and one of them stood before

the crowd, swaying, singing. His song had a wailing meter

and many verses. The other Inadin swayed in time, some-

times giving a sharp cry of approval. The crowd looked on

open-mouthed.

"What's he saying?"

Gresham began speaking again in his television voice. He

was reciting poetry.


Listen, people of the Kel Tamashek,

We are the Inadin, the blacksmiths.

We have always wandered among the tribes and clans,

We have always carried your messages.

Our fathers' lives were better than ours,

Our grandfathers' better still..

Once our people traveled everywhere,

Kano, Zanfara, Agadez.

Now we live in the cities and are turned into numbers

and letters,

Now we live in the camps and eat magic food from tubes.
Gresham stopped. "Their word for magic is tisma. It means,

`the secret craft of blacksmiths.' "

"Go on," she said.
Our fathers had sweet milk and dates,

We have only nettles and thorns.

Why do we sufffer like this?

Is it the end of the world?

No, because we are not evil men,

No, because now we have tisma.

We are blacksmiths who have secret magic,

We are silversmiths who see the past and future.

In the past this was a rich and green land,

Now it is rock and. dust.


Gresham paused, watching the Tuaregs. Two rose and

began dancing, their outstretched arms curling and waving,

their sandaled feet stamping in time. It was slow, waltzlike

dancing, elegant, elegiac. The singer rose to his feet again.

"Now comes the good part," Gresham said.
But where there is rock, there can be grass,

Where there is grass, the rain comes.

The roots of grass will hold the rain,

The leaves of grass will tame the sandstorm.

But we were the enemies of grass,

That is why we suffer.

What our cows did not eat, the sheep ate.

What the sheep refused, the goats consumed.

What the goats left behind, the camels devoured.

Now we must be the friends of grass,

We must apologize to it and treat it kindly.

Its enemies are our enemies.

We must kill the cow and the sheep,

We must butcher the goat and behead the camel.

For a thousand years we loved our herds,

For a thousand years we must praise the grass.

We will eat the tisma food to live,

We will buy Iron Camels from GoMotion

Unlimited in Santa Clara California.
Gresham folded his arms. The singer continued. "There's

a lot more," Gresham said, "but that's the gist of it."

The question was obvious. "Did you write it for them?"

"No," he said proudly. "It's an old song." He paused.

"Retrofitted."

"Yeah.'


"A few of this crowd may join us. A few of the few may

stay. It's a hard life in the desert." He looked at her. "I'm

gone in the morning."

"Tomorrow? That soon?"

"It has to be that way."

The cruelty of it hurt her badly. Not his cruelty but the pure

cruelty of necessity. She knew immediately that she would

never see him again. She felt lacerated, relieved, panicky.

"Well, you did it, didn't you?" she said hoarsely. "You

rescued me and you saved my friend's life." She tried to

embrace him.

He backed off. "No, not out here-not in front of them."

He took her elbow. "Let's go inside."

He led her back into the dome. The guards were still there,

patrolling. Against thieves, she thought. They were afraid of

thieves and vandals from the camp. Beggars. It seemed so

pathetic that she began weeping.

Gresham flicked on the screen of his computer. Amber

light flooded the tent. He returned to the door of the dome,

spoke to the guards. One of them said something to him in a

sharp, high-pitched voice and began laughing. Gresham swung

the door shut, sealed it with a clamp.

He saw her tears. "What's all this?"

"You, me. The world. Everything." She wiped her cheek

on her sleeve. "Those camp people have nothing. Even

though you're trying to help them, they'd steal all this stuff of

yours, if they could."

"Ah," Gresham said, lightly. "That's what we high-falutin'

cultural meddlers refer to as `the vital level of corruption.' "

"You don't have to talk that way to me. Now that I can see

what you're trying to do."

"Oh, Lord," Gresham said unhappily. He stalked across

the dome in the mellow light of the monitor and gathered an

armload of burlap bags. He lugged them next to his screen

and terminal and spread them for pillows. "Come on, sit here

with me."

She joined him. The pillows had a pleasant, resinous smell.

They were full of grass seed. She saw that some were already

half empty. They'd been sowing the grass in the gullies as

they ran from pursuit.

"Don't get to thinking I'm too much like you," he said.

"Honest and sweet and wishing everybody the best. . . . I

grant you good intentions, but intentions don't count for

much. Corruption-that's what counts."

He meant it. They were sitting together inches apart, but

something was eating at him so badly that he wouldn't look at

her. "What you just said-it doesn't make any sense to me."

"I was in Miami once," he said. "A long time ago. The

sky was pink! I stopped this rudie on the boardwalk, I said:

looks like you got some bad particulate problems here. He

told me the sky was full of Africa. And it was true!. It was the

harmattan, the sandstorms. Topsoil from the Sahara, blown

right across the Atlantic. And I said to myself: there, that

place, that's your home."

He looked at her, into her eyes. "You know when it really

got bad here? When they tried to help. With medicine. And

irrigation. They sank deep wells, with sweet, flowing water,

and of course the nomads settled there. So instead of moving

their herds on, leaving the pastures a chance to recover, they

ate everything down to bare rock, for miles around every

well. And the eight, nine children that African women have

borne from time immemorial-they all lived. It wasn't that

the world didn't care. They struggled heroically, for gen-

erations, selflessly and nobly. To achieve an atrocity."

"That's too complicated for me, Gresham. It's perverse!"

"You're grateful to me, because you think I saved you.

The hell. We did our best to kill. everyone in that convoy. We

raked that truck with machine-gun fire, three times. I don't

know how the hell you lived."

" `Fortunes of war

"I love war, Laura. I enjoy it, like the F.A.C.T. Them,

they enjoy murdering rag-heads with robots. Me, I'm more

visceral. Somewhere inside me, I wanted Armageddon, and

this is as close as it ever got. Where the Earth is blasted and

all the sickness comes to a head."

He leaned closer. "But that's not all of it. I'm not innocent

enough to let chaos alone. I stink of the Net, Laura. Of power

and planning and data, and the Western method, and the pure

inability to let anything alone. Ever. Even if it destroys my

own freedom. The Net lost Africa once, blew it so badly that

it went bad and wild, but the Net will get it back, someday.

Green and pleasant and controlled, and just like everywhere

else. "

"So I win, and you lose-is. that what you're telling me?



That we're enemies? Maybe we are enemies, in some abstract

way that's all in your head. But as people, we're friends,

aren't we? And I'd never hurt you if I could help it."

"You can't help it. You were hurting me even before I

knew you existed." He leaned back. "Maybe my abstractions

aren't your abstractions, so I'll give you some of your own.

How do you think I financed all this? Grenada. They were

my biggest backers. Winston Stubbs . . . now there was a

man with vision. We didn't always see eye to eye, but we

were allies. It hurt a lot to lose him."

She was shocked. "I remember.... They said he gave

money to terrorist groups."

"I haven't been picky. I can't afford to be-this project of

mine, it's all Net stuff, money, and money's corruption is in

the very heart of it. The Tuaregs have nothing to sell, they're

Saharan nomads, destitute. They don't have anything the Net

wants-so I beg and scrape. A few rich Arabs, nostalgic for

the desert while they tool around in their limousines.... Arms

dealers, not many of those left I even took money

from FACT, back in the old days, before the Countess went

batshit. "

"Katje told me that! That it's a woman who runs FACT.

The Countess! Is it true?"

He was surprised, sidetracked. "She doesn't `run it,' ex-

actly, and she's not really a countess, that's just her nom de

guerre. . . . But, yeah, I knew her, in the old days. I knew

her very well, when we were younger. As well as I know

you."


"You were lovers?"

He smiled. "Are we lovers, Laura?"

The silence stretched, a desert silence broken by the distant

whooping of the Tuaregs. She looked into his eyes.

"I talk too much," he said sadly. "A theorist."

She stood and pulled the tunic over her head, threw it to

her feet. She sat beside him, naked, in the light of the screen.

He was silent. Clumsily, she pulled at his shirt, ran her

hand over his chest. He opened his robe and put his weight on her.

He fumbled at her gently. For the first time, something

vital, deep within her, realized that she was alive again. As if

her soul had gone to sleep like a handcuffed arm, and now

blood was returning. A torrent of sensation.

A moment passed with the muted crinkling of contraceptive

plastic. Then he was on her, inside her. She wrapped her legs

around him, her skin aflame. Flesh and muscle moving in

darkness, the smell of sex. She closed her eyes, overwhelmed.

He stopped for a moment. She opened her eyes. He was

looking at her, his face alight. Then he reached out with one

arm and tapped the keyboard.

The machine scanned channels. Light flashed over them as

it blasted one-second gouts of satellite video into the tent.

Unable to stop herself, she turned her head to look.

Cityscape / cityscape / trees / a woman I brand names /

Arabic script / image / image / image/

They were moving in time. They were moving in rhythm to

the set, eyes lifted up, fixed on the screen.

Pleasure shot through her like channeled lightning. She

cried out.

He gripped her hard and closed his eyes. He was going to

finish soon. She did what she could to help him.

And it was over. He slid aside, touched the screen. The

image froze on a weather station, ranks of silent numbers,

cool computer-graphic blues of. lows and highs.

"Thank you," he said. "You were good to me."

She was shaking in reaction. She found her robe and put it

on, body-mind whirling in turmoil. As reality came seeping

back, she felt a sudden giddy wash of joy, of pure release.

It was over, there was nothing to fear. They were people

together, a man and woman. She felt a sudden rush of

affection for him. She reached out. Surprised, he patted her

hand. Then he rose and moved into the television dimness.

She heard him fumbling, opening a bag. He was back in a

moment. Bright gleam of tin. "Abalone."

She sat up. Her stomach rumbled loudly. They laughed,

comfortable in their embarrassment, the erotic squalor of

intimacy. He pried open the can and they ate. "God, it's so

good," she told him.

"I never eat anything grown in topsoil. Plants are full of

deadly natural insecticides. People are nuts to eat that stuff."

"My husband used to say that all the time."

He looked up, slowly. "I'm gone tomorrow," he repeated.

"Don't worry about anything."

"It's fine, I'll be all right." Meaningless words, but the

concern was there-it was as if they had kissed. Night had

fallen, it had grown cold. She shivered.

"I'll take you back to camp."

"I'll stay, if you want."

He stood up, helped to her feet. "No. It's warmer there."
Katje lay in a camp bed, white sheets, the floral smell of an

air spray over the reek of disinfectant. There was not much

machinery by modern standards, but it was a clinic and they

had pulled her through.

"Where did you find such clothes?" she whispered.

Laura touched her blouse self-consciously. It was a red

off-the-shoulder number, with a ruffled skirt. "One of the

nurses--Sara ... I can't pronounce her last name."

Katje seemed to think it was funny. It was the first time

Laura had ever seen her smile. "Yes .... there's such a girl in

every camp. . . . You must be popular."

"They're good people, they've treated me very well."

"You didn't tell them . . . about the Bomb."

"No-I thought I'd leave that too you. I didn't think they'd

believe me."

Katje let the lie float over her, not taken in, but letting it

pass. Noblesse oblige, or maybe the anesthetic. "I told them

... now I don't worry ... let them worry."

"Good idea, save your strength."

"I won't do this anymore I'm going home. To be

happy." She closed her eyes.

The door opened. The director, Mbaqane, barged through,

followed by Barnaard the political man, and the- paratroop

captain.


And then the Vienna personnel. There were three of them.

Two men in safari suits and speckled glasses, and a stylish,

middle-aged Russian woman in a. jacket, sleek khaki pants,

and patent-leather boots.

They stopped by the bed. "So these are our heroes," the

woman said brightly.

"Indeed, yes," said Mbaqane.

"My name is Tamara Frolova-this is Mr. Easton, and

Mr. Neguib from our Cairo office."

"How do you do," Laura said reflexively. She almost rose

to shake hands, then stopped herself. "This is Dr. Selous....

She's very tired, I'm afraid."

"And small wonder, yes? After such narrow escapes."

"Ms. Frolova has very good news for us," Mbaqane said.

"A cease-fire is declared. The camp is out of danger! It

seems the Malian regime is prepared to sue for peace!"

"Wow," Laura said. "Are they handing over the bombs?"

Unhappy silence.

"A natural question," said Frolova. "But there have been

some errors. Honest mistakes." She shook her head. "There

are no bombs, Mrs. Webster."

Laura jumped to her feet. "I expected that!"

"Please sit down, Mrs. Webster."

"Ms. Frolova-Tamara-let me speak to you as a person.

I don't know what your bosses ordered you to say, but it's

over now. You can't walk away from it anymore."

Frolova's face froze. "I know you have suffered an ordeal,

Mrs. Webster. Laura. But one should not act irresponsibly.

You must think first. Reckless allegations of such a kind-

they are a clear public danger to the international order."

"They were taking me-both of us--to an atomic test site!

For nuclear blackmail! To Azania, this time--God knows

they already had you intimidated."

"The area you saw was not a test site."

"Stop being stupid! It doesn't even need Gresham's tape.

You may have fast-talked these poor medicos, but the Azanian

spooks aren't going to settle for words. They'll want to fly

over the desert and look for the crater."

"I'm sure that could be arranged!" Frolova said. "After

the current hostilities settle."

Laura laughed. "I knew you'd say that, too. That's an

arrangement you'll never make, if you can help it. But the

cover-up is still finished. You forget-we've been there. The

air was full of dust. They can test our clothes, and they'll find

radioactivity. Maybe not much, but enough for proof." She

turned to Mbaqane. "Don't let them anywhere near those

clothes. Because they'll grab the evidence, after they've grabbed

us."


"We are not 'grabbing' anyone," Frolova said.

Mbaqane cleared his throat. "You did say you wanted

them for debriefing. Interrogation. "

"The clothes prove nothing! These women have been in

the hands of a provocateur and terrorist! He has already

committed a serious information crime, with the help of Mrs.

Webster. And now that I hear her, I can see that it was not

unwitting help." She turned to Laura. "Mrs. Webster, I must

forbid you to speak any further!, You are under arrest."

"Good heavens," Mbaqane said. "You can't mean that

journalist fellow."

"This woman is his accomplice! Mr. Easton! Please draw

your weapon."

Easton pulled a tangle-gun from his armpit.

Katje opened her eyes. "So much yelling ... please don't

shoot me, too."

Laura laughed recklessly. "That's funny ... it's all ridicu-

lous! Tamara, listen to what you're saying. Gresham saved us

from the Malian death cells-so he could cover our clothes

with sifted uranium. Can you expect anyone to believe that?

What are you going to say after Mali nukes Pretoria? You

should be ashamed."

Barnaard spoke to the Viennese. Wonderingly. "You

encouraged us to attack Mali: You said we would have your

support-secretly. You said-Vienna said-that we were Af-

rica's great power, and we should restore order.... But you

..." His voice trembled. "You knew they had the Bomb!

You wanted to see if they would use it on us!"

"I resent that accusation in the gravest possible way! None

of you are global diplomats, you are acting outside your

experience-"

"How good do we have to be before we can judge you?"

Laura said.

Easton aimed his gun. Mbaqane struck his wrist and the

gun fell with a clatter. The two men stared at one another,

amazed. Mbaqane found his voice: high-pitched, livid. "Cap-

tain! Arrest these miscreants at once!"

"Director Mbaqane," the captain rumbled. "You are a

civilian. I take my orders from Pretoria."

"You cannot arrest us!" Frolova said. "You have no

jurisdiction!

The captain spoke again. "But I accept your suggestion

with thanks. For an Azanian soldier, the course of honor is

clear. " He pulled his .45 sidearm and leveled it at Mr.

Neguib's head. "Throw down your weapon."

Neguib pulled his tangle-gun carefully. "You are creating

a serious international complication. "

"Our diplomats will apologize if you force me to open fire.'

Neguib dropped the gun.

"Leave this clinic. Keep your hands in plain sight. My

soldiers will take you into custody."

He herded them slowly toward the door.

Barnaard could not resist a taunt. "Did you forget our

country also has uranium?"

Frolova spun in her tracks. She flung her arm out, pointing

at Laura. "You see? You see now? It's starting all over

again!"
11
She lost the journalists at the Galveston airport. She was

getting pretty good at it by now. They weren't as eager

as they'd been at first and they knew they could pick her up

again soon.

"Welcome to Fun City," the van told her. "Alfred A.

Magruder, Mayor. Please announce your destination clearly

into the microphone. Anunce Usted-"

"Rizome Lodge."

She turned on the radio, caught the last half of a new pop

song. "Rubble Bounces in Bamako." Harsh, jittery, banging

music. Strange how quickly that had come back into style.

Weirdness, edginess, war nerves.

The city hadn't changed much. They didn't let it change

much. Same grand old buildings, same palm trees, same

crowds of Houstonians, thinned out by a December cold front.

The Church of Ishtar was advertising openly now. They

were almost respectable, flourishing anyway, in a time of war

and whores. Carlotta had been right about that. She thought

about Carlotta, lost somewhere in her holy demimonde, smil-

ing her sunny, drugged smile and batting her eyes at some

client. Maybe their paths would cross again, somewhere some-

how sometime, but Laura doubted it. The world was full of

Carlottas, full of women whose lives were not their own. She

didn't even know Carlotta's real name.

Storm surf was up, backwash from a tropical depression,

broken up on, the Texas coast in a ragged, cloudy array.

Determined surfers were out in their transparent wetsuits.

More than half the surfers had black skin.

She spotted the flagpole first. The Texas flag, the Rizome

emblem. The sight of it hit her very hard. Memory, wonder,

sorrow. Bitterness.

The journos were waiting just outside the Rizome property

line. They had cunningly managed to stick a bus in her way.

Laura's van stopped short. The hat and sunglasses wouldn't

help her now. She climbed out.

They surrounded her. Keeping ten feet away, like the

privacy laws demanded. A very small blessing. "Mrs. Web-

ster, Mrs. Webster!" Then one voice amid the chorus. "Ms. Day!"

Laura stopped short. "What."

Red-haired guy, freckles. Cocky expression. "Any word on

your impending divorce action, Ms. Day?"

She looked them over. Eyes, cameras. "I know people

who could eat the lot of you for breakfast."

"Thanks, thanks, that's great, Ms. Day ..."

She crossed the beach. Up the old familiar stairs to the

walkway. The stair rails had aged nicely, with the silken look

of driftwood, and the striped awning was new. It looked like

a good place, the Lodge, with its cheerful arches and sand-

castle tower with the deep, round windows and the flags.

Innocent fun, sunbathing and lemonade, a wonderful place

for a kid.

She stepped into the bar, let the door shut itself behind her.

Dim inside-the bar was full of strangers. Earth-cooled air,

the smell of wine coolers and tortilla chips. Tables and wicker

chairs. A man looked up at her-one of David's wrecking

crew, she thought, not Rizome, but they'd always liked hang-

ing out here-she had forgotten his name. He hesitated,

recognizing her but not sure.

She ghosted past him. One of Mrs. Delrosario's girls passed

her with a pitcher of beer. The girl stopped, turned on her

heel. "Laura. It's you?"

"Hello, Inez."

They couldn't hug-Inez was carrying the beer. Laura

kissed her cheek. "You're all grown up, Inez.... You can

serve that stuff now?"

"I'm eighteen, I can serve it, I can't drink it."

"Well it won't be long now, will it?"

"I guess not...." She was wearing an engagement ring.

"My abuela will be glad to see you-I'm glad too."

Laura nodded toward the crowd from behind her sun-

glasses. "Don't tell them I'm here-everyone makes such a

big deal of it."

"Okay, Laura." Inez was embarrassed. People got that

way when you were a global celebrity. Tongue-tied and

worshipful-this, from little Inez, who used to see her chang-

ing diapers and knocking around in her bathing suit. "I'll see

you later huh?"

"Sure." Laura ducked behind the bar, went through the

kitchen. No sign of Mrs. Delrosario, but the smell of her

cooking was there, a rush of memory. She walked past

copper-bottomed pans and griddles, into the dining room.

Rizome guests talking politics-you could tell it by the strained

looks on their faces, the aggression.

It wasn't just the fear. The world had changed. They had

eaten up the Islands and it had settled in their belly like a

drug. That Island strangeness was everywhere now, diluted,

muted, and tingly... .

She couldn't face them, not yet. She went up the tower

stair,--the door wouldn't open for her. She almost walked

into it headlong. Codes must have changed-no, she was

wearing a new watchphone, not programmed for the Lodge.

She touched it. "David?"

"Laura," he said. "You at the airport?"

"No. I'm right here at the top of the stairs."

Silence. Through the door, across the few feet that still

separated them, she could feel him, bracing himself. "Come

on in...."

"It's the door, I can't get it open."

"Oh! Yeah, okay, I can get it." It shunted. She put her

sunglasses away.

She came up through the floor and threw the hat onto a

table, into a round column of sunlight from a tower window.

All the furniture was different. David rose from his favorite

console-but no, it wasn't his, not anymore.

A Worldrun game was on. Africa was a mess. He came to

greet her-a tall, gaunt black man, with short hair and read-

ing glasses. They gripped each other's hands for a moment.

Then hugged hard, saying nothing. He'd lost weight-she

could feel the bones in him;

She pulled back. "You look good."

"So do you." Lies. He took off the glasses and put them

in his shirt pocket. "I don't really need these."

She wondered when she was going to cry. She could feel

the need for it coming on. She sat down on a couch. He sat

on a chair across the new coffee table.

"The place looks good, David. Really good."

"Webster and Webster, we build to last."

That did it. She began crying, hard. He fetched her some

tissue and joined her on the couch and put his arm over her

shoulders. She let him do it.

"The first weeks," he said, "about the first six months, I

dreamed about this meeting. Laura, I couldn't believe you

were dead. I thought, in jail somewhere. Singapore. She's a

political, I told people, somebody's holding her, they'll let

her go when things straighten out. Then they started talking

about your being on the Ali Khamenei, and I knew that was

it. That they'd finally gotten you, that they'd killed my wife.

And I'd been half the world away. And hadn't helped." He

put his thumbs into the corners of his eyes. "I'd wake up at

night and think of you drowning."

"It wasn't your fault," she said. "It wasn't our fault, was

it? What we had was good, it was really going to last, to last

forever. "

"I .really loved you," he said. "When I lost you, it just

destroyed me."

"I want you to know, David-I don't blame you for not

waiting." Long silence. "I wouldn't have waited either, not

if it was like that. What you and Emily did, it was right for

you, both of you."

He stared at her, his eyes bloodshot. Her gesture, her

forgiveness, had humiliated him. "There's just no end to

what you're willing to sacrifice, is there?"

"Don't blame me!" she said. "I didn't sacrifice anything,

I didn't want this to happen to us! It was stolen from us-they

stole our life.

"We didn't have to do it. We chose to do it. We could

have left the company, run off somewhere, just been happy."

He was shaking. "I would have been happy-I didn't need

anything but you."

"We can't help it if we have to live in the world! We had

bad luck. Bad luck happens. We stumbled over something

buried, and it tore us up. " No answer. "David, at least we're

alive. "

He gave a sharp bark of laughter. "Hell, you're more than

alive, Laura. You're goddamn famous. The whole world

knows. It's a fucking scandal, a soap opera. We don't 'live in

the world'-the world lives in us now. We went out to fight

for the Net and the Net just stretched us to pieces. Not our

fault-oh hell no! All the fucking money and politics and

multinationals just grabbed us and pulled us apart!"

He slammed his knee with his fist. "Even if Emily hadn't

come in-and I don't love Emily, Laura, not like I loved

you-how the hell could we have ever gone back to a real

human life? Our little marriage, our little baby, our little

house?"

He laughed, a high-pitched unhappy sound. "Back when I



was a widower, there was a lot of rage and pain in that, but

Rizome tried to take care of me, they thought it was ... dra-

matic. I still hated their guts for what they led us into, but I

thought, Loretta needs me, Emily cares, maybe I can make a

go of it. Go on living."

He was as taut as strung wire. "But I'm just a little person,

a private person. I'm not Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, I'm not

God. I just wanted my wife and my baby and my work, and a

few pals to drink beer with, and a nice place to live."

"Well they wouldn't let us have that. But at least we made

them pay for what they did."

"You made them pay."

"I was fighting for us!"

"Yeah, and you won the battle-but for the Net, not for

you and me." He knotted his hands. "I know it's a selfish

thing. I feel ashamed sometimes, worthless. Those little bas-

tards out in their submarine, they're still out there with their

four precious home-made A-bombs, and if they fire one, it's

gonna vaporize a million people just like us. They're evil,

they have to be fought. So what do you and I matter, right?

But I can't see on that scale, I'm small, I can only see you

and me."


She touched his hands. "David, we still have Loretta.

We're not strangers. I was your wife, I'm the mother of your

child. I didn't want to be what I've become. now. If I'd had a

choice I'd have chosen you:"

He wiped his eyes. He was fighting the feelings back,

becoming distant. Polite. "Well, we'll see each other some-

times, won't we? Holidays-that sort of thing. Even though

I'm in Mexico now, and you're still in the company."

"I always liked Mexico."

"You can come down and see what we're working on. The

Yucatan project .. some of those guys from Grenada ... their

ideas weren't all bad. "

"We'll be good friends. When the hurt passes. We don't

hate each other-we didn't mean to hurt each other. It only

hurts this bad because it was so good when we had it."

"It was good, wasn't it? Back when we had each other.

When we were still the same size." He looked at her through

his tear-streaked dark face. Suddenly she could see the David

she had lost in there, somewhere. He was like a little boy.
They had a reception for her downstairs. It was like the

other receptions in her honor, in Azania, in Atlanta, though

the room was full of people she had loved. They had made

her a cake. She cut it, and everyone sang. No journalists,

thank God. A Rizome gathering.

She gave them a little speech that she'd written for them on

the plane, coming in. About the Lodge-how the enemy had

killed a guest, insulted their house and their company. About

how they had fought back, not with machine guns, but with

truth and solidarity. They had paid a price for resistance, in

trouble and tragedy.

But today the Malian conspiracy was exposed and in utter

wreckage. The Grenadian regime was wiped out. The

Singaporeans had had a revolution. Even the European data

bankers-Los Morfinos-had lost their safe havens and were

scattered to the winds. (Applause.)

Even Vienna had been shattered in the world upheaval, but

Rizome was stronger than ever. They had proven their right

to the future. They-the Lodge personnel-could be proud of

their role in global history.

Everyone applauded. They were shiny-eyed. She was get-

ting much better at this sort of thing. She had done it so many

times that all the fear was gone.

The formality broke up and people began circulating. Mrs.

Delrosario, Mrs. Rodriguez, were both in tears. Laura con-

soled them. She was introduced to the Lodge's new coordina-

tor and his pregnant wife. They bubbled on about how nice

the place was and how much they were sure they'd enjoy it.

Laura did her "humble Laura" number, patient, detached.

People always seemed surprised to see her speak reason-

ably, without hair-tearing or hysteria. They had all formed

their first judgment of her from watching Gresham's tape.

She had seen the tape (one of the innumerable pirated copies)

exactly once, and had turned it off before the end, unable to

bear the intensity. She knew what other people thought about

it, though-she had read the commentaries. Her mother had

sent her a little scrapbook of them, carefully clipped from the

world press.

She would think about those comments sometimes when

she was introduced to strangers, saw them judging her. Judg-

ing ' her, presumably, by the kind of crap they'd seen and

read. "Mrs. Webster was thoroughly convincing, showing all

the naive rage of an offended bourgeoise" Leningrad Free

Press. "She recited her grievances to the camera like a

cavalier's mistress demanding vengeance for an insult"-Paris-

Despatch. "Ugly, histrionic, gratingly insistent, a testament

that was ultimately far too unpleasant to be disbelieved"-

The Guardian. She had read that last one ten or twelve

times, and had even considered calling up the snide little

creep who'd written it-but what the hell. The tape had

worked, that was enough. And . it was nothing compared to

what they said about the poor wretched bastards who used to

run Vienna.

All that was old news now, anyway. Nowadays everybody

talked about the submarine. Everyone was an expert. It was

not, of course, an American Trident submarine-FACT had lied to

her about that, small surprise there. She had told the

whole world that she'd been on a "Trident" submarine, when

a Trident was actually a kind of missile.

But Gresham had asked her for a description and the

description had made it clear. The boat was a former Soviet

Alfa-class missile sub, which had been sold years ago, to the

African nation of Djibouti, and reported sunk with all hands.

Of course it had not sunk at all-the hapless crew had been

gassed by FACT saboteurs onboard as mercenaries, and the

whole sub captured intact.

Almost the whole story was out now, new bits and pieces

coming in every day. They had the FACT computer files,

captured in Bamako. FACT agents overseas were surrender-

ing right and left, naming their associates, ruining their for-

mer employers in a septic orgy of confession.

The Countess herself was dead. She had shot herself in her

bunker at Bamako and had her remains cremated, leaving a

long, rambling, lunatic testament about her vindication by

history. So they claimed, anyway. No genuine proof of her

death. She'd seen to that.

They still weren't even sure of the woman's true identity.

There were at least five solid candidates. wealthy right-wing

women who had vanished at one point or another into the

underworld of data piracy and global spookdom. That didn't

even count the hundreds of goofy folk tales and bullshit

conspiracy theories.

The weird, sick thing was that people liked it. They liked

the idea of an evil countess and her minions, even though the

testimony and confessions were showing how squalid it was..

The woman had been mentally ill. Old and trembling and out

of it, and surrounded by people. who were part zealot and part

profiteer.

But people couldn't see it like that-they couldn't grasp the

genuine banality of corruption. On some deep unconscious

level people liked the political upheaval, the insecurity, the

perverse tang of nuclear terror. The fear was an aphrodisiac, a

chance to chuck the longterm view and live for the moment.

Once it had always been like that. Now that she was living it,

hearing people talk it, she knew.

Someone had invited the mayor. Magruder began explain-

ing to her the complex legal niceties of reopening the Lodge.

He was defensive about what he'd done, in his own aggres-

sive way. She fended him off with empty pleasantries. "Oh,

wait," she said, "there's someone I simply must meet," and

she left him and walked at random toward a stranger. A black

woman with a short fringed haircut, standing alone in the

corner, sipping a soda-and-ricewater.

It was Emily Donato. She saw Laura coming and looked up

with an expression of pure animal terror. Laura stopped short,

jolted. "Emily," she said. "Hi."

"Hello, Laura." She was going to be civilized. Laura saw

the resolve for it stiffen her face, saw her control the urge to

flee.

The hubbub of conversation dropped an octave. People



were watching them over their drinks, from the comers of

their eyes. "I need a drink," Laura said. A meaningless

utterance, she had to say something.

"I'll get you one."

"No, let's get the hell out of here." She pushed open the

door and stepped out onto the walkway. A few people out on

the landing, leaning on the rail, watching seagulls. Laura

walked through them. Emily tagged after her, reluctantly.

They walked around the rampart, under the awning. It was

getting cold and Emily, in her simple short-sleeved dress,

clutched her bare brown arms. "I forgot my windbreaker....

No, it's okay. Really. " She put her drink on the wooden railing.

"You cut your hair," Laura said.

"Yeah," Emily said, "I travel pretty light these days."

Thudding silence. "Did you see Arthur's trial?"

Laura shook her head. "But I'm glad now you, never

introduced me to the son-of-a-bitch."

"He made me feel like a whore," Emily said. Simple,

abject. "He was F.A.C.T.! I still can't believe that some-

times. That I was sleeping with the enemy, that I spilled the

whole fucking thing, that it was all my fault." She burst into

tears. "And then this! I don't know why I even showed my

face here. I wish we were back in Mexico. I wish we were in hell!"

"For God's sake, Emily, don't talk like that."

"I disgraced my office. I disgraced the company. And God

knows what I've done with my personal life." She was

sobbing. "Now look what I've done-I've betrayed my best

friend. You were in prison and I was sleeping with your

goddamned husband! You must wish I was dead."

"No, I don't!" Laura blurted. "I know-I've been there.

It's no good at all."

Emily stared at her. The remark had stunned her. "I used

to know you really well," she said. "I used to depend on

you. You were the best pal I ever had.... Y'know, when I

first came down here, to see David, I thought I was doing you

a favor. I mean, I liked him, but he wasn't exactly doing

Rizome morale much good. Complaining, abusing people,

drinking too much. I said, my dead pal would want me to

look after David. I tried to do something really good, and it

was the worst thing I've ever done."

"I'd have done it too," Laura said.

Emily sat in one of the folding lounge chairs and pulled in

her legs. "That's not what I want," she said. "I want you to

tell me how much you hate me. I can't stand it if you're so

much nobler than I am."

"Okay, Emily." The truth burst out of her like an abcess.

"When I think of you and David sleeping together, I want to

tear your fucking throat out."

Emily sat there and took it. She shuddered and flung it off.

"I can't make up for it. But I can run away."

"Don't run, Emily. He doesn't need that. He's a good

man. He doesn't love me anymore, but he can't help that.

We're just too far apart now."

Emily looked up. Hope dawned. "So it's true? You're not

gonna take him away from me?"

"No." She forced the words to come lightly. "We'll get

the divorce. It won't be that much -trouble.... Except for the

journalists."

Emily looked at her feet. She accepted it. The gift. "I do

love him, you know. I mean, he's simple, and kind of dizzy

sometimes, but he does have his good points." She had

nothing left to hide. "I don't even need the pills. I just love

him. I'm used to him. We're even talking about having a baby."

"Oh, really?" Laura sat down. It was such a strange

thought that it somehow failed to touch her. It seemed pleasant

somehow, homey. "Are you trying?"

"Not yet but ..." She paused. "Laura? We're gonna

survive this, aren't we? I mean it won't be like it was, but we

won't have to kill ourselves. We'll be okay."

"Yeah." Long silence.

She leaned toward Emily. Now that it was out between

them some ghost of the old vibe was coming back. A kind of

subterranean tingle as their buried friendship stirred.

Emily brightened. She could feel it too.

It lasted long enough for them to go back in with their arms

around each other.

Everyone smiled.
She spent Christmas at her mother's place in. Dallas. And

there was Loretta. A little girl who ran when she saw the lady

in the hat and-sunglasses, and hid her face in her grandmoth-

er's dress.

She was such a cute little thing. Spiky blond pigtails,

greenish eyes. Quite a talker, too, once she got going. She

said, "Gramma spill the milk," and laughed. She sang a little

song about Christmas in which most of the verses were "na

na na na" at top volume. After she got used to her, she sat in

Laura's lap and called her "Rarra."

"She's wonderful," Laura told her mother. "You've done

really well with her."

"She's such a joy to me," said Margaret Alice Day Garfield

Nakamura Simpson. "I lost you-then I had her-now I

have both of you. It's like a miracle. Not a day passes that I

don't marvel at it. I've never been this happy in my life."

"Really, Mother?"

"I've had good times, and I've had bad times-this is the

best time, for me. Since I've retired-shrugged the yoke

off-it's me and Loretta. We're a family-it's like we're a

little team."

"You must have been happy when you and Dad were

together. I remember it. I always thought we were happy."

"Well, we were, yes. It wasn't quite this good, but it was

good. Till the Abolition. Till I started doing eighteen-hour

days. I could have chucked it your father wanted me to-

but I thought, no, this is it, the greatest turning point I'll ever

see in my lifetime. If I want to live in the world, I have to do

this first. So I did it, and I lost him. Both of you."

"It must have hurt you terribly. I was young and didn't

know-I only knew that it hurt me."

"I'm sorry, Laura. I know it's late, but I apologize to you."

"Thank you for saying that, Mother. I'm sorry too." She

laughed. "It's funny that it should come to this. After all

these years. Just a few words."

Her mother took her glasses off, dabbed at her eyes. "Your

grandmother understood.... We never have much luck, Laura.

But you know, I think we're working it out! It's not the old

way, but it's something. What are nuclear families, anyway?

Preindustrial.

"Maybe we can work it better this time around," Laura

said. "I blew it so much worse than you did that maybe it

won't hurt her so much."

"I should have seen more of you when you were growing

up," her mother said. "But there was work and-oh, dear, I

hate to say this-the world's full of men." She hesitated. "I

know you don't want to think about that right now, but

believe me, it does come back."

"That's nice to know, I guess." She watched the Christ-

mas tree, flickering between two Japanese wall hangings.

"Right now the only men I see are journalists. Not much fun

there. Ever since Vienna took the leash off, they're running

hog wild."

"Nakamura was a journalist," her mother said thought-

fully. "You know, I was never very happy with him, but it

was certainly intense."

They had supper together, in her mother's elegant little

dining nook. There was wine, and Christmas ham, and a little

spread of newly invented scop from Britain that tasted like

pate.' They could have eaten pounds of it.

"It's good, but it doesn't taste much like pate," her mother

complained. "It's a bit more like, oh, salmon mousse."

"It's too expensive," Laura said. "Probably costs about

ten cents to make."

"Well," her mother said tolerantly, "they have to recoup

the research fees. "

"It'll be cheaper when Loretta grows up."

"By then they'll be making scop that tastes like every-

thing, or anything, or nothing ever seen."

The thought was a little horrifying. I'm getting older,

Laura thought. Change itself is beginning to scare me.

She put the thought away. They played with Loretta until it

was her bedtime. Then they talked for another couple of

hours, sipping wine and eating cheese and being civilized.

Laura wasn't happy, but the edges were off, and she was

something close to content. No one knew where she was, and

that was a blessing. She slept well.

In the morning they exchanged presents.


The Central Committee had gathered in Rizome's' Stone

Mountain Retreat. There was the new CEO, Cynthia Wu.

And the committee itself, enough for a quorum: Garcia-Meza,

McIntyre, Kaufmann, and de Valera. Gauss and Salazar were

away at a summit, while the elderly Saito was off somewhere

taking the waters. And, of course, Suvendra was there, happy

to see Laura, unhappily chewing nicotine gum.

Rusticating. They were doing a lot of that lately. Atlanta

was a major city. There was always the whispered suggestion

that it might become Ground Zero.

It was a typical Central Committee feed. Lentil soup,

salad, and whole-grain bread. Voluntary simplicity-they all

ate it and attempted to look more high-minded than thou.

The telecom office was a Frank Lloyd Wright revival,

gridded concrete block pierced with glass, stacked and under-

cut in severe geometrical elegance. The building seemed to fit

Mrs. Wu, a' schoolteacherish Anglo in her sixties who had

come up through the marine-engineering section. She called

the meeting back to order.

"Thanks to contacts," she told them, "we're getting this

tape three days early, and before the network cuts it. I think

this documentary serves as a capstone to the political work we

pursued under my predecessor. I propose we use this opportu-

nity, tonight, to reassess our policy. In retrospect, our former

plans seem naive, and went seriously awry." She noticed de

Valera's hand. "Comment?"

"What exactly are you defining as success?"

"As I recall, our original strategy was to encourage the

data havens to amalgamate. Thus maneuvering them into a

bureaucratic, gesellschaft structure that would be more easily

controlled-assimilated, if you will. Peacefully. Is there any-

one here who thinks that policy worked?"

Kaufmann spoke. "It worked against the EFT Commerz-

bank-though I admit it wasn't our doing. Still-they're

legally entangled now. Harmless."

"Only because they fear being killed, Suvendra said.

"The anger of the Net is become an awesome force!"

"Let's face it," de Valera said. "If we'd known the true

nature of the F.A.C.T. we'd have never dared become in-

volved! On the other hand, the havens did lose, didn't they?

And we did win. Even our naivete worked to our advantage-at

least no one can accuse Rizome of having ever supported

FACT, no matter how badly the havens pestered us."

"In other words our success was mostly luck," Mrs. Wu

said crisply. "I agree-we've been fortunate. With the excep-

tion of those Rizome associates who paid the price for our

adventuring." She didn't have to glance at Laura to make her

point.


"True enough," de Valera said. "But our motives were

good and we fought the good fight. "

Mrs. Wu smiled. "I'm as proud of that as anyone. But I

can hope we'll do better in the present political situation.

Now that the truth is out-and we can make what we laugh-

ingly call informed decisions." She sat down, touching her

watchphone. "Let's roll the tape."

The lights dimmed and the display screen at the head of the

table flashed into life. "This is Dianne Arbright of 3N News,

reporting from Tangiers. The , exclusive interview you are

about to see was made under conditions of great personal

danger to our 3N news team. In the wilderness of Algeria's

Air Mountains, isolated, without backup, we were little short

of hostages in the hands of the now notorious Inadin Cultural

Revolution.... "

"What a glory hog," Garcia-Meza rumbled.

"Yeah," McIntyre said from the comfortable gemeineschaft

darkness. "I wish I knew her hairdresser."

Footage followed, with Arbright's narrative. White jeeps

jouncing cautiously through rugged mountain scenery. The

news. team in dashing safari outfits, hats, scarves, hiking boots.

A sudden crowd of Tuaregs on dune buggies, emerging

from nowhere. The jeep surrounded. Leveled guns. Real

alarm on the faces of the news team, jerky cinema verite.

Cameras blocked by calloused hands.

Back to Arbright, somewhere in Tangiers. "We were

searched for tracking devices, then blindfolded.' They ignored

our protests, bound us hand and foot, and loaded all four of

us into their vehicles, like sheep. We were hauled for hours

through some of the roughest and most desolate territory in

Africa. The next footage you will see was taken in the depths

of an ICR 'liberated zone.' In this heavily guarded, supersecret mountain fortress,- we were finally brought face to face

with the so-called strategic genius of the ICR-ex-Special

Forces Colonel Jonathan Gresham."

More footage. They caught their breath. A cave, crude

walls blasted out of living rock, dangling lightbulbs high

overhead. Arbright sitting cross-legged on the carpet, her

back to the camera.

Before her sat Gresham, turbanned, veiled, and cloaked,

his massive head and shoulders framed in a spreading wicker

peacock chair. Behind him at left and right stood two Tuareg

lieutenants, with slung automatic rifles, black bandoliers,

ceremonial Tuareg swords with jeweled hilts and tasseled

scabbards, combat knives, grenades, pistols.

"You may proceed," Gresham announced.

Mrs. Wu froze the tape. "Laura, you're our situation

expert. Is it him?"

"It's him," Laura said. "He's been to a laundry, but that's

Jonathan Gresham, all right."

"Do they always look like that?" de Valera asked.

Laura laughed. "They wouldn't last five minutes like that,

out on operations. Those silly swords, all that hardware-

they've got everything but flyswatters. Gresham's trying to

put the voodoo on her."

"I've never seen a more terrifying figure," said Mrs. Wu,

sincerely. "Why is he hiding his face? His photo. must be on

file somewhere anyway."

"He's wearing the tagelmoust," Laura said. "That veil

and turban-it's traditional for male Tuaregs. A kind of male chador."

"That's a switch," McIntyre said. Deliberate lightness.

She was scared, too.

"Thank you, Colonel Gresham." Arbright was shaken but

she was going to tough it out. A professional. "Let me begin

by asking, Why did you agree to this interview?"

"You mean why you-or why at all?"

"Let's begin with why at all."

"I know what's happened in your world," Gresham said.

"We blew Vienna's shell game, and the Net wants to know

why. What's in it for us? Who are we, what do we want?

When the Net wants to know, it sends its army journalists.

So I'm willing to meet with exactly one-you. I depend on you to

warn the rest off.' "I'm not sure I follow you, Colonel. I can't

speak for my media colleagues, but I'm certainly not a soldier."

"The Malian regime gave us a war of extermination. We

understand that. We also understand the far more insidious

threat that you pose, with your armies of cameramen. We

don't want your world. We don't respect your values and

we don't care to be touched. We are not a tourist attraction-we

are a revolution, not a zoo. We will not be tamed or assimi-

lated. By your very nature, by your very presence, you would

force assimilation on us. That will not be allowed."

"Colonel, you've been a journalist yourself, as well as a

soldier, and, ah, cultural theorist. You must be aware that

popular interest in you and your activities is very intense."

"Yes, I am. That's why I fully expect to litter this desert

with the bones of your colleagues in years to come. But I'm a

soldier-not a terrorist. When our enemies-your colleagues

are killed in our liberated zones, they'll die knowing the

reason. Assuming, that is, that I can trust you to do your job."

"I won't censor you, Colonel. I'm not Vienna, either."

"Yes-I know that. I know you pushed the coverage of the

Grenada terror attack well past Vienna's limits, at some risk

to your career. That's why I chose you-you have some spine."

The second cameraman had now wandered into range and

got a reaction shot. Arbright smiled at Gresham. Dimples.

Laura knew what she was feeling. She was fairly tight with

Arbright these days. Had done an interview with her, a good

one. She even knew the name of Arbright's hairdresser.

"Colonel, did you know that your book on the Lawrence

Doctrine is now a best-seller?"

"It was pirated," Gresham said. "And expurgated."

"Could you explain a bit of the doctrine for our viewers?"

"I suppose it's preferable to having them read it," Gresham

said reluctantly. Feigned reluctance, Laura thought. "Over a

century ago, Lawrence ... he was British, First World War

... discovered how a tribal society could defend itself from

industrial imperialism.... The Arab Revolt stopped the Turkish

cultural advance, literally in its tracks. They did this with

guerrilla assaults on the railroads and telegraphs, the Turkish

industrial control system. For success, however, the Arabs

were forced to use industrial artifacts-namely, guncotton,

dynamite, and canned food. For us it is solar power, plastique,

and single-cell protein."

He paused. "The Arabs made the mistake of trusting the

British, who were simply the Turks by another name. The

First World War was a proto-Net civil war, and the Arabs

were thrust aside. 'Til oil came-then they were assimilated.

Brave efforts like the Iranian revolt of 1979 were too little too

late ... they were already fighting for television."

"Colonel-you speak as if you don't expect anyone to sympathize."

"I don't. You live by your system. Vienna, Mali, Azania-

it's all imperial hardware, just different brand names."

"The British political analyst Irwin Craighead has described

you as `the first credible right-wing intellectual since T. E.

Lawrence.' "

Gresham touched his veil. "I'm a postindustrial tribal anarchist.

Is that considered `right-wing' these days? You'll have

to ask Craighead."

"I'm sure Sir Irwin would be delighted to discuss definitions."

"I'm not going to Britain-and if he tries to invade our

zones, he'll be ambushed like anyone else."

Mrs. Wu froze the tape. "This litany of death threats is

very annoying."

"Arbright's got him rattled," de Valera gloated. "Typical

right-winger-full of bullshit!"

"Hey!" Garcia-Meza objected. "You should talk, de

Valera-you and your socialist internal-money system-"

"Please don't start on that again," Kaufmann said. "Anyway,

he's interesting, is he not? Here's a fellow who could be

a world hero-not to everyone perhaps, but enough of us-

and not only is he staying out there in hell, but he's talked

these other poor souls into joining him!"

"His ideology sucks," de Valera said. "If he wants to be a

desert hermit, he could move to Arizona and stop paying his

phone bills. He doesn't need the shoulder-launched- rockets

and the whole nine yards."

"I'm with de Valera on this one," McIntyre said. "And I

still don't see how the Russian space station fits in."

"He's confused," Laura said. "He's not sure what he's

doing is right. It's like-he wants to be as different from us

as he can, but he can't get us out of himself. He's full of

some kind of self-hatred I can't understand."

"Let's give him his say," Garcia-Meza said.

They ran more tape. Arbright asked Gresham about FACT.

"The Malian regime is finished," Gresham said, "the sub-

marine is just a detail," and he began talking about Azanian

"imperialism." Detailing how roads could be land-mined,

convoys ambushed, communication links cut, until Azanian

"expansionism" was "no longer economically tenable."

Then without warning he started in on plans to heal the

desert. "Agriculture is the oldest and most vicious of humani-

ty's bio-technologies. Rather than deracinated farmers in

Azanian sterilization camps, there should be wandering tribes

of eco-decentralized activists...."

"He's a screwball," de Valera said.

"I think we're all agreed on that," Mrs. Wu said. She

turned down the sound. "The question is, what is our policy?

Is Gresham any less threatening to us than Grenada or Singa-

pore? He certainly cultivates a line in aggressive bluster."

"Grenada and Singapore were pirates and parasites," Laura

said. "Grant him this much-he only wants to be left alone."

"Come on," de Valera said. "What about all that high-

tech hardware? He didn't get that by selling handmade jewelry."

"Aha!" said Garcia-Meza. "Then that is where he's vulnerable. "

"Why we should harm someone who fought the F.A.C.T.?".

Suvendra said. "And if they could not frighten or defeat his

people, could we?"

"Good point," said Mrs. Wu. They watched Gresham lean

back briefly in his peacock chair and mutter an order to the

lieutenant on his left. The Tuareg saluted smartly and swag-

gered away, off-camera.

"He is in a desert no one wants," Suvendra said. "Why

force him to come after us?"

"What the hell could he do to us?" de Valera said. "He's

a Luddite."

Laura spoke heavily. "Can you run the tape back? I think

that man who just walked off-camera was Sticky Thompson."

They stirred in shock. Mrs. Wu ran it again. "Yeah,"

Laura said. "That walk, that salute. Under that veil, it's got to

be him. Sticky-Nesta Stubbs. Of course-where else would

he go? I wondered what had become of him."

"That's horrible," de Valera said.

"No, it's not," Laura told him. "He's over therein the

desert with Gresham. He's not over here."

"Oh, my God," McIntyre said. "And to think I stay up at

night worrying about atom bombs. We'd better tell Vienna immediately."

They stared at her. "Smart move," de Valera said at last.

"Vienna. Wow. That'll really scare him."

Mrs. Wu rubbed her forehead. "What do we do now?"

"I can think of one thing," Laura said. "We can protect

his supply lines, so no one else bothers him! And I know one

supply that's got to mean more to him than anything. Iron

Camels, from GoMotion Unlimited in Santa Clara, Califor-

nia. We should make inquiries."

"Rizome-GoMotion," McIntyre said. "Doesn't sound half bad."

"Good," Garcia-Meza said. "He is vulnerable, as I said.

Transport-that would give us influence over him."

"We might be better off forgetting all about him," de

Valera said. "It's hot in the Sahara. Maybe they'll all evaporate."

"No one's ever going to forget Gresham," Laura said.

"They never forget what they can't have.... We'd better get

hold of that company." She looked around the table as they

sat in the flickering television dimness. "Don't you see it?

Iron Camels-the Jonathan Gresham Look. Every would-be

tough guy and rugged individualist and biker lunatic on this

planet is gonna want one for himself. In six months Arizona

will be full of guys in nylon tagelmousts breaking their

necks." She propped her head in her hands. "And there's not

a damn thing he can do about that."

"Could be worth millions," de Valera mused. "Hell, I'd

bet on it." He looked up. "When does this thing air?"

"Three days."

"Can we do anything in that time?"

"In California? Sure," said Mrs. Wu. "If we get right on it.'

So they got right on it.
Laura was cleaning her kitchen when her watchphone buzzed.

She touched it and the door opened. Charles Cullen, Rizome's

former CEO, stood out in the corridor in denim overalls.

"Mr. Cullen," she said, surprised. "I hadn't heard you

were back in Atlanta."

"Just dropping in on old friends. Sorry I didn't call, but

your new phone protocols.... Hope you don't mind."

"No, I'm glad to see you. C'mon in." He crossed the

living room and she came out of the kitchen. They hugged

briefly, cheek-kissed. He looked at her and grinned suddenly.

"You haven't heard yet, have you?"

"Heard what?"

"You haven't been watching the news?"

"Not in days," Laura said, throwing magazines off the

couch. "Can't stand it-too depressing, too weird."

Cullen laughed aloud. "They bombed Hiroshima, he said.

Laura went white and grabbed for the couch.

"Easy," he said. "They fucked up! It didn't work!" He

rolled the armchair behind her. "Here, Laura, sit down,

sorry.... It didn't explode! It's sitting in a tea-garden in

downtown Hiroshima right now. Dead, useless. It came flying

out of the sky-tumbling, the eyewitnesses said-and it hit

the bottom of the garden and it's lying there in the dirt. In big

pieces "


"When did this happen?"

"Two hours ago. Turn on the television."

She did. It was ten in the morning, Hiroshima time. Nice

bright winter morning. They had the area cordoned off. Yel-

low suits, masks, geiger counters. Good helicopter overhead

shot of the location. Tiny little place in wood and ceramic in

some area zoned for small restaurants.

The missile was lying there crushed. It looked like some-

thing that had -fallen off a garbage scow. Most of it was

engine, burst copper piping, ruptured corrugated steel.

She turned down the gabbling narrative. "Isn't 'it full of

uranium?"

"Oh, they got the warhead out first thing. Intact. They

think the trigger failed. Conventional explosive. They're look-

ing at it now."

"Those evil bastards!" Laura screamed suddenly and slapped

the coffee table hard. "How could they pick Hiroshima?"

Cullen sat down on the couch. He could not seem to stop

grinning. Half amusement, half twisted nervous fear.. She'd

never seen him smile so much. This crisis was bringing out

the bizarre in everyone. "Perfect choice," he said: "Big

enough to show you mean it-small enough to show restraint.

They're evacuating Nagasaki right now."

"My God, Cullen."

"Oh," he said, "call me Charlie. Got anything to drink?"

"Huh? Sure. Good idea." She called the liquor cabinet over.

"You've got Drambuie!" Cullen said, looking. He picked

out a pair of liqueur glasses. "Have a drink." He poured,

spilled a sticky splash on the coffee table. "Whoops."

"God, poor Japan." She sipped it. She couldn't help but

blurt her thought aloud. "I guess this means they can't get us."

"They're not gonna get anybody," he said, gulping. "The

whole world's after 'em. Sound detectors, sonar, anything

that can float. Hell, they got the whole Singapore Air Force

scrambling for the East China Sea. They picked the bomb up

on airport radar coming in, got a trajectory...." His eyes

gleamed. "That sub's gonna die. I can feel it."

She refilled their glasses. "Sorry, there's not much left."

"What else have we got?"

"Uh ..." She winced. "Some plum wine. And quite a bit of sake."

"Sounds great," he said unthinkingly. He was staring at

the television. "Can't send out for liquor. It's quiet here in

your place ... but believe me, it's getting very strange out in

those corridors."

"I've got some cigarettes," she confessed.

"Cigarettes! Wow, I don't think I've smoked one of those

since I was a little kid."

She got the cigarettes from the back of the liquor cabinet

and brought out her antique ashtray.

He looked away from the television-it had switched to a

public statement by the Japanese premier. Meaningless fig-

urehead. "Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to barge in on you

like this. I was in your building before I heard the news

and.... Actually, I was just hoping that we could . . . you

know ... have a good talk."

"Well, talk to me anyway. Because otherwise I think I'm going

to have a fit." She shivered. "I'm glad you're here, Charlie.

I'd hate to be watching this alone."

"Yeah-me too. Thanks for saying that."

"I guess you'd rather be with Doris."

"Doris?"

"That is your wife's name, isn't it? Did I forget?"

He raised his brows. "Laura, Doris and I have been sepa-

rated, for two months now. If we were still together I'd have

brought her with me." He stared at the television. "Turn it

off," he said suddenly. "I can only handle one crisis at a

time. "

"But-"


"Fuck it, it's gesellschafr stuff. Out of our hands."

She turned it off. Suddenly she could feel the Net's ab-

sence like a chunk taken out of her brain.

"Calm down," he said. "Do some deep breathing. Ciga-

rettes are bad for us anyway."

"I didn't know about Doris. Sorry."

"It's the demotion," he said. "Things were fine as long as

I was CEO, but she couldn't take the Retreat. I mean, she

knew it was coming, that it's customary, but ... "

She looked at his denim overalls. They were worn at the

knees. "I think they take this demotion ritual a little too far

... what do they have you do, mostly?"

"Oh, I'm in the old folks home. Change sheets-reminisce-

pitch a little hay sometimes. Not so bad. Kind of gives you

the long view."

"That's a very correct attitude, Charlie."

"I mean it," he said. "This Bomb crisis has people totally

obsessed right now, but the long-term view's still there, if

you can back off enough to look at it. Grenada and Singapore

... they had wild ideas, reckless, but if we're smart, and

very careful, we might use that kind of radical potential

sensibly. There's a world of hurt to be put right first ... maybe

a lot more if these bastards bomb us . . but someday ..."

"Someday what?" Laura said.

"I don't really know what to call it.... Some kind of

genuine, basic improvement in the human condition.'.'

"It could do with some," Laura said. She smiled at him.

She liked the sound of it. She liked him, for having brought

up the long term, in the very middle of hell breaking loose.

The very best time for it, really. "I like it," she said.

"Sounds like interesting work. We could talk about it to-

gether. Network a little."

"I'd like that. When I'm back in the swing of things," he

said. He looked embarrassed. "I don't mind being out of it a

while. I didn't handle it 'well. The power. . . . You should

know that, Laura. Better than anyone."

"You did very well-everyone says so. You're not respon-

sible for what happened to me. I went into it with my eyes

open."

"Jesus, it's really good of you to say that." He looked at



the floor. "I dreaded this meeting.... I mean, you were nice

enough the few times we've met, but I didn't know how

you'd take it."

"Well, it's our work! It's what we do, what we are."

"You really believe in that, don't you? The community."

"I have to. It's all I have left."

"Yeah," he said. "Me too." He smiled. "Can't be such a

bad thing. I mean, we're both in it. Here we are. Solidarity,

Laura. "

"Solidarity." They clicked glasses and drank the last

Drambuie.

"It's good," he said. He looked around. "Nice place."

"Yeah . . . they keep the journos out.... Got a nice bal-

cony, too. You like heights?"

"Yeah, what is this, fortieth floor? I can never tell these

big Atlanta digs apart. " He stood up. "I could use some

air. "

"Okay." She walked toward the balcony; the double doors



flung themselves open. They stood on the balcony looking

down to the distant street.

"Impressive," he said. Across the street they could see

another high-rise, floor after floor, curtains open here and

there, glow of television news. The balcony was open above

them and they could hear it muttering out. The tone rising.

"It's good to be here," he said. "I'll remember this mo-

ment. Where I was, what I was doing. Hell, everyone will.

Years from now. For the rest of our lives."

"I think you're right. I know you are."

"It's either gonna be the absolute worst, or the final end of

something. "

"Yeah . . . I should have brought the sake bottle." She

leaned on the railing. "You wouldn't blame me, Charlie,

would you? If it was the worst? Because I did have a part in

it. I did it."

"Never even occurred to me."

"I mean, I'm only one person, but I did what one person

can do."

"Can't ask for more than that."

There was a bestial scream from upstairs. Joy, rage, pain,

hard to tell. "That was it," he said.

People were pouring into the streets. They were jumping

out of vans. Running headlong. Running for one another.

Distant leaping bits of anonymity: -the crowd.

Horns were honking. People were embracing each other.

Strangers, kissing. A mob flinging itself into its own arms.

Windows began flying open across the street.

"They got 'em," he said.

Laura looked down at the crowd. "Everybody's so happy,"

she said.

He had the sense not to say anything. He just held out his



hand.


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