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´╗┐Title: Eastern Standard Tribe
Author: Doctorow, Cory
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Eastern Standard Tribe" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Eastern Standard Tribe

Cory Doctorow

Copyright 2004 Cory Doctorow

doctorow@craphound.com

http://www.craphound.com/est

Tor Books, March 2004

ISBN: 0765307596

--

=======
Blurbs:
=======


"Utterly contemporary and deeply peculiar -- a hard combination to beat
(or, these days, to find)."

- William Gibson,
Author of Neuromancer

--

"Cory Doctorow knocks me out. In a good way."

- Pat Cadigan,
Author of Synners

--

"Cory Doctorow is just far enough ahead of the game to give you that authentic
chill of the future, and close enough to home for us to know that he's talking
about where we live as well as where we're going to live; a connected world
full of disconnected people. One of whom is about to lobotomise himself through
the nostril with a pencil. Funny as hell and sharp as steel."

- Warren Ellis,
Author of Transmetropolitan


--

=======================
A note about this book:
=======================

Last year, in January 2003, my first novel [ http://craphound.com/down ] came
out. I was 31 years old, and I'd been calling myself a novelist since the age of
12. It was the storied dream-of-a-lifetime, come-true-at-last. I was and am
proud as hell of that book, even though it is just one book among many released
last year, better than some, poorer than others; and even though the print-run
(which sold out very quickly!) though generous by science fiction standards,
hardly qualifies it as a work of mass entertainment.

The thing that's extraordinary about that first novel is that it was released
under terms governed by a Creative Commons [ http://creativecommons.org ]
license that allowed my readers to copy the book freely and distribute it far
and wide. Hundreds of thousands of copies of the book were made and distributed
this way. *Hundreds* of *thousands*.

Today, I release my second novel, and my third [
http://www.argosymag.com/NextIssue.html ], a collaboration with Charlie Stross
is due any day, and two [
http://www.fantasticmetropolis.com/show.html?fn.preview_doctorow ] more [
http://www.craphound.com/usrbingodexcerpt.txt ] are under contract. My career as
a novelist is now well underway -- in other words, I am firmly afoot on a long
road that stretches into the future: my future, science fiction's future,
publishing's future and the future of the world.

The future is my business, more or less. I'm a science fiction writer. One way
to know the future is to look good and hard at the present. Here's a thing I've
noticed about the present: MORE PEOPLE ARE READING MORE WORDS OFF OF MORE
SCREENS THAN EVER BEFORE. Here's another thing I've noticed about the present:
FEWER PEOPLE ARE READING FEWER WORDS OFF OF FEWER PAGES THAN EVER BEFORE. That
doesn't mean that the book is *dying* -- no more than the advent of the printing
press and the de-emphasis of Bible-copying monks meant that the book was dying
-- but it does mean that the book is changing. I think that *literature* is
alive and well: we're reading our brains out! I just think that the complex
social practice of "book" -- of which a bunch of paper pages between two covers
is the mere expression -- is transforming and will transform further.

I intend on figuring out what it's transforming into. I intend on figuring out
the way that some writers -- that *this writer*, right here, wearing my
underwear -- is going to get rich and famous from his craft. I intend on
figuring out how *this writer's* words can become part of the social discourse,
can be relevant in the way that literature at its best can be.

I don't know what the future of book looks like. To figure it out, I'm doing
some pretty basic science. I'm peering into this opaque, inscrutable system of
publishing as it sits in the year 2004, and I'm making a perturbation. I'm
stirring the pot to see what surfaces, so that I can see if the system reveals
itself to me any more thoroughly as it roils. Once that happens, maybe I'll be
able to formulate an hypothesis and try an experiment or two and maybe -- just
maybe -- I'll get to the bottom of book-in-2004 and beat the competition to
making it work, and maybe I'll go home with all (or most) of the marbles.

It's a long shot, but I'm a pretty sharp guy, and I know as much about this
stuff as anyone out there. More to the point, trying stuff and doing research
yields a non-zero chance of success. The alternatives -- sitting pat, or worse,
getting into a moral panic about "piracy" and accusing the readers who are
blazing new trail of "the moral equivalent of shoplifting" -- have a *zero*
percent chance of success.

Most artists never "succeed" in the sense of attaining fame and modest fortune.
A career in the arts is a risky long-shot kind of business. I'm doing what I can
to sweeten my odds.

So here we are, and here is novel number two, a book called Eastern Standard
Tribe, which you can walk into shops all over the world and buy [
http://craphound.com/est/buy.php ] as a physical artifact -- a very nice
physical artifact, designed by Chesley-award-winning art director Irene Gallo
and her designer Shelley Eshkar, published by Tor Books, a huge, profit-making
arm of an enormous, multinational publishing concern. Tor is watching what
happens to this book nearly as keenly as I am, because we're all very interested
in what the book is turning into.

To that end, here is the book as a non-physical artifact. A file. A bunch of
text, slithery bits that can cross the world in an instant, using the Internet,
a tool designed to copy things very quickly from one place to another; and using
personal computers, tools designed to slice, dice and rearrange collections of
bits. These tools demand that their users copy and slice and dice -- rip, mix
and burn! -- and that's what I'm hoping you will do with this.

Not (just) because I'm a swell guy, a big-hearted slob. Not because Tor is run
by addlepated dot-com refugees who have been sold some snake-oil about the
e-book revolution. Because you -- the readers, the slicers, dicers and copiers
-- hold in your collective action the secret of the future of publishing.
Writers are a dime a dozen. Everybody's got a novel in her or him. Readers are a
precious commodity. You've got all the money and all the attention and you run
the word-of-mouth network that marks the difference between a little book, soon
forgotten, and a book that becomes a lasting piece of posterity for its author,
changing the world in some meaningful way.

I'm unashamedly exploiting your imagination. Imagine me a new practice of book,
readers. Take this novel and pass it from inbox to inbox, through your IM
clients, over P2P networks. Put it on webservers. Convert it to weird, obscure
ebook formats. Show me -- and my colleagues, and my publisher -- what the future
of book looks like.

I'll keep on writing them if you keep on reading them. But as cool and wonderful
as writing is, it's not half so cool as inventing the future. Thanks for helping
me do it.

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--

Dedication

For my parents.

For my family.

For everyone who helped me up and for everyone I let down. You know who you are.
Sincerest thanks and most heartfelt apologies.

Cory

--

1.

I once had a Tai Chi instructor who explained the difference between Chinese and
Western medicine thus: "Western medicine is based on corpses, things that you
discover by cutting up dead bodies and pulling them apart. Chinese medicine is
based on living flesh, things observed from vital, moving humans."

The explanation, like all good propaganda, is stirring and stilted, and not
particularly accurate, and gummy as the hook from a top-40 song, sticky in your
mind in the sleep-deprived noontime when the world takes on a hallucinatory
hypperreal clarity. Like now as I sit here in my underwear on the roof of a
sanatorium in the back woods off Route 128, far enough from the perpetual
construction of Boston that it's merely a cloud of dust like a herd of distant
buffalo charging the plains. Like now as I sit here with a pencil up my nose,
thinking about homebrew lobotomies and wouldn't it be nice if I gave myself one.

Deep breath.

The difference between Chinese medicine and Western medicine is the dissection
versus the observation of the thing in motion. The difference between reading a
story and studying a story is the difference between living the story and
killing the story and looking at its guts.

School! We sat in English class and we dissected the stories that I'd escaped
into, laid open their abdomens and tagged their organs, covered their genitals
with polite sterile drapes, recorded dutiful notes *en masse* that told us what
the story was about, but never what the story *was*. Stories are propaganda,
virii that slide past your critical immune system and insert themselves directly
into your emotions. Kill them and cut them open and they're as naked as a
nightclub in daylight.

The theme. The first step in dissecting a story is euthanizing it: "What is the
theme of this story?"

Let me kill my story before I start it, so that I can dissect it and understand
it. The theme of this story is: "Would you rather be smart or happy?"

This is a work of propaganda. It's a story about choosing smarts over happiness.
Except if I give the pencil a push: then it's a story about choosing happiness
over smarts. It's a morality play, and the first character is about to take the
stage. He's a foil for the theme, so he's drawn in simple lines. Here he is:

2.

Art Berry was born to argue.

There are born assassins. Bred to kill, raised on cunning and speed, they are
the stuff of legend, remorseless and unstoppable. There are born ballerinas,
confectionery girls whose parents subject them to rigors every bit as intense as
the tripwire and poison on which the assassins are reared. There are children
born to practice medicine or law; children born to serve their nations and die
heroically in the noble tradition of their forebears; children born to tread the
boards or shred the turf or leave smoking rubber on the racetrack.

Art's earliest memory: a dream. He is stuck in the waiting room of one of the
innumerable doctors who attended him in his infancy. He is perhaps three, and
his attention span is already as robust as it will ever be, and in his dream --
which is fast becoming a nightmare -- he is bored silly.

The only adornment in the waiting room is an empty cylinder that once held toy
blocks. Its label colorfully illustrates the blocks, which look like they'd be a
hell of a lot of fun, if someone hadn't lost them all.

Near the cylinder is a trio of older children, infinitely fascinating. They
confer briefly, then do *something* to the cylinder, and it unravels, extruding
into the third dimension, turning into a stack of blocks.

Aha! thinks Art, on waking. This is another piece of the secret knowledge that
older people possess, the strange magic that is used to operate cars and
elevators and shoelaces.

Art waits patiently over the next year for a grownup to show him how the
blocks-from-pictures trick works, but none ever does. Many other mysteries are
revealed, each one more disappointingly mundane than the last: even flying a
plane seemed easy enough when the nice stew let him ride up in the cockpit for a
while en route to New York -- Art's awe at the complexity of adult knowledge
fell away. By the age of five, he was stuck in a sort of perpetual terrible
twos, fearlessly shouting "no" at the world's every rule, arguing the morals and
reason behind them until the frustrated adults whom he was picking on gave up
and swatted him or told him that that was just how it was.

In the Easter of his sixth year, an itchy-suited and hard-shoed visit to church
with his Gran turned into a raging holy war that had the parishioners and the
clergy arguing with him in teams and relays.

It started innocently enough: "Why does God care if we take off our hats, Gran?"
But the nosy ladies in the nearby pews couldn't bear to simply listen in, and
the argument spread like ripples on a pond, out as far as the pulpit, where the
priest decided to squash the whole line of inquiry with some half-remembered
philosophical word games from Descartes in which the objective truth of reality
is used to prove the beneficence of God and vice-versa, and culminates with "I
think therefore I am." Father Ferlenghetti even managed to work it into the
thread of the sermon, but before he could go on, Art's shrill little voice
answered from within the congregation.

Amazingly, the six-year-old had managed to assimilate all of Descartes's fairly
tricksy riddles in as long as it took to describe them, and then went on to use
those same arguments to prove the necessary cruelty of God, followed by the
necessary nonexistence of the Supreme Being, and Gran tried to take him home
then, but the priest -- who'd watched Jesuits play intellectual table tennis and
recognized a natural when he saw one -- called him to the pulpit, whence Art
took on the entire congregation, singly and in bunches, as they assailed his
reasoning and he built it back up, laying rhetorical traps that they blundered
into with all the cunning of a cabbage. Father Ferlenghetti laughed and
clarified the points when they were stuttered out by some marble-mouthed
rhetorical amateur from the audience, then sat back and marveled as Art did his
thing. Not much was getting done vis-a-vis sermonizing, and there was still the
Communion to be administered, but God knew it had been a long time since the
congregation was engaged so thoroughly with coming to grips with God and what
their faith meant.

Afterwards, when Art was returned to his scandalized, thin-lipped Gran, Father
Ferlenghetti made a point of warmly embracing her and telling her that Art was
welcome at his pulpit any time, and suggested a future in the seminary. Gran was
amazed, and blushed under her Sunday powder, and the clawed hand on his shoulder
became a caress.

3.

The theme of this story is choosing smarts over happiness, or maybe happiness
over smarts. Art's a good guy. He's smart as hell. That's his schtick. If he
were a cartoon character, he'd be the pain-in-the-ass poindexter who is all the
time dispelling the mysteries that fascinate his buddies. It's not easy being
Art's friend.

Which is, of course, how Art ("not his real name") ended up sitting 45 stories
over the woodsy Massachusetts countryside, hot August wind ruffling his hair and
blowing up the legs of his boxers, pencil in his nose, euthanizing his story
preparatory to dissecting it. In order to preserve the narrative integrity, Art
("not his real name") may take some liberties with the truth. This is
autobiographical fiction, after all, not an autobiography.

Call me Art ("not my real name"). I am an agent-provocateur in the Eastern
Standard Tribe, though I've spent most of my life in GMT-9 and at various
latitudes of Zulu, which means that my poor pineal gland has all but forgotten
how to do its job without that I drown it in melatonin precursors and treat it
to multi-hour nine-kilolumen sessions in the glare of my travel lantern.

The tribes are taking over the world. You can track our progress by the rise of
minor traffic accidents. The sleep-deprived are terrible, terrible drivers.
Daylight savings time is a widowmaker: stay off the roads on Leap Forward day!

Here is the second character in the morality play. She's the love interest. Was.
We broke up, just before I got sent to the sanatorium. Our circadians weren't
compatible.

4.

April 3, 2022 was the day that Art nearly killed the first and only woman he
ever really loved. It was her fault.

Art's car was running low on lard after a week in the Benelux countries, where
the residents were all high-net-worth cholesterol-conscious codgers who guarded
their arteries from the depredations of the frytrap as jealously as they
squirreled their money away from the taxman. He was, therefore, thrilled and
delighted to be back on British soil, Greenwich+0, where grease ran like water
and his runabout could be kept easily and cheaply fuelled and the vodka could
run down his gullet instead of into his tank.

He was in the Kensington High Street on a sleepy Sunday morning, GMT0300h --
2100h back in EDT -- and the GPS was showing insufficient data-points to even
gauge traffic between his geoloc and the Camden High where he kept his rooms.
When the GPS can't find enough peers on the relay network to color its maps with
traffic data, you know you've hit a sweet spot in the city's uber-circadian, a
moment of grace where the roads are very nearly exclusively yours.

So he whistled a jaunty tune and swilled his coffium, a fad that had just made
it to the UK, thanks to the loosening of rules governing the disposal of heavy
water in the EU. The java just wouldn't cool off, remaining hot enough to
guarantee optimal caffeine osmosis right down to the last drop.

If he was jittery, it was no more so than was customary for ESTalists at GMT+0,
and he was driving safely and with due caution. If the woman had looked out
before stepping off the kerb and into the anemically thin road, if she hadn't
been wearing stylish black in the pitchy dark of the curve before the Royal
Garden Hotel, if she hadn't stepped *right in front of his runabout*, he would
have merely swerved and sworn and given her a bit of a fright.

But she didn't, she was, she did, and he kicked the brake as hard as he could,
twisted the wheel likewise, and still clipped her hipside and sent her
ass-over-teakettle before the runabout did its own barrel roll, making three
complete revolutions across the Kensington High before lodging in the Royal
Garden Hotel's shrubs. Art was covered in scorching, molten coffium, screaming
and clawing at his eyes, upside down, when the porters from the Royal Garden
opened his runabout's upside-down door, undid his safety harness and pulled him
out from behind the rapidly flacciding airbag. They plunged his face into the
ornamental birdbath, which had a skin of ice that shattered on his nose and
jangled against his jawbone as the icy water cooled the coffium and stopped the
terrible, terrible burning.

He ended up on his knees, sputtering and blowing and shivering, and cleared his
eyes in time to see the woman he'd hit being carried out of the middle of the
road on a human travois made of the porters' linked arms of red wool and gold
brocade.

"Assholes!" she was hollering. "I could have a goddamn spinal injury! You're not
supposed to move me!"

"Look, Miss," one porter said, a young chap with the kind of fantastic dentition
that only an insecure teabag would ever pay for, teeth so white and flawless
they strobed in the sodium streetlamps. "Look. We can leave you in the middle of
the road, right, and not move you, like we're supposed to. But if we do that,
chances are you're going to get run over before the paramedics get here, and
then you certainly *will* have a spinal injury, and a crushed skull besides,
like as not. Do you follow me?"

"You!" she said, pointing a long and accusing finger at Art. "You! Don't you
watch where you're going, you fool! You could have killed me!"

Art shook water off his face and blew a mist from his dripping moustache.
"Sorry," he said, weakly. She had an American accent, Californian maybe, a
litigious stridency that tightened his sphincter like an alum enema and
miraculously flensed him of the impulse to argue.

"Sorry?" she said, as the porters lowered her gently to the narrow strip turf
out beside the sidewalk. "Sorry? Jesus, is that the best you can do?"

"Well you *did* step out in front of my car," he said, trying to marshal some
spine.

She attempted to sit up, then slumped back down, wincing. "You were going too
fast!"

"I don't think so," he said. "I'm pretty sure I was doing 45 -- that's five
clicks under the limit. Of course, the GPS will tell for sure."

At the mention of empirical evidence, she seemed to lose interest in being
angry. "Give me a phone, will you?"

Mortals may be promiscuous with their handsets, but for a tribalist, one's
relationship with one's comm is deeply personal. Art would have sooner shared
his underwear. But he *had* hit her with his car. Reluctantly, Art passed her
his comm.

The woman stabbed at the handset with the fingers of her left hand, squinting at
it in the dim light. Eventually, she clamped it to her head. "Johnny? It's
Linda. Yes, I'm still in London. How's tricks out there? Good, good to hear.
How's Marybeth? Oh, that's too bad. Want to hear how I am?" She grinned
devilishly. "I just got hit by a car. No, just now. Five minutes ago. Of course
I'm hurt! I think he broke my hip -- maybe my spine, too. Yes, I can wiggle my
toes. Maybe he shattered a disc and it's sawing through the cord right now.
Concussion? Oh, almost certainly. Pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life,
missed wages..." She looked up at Art. "You're insured, right?"

Art nodded, miserably, fishing for an argument that would not come.

"Half a mil, easy. Easy! Get the papers going, will you? I'll call you when the
ambulance gets here. Bye. Love you too. Bye. Bye. Bye, Johnny. I got to go.
Bye!" She made a kissy noise and tossed the comm back at Art. He snatched it out
of the air in a panic, closed its cover reverentially and slipped it back in his
jacket pocket.

"C'mere," she said, crooking a finger. He knelt beside her.

"I'm Linda," she said, shaking his hand, then pulling it to her chest.

"Art," Art said.

"Art. Here's the deal, Art. It's no one's fault, OK? It was dark, you were
driving under the limit, I was proceeding with due caution. Just one of those
things. But *you* did hit *me*. Your insurer's gonna have to pay out -- rehab,
pain and suffering, you get it. That's going to be serious kwan. I'll go splits
with you, you play along."

Art looked puzzled.

"Art. Art. Art. Art, here's the thing. Maybe you were distracted. Lost. Not
looking. Not saying you were, but maybe. Maybe you were, and if you were, my
lawyer's going to get that out of you, he's going to nail you, and I'll get a
big, fat check. On the other hand, you could just, you know, cop to it. Play
along. You make this easy, we'll make this easy. Split it down the middle, once
my lawyer gets his piece. Sure, your premiums'll go up, but there'll be enough
to cover both of us. Couldn't you use some ready cash? Lots of zeroes. Couple
hundred grand, maybe more. I'm being nice here -- I could keep it all for me."

"I don't think --"

"Sure you don't. You're an honest man. I understand, Art. Art. Art, I
understand. But what has your insurer done for you, lately? My uncle Ed, he got
caught in a threshing machine, paid his premiums every week for forty years,
what did he get? Nothing. Insurance companies. They're the great satan. No one
likes an insurance company. Come on, Art. Art. You don't have to say anything
now, but think about it, OK, Art?"

She released his hand, and he stood. The porter with the teeth flashed them at
him. "Mad," he said, "just mad. Watch yourself, mate. Get your solicitor on the
line, I were you."

He stepped back as far as the narrow sidewalk would allow and fired up his comm
and tunneled to a pseudonymous relay, bouncing the call off a dozen mixmasters.
He was, after all, in deep cover as a GMTalist, and it wouldn't do to have his
enciphered packets' destination in the clear -- a little traffic analysis and
his cover'd be blown. He velcroed the keyboard to his thigh and started
chording.

Trepan: Any UK solicitors on the channel?

Gink-Go: Lawyers. Heh. Kill 'em all. Specially eurofag fixers.

Junta: Hey, I resemble that remark

Trepan: Junta, you're a UK lawyer?

Gink-Go: Use autocounsel, dude. L{ia|awye}rs suck. Channel #autocounsel.
Chatterbot with all major legal systems on the backend.

Trepan: Whatever. I need a human lawyer.

Trepan: Junta, you there?

Gink-Go: Off raping humanity.

Gink-Go: Fuck lawyers.

Trepan: /shitlist Gink-Go

##Gink-Go added to Trepan's shitlist. Use '/unshit Gink-Go' to see messages
again

Gink-Go: 

Gink-Go: 

Gink-Go: 

Gink-Go: 

##Gink-Go added to Junta's shitlist. Use '/unshit Gink-Go' to see messages again

##Gink-Go added to Thomas-hawk's shitlist. Use '/unshit Gink-Go' to see messages
again

##Gink-Go added to opencolon's shitlist. Use '/unshit Gink-Go' to see messages
again

##Gink-Go added to jackyardbackoff's shitlist. Use '/unshit Gink-Go' to see
messages again

##Gink-Go added to freddy-kugel's shitlist. Use '/unshit Gink-Go' to see
messages again

opencolon: Trolls suck. Gink-Go away.

Gink-Go: 

Gink-Go: 

Gink-Go: 

##Gink-Go has left channel #EST.chatter

Junta: You were saying?

##Junta (private) (file transfer)

##Received credential from Junta. Verifying. Credential identified: "Solicitor,
registered with the Law Society to practice in England and Wales, also
registered in Australia."

Trepan: /private Junta I just hit a woman while driving the Kensington High
Street. Her fault. She's hurt. Wants me to admit culpability in exchange for
half the insurance. Advice?

##Junta (private): I beg your pardon?

Trepan: /private Junta She's crazy. She just got off the phone with some kinda
lawyer in the States. Says she can get $5*10^5 at least, and will split with me
if I don't dispute.

##Junta (private): Bloody Americans. No offense. What kind of instrumentation
recorded it?

Trepan: /private Junta My GPS. Maybe some secams. Eyewitnesses, maybe.

##Junta (private): And you'll say what, exactly? That you were distracted?
Fiddling with something?

Trepan: /private Junta I guess.

##Junta (private): You're looking at three points off your licence. Statutory
increase in premiums totalling EU 2*10^5 over five years. How's your record?

##Transferring credential "Driving record" to Junta. Receipt confirmed.

##Junta (private): Hmmm.

##Junta (private): Nothing outrageous. _Were_ you distracted?

Trepan: /private Junta I guess. Maybe.

##Junta (private): You guess. Well, who would know better than you, right? My
fee's 10 percent. Stop guessing. You _were_ distracted. Overtired. It's late.
Regrettable. Sincerely sorry. Have her solicitor contact me directly. I'll meet
you here at 1000h GMT/0400h EDT and go over it with you, yes? Agreeable?

Trepan: /private Junta Agreed. Thanks.

##Junta (private) (file transfer)

##Received smartcontract from Junta. Verifying. Smartcontract "Representation
agreement" verified.

Trepan: /join #autocounsel

counselbot: Welcome, Trepan! How can I help you?

##Transferring smartcontract "Representation agreement" to counselbot. Receipt
confirmed.

Trepan: /private counselbot What is the legal standing of this contract?

##counselbot (private): Smartcontract "Representation agreement" is an ISO
standard representation agreement between a client and a solicitor for purposes
of litigation in the UK.

##autocounsel (private) (file transfer)

##Received "representation agreement faq uk 2.3.2 2JAN22" from autocounsel.

Trepan: /join #EST.chatter

Trepan: /private Junta It's a deal

##Transferring key-signed smartcontract "Representation agreement" to Junta.
Receipt confirmed.

Trepan: /quit Gotta go, thanks!

##Trepan has left channel #EST.chatter "Gotta go, thanks!"

5.

Once the messy business of negotiating EU healthcare for foreign nationals had
been sorted out with the EMTs and the Casualty Intake triage, once they'd both
been digested and shat out by a dozen diagnostic devices from X-rays to MRIs,
once the harried house officers had impersonally prodded them and presented them
both with hardcopy FAQs for their various injuries (second-degree burns, mild
shock for Art; pelvic dislocation, minor kidney bruising, broken femur,
whiplash, concussion and mandible trauma for Linda), they found themselves in
adjacent beds in the recovery room, which bustled as though it, too, were
working on GMT-5, busy as a 9PM restaurant on a Saturday night.

Art had an IV taped to the inside of his left arm, dripping saline and tranqs,
making him logy and challenging his circadians. Still, he was the more mobile of
the two, as Linda was swaddled in smartcasts that both immobilized her and
massaged her, all the while osmosing transdermal antiinflammatories and
painkillers. He tottered the two steps to the chair at her bedside and shook her
hand again.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but you look like hell," he said.

She smiled. Her jaw made an audible pop. "Get a picture, will you? It'll be good
in court."

He chuckled.

"No, seriously. Get a picture."

So he took out his comm and snapped a couple pix, including one with nightvision
filters on to compensate for the dimmed recovery room lighting. "You're a cool
customer, you know that?" he said, as he tucked his camera away.

"Not so cool. This is all a coping strategy. I'm pretty shook up, you want to
know the truth. I could have died."

"What were you doing on the street at three AM anyway?"

"I was upset, so I took a walk, thought I'd get something to eat or a beer or
something."

"You haven't been here long, huh?"

She laughed, and it turned into a groan. "What the hell is wrong with the
English, anyway? The sun sets and the city rolls up its streets. It's not like
they've got this great tradition of staying home and surfing cable or anything."

"They're all snug in their beds, farting away their lentil roasts."

"That's it! You can't get a steak here to save your life. Mad cows, all of 'em.
If I see one more gray soy sausage, I'm going to kill the waitress and eat
*her*."

"You just need to get hooked up," he said. "Once we're out of here, I'll take
you out for a genuine blood pudding, roast beef and oily chips. I know a place."

"I'm drooling. Can I borrow your phone again? Uh, I think you're going to have
to dial for me."

"That's OK. Give me the number."

She did, and he cradled his comm to her head. He was close enough to her that he
could hear the tinny, distinctive ringing of a namerican circuit at the other
end. He heard her shallow breathing, heard her jaw creak. He smelled her
shampoo, a free-polymer new-car smell, smelled a hint of her sweat. A cord stood
out on her neck, merging in an elegant vee with her collarbone, an arrow
pointing at the swell of her breast under her paper gown.

"Toby, it's Linda."

A munchkin voice chittered down the line.

"Shut up, OK. Shut up. Shut. I'm in the hospital." More chipmunk. "Got hit by a
car. I'll be OK. No. Shut up. I'll be fine. I'll send you the FAQs. I just
wanted to say. . ." She heaved a sigh, closed her eyes. "You know what I wanted
to say. Sorry, all right? Sorry it came to this. You'll be OK. I'll be OK. I
just didn't want to leave you hanging." She sounded groggy, but there was a sob
there, too. "I can't talk long. I'm on a shitload of dope. Yes, it's good dope.
I'll call you later. I don't know when I'm coming back, but we'll sort it out
there, all right? OK. Shut up. OK. You too."

She looked up at Art. "My boyfriend. Ex-boyfriend. Not sure who's leaving who at
this point. Thanks." She closed her eyes. Her eyelids were mauve, a tracery of
pink veins. She snored softly.

Art set an alarm that would wake him up in time to meet his lawyer, folded up
his comm and crawled back into bed. His circadians swelled and crashed against
the sides of his skull, and before he knew it, he was out.

6.

Hospitals operate around the clock, but they still have their own circadians.
The noontime staff were still overworked and harried but chipper and efficient,
too, without the raccoon-eyed jitters of the night before. Art and Linda were
efficiently fed, watered and evacuated, then left to their own devices, blinking
in the weak English sunlight that streamed through the windows.

"The lawyers've worked it out, I think," Art said.

"Good. Good news." She was dopamine-heavy, her words lizard-slow. Art figured
her temper was drugged senseless, and it gave him the courage to ask her the
question that'd been on his mind since they'd met.

"Can I ask you something? It may be offensive."

"G'head. I may be offended."

"Do you do. . .this. . .a lot? I mean, the insurance thing?"

She snorted, then moaned. "It's the Los Angeles Lottery, dude. I haven't done it
before, but I was starting to feel a little left out, to tell the truth."

"I thought screenplays were the LA Lotto."

"Naw. A good lotto is one you can win."

She favored him with half a smile and he saw that she had a lopsided, left-hand
dimple.

"You're from LA, then?"

"Got it in one. Orange County. I'm a third-generation failed actor. Grandpa once
had a line in a Hitchcock film. Mom was the ditzy neighbor on a three-episode
Fox sitcom in the 90s. I'm still waiting for my moment in the sun. You live
here?"

"For now. Since September. I'm from Toronto."

"Canadia! Goddamn snowbacks. What are you doing in London?"

His comm rang, giving him a moment to gather his cover story. "Hello?"

"Art! It's Fede!" Federico was another provocateur in GMT. He wasn't exactly
Art's superior -- the tribes didn't work like that -- but he had seniority.

"Fede -- can I call you back?"

"Look, I heard about your accident, and I wouldn't have called, but it's
urgent."

Art groaned and rolled his eyes in Linda's direction to let her know that he,
too, was exasperated by the call, then retreated to the other side of his bed
and hunched over.

"What is it?"

"We've been sniffed. I'm four-fifths positive."

Art groaned again. Fede lived in perennial terror of being found out and exposed
as an ESTribesman, fired, deported, humiliated. He was always at least
three-fifths positive, and the extra fifth was hardly an anomaly. "What's up
now?"

"It's the VP of HR at Virgin/Deutsche Telekom. He's called me in for a meeting
this afternoon. Wants to go over the core hours recommendation." Fede was a
McKinsey consultant offline, producing inflammatory recommendation packages for
Fortune 100 companies. He was working the lazy-Euro angle, pushing for extra
daycare, time off for sick relatives and spouses. The last policy binder he'd
dumped on V/DT had contained enough obscure leave-granting clauses that an
employee who was sufficiently lawyer-minded could conceivably claim 450 days of
paid leave a year. Now he was pushing for the abolishment of "core hours,"
Corporate Eurospeak for the time after lunch but before afternoon naps when
everyone showed up at the office, so that they could get some face-time. Enough
of this, and GMT would be the laughingstock of the world, and so caught up in
internecine struggles that the clear superiority of the stress-feeding EST ethos
would sweep them away. That was the theory, anyway. Of course, there were rival
Tribalists in every single management consulting firm in the world working
against us. Management consultants have always worked on old-boys' networks,
after all -- it was a very short step from interning your frat buddy to
interning your Tribesman.

"That's it? A meeting? Jesus, it's just a meeting. He probably wants you to
reassure him before he presents to the CEO, is all."

"No, I'm sure that's not it. He's got us sniffed -- both of us. He's been going
through the product-design stuff, too, which is totally outside of his
bailiwick. I tried to call him yesterday and his voicemail rolled over to a
boardroom in O'Malley House." O'Malley House was the usability lab, a nice old
row of connected Victorian townhouses just off Picadilly. It was where Art
consulted out of. Also, two-hundred-odd usability specialists, product
designers, experience engineers, cog-psych cranks and other tinkerers with the
mind. They were the hairface hackers of Art's generation, unmanageable creative
darlings -- no surprise that the VP of HR would have cause to spend a little
face-time with someone there. Try telling Fede that, though.

"All right, Fede, what do you want me to do?"

"Just -- Just be careful. Sanitize your storage. I'm pushing a new personal key
to you now, too. Here, I'll read you the fingerprint." The key would be an
unimaginably long string of crypto-gibberish, and just to make sure that it
wasn't intercepted and changed en route, Fede wanted to read him a slightly less
long mathematical fingerprint hashed out of it. Once it arrived, Art was
supposed to generate a fingerprint from Fede's new key and compare it to the one
that Fede wanted him to jot down.

Art closed his eyes and reclined. "All right, I've got a pen," he said, though
he had no such thing.

Fede read him the long, long string of digits and characters and he repeated
them back, pretending to be noting them down. Paranoid bastard.

"OK, I got it. I'll get you a new key later today, all right?"

"Do it quick, man."

"Whatever, Fede. Back off, OK?"

"Sorry, sorry. Oh, and feel better, all right?"

"Bye, Fede."

"What was *that*?" Linda had her neck craned around to watch him.

He slipped into his cover story with a conscious effort. "I'm a user-experience
consultant. My coworkers are all paranoid about a deadline."

She rolled her eyes. "Not another one. God. Look, we go out for dinner, don't
say a word about the kerb design or the waiter or the menu or the presentation,
OK? OK? I'm serious."

Art solemnly crossed his heart. "Who else do you know in the biz?"

"My ex. He wouldn't or couldn't shut up about how much everything sucked. He was
right, but so what? I wanted to enjoy it, suckitude and all."

"OK, I promise. We're going out for dinner, then?"

"The minute I can walk, you're taking me out for as much flesh and entrails as I
can eat."

"It's a deal."

And then they both slept again.

7.

Met cute, huh? Linda was short and curvy, dark eyes and pursed lips and an
hourglass figure that she thought made her look topheavy and big-assed, but I
thought she was fabulous and soft and bouncy. She tasted like pepper, and her
hair smelled of the abstruse polymers that kept it hanging in a brusque bob that
brushed her firm, long jawline.

I'm getting a sunburn, and the pebbles on the roof are digging into my ass. I
don't know if I'm going to push the pencil or not, but if I do, it's going to be
somewhere more comfortable than this roof.

Except that the roof door, which I had wedged open before I snuck away from my
attendants and slunk up the firecode-mandated stairwell, is locked. The small
cairn of pebbles that I created in front of it has been strewn apart. It is
locked tight. And me without my comm. Ah, me. I take an inventory of my person:
a pencil, a hospital gown, a pair of boxer shorts and a head full of bad cess. I
am 450' above the summery, muggy, verdant Massachusetts countryside. It is very
hot, and I am turning the color of the Barbie aisle at FAO Schwartz, a kind of
labial pink that is both painful and perversely cheerful.

I've spent my life going in the back door and coming out the side door. That's
the way it is now. When it only takes two years for your job to morph into
something that would have been unimaginable twenty-four months before, it's not
really practical to go in through the front door. Not really practical to get
the degree, the certification, the appropriate experience. I mean, even if you
went back to university, the major you'd need by the time you graduated would be
in a subject that hadn't been invented when you enrolled. So I'm good at back
doors and side doors. It's what the Tribe does for me -- provides me with
entries into places where I technically don't belong. And thank God for them,
anyway. Without the Tribes, *no one* would be qualified to do *anything* worth
doing.

Going out the side door has backfired on me today, though.

Oh. Shit. I peer over the building's edge, down into the parking lot. The cars
are thinly spread, the weather too fine for anyone out there in the real world
to be visiting with their crazy relatives. Half a dozen beaters are parked down
there, methane-breathers that the ESTalists call fartmobiles. I'd been driving
something much the same on that fateful Leap Forward day in London. I left
something out of my inventory: pebbles. The roof is littered, covered with a
layer of gray, round riverstones, about the size of wasabi chickpeas. No one
down there is going to notice me all the way up here. Not without that I give
them a sign. A cracked windshield or two ought to do it.

I gather a small pile of rocks by the roof's edge and carefully take aim. I have
to be cautious. Careful. A pebble dropped from this height -- I remember the
stories about the penny dropped from the top of the CN Tower that sunk six
inches into the concrete below.

I select a small piece of gravel and carefully aim for the windshield of a
little blue Sony Veddic and it's bombs away. I can only follow the stone's
progress for a few seconds before my eyes can no longer disambiguate it from the
surrounding countryside. What little I do see of its trajectory is
disheartening, though: the wind whips it away on an almost horizontal parabola,
off towards Boston. Forgetting all about Newton, I try lobbing and then hurling
the gravel downward, but it gets taken away, off to neverneverland, and the
windscreens remain whole.

I go off to prospect for bigger rocks.

You know the sort of horror movie where the suspense builds and builds and
builds, partially collapsed at regular intervals by something jumping out and
yelling "Boo!" whereupon the heroes have to flee, deeper into danger, and the
tension rises and rises? You know how sometimes the director just doesn't know
when to quit, and the bogeymen keep jumping out and yelling boo, the wobbly
bridges keep on collapsing, the small arms fire keeps blowing out more windows
in the office tower?

It's not like the tension goes away -- it just get boring. Boring tension. You
know that the climax is coming soon, that any minute now Our Hero will face down
the archvillain and either kick his ass or have his ass kicked, the whole world
riding on the outcome. You know that it will be satisfying, with much explosions
and partial nudity. You know that afterward, Our Hero will retire to the
space-bar and chill out and collect kisses from the love interest and that we'll
all have a moment to get our adrenals back under control before the hand pops
out of the grave and we all give a nervous jump and start eagerly anticipating
the sequel.

You just wish it would *happen* already. You just wish that the little climaces
could be taken as read, that the director would trust the audience to know that
Our Hero really does wade through an entire ocean of shit en route to the final
showdown.

I'm bored with being excited. I've been betrayed, shot at, institutionalized and
stranded on the roof of a nuthouse, and I just want the fucking climax to come
by and happen to me, so that I can know: smart or happy.

I've found a half-brick that was being used to hold down the tar paper around an
exhaust-chimney. I should've used that to hold the door open, but it's way the
hell the other side of the roof, and I'd been really pleased with my little
pebbly doorstop. Besides, I'm starting to suspect that the doorjamb didn't fail,
that it was sabotaged by some malevolently playful goon from the sanatorium. An
object lesson or something.

I heft the brick. I release the brick. It falls, and falls, and falls, and hits
the little blue fartmobile square on the trunk, punching a hole through the
cheap aluminum lid.

And the fartmobile explodes. First there is a geyser of blue flame as the tank's
puncture wound jets a stream of ignited assoline skyward, and then it blows back
into the tank and *boom*, the fartmobile is in one billion shards, rising like a
parachute in an updraft. I can feel the heat on my bare, sun-tender skin, even
from this distance.

Explosions. Partial nudity. Somehow, though, I know that this isn't the climax.

8.

Linda didn't like to argue -- fight: yes, argue: no. That was going to be a
problem, Art knew, but when you're falling in love, you're able to rationalize
all kinds of things.

The yobs who cornered them on the way out of a bloody supper of contraband,
antisocial animal flesh were young, large and bristling with testosterone. They
wore killsport armor with strategic transparent panels that revealed their
steroid-curdled muscles, visible through the likewise transparent insets they'd
had grafted in place of the skin that covered their abs and quads. There were
three of them, grinning and flexing, and they boxed in Art and Linda in the
tiny, shuttered entrance of a Boots Pharmacy.

"Evening, sir, evening, miss," one said.

"Hey," Art muttered and looked over the yob's shoulder, trying to spot a secam
or a cop. Neither was in sight.

"I wonder if we could beg a favor of you?" another said.

"Sure," Art said.

"You're American, aren't you?" the third said.

"Canadian, actually."

"Marvelous. Bloody marvelous. I hear that Canada's a lovely place. How are you
enjoying England?"

"I live here, actually. I like it a lot."

"Glad to hear that, sir. And you, Miss?"

Linda was wide-eyed, halfway behind Art. "It's fine."

"Good to hear," the first one said, grinning even more broadly. "Now, as to that
favor. My friends and I, we've got a problem. We've grown bored of our wallets.
They are dull and uninteresting."

"And empty," the third one interjected, with a little, stoned giggle.

"Oh yes, and empty. We thought, well, perhaps you visitors from abroad would
find them suitable souvenirs of England. We thought perhaps you'd like to trade,
like?"

Art smiled in spite of himself. He hadn't been mugged in London, but he'd heard
of this. Ever since a pair of Manchester toughs had been acquitted based on the
claim that their robbery and menacing of a Pakistani couple had been a simple
cross-cultural misunderstanding, crafty British yobs had been taking off
increasingly baroque scores from tourists.

Art felt the familiar buzz that meant he was about to get into an argument, and
before he knew it, he was talking: "Do you really think that'd hold up in court?
I think that even the dimmest judge would be able to tell that the idea of a
Canadian being mistaken about trading two wallets full of cash for three empty
ones was in no way an error in cross-cultural communication. Really now. If
you're going to mug us --"

"Mug you, sir? Dear oh dear, who's mugging you?" the first one said.

"Well, in that case, you won't mind if we say no, right?"

"Well, it would be rather rude," the first said. "After all, we're offering you
a souvenir in the spirit of transatlantic solidarity. Genuine English leather,
mine is. Belonged to my grandfather."

"Let me see it," Art said.

"Beg pardon?"

"I want to see it. If we're going to trade, I should be able to examine the
goods first, right?"

"All right, sir, all right, here you are."

The wallet was tattered and leather, and it was indeed made in England, as the
frayed tag sewn into the billfold attested. Art turned it over in his hands,
then, still smiling, emptied the card slot and started paging through the ID.
"Lester?"

Lester swore under his breath. "Les, actually. Hand those over, please -- they
don't come with the wallet."

"They don't? But surely a real British wallet is hardly complete without real
British identification. Maybe I could keep the NHS card, something to show
around to Americans. They think socialized medicine is a fairy tale, you know."

"I really must insist, sir."

"Fuck it, Les," the second one said, reaching into his pocket. "This is stupid.
Get the money, and let's push off."

"It's not that easy any more, is it?" the third one said. "Fellow's got your
name, Les. 'Sbad."

"Well, yes, of course I do," Art said. "But so what? You three are hardly
nondescript. You think it'd be hard to pick your faces out of a rogues gallery?
Oh, and wait a minute! Isn't this a trade? What happened to the spirit of
transatlantic solidarity?"

"Right," Les said. "Don't matter if you've got my name, 'cos we're all friends,
right, sir?"

"Right!" Art said. He put the tattered wallet in his already bulging jacket
pocket, making a great show of tamping it down so it wouldn't come loose. Once
his hand was free, he extended it. "Art Berry. Late of Toronto. Pleased to
meetcha!"

Les shook his hand. "I'm Les. These are my friends, Tony and Tom."

"Fuck!" Tom, the second one, said. "Les, you stupid cunt! Now they got our
names, too!" The hand he'd put in his pocket came out, holding a tazer that
sparked and hummed. "Gotta get rid of 'em now."

Art smiled, and reached very slowly into his pocket. He pulled out his comm,
dislodging Les's wallet so that it fell to the street. Les, Tom and Tony stared
at the glowing comm in his hand. "Could you repeat that, Tom? I don't think the
999 operator heard you clearly."

Tom stared dumbfounded at the comm, watching it as though it were a snake. The
numbers "999" were clearly visible on its display, along with the position data
that pinpointed its location to the meter. Les turned abruptly and began walking
briskly towards the tube station. In a moment, Tony followed, leaving Tom alone,
the tazer still hissing and spitting. His face contorted with frustrated anger,
and he feinted with the tazer, barking a laugh when Art and Linda cringed back,
then he took off at a good run after his mates.

Art clamped the comm to his head. "They've gone away," he announced, prideful.
"Did you get that exchange? There were three of them and they've gone away."

From the comm came a tight, efficient voice, a male emergency operator. The
speech was accented, and it took a moment to place it. Then Art remembered that
the overnight emergency call-centers had been outsourced by the English
government to low-cost cube-farms in Manila. "Yes, Mr. Berry." His comm had
already transmitted his name, immigration status and location, creating a degree
of customization more typical of fast-food delivery than governmental
bureaucracies. That was bad, Art thought, professionally. GMT polezeidom was
meant to be a solid wall of oatmeal-thick bureaucracy, courtesy of some crafty,
anonymous PDTalist. "Please, stay at your current location. The police will be
on the scene shortly. Very well done, sir."

Art turned to Linda, triumphant, ready for the traditional, postrhetorical
accolades that witnesses of his verbal acrobatics were wont to dole out, and
found her in an attitude of abject terror. Her eyes were crazily wide, the
whites visible around the irises -- something he'd read about but never seen
firsthand. She was breathing shallowly and had gone ashen.

Though they were not an actual couple yet, Art tried to gather her into his arms
for some manly comforting, but she was stiff in his embrace, and after a moment,
planted her palms on his chest and pushed him back firmly, even aggressively.

"Are you all right?" he asked. He was adrenalized, flushed.

"*What if they'd decided to kill us*?" she said, spittle flying from her lips.

"Oh, they weren't going to hurt us," he said. "No guts at all."

"God*dammit*, you didn't know that! Where do you get off playing around with
*my* safety? Why the hell didn't you just hand over your wallet, call the cops
and be done with it? Macho fucking horseshit!"

The triumph was fading, fast replaced by anger. "What's wrong with you? Do you
always have to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? I just beat off those
three assholes without raising a hand, and all you want to do is criticize?
Christ, OK, next time we can hand over our wallets. Maybe they'll want a little
rape, too -- should I go along with that? You just tell me what the rules are,
and I'll be sure and obey them."

"You fucking *pig*! Where the fuck do you get off raising your voice to me? And
don't you *ever* joke about rape. It's not even slightly funny, you arrogant
fucking prick."

Art's triumph deflated. "Jesus," he said, "Jesus, Linda, I'm sorry. I didn't
realize how scared you must have been --"

"You don't know what you're talking about. I've been mugged a dozen times. I
hand over my wallet, cancel my cards, go to my insurer. No one's ever hurt me. I
wasn't the least bit scared until you opened up your big goddamned mouth."

"Sorry, sorry. Sorry about the rape crack. I was just trying to make a point. I
didn't know --" He wanted to say, *I didn't know you'd been raped*, but thought
better of it -- "it was so...*personal* for you --"

"Oh, Christ. Just because I don't want to joke about rape, you think I'm some
kind of *victim*, that *I've* been raped" -- Art grimaced -- "well, I haven't,
shithead. But it's not something you should be using as a goddamned example in
one of your stupid points. Rape is serious."

The cops arrived then, two of them on scooters, looking like meter maids. Art
and Linda glared at each other for a moment, then forced smiles at the cops, who
had dismounted and shed their helmets. They were young men, in their twenties,
and to Art, they looked like kids playing dress up.

"Evening sir, miss," one said. "I'm PC McGivens and this is PC DeMoss. You
called emergency services?" McGivens had his comm out and it was pointed at
them, slurping in their identity on police override.

"Yes," Art said. "But it's OK now. They took off. One of them left his wallet
behind." He bent and picked it up and made to hand it to PC DeMoss, who was
closer. The cop ignored it.

"Please sir, put that down. We'll gather the evidence."

Art lowered it to the ground, felt himself blushing. His hands were shaking now,
whether from embarrassment, triumph or hurt he couldn't say. He held up his
now-empty palms in a gesture of surrender.

"Step over here, please, sir," PC McGivens said, and led him off a short ways,
while PC Blaylock closed on Linda.

"Now, sir," McGivens said, in a businesslike way, "please tell me exactly what
happened."

So Art did, tastefully omitting the meat-parlor where the evening's festivities
had begun. He started to get into it, to evangelize his fast-thinking bravery
with the phone. McGivens obliged him with a little grin.

"Very good. Now, again, please, sir?"

"I'm sorry?" Art said.

"Can you repeat it, please? Procedure."

"Why?"

"Can't really say, sir. It's procedure."

Art thought about arguing, but managed to control the impulse. The man was a
cop, he was a foreigner -- albeit a thoroughly documented one -- and what would
it cost? He'd probably left something out anyway.

He retold the story from the top, speaking slowly and clearly. PC McGivens aimed
his comm Artwards, and tapped out the occasional note as Art spoke.

"Thank you sir. Now, once more, please?"

Art blew out an exasperated sigh. His feet hurt, and his bladder was swollen
with drink. "You're joking."

"No sir, I'm afraid not. Procedure."

"But it's stupid! The guys who tried to mug us are long gone, I've given you
their descriptions, you have their *identification* --" But they didn't, not
yet. The wallet still lay where Art had dropped it.

PC McGivens shook his head slowly, as though marveling at the previously
unsuspected inanity of his daily round. "All very true, sir, but it's procedure.
Worked out by some clever lad using statistics. All this, it increases our
success rate. 'Sproven."

Here it was. Some busy tribalist provocateur, some compatriot of Fede, had
stirred the oats into Her Majesty's Royal Constabulary. Art snuck a look at
Linda, who was no doubt being subjected to the same procedure by PC DeMoss.
She'd lost her rigid, angry posture, and was seemingly -- amazingly -- enjoying
herself, chatting up the constable like an old pal.

"How many more times have we got to do this, officer?"

"This is the last time you'll have to repeat it to me."

Art's professional instincts perked up at the weasel words in the sentence. "To
you? Who else do I need to go over this with?"

The officer shook his head, caught out. "Well, you'll have to repeat it three
times to PC DeMoss, once he's done with your friend, sir. Procedure."

"How about this," Art says, "how about I record this last statement to you with
my comm, and then I can *play it back* three times for PC DeMoss?"

"Oh, I'm sure that won't do, sir. Not really the spirit of the thing, is it?"

"And what *is* the spirit of the thing? Humiliation? Boredom? An exercise in raw
power?"

PC McGivens lost his faint smile. "I really couldn't say, sir. Now, again if you
please?"

"What if I don't please? I haven't been assaulted. I haven't been robbed. It's
none of my business. What if I walk away right now?"

"Not really allowed, sir. It's expected that everyone in England -- HM's
subjects *and her guests* -- will assist the police with their inquiries.
Required, actually."

Reminded of his precarious immigration status, Art lost his attitude. "Once more
for you, three more times for your partner, and we're done, right? I want to get
home."

"We'll see, sir."

Art recited the facts a third time, and they waited while Linda finished her
third recounting.

He switched over to PC DeMoss, who pointed his comm expectantly. "Is all this
just to make people reluctant to call the cops? I mean, this whole procedure
seems like a hell of a disincentive."

"Just the way we do things, sir," PC DeMoss said without rancor. "Now, let's
have it, if you please?"

From a few yards away, Linda laughed at something PC McGivens said, which just
escalated Art's frustration. He spat out the description three times fast. "Now,
I need to find a toilet. Are we done yet?"

"'Fraid not, sir. Going to have to come by the Station House to look through
some photos. There's a toilet there."

"It can't wait that long, officer."

PC DeMoss gave him a reproachful look.

"I'm sorry, all right?" Art said. "I lack the foresight to empty my bladder
before being accosted in the street. That being said, can we arrive at some kind
of solution?" In his head, Art was already writing an angry letter to the
*Times*, dripping with sarcasm.

"Just a moment, sir," PC DeMoss said. He conferred briefly with his partner,
leaving Art to stare ruefully at their backs and avoid Linda's gaze. When he
finally met it, she gave him a sunny smile. It seemed that she -- at least --
wasn't angry any more.

"Come this way, please, sir," PC DeMoss said, striking off for the High Street.
"There's a pub 'round the corner where you can use the facilities."

9.

It was nearly dawn before they finally made their way out of the police station
and back into the street. After identifying Les from an online rogues' gallery,
Art had spent the next six hours sitting on a hard bench, chording desultorily
on his thigh, doing some housekeeping.

This business of being an agent-provocateur was complicated in the extreme,
though it had sounded like a good idea when he was living in San Francisco and
hating every inch of the city, from the alleged pizza to the fucking! drivers!
-- in New York, the theory went, drivers used their horns by way of shouting
"Ole!" as in, "Ole! You changed lanes!" "Ole! You cut me off!" "Ole! You're
driving on the sidewalk!" while in San Francisco, a honking horn meant, "I wish
you were dead. Have a nice day. Dude."

And the body language was all screwed up out west. Art believed that your entire
unconscious affect was determined by your upbringing. You learned how to stand,
how to hold your face in repose, how to gesture, from the adults around you
while you were growing up. The Pacific Standard Tribe always seemed a little
bovine to him, their facial muscles long conditioned to relax into a kind of
spacey, gullible senescence.

Beauty, too. Your local definition of attractive and ugly was conditioned by the
people around you at puberty. There was a Pacific "look" that was indefinably
off. Hard to say what it was, just that when he went out to a bar or got stuck
on a crowded train, the girls just didn't seem all that attractive to him.
Objectively, he could recognize their prettiness, but it didn't stir him the way
the girls cruising the Chelsea Antiques Market or lounging around Harvard Square
could.

He'd always felt at a slight angle to reality in California, something that was
reinforced by his continuous efforts in the Tribe, from chatting and gaming
until the sun rose, dragging his caffeine-deficient ass around to his clients in
a kind of fog before going home, catching a nap and hopping back online at 3 or
4 when the high-octane NYC early risers were practicing work-avoidance and
clattering around with their comms.

Gradually, he penetrated deeper into the Tribe, getting invites into private
channels, intimate environments where he found himself spilling the most private
details of his life. The Tribe stuck together, finding work for each other,
offering advice, and it was only a matter of time before someone offered him a
gig.

That was Fede, who practically invented Tribal agent-provocateurs. He'd been
working for McKinsey, systematically undermining their GMT-based clients with
plausibly terrible advice, creating Achilles' heels that their East-coast
competitors could exploit. The entire European trust-architecture for relay
networks had been ceded by Virgin/Deutsche Telekom to a scrappy band of AT&T
Labs refugees whose New Jersey headquarters hosted all the cellular reputation
data that Euros' comms consulted when they were routing their calls. The Jersey
clients had funneled a nice chunk of the proceeds to Fede's account in the form
of rigged winnings from an offshore casino that the Tribe used to launder its
money.

Now V/DT was striking back, angling for a government contract in Massachusetts,
a fat bit of pork for managing payments to rightsholders whose media was
assessed at the MassPike's tollbooths. Rights-societies were a fabulous
opportunity to skim and launder and spindle money in plenty, and Virgin's
massive repertoire combined with Deutsche Telekom's Teutonic attention to detail
was a tough combination to beat. Needless to say, the Route 128-based Tribalists
who had the existing contract needed an edge, and would pay handsomely for it.

London nights seemed like a step up from San Francisco mornings to Art --
instead of getting up at 4AM to get NYC, he could sleep in and chat them up
through the night. The Euro sensibility, with its many nap-breaks, statutory
holidays and extended vacations seemed ideally suited to a double agent's life.

But Art hadn't counted on the Tribalists' hands-on approach to his work. They
obsessively grepped his daily feed of spreadsheets, whiteboard-output, memos and
conversation reports for any of ten thousand hot keywords, querying him for
deeper detail on trivial, half-remembered bullshit sessions with the V/DT's user
experience engineers. His comm buzzed and blipped at all hours, and his payoff
was dependent on his prompt response. They were running him ragged.

Four hours in the police station gave Art ample opportunity to catch up on the
backlog of finicky queries. Since the accident, he'd been distracted and tardy,
and had begun to invent his responses, since it all seemed so trivial to him
anyway.

Fede had sent him about a thousand nagging notes reminding him to generate a new
key and phone with the fingerprint. Christ. Fede had been with McKinsey for most
of his adult life, and he was superparanoid about being exposed and disgraced in
their ranks. Art's experience with the other McKinsey people around the office
suggested that the notion of any of those overpaid buzzword-slingers sniffing
their traffic was about as likely as a lightning strike. Heaving a dramatic sigh
for his own benefit, he began the lengthy process of generating enough
randomness to seed the key, mashing the keyboard, whispering nonsense syllables,
and pointing the comm's camera lens at arbitrary corners of the police station.
After ten minutes of crypto-Tourette's, the comm announced that he'd been
sufficiently random and prompted him for a passphrase. Jesus. What a pain in the
ass. He struggled to recall all the words to the theme song from a CBC sitcom
he'd watched as a kid, and then his comm went into a full-on churn as it
laboriously re-ciphered all of his stored files with the new key, leaving Art to
login while he waited.

Trepan: Afternoon!

Colonelonic: Hey, Trepan. How's it going?

Trepan: Foul. I'm stuck at a copshop in London with my thumb up my ass. I got
mugged.

Colonelonic: Yikes! You OK?

Ballgravy: Shit!

Trepan: Oh, I'm fine -- just bored. They didn't hurt me. I commed 999 while they
were running their game and showed it to them when they got ready to do the
deed, so they took off.

##Colonelonic laughs

Ballgravy: Britain==ass. Lon-dong.

Colonelonic: Sweet!

Trepan: Thanks. Now if the cops would only finish the paperwork...

Colonelonic: What are you doing in London, anyway?

Ballgravy: Ass ass ass

Colonelonic: Shut up, Bgravy

Ballgravy: Blow me

Trepan: What's wrong with you, Ballgravy? We're having a grown-up conversation
here

Ballgravy: Just don't like Brits.

Trepan: What, all of them?

Ballgravy: Whatever -- all the ones I've met have been tight-ass pricks

##Colonelonic: (private) He's just a troll, ignore him

private Colonelonic: Watch this

Trepan: How many?

Ballgravy: How many what?

Trepan: Have you met?

Ballgravy: Enough

Trepan: > 100?

Ballgravy: No

Trepan: > 50?

Ballgravy: No

Trepan: > 10?

Ballgravy: Around 10

Trepan: Where are you from?

Ballgravy: Queens

Trepan: Well, you're not going to believe this, but you're the tenth person from
Queens I've met -- and you're all morons who pick fights with strangers in
chat-rooms

Colonelonic: Queens==ass

Trepan: Ass ass ass

Ballgravy: Fuck you both

##Ballgravy has left channel #EST.chatter

Colonelonic: Nicely done

Colonelonic: He's been boring me stupid for the past hour, following me from
channel to channel

Colonelonic: What are you doing in London, anyway?

Trepan: Like I said, waiting for the cops

Colonelonic: But why are you there in the first place

Trepan: /private Colonelonic It's a work thing. For EST.

##Colonelonic: (private) No shit?

Trepan: /private Colonelonic Yeah. Can't really say much more, you understand

##Colonelonic: (private) Cool! Any more jobs? One more day at Merril-Lynch and
I'm gonna kill someone

Trepan: /private Colonelonic Sorry, no. There must be some perks though.

##Colonelonic: (private) I can pick fights with strangers in chat rooms! Also, I
get to play with Lexus-Nexus all I want

Trepan: /private Colonelonic That's pretty rad, anyway

##Ballgravy has joined channel #EST.chatter

Ballgravy: Homos

Trepan: Oh Christ, are you back again, Queens?

Colonelonic: I've gotta go anyway

Trepan: See ya

##Colonelonic has left channel #EST.chatter

##Trepan has left channel #EST.chatter

Art stood up and blinked. He approached the desk sergeant and asked if he
thought it would be much longer. The sergeant fiddled with a comm for a moment,
then said, "Oh, we're quite done with you sir, thank you." Art repressed a
vituperative response, counted three, then thanked the cop.

He commed Linda.

"What's up?"

"They say we're free to go. I think they've been just keeping us here for shits
and giggles. Can you believe that?"

"Whatever -- I've been having a nice chat with Constable McGivens. Constable, is
it all right if we go now?"

There was some distant, English rumbling, then Linda giggled. "All right, then.
Thank you so much, officer!

"Art? I'll meet you at the front doors, all right?"

"That's great," Art said. He stretched. His ass was numb, his head throbbed, and
he wanted to strangle Linda.

She emerged into the dawn blinking and grinning, and surprised him with a long,
full-body hug. "Sorry I was so snappish before," she said. "I was just scared.
The cops say that you were quite brave. Thank you."

Art's adrenals dry-fired as he tried to work up a good angry head of steam, then
he gave up. "It's all right."

"Let's go get some breakfast, OK?"

10.

The parking-lot is aswarm with people, fire engines and ambulances. There's a
siren going off somewhere down in the bowels of the sanatorium, and still I
can't get anyone to look up at the goddamned roof.

I've tried hollering myself hoarse into the updrafts from the cheery blaze, but
the wind's against me, my shouts rising up past my ears. I've tried dropping
more pebbles, but the winds whip them away, and I've learned my lesson about
half-bricks.

Weirdly, I'm not worried about getting into trouble. I've already been
involuntarily committed by the Tribe's enemies, the massed and devious forces of
the Pacific Daylight Tribe and the Greenwich Mean Tribe. I am officially Not
Responsible. Confused and Prone to Wandering. Coo-Coo for Coco-Puffs. It's not
like I hurt anyone, just decremented the number of roadworthy fartmobiles by
one.

I got up this morning at four, awakened by the tiniest sound from the ward
corridors, a wheel from a pharmaceuticals tray maybe. Three weeks on medically
prescribed sleepytime drugs have barely scratched the surface of the damage
wrought by years of circadian abuse. I'd been having a fragile shadow of a
dream, the ghost of a REM cycle, and it was the old dream, the dream of the
doctor's office and the older kids who could manage the trick of making a
picture into reality.

I went from that state to total wakefulness in an instant, and knew to a
certainty that I wouldn't be sleeping again any time soon. I paced my small
room, smelled the cheerful flowers my cousins brought last week when they
visited from Toronto, watched the horizon for signs of a breaking dawn. I wished
futilely for my comm and a nice private channel where I could sling some
bullshit and have some slung in my direction, just connect with another human
being at a nice, safe remove.

They chide me for arguing on the ward, call it belligerence and try to sidetrack
me with questions about my motivations, a tactic rating barely above ad hominems
in my book. No one to talk to -- the other patients get violent or nod off,
depending on their medication levels, and the staff just patronize me.

Four AM and I'm going nuts, hamsters in my mind spinning their wheels at a
thousand RPM, chittering away. I snort -- if I wasn't crazy to begin with, I'm
sure getting there.

The hamsters won't stop arguing with each other over all the terrible errors of
judgment I've made to get here. Trusting the Tribe, trusting strangers. Argue,
argue, argue. God, if only someone else were around, I could argue the
definition of sanity, I could argue the ethics of involuntary committal, I could
argue the food. But my head is full of argument and there's nowhere to spill it
and soon enough I'll be talking aloud, arguing with the air like the schizoids
on the ward who muttergrumbleshout through the day and through the night.

Why didn't I just leave London when I could, come home, move in with Gran, get a
regular job? Why didn't I swear off the whole business of secrecy and
provocation?

I was too smart for my own good. I could always argue myself into doing the
sexy, futuristic thing instead of being a nice, mundane, nonaffiliated
individual. Too smart to settle down, take a job and watch TV after work, spend
two weeks a year at the cottage and go online to find movie listings. Too smart
is too restless and no happiness, ever, without that it's chased by obsessive
maundering moping about what comes next.

Smart or happy?

The hamsters have hopped off their wheels and are gnawing at the blood-brain
barrier, trying to get out of my skull. This is a good sanatorium, but still,
the toilets are communal on my floor, which means that I've got an unlocked door
that lights up at the nurses' station down the corridor when I open the door,
and goes berserk if I don't reopen it again within the mandated fifteen-minute
maximum potty-break. I figured out how to defeat the system the first day, but
it was a theoretical hack, and now it's time to put it into practice.

I step out the door and the lintel goes pink, deepens toward red. Once it's red,
whoopwhoopwhoop. I pad down to the lav, step inside, wait, step out again. I go
back to my room -- the lintel is orange now -- and open it, move my torso across
the long electric eye, then pull it back and let the door swing closed. The
lintel is white, and that means that the room thinks I'm inside, but I'm
outside. You put your torso in, you take your torso out, you do the hokey-pokey
and you shake it all about.

In the corridor. I pad away from the nurses' station, past the closed doors and
through the muffled, narcotized groans and snores and farts that are the
twilight symphony of night on the ward. I duck past an intersection, head for
the elevator doors, then remember the tattletale I'm wearing on my ankle, which
will go spectacularly berserk if I try to leave by that exit. Also, I'm in my
underwear. I can't just walk nonchalantly into the lobby.

The ward is making wakeful sounds, and I'm sure I hear the soft tread of a
white-soled shoe coming round the bend. I double my pace, begin to jog at random
-- the hamsters, they tell me I'm acting with all the forethought of a crazy
person, and why not just report for extra meds instead of all this *mishegas*?

There's definitely someone coming down a nearby corridor. The tread of sneakers,
the squeak of a wheel. I've seen what they do to the wanderers: a nice chemical
straightjacket, a cocktail of pills that'll quiet the hamsters down for days.
Time to get gone.

There's an EXIT sign glowing over a door at the far end of the corridor. I pant
towards it, find it propped open and the alarm system disabled by means of a
strip of surgical tape. Stepping through into the emergency stairwell, I see an
ashtray fashioned from a wadded up bit of tinfoil, heaped with butts -- evidence
of late-night smoke breaks by someone on the ward staff. Massachusetts's harsh
antismoking regs are the best friend an escaping loony ever had.

The stairwell is gray and industrial and refreshingly hard-edged after three
padded weeks on the ward. Down, down is the exit and freedom. Find clothes
somewhere and out I go into Boston.

From below, then: the huffing, laborious breathing of some goddamned overweight,
middle-aged doc climbing the stairs for his health. I peer down the well and see
his gleaming pate, his white knuckles on the railing, two, maybe three flights
down.

Up! Up to the roof. I'm on the twentieth floor, which means that I've got
twenty-five more to go, two flights per, fifty in total, gotta move. Up! I stop
two or three times and pant and wheeze and make it ten stories and collapse. I'm
sweating freely -- no air-conditioning in the stairwell, nor is there anything
to mop up the sweat rolling down my body, filling the crack of my ass, coursing
down my legs. I press my face to the cool painted cinderblock walls, one cheek
and then the other, and continue on.

When I finally open the door that leads out onto the pebbled roof, the dawn cool
is balm. Fingers of light are hauling the sunrise up over the horizon. I step
onto the roof and feel the pebbles dig into the soft soles of my feet, cool as
the bottom of the riverbed whence they'd been dredged. The door starts to swing
shut heavily behind me, and I whirl and catch it just in time, getting my
fingers mashed against the jamb for my trouble. I haul it back open again
against its pneumatic closure mechanism.

Using the side of my foot as a bulldozer, I scrape up a cairn of pebbles as high
as the door's bottom edge, twice as high. I fall into the rhythm of the work,
making the cairn higher and wider until I can't close the door no matter how I
push against it. The last thing I want is to get stuck on the goddamn roof.

There's detritus mixed in with the pebbles: cigarette butts, burnt out matches,
a condom wrapper and a bright yellow Eberhard pencil with a point as sharp as a
spear, the eraser as pink and softly resilient as a nipple.

I pick up the pencil and twiddle it between forefinger and thumb, tap a nervous
rattle against the roof's edge as I dangle my feet over the bottomless plummet
until the sun is high and warm on my skin.

The hamsters get going again once the sun is high and the cars start pulling
into the parking lot below, rattling and chittering and whispering, yes o yes,
put the pencil in your nose, wouldn't you rather be happy than smart?

11.

Art and Linda in Linda's miniscule joke of a flat. She's two months into a
six-month house-swap with some friends of friends who have a fourth-storey
walkup in Kensington with a partial (i.e. fictional) view of the park. The
lights are on timers and you need to race them to her flat's door, otherwise
there's no way you'll fit the archaic key into the battered keyhole -- the
windows in the stairwell are so grimed as to provide more of a suggestion of
light than light itself.

Art's ass aches and he paces the flat's three wee rooms and drinks
hormone-enhanced high-energy liquid breakfast from the half-fridge in the
efficiency kitchen. Linda's taken dibs on the first shower, which is fine by
Art, who can't get the hang of the goddamned-English-plumbing, which delivers an
energy-efficient, eat-your-vegetables-and-save-the-planet trickle of scalding
water.

Art has switched off his comm, his frazzled nerves no longer capable of coping
with its perennial and demanding beeping and buzzing. This is very nearly
unthinkable but necessary, he rationalizes, given the extraordinary events of
the past twenty-four hours. And Fede can go fuck himself, for that matter, that
paranoid asshole, and then he can fuck the clients in Jersey and the whole of
V/DT while he's at it.

The energy bev is kicking in and making his heart race and his pulse throb in
his throat and he's so unbearably hyperkinetic that he turns the coffee table on
its end in the galley kitchen and clears a space in the living room that's
barely big enough to spin around in, and starts to work through a slow, slow set
of Tai Chi, so slow that he barely moves at all, except that inside he can feel
the moving, can feel the muscles' every flex and groan as they wind up release,
move and swing and slide.

Single whip slides into crane opens wings and he needs to crouch down low, lower
than his woolen slacks will let him, and they're grimy and gross anyway, so he
undoes his belt and kicks them off. Down low as white crane opens wings and
brush knee, punch, apparent closure, then low again, creakingly achingly low
into wave hands like clouds, until his spine and his coccyx crackle and give,
springing open, fascia open ribs open smooth breath rising and falling with his
diaphragm smooth mind smooth and sweat cool in the mat of his hair.

He moves through the set and does not notice Linda until he unwinds into a slow,
ponderous lotus kick, closes again, breathes a moment and looks around slowly,
grinning like a holy fool.

She's in a tartan housecoat with a threadbare towel wrapped around her hair,
water beading on her bony ankles and long, skinny feet. "Art! God*damn*, Art!
What the hell was that?"

"Tai chi," he says, drawing a deep breath in through his nostrils, feeling each
rib expand in turn, exhaling through his mouth. "I do it to unwind."

"It was beautiful! Art! Art. Art. That was, I mean, wow. Inspiring. Something.
You're going to show me how to do that, Art. Right? You're gonna."

"I could try," Art says. "I'm not really qualified to teach it -- I stopped
going to class ten years ago."

"Shut, shut up, Art. You can teach that, damn, you can teach that, I know you
can. That was, wow." She rushes forward and takes his hands. She squeezes and
looks into his eyes. She squeezes again and tugs his hands towards her hips,
reeling his chest towards her breasts tilting her chin up and angling that long
jawline that's so long as to be almost horsey, but it isn't, it's strong and
clean. Art smells shampoo and sandalwood talc and his skin puckers in a crinkle
that's so sudden and massive that it's almost audible.

They've been together continuously for the past five days, almost without
interruption and he's already conditioned to her smell and her body language and
the subtle signals of her face's many mobile bits and pieces. She is afire, he
is afire, their bodies are talking to each other in some secret language of
shifting centers of gravity and unconscious pheromones, and his face tilts down
towards her, slowly with all the time in the world. Lowers and lowers, week-old
whiskers actually tickling the tip of her nose, his lips parting now, and her
breath moistens them, beads them with liquid condensed out of her vapor.

His top lip touches her bottom lip. He could leave it at that and be happy, the
touch is so satisfying, and he is contented there for a long moment, then moves
to engage his lower lip, moving, tilting.

His comm rings.

His comm, which he has switched off, rings.

Shit.

"Hello!" he says, he shouts.

"Arthur?" says a voice that is old and hurt and melancholy. His Gran's voice.
His Gran, who can override his ringer, switch on his comm at a distance because
Art is a good grandson who was raised almost entirely by his saintly and frail
(and depressive and melodramatic and obsessive) grandmother, and of course his
comm is set to pass her calls. Not because he is a suck, but because he is loyal
and sensitive and he loves his Gran.

"Gran, hi! Sorry, I was just in the middle of something, sorry." He checks his
comm, which tells him that it's only six in the morning in Toronto, noon in
London, and that the date is April 8, and that today is the day that he should
have known his grandmother would call.

"You forgot," she says, no accusation, just a weary and disappointed sadness. He
has indeed forgotten.

"No, Gran, I didn't forget."

But he did. It is the eighth of April, 2022, which means that it is twenty-one
years to the day since his mother died. And he has forgotten.

"It's all right. You're busy, I understand. Tell me, Art, how are you? When will
you visit Toronto?"

"I'm fine, Gran. I'm sorry I haven't called, I've been sick." Shit. Wrong lie.

"You're sick? What's wrong?"

"It's nothing. I -- I put my back out. Working too hard. Stress. It's nothing,
Gran."

He chances to look up at Linda, who is standing where he left her when he dived
reflexively for his comm, staring disbelievingly at him. Her robe is open to her
navel, and he sees the three curls of pubic hair above the knot in its belt that
curl towards her groin, sees the hourglass made by the edges of her breasts that
are visible in the vee of the robe, sees the edge of one areole, the left one.
He is in a tee shirt and bare feet and boxers, crouching over his trousers,
talking to his Gran, and he locks eyes with Linda and shakes his head
apologetically, then settles down to sit cross-legged, hunched over an erection
he didn't know he had, resolves to look at her while he talks.

"Stress! Always stress. You should take some vacation time. Are you seeing
someone? A chiropractor?"

He's entangled in the lie. "Yes. I have an appointment tomorrow."

"How will you get there? Don't take the subway. Take a taxi. And give me the
doctor's name, I'll look him up."

"I'll take a cab, it'll be fine, he's the only one my travel insurance covers."

"The only one? Art! What kind of insurance do you have? I'll call them, I'll
find you a chiropractor. Betty Melville, she has family in London, they'll know
someone."

God. "It's fine, Gran. How are you?"

A sigh. "How am I? On this day, how am I?"

"How is your health? Are you keeping busy?"

"My health is fine. I keep busy. Father Ferlenghetti came to dinner last night
at the house. I made a nice roast, and I'll have sandwiches today."

"That's good."

"I'm thinking of your mother, you know."

"I know."

"Do you think of her, Art? You were so young when she went, but you remember
her, don't you?"

"I do, Gran." He remembers her, albeit dimly. He was barely nine when she died.

"Of course -- of course you remember your mother. It's a terrible thing for a
mother to live longer than her daughter."

His Gran says this every year. Art still hasn't figured out how to respond to
it. Time for another stab at it. "I'm glad you're still here, Gran."

Wrong thing. Gran is sobbing now. Art drops his eyes from Linda's and looks at
the crazy weft and woof of the faded old Oriental rug. "Oh, Gran," he says. "I'm
sorry."

In truth, Art has mourned and buried his mother. He was raised just fine by his
Gran, and when he remembers his mother, he is more sad about not being sad than
sad about her.

"I'm an old lady, you know that. You'll remember me when I go, won't you Art?"

This, too, is a ritual question that Art can't answer well enough no matter how
he practices. "Of course, Gran. But you'll be around for a good while yet!"

"When are you coming back to Toronto?" He'd ducked the question before, but
Gran's a master of circling back and upping the ante. *Now that we've
established my imminent demise...*

"Soon as I can, Gran. Maybe when I finish this contract. September, maybe."

"You'll stay here? I can take the sofa. When do you think you'll arrive? My
friends all want to see you again. You remember Mrs. Tomkins? You used to play
with her daughter Alice. Alice is single, you know. She has a good job, too --
working at an insurance company. Maybe she can get you a better health plan."

"I don't know, Gran. I'll *try* to come back after I finish my contract, but I
can't tell what'll be happening then. I'll let you know, OK?"

"Oh, Art. Please come back soon -- I miss you. I'm going to visit your mother's
grave today and put some flowers on it. They keep it very nice at Mount
Pleasant, and the trees are just blooming now."

"I'll come back as soon as I can, Gran. I love you."

"I love you too, Arthur."

"Bye, Gran."

"I'll call you once I speak to Betty about the chiropractor, all right?"

"All right, Gran." He is going to have to go to the chiropractor now, even
though his back feels as good as it has in years. His Gran will be checking up
on it.

"Bye, Arthur. I love you."

"Bye, Gran."

"Bye."

He shakes his head and holsters the comm back in his pants, then rocks back and
lies down on the rug, facing the ceiling, eyes closed. A moment later, the hem
of Linda's robe brushes his arm and she lies down next to him, takes his hand.

"Everything OK?"

"It's just my Gran." And he tells her about this date's significance.

"How did she die?"

"It was stupid. She slipped in the tub and cracked her skull on the tap. I was
off at a friend's place for the weekend and no one found her for two days. She
lived for a week on life support, and they pulled the plug. No brain activity.
They wouldn't let me into the hospital room after the first day. My Gran
practically moved in, though. She raised me after that. I think that if she
hadn't had to take care of me, she would have just given up, you know? She's
pretty lonely back home alone."

"What about your dad?"

"You know, there used to be a big mystery about that. Gran and Mom, they were
always tragic and secretive when I asked them about him. I had lots of stories
to explain his absence: ran off with another woman, thrown in jail for running
guns, murdered in a bar fight. I used to be a bit of a celeb at school -- lots
of kids didn't have dads around, but they all knew where their fathers were. We
could always kill an afternoon making up his who and where and why. Even the
teachers got into it, getting all apologetic when we had to do a genealogy
project. I found out the truth, finally, when I was nineteen. Just looked it up
online. It never occurred to me that my mom would be that secretive about
something that was so easy to find out, so I never bothered."

"So, what happened to him?"

"Oh, you know. He and mom split when I was a kid. He moved back in with his
folks in a little town in the Thousand Islands, near Ottawa. Four or five years
later, he got a job planting trees for a summer up north, and he drowned
swimming in a lake during a party. By the time I found out about him, his folks
were dead, too."

"Did you tell your friends about him, once you found out?"

"Oh, by then I'd lost touch with most of them. After elementary school, we moved
across town, to a condo my grandmother retired into on the lakeshore, out in the
suburbs. In high school, I didn't really chum around much, so there wasn't
anyone to talk to. I did tell my Gran though, asked her why it was such a big
secret, and she said it wasn't, she said she'd told me years before, but she
hadn't. I think that she and Mom just decided to wait until I was older before
telling me, and then after my mom died, she just forgot that she hadn't told me.
We got into a big fight over that."

"That's a weird story, dude. So, do you think of yourself as an orphan?"

Art rolls over on his side, face inches from hers, and snorts a laugh. "God,
that's so -- *Dickensian*. No one ever asked me that before. I don't think so.
You can't really be an adult and be an orphan -- you're just someone with dead
parents. And I didn't find out about my dad until I was older, so I always
figured that he was alive and well somewhere. What about your folks?"

Linda rolls over on her side, too, her robe slipping off her lower breast. Art
is aroused by it, but not crazily so -- somewhere in telling his story, he's
figured out that sex is a foregone conclusion, and now they're just getting
through some nice foreplay. He smiles down at her nipple, which is brown as a
bar of Belgian chocolate, aureole the size of a round of individual cheese and
nipple itself a surprisingly chunky square of crinkled flesh. She follows his
eyes and smiles at him, then puts his hand over her breast, covers it with hers.

"I told you about my mom, right? Wanted to act -- who doesn't? But she was too
conscious of the cliche to mope about it. She got some little parts -- nothing
fab, then went on to work at a Sony dealership. Ten years later, she bought a
franchise. Dad and second-wife run a retreat in West Hollywood for sexually
dysfunctional couples. No sibs. Happy childhood. Happy adolescence. Largely
unsatisfying adulthood, to date."

"Wow, you sound like you've practiced that."

She tweaks his nose, then drapes her arm across his chest. "Got me. Always
writing my autobiography in my head -- gotta have a snappy opener when I'm
cornered by the stalkerazzi."

He laces his fingers in hers, moves close enough to smell her toothpaste-sweet
breath. "Tell me something unrehearsed about growing up."

"That's a stupid request." Her tone is snappish, and her fingers stiffen in his.

"Why?"

"It just is! Don't try to get under my skin, OK? My childhood was fine."

"Look, I don't want to piss you off. I'm just trying to get to know you.
Because... you know... I like you. A lot. And I try to get to know the people I
like."

She smiles her lopsided dimple. "Sorry, I just don't like people who try to mess
with my head. My problem, not yours. OK, something unrehearsed." She closes her
eyes and treats him to the smooth pinkness of her eyelids, and keeps them closed
as she speaks. "I once stole a Veddic Series 7 off my mom's lot, when I was
fifteen. It had all the girly safety features, including a tracker and a panic
button, but I didn't think my mom would miss it. I just wanted to take it out
for a drive. It's LA, right? No wheels, no life. So I get as far as Venice
Beach, and I'm cruising the Boardwalk -- this was just after it went topless, so
I was swinging in the breeze -- and suddenly the engine dies, right in the
middle of this clump of out-of-towners, frat kids from Kansas or something. Mom
had called in a dealer override and Sony shut down the engine by radio."

"Wow, what did you do?"

"Well, I put my shirt back on. Then I popped the hood and poked randomly at the
engine, pulling out the user-servicables and reseating them. The thing was newer
than new, right? How could it be broken already? The fratboys all gathered
around and gave me advice, and I played up all bitchy, you know, 'I've been
fixing these things since I was ten, get lost,' whatever. They loved it. I was
all spunky. A couple of them were pretty cute even, and the attention was great.
I felt safe -- lots of people hanging around, they weren't going to try anything
funny. Only I was starting to freak out about the car -- it was really dead. I'd
reseated everything, self-tested every component, double-checked the fuel.
Nothing nothing nothing! I was going to have to call a tow and my mom was going
to kill me.

"So I'm trying not to let it get to me, trying to keep it all cool, but I'm not
doing a great job. The frat guys are all standing too close and they smell like
beer, and I'm not trying to be perky anymore, just want them to stay! away! but
they won't back off. I'm trying not to cry.

"And then the cops showed up. Not real cops, but Sony's Vehicle Recovery Squad.
All dressed up in Vaio gear, stylish as a Pepsi ad, packing lots of semilethals
and silvery aeorosol shut-up-and-be-still juice, ready to nab the bad, bad perp
who boosted this lovely Veddic Series 7 from Mom's lot. Part of the franchise
package, that kind of response. It took me a second to figure it out -- Mom
didn't know it was *me* who had the car, so she'd called in a theft and bam, I
was about to get arrested. The frat rats tried to run away, which is a bad idea,
you just don't ever run from cops -- stupid, stupid, stupid. They ended up
rolling around on the ground, screaming and trying to pull their faces off. It
took, like a second. I threw my hands in the air. 'Don't shoot!' They gassed me
anyway.

"So then *I* was rolling around on the ground, feeling like my sinuses were
trying to explode out of my face. Feeling like my eyeballs were melting. Feeling
like my lungs were all shriveled up into raisins. I couldn't scream, I couldn't
even breathe. By the time I could even roll over and open my eyes, they had me
cuffed: ankles and wrists in zapstraps that were so tight, they felt like piano
wire. I was a cool fifteen year old, but not that cool. I started up the
waterworks, boohoohoo, couldn't shut it down, couldn't even get angry. I just
wanted to die. The Sony cops had seen it all before, so they put a tarp down on
the Veddic's backseat upholstery, threw me in it, then rolled it into their
recovery truck and drove me to the police station.

"I puked on the tarp twice before they got me there, and almost did it a third
time on the way to booking. It got up my sinuses and down my throat, too. I
couldn't stop gagging, couldn't stop crying, but by now I was getting pissed.
I'd been raised on the whole Sony message: 'A Car for the Rest of Us,' gone with
Mom to their Empowerment Seminars, wore the little tee shirts and the temporary
tats and chatted up the tire-kickers about the Sony Family while Mom was busy.
This wasn't the Sony Family I knew.

"I was tied up on the floor beside the desk sergeant's counter, and a Sony cop
was filling in my paperwork, and so I spat out the crud from my mouth, stopped
sniveling, hawked back my spit and put on my best voice. 'This isn't necessary,
sir,' I said. 'I'm not a thief. My mother owns the dealership. It was wrong to
take the car, but I'm sure she didn't intend for this to happen. Certainly, I
don't need to be tied up in here. Please, take off the restraints -- they're
cutting off my circulation.' The Sony cop flipped up his goofy little facemask
and squinted at me, then shook his head and went back to his paperwork.

"'Look,' I said. 'Look! I'm not a criminal. This is a misunderstanding. If you
check my ID and call my mother, we can work this all out. Look!' I read his name
off his epaulettes. 'Look! Officer Langtree! Just let me up and we'll sort this
out like adults. Come on, I don't blame you -- I'm glad! -- you were right to
take me in. This is my mom's merchandise; it's good that you went after the
thief and recovered the car. But now you know the truth, it's my mother's car,
and if you just let me up, I'm sure we can work this out. Please, Officer
Langtree. My wallet's in my back pocket. Just get it out and check my ID before
you do this.'

"But he just went on filling in the paperwork. 'Why? Why won't you just take a
second to check? Why not?'

"He turned around again, looked at me for a long time, and I was sure he was
going to check, that it was all going to be fine, but then he said, 'Look, I've
had about as much of your bullshit as I'm going to take, little girl. Shut your
hole or I'll gag you. I just want to get out of here and back to my job, all
right?'

"'What?' I said, and it sounded like a shriek to me. 'What did you say to me?
What the hell did you say to me? Didn't you hear what I said? That's my
*mother's car* -- she owns the lot I took it off of. Do you honestly think she
wants you to do this? This is the stupidest goddamned thing --'

"'That's it,' he said, and took a little silver micropore hood off his belt, the
kind that you cinch up under the chin so the person inside can't talk? I started
squirming away then, pleading with him, and I finally caught the desk sergeant's
eye. 'He can't do this! Please! Don't let him do this! I'm in a *police station*
-- why are you letting him do this?'

"And the cop smiled and said, 'You're absolutely right, little girl. That's
enough of that.' The Sony cop didn't pay any attention. He grabbed my head and
stuffed it into the hood and tried to get the chin strap in place. I shook my
head as best as I could, and then the hood was being taken off my head again,
and the Sony cop looked like he wanted to nail the other cop, but he didn't. The
desk sergeant bent down and cut my straps, then helped me to my feet.

"'You're not going to give me any trouble, are you?' he said, as he led me
around to a nice, ergo office chair.

"'No sir!'

"'You just sit there, then, and I'll be with you in a moment.'

"I sat down and rubbed my wrists and ankles. My left ankle was oozing blood from
where it had been rubbed raw. I couldn't believe that the Sony Family could
inflict such indignities on my cute little person. I was so goddamn
self-righteous, and I know I was smirking as the desk sergeant chewed out the
Sony cop, taking down his badge number and so on so that I'd have it.

"I thanked the cop profusely, and I kept on thanking him as he booked me and
printed me and took my mug shots. I was joking and maybe even flirting a little.
I was a cute fifteen-year-old and I knew it. After the nastiness with the Sony
cops, being processed into the criminal justice system seemed mild and
inoffensive. It didn't really occur to me that I was being *arrested* until my
good pal the cop asked me to turn out my pockets before he put me in the cell.

"'Wait!' I said. 'Sergeant Lorenzi, wait! You don't have to put me in a *cell*,
do you, Sergeant Lorenzi? Sergeant Lorenzi! I don't need to go into a cell! Let
me call my mom, she'll come down and drop the charges, and I can wait here. I'll
help out. I can get coffee. Sergeant Lorenzi!'

"For a second, it looked like he was going to go through with it. Then he
relented and I spent the next couple hours fetching and filing and even running
out for coffee -- that's how much he trusted me -- while we waited for Mom to
show up. I was actually feeling pretty good about it by the time she arrived. Of
course, that didn't last too long.

"She came through the door like Yosemite Sam, frothing at the chops and howling
for my blood. She wanted to press charges, see me locked up to teach me a
lesson. She didn't care how the Sony cops had gassed and trussed me -- as far as
she was concerned, I'd betrayed her and nothing was going to make it right. She
kept howling for the sergeant to give her the papers to sign, she wanted to
swear out a complaint, and he just let her run out of steam, his face perfectly
expressionless until she was done.

"'All right then, Mrs. Walchuk, all right. You swear out the complaint, and
we'll hold her overnight until her bail hearing. We only got the one holding
cell, though, you understand. No juvenile facility. Rough crowd. A couple of
biowar enthusiasts in there right now, caught 'em trying to thrax a bus
terminal; a girl who killed her pimp and nailed his privates to the door of his
hotel room before she took off; a couple of hard old drunks. No telling what
else will come in today. We take away their knives and boots and purses, but
those girls like to mess up fresh young things, scar them with the bars or their
nails. We can't watch them all the time.' He was leaning right across the desk
at my mom, cold and still, and then he nudged my foot with his foot and I knew
that he was yanking her chain.

"'Is that what you want, then, ma'am?'

"Mom looked like she wanted to tell him yes, go ahead, call his bluff, but he
was too good at it. She broke. 'No, it's not,' she said. 'I'll take her home and
deal with her there.'

"'That's fundamentally sound,' he said. 'And Linda, you give me a call if you
want to file a complaint against Sony. We have secam footage of the Boardwalk
and the Station House if you need it, and I have that guy's badge ID, too.'

"Mom looked alarmed, and I held out my raw, bruisey wrists to her. 'They gassed
me before they took me in.'

"'Did you run? You *never* run from the cops, Linda, you should have known
better --'

"I didn't run. I put my arms in the air and they gassed me and tied me up and
took me in.'

"'That can't be, Linda. You must have done *something* --' Mom always was ready
to believe that I deserved whatever trouble I got into. She was the only one who
didn't care how cute I was.

"'No mom. I put my hands in the air. I surrendered. They got me anyway. They
didn't care. It'll be on the tape. I'll get it from sergeant Lorenzi when I file
my complaint.'

"'You'll do no such thing. You stole a car, you endangered lives, and now you
want to go sniveling to the authorities because Sony played a little rough when
they brought you in? You committed a *criminal act*, Linda. You got treated like
a criminal.'

"I wanted to smack her. I knew that this was really about not embarrassing her
in front of the Sony Family, the nosy chattery ladies with the other franchises
that Mom competed against for whuffie and bragging rights. But I'd learned
something about drawing flies with honey that afternoon. The Sergeant could have
made things very hard on me, but by giving him a little sugar, I turned it into
an almost fun afternoon.

"Mom took me home and screamed herself raw, and I played it all very contrite,
then walked over to the minimall so that I could buy some saline solution for my
eyes, which were still as red as stoplights. We never spoke of it again, and on
my sixteenth birthday, Mom gave me the keys to a Veddic Series 8, and the first
thing I did was download new firmware for the antitheft transponder that killed
it. Two months later, it was stolen. I haven't driven a Sony since."

Linda smiles and then purses her lips. "Unrehearsed enough?"

Art shakes his head. "Wow. What a story."

"Do you want to kiss me now?" Linda says, conversationally.

"I believe I do," Art says, and he does.

Linda pulls the back of his head to hers with one arm, and with the other, she
half-shrugs out of her robe. Art pulls his shirt up to his armpits, feels the
scorching softness of her chest on his, and groans. His erection grinds into her
mons through his Jockey shorts, and he groans again as she sucks his tongue into
her mouth and masticates it just shy of hard enough to hurt.

She breaks off and reaches down for the waistband of his Jockeys and his whole
body arches in anticipation.

Then his comm rings.

Again.

"Fuck!" Art says, just as Linda says, "Shit!" and they both snort a laugh. Linda
pulls his hand to her nipple again and Art shivers, sighs, and reaches for his
comm, which won't stop ringing.

"It's me," Fede says.

"Jesus, Fede. What *is it*?"

"What is it? Art, you haven't been to the office for more than four hours in a
week. It's going on noon, and you still aren't here." Fede's voice is hot and
unreasoning.

Art feels his own temper rise in response. Where the hell did Fede get off,
anyway? "So fucking *what*, Fede? I don't actually work for you, you know. I've
been taking care of stuff offsite."

"Oh, sure. Art, if you get in trouble, I'll get in trouble, and you know
*exactly* what I mean."

"I'm not *in* trouble, Fede. I'm taking the day off -- why don't you call me
tomorrow?"

"What the hell does that mean? You can't just 'take the day off.' I *wrote* the
goddamned procedure. You have to fill in the form and get it signed by your
supervisor. It needs to be *documented*. Are you *trying* to undermine me?"

"You are so goddamned *paranoid*, Federico. I got mugged last night, all right?
I've been in a police station for the past eighteen hours straight. I am going
to take a shower and I am going to take a nap and I am going to get a massage,
and I am *not* going into the office and I am *not* going to fill in any forms.
This is not about you."

Fede pauses for a moment, and Art senses him marshalling his bad temper for
another salvo. "I don't give a shit, Art. If you're not coming into the office,
you tell me, you hear? The VP of HR is going berserk, and I know exactly what
it's about. He is on to us, you hear me? Every day that you're away and I'm
covering for your ass, he gets more and more certain. If you keep this shit up,
we're both dead."

"Hey, fuck you, Fede." Art is surprised to hear the words coming out of his
mouth, but once they're out, he decides to go with them. "You can indulge your
paranoid fantasies to your heart's content, but don't drag me into them. I got
mugged last night. I had a near-fatal car crash a week ago. If the VP of HR
wants to find out why I haven't been in the office, he can send me an email and
I'll tell him exactly what's going on, and if he doesn't like it, he can toss my
goddamned salad. But I don't report to you. If you want to have a discussion,
you call me and act like a human goddamned being. Tomorrow. Good-bye, Fede." Art
rings the comm off and snarls at it, then switches it off, switches off the
emergency override, and briefly considers tossing it out the goddamned window
onto the precious English paving stones below. Instead, he hurls it into the
soft cushions of the sofa.

He turns back to Linda and makes a conscious effort to wipe the snarl off his
face. He ratchets a smile onto his lips. "Sorry, sorry. Last time, I swear." He
crawls over to her on all fours. She's pulled her robe tight around her, and he
slides a finger under the collar and slides it aside and darts in for a kiss on
the hollow of her collarbone. She shies away and drops her cheek to her
shoulder, shielding the affected area.

"I'm not --" she starts. "The moment's passed, OK? Why don't we just cuddle,
OK?"

12.

Art was at his desk at O'Malley House the next day when Fede knocked on his
door. Fede was bearing a small translucent gift-bag made of some cunning
combination of rough handmade paper and slick polymer. Art looked up from his
comm and waved at the door.

Fede came in and put the parcel on Art's desk. Art looked askance at Fede, and
Fede just waved at the bag with a go-ahead gesture. Art felt for the catch that
would open the bag without tearing the materials, couldn't find it immediately,
and reflexively fired up his comm and started to make notes on how a revised
version of the bag could provide visual cues showing how to open it. Fede caught
him at it and they traded grins.

Art probed the bag's orifice a while longer, then happened upon the release. The
bag sighed apart, falling in three petals, and revealed its payload: a small,
leather-worked box with a simple brass catch. Art flipped the catch and eased
the box open. Inside, in a fitted foam cavity, was a gray lump of stone.

"It's an axe-head," Fede said. "It's 200,000 years old."

Art lifted it out of the box carefully and turned it about, admiring the clean
tool marks from its shaping. It had heft and brutal simplicity, and a thin spot
where a handle must have been lashed once upon a time. Art ran his fingertips
over the smooth tool marks, over the tapered business end, where the stone had
been painstakingly flaked into an edge. It was perfect.

Now that he was holding it, it was so obviously an axe, so clearly an axe. It
needed no instruction. It explained itself. I am an axe. Hit things with me. Art
couldn't think of a single means by which it could be improved.

"Fede," he said, "Fede, this is incredible --"

"I figured we needed to bury the hatchet, huh?"

"God, that's awful. Here's a tip: When you give a gift like this, just leave
humor out of it, OK? You don't have the knack." Art slapped him on the shoulder
to show him he was kidding, and reverently returned the axe to its cavity. "That
is really one hell of a gift, Fede. Thank you."

Fede stuck his hand out. Art shook it, and some of the week's tension melted
away.

"Now, you're going to buy me lunch," Fede said.

"Deal."

They toddled off to Picadilly and grabbed seats at the counter of a South Indian
place for a businessmen's lunch of thali and thick mango lassi, which coated
their tongues in alkaline sweetness that put out the flames from the spiced
veggies. Both men were sweating by the time they ordered their second round of
lassi and Art had his hands on his belly, amazed as ever that something as
insubstantial as the little platter's complement of veggies and naan could fill
him as efficiently as it had.

"What are you working on now?" Fede asked, suppressing a curry-whiffing belch.

"Same shit," Art said. "There are a million ways to make the service work. The
rights-societies want lots of accounting and lots of pay-per-use. MassPike hates
that. It's a pain in the ass to manage, and the clickthrough licenses and
warnings they want to slap on are heinous. People are going to crash their cars
fucking around with the 'I Agree' buttons. Not to mention they want to require a
firmware check on every stereo system that gets a song, make sure that this
week's copy-protection is installed. So I'm coopering up all these user studies
with weasels from the legal departments at the studios, where they just slaver
all over this stuff, talking about how warm it all makes them feel to make sure
that they're compensating artists and how grateful they are for the reminders to
keep their software up to date and shit. I'm modeling a system that has a
clickthrough every time you cue up a new song, too. It's going to be perfect:
the rights-societies are going to love it, and I've handpicked the peer review
group at V/DT, stacked it up with total assholes who love manuals and following
rules. It's going to sail through approval."

Fede grunted. "You don't think it'll be too obvious?"

Art laughed. "There is no such thing as too obvious in this context, man. These
guys, they hate the end user, and for years they've been getting away with it
because all their users are already used to being treated like shit at the post
office and the tube station. I mean, these people grew up with *coin-operated
stoves*, for chrissakes! They pay television tax! Feed 'em shit and they'll ask
you for second helpings. Beg you for 'em! So no, I don't think it'll be too
obvious. They'll mock up the whole system and march right into MassPike with it,
grinning like idiots. Don't worry about a thing."

"OK, OK. I get it. I won't worry."

Art signalled the counterman for their bill. The counterman waved distractedly
in the manner of a harried restaurateur dealing with his regulars, and said
something in Korean to the busgirl, who along with the Vietnamese chef and the
Congolese sous chef, lent the joint a transworld sensibility that made it a
favorite among the painfully global darlings of O'Malley House. The bus-girl
found a pad and started totting up numbers, then keyed them into a Point-of-Sale
terminal, which juiced Art's comm with an accounting for their lunch. This
business with hand-noting everything before entering it into the PoS had driven
Art to distraction when he'd first encountered it. He'd assumed that the
terminal's UI was such that a computer-illiterate busgirl couldn't reliably key
in the data without having it in front of her, and for months he'd cited it in
net-bullshit sessions as more evidence of the pervasive user-hostility that
characterized the whole damned GMT.

He'd finally tried out his rant on the counterman, one foreigner to another,
just a little Briton-bashing session between two refugees from the Colonial
Jackboot. To his everlasting surprise, the counterman had vigorously defended
the system, saying that he liked the PoS data-entry system just fine, but that
the stack of torn-off paper stubs from the busgirl's receipt book was a good
visualization tool, letting him eyeball the customer volume from hour to hour by
checking the spike beside the till, and the rubberbanded stacks of yellowing
paper lining his cellar's shelves gave him a wonderfully physical evidence of
the growing success of his little eatery. There was a lesson there, Art knew,
though he'd yet to codify it. User mythology was tricky that way.

Every time Art scribbled a tip into his comm and squirted it back at the PoS, he
considered this little puzzle, eyes unfocusing for a moment while his vision
turned inwards. As his eyes snapped back into focus, he noticed the young lad
sitting on the long leg of the ell formed by the counter. He had bully short
hair and broad shoulders, and a sneer that didn't quite disappear as he shoveled
up the dhal with his biodegradable bamboo disposable spork.

He knew that guy from somewhere. The guy caught him staring and they locked eyes
for a moment, and in that instant Art knew who the guy was. It was Tom, whom he
had last seen stabbing at him with a tazer clutched in one shaking fist, face
twisted in fury. Tom wasn't wearing his killsport armor, just nondescript
athletic wear, and he wasn't with Lester and Tony, but it was him. Art watched
Tom cock his head to jog his memory, and then saw Tom recognize him. Uh-oh.

"We have to go. Now," he said to Fede, standing and walking away quickly, hand
going to his comm. He stopped short of dialing 999, though -- he wasn't up for
another police-station all-nighter. He got halfway up Picadilly before looking
over his shoulder, and he saw Fede shouldering his way through the lunchtime
crowd, looking pissed. A few paces behind him came Tom, face contorted in a
sadistic snarl.

Art did a little two-step of indecision, moving towards Fede, then away from
him. He met Tom's eyes again, and Tom's ferocious, bared teeth spurred him on.
He turned abruptly into the tube station, waved his comm at a turnstile and dove
into the thick of the crowd heading down the stairs to the Elephant and Castle
platform. His comm rang.

"What is *wrong* with you, man?" Fede said.

"One of the guys who mugged me," he hissed. "He was sitting right across from
us. He's a couple steps behind you. I'm in the tube station. I'll ride a stop
and catch a cab back to the office."

"He's behind me? Where?"

Art's comm lit up with a grainy feed from Fede's comm. It jiggled as Fede
hustled through the crowd.

"Jesus, Fede, stop! Don't go to the goddamned tube station -- he'll follow you
here."

"Where do you want me to go? I got to go back to the office."

"Don't go there either. Get a cab and circle the block a couple times. Don't
lead him back."

"This is stupid. Why don't I just call the cops?"

"Don't bother. They won't do shit. I've been through this already. I just want
to lose that guy and not have him find me again later."

"Christ."

Art squeaked as Tom filled his screen, then passed by, swinging his head from
side to side with saurian rage.

"What?" Fede said.

"That was him. He just walked past you. He must not know you're with me. Go back
to the office, I'll meet you there."

"That dipshit? Art, he's all of five feet tall!"

"He's a fucking psycho, Fede. Don't screw around with him or he'll give you a
Tesla enema."

Fede winced. "I hate tazers."

"The train is pulling in. I'll talk to you later."

"OK, OK."

Art formed up in queue with the rest of the passengers and shuffled through the
gas chromatograph, tensing up a little as it sniffed his personal space for
black powder residue. Once on board, he tore a sani-wipe from the roll in the
ceiling, ignoring the V/DT ad on it, and grabbed the stainless steel rail with
it, stamping on the drifts of sani-wipe mulch on the train's floor.

He made a conscious effort to control his breathing, willed his heart to stop
pounding. He was still juiced with adrenaline, and his mind raced. He needed to
do something constructive with his time, but his mind kept wandering. Finally,
he gave in and let it wander.

Something about the counterman, about his slips of paper, about the MassPike. It
was knocking around in his brain and he just couldn't figure out how to bring it
to the fore. The counterman kept his slips in the basement so that he could sit
among them and see how his business had grown, every slip a person served, a
ring on the till, money in the bank. Drivers on the MassPike who used traffic
jams to download music from nearby cars and then paid to license the songs. Only
they didn't. They circumvented the payment system in droves, running bootleg
operations out of their cars that put poor old Napster to shame for sheer
volume. Some people drove in promiscuous mode, collecting every song in every
car on the turnpike, cruising the tunnels that riddled Boston like mobile pirate
radio stations, dumping their collections to other drivers when it came time to
quit the turnpike and settle up for their music at the toll booth.

It was these war-drivers that MassPike was really worried about. Admittedly,
they actually made the system go. Your average fartmobile driver had all of ten
songs in his queue, and the short-range, broadband connection you had on
MassPike meant that if you were stuck in a jam of these cars, your selection
would be severely limited. The war-drivers, though, were mobile jukeboxes. The
highway patrol had actually seized cars with over 300,000 tracks on their
drives. Without these fat caches on the highway, MassPike would have to spend a
fortune on essentially replicating the system with their own mobile libraries.

The war-drivers were the collective memory of the MassPike's music-listeners.

Ooh, there was a tasty idea. The collective memory of MassPike. Like Dark Ages
scholars, memorizing entire texts to preserve them against the depredations of
barbarism, passing their collections carefully from car to car. He'd
investigated the highway patrol reports on these guys, and there were hints
there, shadowy clues of an organized subculture, one with a hierarchy, where
newbies tricked out their storage with libraries of novel and rare tuneage in a
bid to convince the established elite that they were worthy of joining the
collective memory.

Thinking of war-drivers as a collective memory was like staring at an optical
illusion and seeing the vase emerge from the two faces. Art's entire perception
of the problem involuted itself in his mind. He heard panting and realized it
was him; he was hyperventilating.

If these guys were the collective memory of the MassPike, that meant that they
were performing a service, reducing MassPike's costs significantly. That meant
that they were tastemakers, injecting fresh music into the static world of
Boston drivers. Mmmm. Trace that. Find out how influential they were. Someone
would know -- the MassPike had stats on how songs migrated from car to car. Even
without investigating it, Art just *knew* that these guys were offsetting
millions of dollars in marketing.

So. So. So. So, *feed* that culture. War-drivers needed to be devoted to make it
into the subculture. They had to spend four or five hours a day cruising the
freeways to accumulate and propagate their collections. They couldn't *leave*
the MassPike until they found someone to hand their collections off to.

What if MassPike *rewarded* these guys? What if MassPike charged *nothing* for
people with more than, say 50,000 tunes in their cache? Art whipped out his comm
and his keyboard and started making notes, snatching at the silver rail with his
keyboard hand every time the train jerked and threatened to topple him. That's
how the tube cops found him, once the train reached Elephant and Castle and they
did their rounds, politely but firmly rousting him.

13.

I am already in as much trouble as I can be, I think. I have left my room, hit
and detonated some poor cafeteria hash-slinger's fartmobile, and certainly
damned some hapless secret smoker to employee Hades for his security lapses.
When I get down from here, I will be bound up in a chemical straightjacket. I'll
be one of the ward-corner droolers, propped up in a wheelchair in front of the
video, tended twice daily for diaper changes, feeding and re-medication.

That is the worst they can do, and I'm in for it. This leaves me asking two
questions:

1. Why am I so damned eager to be rescued from my rooftop aerie? I am sunburned
and sad, but I am more free than I have been in weeks.

2. Why am I so reluctant to take further action in the service of getting
someone up onto the roof? I could topple a ventilator chimney by moving the
cinderblocks that hold its apron down and giving it the shoulder. I could dump
rattling handfuls of gravel down its maw and wake the psychotics below.

I could, but I won't. Maybe I don't want to go back just yet.

They cooked it up between them. The Jersey customers, Fede, and Linda. I should
have known better.

When I landed at Logan, I was full of beans, ready to design and implement my
war-driving scheme for the Jersey customers and advance the glorious cause of
the Eastern Standard Tribe. I gleefully hopped up and down the coast, chilling
in Manhattan for a day or two, hanging out with Gran in Toronto.

That Linda followed me out made it all even better. We rented cars and drove
them from city to city, dropping them off at the city limits and switching to
top-grade EST public transit, eating top-grade EST pizza, heads turning to
follow the impeccably dressed, buff couples that strolled the
pedestrian-friendly streets arm in arm. We sat on stoops in Brooklyn with old
ladies who talked softly in the gloaming of the pollution-tinged sunsets while
their grandchildren chased each other down the street. We joined a pickup game
of street-hockey in Boston, yelling "Car!" and clearing the net every time a
fartmobile turned into the cul-de-sac.

We played like kids. I got commed during working hours and my evenings were
blissfully devoid of buzzes, beeps and alerts. It surprised the hell out of me
when I discovered Fede's treachery and Linda's complicity and found myself
flying cattle class to London to kick Fede's ass. What an idiot I am.

I have never won an argument with Fede. I thought I had that time, of course,
but I should have known better. I was hardly back in Boston for a day before the
men with the white coats came to take me away.

They showed up at the Novotel, soothing and grim, and opened my room's keycard
reader with a mental-hygiene override. There were four of them, wiry and fast
with the no-nonsense manner of men who have been unexpectedly hammered by
outwardly calm psychopaths. That I was harmlessly having a rare cigarette on the
balcony, dripping from the shower, made no impression on them. They dropped
their faceplates, moved quickly to the balcony and boxed me in.

One of them recited a Miranda-esque litany that ended with "Do you understand."
It wasn't really a question, but I answered anyway. "No! No I don't! Who the
hell are you, and what are you doing in my fucking hotel room?"

In my heart, though, I knew. I'd lived enough of my life on the hallucinatory
edge of sleepdep to have anticipated this moment during a thousand freakouts. I
was being led away to the sanatorium, because someone, somewhere, had figured
out about the scurrying hamsters in my brain. About time.

As soon as I said the f-word, the guns came out. I tried to relax. I knew
intuitively that this could either be a routine and impersonal affair, or a
screaming, kicking, biting nightmare. I knew that arriving at the intake in a
calm frame of mind would make the difference between a chemical straightjacket
and a sleeping pill.

The guns were nonlethals, and varied: two kinds of nasty aerosol, a dart-gun,
and a tazer. The tazer captured my attention, whipping horizontal lightning in
the spring breeze. The Tesla enema, they called it in London. Supposedly
club-kids used them recreationally, but everyone I knew who'd been hit with one
described the experience as fundamentally and uniquely horrible.

I slowly raised my hands. "I would like to pack a bag, and I would like to see
documentary evidence of your authority. May I?" I kept my voice as calm as I
could, but it cracked on "May I?"

The reader of the litany nodded slowly. "You tell us what you want packed and
we'll pack it. Once that's done, I'll show you the committal document, all
right?"

"Thank you," I said.

They drove me through the Route 128 traffic in the sealed and padded compartment
in the back of their van. I was strapped in at the waist, and strapped over my
shoulders with a padded harness that reminded me of a rollercoaster restraint.
We made slow progress, jerking and changing lanes at regular intervals. The
traffic signature of 128 was unmistakable.

The intake doctor wanded me for contraband, drew fluids from my various parts,
and made light chitchat with me along the way. It was the last time I saw him.
Before I knew it, a beefy orderly had me by the arm and was leading me to my
room. He had a thick Eastern European accent, and he ran down the house rules
for me in battered English. I tried to devote my attention to it, to forget the
slack-eyed ward denizens I'd passed on my way in. I succeeded enough to
understand the relationship of my legcuff, the door frame and the elevators. The
orderly fished in his smock and produced a hypo.

"For sleepink," he said.

Panic, suppressed since my arrival, welled up and burst over. "Wait!" I said.
"What about my things? I had a bag with me."

"Talk to doctor in morning," he said, gesturing with the hypo, fitting it with a
needle-and-dosage cartridge and popping the sterile wrap off with a thumbswitch.
"Now, for sleepink." He advanced on me.

I'd been telling myself that this was a chance to rest, to relax and gather my
wits. Soon enough, I'd sort things out with the doctors and I'd be on my way.
I'd argue my way out of it. But here came Boris Badinoff with his magic needle,
and all reason fled. I scrambled back over the bed and pressed against the
window.

"It's barely three," I said, guessing at the time in the absence of my comm.
"I'm not tired. I'll go to sleep when I am."

"For sleepink," he repeated, in a more soothing tone.

"No, that's all right. I'm tired enough. Long night last night. I'll just lie
down and nap now, all right? No need for needles, OK?"

He grabbed my wrist. I tried to tug it out of his grasp, to squirm away. There's
a lot of good, old-fashioned dirty fighting in Tai Chi -- eye-gouging, groin
punches, hold-breaks and come-alongs -- and they all fled me. I thrashed like a
fish on a line as he ran the hypo over the crook of my elbow until the
vein-sensing LED glowed white. He jabbed down with it and I felt a prick. For a
second, I thought that it hadn't taken effect -- I've done enough chemical sleep
in my years with the Tribe that I've developed quite a tolerance for most
varieties -- but then I felt that unmistakable heaviness in my eyelids, the
melatonin crash that signalled the onslaught of merciless rest. I collapsed into
bed.

I spent the next day in a drugged stupor. I've become quite accustomed to
functioning in a stupor over the years, but this was different. No caffeine, for
starters. They fed me and I had a meeting with a nice doctor who ran it down for
me. I was here for observation pending a competency hearing in a week. I had
seven days to prove that I wasn't a danger to myself or others, and if I could,
the judge would let me go.

"It's like I'm a drug addict, huh?" I said to the doctor, who was used to non
sequiturs.

"Sure, sure it is." He shifted in the hard chair opposite my bed, getting ready
to go.

"No, really, I'm not just running my mouth. It's like this: *I* don't think I
have a problem here. I think that my way of conducting my life is perfectly
harmless. Like a speedfreak who thinks that she's just having a great time,
being ultraproductive and coming out ahead of the game. But her friends, they're
convinced she's destroying herself -- they see the danger she's putting herself
in, they see her health deteriorating. So they put her into rehab, kicking and
screaming, where she stays until she figures it out.

"So, it's like I'm addicted to being nuts. I have a nonrational view of the
world around me. An *inaccurate* view. You are meant to be the objective
observer, to make such notes as are necessary to determine if I'm seeing things
properly, or through a haze of nutziness. For as long as I go on taking my drug
-- shooting up my craziness -- you keep me here. Once I stop, once I accept the
objective truth of reality, you let me go. What then? Do I become a recovering
nutcase? Do I have to stand ever-vigilant against the siren song of craziness?"

The doctor ran his hands through his long hair and bounced his knee up and down.
"You could put it that way, I guess."

"So tell me, what's the next step? What is my optimum strategy for providing
compelling evidence of my repudiation of my worldview?"

"Well, that's where the analogy breaks down. This isn't about anything
demonstrable. There's no one thing we look for in making our diagnosis. It's a
collection of things, a protocol for evaluating you. It doesn't happen
overnight, either. You were committed on the basis of evidence that you had made
threats to your coworkers due to a belief that they were seeking to harm you."

"Interesting. Can we try a little thought experiment, Doctor? Say that your
coworkers really *were* seeking to harm you -- this is not without historical
precedent, right? They're seeking to sabotage you because you've discovered some
terrible treachery on their part, and they want to hush you up. So they provoke
a reaction from you and use it as the basis for an involuntary committal. How
would you, as a medical professional, distinguish that scenario from one in
which the patient is genuinely paranoid and delusional?"

The doctor looked away. "It's in the protocol -- we find it there."

"I see," I said, moving in for the kill. "I see. Where would I get more
information on the protocol? I'd like to research it before my hearing."

"I'm sorry," the doctor said, "we don't provide access to medical texts to our
patients."

"Why not? How can I defend myself against a charge if I'm not made aware of the
means by which my defense is judged? That hardly seems fair."

The doctor stood and smoothed his coat, turned his badge's lanyard so that his
picture faced outwards. "Art, you're not here to defend yourself. You're here so
that we can take a look at you and understand what's going on. If you have been
set up, we'll discover it --"

"What's the ratio of real paranoids to people who've been set up, in your
experience?"

"I don't keep stats on that sort of thing --"

"How many paranoids have been released because they were vindicated?"

"I'd have to go through my case histories --"

"Is it more than ten?"

"No, I wouldn't think so --"

"More than five?"

"Art, I don't think --"

"Have *any* paranoids ever been vindicated? Is this observation period anything
more than a formality en route to committal? Come on, Doctor, just let me know
where I stand."

"Art, we're on your side here. If you want to make this easy on yourself, then
you should understand that. The nurse will be in with your lunch and your meds
in a few minutes, then you'll be allowed out on the ward. I'll speak to you
there more, if you want."

"Doctor, it's a simple question: Has anyone ever been admitted to this facility
because it was believed he had paranoid delusions, and later released because he
was indeed the center of a plot?"

"Art, it's not appropriate for me to discuss other patients' histories --"

"Don't you publish case studies? Don't those contain confidential information
disguised with pseudonyms?"

"That's not the point --"

"What *is* the point? It seems to me that my optimal strategy here is to
repudiate my belief that Fede and Linda are plotting against me -- *even* if I
still believe this to be true, even if it *is* true -- and profess a belief that
they are my good and concerned friends. In other words, if they are indeed
plotting against me, I must profess to a delusional belief that they aren't, in
order to prove that I am not delusional."

"I read *Catch-22* too, Art. That's not what this is about, but your attitude
isn't going to help you any here." The doctor scribbled on his comm briefly,
tapped at some menus. I leaned across and stared at the screen.

"That looks like a prescription, Doctor."

"It is. I'm giving you a mild sedative. We can't help you until you're calmer
and ready to listen."

"I'm perfectly calm. I just disagree with you. I am the sort of person who
learns through debate. Medication won't stop that."

"We'll see," the doctor said, and left, before I could muster a riposte.

I was finally allowed onto the ward, dressed in what the nurses called "day
clothes" -- the civilian duds that I'd packed before leaving the hotel, which an
orderly retrieved for me from a locked closet in my room. The clustered nuts
were watching slackjaw TV, or staring out the windows, or rocking in place,
fidgeting and muttering. I found myself a seat next to a birdy woman whose long
oily hair was parted down the middle, leaving a furrow in her scalp lined with
twin rows of dandruff. She was young, maybe twenty-five, and seemed the least
stuporous of the lot.

"Hello," I said to her.

She smiled shyly, then pitched forward and vomited copiously and noisily between
her knees. I shrank back and struggled to keep my face neutral. A nurse hastened
to her side and dropped a plastic bucket in the stream of puke, which was still
gushing out of her mouth, her thin chest heaving.

"Here, Sarah, in here," the nurse said, with an air of irritation.

"Can I help?" I said, ridiculously.

She looked sharply at me. "Art, isn't it? Why aren't you in Group? It's after
one!"

"Group?" I asked.

"Group. In that corner, there." She gestured at a collection of sagging sofas
underneath one of the ward's grilled-in windows. "You're late, and they've
started without you."

There were four other people there, two women and a young boy, and a doctor in
mufti, identifiable by his shoes -- not slippers -- and his staff of office, the
almighty badge-on-a-lanyard.

Throbbing with dread, I moved away from the still-heaving girl to the sofa
cluster and stood at its edge. The group turned to look at me. The doctor
cleared his throat. "Group, this is Art. Glad you made it, Art. You're a little
late, but we're just getting started here, so that's OK. This is Lucy, Fatima,
and Manuel. Why don't you have a seat?" His voice was professionally smooth and
stultifying.

I sank into a bright orange sofa that exhaled a cloud of dust motes that danced
in the sun streaming through the windows. It also exhaled a breath of trapped
ancient farts, barf-smell, and antiseptic, the *parfum de asylum* that gradually
numbed my nose to all other scents on the ward. I folded my hands in my lap and
tried to look attentive.

"All right, Art. Everyone in the group is pretty new here, so you don't have to
worry about not knowing what's what. There are no right or wrong things. The
only rules are that you can't interrupt anyone, and if you want to criticize,
you have to criticize the idea, and not the person who said it. All right?"

"Sure," I said. "Sure. Let's get started."

"Well, aren't you eager?" the doctor said warmly. "OK. Manuel was just telling
us about his friends."

"They're not my friends," Manuel said angrily. "They're the reason I'm here. I
hate them."

"Go on," the doctor said.

"I already *told* you, yesterday! Tony and Musafir, they're trying to get rid of
me. I make them look bad, so they want to get rid of me."

"Why do you think you make them look bad?"

"Because I'm better than them -- I'm smarter, I dress better, I get better
grades, I score more goals. The girls like me better. They hate me for it."

"Oh yeah, you're the cat's ass, pookie," Lucy said. She was about fifteen,
voluminously fat, and her full lips twisted in an elaborate sneer as she spoke.

"Lucy," the doctor said patiently, favoring her with a patronizing smile.
"That's not cool, OK? Criticize the idea, not the person, and only when it's
your turn, OK?"

Lucy rolled her eyes with the eloquence of teenagedom.

"All right, Manuel, thank you. Group, do you have any positive suggestions for
Manuel?"

Stony silence.

"OK! Manuel, some of us are good at some things, and some of us are good at
others. Your friends don't hate you, and I'm sure that if you think about it,
you'll know that you don't hate them. Didn't they come visit you last weekend?
Successful people are well liked, and you're no exception. We'll come back to
this tomorrow -- why don't you spend the time until then thinking of three
examples of how your friends showed you that they liked you, and you can tell us
about it tomorrow?"

Manuel stared out the window.

"OK! Now, Art, welcome again. Tell us why you're here."

"I'm in for observation. There's a competency hearing at the end of the week."

Linda snorted and Fatima giggled.

The doctor ignored them. "But tell us *why* you think you ended up here."

"You want the whole story?"

"Whatever parts you think are important."

"It's a Tribal thing."

"I see," the doctor said.

"It's like this," I said. "It used to be that the way you chose your friends was
by finding the most like-minded people you could out of the pool of people who
lived near to you. If you were lucky, you lived near a bunch of people you could
get along with. This was a lot more likely in the olden days, back before, you
know, printing and radio and such. Chances were that you'd grow up so immersed
in the local doctrine that you'd never even think to question it. If you were a
genius or a psycho, you might come up with a whole new way of thinking, and if
you could pull it off, you'd either gather up a bunch of people who liked your
new idea or you'd go somewhere else, like America, where you could set up a
little colony of people who agreed with you. Most of the time, though, people
who didn't get along with their neighbors just moped around until they died."

"Very interesting," the doctor said, interrupting smoothly, "but you were going
to tell us how you ended up here."

"Yeah," Lucy said, "this isn't a history lesson, it's Group. Get to the point."

"I'm getting there," I said. "It just takes some background if you're going to
understand it. Now, once ideas could travel more freely, the chances of you
finding out about a group of people somewhere else that you might get along with
increased. Like when my dad was growing up, if you were gay and from a big city,
chances were that you could figure out where other gay people hung out and go
and --" I waved my hands, "be *gay*, right? But if you were from a small town,
you might not even know that there was such a thing as being gay -- you might
think it was just a perversion. But as time went by, the gay people in the big
cities started making a bigger and bigger deal out of being gay, and since all
the information that the small towns consumed came from big cities, that
information leaked into the small towns and more gay people moved to the big
cities, built little gay zones where gay was normal.

"So back when the New World was forming and sorting out its borders and
territories, information was flowing pretty well. You had telegraphs, you had
the Pony Express, you had thousands of little newspapers that got carried around
on railroads and streetcars and steamers, and it wasn't long before everyone
knew what kind of person went where, even back in Europe and Asia. People
immigrated here and picked where they wanted to live based on what sort of
people they wanted to be with, which ideas they liked best. A lot of it was
religious, but that was just on the surface -- underneath it all was aesthetics.
You wanted to go somewhere where the girls were pretty in the way you understood
prettiness, where the food smelled like food and not garbage, where shops sold
goods you could recognize. Lots of other factors were at play, too, of course --
jobs and Jim Crow laws and whatnot, but the tug of finding people like you is
like gravity. Lots of things work against gravity, but gravity always wins in
the end -- in the end, everything collapses. In the end, everyone ends up with
the people that are most like them that they can find."

I was warming to my subject now, in that flow state that great athletes get into
when they just know where to swing their bat, where to plant their foot. I knew
that I was working up a great rant.

"Fast-forward to the age of email. Slowly but surely, we begin to mediate almost
all of our communication over networks. Why walk down the hallway to ask a
coworker a question, when you can just send email? You don't need to interrupt
them, and you can keep going on your own projects, and if you forget the answer,
you can just open the message again and look at the response. There're all kinds
of ways to interact with our friends over the network: we can play
hallucinogenic games, chat, send pictures, code, music, funny articles, metric
fuckloads of porn... The interaction is high-quality! Sure, you gain three
pounds every year you spend behind the desk instead of walking down the hall to
ask your buddy where he wants to go for lunch, but that's a small price to pay.

"So you're a fish out of water. You live in Arizona, but you're sixteen years
old and all your neighbors are eighty-five, and you get ten billion channels of
media on your desktop. All the good stuff -- everything that tickles you --
comes out of some clique of hyperurban club-kids in South Philly. They're making
cool art, music, clothes. You read their mailing lists and you can tell that
they're exactly the kind of people who'd really appreciate you for who you are.
In the old days, you'd pack your bags and hitchhike across the country and move
to your community. But you're sixteen, and that's a pretty scary step.

"Why move? These kids live online. At lunch, before school, and all night,
they're comming in, talking trash, sending around photos, chatting. Online, you
can be a peer. You can hop into these discussions, play the games, chord with
one hand while chatting up some hottie a couple thousand miles away.

"Only you can't. You can't, because they chat at seven AM while they're getting
ready for school. They chat at five PM, while they're working on their homework.
Their late nights end at three AM. But those are their *local* times, not yours.
If you get up at seven, they're already at school, 'cause it's ten there.

"So you start to f with your sleep schedule. You get up at four AM so you can
chat with your friends. You go to bed at nine, 'cause that's when they go to
bed. Used to be that it was stock brokers and journos and factory workers who
did that kind of thing, but now it's anyone who doesn't fit in. The geniuses and
lunatics to whom the local doctrine tastes wrong. They choose their peers based
on similarity, not geography, and they keep themselves awake at the same time as
them. But you need to make some nod to localness, too -- gotta be at work with
everyone else, gotta get to the bank when it's open, gotta buy your groceries.
You end up hardly sleeping at all, you end up sneaking naps in the middle of the
day, or after dinner, trying to reconcile biological imperatives with cultural
ones. Needless to say, that alienates you even further from the folks at home,
and drives you more and more into the arms of your online peers of choice.

"So you get the Tribes. People all over the world who are really secret agents
for some other time zone, some other way of looking at the world, some other
zeitgeist. Unlike other tribes, you can change allegiance by doing nothing more
that resetting your alarm clock. Like any tribe, they are primarily loyal to
each other, and anyone outside of the tribe is only mostly human. That may sound
extreme, but this is what it comes down to.

"Tribes are *agendas*. Aesthetics. Ethos. Traditions. Ways of getting things
done. They're competitive. They may not all be based on time-zones. There are
knitting Tribes and vampire fan-fiction Tribes and Christian rock tribes, but
they've always existed. Mostly, these tribes are little more than a sub-culture.
It takes time-zones to amplify the cultural fissioning of fan-fiction or
knitting into a full-blown conspiracy. Their interests are commercial,
industrial, cultural, culinary. A Tribesman will patronize a fellow Tribesman's
restaurant, or give him a manufacturing contract, or hire his taxi. Not because
of xenophobia, but because of homophilia: I know that my Tribesman's taxi will
conduct its way through traffic in a way that I'm comfortable with, whether I'm
in San Francisco, Boston, London or Calcutta. I know that the food will be
palatable in a Tribal restaurant, that a book by a Tribalist will be a good
read, that a gross of widgets will be manufactured to the exacting standards of
my Tribe.

"Like I said, though, unless you're at ground zero, in the Tribe's native time
zone, your sleep sched is just *raped*. You live on sleepdep and chat and secret
agentry until it's second nature. You're cranky and subrational most of the
time. Close your eyes on the freeway and dreams paint themselves on the back of
your lids, demanding their time, almost as heavy as gravity, almost as
remorseless. There's a lot of flaming and splitting and vitriol in the Tribes.
They're more fractured than a potsherd. Tribal anthropologists have built up
incredible histories of the fissioning of the Tribes since they were first
recognized -- most of 'em are online; you can look 'em up. We stab each other in
the back routinely and with no more provocation than a sleepdep hallucination.

"Which is how I got here. I'm a member of the Eastern Standard Tribe. We're
centered around New York, but we're ramified up and down the coast, Boston and
Toronto and Philly, a bunch of Montreal Anglos and some wannabes in upstate New
York, around Buffalo and Schenectady. I was doing Tribal work in London, serving
the Eastern Standard Agenda, working with a couple of Tribesmen, well, one
Tribesman and my girlfriend, who I thought was unaffiliated. Turns out, though,
that they're both double agents. They sold out to the Pacific Daylight Tribe,
lameass phonies out in LA, slick Silicon Valley bizdev sharks, pseudo hipsters
in San Franscarcity. Once I threatened to expose them, they set me up, had me
thrown in here."

I looked around proudly, having just completed a real fun little excursion
through a topic near and dear to my heart. Mount Rushmore looked back at me,
stony and bovine and uncomprehending.

"Baby," Lucy said, rolling her eyes again, "you need some new meds."

"Could be," I said. "But this is for real. Is there a comm on the ward? We can
look it up together."

"Oh, *that*'all prove it, all right. Nothing but truth online."

"I didn't say that. There're peer-reviewed articles about the Tribes. It was a
lead story on the CBC's social science site last year."

"Uh huh, sure. Right next to the sasquatch videos."

"I'm talking about the CBC, Lucy. Let's go look it up."

Lucy mimed taking an invisible comm out of her cleavage and prodding at it with
an invisible stylus. She settled an invisible pair of spectacles on her nose and
nodded sagely. "Oh yeah, sure, really interesting stuff."

I realized that I was arguing with a crazy person and turned to the doctor. "You
must have read about the Tribes, right?"

The doctor acted as if he hadn't heard me. "That's just fascinating, Art. Thank
you for sharing that. Now, here's a question I'd like you to think about, and
maybe you can tell us the answer tomorrow: What are the ways that your friends
-- the ones you say betrayed you -- used to show you how much they respected you
and liked you? Think hard about this. I think you'll be surprised by the
conclusions you come to."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Just what I said, Art. Think hard about how you and your friends interacted and
you'll see that they really like you."

"Did you hear what I just said? Have you heard of the Tribes?"

"Sure, sure. But this isn't about the Tribes, Art. This is about you and --" he
consulted his comm, "Fede and Linda. They care about you a great deal and
they're terribly worried about you. You just think about it. Now," he said,
recrossing his legs, "Fatima, you told us yesterday about your mother and I
asked you to think about how *she* feels. Can you tell the group what you found
out?"

But Fatima was off in med-land, eyes glazed and mouth hanging slack. Manuel
nudged her with his toe, then, when she failed to stir, aimed a kick at her
shin. The doctor held a hand out and grabbed Manuel's slippered toe. "That's all
right, let's move on to Lucy."

I tuned out as Lucy began an elaborate and well-worn rant about her eating
habits, prodded on by the doctor. The enormity of the situation was coming home
to me. I couldn't win. If I averred that Fede and Linda were my boon companions,
I'd still be found incompetent -- after all, what competent person threatens his
boon companions? If I stuck to my story, I'd be found incompetent, and medicated
besides, like poor little Fatima, zombified by the psychoactive cocktail. Either
way, I was stuck.

Stuck on the roof now, and it's getting very uncomfortable indeed. Stuck because
I am officially incompetent and doomed and damned to indefinite rest on the
ward. Stuck because every passing moment here is additional time for the
hamsters to run their courses in my mind, piling regret on worry.

Stuck because as soon as I am discovered, I will be stupified by the meds,
administered by stern and loving and thoroughly disappointed doctors. I still
haven't managed to remember any of their names. They are interchangeable, well
shod and endowed with badges on lanyards and soothing and implacable and
entirely unappreciative of my rhetorical skills.

Stuck. The sheet-metal chimneys stand tall around the roof, unevenly distributed
according to some inscrutable logic that could only be understood with the
assistance of as-built drawings, blueprints, mechanical and structural
engineering diagrams. Surely though, they are optimized to wick hot air out of
the giant brick pile's guts and exhaust it.

I move to the one nearest the stairwell. It is tarred in place, its apron lined
with a double-row of cinderblocks that have pools of brackish water and cobwebs
gathered in their holes. I stick my hand in the first and drag it off the apron.
I repeat it.

Now the chimney is standing on its own, in the middle of a nonsensical
cinderblock-henge. My hands are dripping with muck and grotendousness. I wipe
them off on the pea gravel and then dry them on my boxer shorts, then hug the
chimney and lean forward. It gives, slowly, slightly, and springs back. I give
it a harder push, really give it my weight, but it won't budge. Belatedly, I
realize that I'm standing on its apron, trying to lift myself along with the
chimney.

I take a step back and lean way forward, try again. It's awkward, but I'm making
progress, bent like an ell, pushing with my legs and lower back. I feel
something pop around my sacrum, know that I'll regret this deeply when my back
kacks out completely, but it'll be all for naught if I don't keep! on! pushing!

Then, suddenly, the chimney gives, its apron swinging up and hitting me in the
knees so that I topple forward with it, smashing my chin on its hood. For a
moment, I lie down atop it, like a stupefied lover, awestruck by my own inanity.
The smell of blood rouses me. I tentatively reach my hand to my chin and feel
the ragged edge of a cut there, opened from the tip and along my jawbone almost
to my ear. The cut is too fresh to hurt, but it's bleeding freely and I know
it'll sting like a bastard soon enough. I go to my knees and scream, then scream
again as I rend open my chin further.

My knees and shins are grooved with deep, parallel cuts, gritted with gravel and
grime. Standing hurts so much that I go back to my knees, holler again at the
pain in my legs as I grind more gravel into my cuts, and again as I tear my face
open some more. I end up fetal on my side, sticky with blood and weeping softly
with an exquisite self-pity that is more than the cuts and bruises, more than
the betrayal, more than the foreknowledge of punishment. I am weeping for
myself, and my identity, and my smarts over happiness and the thought that I
would indeed choose happiness over smarts any day.

Too damned smart for my own good.

14.

"I just don't get it," Fede said.

Art tried to keep the exasperation out of his voice. "It's simple," he said.
"It's like a car radio with a fast-forward button. You drive around on the
MassPike, and your car automatically peers with nearby vehicles. It grabs the
current song on someone else's stereo and streamloads it. You listen to it. If
you don't hit the fast-forward button, the car starts grabbing everything it can
from the peer, all the music on the stereo, and cues it up for continued play.
Once that pool is exhausted, it queries your peer for a list of its peers -- the
cars that it's getting its music from -- and sees if any of them are in range,
and downloads from them. So, it's like you're exploring a taste-network, doing
an automated, guided search through traffic for the car whose owner has
collected the music you most want to listen to."

"But I hate your music -- I don't want to listen to the stuff on your radio."

"Fine. That's what the fast-forward button is for. It skips to another car and
starts streamloading off of its drive." Fede started to say something, and Art
held up his hand. "And if you exhaust all the available cars, the system
recycles, but asks its peers for files collected from other sources. You might
hate the songs I downloaded from Al, but the songs I got from Bennie are right
up your alley.

"The war-drivers backstop the whole system. They've got the biggest collections
on the freeway, and they're the ones most likely to build carefully thought-out
playlists. They've got entire genres -- the whole history of the blues, say,
from steel cylinders on -- on their drives. So we encourage them. When you go
through a paypoint -- a toll booth -- we debit you for the stuff that you didn't
fast-forward, the stuff you listened to and kept. Unless, that is, you've got
more than, say, 10,000 songs onboard. Then you go free. It's counterintuitive, I
know, but just look at the numbers."

"OK, OK. A radio with a fast-forward button. I think I get it."

"But?"

"But who's going to want to use this? It's unpredictable. You've got no
guarantee you'll get the songs you want to hear."

Art smiled. "Exactly!"

Fede gave him a go-on wave.

"Don't you see? That's the crack-cocaine part! It's the thrill of the chase!
Nobody gets excited about beating traffic on a back road that's always empty.
But get on the M-5 after a hard day at work and drive it at 100 km/h for two
hours without once touching your brakes and it's like God's reached down and
parted the Red Seas for you. You get a sense of *accomplishment*! Most of the
time, your car stereo's gonna play the same junk you've always heard, just
background sound, but sometimes, ah! Sometimes you'll hit a sweet spot and get
the best tunes you've ever heard. If you put a rat in a cage with a lever that
doesn't give food pellets, he'll push it once or twice and give up. Set the
lever to always deliver food pellets and he'll push it when he gets hungry. Set
it to *sometimes* deliver food pellets and he'll bang on it until he passes
out!"

"Heh," Fede said. "Good rant."

"And?"

"And it's cool." Fede looked off into the middle distance a while. "Radio with a
fast-forward button. That's great, actually. Amazing. Stupendous!" He snatched
the axe-head from its box on Art's desk and did a little war dance around the
room, whooping. Art followed the dance from his ergonomic chair, swiveling
around as the interface tchotchkes that branched from its undersides chittered
to keep his various bones and muscles firmly supported.

His office was more like a three-fifths-scale model of a proper office, in
Lilliputian London style, so the war dance was less impressive than it might
have been with more room to express itself. "You like it, then," Art said, once
Fede had run out of steam.

"I do, I do, I do!"

"Great."

"Great."

"So."

"Yes?"

"So what do we do with it? Should I write up a formal proposal and send it to
Jersey? How much detail? Sketches? Code fragments? Want me to mock up the
interface and the network model?"

Fede cocked an eyebrow at him. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, we give this to Jersey, they submit the proposal, they walk away with the
contract, right? That's our job, right?"

"No, Art, that's not our job. Our job is to see to it that V/DT submits a bad
proposal, not that Jersey submits a good one. This is big. We roll this together
and it's bigger than MassPike. We can run this across every goddamned toll road
in the world! Jersey's not paying for this -- not yet, anyway -- and someone
should."

"You want to sell this to them?"

"Well, I want to sell this. Who to sell it to is another matter."

Art waved his hands confusedly. "You're joking, right?"

Fede crouched down beside Art and looked into his eyes. "No, Art, I am serious
as a funeral here. This is big, and it's not in the scope of work that we signed
up for. You and me, we can score big on this, but not by handing it over to
those shitheads in Jersey and begging for a bonus."

"What are you talking about? Who else would pay for this?"

"You have to ask? V/DT for starters. Anyone working on a bid for MassPike, or
TollPass, or FastPass, or EuroPass."

"But we can't sell this to just *anyone*, Fede!"

"Why not?"

"Jesus. Why not? Because of the Tribes."

Fede quirked him half a smile. "Sure, the Tribes."

"What does that mean?"

"Art, you know that stuff is four-fifths' horseshit, right? It's just a game.
When it comes down to your personal welfare, you can't depend on time zones.
This is more job than calling, you know."

Art squirmed and flushed. "Lots of us take this stuff seriously, Fede. It's not
just a mind-game. Doesn't loyalty mean anything to you?"

Fede laughed nastily. "Loyalty! If you're doing all of this out of loyalty, then
why are you drawing a paycheck? Look, I'd rather that this go to Jersey. They're
basically decent sorts, and I've drawn a lot of pay from them over the years,
but they haven't paid for this. They wouldn't give us a free ride, so why should
we give them one? All I'm saying is, we can offer this to Jersey, of course, but
they have to bid for it in a competitive marketplace. I don't want to gouge
them, just collect a fair market price for our goods."

"You're saying you don't feel any fundamental loyalty to anything, Fede?"

"That's what I'm saying."

"And you're saying that I'm a sucker for putting loyalty ahead of personal gain
-- after all, no one else is, right?"

"Exactly."

"Then how did this idea become 'ours,' Fede? I came up with it."

Fede lost his nasty smile. "There's loyalty and then there's loyalty."

"Uh-huh."

"No, really. You and I are a team. I rely on you and you rely on me. We're loyal
to something concrete -- each other. The Eastern Standard Tribe is an
abstraction. It's a whole bunch of people, and neither of us like most of 'em.
It's useful and pleasant, but you can't put your trust in institutions --
otherwise you get Nazism."

"And patriotism."

"Blind patriotism."

"So there's no other kind? Just jingoism? You're either loyal to your immediate
circle of friends or you're a deluded dupe?"

"No, that's not what I'm saying."

"So where does informed loyalty leave off and jingoism begin? You come on all
patronizing when I talk about being loyal to the Tribe, and you're certainly not
loyal to V/DT, nor are you loyal to Jersey. What greater purpose are you loyal
to?"

"Well, humanity, for starters."

"Really. What's that when it's at home?"

"Huh?"

"How do you express loyalty to something as big and abstract as 'humanity'?"

"Well, that comes down to morals, right? Not doing things that poison the world.
Paying taxes. Change to panhandlers. Supporting charities." Fede drummed his
fingers on his thighs. "Not murdering or raping, you know. Being a good person.
A moral person."

"OK, that's a good code of conduct. I'm all for not murdering and raping, and
not just because it's *wrong*, but because a world where the social norms
include murdering and raping is a bad one for me to live in."

"Exactly."

"That's the purpose of morals and loyalty, right? To create social norms that
produce a world you want to live in."

"Right! And that's why *personal* loyalty is important."

Art smiled. Trap baited and sprung. "OK. So institutional loyalty -- loyalty to
a Tribe or a nation -- that's not an important social norm. As far as you're
concerned, we could abandon all pretense of institutional loyalty." Art dropped
his voice. "You could go to work for the Jersey boys, sabotaging Virgin/Deutsche
Telekom, just because they're willing to pay you to do it. Nothing to do with
Tribal loyalty, just a job."

Fede looked uncomfortable, sensing the impending rhetorical headlock. He nodded
cautiously.

"Which means that the Jersey boys have no reason to be loyal to you. It's just a
job. So if there were an opportunity for them to gain some personal advantage by
selling you out, turning you into a patsy for them, well, they should just go
ahead and do it, right?"

"Uh --"

"Don't worry, it's a rhetorical question. Jersey boys sell you out. You take
their fall, they benefit. If there was no institutional loyalty, that's where
you'd end up, right? That's the social norm you want."

"No, of course it isn't."

"No, of course not. You want a social norm where individuals can be disloyal to
the collective, but not vice versa."

"Yes --"

"Yes, but loyalty is bidirectional. There's no basis on which you may expect
loyalty from an institution unless you're loyal to it."

"I suppose."

"You know it. I know it. Institutional loyalty is every bit as much about
informed self-interest as personal loyalty is. The Tribe takes care of me, I
take care of the Tribe. We'll negotiate a separate payment from Jersey for this
-- after all, this is outside of the scope of work that we're being paid for --
and we'll split the money, down the middle. We'll work in a residual income with
Jersey, too, because, as you say, this is bigger than MassPike. It's a genuinely
good idea, and there's enough to go around. All right?"

"Are you asking me or telling me?"

"I'm asking you. This will require both of our cooperation. I'm going to need to
manufacture an excuse to go stateside to explain this to them and supervise the
prototyping. You're going to have to hold down the fort here at V/DT and make
sure that I'm clear to do my thing. If you want to go and sell this idea
elsewhere, well, that's going to require my cooperation, or at least my silence
-- if I turn this over to V/DT, they'll pop you for industrial espionage. So we
need each other."

Art stood and looked down at Fede, who was a good ten centimeters shorter than
he, looked down at Fede's sweaty upper lip and creased brow. "We're a good team,
Fede. I don't want to toss away an opportunity, but I also don't want to exploit
it at the expense of my own morals. Can you agree to work with me on this, and
trust me to do the right thing?"

Fede looked up. "Yes," he said. On later reflection, Art thought that the *yes*
came too quickly, but then, he was just relieved to hear it. "Of course. Of
course. Yes. Let's do it."

"That's just fine," Art said. "Let's get to work, then."

They fell into their traditional division of labor then, Art working on a
variety of user-experience plans, dividing each into subplans, then devising
protocols for user testing to see what would work in the field; Fede working on
logistics from plane tickets to personal days to budget and critical-path
charts. They worked side by side, but still used the collaboration tools that
Art had grown up with, designed to allow remote, pseudonymous parties to fit
their separate work components into the same structure, resolving schedule and
planning collisions where it could and throwing exceptions where it couldn't.
They worked beside each other and each hardly knew the other was there, and
that, Art thought, when he thought of it, when the receptionist commed him to
tell him that "Linderrr" -- freakin' teabags -- was there for him, that was the
defining characteristic of a Tribalist. A norm, a modus operandi, a way of being
that did not distinguish between communication face-to-face and communication at
a distance.

"Linderrr?" Fede said, cocking an eyebrow.

"I hit her with my car," Art said.

"Ah," Fede said. "Smooth."

Art waved a hand impatiently at him and went out to the reception area to fetch
her. The receptionist had precious little patience for entertaining personal
visitors, and Linda, in track pants and a baggy sweater, was clearly not a
professional contact. The receptionist glared at him as he commed into the lobby
and extended his hand to Linda, who took it, put it on her shoulder, grabbed his
ass, crushed their pelvises together and jammed her tongue in his ear. "I missed
you," she slurped, the buzz of her voice making him writhe. "I'm not wearing any
knickers," she continued, loud enough that he was sure that the receptionist
heard. He felt the blush creeping over his face and neck and ears.

The receptionist. Dammit, why was he thinking about the receptionist? "Linda,"
he said, pulling away. Introduce her, he thought. Introduce them, and that'll
make it less socially awkward. The English can't abide social awkwardness.
"Linda, meet --" and he trailed off, realizing he didn't actually know the
receptionist's name.

The receptionist glared at him from under a cap of shining candy-apple red hair,
narrowing her eyes, which were painted in high style with Kubrick action-figure
faces.

"My *name* is Tonaishah," she hissed. Or maybe it was *Tanya Iseah*, or
*Taneesha*. He still didn't know her goddamned name.

"And this is Linda," he said, weakly. "We're going out tonight."

"And won't you have a dirty great time, then?" Tonaishah said.

"I'm sure we will," he said.

"Yes," Tonaishah said.

Art commed the door and missed the handle, then snagged it and grabbed Linda's
hand and yanked her through.

"I'm a little randy," she said, directly into his ear. "Sorry." She giggled.

"Someone you have to meet," he said, reaching down to rearrange his pants to
hide his boner.

"Ooh, right here in your office?" Linda said, covering his hand with hers.

"Someone with *two* eyes," he said, moving her hand to his hip.

"Ahh," she said. "What a disappointment."

"I'm serious. I want you to meet my friend Fede. I think you two will really hit
it off."

"Wait," Linda said. "Isn't this a major step? Meeting the friends? Are we
getting that serious already?"

"Oh, I think we're ready for it," Art said, draping an arm around her shoulders
and resting his fingertips on the upper swell of her breast.

She ducked out from under his arm and stopped in her tracks. "Well, I don't.
Don't I get a say in this?"

"What?" Art said.

"Whether it's time for me to meet your friends or not. Shouldn't I have a say?"

"Linda, I just wanted to introduce you to a coworker before we went out. He's in
my office -- I gotta grab my jacket there, anyway."

"Wait, is he a friend or a coworker?"

"He's a friend I work with. Come on, what's the big deal?"

"Well, first you spring this on me, then you change your story and tell me he's
a coworker, now he's a friend again. I don't want to be put on display for your
pals. If we're going to meet your friends, I'll dress for it, put on some
makeup. This isn't fair."

"Linda," Art said, placating.

"No," she said. "Screw it. I'm not here to meet your friends. I came all the way
across town to meet you at your office because you wanted to head back to your
place after work, and you play headgames with me like this?"

"All right," Art said. "I'll show you back out to the lobby and you can wait
with Tonaishah while I get my jacket."

"Don't take that tone with me," she said.

"What tone?" Art said. "Jesus Christ! You can't wait in the hall, it's against
policy. You don't have a badge, so you have to be with me or in the lobby. I
don't give a shit if you meet Fede or not."

"I won't tell you again, Art," she said. "Moderate your tone. I won't be shouted
at."

Art tried to rewind the conversation and figure out how they came to this pass,
but he couldn't. Was Linda really acting *this* nuts? Or was he just reading her
wrong or pushing her buttons or something?

"Let's start over," he said, grabbing both of her hands in his. "I need to get
my jacket from my office. You can come with me if you want to, and meet my
friend Fede. Otherwise you can wait in the lobby, I won't be a minute."

"Let's go meet Fede," she said. "I hope he wasn't expecting anything special,
I'm not really dressed for it."

He stifled a snotty remark. After all that, she was going to go and meet Fede?
So what the hell were they arguing about? On the other hand, he'd gotten his
way, hadn't he? He led her by the hand to his office, and beyond every doorway
they passed was a V/DT Experience Designer pretending not to peek at them as
they walked by, having heard every word through the tricky acoustics of O'Malley
House.

"Fede," he said, stiffly, "This is Linda. Linda, this is Fede."

Fede stood and treated Linda to his big, suave grin. Fede might be short and he
might have paranoid delusions, but he was trim and well groomed, with the sort
of finicky moustache that looked like a rotting caterpillar if you didn't trim
it every morning. He liked to work out, and had a tight waist and a gut you
could bounce a quarter off of, and liked to wear tight shirts that showed off
his overall fitness, made him stand out among the spongy mouse-potatoes of the
corporate world. Art had never given it much thought, but now, standing with
Fede and Linda in his tiny office, breathing in Fede's Lilac Vegetal and Linda's
new-car-smell shampoo, he felt paunchy and sloppy.

"Ah," Fede said, taking her hand. "The one you hit with your car. It's a
pleasure. You seem to be recovering nicely, too."

Linda smiled and gave him a peck on the cheek, a few strands of her bobbed hair
sticking to his moustache like cobwebs as she pulled away.

"It was just a love tap," she said. "I'll be fine."

"Fede's from New York," Art said. "We colonials like to stick together around
the office. And Linda's from Los Angeles."

"Aren't there any, you know, British people in London?" Linda said, wrinkling
her nose.

"There's Tonaishah," Art said weakly.

"Who?" Fede said.

"The receptionist," Linda said. "Not a very nice person."

"With the eyes?" Fede said, wriggling his fingers around his temples to indicate
elaborate eye makeup.

"That's her," Linda said.

"Nasty piece of work," Fede said. "Never trusted her."

"*You're* not another UE person, are you?" Linda said, sizing Fede up and giving
Art a playful elbow in the ribs.

"Who, me? Nah. I'm a management consultant. I work in Chelsea mostly, but when I
come slumming in Piccadilly, I like to comandeer Art's office. He's not bad, for
a UE-geek."

"Not bad at all," Linda said, slipping an arm around Art's waist, wrapping her
fingers around the waistband of his trousers. "Did you need to grab your jacket,
honey?"

Art's jacket was hanging on the back of his office door, and to get at it, he
had to crush himself against Linda and maneuver the door shut. He felt her
breasts soft on his chest, felt her breath tickle his ear, and forgot all about
their argument in the corridor.

"All right," Art said, hooking his jacket over his shoulder with a finger,
feeling flushed and fluttery. "OK, let's go."

"Lovely to have met you, Fede," Linda said, taking his hand.

"And likewise," Fede said.

15.

Vigorous sex ensued.

16.

Art rolled out of bed at dark o'clock in the morning, awakened by circadians and
endorphins and bladder. He staggered to the toilet in the familiar gloom of his
shabby little rooms, did his business, marveled at the tenderness of his
privates, fumbled for the flush mechanism -- "British" and "Plumbing" being two
completely opposite notions -- and staggered back to bed. The screen of his
comm, nestled on the end table, washed the room in liquid-crystal light. He'd
tugged the sheets off of Linda when he got up, and there she was, chest rising
and falling softly, body rumpled and sprawled after their gymnastics. It had
been transcendent and messy, and the sheets were coarse with dried fluids.

He knelt on the bed and fussed with the covers some, trying for an equitable --
if not chivalrously so -- division of blankets. He bent forward to kiss at a
bite-mark he'd left on her shoulder.

His back went "pop."

Somewhere down in the lumbar, somewhere just above his tailbone, a deep and
unforgiving *pop*, ominous as the cocking of a revolver. He put his hand there
and it felt OK, so he cautiously lay back. Three-quarters of the way down, his
entire lower back seized up, needles of fire raced down his legs and through his
groin, and he collapsed.

He *barked* with pain, an inhuman sound he hadn't known he could make, and the
rapid emptying of his lungs deepened the spasm, and he mewled. Linda opened a
groggy eye and put her hand on his shoulder. "What is it, hon?"

He tried to straighten out, to find a position in which the horrible, relentless
pain returned whence it came. Each motion was agony. Finally, the pain subsided,
and he found himself pretzelled, knees up, body twisted to the left, head
twisted to the right. He did not dare budge from this posture, terrified that
the pain would return.

"It's my back," he gasped.

"Whah? Your back?"

"I -- I put it out. Haven't done it in years. I need an icepack, OK? There're
some headache pills in the medicine cabinet. Three of those."

"Seriously?"

"Look, I'd get 'em myself, but I can't even sit up, much less walk. I gotta ice
this down now before it gets too inflamed."

"How did it happen?"

"It just happens. Tai Chi helps. Please, I need ice."

Half an hour later, he had gingerly arranged himself with his knees up and his
hips straight, and he was breathing deeply, willing the spasms to unclench.
"Thanks," he said.

"What now? Should I call a doctor?"

"He'd just give me painkillers and tell me to lose some weight. I'll probably be
like this for a week. Shit. Fede's going to kill me. I was supposed to go to
Boston next Friday, too."

"Boston? What for? For how long?"

Art bunched the sheets in his fists. He hadn't meant to tell her about Boston
yet -- he and Fede hadn't worked out his cover story. "Meetings," he said. "Two
or three days. I was going to take some personal time and go see my family, too.
Goddamnit. Pass me my comm, OK?"

"You're going to *work* now?"

"I'm just going to send Fede a message and send out for some muscle-relaxants.
There's a twenty-four-hour chemist's at Paddington Station that delivers."

"I'll do it, you lie flat."

And so it began. Bad enough to be helpless, weak as a kitten and immobile, but
to be at the whim of someone else, to have to provide sufficient excuse for
every use of his comm, every crawl across the flat... Christ. "Just give me my
comm, please. I can do it faster than I can explain how to do it."

In thirty-six hours, he was ready to tear the throat out of anyone who tried to
communicate with him. He'd harangued Linda out of the flat and crawled to the
kitchen floor, painstakingly assembling a nest of pillows and sofa cushions,
close to the icemaker and the painkillers and toilet. His landlady, an
unfriendly Chinese lady who had apparently been wealthy beyond words in Hong
Kong and clearly resented her reduced station, agreed to sign for the supply
drops he commed to various retailers around London.

He was giving himself a serious crick in his neck and shoulder from working
supine, comm held over his head. The painkillers weighted his arms and churned
his guts, and at least twice an hour, he'd grog his way into a better position,
forgetting the tenderness in his back, and bark afresh as his nerves shrieked
and sizzled.

Two days later and he was almost unrecognizable, a gamey, unshaven lump in the
tiny kitchen, his nest gray with sweat and stiff with spilled take-away curry.
He suspected that he was overmedicating, forgetting whether he'd taken his
tablets and taking more. In one of his more lucid moments, he realized that
there was a feedback cycle at play here -- the more pills he took, the less
equipped he was to judge whether he'd taken his pills, so the more pills he
took. His mind meandered through a solution to this, a timer-equipped pillcase
that reset when you took the lid off and chimed if you took the lid off again
before the set interval had elapsed. He reached for his comm to make some notes,
found it wedged under one of his hocks, greasy with sweat, batteries dead. He
hadn't let his comm run down in a decade, at least.

His landlady let Linda in on the fourth day, as he was sleeping fitfully with a
pillow over his face to shut out the light from the window. He'd tried to draw
the curtains a day -- two days? -- before, but had given up when he tried to
pull himself upright on the sill only to collapse in a fresh gout of writhing.
Linda crouched by his head and stroked his greasy hair softly until he flipped
the pillow off his face with a movement of his neck. He squinted up at her,
impossibly fresh and put together and incongruous in his world of reduced
circumstances.

"Art. Art. Art. Art! You're a mess, Art! Jesus. Why aren't you in bed?"

"Too far," he mumbled.

"What would your grandmother say? Dear-oh-dearie. Come on, let's get you up and
into bed, and then I'm going to have a doctor and a massage therapist sent in.
You need a nice, hot bath, too. It'll be good for you and hygienic besides."

"No tub," he said petulantly.

"I know, I know. Don't worry about it. I'll sort it out."

And she did, easing him to his feet and helping him into bed. She took his house
keys and disappeared for some unknowable time, then reappeared with fresh linen
in store wrappers, which she lay on the bed carefully, making tight hospital
corners and rolling him over, nurse-style, to do the other side. He heard her
clattering in the kitchen, running the faucets, moving furniture. He reminded
himself to ask her to drop his comm in its charger, then forgot.

"Come on, time to get up again," she said, gently peeling the sheets back.

"It's OK," he said, waving weakly at her.

"Yes, it is. Let's get up." She took his ankles and gradually turned him on the
bed so that his feet were on the floor, then grabbed him by his stinking armpits
and helped him to his feet. He stumbled with her into his crowded living room,
dimly aware of the furniture stacked on itself around him. She left him hanging
on the door lintel and then began removing his clothes. She actually used a
scissors to cut away his stained tee shirt and boxer shorts. "All right," she
said, "into the tub."

"No tub," he said.

"Look down, Art," she said.

He did. An inflatable wading pool sat in the middle of his living room, flanked
by an upended coffee table and his sofa, standing on its ear. The pool was full
of steaming, cloudy water. "There's a bunch of eucalyptus oil and Epsom salts in
there. You're gonna love it."

That night, Art actually tottered into the kitchen and got himself a glass of
water, one hand pressed on his lower back. The cool air of the apartment fanned
the mentholated liniment on his back and puckered goose pimples all over his
body. After days of leaden limbs, he felt light and clean, his senses singing as
though he was emerging from a fever. He drank the water, and retrieved his comm
from its cradle.

He propped several pillows up on his headboard and fired up his comm.
Immediately, it began to buzz and hum and chatter and blink, throwing up alerts
about urgent messages, pages and calls pending. The lightness he'd felt fled
him, and he began the rotten business of triaging his in-box.

One strong impression emerged almost immediately: Fede wanted him in Boston.

The Jersey clients were interested in the teasers that Fede had forwarded to
them. The Jersey clients were obsessed with the teasers that Fede had forwarded
to them. The Jersey clients were howling for more after the teasers that Fede
had forwarded to them. Fede had negotiated some big bucks on approval if only
Art would go and talk to the Jersey clients. The Jersey clients had arranged a
meeting with some of the MassPike decision-makers for the following week, and
now they were panicking because they didn't have anything *except* the teasers
Fede had forwarded to them.

You should really try to go to Boston, Art. We need you in Boston, Art. You have
to go to Boston, Art. Art, go to Boston. Boston, Art. Boston.

Linda rolled over in bed and peered up at him. "You're *not* working again, are
you?"

"Shhh," Art said. "It's less stressful if I get stuff done than if I let it pile
up."

"Then why is your forehead all wrinkled up?"

"I have to go to Boston," he said. "Day after tomorrow, I think."

"Jesus, are you insane? Trying to cripple yourself?"

"I can recover in a hotel room just as well as I can recover here. It's just
rest from here on in, anyway. And a hotel will probably have a tub."

"I can't believe I'm hearing this. You're not going to *recover* in Boston.
You'll be at meetings and stuff. Christ!"

"I've got to do this," Art said. "I just need to figure out how. I'll go
business class, take along a lumbar pillow, and spend every moment that I'm not
in a meeting in a tub or getting a massage. I could use a change of scenery
about now, anyway."

"You're a goddamned idiot, you know that?"

Art knew it. He also knew that here was an opportunity to get back to EST, to
make a good impression on the Jersey clients, to make his name in the Tribe and
to make a bundle of cash. His back be damned, he was sick of lying around
anyway. "I've got to go, Linda."

"It's your life," she said, and tossed aside the covers. "But I don't have to
sit around watching you ruin it." She disappeared into the hallway, then
reemerged, dressed and with her coat on. "I'm out of here."

"Linda," Art said.

"No," she said. "Shut up. Why the fuck should I care if you don't, huh? I'm
going. See you around."

"Come on, let's talk about this."

East-Coast pizza. Flat Boston twangs. The coeds rushing through Harvard Square
and oh, maybe a side trip to New York, maybe another up to Toronto and a roti at
one of the halal Guyanese places on Queen Street. He levered himself painfully
out of bed and hobbled to the living room, where Linda was arguing with a taxi
dispatcher over her comm, trying to get them to send out a cab at two in the
morning.

"Come on," Art said. "Hang that up. Let's talk about this."

She shot him a dirty look and turned her back, kept on ranting down the comm at
the dispatcher.

"Linda, don't do this. Come on."

"I am on the phone!" she said to him, covering the mouthpiece. "Shut the fuck
up, will you?" She uncovered the mouthpiece. "Hello? Hello?" The dispatcher had
hung up. She snapped the comm shut and slammed it into her purse. She whirled to
face Art, snorting angry breaths through her nostrils. Her face was such a mask
of rage that Art recoiled, and his back twinged. He clasped at it and carefully
lowered himself onto the sofa.

"Don't do this, OK?" he said. "I need support, not haranguing."

"What's there to say? Your mind's already made up. You're going to go off and be
a fucking idiot and cripple yourself. Go ahead, you don't need my permission."

"Sit down, please, Linda, and talk to me. Let me explain my plan and my reasons,
OK? Then I'll listen to you. Maybe we can sort this out and actually, you know,
come to understand each other's point of view."

"Fine," she said, and slammed herself into the sofa. Art bounced and he seized
his back reflexively, waiting for the pain, but beyond a low-grade throbbing, he
was OK.

"I have a very large opportunity in Boston right now. One that could really
change my life. Money, sure, but prestige and profile, too. A dream of an
opportunity. I need to attend one or two meetings, and then I can take a couple
days off. I'll get Fede to OK a first-class flight -- we get chits we can use to
upgrade to Virgin Upper; they've got hot tubs and massage therapists now. I'll
check into a spa -- they've got a bunch on Route 128 -- and get a massage every
morning and have a physiotherapist up to the room every night. I can't afford
that stuff here, but Fede'll spring for it if I go to Boston, let me expense it.
I'll be a good lad, I promise."

"I still think you're being an idiot. Why can't Fede go?"

"Because it's my deal."

"Why can't whoever you're meeting with come here?"

"That's complicated."

"Bullshit. I thought you wanted to talk about this?"

"I do. I just can't talk about that part."

"Why not? Are you afraid I'll blab? Christ, Art. Give me some credit. Who the
hell would I blab *to*, anyway?"

"Look, Linda, the deal itself is confidential -- a secret. A secret's only a
secret if you don't tell it to anyone, all right? So I'm not going to tell you.
It's not relevant to the discussion, anyway."

"Art. Art. Art. Art, you make it all sound so reasonable, and you can dress it
up with whatever words you want, but at the end of the day, we both know you're
full of shit on this. There's no *way* that doing this is better for you than
staying here in bed. If Fede's the problem, let me talk to him."

"Jesus, no!"

"Why not?"

"It's not appropriate, Linda. This is a work-related issue. It wouldn't be
professional. OK, I'll concede that flying and going to meeting is more
stressful than not flying and not going to meetings, but let's take it as a
given that I *really* need to go to Boston. Can't we agree on that, and then
discuss the ways that we can mitigate the risks associated with the trip?"

"Jesus, you're an idiot," she said, but she seemed to be on the verge of
smiling.

"But I'm *your* idiot, right?" Art said, hopefully.

"Sure, sure you are." She *did* smile then, and cuddle up to him on the sofa.
"They don't have fucking *hot tubs* in Virgin Upper, do they?"

"Yeah," Art said, kissing her earlobe. "They really do."

17.

Once the blood coursing from my shins slows and clots, I take an opportunity to
inspect the damage more closely. The cuts are relatively shallow, certainly less
serious than they were in my runamuck imagination, which had vivid slashes of
white bone visible through the divided skin. I cautiously pick out the larger
grit and gravel and turn my attention spinewards.

I have done a number on my back, that much is certain. My old friends, the
sacroiliac joints, feel as tight as drumheads, and they creak ominously when I
shift to a sitting position with my back propped up on the chimney's upended
butt, the aluminum skirting cool as a kiss on my skin. They're only just
starting to twinge, a hint of the agonies to come.

My jaw, though, is pretty bad. My whole face feels swollen, and if I open my
mouth the blood starts anew.

You know, on sober reflection, I believe that coming up to the roof was a really
bad idea.

I use the chimney to lever myself upright again, and circle it to see exactly
what kind of damage I've done. There's a neat circular hole in the roof where
the chimney used to be, gusting warm air into my face as I peer into its depths.
The hole is the mouth of a piece of shiny metal conduit about the circumference
of a basketball hoop. When I put my head into it, I hear the white noise of a
fan, somewhere below in the building's attic. I toss some gravel down the
conduit and listen to the report as it *ping*s off the fan blades down below.
That's a good, loud sound, and one that is certain to echo through the building.

I rain gravel down the exhaust tube by the handful, getting into a mindless,
shuffling rhythm, wearing the sides of my hands raw and red as I scrape the
pebbles up into handy piles. Soon I am shuffling afield of the fallen chimney,
one hand on my lumbar, crouched over like a chimp, knees splayed in an effort to
shift stress away from my grooved calves.

I'm really beating the shit out of that poor fan, I can tell. The
shooting-gallery rattle of the gravel ricocheting off the blades is dulling now,
sometimes followed by secondary rattles as the pebbles bounce back into the
blades. Not sure what I'll do if the fan gives out before someone notices me up
here.

It's not an issue, as it turns out. The heavy fire door beyond the chimney
swings open abruptly. A hospital maintenance gal in coveralls, roly-poly and
draped with tool belts and bandoliers. She's red-faced from the trek up the
stairs, and it gives her the aspect of a fairy tale baker or candy-seller. She
reinforces this impression by putting her plump hands to her enormous bosom and
gasping when she catches sight of me.

It comes to me that I am quite a fucking sight. Bloody, sunburnt, wild-eyed,
with my simian hunch and my scabby jaw set at a crazy angle to my face and
reality both. Not to mention my near nudity, which I'm semipositive is not her
idea of light entertainment. "Hey," I say. "I, uh, I got stuck on the roof. The
door shut." Talking reopens the wound on my jaw and I feel more blood trickling
down my neck. "Unfortunately, I only get one chance to make a first impression,
huh? I'm not, you know, really *crazy,* I was just a little bored and so I went
exploring and got stuck and tried to get someone's attention, had a couple
accidents... It's a long story. Hey! My name's Art. What's yours?"

"Oh my Lord!" she said, and her hand jumps to the hammer in its bandolier
holster on her round tummy. She claws at it frantically.

"Please," I say, holding my hands in front of me. "Please. I'm hurt is all. I
came up here to get some fresh air and the door swung shut behind me. I tripped
when I knocked over the chimney to get someone's attention. I'm not dangerous.
Please. Just help me get back down to the twentieth floor -- I think I might
need a stretcher crew, my back is pretty bad."

"It's Caitlin," she says.

"I beg your pardon?"

"My name is Caitlin," she says.

"Hi, Caitlin," I said. I extend my hand, but she doesn't move the ten yards she
would have to cross in order to take it. I think about moving towards her, but
think better of it.

"You're not up here to jump, are you?"

"Jump? Christ, no! Just stuck is all. Just stuck."

Linda's goddamned boyfriend was into all this flaky Getting to Yes shit,
subliminal means of establishing rapport and so on. Linda and I once spent an
afternoon at the Children's Carousel uptown in Manhattan, making fun of all his
newage theories. The one that stood out in my mind as funniest was synching your
breathing -- "What you resist persists, so you need to turn resistance into
assistance," Linda recounted. You match breathing with your subject for fifteen
breaths and they unconsciously become receptive to your suggestions. I have a
suspicion that Caitlin might bolt, duck back through the door and pound down the
stairs on her chubby little legs and leave me stranded.

So I try it, match my breath to her heaving bosom. She's still panting from her
trek up the stairs and fifteen breaths go by in a quick pause. The silence
stretches, and I try to remember what I'm supposed to do next. Lead the subject,
that's it. I slow my breathing down gradually and, amazingly, her breath slows
down along with mine, until we're both breathing great, slow breaths. It works
-- it's flaky and goofy California shit, but it works.

"Caitlin," I say calmly, making it part of an exhalation.

"Yes," she says, still wary.

"Have you got a comm?"

"I do, yes."

"Can you please call downstairs and ask them to send up a stretcher crew? I've
hurt my back and I won't be able to handle the stairs."

"I can do that, yes."

"Thank you, Caitlin."

It feels like cheating. I didn't have to browbeat her or puncture her bad
reasoning -- all it took was a little rapport, a little putting myself in her
shoes. I can't believe it worked, but Caitlin flips a ruggedized comm off her
hip and speaks into it in a calm, efficient manner.

"Thank you, Caitlin," I say again. I start to ease myself to a sitting position,
and my back gives way, so that I crash to the rooftop, mewling, hands clutched
to my spasming lumbar. And then Caitlin's at my side, pushing my hands away from
my back, strong thumbs digging into the spasming muscles around my iliac crests,
soothing and smoothing them out, tracing the lines of fire back to the nodes of
the joints, patiently kneading the spasms out until the pain recedes to a soft
throbbing.

"My old man used to get that," she said. "All us kids had to take turns working
it out for him." I'm on my back, staring up over her curves and rolls and into
her earnest, freckled face.

"Oh, God, that feels good," I say.

"That's what the old man used to say. You're too young to have a bad back."

"I have to agree," I say.

"All right, I'm going to prop your knees up and lay your head down. I need to
have a look at that ventilator."

I grimace. "I'm afraid I did a real number on it," I say. "Sorry about that."

She waves a chubby pish-tosh at me with her freckled hand and walks over to the
chimney, leaving me staring at the sky, knees bent, waiting for the stretcher
crew.

When they arrive, Caitlin watches as they strap me onto the board, tying me
tighter than is strictly necessary for my safety, and I realize that I'm not
being tied *down*, I'm being tied *up*.

"Thanks, Caitlin," I say.

"You're welcome, Art."

"Good luck with the ventilator -- sorry again."

"That's all right, kid. It's my job, after all."

18.

Virgin Upper's hot tubs were more theoretically soothing than actually so. They
had rather high walls and a rather low water level, both for modesty's sake and
to prevent spills. Art passed through the miniature sauna/shower and into the
tub after his massage, somewhere over Newfoundland, and just as the plane hit
turbulence, buffeting him with chlorinated water that stung his eyes and got up
his nose and soaked the magazine on offshore investing that he'd found in the
back of his seat pocket.

He landed at JFK still smelling of chlorine and sandalwood massage oil and the
cantaloupe-scented lotion in the fancy toilets. Tension melted away from him as
he meandered to the shuttle stop. The air had an indefinable character of
homeliness, or maybe it was the sunlight. Amateur Tribal anthropologists were
always thrashing about light among themselves, arguing about the sun's character
varying from latitude to latitude, filtered through this city's pollution
signature or that.

The light or the air, the latitude or the smog, it felt like home. The women
walked with a reassuring, confident *clack clack clack* of heel on hard tile;
the men talked louder than was necessary to one another or to their comms. The
people were a riot of ethnicities and their speech was a riotous babel of
accents, idioms and languages. Aggressive pretzel vendors vied with aggressive
panhandlers to shake down the people waiting on the shuttle bus. Art bought a
stale, sterno-reeking pretzel that was crusted with inedible volumes of
yellowing salt and squirted a couple bucks at a panhandler who had been
pestering him in thick Jamaican patois but thanked him in adenoidal Brooklynese.

By the time he boarded his connection to Logan he was joggling his knees
uncontrollably in his seat, his delight barely contained. He got an undrinkable
can of watery Budweiser and propped it up on his tray table alongside his
inedible pretzel and arranged them in a kind of symbolic tableau of all things
ESTian.

He commed Fede from the guts of the tunnels that honeycombed Boston, realizing
with a thrill as Fede picked up that it was two in the morning in London, at the
nominal GMT+0, while here at GMT-5 -- at the default, plus-zero time zone of his
life, livelihood and lifestyle -- it was only 9PM.

"Fede!" Art said into the comm.

"Hey, Art!" Fede said, with a false air of chipperness that Art recognized from
any number of middle-of-the-night calls.

There was a cheap Malaysian comm that he'd once bought because of its hyped up
de-hibernate feature -- its ability to go from its deepest power-saving
sleepmode to full waking glory without the customary thirty seconds of
drive-churning housekeeping as it reestablished its network connection, verified
its file system and memory, and pinged its buddy-list for state and presence
info. This Malaysian comm, the Crackler, had the uncanny ability to go into
suspended animation indefinitely, and yet throw your workspace back on its
display in a hot instant.

When Art actually laid hands on it, after it meandered its way across the world
by slow boat, corrupt GMT+8 Posts and Telegraphs authorities, over-engineered
courier services and Revenue Canada's Customs agents, he was enchanted by this
feature. He could put the device into deep sleep, close it up, and pop its cover
open and poof! there were his windows. It took him three days and an interesting
crash to notice that even though he was seeing his workspace, he wasn't able to
interact with it for thirty seconds. The auspicious crash revealed the presence
of a screenshot of his pre-hibernation workspace on the drive, and he realized
that the machine was tricking him, displaying the screenshot -- the illusion of
wakefulness -- when he woke it up, relying on the illusion to endure while it
performed its housekeeping tasks in the background. A little stopwatch work
proved that this chicanery actually added three seconds to the overall
wake-time, and taught him his first important user-experience lesson: perception
of functionality trumps the actual function.

And here was Fede, throwing up a verbal screenshot of wakefulness while he
churned in the background, housekeeping himself into real alertness. "Fede, I'm
here, I'm in Boston!"

"Good Art, good. How was the trip?"

"Wonderful. Virgin Upper was fantastic -- dancing girls, midget wrestling, hash
brownies..."

"Good, very good."

"And now I'm driving around under Boston through a land-yacht regatta. The boats
are mambo, but I think that banana patch the hotel soon."

"Glad to hear it." Art heard water running dimly, realized that Fede was taking
a leak.

"Meeting with the Jersey boys tomorrow. We're having brunch at a strip club."

"OK, OK, very funny," Fede said. "I'm awake. What's up?"

"Nothing. I just wanted to check in with you and let you know I arrived safe and
sound. How're things in London?"

"Your girlfriend called me."

"Linda?"

"You got another girlfriend?"

"What did she want?"

"She wanted to chew me out for sending you overseas with your 'crippling back
injury.' She told me she'd hold me responsible if you got into trouble over
there."

"God, Fede, I'm sorry. I didn't put her up to it or anything --"

"Don't worry about it. I'm glad that there's someone out there who cares about
you. We're getting together for dinner tonight."

"Fede, you know, I think Linda's terrific, but she's a little, you know,
volatile."

"Art, everyone in O'Malley House knows just how volatile she is. 'I won't tell
you again, Art. Moderate your tone. I won't be shouted at.'"

"Christ, you heard that, too?"

"Don't worry about it. She's cool and I like her and I can stand to be shouted
at a little. When did you say you were meeting with Perceptronics?"

The word shocked him. They never mentioned the name of the Jersey clients. It
started as a game, but soon became woven into Fede's paranoid procedures.

Now they had reached the endgame. Within a matter of weeks, they'd be turning in
their resignations to V/DT and taking the final flight across the Atlantic and
back to GMT-5, provocateurs no longer.

"Tomorrow afternoon. We're starting late to give me time to get a full night's
sleep." The last conference call with Perceptronics had gone fantastically. His
normal handlers -- sour men with nasty minds who glommed onto irrelevancies in
V/DT's strategy and teased at them until they conjured up shadowy and shrewd
conspiracies where none existed -- weren't on that call. Instead, he'd spent a
rollicking four hours on the line with the sharp and snarky product designers
and engineers, bouncing ideas back and forth at speed. Even over the phone, the
homey voices and points of view felt indefinably comfortable and familiar.
They'd been delighted to start late in the day for his benefit, and had offered
to work late and follow up with a visit to a bar where he could get a burger the
size of a baby's head. "We're meeting at Perceptronics' branch office in Acton
tomorrow and the day after, then going into MassPike. The Perceptronics guys
sound really excited." Just saying the name of the company was a thrill.

"That's really excellent, Art. Go easy, though --"

"Oh, don't worry about me. My back's feeling miles better." And it was, loose
and supple the way it did after a good workout.

"That's good, but it's not what I meant. We're still closing this deal, still
dickering over price. I need another day, maybe, to settle it. So go easy
tomorrow. Give me a little leverage, OK?"

"I don't get it. I thought we had a deal."

"Nothing's final till it's vinyl, you know that. They're balking at the royalty
clause" -- Fede was proposing to sell Perceptronics an exclusive license on the
business-model patent he'd filed for using Art's notes in exchange for jobs, a
lump-sum payment and a royalty on every sub-license that Perceptronics sold to
the world's toll roads -- "and we're renegotiating. They're just playing
hardball, is all. Another day, tops, and I'll have it sorted."

"I'm confused. What do you want me to do?"

"Just, you know, *stall* them. Get there late. Play up your jetlag. Leave early.
Don't get anything, you know, *done*. Use your imagination."

"Is there a deal or isn't there, Fede?"

"There's a deal, there's a deal. I'll do my thing, you'll do your thing, and
we'll both be rich and living in New York before you know it. Do you
understand?"

"Not really."

"OK, that'll have to be good enough for now. Jesus, Art, I'm doing my best here,
all right?"

"Say hi to Linda for me, OK?"

"Don't be pissed at me, Art."

"I'm not pissed. I'll stall them. You do your thing. I'll take it easy, rest up
my back."

"All right. Have a great time, OK?"

"I will, Fede."

Art rang off, feeling exhausted and aggravated. He followed the tunnel signs to
the nearest up-ramp, wanting to get into the sunlight and architecture and warm
himself with both. A miniscule BMW Flea blatted its horn at him when he changed
lanes. Had he cut the car off? He was still looking the wrong way, still
anticipating oncoming traffic on the right. He raised a hand in an apologetic
wave.

It wasn't enough for the Flea's driver. The car ran right up to his bumper, then
zipped into the adjacent lane, accelerated and cut him off, nearly causing a
wreck. As it was, Art had to swerve into the parking lane on Mass Ave -- how did
he get to Mass Ave? God, he was lost already -- to avoid him. The Flea backed
off and switched lanes again, then pulled up alongside of him. The driver rolled
down his window.

"How the fuck do you like it, jackoff? Don't *ever* fucking cut me off!" He was
a middle aged white guy in a suit, driving a car that was worth a year's wages
to Art, purple-faced and pop-eyed.

Art felt something give way inside, and then he was shouting back. "When I want
your opinion, I'll squeeze your fucking head, you sack of shit! As it is, I can
barely contain my rage at the thought that a scumbag like you is consuming *air*
that the rest of us could be breathing! Now, roll up your goddamned window and
drive your fucking bourge-mobile before I smash your fucking head in!"

He shut his mouth, alarmed. What the hell was he saying? How did he end up
standing here, outside of his car, shouting at the other driver, stalking
towards the Flea with his hands balled into fists? Why was he picking a fight
with this goddamned psycho, anyway? A year in peaceful, pistol-free London had
eased his normal road-rage defense systems. Now they came up full, and he
wondered if the road-rager he'd just snapped at would haul out a
Second-Amendment Special and cap him.

But the other driver looked as shocked as Art felt. He rolled up his window and
sped off, turning wildly at the next corner -- Brookline, Art saw. Art got back
into his rental, pulled off to the curb and asked his comm to generate an
optimal route to his hotel, and drove in numb silence the rest of the way.

19.

They let me call Gran on my second day here. Of course, Linda had already called
her and briefed her on my supposed mental breakdown. I had no doubt that she'd
managed to fake hysterical anxiety well enough to convince Gran that I'd lost it
completely; Gran was already four-fifths certain that I was nuts.

"Hi, Gran," I said.

"Arthur! My God, how are you?"

"I'm fine, Gran. It's a big mistake is all."

"A mistake? Your lady friend called me and told me what you'd done in London.
Arthur, you need help."

"What did Linda say?"

"She said that you threatened to kill a coworker. She said you threatened to
kill *her*. That you had a knife. Oh, Arthur, I'm so worried --"

"It's not true, Gran. She's lying to you."

"She told me you'd say that."

"Of course she did. She and Fede -- a guy I worked with in London -- they're
trying to get rid of me. They had me locked up. I had a business deal with Fede,
we were selling one of my ideas to a company in New Jersey. Linda talked him
into selling to some people she knows in LA instead, and they conspired to cut
me out of the deal. When I caught them at it, they got me sent away. Let me
guess, she told you I was going to say this, too, right?"

"Arthur, I know --"

"You know that I'm a good guy. You raised me. I'm not nuts, OK? They just wanted
to get me out of the way while they did their deal. A week or two and I'll be
out again, but it will be too late. Do you believe that you know me better than
some girl I met a month ago?"

"Of *course* I do, Arthur. But why would the hospital take you away if --"

"If I wasn't crazy? I'm in here for observation -- they want to find *out* if
I'm crazy. If *they're* not sure, then you can't be sure, right?"

"All right. Oh, I've been sick with worry."

"I'm sorry, Gran. I need to get through this week and I'll be free and clear and
I'll come back to Toronto."

"I'm going to come down there to see you. Linda told me visitors weren't
allowed, is that true?"

"No, it's not true." I thought about Gran seeing me in the ward amidst the
pukers and the screamers and the droolers and the *fondlers* and flinched away
from the phone. "But if you're going to come down, come for the hearing at the
end of the week. There's nothing you can do here now."

"Even if I can't help, I just want to come and see you. It was so nice when you
were here."

"I know, I know. I'll be coming back soon, don't worry."

If only Gran could see me now, on the infirmary examination table, in four-point
restraint. Good thing she can't.

A doctor looms over me. "How are you feeling, Art?"

"I've had better days," I say, with what I hope is stark sanity and humor.
Aren't crazy people incapable of humor? "I went for a walk and the door swung
shut behind me."

"Well, they'll do that," the doctor says. "My name is Szandor," he says, and
shakes my hand in its restraint.

"A pleasure to meet you," I say. "You're a *doctor* doctor, aren't you?"

"An MD? Yup. There're a couple of us around the place."

"But you're not a shrink of any description?"

"Nope. How'd you guess?"

"Bedside manner. You didn't patronize me."

Dr. Szandor tries to suppress a grin, then gives up. "We all do our bit," he
says. "How'd you get up on the roof without setting off your room alarm,
anyway?"

"If I tell you how I did it, I won't be able to repeat the trick," I say
jokingly. He's swabbing down my shins now with something that stings and cools
at the same time. From time to time, he takes tweezers in hand and plucks loose
some gravel or grit and plinks it into a steel tray on a rolling table by his
side. He's so gentle, I hardly feel it.

"What, you never heard of doctor-patient confidentiality?"

"Is that thing still around?"

"Oh sure! We had a mandatory workshop on it yesterday afternoon. Those are
always a lot of fun."

"So, you're saying that you've got professional expertise in the keeping of
secrets, huh? I suppose I could spill it for you, then." And I do, explaining my
little hack for tricking the door into thinking that I'd left and returned to
the room.

"Huh -- now that you explain it, it's pretty obvious."

"That's my job -- figuring out the obvious way of doing something."

And we fall to talking about my job with V/DT, and the discussion branches into
the theory and practice of UE, only slowing a little when he picks the crud out
of the scrape down my jaw and tugs through a couple of quick stitches. It occurs
to me that he's just keeping me distracted, using a highly evolved skill for
placating psychopaths through small talk so that they don't thrash while he's
knitting their bodies back together.

I decide that I don't care. I get to natter on about a subject that I'm nearly
autistically fixated on, and I do it in a context where I know that I'm sane and
smart and charming and occasionally mind-blowing.

"...and the whole thing pays for itself through EZPass, where we collect the
payments for the music downloaded while you're on the road." As I finish my
spiel, I realize *I've* been keeping *him* distracted, standing there with the
tweezers in one hand and a swab in the other.

"Wow!" he said. "So, when's this all going to happen?"

"You'd use it, huh?"

"Hell, yeah! I've got a good twenty, thirty thousand on my car right now! You're
saying I could plunder anyone else's stereo at will, for free, and keep it,
while I'm stuck in traffic, and because I'm a -- what'd you call it, a
super-peer? -- a super-peer, it's all free and legal? Damn!"

"Well, it may be a while before you see it on the East Coast. It'll probably
roll out in LA first, then San Francisco, Seattle..."

"What? Why?"

"It's a long story," I say. "And it ends with me on the roof of a goddamned
nuthouse on Route 128 doing a one-man tribute to the Three Stooges."

20.

Three days later, Art finally realized that something big and ugly was in the
offing. Fede had repeatedly talked him out of going to Perceptronics's offices,
offering increasingly flimsy excuses and distracting him by calling the hotel's
front desk and sending up surprise massage therapists to interrupt Art as he
stewed in his juices, throbbing with resentment at having been flown thousands
of klicks while injured in order to check into a faceless hotel on a faceless
stretch of highway and insert this thumb into his asshole and wait for Fede --
*who was still in fucking London!* -- to sort out the mess so that he could
present himself at the Perceptronics Acton offices and get their guys prepped
for the ever-receding meeting with MassPike.

"Jesus, Federico, what the fuck am I *doing* here?"

"I know, Art, I know." Art had taken to calling Fede at the extreme ends of
circadian compatibility, three AM and eleven PM and then noon on Fede's clock,
as a subtle means of making the experience just as unpleasant for Fede as it was
for Art. "I screwed up," Fede yawned. "I screwed up and now we're both paying
the price. You handled your end beautifully and I dropped mine. And I intend to
make it up to you."

"I don't *want* more massages, Fede. I want to get this shit done and I want to
come home and see my girlfriend."

Fede tittered over the phone.

"What's so funny?"

"Nothing much," Fede said. "Just sit tight there for a couple minutes, OK? Call
me back once it happens and tell me what you wanna do, all right?"

"Once what happens?"

"You'll know."

It was Linda, of course. Knocking on Art's hotel room door minutes later,
throwing her arms -- and then her legs -- around him, and banging him stupid,
half on and half off the hotel room bed. Riding him and then being ridden in
turns, slurping and wet and energetic until they both lay sprawled on the hotel
room's very nice Persian rugs, dehydrated and panting and Art commed Fede, and
Fede told him it could take a couple weeks to sort things out, and why didn't he
and Linda rent a car and do some sight-seeing on the East Coast?

That's exactly what they did. Starting in Boston, where they cruised Cambridge,
watching the cute nerdyboys and geekygirls wander the streets, having heated
technical debates, lugging half-finished works of technology and art through the
sopping summertime, a riot of townie accents and highbrow engineerspeak.

Then a week in New York, where they walked until they thought their feet would
give out entirely, necks cricked at a permanent, upward-staring angle to gawp at
the topless towers of Manhattan. The sound the sound the sound of Manhattan rang
in their ears, a gray and deep rumble of cars and footfalls and subways and
steampipes and sirens and music and conversation and ring tones and hucksters
and schizophrenic ranters, a veritable Las Vegas of cacophony, and it made Linda
uncomfortable, she who was raised in the white noise susurrations of LA's
freeway forests, but it made Art feel *wonderful*. He kept his comm switched
off, though the underfoot rumble of the subway had him reaching for it a hundred
times a day, convinced that he'd left it on in vibe-alert mode.

They took a milk-run train to Toronto, chuffing through sleepy upstate New York
towns, past lakes and rolling countryside in full summer glory. Art and Linda
drank ginger beer in the observation car, spiking it with rum from a flask that
Linda carried in a garter that she wore for the express purpose of being able to
reach naughtily up her little sundress and produce a bottle of body-temperature
liquor in a nickel-plated vessel whose shiny sides were dulled by the soft oil
of her thigh.

Canada Customs and Immigration separated them at the border, sending Art for a
full inspection -- a privilege of being a Canadian citizen and hence perennially
under suspicion of smuggling goods from the tax havens of the US into the
country -- and leaving Linda in their little Pullman cabin.

When Art popped free of the bureaucracy, his life thoroughly peered into, he
found Linda standing on the platform, leaning against a pillar, back arched, one
foot flat against the bricks, corresponding dimpled knee exposed to the restless
winds of the trainyard. From Art's point of view, she was a gleaming vision
skewered on a beam of late day sunlight that made her hair gleam like licorice.
Her long and lazy jaw caught and lost the sun as she talked animatedly down her
comm, and Art was struck with a sudden need to sneak up behind her and run his
tongue down the line that began with the knob of her mandible under her ear and
ran down to the tiny half-dimple in her chin, to skate it on the soft pouch of
flesh under her chin, to end with a tasting of her soft lips.

Thought became deed. He crept up on her, smelling her new-car hair products on
the breeze that wafted back from her, and was about to begin his tonguing when
she barked, "Fuck *off*! Stop calling me!" and closed her comm and stormed off
trainwards, leaving Art standing on the opposite side of the pillar with a
thoroughly wilted romantic urge.

More carefully, he followed her into the train, back to their little cabin, and
reached for the palm-pad to open the door when he heard her agitated comm voice.
"No, goddamnit, no. Not yet. Keep calling me and not *ever*, do you understand?"

Art opened the door. Linda was composed and neat and sweet in her plush seat,
shoulders back, smile winning. "Hey honey, did the bad Customs man finally let
you go?"

"He did! That sounded like a doozy of a phone conversation, though. What's
wrong?"

"You don't want to know," she said.

"All right," Art said, sitting down opposite her, knee-to-knee, bending forward
to plant a kiss on the top of her exposed thigh. "I don't."

"Good."

He continued to kiss his way up her thigh. "Only..."

"Yes?"

"I think I probably do. Curiosity is one of my worst failings of character."

"Really?"

"Quite so," he said. He'd slid her sundress right up to the waistband of her
cotton drawers, and now he worried one of the pubic hairs that poked out from
the elastic with his teeth.

She shrieked and pushed him away. "Someone will see!" she said. "This is a
border crossing, not a bordello!"

He sat back, but inserted a finger in the elastic before Linda straightened out
her dress, so that his fingertip rested in the crease at the top of her groin.

"You are *naughty*," she said.

"And curious," Art agreed, giving his fingertip a playful wiggle.

"I give up. That was my fucking ex," she said. "That is how I will refer to him
henceforth. 'My fucking ex.' My fucking, pain-in-the-ass, touchy-feely ex. My
fucking ex, who wants to have the Talk, even though it's been months and months.
He's figured out that I'm stateside from my calling times, and he's offering to
come out to meet me and really Work Things Out, Once And For All."

"Oh, my," Art said.

"That boy's got too much LA in him for his own good. There's no problem that
can't be resolved through sufficient dialog."

"We never really talked about him," Art said.

"Nope, we sure didn't."

"Did you want to talk about him now, Linda?"

"'Did you want to talk about him now, Linda?' Why yes, Art, I would. How
perceptive of you." She pushed his hand away and crossed her arms and legs
simultaneously.

"Wait, I'm confused," Art said. "Does that mean you want to talk about him, or
that you don't?"

"Fine, we'll talk about him. What do you want to know about my fucking ex?"

Art resisted a terrible urge to fan her fires, to return the vitriol that
dripped from her voice. "Look, you don't want to talk about him, we won't talk
about him," he managed.

"No, let's talk about my fucking ex, by all means." She adopted a singsong tone
and started ticking off points on her fingers. "His name is Toby, he's
half-Japanese, half-white. He's about your height. Your dick is bigger, but he's
better in bed. He's a user-experience designer at Lucas-SGI, in Studio City. He
never fucking shuts up about what's wrong with this or that. We dated for two
years, lived together for one year, and broke up just before you and I met. I
broke it off with him: He was making me goddamned crazy and he wanted me to come
back from London and live with him. I wanted to stay out the year in England and
go back to my own apartment and possibly a different boyfriend, and he made me
choose, so I chose. Is that enough of a briefing for you, Arthur?"

"That was fine," Art said. Linda's face had gone rabid purple, madly pinched,
spittle flecking off of her lips as she spat out the words. "Thank you."

She took his hands and kissed the knuckles of his thumbs. "Look, I don't like to
talk about it -- it's painful. I'm sorry he's ruining our holiday. I just won't
take his calls anymore, how about that?"

"I don't care, Linda, Honestly, I don't give a rat's ass if you want to chat
with your ex. I just saw how upset you were and I thought it might help if you
could talk it over with me."

"I know, baby, I know. But I just need to work some things out all on my own.
Maybe I will take a quick trip out west and talk things over with him. You could
come if you want -- there are some wicked bars in West Hollywood."

"That's OK," Art said, whipsawed by Linda's incomprehensible mood shifts. "But
if you need to go, go. I've got plenty of old pals to hang out with in Toronto."

"You're so understanding," she cooed. "Tell me about your grandmother again --
you're sure she'll like me?"

"She'll love you. She loves anything that's female, of childbearing years, and
in my company. She has great and unrealistic hopes of great-grandchildren."

"Cluck."

"Cluck?"

"Just practicing my brood-hen."

21.

Doc Szandor's a good egg. He's keeping the shrinks at bay, spending more time
with me than is strictly necessary. I hope he isn't neglecting his patients, but
it's been so long since I had a normal conversation, I just can't bear to give
it up. Besides, I get the impression that Szandor's in a similar pit of bad
conversation with psychopaths and psychotherapists and is relieved to have a bit
of a natter with someone who isn't either having hallucinations or attempting to
prevent them in others.

"How the hell do you become a user-experience guy?"

"Sheer orneriness," I say, grinning. "I was just in the right place at the right
time. I had a pal in New York who was working for a biotech company that had
made this artificial erectile tissue."

"Erectile tissue?"

"Yeah. Synthetic turtle penis. Small and pliable and capable of going large and
rigid very quickly."

"Sounds delightful."

"Oh, it was actually pretty cool. You know the joke about the circumcisionist's
wallet made from foreskins?"

"Sure, I heard it premed -- he rubs it and it becomes a suitcase, right?"

"That's the one. So these guys were thinking about making drawbridges, temporary
shelters, that kind of thing out of it. They even had a cute name for it:
'Ardorite.'"

"Ho ho ho."

"Yeah. So they weren't shipping a whole lot of product, to put it mildly. Then I
spent a couple of weeks in Manhattan housesitting for my friend while he was
visiting his folks in Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. He had a ton of this stuff
lying around his apartment, and I would come back after walking the soles off my
shoes and sit in front of the tube playing with it. I took some of it down to
Madison Square Park and played with it there. I liked to hang out there because
it was always full of these very cute Icelandic *au pairs* and their tots, and I
was a respectable enough young man with about 200 words of Icelandic I'd learned
from a friend's mom in high school and they thought I was adorable and I thought
they were blond goddesses. I'd gotten to be friends with one named Marta, oh,
Marta. Bookmark Marta, Szandor, and I'll come back to her once we're better
acquainted.

"Anyway, Marta was in charge of Machinery and Avarice, the spoiled monsterkinder
of a couple of BBD&O senior managers who'd vaulted from art school to VPdom in
one year when most of the gray eminences got power-thraxed. Machinery was three
and liked to bang things against other things arythmically while hollering
atonally. Avarice was five, not toilet trained, and prone to tripping. I'd get
Marta novelty coffee from the Stinkbucks on Twenty-third and we'd drink it
together while Machinery and Avarice engaged in terrible, life-threatening play
with the other kids in the park.

"I showed Marta what I had, though I was tactful enough not to call it
*synthetic turtle penis*, because while Marta was earthy, she wasn't *that*
earthy and, truth be told, it got me kinda hot to watch her long, pale blue
fingers fondling the soft tissue, then triggering the circuit that hardened it.

"Then Machinery comes over and snatches the thing away from Marta and starts
pounding on Avarice, taking unholy glee in the way the stuff alternately
softened and stiffened as he squeezed it. Avarice wrestled it away from him and
tore off for a knot of kids and by the time I got there they were all crowded
around her, spellbound. I caught a cab back to my buddy's apartment and grabbed
all the Ardorite I could lay hands on and brought it back to the park and spent
the next couple hours running an impromptu focus group, watching the kids and
their bombshell nannies play with it. By the time that Marta touched my hand
with her long cool fingers and told me it was time for her to get the kids home
for their nap, I had twenty-five toy ideas, about eight different ways to use
the stuff for clothing fasteners, and a couple of miscellaneous utility uses,
like a portable crib.

"So I ran it down for my pal that afternoon over the phone, and he commed his
boss and I ended up eating Thanksgiving dinner at his boss's house in
Westchester."

"Weren't you worried he'd rip off your ideas and not pay you anything for them?"
Szandor's spellbound by the story, unconsciously unrolling and re-rolling an Ace
bandage.

"Didn't even cross my mind. Of course, he tried to do just that, but it wasn't
any good -- they were engineers; they had no idea how normal human beings
interact with their environments. The stuff wasn't self-revealing -- they added
a million cool features and a manual an inch thick. After prototyping for six
months, they called me in and offered me a two-percent royalty on any products I
designed for them."

"That musta been worth a fortune," says Szandor.

"You'd think so, wouldn't you? Actually, they folded before they shipped
anything. Blew through all their capital on R&D, didn't have anything left to
productize their tech with. But my buddy *did* get another gig with a company
that was working on new kitchen stuff made from one-way osmotic materials and he
showed them the stuff I'd done with the Ardorite and all of a sudden I had a
no-fooling career."

"Damn, that's cool."

"You betcha. It's all about being an advocate for the user. I observe what users
do and how they do it, figure out what they're trying to do, and then boss the
engineers around, getting them to remove the barriers they've erected because
engineers are all basically high-functioning autistics who have no idea how
normal people do stuff."

The doctor chuckles. "Look," he says, producing a nicotine pacifier, one of
those fake cigs that gives you the oral fix and the chemical fix and the habit
fix without the noxious smoke, "it's not my area of specialty, but you seem like
a basically sane individual, modulo your rooftop adventures. Certainly, you're
not like most of the people we've got here. What are you doing here?"

Doctor Szandor is young, younger even than me, I realize. Maybe twenty-six. I
can see some fancy tattoo-work poking out of the collar of his shirt, see some
telltale remnant of a fashionable haircut in his grown-out shag. He's got to be
the youngest staff member I've met here, and he's got a fundamentally different
affect from the zombies in the lab coats who maintain the zombies in the felt
slippers.

So I tell him my story, the highlights, anyway. The more I tell him about Linda
and Fede, the dumber my own actions sound to me.

"Why the hell did you stick with this Linda anyway?" Szandor says, sucking on
his pacifier.

"The usual reasons, I guess," I say, squirming.

"Lemme tell you something," he says. He's got his feet up on the table now,
hands laced behind his neck. "It's the smartest thing my dad ever said to me,
just as my high-school girl and me were breaking up before I went away to med
school. She was nice enough, but, you know, *unstable.* I'd gotten to the point
where I ducked and ran for cover every time she disagreed with me, ready for her
to lose her shit.

"So my dad took me aside, put his arm around me, and said, 'Szandor, you know I
like that girlfriend of yours, but she is crazy. Not a little crazy, really
crazy. Maybe she won't be crazy forever, but if she gets better, it won't be
because of you. Trust me, I know this. You can't fuck a crazy girl sane, son.'"

I can't help smiling. "Truer words," I say. "But harsh."

"Harsh is relative," he says. "Contrast it with, say, getting someone committed
on trumped-up evidence."

It dawns on me that Doc Szandor believes me. "It dawns on me that you believe
me."

He gnaws fitfully at his pacifier. "Well, why not? You're not any crazier than I
am, that much is clear to me. You have neat ideas. Your story's plausible
enough."

I get excited. "Is this your *professional* opinion?"

"Sorry, no. I am not a mental health professional, so I don't have professional
opinions on your mental health. It is, however, my amateur opinion."

"Oh, well."

"So where are you at now, vis-a-vis the hospital?"

"Well, they don't tell me much, but as near as I can make out, I am stuck here
semipermanently. The court found me incompetent and ordered me held until I was.
I can't get anyone to explain what competency consists of, or how I achieve it
-- when I try, I get accused of being 'difficult.' Of course, escaping onto the
roof is a little beyond difficult. I have a feeling I'm going to be in pretty
deep shit. Do they know about the car?"

"The car?"

"In the parking lot. The one that blew up."

Doc Szandor laughs hard enough that his pacifier shoots across the room and
lands in a hazmat bucket. "You son of a bitch -- that was you?"

"Yeah," I say, and drum my feet against the tin cupboards under the examination
table.

"That was *my fucking car*!"

"Oh, Christ, I'm sorry," I say. "God."

"No no no," he says, fishing in his pocket and unwrapping a fresh pacifier.
"It's OK. Insurance. I'm getting a bike. Vroom, vroom! What a coincidence,
though," he says.

Coincidence. He's making disgusting hamster-cage noises, grinding away at his
pacifier. "Szandor, do you sometimes sneak out onto the landing to have a
cigarette? Use a bit of tinfoil for your ashtray? Prop the door open behind
you?"

"Why do you ask?"

"'Cause that's how I got out onto the roof."

"Oh, shit," he says.

"It's our secret," I say. "I can tell them I don't know how I got out. I'm
incompetent, remember?"

"You're a good egg, Art," he says. "How the hell are we going to get you out of
here?"

"Hey what?"

"No, really. There's no good reason for you to be here, right? You're occupying
valuable bed space."

"Well, I appreciate the sentiment, but I have a feeling that as soon as you turn
me loose, I'm gonna be doped up to the tits for a good long while."

He grimaces. "Right, right. They like their meds. Are your parents alive?"

"What? No, they're both dead."

"Aha. Died suddenly?"

"Yeah. Dad drowned, Mom fell --"

"Ah ah ah! Shhh. Mom died suddenly. She was taking Haldol when it happened, a
low antianxiety dose, right?"

"Huh?"

"Probably she was. Probably she had a terrible drug interaction. Sudden Death
Syndrome. It's hereditary. And you say she fell? Seizure. We'll sign you up for
a PET scan, that'll take at least a month to set up. You could be an epileptic
and not even know it. Shaking the radioisotopes loose for the scan from the AEC,
woah, that's a week's worth of paperwork right there! No Thorazine for you young
man, not until we're absolutely sure it won't kill you dead where you stand. The
hospital counsel gave us all a very stern lecture on this very subject not a
month ago. I'll just make some notes in your medical history." He picked up his
comm and scribbled.

"Never woulda thought of that," I say. "I'm impressed."

"It's something I've been playing with for a while now. I think that psychiatric
care is a good thing, of course, but it could be better implemented. Taking away
prescription pads would be a good start."

"Or you could keep public stats on which doctors had prescribed how much of what
and how often. Put 'em on a chart in the ward where the patients' families could
see 'em."

"That's *nasty*!" he says. "I love it. We're supposed to be accountable, right?
What else?"

"Give the patients a good reason to wear their tracking bracelets: redesign them
so they gather stats on mobility and vitals and track them against your meds and
other therapies. Create a dating service that automatically links patients who
respond similarly to therapies so they can compare notes. Ooh, by comparing with
location data from other trackers, you could get stats on which therapies make
people more sociable, just by counting the frequency with which patients stop
and spend time in proximity to other patients. It'd give you empirical data with
which you track your own progress."

"This is great stuff. Damn! How do you do that?"

I feel a familiar swelling of pride. I like it when people understand how good I
am at my job. Working at V/DT was hard on my ego: after all, my job there was to
do a perfectly rotten job, to design the worst user experiences that
plausibility would allow. God, did I really do that for two whole goddamned
years?

"It's my job," I say, and give a modest shrug.

"What do you charge for work like that?"

"Why, are you in the market?"

"Who knows? Maybe after I figure out how to spring you, we can go into biz
together, redesigning nuthatches."

22.

Linda's first meeting with Art's Gran went off without a hitch. Gran met them at
Union Station with an obsolete red cap who was as ancient as she was, a vestige
of a more genteel era of train travel and bulky luggage. Just seeing him made
Art's brain whir with plans for conveyor systems, luggage escalators, cart
dispensers. They barely had enough luggage between the two of them to make it
worth the old man's time, but he dutifully marked their bags with a stub of
chalk and hauled them onto his cart, then trundled off to the service elevators.

Gran gave Art a long and teary hug. She was less frail than she'd been in his
memory, taller and sturdier. The smell of her powder and the familiar acoustics
of Union Station's cavernous platform whirled him back to his childhood in
Toronto, to the homey time before he'd gotten on the circadian merry-go-round.

"Gran, this is Linda," he said.

"Oh, it's so *nice* to meet you," Gran said, taking Linda's hands in hers. "Call
me Julie."

Linda smiled a great, pretty, toothy smile. "Julie, Art's told me all about you.
I just *know* we'll be great friends."

"I'm sure we will. Are you hungry? Did they feed you on the train? You must be
exhausted after such a long trip. Which would you rather do first, eat or rest?"

"Well, *I'm* up for seeing the town," Linda said. "Your grandson's been yawning
his head off since Buffalo, though." She put her arm around his waist and
squeezed his tummy.

"What a fantastic couple you make," Gran said. "You didn't tell me she was so
*pretty*, Arthur!"

"Here it comes," Art said. "She's going to ask about great-grandchildren."

"Don't be silly," Gran said, cuffing him gently upside the head. "You're always
exaggerating."

"Well *I* think it's a splendid idea," Linda said. "Shall we have two? Three?
Four?"

"Make it ten," Art said, kissing her cheek.

"Oh, I couldn't have ten," Linda said. "But five is a nice compromise. Five it
will be. We'll name the first one Julie if it's a girl, or Julius if it's a
boy."

"Oh, we *are* going to get along," Gran said, and led them up to the curb, where
the red cap had loaded their bags into a cab.

They ate dinner at Lindy's on Yonge Street, right in the middle of the sleaze
strip. The steakhouse had been there for the better part of a century, and its
cracked red-vinyl booths and thick rib eyes smothered in horseradish and HP
Sauce were just as Art had remembered. Riding up Yonge Street, the city lights
had seemed charming and understated; even the porn marquees felt restrained
after a week in New York. Art ate a steak as big as his head and fell into a
postprandial torpor whence he emerged only briefly to essay a satisfied belch.
Meanwhile, Gran and Linda nattered away like old friends, making plans for the
week: the zoo, the island, a day trip to Niagara Falls, a ride up the CN Tower,
all the touristy stuff that Art had last done in elementary school.

By the time Art lay down in his bed, belly tight with undigested steak, he was
feeling wonderful and at peace with the world. Linda climbed in beside him,
wrestled away a pillow and some covers, and snuggled up to him.

"That went well," Art said. "I'm really glad you two hit it off."

"Me too, honey," Linda said, kissing his shoulder through his tee shirt. He'd
been able to get his head around the idea of sharing a bed with his girlfriend
under his grandmother's roof, but doing so nude seemed somehow wrong.

"We're going to have a great week," he said. "I wish it would never end."

"Yeah," she said, and began to snore into his neck.

The next morning, Art woke stiff and serene. He stretched out on the bed, dimly
noted Linda's absence, and padded to the bathroom to relieve his bladder. He
thought about crawling back into bed, was on the verge of doing so, when he
heard the familiar, nervewracking harangue of Linda arguing down her comm. He
opened the door to his old bedroom and there she was, stark naked and beautiful
in the morning sun, comm in hand, eyes focused in the middle distance, shouting.

"No, goddamnit, no! Not here. Jesus, are you a moron? I said *no*!"

Art reached out to touch her back, noticed that it was trembling, visibly tense
and rigid, and pulled his hand back. Instead, he quietly set about fishing in
his small bag for a change of clothes.

"This is *not* a good time. I'm at Art's grandmother's place, all right? I'll
talk to you later." She threw her comm at the bed and whirled around.

"Everything all right?" Art said timidly.

"No, goddamnit, no it isn't."

Art pulled on his pants and kept his eyes on her comm, which was dented and
scratched from a hundred thousand angry hang ups. He hated it when she got like
this, radiating anger and spoiling for a fight.

"I'm going to have to go, I think," she said.

"Go?"

"To California. That was my fucking ex again. I need to go and sort things out
with him."

"Your ex knows who I am?"

She looked blank.

"You told him you were at my grandmother's place. He knows who I am?"

"Yeah," she said. "He does. I told him, so he'd get off my back."

"And you have to go to California?"

"Today. I have to go to California today."

"Jesus, today? We just got here!"

"Look, you've got lots of catching up to do with your Gran and your friends
here. You won't even miss me. I'll go for a couple days and then come back."

"If you gotta go," he said.

"I gotta go."

He explained things as best as he could to Gran while Linda repacked her
backpack, and then saw Linda off in a taxi. She was already savaging her comm,
booking a ticket to LA. He called Fede from the condo's driveway.

"Hey, Art! How's Toronto?"

"How'd you know I was in Toronto?" Art said, but he knew, he *knew* then, though
he couldn't explain how he knew, he knew that Linda and Fede had been talking.
He *knew* that Linda had been talking to Fede that morning, and not her fucking
ex (God, he was thinking of the poor schmuck that way already, "fucking ex").
Christ, it was *five in the morning* on the West Coast. It couldn't be the ex.
He just knew.

"Lucky guess," Fede said breezily. "How is it?"

"Oh, terrific. Great to see the old hometown and all. How're things with
Perceptronics? When should I plan on being back in Boston?"

"Oh, it's going all right, but slow. Hurry up and wait, right? Look, don't worry
about it, just relax there, I'll call you when the deal's ready and you'll go
back to Boston and we'll sort it out and it'll all be fantastic and don't worry,
really, all right?"

"Fine, Fede." Art wasn't listening any more. Fede had gone into bullshit mode,
and all Art was thinking of was why Linda would talk to Fede and then book a
flight to LA. "How're things in London?" he said automatically.

"Fine, fine," Fede said, just as automatically. "Not the same without you, of
course."

"Of course," Art said. "Well, bye then."

"Bye," Fede said.

Art felt an unsuspected cunning stirring within him. He commed Linda, in her
cab. "Hey, dude," he said.

"Hey," she said, sounding harassed.

"Look, I just spoke to my Gran and she's really upset you had to go. She really
liked you."

"Well, I liked her, too."

"Great. Here's the thing," he said, and drew in a breath. "Gran made you a
sweater. She made me one, too. She's a knitter. She wanted me to send it along
after you. It looks pretty good. So, if you give me your ex's address, I can
FedEx it there and you can get it."

There was a lengthy pause. "Why don't I just pick it up when I see you again?"
Linda said, finally.

*Gotcha*, Art thought. "Well, I know that'd be the *sensible* thing, but my
Gran, I dunno, she really wants me to do this. It'd make her so happy."

"I dunno -- my ex might cut it up or something."

"Oh, I'm sure he wouldn't do that. I could just schedule the delivery for after
you arrive, that way you can sign for it. What do you think?"

"I really don't think --"

"Come on, Linda, I know it's nuts, but it's my Gran. She *really* likes you."

Linda sighed. "Let me comm you the address, OK?"

"Thanks, Linda," Art said, watching the address in Van Nuys scroll onto his
comm's screen. "Thanks a bunch. Have a great trip -- don't let your ex get you
down."

Now, armed with Linda's fucking ex's name, Art went to work. He told Gran he had
some administrative chores to catch up on for an hour or two, promised to have
supper with her and Father Ferlenghetti that night, and went out onto the
condo's sundeck with his keyboard velcroed to his thigh.

Trepan: Hey!

Colonelonic: Trepan! Hey, what's up? I hear you're back on the East Coast!

Trepan: True enough. Back in Toronto. How's things with you?

Colonelonic: Same as ever. Trying to quit the dayjob.

Trepan: /private Colonelonic Are you still working at Merril-Lynch?

## Colonelonic (private): Yeah.

Trepan: /private Colonelonic Still got access to Lexus-Nexus?

## Colonelonic (private): Sure -- but they're on our asses about abusing the
accounts. Every search is logged and has to be accounted for.

Trepan: /private Colonelonic Can you get me background on just one guy?

## Colonelonic (private): Who is he? Why?

Trepan: /private Colonelonic It's stupid. I think that someone I know is about
to go into biz with him, and I don't trust him. I'm probably just being
paranoid, but...

## Colonelonic (private): I don't know, man. Is it really important?

Trepan: /private Colonelonic Oh, crap, look. It's my girlfriend. I think she's
screwing this guy. I just wanna get an idea of who he is, what he does, you
know.

## Colonelonic (private): Heh. That sucks. OK -- check back in a couple hours.
There's a guy across the hall who never logs out of his box when he goes to
lunch. I'll sneak in there and look it up on his machine.

Trepan: /private Colonelonic Kick ass. Thanks.

##Transferring addressbook entry "Toby Ginsburg" to Colonelonic. Receipt
confirmed.

Trepan: /private Colonelonic Thanks again!

## Colonelonic (private): Check in with me later -- I'll have something for you
then.

Art logged off, flushed with triumph. Whatever Fede and Linda were cooking up,
he'd get wise to it and then he'd nail 'em. What the hell was it, though?

23.

My cousins visited me a week after I arrived at the nuthouse. I'd never been
very close to them, and certainly our relationship had hardly blossomed during
the week I spent in Toronto, trying to track down Linda and Fede's plot.

I have two cousins. They're my father's sister's kids, and I didn't even meet
them until I was about twenty and tracking down my family history. They're
Ottawa Valley kids, raised on government-town pork, aging hippie muesli, and
country-style corn pone. It's a weird mix, and we've never had a conversation
that I would consider a success. Ever met a violent, aggressive hippie with an
intimate knowledge of whose genitals one must masticate in order to get a
building permit or to make a pot bust vanish? It ain't pretty.

Cousin the first is Audie. She's a year older than me, and she's the smart one
on that side of the family, the one who ended up at Queen's University for a BS
in Electrical Engineering and an MA in Poli Sci, and even so finished up back in
Ottawa, freelancing advice to clueless MPs dealing with Taiwanese and Sierra
Leonese OEM importers. Audie's married to a nice fella whose name I can never
remember and they're gonna have kids in five years; it's on a timetable that she
actually showed me once when I went out there on biz and stopped in to see her
at the office.

Cousin the second is Alphie -- three years younger than me, raised in the shadow
of his overachieving sister, he was the capo of Ottawa Valley script kiddies, a
low-rent hacker who downloaded other people's code for defeating copyright
use-control systems and made a little biz for himself bootlegging games, porn,
music and video, until the WIPO bots found him through traffic analysis and
busted his ass, bankrupting him and landing him in the clink for sixty days.

Audie and Alfie are blond and ruddy and a little heavyset, all characteristics
they got from their father's side, so add that to the fact that I grew up
without being aware of their existence and you'll understand the absence of any
real fellow-feeling for them. I don't dislike them, but I have so little in
common with them that it's like hanging out with time travelers from the
least-interesting historical era imaginable.

But they came to Boston and looked me up in the nuthatch.

They found me sitting on the sofa in the ward, post-Group, arms and ankles
crossed, dozing in a shaft of sunlight. It was my habitual napping spot, and I
found that a nap between Group and dinner was a good way to sharpen my appetite
and anasthetize my taste buds, which made the mealtime slop bearable.

Audie shook my shoulder gently. I assumed at first that she was one of the
inmates trying to get me involved in a game of Martian narco-checkers, so I
brushed her hand away.

"They've probably got him all doped up," Audie said. The voice was familiar and
unplaceable and so I cracked my eyelid, squinting up at her silhouette in the
afternoon sun. "There he is," she said. "Come on, up and at 'em, tiger."

I sat up abruptly and scrubbed at my eyes. "Audie?" I asked.

"Yup. And Alphie." Alphie's pink face hove into view.

"Hi, Art," he mumbled.

"Jesus," I said, getting to my feet. Audie put out a superfluous steadying hand.
"Wow."

"Surprised?" Audie said.

"Yeah!" I said. Audie thrust a bouquet of flowers into my arms. "What are you
doing here?"

"Oh, your grandmother told me you were here. I was coming down to Boston for
work anyway, so I flew in a day early so I could drop in. Alphie came down with
me -- he's my assistant now."

I almost said something about convicted felons working for government
contractors, but I held onto my tongue. Consequently, an awkward silence
blossomed.

"Well," Audie said, at last. "Well! Let's have a look at you, then." She
actually took a lap around me, looking me up and down, making little noises.
"You look all right, Art. Maybe a little skinny, even. Alphie's got a box of
cookies for you." Alphie stepped forward and produced the box, a family pack of
President's Choice Ridiculous Chocoholic Extra Chewies, a Canadian store brand
I'd been raised on. Within seconds of seeing them, my mouth was sloshing with
saliva.

"It's good to see you, Audie, Alphie." I managed to say it without spitting, an
impressive feat, given the amount of saliva I was contending with. "Thanks for
the care package."

We stared at each other blankly.

"So, Art," Alphie said, "So! How do you like it here?"

"Well, Alphie," I said. "I can't say as I do, really. As far as I can tell, I'm
sane as I've ever been. It's just a bunch of unfortunate coincidences and bad
judgment that got me here." I refrain from mentioning Alphie's propensity for
lapses in judgment.

"Wow," Alphie said. "That's a bummer. We should do something, you know, Audie?"

"Not really my area of expertise," Audie said in clipped tones. "I would if I
could, you know that, right Art? We're family, after all."

"Oh, sure," I say magnanimously. But now that I'm looking at them, my cousins
who got into a thousand times more trouble than I ever did, driving drunk,
pirating software, growing naughty smokables in the backyard, and got away from
it unscathed, I feel a stirring of desperate hope. "Only..."

"Only what?" Alphie said.

"Only, maybe, Audie, do you think you could, that is, if you've got the time, do
you think you could have a little look around and see if any of your contacts
could maybe set me up with a decent lawyer who might be able to get my case
reheard? Or a shrink, for that matter? Something? 'Cause frankly it doesn't
really seem like they're going to let me go, ever. Ever."

Audie squirmed and glared at her brother. "I don't really know anyone that fits
the bill," she said at last.

"Well, not *firsthand,* sure, why would you? You wouldn't." I thought that I was
starting to babble, but I couldn't help myself. "You wouldn't. But maybe there's
someone that someone you know knows who can do something about it? I mean, it
can't hurt to ask around, can it?"

"I suppose it can't," she said.

"Wow," I said, "that would just be fantastic, you know. Thanks in advance,
Audie, really, I mean it, just for trying, I can't thank you enough. This place,
well, it really sucks."

There it was, hanging out, my desperate and pathetic plea for help. Really,
there was nowhere to go but down from there. Still, the silence stretched and
snapped and I said, "Hey, speaking of, can I offer you guys a tour of the ward?
I mean, it's not much, but it's home."

So I showed them: the droolers and the fondlers and the pukers and my horrible
little room and the scarred ping-pong table and the sticky decks of cards and
the meshed-in TV. Alphie actually seemed to dig it, in a kind of horrified way.
He started comparing it to the new Kingston Pen, where he'd done his six-month
bit. After seeing the first puker, Audie went quiet and thin-lipped, leaving
nothing but Alphie's enthusiastic gurgling as counterpoint to my tour.

"Art," Audie said finally, desperately, "do you think they'd let us take you out
for a cup of coffee or a walk around the grounds?"

I asked. The nurse looked at a comm for a while, then shook her head.

"Nope," I reported. "They need a day's notice of off-ward supervised
excursions."

"Well, too bad," Audie said. I understood her strategy immediately. "Too bad.
Nothing for it, then. Guess we should get back to our hotel." I planted a dry
kiss on her cheek, shook Alphie's sweaty hand, and they were gone. I skipped
supper that night and ate cookies until I couldn't eat another bite of rich
chocolate.

#

"Got a comm?" I ask Doc Szandor, casually.

"What for?"

"Wanna get some of this down. The ideas for the hospital. Before I go back out
on the ward." And it *is* what I want to do, mostly. But the temptation to just
log on and do my thing -- oh!

"Sure," he says, checking his watch. "I can probably stall them for a couple
hours more. Feel free to make a call or whatever, too."

Doc Szandor's a good egg.

24.

Father Ferlenghetti showed up at Art's Gran's at 7PM, just as the sun began to
set over the lake, and Art and he shared lemonade on Gran's sunporch and watched
as the waves on Lake Ontario turned harshly golden.

"So, Arthur, tell me, what are you doing with your life?" the Father said. He
had grown exquisitely aged, almost translucent, since Art had seen him last. In
his dog collar and old-fashioned aviator's shades, he looked like a waxworks
figure.

Art had forgotten all about the Father's visit until Gran stepped out of her
superheated kitchen to remind him. He'd hastily showered and changed into fresh
slacks and a mostly clean tee shirt, and had agreed to entertain the priest
while his Gran finished cooking supper. Now, he wished he'd signed up to do the
cooking.

"I'm working in London," he said. "The same work as ever, but for an English
firm."

"That's what your grandmother tells me. But is it making you happy? Is it what
you plan to do with the rest of your life?"

"I guess so," Art said. "Sure."

"You don't sound so sure," Father Ferlenghetti said.

"Well, the *work* part's excellent. The politics are pretty ugly, though, to
tell the truth."

"Ah. Well, we can't avoid politics, can we?"

"No, I guess we can't."

"Art, I've always known that you were a very smart young man, but being smart
isn't the same as being happy. If you're very lucky, you'll get to be my age and
you'll look back on your life and be glad you lived it."

Gran called him in for dinner before he could think of a reply. He settled down
at the table and Gran handed him a pen.

"What's this for?" he asked.

"Sign the tablecloth," she said. "Write a little something and sign it and date
it, nice and clear, please."

"Sign the tablecloth?"

"Yes. I've just started a fresh one. I have everyone sign my tablecloth and then
I embroider the signatures in, so I have a record of everyone who's been here
for supper. They'll make a nice heirloom for your children -- I'll show you the
old ones after we eat."

"What should I write?"

"It's up to you."

While Gran and the Father looked on, Art uncapped the felt-tip pen and thought
and thought, his mind blank. Finally, he wrote, "For my Gran. No matter where I
am, I know you're thinking of me." He signed it with a flourish.

"Lovely. Let's eat now."

Art meant to log in and see if Colonelonic had dredged up any intel on Linda's
ex, but he found himself trapped on the sunporch with Gran and the Father and a
small stack of linen tablecloths hairy with embroidered wishes. He traced their
braille with his fingertips, recognizing the names of his childhood. Gran and
the Father talked late into the night, and the next thing Art knew, Gran was
shaking him awake. He was draped in a tablecloth that he'd pulled over himself
like a blanket, and she folded it and put it away while he ungummed his eyes and
staggered off to bed.

Audie called him early the next morning, waking him up.

"Hey, Art! It's your cousin!"

"Audie?"

"You don't have any other female cousins, so yes, that's a good guess. Your Gran
told me you were in Canada for a change."

"Yup, I am. Just for a little holiday."

"Well, it's been long enough. What do you do in London again?"

"I'm a consultant for Virgin/Deutsche Telekom." He has this part of the
conversation every time he speaks with Audie. Somehow, the particulars of his
job just couldn't seem to stick in her mind.

"What kind of consultant?"

"User experience. I help design their interactive stuff. How's Ottawa?"

"They pay you for that, huh? Well, nice work if you can get it."

Art believed that Audie was being sincere in her amazement at his niche in the
working world, and not sneering at all. Still, he had to keep himself from
saying something snide about the lack of tangible good resulting from keeping
MPs up to date on the poleconomy of semiconductor production in PacRim
sweatshops.

"They sure do. How's Ottawa?"

"Amazing. And why London? Can't you find work at home?"

"Yeah, I suppose I could. This just seemed like a good job at the time. How's
Ottawa?

"Seemed, huh? You going to be moving back, then? Quitting?"

"Not anytime soon. How's Ottawa?"

"Ottawa? It's beautiful this time of year. Alphie and Enoch and I were going to
go to the trailer for the weekend, in Calabogie. You could drive up and meet us.
Swim, hike. We've built a sweatlodge near the dock; you and Alphie could bake up
together."

"Wow," Art said, wishing he had Audie's gift for changing the subject. "Sounds
great. But. Well, you know. Gotta catch up with friends here in Toronto. It's
been a while, you know. Well." The image of sharing a smoke-filled dome with
Alphie's naked, cross-legged, sweat-slimed paunch had seared itself across his
waking mind.

"No? Geez. Too bad. I'd really hoped that we could reconnect, you and me and
Alphie. We really should spend some more time together, keep connected, you
know?"

"Well," Art said. "Sure. Yes." Relations or no, Audie and Alphie were basically
strangers to him, and it was beyond him why Audie thought they should be
spending time together, but there it was. *Reconnect, keep connected.* Hippies.
"We should. Next time I'm in Canada, for sure, we'll get together, I'll come to
Ottawa. Maybe Christmas. Skating on the canal, OK?"

"Very good," Audie said. "I'll pencil you in for Christmas week. Here, I'll send
you the wish lists for Alphie and Enoch and me, so you'll know what to get."

Xmas wishlists in July. Organized hippies! What planet did his cousins grow up
on, anyway?

"Thanks, Audie. I'll put together a wishlist and pass it along to you soon, OK?"
His bladder nagged at him. "I gotta run now, all right?"

"Great. Listen, Art, it's been, well, great to talk to you again. It really
makes me feel whole to connect with you. Don't be a stranger, all right?"

"Yeah, OK! Nice to talk to you, too. Bye!"

"Safe travels and wishes fulfilled," Audie said.

"You too!"

25.

Now I've got a comm, I hardly know what to do with it. Call Gran? Call Audie?
Call Fede? Login to an EST chat and see who's up to what?

How about the Jersey clients?

There's an idea. Give them everything, all the notes I built for Fede and his
damned patent application, sign over the exclusive rights to the patent for one
dollar and services rendered (i.e., getting me a decent lawyer and springing me
from this damned hole).

My last lawyer was a dickhead. He met me at the courtroom fifteen minutes before
the hearing, in a private room whose fixtures had the sticky filthiness of a
bus-station toilet. "Art, yes, hello, I'm Allan Mendelson, your attorney. How
are you?

He was well over 6'6", but weighed no more than 120 lbs and hunched over his
skinny ribs while he talked, dry-washing his hands. His suit looked like the
kind of thing you'd see on a Piccadilly Station homeless person, clean enough
and well-enough fitting, but with an indefinable air of cheapness and falsehood.

"Well, not so good," I said. "They upped my meds this morning, so I'm pretty
logy. Can't concentrate. They said it was to keep me calm while I was
transported. Dirty trick, huh?"

"What?" he'd been browsing through his comm, tapping through what I assumed was
my file. "No, no. It's perfectly standard. This isn't a trial, it's a hearing.
We're all on the same side, here." He tapped some more. "Your side."

"Good," Art said. "My grandmother came down, and she wants to testify on my
behalf."

"Oooh," the fixer said, shaking his head. "No, not a great idea. She's not a
mental health professional, is she?"

"No," I said. "But she's known me all my life. She knows I'm not a danger to
myself or others."

"Sorry, that's not appropriate. We all love our families, but the court wants to
hear from people who have qualified opinions on this subject. Your doctors will
speak, of course."

"Do I get to speak?"

"If you *really* want to. That's not a very good idea, either, though, I'm
afraid. If the judge wants to hear from you, she'll address you. Otherwise, your
best bet is to sit still, no fidgeting, look as sane and calm as you can."

I felt like I had bricks dangling from my limbs and one stuck in my brain. The
new meds painted the world with translucent whitewash, stuffed cotton in my ears
and made my tongue thick. Slowly, my brain absorbed all of this.

"You mean that my Gran can't talk, I can't talk, and all the court hears is the
doctors?"

"Don't be difficult, Art. This is a hearing to determine your competency. A
group of talented mental health professionals have observed you for the past
week and they've come to some conclusions based on those observations. If
everyone who came before the court for a competency hearing brought out a bunch
of irrelevant witnesses and made long speeches, the court calendar would be
backlogged for decades. Then other people who were in for observation wouldn't
be able to get their hearings. It wouldn't work for anyone. You see that,
right?"

"Not really. I really think it would be better if I got to testify on my behalf.
I have that right, don't I?"

He sighed and looked very put-upon. "If you insist, I'll call you to speak. But
as your lawyer, it's my professional opinion that you should *not* do this."

"I really would prefer to."

He snapped his comm shut. "I'll meet you in the courtroom, then. The bailiff
will take you in."

"Can you tell my Gran where I am? She's waiting in the court, I think."

"Sorry. I have other cases to cope with -- I can't really play messenger, I'm
afraid."

When he left the little office, I felt as though I'd been switched off. The
drugs weighted my eyelids and soothed my panic and outrage. Later, I'd be livid,
but right then I could barely keep from folding my arms on the grimy table and
resting my head on them.

The hearing went so fast I barely even noticed it. I sat with my lawyer and the
doctors stood up and entered their reports into evidence -- I don't think they
read them aloud, even, just squirted them at the court reporter. My Gran sat
behind me, on a chair that was separated from the court proper by a banister.
She had her hand on my shoulder the whole time, and it felt like an anvil there
to my dopey muscles.

"All right, Art," my jackass lawyer said, giving me a prod. "Here's your turn.
Stand up and keep it brief."

I struggled to my feet. The judge was an Asian woman about my age, a small round
head set atop a shapeless robe and perched on a high seat behind a high bench.

"Your Honor," I said. I didn't know what to say next. All my wonderful rhetoric
had fled me. The judge looked at me briefly, then went back to tapping her comm.
Maybe she was playing solitaire or looking at porn. "I asked to have a moment to
address the Court. My lawyer suggested that I not do this, but I insisted.

"Here's the thing. There's no way for me to win here. There's a long story about
how I got here. Basically, I had a disagreement with some of my coworkers who
were doing something that I thought was immoral. They decided that it would be
best for their plans if I was out of the way for a little while, so that I
couldn't screw them up, so they coopered this up, told the London police that
I'd gone nuts.

"So I ended up in an institution here for observation, on the grounds that I was
dangerously paranoid. When the people at the institution asked me about it, I
told them what had happened. Because I was claiming that the people who had me
locked up were conspiring to make me look paranoid, the doctors decided that I
*was* paranoid. But tell me, how could I demonstrate my non-paranoia? I mean, as
far as I can tell, the second I was put away for observation, I was guaranteed
to be found wanting. Nothing I could have said or done would have made a
difference."

The judge looked up from her comm and gave me another once-over. I was wearing
my best day clothes, which were my basic London shabby chic white shirt and gray
wool slacks and narrow blue tie. It looked natty enough in the UK, but I knew
that in the US it made me look like an overaged door-to-door Mormon. The judge
kept looking at me. *Call to action,* I thought. *End your speeches with a call
to action*. It was another bit of goofy West Coast Vulcan Mind Control, courtesy
of Linda's fucking ex.

"So here's what I wanted to do. I wanted to stand up here and let you know what
had happened to me and ask you for advice. If we assume for the moment that I'm
*not* crazy, how should I demonstrate that here in the court?"

The judge rolled her head from shoulder to shoulder, making glossy black
waterfalls of her hair. The whole hearing is very fuzzy for me, but that hair!
Who ever heard of a civil servant with good hair?

"Mr. Berry," she said, "I'm afraid I don't have much to tell you. It's my
responsibility to listen to qualified testimony and make a ruling. You haven't
presented any qualified testimony to support your position. In the absence of
such testimony, my only option is to remand you into the custody of the
Department of Mental Health until such time as a group of qualified
professionals see fit to release you." I expected her to bang a gavel, but
instead she just scritched at her comm and squirted the order at the court
reporter and I was led away.

I didn't even have a chance to talk to Gran.

26.

##Received address book entry "Toby Ginsburg" from Colonelonic.

## Colonelonic (private): This guy's up to something. Flew to Boston twice this
week. Put a down payment on a house in Orange County. _Big_ house. _Big_ down
payment. A car, too: vintage T-bird convertible. A gas burner! Bought CO2
credits for an entire year to go with it.

Trepan: /private Colonelonic Huh. Who's he working for?

## Colonelonic (private): Himself. He Federally incorporated last week,
something called "TunePay, Inc." He's the Chairman, but he's only a minority
shareholder. The rest of the common shares are held by a dummy corporation in
London. Couldn't get any details on that without using a forensic accounting
package, and that'd get me fired right quick.

Trepan: /private Colonelonic It's OK. I get the picture. I owe you one, all
right?

## Colonelonic (private): sweat.value==0 Are you going to tell me what this is
all about someday? Not some bullshit about your girlfriend?

Trepan: /private Colonelonic Heh. That part was true, actually. I'll tell you
the rest, maybe, someday. Not today, though. I gotta go to London.

Art's vision throbbed with his pulse as he jammed his clothes back into his
backpack with one hand while he booked a ticket to London on his comm with the
other. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he ordered the taxi while scribbling a
note to Gran on the smart-surface of her fridge.

He was verging on berserk by the time he hit airport security. The guard played
the ultrasound flashlight over him and looked him up and down with his goggles,
then had him walk through the chromatograph twice. Art tried to breathe calmly,
but it wasn't happening. He'd take two deep breaths, think about how he was yup,
calming down, pretty good, especially since he was going to London to confront
Fede about the fact that his friend had screwed him stabbed him in the back
using his girlfriend to distract him and meanwhile she was in Los Angeles
sleeping with her fucking ex who was going to steal his idea and sell it as his
own that fucking prick boning his girl right then almost certainly laughing
about poor old Art, dumbfuck stuck in Toronto with his thumb up his ass, oh Fede
was going to pay, that's right, he was -- and then he'd be huffing down his
nose, hyperventilating, really losing his shit right there.

The security guard finally asked him if he needed a doctor.

"No," Art said. "That's fine. I'm just upset. A friend of mine died suddenly and
I'm flying to London for the funeral." The guard seemed satisfied with this
explanation and let him pass, finally.

He fought the urge to get plastered on the flight and vibrated in his seat
instead, jiggling his leg until his seatmate -- an elderly businessman who'd
spent the flight thus far wrinkling his brow at a series of spreadsheets on his
comm -- actually put a hand on Art's knee and said, "Switch off the motor, son.
You're gonna burn it out if you idle it that high all the way to Gatwick."

Art nearly leapt out of his seat when the flight attendant wheeled up the
duty-free cart, bristling with novelty beakers of fantastically old whiskey
shaped like jigging Scotchmen and drunken leprechauns swinging from lampposts.

By the time he hit UK customs he was supersonic, ready to hammer an entire
packet of Player's filterless into his face and light them with a blowtorch. It
wasn't even 0600h GMT, and the Sikh working the booth looked three-quarters
asleep under his turban, but he woke right up when Art stepped past the red line
and slapped both palms on the counter and used them as a lever to support him as
he pogoed in place.

"Your business in England, sir?"

"I work for Virgin/Deutsche Telekom. Let me beam you my visa." His hands were
shaking so badly he dropped his comm to the hard floor with an ominous clatter.
He snatched it up and rubbed at the fresh dent in the cover, then flipped it
open and stabbed at it with a filthy fingernail.

"Thank you, sir. Door number two, please."

Art took one step towards the baggage carousel when the words registered.
Customs search! Godfuckingdammit! He jittered in the private interview room
until another Customs officer showed up, overrode his comm and read in his ID
and credentials, then stared at them for a long moment.

"Are you quite all right, sir?"

"Just a little wound up," Art said, trying desperately to sound normal. He
thought about telling the dead friend story again, but unlike a lowly airport
security drone, the Customs man had the ability and inclination to actually
verify it. "Too much coffee on the plane. Need to have a slash like you wouldn't
believe."

The Customs man grimaced slightly, then chewed a corner of his little moustache.
"Everything else is all right, though?"

"Everything's fine. Back from a business trip to the States and Canada, all
jetlagged. You know. Can you believe the bastards actually expect me at the
office today?" This might work. Piss and moan about the office until he gets
bored and lets him go. "I mean, you work your guts out, fly halfway around the
world and do it some more, get strapped into a torture seat -- you think Virgin
springs for business-class tickets for its employees? Hell no! -- for six hours,
then they want you at the goddamned office."

"Virgin?" the Customs man said, eyebrows going up. "But you flew in on BA, sir."

Shit. Of course he hadn't booked a Virgin flight. That's what Fede'd be
expecting him to do, he'd be watching for Art to use his employee discount and
hop a flight back. "Yes, can you believe it?" Art thought furiously. "They
called me back suddenly, wouldn't even let me wait around for one of their own
damned planes. One minute I'm eating breakfast, the next I'm in a taxi heading
for the airport. I forgot half of my damned underwear in the hotel room! You'd
think they could cope with *one little problem* without crawling up my cock,
wouldn't you?"

"Sir, please, calm down." The Customs man looked alarmed and Art realized that
he'd begun to pace.

"Sorry, sorry. It just sucks. Bad job. Time to quit, I think."

"I should think so," the Customs man said. "Welcome to England."

Traffic was early-morning light and the cabbie drove like a madman. Art kept
flinching away from the oncoming traffic, already unaccustomed to driving on the
wrong side of the road. England seemed filthy and gray and shabby to him now,
tiny little cars with tiny, anal-retentive drivers filled with self-loathing,
vegetarian meat-substitutes and bad dentistry. In his rooms in Camden Town, Art
took a hasty and vengeful census of his stupid belongings, sagging rental
furniture and bad art prints hanging askew (not any more, not after he smashed
them to the floor). Bad English clothes (toss 'em onto the floor, looking for
one thing he'd be caught dead wearing in NYC, and guess what, not a single
thing). Stupid keepsakes from the Camden market, funny novelty lighters, retro
rave flyers preserved in glassine envelopes.

He was about to overturn his ugly little pressboard coffee table when he
realized that there was something on it.

A small, leather-worked box with a simple brass catch. Inside, the axe-head. Two
hundred thousand years old. Heavy with the weight of the ages. He hefted it in
his hand. It felt ancient and lethal. He dropped it into his jacket pocket,
instantly deforming the jacket into a stroke-y left-hanging slant. He kicked the
coffee table over.

Time to go see Fede.

27.

I have wished for a comm a hundred thousand times an hour since they stuck me in
this shithole, and now that I have one, I don't know who to call. Not smart. Not
happy.

I run my fingers over the keypad, think about all the stupid, terrible decisions
that I made on the way to this place in my life. I feel like I could burst into
tears, like I could tear the hair out of my head, like I could pound my fists
bloody on the floor. My fingers, splayed over the keypad, tap out the old
nervous rhythms of the phone numbers I've know all my life, my first house, my
Mom's comm, Gran's place.

Gran. I tap out her number and hit the commit button. I put the phone to my
head.

"Gran?"

"Arthur?"

"Oh, Gran!"

"Arthur, I'm so worried about you. I spoke to your cousins yesterday, they tell
me you're not doing so good there."

"No, no I'm not." The stitches in my jaw throb in counterpoint with my back.

"I tried to explain it all to Father Ferlenghetti, but I didn't have the details
right. He said it didn't make any sense."

"It doesn't. They don't care. They've just put me here."

"He said that they should have let you put your own experts up when you had your
hearing."

"Well, of *course* they should have."

"No, he said that they *had* to, that it was the law in Massachusetts. He used
to live there, you know."

"I didn't know."

"Oh yes, he had a congregation in Newton. That was before he moved to Toronto.
He seemed very sure of it."

"Why was he living in Newton?"

"Oh, he moved there after university. He's a Harvard man, you know."

"I think you've got that wrong. Harvard doesn't have a divinity school."

"No, this was *after* divinity school. He was doing a psychiatry degree at
Harvard."

Oh, my.

"Oh, my."

"What is it, Arthur?"

"Do you have Father Ferlenghetti's number, Gran?"

28.

Tonaishah's Kubrick-figure facepaint distorted into wild grimaces when Art
banged into O'Malley House, raccoon-eyed with sleepdep, airline crud crusted at
the corners of his lips, whole person quivering with righteous smitefulness. He
commed the door savagely and yanked it so hard that the gas-lift snapped with a
popping sound like a metal ruler being whacked on a desk. The door caromed back
into his heel and nearly sent him sprawling, but he converted its momentum into
a jog through the halls to his miniature office -- the last three times he'd
spoken to Fede, the bastard had been working out of his office -- stealing his
papers, no doubt, though that hadn't occurred to Art until his plane was
somewhere over Ireland.

Fede was halfway out of Art's chair when Art bounded into the office. Fede's
face was gratifyingly pale, his eyes thoroughly wide and scared. Art didn't
bother to slow down, just slammed into Fede, bashing foreheads with him. Art
smelled a puff of his own travel sweat and Fede's spicy Lilac Vegetal, saw blood
welling from Fede's eyebrow.

"Hi, pal!" he said, kicking the door shut with a crash that resounded through
the paper-thin walls.

"Art! Jesus fucking Christ, what the hell is wrong with you?" Fede backed away
to the far corner of the office, sending Art's chair over backwards, wheels
spinning, ergonomic adjustment knobs and rods sticking up in the air like the
legs of an overturned beetle.

"TunePay, Inc.?" Art said, booting the chair into Fede's shins. "Is that the
best fucking name you could come up with? Or did Toby and Linda cook it up?"

Fede held his hands out, palms first. "What are you talking about, buddy? What's
wrong with you?"

Art shook his head slowly. "Come on, Fede, it's time to stop blowing smoke up my
cock."

"I honestly have no idea --"

"*Bullshit!*" Art bellowed, closing up with Fede, getting close enough to see
the flecks of spittle flying off his lips spatter Fede's face. "I've had enough
bullshit, Fede!"

Abruptly, Fede lurched forward, sweeping Art's feet out from underneath him and
landing on Art's chest seconds after Art slammed to the scratched and splintered
hardwood floor. He pinned Art's arms under his knees, then leaned forward and
crushed Art's windpipe with his forearm, bearing down.

"You dumb sack of shit," he hissed. "We were going to cut you in, after it was
done. We knew you wouldn't go for it, but we were still going to cut you in --
you think that was your little whore's idea? No, it was mine! I stuck up for
you! But not anymore, you hear? Not anymore. You're through. Jesus, I gave you
this fucking job! I set up the deal in Cali. Fuck-off heaps of money! I'm
through with you, now. You're done. I'm ratting you out to V/DT, and I'm flying
to California tonight. Enjoy your deportation hearing, you dumb Canuck
boy-scout."

Art's vision had contracted to a fuzzy black vignette with Fede's florid face in
the center of it. He gasped convulsively, fighting for air. He felt his bladder
go, and hot urine stream down his groin and over his thighs.

An instant later, Fede sprang back from him, face twisted in disgust, hands
brushing at his urine-stained pants. "Damn it," he said, as Art rolled onto his
side and retched. Art got up on all fours, then lurched erect. As he did, the
axe head in his pocket swung wildly and knocked against the glass pane beside
his office's door, spiderwebbing it with cracks.

Moving with dreamlike slowness, Art reached into his pocket, clasped the axe
head, turned it in his hand so that the edge was pointing outwards. He lifted it
out of his pocket and held his hand behind his back. He staggered to Fede, who
was glaring at him, daring him to do something, his chest heaving.

Art windmilled his arm over his head and brought the axe head down solidly on
Fede's head. It hit with an impact that jarred his arm to the shoulder, and he
dropped the axe head to the floor, where it fell with a thud, crusted with blood
and hair for the first time in 200,000 years.

Fede crumpled back into the office's wall, slid down it into a sitting position.
His eyes were open and staring. Blood streamed over his face.

Art looked at Fede in horrified fascination. He noticed that Fede was breathing
shallowly, almost panting, and realized dimly that this meant he wasn't a
murderer. He turned and fled the office, nearly bowling Tonaishah over in the
corridor.

"Call an ambulance," he said, then shoved her aside and fled O'Malley House and
disappeared into the Piccadilly lunchtime crowd.

29.

I am: sprung.

Father Ferlenghetti hasn't been licensed to practice psychiatry in Massachusetts
for forty years, but the court gave him standing. The judge actually winked at
me when he took the stand, and stopped scritching on her comm as the priest said
a lot of fantastically embarrassing things about my general fitness for human
consumption.

The sanitarium sent a single junior doc to my hearing, a kid so young I'd
mistaken him for a hospital driver when he climbed into the van with me and
gunned the engine. But no, he was a doctor who'd apparently been briefed on my
case, though not very well. When the judge asked him if he had any opinions on
Father Ferlenghetti's testimony, he fumbled with his comm while the Father
stared at him through eyebrows thick enough to hide a hamster in, then finally
stammered a few verbatim notes from my intake interview, blushed, and sat down.

"Thank you," the judge said, shaking her head as she said it. Gran, seated
beside me, put one hand on my knee and one hand on the knee of Doc Szandor's
brother-in-law, a hotshot Harvard Law post-doc whom we'd retained as corporate
counsel for a new Limited Liability Corporation. We'd signed the articles of
incorporation the day before, after Group. It was the last thing Doc Szandor did
before resigning his post at the sanitarium to take up the position of Chief
Medical Officer at HumanCare, LLC, a corporation with no assets, no employees,
and a sheaf of shitkicking ideas for redesigning mental hospitals using
off-the-shelf tech and a little bit of UE mojo.

30.

Art was most of the way to the Tube when he ran into Lester. Literally.

Lester must have seen him coming, because he stepped right into Art's path from
out of the crowd. Art ploughed into him, bounced off of his dented armor, and
would have fallen over had Lester not caught his arm and steadied him.

"Art, isn't it? How you doin', mate?"

Art gaped at him. He was thinner than he'd been when he tried to shake Art and
Linda down in the doorway of the Boots, grimier and more desperate. His tone was
just as bemused as ever, though. "Jesus Christ, Lester, not now, I'm in a hurry.
You'll have to rob me later, all right?"

Lester chuckled wryly. "Still a clever bastard. You look like you're having some
hard times, my old son. Maybe that you're not even worth robbing, eh?"

"Right. I'm skint. Sorry. Nice running into you, now I must be going." He tried
to pull away, but Lester's fingers dug into his biceps, emphatically, painfully.

"Hear you ran into Tom, led him a merry chase. You know, I spent a whole week in
the nick on account of you."

Art jerked his arm again, without effect. "You tried to rob me, Les. You knew
the job was dangerous when you took it, all right? Now let me go -- I've got a
train to catch."

"Holidays? How sweet. Thought you were broke, though?"

A motorized scooter pulled up in the kerb lane beside them. It was piloted by a
smart young policewoman with a silly foam helmet and outsized pads on her knees
and elbows. She looked like the kid with the safety-obsessed mom who inflicts
criminally dorky fashions on her daughter, making her the neighborhood
laughingstock.

"Everything all right, gentlemen?"

Lester's eyes closed, and he sighed a put-upon sigh that was halfway to a groan.

"Oh, yes, officer," Art said. "Peter and I were just making some plans to see
our auntie for supper tonight."

Lester opened his eyes, then the corners of his mouth incremented upwards.
"Yeah," he said. "'Sright. Cousin Alphonse is here all the way from Canada and
Auntie's mad to cook him a proper English meal."

The policewoman sized them up, then shook her head. "Sir, begging your pardon,
but I must tell you that we have clubs in London where a gentleman such as
yourself can find a young companion, legally. We thoroughly discourage making
such arrangements on the High Street. Just a word to the wise, all right?"

Art blushed to his eartips. "Thank you, Officer," he said with a weak smile.
"I'll keep that in mind."

The constable gave Lester a hard look, then revved her scooter and pulled into
traffic, her arm slicing the air in a sharp turn signal.

"Well," Lester said, once she was on the roundabout, "*Alphonse*, seems like
you've got reason to avoid the law, too."

"Can't we just call it even? I did you a favor with the law, you leave me be?"

"Oh, I don't know. P'raps I should put in a call to our friend PC McGivens. He
already thinks you're a dreadful tosser -- if you've reason to avoid the law,
McGivens'd be bad news indeed. And the police pay very well for the right
information. I'm a little financially embarrassed, me, just at this moment."

"All right," Art said. "Fine. How about this: I will pay you 800 Euros, which I
will withdraw from an InstaBank once I've got my ticket for the Chunnel train to
Calais in hand and am ready to get onto the platform. I've got all of fifteen
quid in my pocket right now. Take my wallet and you'll have cabfare home.
Accompany me to the train and you'll get a month's rent, which is more than the
police'll give you."

"Oh, you're a villain, you are. What is it that the police will want to talk to
you about, then? I wouldn't want to be aiding and abetting a real criminal --
could mean trouble."

"I beat the piss out of my coworker, Lester. Now, can we go? There's a plane in
Paris I'm hoping to catch."

31.

I have a brand-new translucent Sony Veddic, a series 12. I bought it on credit
-- not mine, mine's sunk; six months of living on plastic and kiting
balance-payments with new cards while getting the patents filed on the eight new
gizmos that constitute HumanCare's sole asset has blackened my good name with
the credit bureaus.

I bought it with the company credit card. The *company credit card*. Our local
Baby Amex rep dropped it off himself after Doc Szandor faxed over the signed
contract from the Bureau of Health. Half a million bucks for a proof-of-concept
install at the very same Route 128 nuthatch where I'd been "treated." If that
works, we'll be rolling out a dozen more installs over the next year: smart
doors, public drug-prescription stats, locator bracelets that let "clients" --
I've been learning the nuthouse jargon, and have forcibly removed "patient" from
my vocabulary -- discover other clients with similar treatment regimens on the
ward, bells and whistles galore.

I am cruising the MassPike with HumanCare's first-ever employee, who is, in
turn, holding onto HumanCare's first-ever paycheck. Caitlin's husband has been
very patient over the past six months as she worked days fixing the ailing
machinery at the sanitarium and nights prototyping my designs. He's been
likewise patient with my presence on his sagging living-room sofa, where I've
had my nightly ten-hour repose faithfully since my release. Caitlin and I have
actually seen precious little of each other considering that I've been living
under her roof. (Doc Szandor's Cambridge apartment is hardly bigger than my room
at the hospital, and between his snoring and the hard floor, I didn't even last
a whole night there.) We've communicated mostly by notes commed to her fridge
and prototypes left atop my suitcase of day-clothes and sharp-edged toiletries
at the foot of my makeshift bed when she staggered in from her workbench while I
snored away the nights. Come to think of it, I haven't really seen much of Doc
Szandor, either -- he's been holed up in his rooms, chatting away on the EST
channels.

I am well rested. I am happy. My back is loose and my Chi is flowing. I am
driving my few belongings to a lovely two-bedroom -- one to sleep in, one to
work in -- flat overlooking Harvard Square, where the pretty co-eds and their
shaggy boyfriends tease one another in the technical argot of a dozen abstruse
disciplines. I'm looking forward to picking up a basic physics, law, medicine
and business vocabulary just by sitting in my window with my comm, tapping away
at new designs.

We drive up to a toll plaza and I crank the yielding, human-centric steering
wheel toward the EZPass lane. The dealer installed the transponder and gave me a
brochure explaining the Sony Family's approach to maximum driving convenience.
But as I approach the toll gate, it stays steadfastly down.

The Veddic's HUD flashes an instruction to pull over to the booth. A bored
attendant leans out of the toll booth and squirts his comm at me, and the HUD
comes to life with an animated commercial for the new, improved TunePay service,
now under direct MassPike management.

The TunePay scandal's been hot news for weeks now. Bribery, corruption, patent
disputes -- I'd been gratified to discover that my name had been removed from
the patent applications, sparing me the nightly hounding Fede and Linda and her
fucking ex had been subjected to on my comm as the legal net tightened around
them.

I end up laughing so hard that Caitlin gets out of the car and walks around to
my side, opens the door, and pulls me bodily to the passenger side. She serenely
ignores the blaring of the horns from the aggravated, psychotic Boston drivers
stacked up behind us, walks back to the driver's side and takes the wheel.

"Thanks," I tell her, and lay a hand on her pudgy, freckled arm.

"You belong in a loony bin, you know that?" she says, punching me in the thigh
harder than is strictly necessary.

"Oh, I know," I say, and dial up some music on the car stereo.

--

Acknowledgements

This novel was workshopped by the Cecil Street Irregulars, the Novelettes and
the Gibraltar Point gang, and received excellent feedback from the first readers
on the est-preview list (especially Pat York). Likewise, I'm indebted to all the
people who read and commented on this book along the way.

Thanks go to my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, for reading this so quickly --
minutes after I finished it! Likewise to my agent, Don Maass, thank you.

Thanks to Irene Gallo and Shelley Eshkar for knocking *two* out of the park with
their cover-designs for my books.

Thanks to my co-editors at Boing Boing and all the collaborators I've written
with, who've made me a better writer.

Thanks, I suppose, to the villains in my life, who inspired me to write this
book rather than do something ugly that I'd regret.

Thanks to Paul Boutin for commissioning the *Wired* article of the same name.

Thanks to the readers and bloggers and Tribespeople who cared enough to check
out my first book and liked it enough to check out this one.

Thanks to Creative Commons for the licenses that give me the freedom to say
"Some Rights Reserved."

--

Bio

Cory Doctorow (www.craphound.com) is the author of Down and Out in the Magic
Kingdom, A Place So Foreign and Eight More, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to
Publishing Science Fiction (with Karl Schroeder). He was raised in Toronto and
lives in San Francisco, where he works for the Electronic Frontier Foundation
(www.eff.org), a civil liberties group. He's a journalist, editorialist and
blogger. Boing Boing (boingboing.net), the weblog he co-edits, is the most
linked-to blog on the Net, according to Technorati. He won the John W. Campbell
Award for Best New Writer at the 2000 Hugos. You can download this book for free
from craphound.com/est.

--

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Machine-readable metadata:
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   Eastern Standard Tribe
   2004-2-9
   A novel by Cory Doctorow

   
      Cory Doctorow
   
   
      Cory Doctorow
   
   




   
   
   
   
   




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