Excerpt from the novel Neuromancer by William Gibson
“That level’s the cubicles,” Bruce said, after asking Case to repeat the address for the eighth time. He climbed back into the Honda. Condensation dribbled from the hydrogen-cell exhaust as the red fiberglass chassis swayed on chromed shocks. “You be long?”
“No saying. But you’ll wait.”
“We’ll wait, yeah.” He scratched his bare chest. “That last part of the address, I think that’s a cubicle. Number forty-three.”
“You expected, Lupus?” Cath craned froward over Bruce’s shoulder and peered up. The drive had dried her hair.
“Not really,” case said. “That’s a problem?”
“Just go down to the lowest level and find your friend’s cubicle. If they let you in, fine. If they don’t wanna see you…” She shrugged.
Case turned and descended a spiral staircase of floral iron. Six turns and he’d reached a nightclub. He paused and lit a Yeheyuan, looking over the tables. Freeside suddenly made sense to him. Biz. He could feel it humming in the air. This was it, the local action. Not the high-gloss facade of the Rue Jules Verne, but the real thing. Commerce. The dance. The crowd was mixed; maybe half were tourists, the other half residents of the islands.
“Downstairs,” he said to a passing waiter, “I want to go downstairs.” He showed his Freeside chip. The man gestured toward the rear of the club.
He walked quickly past the crowded tables, hearing fragments of half a dozen European languages as he passed.
“I want a cubicle,” he said to the girl who sat at the low desk, a terminal on her lap. “Lower level.” He handed her his chip.
“Gender preference?” She passed the chip across a glass plate on the face of the terminal.
“Female,” he said automatically.
“Number thirty-five. Phone if it isn’t satisfactory. You can access our special services display beforehand, if you like.” She smiled. She returned his chip.
An elevator slid open behind her.
The corridor lights were blue. Case stepped out of the elevator and chose a direction at random. Numbered doors. A hush like the halls of an expensive clinic.
He found his cubicle. He’d been looking for Molly’s; now, confused, he raised his chip and placed it against a black sensor set directly beneath the number plate.
Magnetic locks. The sound reminded him of Cheap Hotel.
The girl sat up in bed and said something in German. Her eyes were soft and unblinking. Automatic pilot. A neural cut-out. He backed out of the cubicle and closed the door.
The door of forty-three was like all the others. He hesitated. The silence of the hallway said that the cubicles were soundproof. It was pointless to try the chip. He rapped his knuckles against enameled metal. Nothing. The door seemed to absorb the sound.
He placed his chip against the black plate.
The bolts clicked.
She seemed to hit him, somehow, before he’d actually gotten the door open. He was on his knees, the steel door against his back, the blades of her rigid thumbs quivering centimeters from his eyes….
“Jesus Christ,” she said, cuffing the side of his head as she rose. “You’re an idiot to try that. How the hell you open those locks, Case? Case? You okay?” She leaned over him.
“Chip,” he said, struggling for breath. Pain was spreading from his chest. She helped him up and shoved him into the cubicle.
“You bribe the help, upstairs?”
He shook his head and fell across the bed.
“Breathe in. Count. One, two, three, four. Hold it. Now out. Count.”
He clutched his stomach.
“You kicked me,” he managed.
“Shoulda been lower. I wanna be alone. I’m meditating, right?” She sat beside him. “And getting a briefing.” She pointed at a small monitor set into the wall opposite the bed. “Wintermute’s telling me about Straylight.”
“Where’s the meat puppet?”
“There isn’t any. That’s the most expensive special service of all.” She stood up. She wore her leather jeans and a loose dark shirt. “The run’s tomorrow, Wintermute says.”
“What was that all about, in the restaurant? How come you ran?”
“‘Cause, if I’d stayed, I might have killed Riviera.”
“What he did to me. The show.”
“I don’t get it.”
“This cost a lot,” she said, extending her right hand as though it held an invisible fruit. The five blades slid out, then retracted smoothly. “Costs to go to Chiba, costs to get the surgery, costs to have them jack your nervous system up so you’ll have the reflexes to go with the gear…. You know how I got the money, when I was starting out? Here. Not here, but a place like it, in the Sprawl. Joke, to start with, ’cause once they plant the cut-out chip, it seems like free money. Wake up sore, sometimes, but that’s it. Renting the goods, is all. You aren’t in, when it’s all happening. House has software for whatever a customer wants to pay for….” She cracked her knuckles. “Fine. I was getting my money. Trouble was, the cut-out and the circuitry the Chiba clinics put in weren’t compatible. So the worktime started bleeding in, and I could remember it…. But it was just bad dreams, and not all bad.” She smiled. “Then it started getting strange.” She pulled his cigarettes from his pocket and lit one. “The house found out what I was doing with the money. I had the blades in, but the fine neuromotor work would take another three trips. No way I was ready to give up puppet time.” She inhaled, blew out a stream of smoke, capping it with three perfect rings. “So the bastard who ran the place, he had some custom software cooked up. Berlin, that’s the place for snuff, you know? Big market for mean kicks, Berlin. I never knew who wrote the program they switched me to, but it was based on all the classics.”
“They knew you were picking up on this stuff? That you were conscious while you were working?”
“I wasn’t conscious. It’s like cyberspace, but blank. Silver. It smells like rain…. You can see yourself orgasm, it’s like a little nova right out on the rim of space. But I was starting to remember. Like dreams, you know. And they didn’t tell me. They switched the software and started renting to specialty markets.”
She seemed to speak from a distance. “And I knew, but I kept quiet about it. I needed the money. The dreams got worse and worse, and I’d tell myself that at least some of them were just dreams, but by then I’d started to figure that the boss had a whole little clientele going for me. Nothing’s too good for Molly, the boss says, and gives me this shit raise.” She shook her head. “That prick was charging eight times what he was paying me, and he thought I didn’t know.”
“So what was he charging for?”
“Bad dreams. Real ones. One night… one night, I’d just come back from Chiba.” She dropped the cigarette, ground it out with her heel, and sat down, leaning against the wall. “Surgeons went way in, that trip. Tricky. They must have disturbed the cut-out chip. I came up. I was into this routine with a customer….” She dug her fingers deep in the foam. “Senator, he was. Knew his fat face right away. We were both covered with blood. We weren’t alone. She was all…” She tugged at the temperfoam. “Dead. And that fat prick, he was saying, ‘What’s wrong. What’s wrong?’ ‘Cause we weren’t finished yet….”
She began to shake.
“So I guess I gave the Senator what he really wanted, you know?” The shaking stopped. She released the foam and ran her fingers back through her dark hair. “The house put a contract out on me. I had to hide for a while.”
Case stared at her.
“So Riviera hit a nerve last night,” she said. “I guess it wants me to hate him real bad, so I’ll be psyched up to go in there after him.”
“He’s already there. Straylight. On the invitation of Lady 3Jane, all that dedication shit. She was there in a private box, kinda…”
Case remembered the face he’d seen. “You gonna kill him?”
She smiled. Cold. “He’s going to die, yeah. Soon.”
“I had a visit too,” he said, and told her about the window, stumbling over what the Zone-figure had said about Linda. She nodded.
“Maybe it wants you to hate something too.”
“Maybe I hate it.”
“Maybe you hate yourself, Case.”