“If you gaze long
into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)
Reese was a god. Standing on an endless
sea of data, she cast her net into the waters and drew out strands of
conversation, lumps of encrypted transactions like clams waiting to be cracked,
and writhing, flopping, calculations.
She walked on pulses of transmissions, riding the waves of networked
information exchanged by the ten billion people who lived on the planet--
she was nothing.
data mask flickered, a strobe of her desk and office walls, then the
pulled it off in frustration. The
delicate filigree of wires that crossed her face horizontally appeared
intact. Jaz couldn't see anything wrong
with the processor gems that dotted the metallic strands at irregular
intervals, gleaming like diamonds.
Inside the six ounces of metal and crystal, however, was fifteen hundred
petaflops of computational power. The
problem could be anywhere.
tried reinitializing the mask. She
placed it on the molded human face sitting on her desk and tapped a button on
its throat. A screen on the plastic
face's forehead lit up with diagnostic information that scrolled by too fast to
read. In seconds, the re-initialization
lifted the data mask, hooked the guide wire over the top of her head, and
tucked the temple-snaps behind her ears.
The electronics wrapping her face once again induced electromagnetic
currents in her cerebral cortex, and Jaz slipped back into her metaphor.
seas were choppy and cold. Jaz stood on
the waves and scooped water into her palm.
The falling drops fragmented into tiny blue ones and zeros. Shit.
She was losing cohesion.
willed herself to relax, but the cloud-filled sky flickered in and out with
gray office walls, the speckled laminate of her desk, and a gold-and-blue
embroidered wall hanging of the Indian god, Ganesh, she'd hung to brighten up
the place. Jaz pulled the mask off,
resisted an urge to slam it down, and leaned out the door to call across the
hallway. “Matt, you having any trouble
with the Net?”
Matt focused his eyes and turned his head
towards her, seeing her through an overlay of neurally induced images. His shoulder-length brown hair fell in lanky
strands over the gem-studded headband he used.
“No. Seems normal to me. What's up?”
keep losing my connection. My metaphor
drops and I get thrown back into physicality.”
you tried reinitializing the system?”
in the last half-hour. I think it's the
“Tragic.” His eyes grew vague, answering some call
Jaz, without her equipment, couldn't sense.
scooped up the data mask and walked around the corner to her supervisor's
desk. Jonathan Stacker lay in a recliner,
hands twitching on the armrests. His
balding head was covered with his perennial baseball cap. The rig he wore was large, a catcher’s mask
studded with emeralds. Under its wide
bands, Stacker’s mobile face jerked and spasmed in rapid-fire emotions. How funny the connected looked when you
couldn't see their visions.
knocked on the door jam. Stacker
started. His gaze searched the doorway
blindly for a moment, then his eyes focused on the physical. “Jaz?”
He looked both happy to see her and concerned. If it weren't serious, she would have contacted him
held up the limp mask. “Hardware's
flaking out. I want to take it down to
Charlie's, see if he can expedite a fix.
Will you authorize the repairs?”
me take a look at it.”
optimized the induction settings. I
don't think it will work for anyone else.”
peeled off his own rig and delicately wrapped Jaz's around his face. Seconds later he squinted in pain. “Och.”
He pulled it off. “So that's
what it's like inside your head,” he said, as she leaned over him to retrieve
slipped his own rig back on. “I’ve
authorized a repair invoice. They're
“Thanks.” On the way out, Jaz grabbed her forest-green
parka off the hook on her door. The
long silk kurta she wore over her jeans wasn't warm enough to keep off
the April chill. She tucked the mask
into a pocket and walked out of the building.
skyscrapers of East Seattle rose around her, looming glass-and-steel towers
built in the early part of the millennium to house Seattle's explosive
growth. Skywalks connecting them cast
shadows on the streets. The manicured
grounds of Infotech were a hollow in the high-rise landscape. It contrasted with the city that had grown
up around it, a sprawling office park with shade trees, lawns, and an
artificial stream that meandered between buildings.
walked past clumps of bushes in all shades of green. Without her rig, the glowing labels that identified them were
gone. That thorny one, that was some
kind of rose, wasn't it?
Traffic was light, mid-day. Private cars and corporate trucks roared by
at synchronized speeds. Their
navigational systems negotiated with each other to optimize the flow of traffic. Unconnected, Jaz couldn’t hear the mental
chatter of commuters as their cars sped them along. Each driver appeared isolated in his or her own metal-wrapped
buses ran every five minutes, so Jaz didn't wait long. She saw it coming, like a shark through slower
traffic. Advertisements for live sex
simulations and brain-boosting vitamins blinked and glowed on its surface. But the bus didn't stop.
watched in amazement as it blew past her, not even slowing.
waved her hands and chased the disappearing bus, but the driver never looked
the--” Jaz stared dumbfounded at the
receding bus, then realized what had happened.
The explanation was simple.
Without her mask, she was disconnected from the Net. The automated systems on the bus hadn't
received a pick-up transmission, and didn't know she was there. She stomped back to the stop in frustration.
the next bus came, Jaz was ready. She
waved her hands and jumped in front of it, forcing the bus to slow. The driver looked at her blearily through a
haze of schedules and GPS maps. Jaz
couldn't see them without equipment, but she knew they were there.
climbed the steps of the bus. The man
driving put out a meaty hand and stopped her.
“Pay the toll.”
Right. Jaz sighed.
Nothing about this day was going to be easy. Payment was so automatic that Jaz had forgotten you had to
transfer funds to ride. Jaz slipped on
her sputtering mask. It must have
worked long enough to post the transaction.
The man withdrew his hand and let her board.
bus rolled past high-rise buildings on Seattle's east side then looped up an
on-ramp to highway 520, heading west towards the bridge that crossed Lake
Washington. A monorail tram sped by
people around her were inattentive. No
one's eyes met directly; instead they emoted and interacted with the air,
responding to internal conversations and information. It was like being in a room of autistics.
watched the scenery with interest.
Normally, she spent her travel time immersed in entertainment,
administrative tasks, or catching up with friends. Now, with no easy connection to the Net, she was absorbed in
watching the world.
bus turned a corner and the change of light reflected a woman's face in the
chin and forehead outlined an oval face with skin the reddish-tan of light
mahogany. Her nose was long and
straight, curving downwards at the tip.
The eyes were large and deep set.
The woman’s full lips pursed in puzzled contemplation. With a start Jaz recognized herself.
had been months since she'd seen herself without a data mask. She only took it off to shower, and
sometimes when she slept. Without it,
her face seemed naked, vulnerable. Is
that what Ian had seen those few times they'd made love without a connection?
bus jerked to a halt in front of the multiplex that housed Charlie's
Electronics. The store was on the first
floor, part of a strip mall that had been subsumed by a multistory building of
wholesale stores and light industry.
was a receiving counter: a pushcart for intake of heavy electronics, a few
uncomfortable chairs, and the obligatory artificial plant. Charlie himself greeted Jaz when she came
in. A picture on the wall behind him
showed a man in his twenties, installing Linux networks during the Taiwan-China
conflict. The boy Charlie had been
smiled and waved at the camera. Sixty
years later, he was a pudgy man, nearly bald, but with a sharp keen eye.
the rig from Infotech?” he asked when she laid the delicate filigree of wires
on the counter.
picked up the mask with hands that were callused from hard use. He dangled the mask from one pinky and
examined it through an electronic loupe.
“Latest Intel Quantum-IV.” He
whistled low. “Don't see many of these
in civilian hands.”
need the high-end throughput for data mining, and Infotech lets me use the rig
on my off hours.”
chuckled. “You talented enough to drive
a rig like this, I bet you don't get much time off.”
like working,” said Jaz, a little defensively.
grunted and squinted at the mask.
“Bandwidth’s too low. And I'm
not getting a signal from auditory inductors.”
He reached under the counter and brought up a gray oval shaped like the
front half of a human head. He laid the
mask across it and data crystals on the front glowed with power.
laser that flips the molecular states is off-sequencing. Going to take a full rebuild. We'll have to send it back to the
long will that take?”
eyes unfocused for a moment, “Two, three weeks. Intel's repair facility is backed up at the moment.”
“Weeks?” Seattle was home to five million people, a
third of whom were employed in the information trade. Surely Intel had a local repair facility.
recalled, with a cold feeling of growing unease, that she had donated her old
data jewelry to charity after Stacker let her take home one of the new Quantum
IV's. She'd never used her old gear
once she had cutting-edge technology available twenty-four hours a day. Had she given it all away? Or was there some small piece she kept for
sentimental reasons, her first data necklace, perhaps?
said, “There must be someone in the city who can repair it. I can't work--can't do anything--without
shook his head. “Not this
hardware. You bring me a standard rig,
and I can turn around a fix within twenty-four hours. Research-grade electronics like this, you need equipment they've
only got at the factories. Of course,
don't take my word for it. Feel free to
her rig had been working, it would have taken seconds to verify his
statement. She tried slipping it on and
was subjected to rapid cycling of the Net and reality. Nauseated, she pulled off the mask and
handed it across the table. “Can you
put a rush on the repair order? My
whole life is wrapped up in this thing.”
everyone's?” Charlie swiped the mask through an IR beam to read the microscopic
serial number off the back. He
concentrated for a moment, filing away details for the repair order, then
placed the mask delicately in a box with velvet lining. “I can give you a loaner rig.” He reached under the counter and brought up
a box of old-style wearables, hard clunky glasses that didn't use induction,
but instead projected tiny images in the corners of the lenses. Speakers built into the earpiece provided
selected the newest-looking pair. The
rims were tortoiseshell plastic, and the lenses had a slight tint. She pushed the frames over her ears and
activated the glasses. A tiny screen
appeared in the lower outer corner of each lens. Using rapid eye motion, she navigated to a primitive version of a
message dispatch, kept around for third-world countries that couldn't afford
the latest technology. She had to segue
through Rwanda to get to something that would handle the low bandwidth of the
“Please speak your message,” said a
digital dispatch service.
felt her brows knit in frustration.
“Does this thing have voice capabilities?”
“Yeah. Just speak out loud and a microphone in the
frames will pick it up.”
“I have to wander the city talking to myself? Ugh.
How did folks in the twenties have any privacy?”
old man shrugged. “That rig was
state-of-the-art, once upon a time...but then, so was I.” His eyes went vague, as he answered what she
presumed was another call. “I've filed
a receipt for you online and put a rush on the order.”
you,” said Jaz.
didn't answer. The conscious part of
Charlie was already helping the next customer, somewhere on the Net.
pushed through the door of Charlie's Electronics. Outside was crisp and bright, a rare sunny day in the Pacific
Northwest. The new rig, if it even
deserved the name, at least blocked much of the unaccustomed light. She sat on a bench and transmitted an update
an agonizingly long twenty seconds, Jaz was able to connect to her bank, prove
her identity, establish a voice-activated password, and transfer funds for bus
fair. She then routed a pickup message
to the public transportation agency through the African National Congress
linkage, and bounced it off three repeater stations in the Baltic States. How did feebs manage? She hoped her rig would be back soon.
the bus ride back to her office, Jaz tried to connect to her work files. The wearable locked up trying to process
data coming in at a rate faster than it could handle. The images would stick and then jerk to life, only to freeze
again a second later. Mingled with the rolling
gait of the bus, it made Jaz sick. She
stopped and pulled the wearable off.
How was she going to get any work done with this thing?
she entered her office building Stacker sent her a local-LAN message. “Back in business?” he asked.
piped him a simulated groan.
“Hardly. I've got at least two
weeks of down time and a loner rig that's only slightly better than signaling
with semaphores.” Stacker was a
pixilated and very flat image on the tiny projection screens. “Are there any unused rigs lying about? Anything would be better than this.”
check, but it's unlikely. That last
wave of hiring left us machine-poor.”
His image faded out.
sighed and climbed into her office chair, a black padded curve that stretched
from her feet to above her head. It was
the latest in ergonomic design, embedded foam gel that contoured to the shape
of her body. She could lay in it for
hours, sorting and manipulating data.
initiated a scanning program she’d written to comb the Net for information. The glasses were only able to transmit a
thousandth of the data Jaz's neural mask handled. It was like looking at the ocean through a porthole. The tiny projection lenses could display
only a fraction of the data returned by her application. How could she search and analyze with this?
she had to try. Her latest project was
to dredge up information about a car crash that occurred on Eighth and Pine
last Monday. The case was scheduled for
legal review in two days, and so far, she had only the police reports, some
memories from bystanders, and maintenance records on the victim's car. Surely there were more details out there
that would help their client's case.
Saunder and Peter’s law firm was one of their biggest accounts. Stacker had given it to her because of her
skill at sifting bits of information from the surf.
used her limited field of view to work her way through the Net. She scanned for data transmitted by the GPS
of the second car's driver, or failing that, a video transmission of him
talking over the Net about the accident.
If he had thought about the crash to himself while logged on, it was
likely stored somewhere in the vast data pool that was the Net. Because of its distributed nature,
transmissions bounced around from server to server before reaching their
most people didn't realize was that data jewelry had no easy way to distinguish
an external Net-bound thought from a private, internal, one. Consequently, the data jewelry recorded
everything, if only for seconds before making the determination to transmit or
delete...and all too often the jewelry transmitted.
was a data miner. She sifted through
public transmissions: leaky personal thoughts, online conversations, and
endless business reports. AIs were used
to do redundant data filtering, but even the best artificial intelligence was
not as good a pattern matcher as a talented human brain. And Jaz was a natural, a prodigy. She saw the picture in the static of the
Net, and could draw meaning from a surf of information that would drown casual
Usually. Right now she couldn't mine even simple
conversations. A snippet of video would
flash across her lenses, but by the time she moved the eye-cursor to follow it,
the transmission was lost. After five
minutes of effort, she'd gathered exactly six words: How're--later--Could you
believe--Fowler, and an image of a woman with a blonde chignon and pearls,
probably an avatar. No one looked that
good in real life.
as she was following the sprite, a wave of unrelated information, catalog
transmissions and sports results, flooded her lenses. When Jaz had deleted the irrelevant data, the woman was gone.
the hell was she supposed to work like this?
all was going well, data mining was like being the Net. For timeless minutes, hours, sometimes even
days, she had been the ocean, letting information drift through her, coded
transmissions like bright flashing fish.
It was simultaneously like being thoughtless and like thinking a
thousand things at once. That
intellectual rush, more than money, more than prestige, was what drove her on.
she felt like someone watching a two-dimensional movie about the sea. Without an inductive connection to the Net,
the context and subconscious implications of the data she viewed was lost.
she transmitted, “any word on a loaner?
I'm not getting much with this wearable.” There was no reply. He
must be busy.
flash of information leaped across her field of vision like a salmon in the
data stream. Jaz tried to follow it
down into flashing images the glasses displayed, but lost it in multiple
z-order layers. She had to fight her
way down through their overlapping two-dimensional representations. Too slow, the glasses kept dropping frames
of video. Intolerable. Jaz tweaked the clockspeed on the glasses,
driving them as fast as they could go.
Sentences now, she could follow before she lost the signals, but it
wasn't enough to do her work; you couldn't build a case out of random
wearable heated up at the temples. Just
a little more. Sweat beaded on Jaz's
forehead. The REM motion to move the
cursor was making her eyes ache, but she was determined to get somewhere.
display flickered, strobing her view of reality between the data coming in from
the Net and her embroidered wall hanging of Ganesh. With a scream of disgust, Jaz yanked the off wearable. The glasses were torturous. Partial immersion was worse than none. She cupped her palms over her throbbing
she wasn't working, there was only her apartment to go home to; empty white
walls, a little emptier now that Ian had moved out. Work was all she had left.
This misbegotten piece of equipment was keeping her from the one thing
that was right in her life. The one thing
she was good at.
Jaz put the glasses back on. She
initialized a simpler user-interface.
Forget video, too much bandwidth; see the data as lines of text
streaming past. She found herself in a
grid of glowing amber letters, streaming by in horizontal lines. Jaz sank into the imagery, began to read the
words as they zipped past her. By
falling into her mindless, Zen state she could read as many as four conversations
simultaneously. With her old rig, she'd
been able to process twelve and still keep a skim out for anything interesting.
think about the interface, be the data.
Jaz felt herself slipping into flow.
Yes. This might work, primitive,
user interface blurred and wavered.
Shit. She was losing
synchronization with the Net. Come
on. This UI was only a couple of steps
up from reading machine code. The
glasses couldn't fail her now. Pain
blossomed into a spike driving through her head. Jaz whipped off the glasses and threw them across the wall. They thwacked into the thin room divider
with a crunch.
doubled over and massaged her forehead.
Definitely not her day.
loomed in her doorway, the data mask askew on his face, his forehead contorted
in pain. “What the hell was that?”
pointed at the glasses on the floor. “I
can't work with those things. Even on a
low-image metaphor, they blow up with any reasonable data throughput. Please, please, tell me there's a loaner rig
I can use.”
walked over and picked up the glasses.
They appeared intact, save for one earpiece that bent out at an odd
angle. “There's not. I checked with central supply and we're
expecting a shipment of new interfaces, but there's nothing in stock.”
massaged her temples with her fingertips.
“I'll do the best I can--”
shook his head. “No. I'm sending you home. Take a week or so and relax until your rig
arrives. You've got the vacation
time. I don't think I've seen you take
time off in the five years you’ve worked here.”
but I can handle it. I'll be a little
slower than usual, but--”
“No. Jaz, you're one of my strongest
naturals. You slip into network
protocols like the computer's clock cycle is the beating of your own heart. When you're upset the Net responds. I've got three people offline right now from
the backlash of your little,” he twirled the crumpled glasses, “blowup.”
eyebrows rose and she looked at Matt across the hall. His data jewelry, a wide, gem-studded, headband, was off and he
rubbed his forehead. He wouldn't meet
closed the office door to give them privacy.
He placed a hand on Jaz's shoulder.
“You've been under a lot of stress lately. You need some time to recuperate. The Marley case just shipped, and I've got enough slack in the
schedule to cover for you. Take the
looked at him, horrified. “Stacker, I
work long hours because I love my job.
This,” she waved her hands to encompass the room around her, “is who I
am.” She thought of her apartment,
empty and Spartan, clean only because she wasn't home long enough to make a
warm smile hardened. He leaned
close. “Truth is, Jaz, you haven't been
yourself lately. I know there have been
some personal issues between you and--” he held up a hand to forestall her
protest “--other coworkers.”
the reference to Ian, Jaz’s face heated.
continued, “I can afford to have you out for a week or so right now. I think the break will do you good. What this group can't afford is a talent as
powerful as you, on lousy equipment, disturbing the work flow around here.”
felt her face heat. “All right.” She said in tight clipped tones. “If that's the way it's got to be.”
controlled the impulse not to snarl.
The breakup between her and Ian was as much his fault as hers. Yet all the bad luck and the blame seemed to
be falling on her. She looked at the
closed door. “Is this a polite way of
asking me to leave Infotech?”
eyes widened. “Absolutely not. Under normal conditions, you're my best
worker. I'm giving you this time off to
make it easier for you to stay.”
words comforted her. And even if he was
lying, she was okay. Her bank account
was filled with years of salary she hadn't taken time to spend. “All right.
See you when I've got my rig back.”
good. Have fun.”
Fun? Sitting alone in an apartment with memories
of a lover who wasn't there, who had moved in with someone else in the time it
took you to say: “What do you mean you don't love me anymore?” Without even the Net to lose yourself in
because the high-gain equipment you'd spent six months adjusting to every
nuance of your brain's electric field was broken. Right. It'd be hilarious.
grabbed her parka off the hook on the back of the door and accepted the skewed
glasses from Stacker.
the sun was still bright. An anomaly in
the normally-overcast Pacific Northwest.
She winced against the light and slipped her coat on to block the early
streets were relatively quiet for a Friday afternoon. Jaz walked down to the light-rail station. When she put on her glasses to pay the toll
they fizzled and displayed static. She
tried to connect, to induce a response with REM motion. Nothing.
must have broken when she slammed them against the wall.
Shit. How was she going to get home if she
couldn't pay the fare?
rail car came by and Jaz filed in last.
conductor looked at her through a pair of silver goggles pinpricked all over
with tiny holes. “Transmit payment, please.”
held out the broken hardware. “My rig's
down. I can't access my account. Please, I need to get home.”
took the conductor a moment to shift focus from the internal world of tram
schedules and passenger volume to see her.
The woman looked impassively at Jaz, the silver goggles making her
resemble a cross between a human and a fly.
“If you can't transmit. I can
swipe your disconnected person’s card.”
door started to close on Jaz. “Go to
the office of disconnected persons. They’ll
issue you a proxy card for transactions. “
of Pike and Broadway”
all the way downtown! How am I supposed
to get there?”
You’re holding us up. We’re already
three minutes behind schedule. If you
can't pay, you'll have to get off the tram.”
man looked intently at the driver. She
nodded and let the door--which had been crushing Jaz out of the tram--swing
open. “Your fare has been paid,” the
sat next to the man who had helped her.
He was in his mid-fifties with an elegant shock of silver running
through his black hair. He favored a
monocle, designed like an antique. A
round piece of metal held in place a clear plate. The glass was filled with thousands of tiny gold fibers, like rutilated
you.” She held up the broken
glasses. “My real rig went down, and
then this loaner rig--”
man wasn't paying her any attention.
Behind the glass, his eyes were unfocused. She could see his pupils moving in REM-like motions as he
visualized the invisible world of the Net.
help hadn't been a personal kindness.
He'd just removed an obstruction that was keeping the tram from leaving.
around her, people were silent, interacting through a medium that was
transmitted through and around them.
Even the two children at the back twitched silently, playing
who-knew-what adventure game on the Net.
Jaz knew what it was like to be immersed. It was common for her to connect to Matt through the Net instead
of calling across the hall. Vocal
communication was slow, inexact.
the tram roared by Jaz's stop, she realized it hadn't picked up her destination
from her surface thoughts. Jaz walked
up the aisle to the conductor and asked to be let off.
hiked the ten blocks back to her apartment building.
lobby doors wouldn't open. Jaz jumped
up and down in front of them, hoping to trigger a pressure sensor. She tugged experimentally on the handle. Nothing.
frustration, she pounded on the glass-and-steel doors.
of the smartly dressed, college-aged women who ran the front office came to the
door and peered out. Jaz held up the
broken glasses and pointed to them.
receptionist cracked open the door.
“Can I help you?”
Jasmine Reese, in apartment 1475. My
wearable broke and I can't get in the building.”
woman's eyes clouded a moment. Pinpoint
lights flickered on her solid-circuitry headband, a recent retro look, designed
to look like the science fiction media of the nineteen seventies.
a moment, the woman's face brightened into a professional smile. “How terrible, Ms. Reese. Come in and we'll get you set up with a
temporary identification bracelet.”
when have the lobby doors been locked?” asked Jaz as she followed the
receptionist across the teal-carpeted floor.
woman--it was hard to remember names without accessing the Net--said, “It's
always taken at least a connection to come in through the door. Standard security. It keeps...undesirables out.”
is a fully connected building. What
reason would a fee--I mean, a disconnected person have to come in here
Feebs. People who for some quirk of brain chemistry
or wiring were unable to use data jewelry.
Jaz had never thought about them before except as dirty panhandlers
lining the streets. She'd always
assumed they were unemployed due to laziness or mental illness. There were lots of jobs that didn't require
a connection, weren't there?
woman pulled a shiny plastic bracelet out of a drawer and spent a moment
wrapping it around a tube that extruded from a box. Draped over the top of the box was a silver hairnet covered with
tiny pearl-like data clusters at each crossing of the wires.
this on,” the receptionist said, “and we'll record your pattern in the
bracelet. It’ll transmit a standard
identity signal wherever you go, so you'll be able to enter the building and
your apartment at will.”
did so, and for a moment, like the sun breaking through an overcast day, Jaz
could feel the bright warm hum of the Net surround her. All too soon it was over.
receptionist removed the EEG recording device, stored it, and clipped the
bracelet onto Jaz. It was a tight fit,
designed so you couldn't take it off without destroying the plastic.
long will you need the proxy bracelet?”
day, maybe two. I'm going shopping for
a temporary rig first thing tomorrow morning.”
Jaz flexed her wrist, feeling the cheap plastic bite into her flesh. “Will this get me on public transportation?”
just the apartment, I'm afraid. I've
set it for a week, will that be sufficient?”
I hope so.”
receptionist flashed a sympathetic smile.
“I know what you mean, I'd go crazy without a network connection. Good luck.”
elevator came to her because of the proxy, but she had no way to indicate what
floor she wanted to go to. The whole
building was built for connecteds. The
interior was sleek glass and steel, with no buttons or control panels in
twelve?” she said experimentally. The
elevator sat there. Apparently even
old-fashioned voice control had been removed.
She didn't feel like bothering the receptionist again, and no other
tenants were in view.
had to be stairs, for safety, in case the power went out during a fire. Jaz found them next to the janitor's closet
on the first floor. Her proxy got her
through the lock and onto a set of stairs that smelled of concrete and stale
air. Twelve floors later, Jaz reached
the hall outside her apartment.
tile in the hallway was an artificial marble so realistic you only noticed the
difference in the fact it never scuffed or needed polishing. She held the proxy up to the smoky black
glass of her apartment door.
Bulletproof and polarizable, the entire door could be made transparent
or completely opaque.
lights did not come on when she entered.
The proxy controlled access, but nothing else. She tried the glasses: static.
Jaz crossed the simulated oak flooring to the southwest-facing window
overlooking Puget Sound. She watched a
barge carrying orange boxcars drift by, saw the monorail dart between light and
shadow as it twisted between buildings, an arterial pulse carrying executives
to office buildings.
room behind her was sparse. The room of
a woman without the time or inclination to design. White wall-to-wall carpeting, glass walls. The only splashes of color were the Bukhara
carpet her grandmother had sent from India, and a framed print of the Dublin
fish market her father has sent for cultural parity. The low-slung sofa and chair were built on ergonomic lines, also
an impractical white. It didn't
matter. The way things were going,
there'd never be any children or pets to worry the fabric.
rest of the apartment was in shadow, Jaz walked past the bedroom. Her bed had full audio-visual hookup, so
that dreams could be recorded, or induced.
She had erotic recordings of her and Ian. Why hadn't she purged those from the system?
next thought was a stone in her heart.
Had Ian purged the recordings at his apartment? In one second she fervently hoped so. In the next she wished just as fervently
that he had kept them.
She continued down the hallway to her home office,
the most richly appointed room in the apartment. It was filled with an ergonomic task chair like the one she had
at work and a wall-sized rack of data crystals, extra storage for the
information she downloaded from the Net.
Surrounding the chair like Grecian columns were her computers. They rose white and crenulated in staggered
heights. A private network Jaz used to
test the data-retrieval programs she wrote, before she released them into the
checked the wall cabinets. Yes, as she
had feared. She'd donated all of her
old data jewelry to charity when Infotech assigned her the Intel Quantum
IV. Not a lip ring or diadem left. She was stuck in a fully featured apartment
that she couldn't access for lack of an interface.
Nothing. She would be trapped in darkness when the
sun went down. Jaz walked back to her
bedroom and pulled out one of the drawers built into her bed's pedestal. It was where she kept her few personal
possessions: a few hard-copies of family photos, a couple of sex toys. There.
Nestled beside a pile of incense were three white candles and a silver
Jaz slumped on a chair near the window and
watched the city. It lay far below her
like an ant hive.
The city was awash with transmissions:
music and video entertainment, commerce, joking with friends. But without a rig, Jaz could access none of
it. At her parent’s home in Boston, she
could have perused her father’s moldering collection of antique books.
Here, there was nothing she could do
without a connection except masturbate or do calisthenics, and the day's
frustrations had left her unenthused about either.
out would be worse. Until she got a new
rig, the city was closed to her. She'd
be a ghost, walking between people and buildings that wouldn't recognize her. Adrift, only able to see physical
reality. Like losing a sixth sense.
Jaz sat in the dwindling twilight, holding her
candles to her chest and wondered how she would survive the next two weeks.