"You are a silly little boy," said the Lord of the Flies, "just an ignorant silly little boy."
Simon moved his swollen tongue but said nothing.
"Don't you agree?" said the Lord of the Flies. "Aren't you just a silly little boy?"
Simon answered him in the same silent voice.
"Well then," said the Lord of the Flies, "you'd better run off and play with others. They think you're batty. You don't want Ralph to think you're batty, do you? You like Ralph a lot, don't you? And Piggy, and Jack?"
Simon's head was tilted slightly up. His eyes could not break away and the Lord of the Flies hung in space before him.
"What are you doing out here all alone? Aren't you afraid of me?"
"There isn't anyone to help you. Only me. And I'm the Beast."
Simon's mouth labored, brought forth audible words.
"Pig's head on a stick."
"Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!" said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. "You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it's no go? Why the things are what they are?"
The laughter shivered again.
"Come now," said the Lord of the Flies. "Get back to the others and we'll forget the whole thing."
Simon's head wobbled. His eyes were half closed as though he were imitating the obscene thing on the stick. He knew that one of his times was coming on. The Lord of the Flies was expanding like a balloon.
"This is ridiculous. You know perfectly well you'll only meet me down there -- so don't try to escape!"
Simon's body was arched and stiff. The Lord of the Flies spoke in the voice of a schoolmaster.
"This had gone quite far enough. My poor, misguided child, do you think you know better than I do?"
There was a pause.
"I'm warning you. I'm going to get angry. D'you see? You're not wanted Understand? We are going to have fun on this island! So don't try it on, my poor misguided boy, or else --"
Simon found he was looking into a vast mouth. There was blackness within, a blackness that spread.
"-- Or else," said the Lord of the Flies, "we shall do you. See? Jack and Roger and Maurice and Robert and Bill and Piggy and Ralph. Do you. See?"
Simon was inside the mouth. He fell down and lost consciousness.
Sally stepped forward, the beam held steady, and Kumiko saw that the armored thing was bolted into the brickwork with massive rivets. "Finn?"
A rapid flicker of pink light from a horizontal slot.
"Hey, Finn, man..." An uncharacteristic hesitation in her voice...
"Moll." A grating quality, as if through a broken speaker. "What's with the flash? You still got amps in? Gettin' old, you can't see in the dark so good?"
"For my friend."
Something moved behind the slot, its color the unhealthy pink of hot cigarette ash in noon sunlight, and Kumiko's face was washed with a stutter of light.
"Yeah," grated the voice, "so who's she?"
Sally lowered the light; it fell on the candles, the flask, the damp gray cigarettes, the white symbol with its feathery arms.
"Help yourself to the offerings," said the voice. "That's half a liter of Moskovskaya there. The hoodoo mark's flour. Tough luck; the high rollers draw 'em in cocaine."
"Jesus," Sally said, an odd distance in her voice, squatting down, "I don't believe this." Kumiko watched as she picked up the flask and sniffed at the contents.
"Drink it. It's good shit. Fuckin' better be. Nobody shortcounts the oracle, not if they know what's good for 'em."
"Finn," Sally said, then tilted the flask and swallowed, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand, "you gotta be crazy...."
"I should be so lucky. A rig like this, I'm pushing it to have a little imagination, let alone crazy."
Kumiko moved closer, then squatted beside Sally.
"It's a construct, a personality job?" Sally put down the flask of vodka and stirred the damp flour with the tip of a white fingernail.
"Sure. You seen 'em before. Real-time memory if I wanna, wired into c-space if I wanna. Got this oracle gig to keep my hand in, you know" The thing made a strange sound: laughter. "Got love troubles? Got a bad woman don't understand you?" The laugh noise again, like peals of static. "Actually I'm more into business advice. It's the local kids leave the goodies. Adds to the mystique, kinda. And once in a while I get a skeptic, some asshole figures he'll help himself to the take." A scarlet hairline flashed from the slit and a bottle exploded somewhere to Kumiko's right. Static laughter. "So what brings you this way, Moll? You and," again the pink light flicked across Kumiko's face, "Yanaka's daughter..."
"The Straylight run," Sally said.
"Long time, Moll..."
"She's after me, Finn. Fourteen years and that crazy bitch is on my ass...."
"So maybe she's got nothin' better to do. You know how rich folks are...."
"You know where Case is, Finn? Maybe she's after him...."
"Case got out of it. Rolled up a few good scores after you split, then he kicked it in the head and quit clean. You did the same, maybe you wouldn't be freezing your buns off in an alley, right? Last I heard, he had four kids...."
Watching the hypnotic sweep of the scanning pink ember, Kumiko had some idea of what it was that Sally spoke with. There were similar things in her father's study, four of them, black lacquered cubes arranged along a low shelf of pine. Above each cube hung a formal portrait. The portraits were monochrome photographs of men in dark suits and ties, four very sober gentlemen whose lapels were decorated with small metal emblems of the kind her father sometimes wore. Though her mother had told her that the cubes contained ghosts, the ghosts of her father's evil ancestors, Kumiko found them more fascinating than frightening. If they did contain ghosts, she reasoned, they would be quite small, as the cubes themselves were scarcely large enough to contain a child's head.
Her father sometimes meditated before the cubes, kneeling on the bare tatami in an attitude that connoted profound respect. She had seen him in this position many times, but she was ten before she heard him address the cubes. And one had answered. The question had meant nothing to her, the answer less, but the calm tone of the ghost's reply had frozen her where she crouched, behind a door of paper, and her father had laughed to find her there; rather than scolding her, he'd explained that the cubes housed the recorded personalities of former executives, corporate directors. Their souls? she'd asked. No, he'd said, and smiled, then added that the distinction was a subtle one. "They are not conscious. They respond, when questioned, in a manner approximating the response of the subject. If they are ghosts, then holograms are ghosts."
After Sally's lecture on the history and hierarchy of the Yakuza, in the robata bar in Earls Court, Kumiko had decided that each of the men in the photographs, the subjects of the personality recordings, had been an oyabun.
The thing in the armored housing, she reasoned, was of a similar nature, though perhaps more complex, just as Colin was a more complex version of the Michelin guide her father's secretaries had carried on her Shinjuku shopping expeditions. Finn, Sally called it, and it was evident that this Finn had been a friend or associate of hers.
But did it wake, Kumiko wondered, when the alley was empty? Did its laser vision scan the silent fall of midnight snow?
"Europe," Sally began, "when I split from Case I went all around there. Had a lot of money we got for the run, anyway it looked like a lot then. Tessier-Ashpool's AI paid it out through a Swiss bank. It erased every trace we'd ever been up the well; I mean everything, like if you looked up the names we traveled under, on the JAL shuttle, they just weren't there. Case checked it all out when we were back in Tokyo, wormed his way into all kinds of data; it was like none of it ever happened. I didn't understand how it could do that, AI or not, but nobody ever really understood what happened up there, when Case rode that Chinese icebreaker through their core ice."
"Did it try to get in touch, after?"
"Not that I know of. He had this idea that it was gone, sort of; not gone gone, but gone into everything, the whole matrix. Like it wasn't in cyberspace anymore, it just was. And if it didn't want you to see it, to know it was there, well, there was no way you ever could, and no way you'd ever be able to prove it to anybody else even if you did know.... And me, I didn't wanna know. I mean, whatever it was, it seemed done to me, finished. Armitage was dead, Riviera was dead, Ashpool was dead, the Rasta tug pilot who took us out there was back in Zion cluster and he'd probably written it all off as another ganja dream.... I left Case in the Tokyo Hyatt, never saw him again...."
"Who knows? Nothing much. I was young, it just seemed over."
"But you'd left her up the well. In Straylight."
"You got it. And I'd think about that, once in a while. When we were leaving, Finn, it was like she didn't care about any of it. Like I'd killed her crazy sick father for her, and Case had cracked their cores and let their AIs loose in the matrix... So I put her on the list, right? You get big enough trouble one day, you're being got at, you check that list."
"And you figured it for her, right off?"
"No. I gotta pretty long list."
Case, who seemed to Kumiko to have been something more than Sally's partner, never reentered her story.
As Kumiko listened to Sally condense fourteen years of personal history for the Finn's benefit, she found herself imagining this younger Sally as a bishonen hero in a traditional romantic video: fey, elegant, and deadly. While she found Sally's matter-of-fact account of her life difficult to follow, with its references to places and things she didn't know, it was easy to imagine her winning the sudden, flick-of-the-wrist victories expected of bishonen . But no, she thought, as Sally dismissed "a bad year in Hamburg," sudden anger in her voice -- an old anger, the year a decade past -- it was a mistake to cast this woman in Japanese terms. There were no ronin, no wandering samurai; Sally and the Finn were talking business.
She'd arrived at her bad year in Hamburg, Kumiko gathered, after having won and lost some sort of fortune. She'd won her share of it "up there," in a place the Finn had called Straylight, in partnership with the man Case. In doing so, she'd made an enemy.
"Hamburg," the Finn interrupted, "I heard stories about Hamburg...."
"The money was gone. How it is, with a big score, when you're young... No money was sort of like getting back to normal, but I was involved with these Frankfurt people, owed 'em, and they wanted to take it out in trade."
"What kinda trade?"
"They wanted people hit."
"So I got out. When I could. Went to London..."
Perhaps, Kumiko decided, Sally had once been something along ronin lines, a kind of samurai. In London, however, she'd become something else, a businesswoman. Supporting herself in some unspecified way, she gradually became a backer, providing funds for various kinds of business operations. (What was a "credit sink"? What was "laundering data"?)
"Yeah," the Finn said, "you did okay. Got yourself a share in some German casino."
"Aix-la-Chapelle. I was on the board. Still am, when I got the right passport."
"Settled down?" The laugh again.
"Didn't hear much, back here."
"I was running a casino. That was it. Doing fine."
"You were prizefighting. 'Misty Steele,' augmented featherweight. Eight fights, I made book on five of 'em. Blood matches, sweetmeat. Illegal."
"Some hobby. I saw the vids. Burmese Kid opened you right up, living color..."
Kumiko remembered the long scar.
"So I quit. Five years ago and I was already five years too old."
"You weren't bad, but 'Misty Steele'... Jesus."
"Gimme a break. Wasn't me made that one up."
"Sure. So tell me about our friend upstairs, how she got in touch."
"Swain. Roger Swain. Sends one of his boys to the casino, would-be hardass called Prior. About a month ago."
"Swain the fixer? London?"
"Same one. So Prior's got a present for me, about a meter of printout. A list. Names, dates, places."
"Everything. Stuff I'd almost forgotten."
"Everything. So I packed a bag, got back to London, there's Swain. He's sorry, it's not his fault, but he's gotta twist me. Because somebody's twisting him. Got his own meter of printout to worry about." Kumiko heard Sally's heels shift on the pavement.
"What's he want?"
"A rip, warm body. Celeb."
"Come on, Finn, that's what I'm here to ask you."
"Swain tell you it's 3Jane?"
"No. But my console cowboy in London did."
Kumiko's knees ached.
"The kid. Where'd you come by her?"
"She turned up at Swain's place. Yanaka wanted her out of Tokyo. Swain owes him giri ."
"She's clean, anyway, no implants. What I get out of Tokyo lately, Yanaka has his hands full...."
Kumiko shivered in the dark.
"And the rip, the celeb?" the Finn continued.
She felt Sally hesitate. "Angela Mitchell."
The pink metronome swinging silently, left to right, right to left.
"It's cold here, Finn."
"Yeah. Wish I could feel it. I just took a little trip on your behalf. Memory Lane. You know much about where Angie comes from?"
"I'm in the oracle game, honey, not a research library.... Her father was Christopher Mitchell. He was the big shit in biochip research at Mass Biolabs. She grew up in a sealed compound of theirs in Arizona, company kid. About seven years ago, something happened down there. The street said Hosaka fielded a team of pros to help Mitchell make a major career move. The fax said there was a megaton blast on Maas property, but nobody ever found any radiation. Never found Hosaka's mercs, either. Maas announced that Mitchell was dead, suicide."
"That's the library. What's the oracle know?"
"Rumors. Nothing that hangs together on a line. Street said she turned up here a day or two after the blast in Arizona, got in with some very weird spades who worked out of New Jersey."
"They dealt. 'Ware, mostly. Buying, selling. Sometimes they bought from me...."
"How were they weird?"
"Hoodoos. Thought the matrix was full of mambos 'n' shit. Wanna know something, Moll?"