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Words. Words cannot. Or, maybe, just barely, if I
even knew how to begin to describe it, what came up out
of her, what she did...
There's a segment on Kings of Sleep; it's like you're
on a motorcycle at midnight, no lights but somehow you
don't need them, blasting out along a cliff-high stretch
of coast highway, so fast that you hang there in a cone
of silence, the bike's thunder lost behind you.
Everything, lost behind you. . . . It's just a blink, on
Kings, but it's one of the thousand things you
remember, go back to, incorporate into your own
vocabulary of feelings. Amazing. Freedom and death,
right there, right there, razor's edge, forever.
What I got was the big-daddy version of that, raw
rush, the king hell killer uncut real thing, exploding
eight ways from Sunday into a void that stank of pov-
erty and lovelessness and obscurity.
And that was Lise's ambition, that rush, seen from
It probably took all of four seconds.
And, course, she'd won.
I took the trodes off and stared at the wall, eyes
wet, the framed posters swimming.
I couldn't look at her. I heard her disconnect the
optic lead. I heard the exoskeleton creak as it hoisted
her up from the futon. Heard it tick demurely as it
hauled her into the kitchen for a glass of water.
Then I started to cry.
Rubin inserts a skinny probe in the roller-bearing belly
of a sluggish push-me-pull-you and peers at the circuitry
through magnifying glasses with miniature headlights
mounted at the temples.
"So? You got hooked." He shrugs, looks up. It's
dark now and the twin tensor beams stab at my face,
chill damp in his steel barn and the lonesome hoot of a
foghorn from somewhere across the water. "So?"
My turn to shrug. "I just did. . . . There didn't
seem to be anything else to do."
The beams duck back to the silicon heart of his
defective toy. "Then you're okay. It was a true choice.
What I mean is, she was set to be what she is. You had
about as much to do with where she's at today as that
fast-wipe module did. She'd have found somebody else
if she hadn't found you...."
I made a deal with Barry, the senior editor, got twenty
minutes at five on a cold September morning. Lise came
in and hit me with that same shot, but this time I was
ready, with my baffles and brain maps, and I didn't
have to feel it. It took me two weeks, piecing out the
minutes in the editing room, to cut what she'd done
down into something I could play for Max Bell, who
owns the Pilot.
Bell hadn't been happy, not happy at all, as I ex-
plained what I'd done. Maverick editors can be a prob-
1cm, and eventually most editors decide that they've
found someone who'll be it, the next monster, and then
they start wasting time and money. He'd nodded when
I'd finished my pitch, then scratched his nose with the
cap of his red feltpen. "Uh-huh. Got it. Hottest thing
since fish grew legs, right?"
But he'd jacked it, the demo soft I'd put together,
and when it clicked out of its slot in his Braun desk unit,
he was staring at the wall, his face blank.
"What do you think?"
"Think? I . . . What did you say her name was?"
He blinked. "Lisa? Who you say she's signed with?"
"Lise. Nobody, Max. She hasn't signed with any-
"Jesus Christ." He still looked blank.
"You know how I found her?" Rubin asks, wading
through ragged cardboard boxes to find the light switch.
The boxes are filled with carefully sorted gomi: lithium
batteries, tantalum capacitors, RF connectors, bread-
boards, barrier strips, ferroresonant transformers,
spools of bus bar wire. . . . One box is filled with the
severed heads of hundreds of Barbie dolls, another with
armored industrial safety gauntlets that look like space-
suit gloves. Light floods the room and a sort of Kan-
dinski mantis in snipped and painted tin swings its
golfball-size head toward the bright bulb. "I was down
Granville on a gomi run, back in an alley, and I found
her just sitting there. Caught the skeleton and she didn't
look so good, so I asked her if she was okay. Nothin'.
Just closed her eyes. Not my lookout, I think. But I hap-
pen back by there about four hours later and she hasn't
moved. `Look, honey,' I tell her, `maybe your hard-
ware's buggered up. I can help you, okay?' Nothin'.
`How long you been back here?' Nothin'. So I take
off." He crosses to his workbench and strokes the thin
metal limbs of the mantis thing with a pale forefinger.
Behind the bench, hung on damp-swollen sheets of an-
cient pegboard, are pliers, screwcfrivers, tie-wrap guns,
a rusted Daisy BB rifle, coax strippers, crimpers, logic
probes, heat guns, a pocket oscilloscope, seemingly
every tool in human history, with no attempt ever made
to order them at all, though I've yet to see Rubin's hand
"So I went back," he says. "Gave it an hour. She
was out by then, unconscious, so I brought her back
here and ran a check on the exoskeleton. Batteries were
dead. She'd crawled back there when the juice ran out
and settled down to starve to death, I guess."
"When was that?"
"About a week before you took her home."
"But what if she'd died? If you hadn't found her?"
"Somebody was going to find her. She couldn't ask
for anything, you know? Just take. Couldn't stand a
Max found the agents for her, and a trio of awesomely
slick junior partners Leared into YVR a day later. Lise
wouldn't come down to the Pilot to meet them, insisted
we bring them up to Rubin's, where she still slept.
"Welcome to Couverville," Rubin said as they
edged in the door. His long face was smeared with
grease, the fly of his ragged fatigue pants held more or
less shut with a twisted paper clip. The boys grinned
automatically, but there was something marginally
more authentic about the girl's smile. "Mr. Stark," she
said, "I was in London last week. I saw your installa-
tion at the Tate."
"Marcello `s Battery Factory," Rubin said. "They
say it's scatological, the Brits. . . ." He shrugged.
"Brits. I mean, who knows?"
"They're right. It's also very funny."
The boys were beaming like tabled-tanned light-
houses, standing there in their suits. The demo had
reached Los Angeles. They knew.
"And you're Lise," she said, negotiating the path
between Rubin's heaped gomi. "You're going to be a
very famous person soon, Lise. We have a lot to dis-
And Lise just stood there, propped in polycarbon,
and the look on her face was the one I'd seen that first
night, in my condo, when she'd asked me if I wanted to
go to bed. But if the junior agent lady saw it, she didn't
show it. She was a pro.
I told myself that I was a pro, too.
I told myself to relax.
Trash fires gutter in steel canisters around the Market.
The snow still falls and kids huddle over the flames like
arthritic crows, hopping from foot to foot, wind whip-
ping their dark coats. Up in Fairview's arty slum-
tumble, someone's laundry has frozen solid on the line,
pink squares of bedsheet standing out against the back-
ground dinge and the confusion of satellite dishes and
solar panels. Some ecologist's eggbeater windmill goes
round and round, round and round, giving a whirling
finger to the Hydro rates.
Rubin clumps along in paint-spattered L. L. Bean
gumshoes, his big head pulled down into an oversize
fatigue jacket. Sometimes one of the hunched teens will
point him out as we pass, the guy who builds all the
crazy stuff, the robots and shit.
"You know what your trouble is?" he says when
we're under the bridge, headed up to Fourth. "You're
the kind who always reads the handbook. Anything
people build, any kind of technology, it's going to have
some specific purpose. It's for doing something that
somebody already understands. But if it's new tech-
nology, it'll open areas nobody's ever thought of
before. You read the manual, man, and you won't play
around with it, not the same way. And you get all funny
when somebody else uses it to do something you never
thought of. Like Lise."
"She wasn't the first." Traffic drums past over-
"No, but she's sure as hell the first person you ever
met who went and translated themself into a hardwired
program. You lose any sleep when whatsisname did it,
three-four years ago, the French kid, the writer?"
"I didn't really think about it, much. A gimmick.
"He's still writing. The weird thing is, he's going to
be writing, unless somebody blows up his main-
I wince, shake my head. "But it's not him, is it? It's
just a program."
"Interesting point. Hard to say. With Lise, though,
we find out. She's not a writer."
She had it all in there, Kings, locked up in her head the
way her body was locked in that exoskeleton.
The agents signed her with a label and brought in a
production team from Tokyo. She told them she wanted
me to edit. I said no; Max dragged me into his office
and threatened to fire me on the spot. If I wasn't in-
volved, there was no reason to do the studio work at the
Pilot. Vancouver was hardly the center of the world,
and the agents wanted her in Los Angeles. It meant a lot
of money to him, and it might put the Autonomic Pilot
on the map. I couldn't explain to him why I'd refused.
It was too crazy, too personal; she was getting a final