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Author: William Gibson
Publisher: Viking UK, 1996
Series: The Bridge Trilogy: Book 2
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Cyberpunk
Artificial Intelligence
Virtual Reality
Avg Member Rating:
(140 reads / 50 ratings)


In twenty-first century Tokyo, Rez, one of the world's biggest rock stars, prepares to marry Rei Toe, Japan's biggest media star, who is known as the Idoru and who exists only in virtual reality.


Chapter 1: Death Cube K

After Slitscan, Laney heard about another job from Rydell, the night security man at the Chateau. Rydell was a big quiet Tennessean with a sad shy grin, cheap sunglasses, and a walkie-talkie screwed permanently into one ear.

"Paragon-Asia Dataflow," Rydell said, around four in the morning, the two of them seated in a pair of huge old armchairs. Concrete beams overhead had been hand-painted to vaguely resemble blond oak. The chairs, like the rest of the furniture in the Chateau's lobby, were oversized to the extent that whoever sat in them seemed built to a smaller scale.

"Really?" Laney asked, keeping up the pretense that someone like Rydell would know where he could still find work.

"Tokyo, Japan," Rydell said, and sucked iced latte through a plastic straw. "Guy I met in San Francisco last year. Yamazaki. He's working for 'em. Says they need a serious netrunner."

Netrunner. Laney, who liked to think of himself as a researcher, suppressed a sigh. "Contract job?"

"Guess so. Didn't say."

"I don't think I'd want to live in Tokyo."

Rydell used his straw to stir the foam and ice remaining at the bottom of his tall plastic cup, as though he were hoping to find a secret prize. "He didn't say you'd have to." He looked up. "You ever been to Tokyo?"


"Must be an interesting place, after that quake and all." The walkie-talkie ticked and whispered. "I gotta go on out and check the gate by the bungalows now. Feel like coming?"

"No," Laney said. "Thanks."

Rydell stood, automatically straightening the creases in his khaki uniform trousers. He wore a black nylon web-belt hung with various holstered devices, all of them black, a short-sleeved white shirt, and a peculiarly immobile black tie. "I'll leave the number in your box," he said.

Laney watched the security man cross the terra cotta and the various rugs, to vanish past the darkly polished panels of the registration desk. He'd had something going on cable once, Laney had gathered. Nice guy. Loser.

Laney sat there until dawn came edging in through the tall, arched windows, and Taiwanese stainless could be heard to rattle, but gently, from the darkened cave of the breakfast room. Immigrant voices, in some High Steppe dialect the Great Khans might well have understood. Echoes woke from the tiled floor, from the high beams surviving from an age that must once have seen the advent of Laney's kind or predecessors, their ecology of celebrity and the terrible and inviolable order of that food chain.

Rydell left a folded sheet of Chateau notepaper in Laney's box. A Tokyo number. Laney found it there the next afternoon, along with an updated estimate of his final bill from the lawyers.

He took them both up to the room he could no longer even pretend to afford.

A week later he was in Tokyo, his face reflected in an elevator's gold-veined mirror for this three-floor ascent of the aggressively nondescript O My Golly Building. To be admitted to Death Cube K, apparently a Franz Kafka theme bar.

Stepping from the elevator into a long space announced in acid-etched metal as The Metamorphosis. Where salarimen in white shirts had removed their suit jackets and loosened their dark ties, and sat at a bar of artfully corroded steel, drinking, the high backs of their chairs molded from some brown and chitinous resin. Insectoid mandibles curved above the drinkers' heads like scythes.

He moved forward into brown light, a low murmur of conversation. He understood no Japanese. The walls, unevenly transparent, repeated a motif of wing cases and bulbous abdomens, spikey brown limbs folded in at regular intervals. He increased his pace, aiming for a curving stairway molded to resemble glossy brown carapaces.

The eyes of Russian prostitutes followed him from tables opposite the bar, flat and doll-like in this roach- light. The Natashas were everywhere, working girls shipped in from Vladivostok by the Kombinat. Routine plastic surgery lent them a hard assembly-line beauty. Slavic Barbies. A simpler operation implanted a tracking device for the benefit of their handlers.

The stairway opened into The Penal Colony, a disco, deserted at this hour, pulses of silent red lightning marking Laney's steps across the dance floor. A machine of some kind was suspended from the ceiling. Each of its articulated arms, suggestive of antique dental equipment, was tipped with sharp steel. Pens, he thought, vaguely remembering Kafka's story. Sentence of guilt, graven in the flesh of the condemned man's back. Wincing at a memory of upturned eyes unseeing. Pushed it down. Moved on.

A second stairway, narrow, more steep, and he entered The Trial, low-ceilinged and dark. Walls the color of anthracite. Small flames shivered behind blue glass. He hesitated, nightblind and jet-lagged.

"Colin Laney, is it?"

Australian. Enormous. Who stood behind a little table, shoulders sloping bearlike. Something strange about the shape of his shaven head. And another, much smaller figure, seated there. Japanese, in a long- sleeved plaid shirt buttoned up to its oversized collar. Blinking up at Laney through circular lenses.

"Have a seat, Mr. Laney," the big man said.

And Laney saw that this man's left ear was missing, sheared away, leaving only a convoluted stump.

When Laney had worked for Slitscan, his supervisor was named Kathy Torrance. Palest of pale blonds. A pallor bordering on translucence, certain angles of light suggesting not blood but some fluid the shade of summer straw. On her left thigh the absolute indigo imprint of something twisted and multibarbed, an expensively savage pictoglyph. Visible each Friday, when she made it her habit to wear shorts to work.

She complained, always, that the nature of celebrity was much the worse for wear. Strip-mined, Laney gathered, by generations of her colleagues.

She propped her feet on the ledge of a hotdesk. She wore meticulous little reproductions of lineman's boots, buckled across the instep and stoutly laced to the ankle. He looked at her legs, their taut sweep from wooly sock tops to the sandpapered fringe of cut-off jeans. The tattoo looked like something from another planet, a sign or message burned in from the depths of space, left there for mankind to interpret.

He asked her what she meant. She peeled a mint- flavored toothpick from its wrapper. Eyes he suspected were gray regarded him through mint-tinted contacts.

"Nobody's really famous anymore, Laney. Have you noticed that?"


"I mean really famous. There's not much fame left, not in the old sense. Not enough to go around."

"The old sense?"

"We're the media, Laney. We make these assholes celebrities. It's a push-me, pull-you routine. They come to us to be created." Vibram cleats kicked concisely off the hotdesk. She tucked her boots in, heels against denim haunches, white knees hiding her mouth. Balanced there on the pedestal of the hotdesk's articulated Swedish chair.

"Well," Laney said, going back to his screen, "that's still fame, isn't it?"

"But is it real?"

He looked back at her.

"We learned to print money off this stuff," she said. "Coin of our realm. Now we've printed too much; even the audience knows. It shows in the ratings."

Laney nodded, wishing she'd leave him to his work.

"Except," she said, parting her knees so he could see her say it, "when we decide to destroy one."

Behind her, past the anodyzed chainlink of the Cage, beyond a framing rectangle of glass that filtered out every tint of pollution, the sky over Burbank was perfectly blank, like a sky-blue paint chip submitted by the contractor of the universe.

The man's left ear was edged with pink tissue, smooth as wax. Laney wondered why there had been no attempt at reconstruction.

"So I'll remember," the man said, reading Laney's eyes.

"Remember what?"

"Not to forget. Sit down."

Laney sat on something only vaguely chairlike, an attenuated construction of black alloy rods and laminated Hexcel. The table was round and approximately the size of a steering wheel. A votive flame licked the air, behind blue glass. The Japanese man with the plaid shirt and metal-framed glasses blinked furiously. Laney watched the large man settle himself, another slender chair-thing lost alarmingly beneath a sumo- sized bulk that appeared to be composed entirely of muscle.

"Done with the jet lag, are we?"

"I took pills." Remembering the SST's silence, its lack of apparent motion.

"Pills," the man said. "Hotel adequate?"

"Yes," Laney said. "Ready for the interview."

"Well then," vigorously rubbing his face with heavily scarred hands. He lowered his hands and stared at Laney, as if seeing him for the first time. Laney, avoiding the gaze of those eyes, took in the man's outfit, some sort of nanopore exercise gear intended to fit loosely on a smaller but still very large man. Of no particular color in the darkness of The Trial. Open from collar to breastbone. Straining against abnormal mass. Exposed flesh tracked and crossed by an atlas of scars, baffling in their variety of shape and texture. "Well, then?"

Laney looked up from the scars. "I'm here for a job interview."

"Are you?"

"Are you the interviewer?"

"'Interviewer'?" The ambiguous grimace revealing an obvious dental prosthesis.

Laney turned to the Japanese in the round glasses. "Colin Laney."

"Shinya Yamazaki," the man said, extending his hand. They shook. "We spoke on the telephone."

"You're conducting the interview?"

A flurry of blinks. "I'm sorry, no," the man said. And then, "I am a student of existential sociology."

"I don't get it," Laney said. The two opposite said nothing. Shinya Yamazaki looked embarrassed. The one-eared man glowered.

"You're Australian," Laney said to the one-eared man.

"Tazzie," the man corrected. "Sided with the South in the Troubles."

"Let's start over," Laney suggested. "'Paragon- Asia Dataflow.' You them?"

"Persistent bugger."

"Goes with the territory," Laney said. "Professionally, I mean."

"Fair enough." The man raised his eyebrows, one of which was bisected by a twisted pink cable of scar tissue. "Rez, then. What do you think of him?"

"You mean the rock star?" Laney asked, after struggling with a basic problem of context.

A nod. The man regarded Laney with utmost gravity.

"From Lo/Rez? The band?" Half Irish, half Chinese. A broken nose, never repaired. Long green eyes.

"What do I think of him?"

In Kathy Torrance's system of things, the singer had been reserved a special disdain. She had viewed him as a living fossil, an annoying survival from an earlier, less evolved era. He was at once massively and meaninglessly famous, she maintained, just as he was both massively and meaninglessly wealthy. Kathy thought of celebrity as a subtle fluid, a universal element, like the phlogiston of the ancients, something spread evenly at creation through all the universe, but prone now to accrete, under specific conditions, around certain individuals and their careers. Rez, in Kathy's view, had simply lasted far too long. Monstrously long. He was affecting the unity of her theory. He was defying the proper order of the food chain. Perhaps there was nothing big enough to eat him, not even Slitscan. And while Lo/Rez, the band, still extruded product on an annoyingly regular basis, in a variety of media, their singer stubbornly refused to destroy himself, murder someone, become active in politics, admit to an interesting substance- abuse problem or an arcane sexual addiction--indeed to do anything at all worthy of an opening segment on Slitscan. He glimmered, dully perhaps, but steadily, just beyond Kathy Torrance's reach. Which was, Laney had always assumed, the real reason for her hating him so.

"Well," Laney said, after some thought, and feeling a peculiar compulsion to attempt a truthful answer, "I remember buying their first album. When it came out."

"Title?" The one-eared man grew graver still.

"'Lo Rez Skyline,"' Laney said, grateful for whatever minute synaptic event had allowed the recall. "But I couldn't tell you how many they've put out since."

"Twenty-six, not counting compilations," said Mr. Yamazaki, straightening his glasses.

Laney felt the pills he'd taken, the ones that were supposed to cushion the jet lag, drop out from under him like some kind of rotten pharmacological scaffolding. The walls of The Trial seemed to grow closer.

"If you aren't going to tell me what this is about," he said to the one-eared man, "I'm going back to the hotel. I'm tired."

"Keith Alan Blackwell," extending his hand. Laney allowed his own to be taken and briefly shaken. The man's palm felt like a piece of athletic equipment. "'Keithy.' We'll have a few drinks and a little chat."

"First you tell me whether or not you're from Paragon-Asia," Laney suggested.

"Firm in question's a couple of lines of code in a machine in a backroom in Lygon Street," Blackwell said. "A dummy, but you could say it's our dummy, if that makes you feel better."

"I'm not sure it does," Laney said. "You fly me over to interview for a job, now you're telling me the company I'm supposed to be interviewing for doesn't exist."

"It exists," said Keith Alan Blackwell. "It's on the machine in Lygon Street."

A waitress arrived. She wore a shapeless gray cotton boilersuit and cosmetic bruises.

"Big draft. Kirin. Cold one. What's yours, Laney?"

"Iced coffee."

"Coke Lite, please," said the one who'd introduced himself as Yamazaki.

"Fine," said the earless Blackwell, glumly, as the waitress vanished into the gloom.

"I'd appreciate it if you could explain to me what we're doing here," Laney said. He saw that Yamazaki was scribbling frantically on the screen of a small notebook, the lightpen flashing faintly in the dark. "Are you taking this down?" Laney asked.

"Sorry, no. Making note of waitress' costume."

"Why?" Laney asked.

"Sorry," said Yamazaki, saving what he'd written and turning off the notebook. He tucked the pen carefully into a recess on the side. "I am a student of such things. It is my habit to record ephemera of popular culture. Her costume raises the question: does it merely reflect the theme of this club, or does it represent some deeper response to trauma of earthquake and subsequent reconstruction?"

Copyright © 1996 by William Gibson


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