by BRUCE STERLING
"I can't go on," his brother said.
Tsuyoshi Shimizu looked thoughtfully into the screen of his
pasokon. His older brother's face was shiny with sweat from a late-night
drinking bout. "It's only a career," said Tsuyoshi, sitting up on his
futon and adjusting his pajamas. "You worry too much."
"All that overtime!" his brother whined. He was making the call
from a bar somewhere in Shibuya. In the background, a middle-aged office
lady was singing karaoke, badly. "And the examination hells. The manager
training programs. The proficiency tests. I never have time to live!"
Tsuyoshi grunted sympathetically. He didn't like these late-night
videophone calls, but he felt obliged to listen. His big brother had
always been a decent sort, before he had gone through the elite courses
at Waseda University, joined a big corporation, and gotten
"My back hurts," his brother groused. "I have an ulcer. My hair is
going gray. And I know they'll fire me. No matter how loyal you are to
the big companies, they have no loyalty to their employees anymore. It's
no wonder that I drink."
"You should get married," Tsuyoshi offered.
"I can't find the right girl. Women never understand me." He
shuddered. "Tsuyoshi, I'm truly desperate. The market pressures are
crushing me. I can't breathe. My life has got to change. I'm thinking of
taking the vows. I'm serious! I want to renounce this whole modern
Tsuyoshi was alarmed. "You're very drunk, right?"
His brother leaned closer to the screen. "Life in a monastery
sounds truly good to me. It's so quiet there. You recite the sutras. You
consider your existence. There are rules to follow, and rewards that
make sense. It's just the way that Japanese business used to be, back in
the good old days."
Tsuyoshi grunted skeptically.
"Last week I went out to a special place in the mountains... Mount
Aso," his brother confided. "The monks there, they know about people in
trouble, people who are burned out by modern life. The monks protect you
from the world. No computers, no phones, no faxes, no e-mail, no
overtime, no commuting, nothing at all. It's beautiful, and it's
peaceful, and nothing ever happens there. Really, it's like paradise."
"Listen, older brother," Tsuyoshi said, "you're not a religious man
by nature. You're a section chief for a big import-export company."
"Well... maybe religion won't work for me. I did think of running
away to America. Nothing much ever happens there, either."
Tsuyoshi smiled. "That sounds much better! America is a good
vacation spot. A long vacation is just what you need! Besides, the
Americans are real friendly since they gave up their handguns."
"But I can't go through with it," his brother wailed. "I just don't
dare. I can't just wander away from everything that I know, and trust to
the kindness of strangers."
"That always works for me," Tsuyoshi said. "Maybe you should try
Tsuyoshi's wife stirred uneasily on the futon. Tsuyoshi lowered his
voice. "Sorry, but I have to hang up now. Call me before you do anything
"Don't tell Dad," Tsuyoshi's brother said. "He worries so."
"I won't tell Dad." Tsuyoshi cut the connection and the screen went
Tsuyoshi's wife rolled over, heavily. She was seven months
pregnant. She stared at the ceiling puffing for breath. "Was that
another call from your brother?" she said.
"Yeah. The company just gave him another promotion. More
responsibilities. He's celebrating."
"That sounds nice," his wife said tactfully.
Next morning, Tsuyoshi slept late. He was self-employed, so he kept
his own hours. Tsuyoshi was a video format upgrader by trade. He
transferred old videos from obsolete formats into the new high-grade
storage media. Doing this properly took a craftsman's eye. Word of
Tsuyoshi's skills had gotten out on the network, so he had as much work
as he could handle.
At ten A.M., the mailman arrived. Tsuyoshi abandoned his breakfast
of raw egg and miso soup, and signed for a shipment of flaking,
twentieth-century analog television tapes. The mail also brought a fresh
overnight shipment of strawberries, and a homemade jar of pickles.
"Pickles!" his wife enthused. "People are so nice to you when
"Any idea who sent us that,"
"Just someone on the network."
Tsuyoshi booted his mediator, cleaned his superconducting heads and
examined the old tapes. Home videos from the 1980s. Someone's
grandmother as a child, presumably. There had been a lot of flaking and
loss of polarity in the old recording medium.
Tsuyoshi got to work with his desktop fractal detail generator, the
image stabilizer, and the interlace algorithms. When he was done,
Tsuyoshi's new digital copies would look much sharper, cleaner, and
better composed than the original primitive videotape.
Tsuyoshi enjoyed his work. Quite often he came across bits and
pieces of videotape that were of archival interest. He would pass the
images on to the net. The really big network databases, with their
armies of search engines, indexers, and catalogues, had some very arcane
interests. The net machines would never pay for data, because the global
information networks were noncommercial. But the net machines were very
polite, and had excellent net etiquette. They returned a favor for a
favor, and since they were machines with excellent, enormous memories,
they never forgot a good deed.
Tsuyoshi and his wife had a lunch of ramen with naruto, and she
left to go shopping. A shipment arrived by overseas package service.
Cute baby clothes from Darwin, Australia. They were in his wife's
favorite color, sunshine yellow.
Tsuyoshi finished transferring the first tape to a new crystal
disk. Time for a break. He left his apartment, took the elevator and
went out to the comer coffeeshop. He ordered a double iced mocha
cappuccino and paid with a chargecard.
His pokkecon rang. Tsuyoshi took it from his belt and answered it.
"Get one to go," the machine told him.
"Okay," said Tsuyoshi, and hung up. He bought a second coffee, put
a lid on it and left the shop.
A man in a business suit was sitting on a park bench near the
entrance of Tsuyoshi's building. The man's suit was good, but it looked
as if he'd slept in it. He was holding his head in his hands and rocking
gently back and forth. He was unshaven and his eyes were red-rimmed.
The pokkecon rang again. "The coffee's for him?" Tsuyoshi said.
"Yes," said the pokkecon. "He needs it."
Tsuyoshi walked up to the lost businessman. The man looked up,
flinching warily, as if he were about to be kicked. "What is it?" he
"Here," Tsuyoshi said, handing him the cup. "Double iced mocha
The man opened the cup, and smelled it. He looked up in disbelief.
"This is my favorite kind of coffee... Who are you?"
Tsuyoshi lifted his arm and offered a hand signal, his fingers
clenched like a cat's paw. The man showed no recognition of the gesture.
Tsuyoshi shrugged, and smiled. "It doesn't matter. Sometimes a man
really needs a coffee. Now you have a coffee. That's all."
"Well..." The man cautiously sipped his cup, and suddenly smiled.
"It's really great. Thanks!"
"You're welcome." Tsuyoshi went home.
His wife arrived from shopping. She had bought new shoes. The
pregnancy was making her feet swell. She sat carefully on the couch and
"Orthopedic shoes are expensive," she said, looking at the yellow
pumps. "I hope you don't think they look ugly."
"On you, they look really cute," Tsuyoshi said wisely. He had first
met his wife at a video store. She had just used her credit card to buy
a disk of primitive black-and-white American anime of the 1950s. The
pokkecon had urged him to go up and speak to her on the subject of Felix
the Cat. Felix was an early television cartoon star and one of
Tsuyoshi's personal favorites.
Tsuyoshi would have been too shy to approach an attractive woman on
his own, but no one was a stranger to the net. This fact gave him the
confidence to speak to her. Tsuyoshi had soon discovered that the girl
was delighted to discuss her deep fondness for cute, antique, animated
cats. They'd had lunch together. They'd had a date the next week. They
had spent Christmas Eve together in a love hotel. They had a lot in
She had come into his life through a little act of grace, a little
gift from Felix the Cat's magic bag of tricks. Tsuyoshi had never gotten
over feeling grateful for this. Now that he was married and becoming a
father, Tsuyoshi Shimizu could feel himself becoming solidly fixed in
life. He had a man's role to play now. He knew who he was, and he knew
where he stood. Life was good to him.
"You need a haircut, dear," his wife told him.
His wife pulled a gift box out of her shopping bag. "Can you go to
the Hotel Daruma, and get your hair cut, and deliver this box for me?"
"What is it?" Tsuyoshi said.
Tsuyoshi's wife opened the little wooden gift box. A maneki neko
was nestled inside white foam padding. The smiling ceramic cat held one
paw upraised, beckoning for good fortune.
"Don't you have enough of those yet?" he said. "You even have
maneki neko underwear."
"It's not for my collection. It's a gift for someone at the Hotel
"Some foreign woman gave me this box at the shoestore. She looked
American. She couldn't speak Japanese. She had really nice shoes,
"If the network gave you that little cat, then you're the one who
should take care of that obligation, dear."
"But dear," she sighed, "my feet hurt so much, and you could do
with a haircut anyway, and I have to cook supper, and besides, it's not
really a nice maneki neko, it's just cheap tourist souvenir junk. Can't
you do it?"
"Oh, all right," Tsuyoshi told her. "Just forward your pokkecon
prompts onto my machine, and I'll see what I can do for us."
She smiled. "I knew you would do it. You're really so good to me."
Tsuyoshi left with the little box. He wasn't unhappy to do the
errand, as it wasn't always easy to manage his pregnant wife's volatile
moods in their small six-tatami apartment. The local neighborhood was
good, but he was hoping to find bigger accommodations before the child
was born. Maybe a place with a little studio, where he could expand the
scope of his work. It was very hard to find decent housing in Tokyo, but
word was out on the net. Friends he didn't even know were working every
day to help him. If he kept up with the net's obligations, he had every
confidence that some day something nice would turn up.
Tsuyoshi went into the local pachinko parlor, where he won half a
liter of beer and a train chargecard. He drank the beer, took the new
train card and wedged himself into the train. He got out at the Ebisu
station, and turned on his pokkecon Tokyo street map to guide his steps.
He walked past places called Chocolate Soup, and Freshness Physique, and
The Aladdin Mai-Tai Panico Trattoria.
He entered the Hotel Daruma and went to the hotel barber shop,
which was called the Daruma Planet Look. "May I help you?" said the
"I'm thinking, a shave and a trim," Tsuyoshi said.
"Do you have an appointment with us?"
"Sorry, no." Tsuyoshi offered a hand gesture.
The woman gestured back, a jerky series of cryptic finger
movements. Tsuyoshi didn't recognize any of the gestures. She wasn't
from his part of the network.
"Oh well, never mind," the receptionist said kindly. "I'll get
Nahoko to look after you."
Nahoko was carefully shaving the fine hair from Tsuyoshi's forehead
when the pokkecon rang. Tsuyoshi answered it.
"Go to the ladies' room on the fourth floor," the pokkecon told
"Sorry, I can't do that. This is Tsuyoshi Shimizu, not Ai Shimizu.
Besides, I'm having my hair cut right now."
"Oh, I see," said the machine. "Recalibrating." It hung up.
Nahoko finished his hair. She had done a good job. He looked much
better. A man who worked at home had to take special trouble to keep up
appearances. The pokkecon rang again.
"Yes?" said Tsuyoshi.
"Buy bay rum aftershave. Take it outside."
"Right." He hung up. "Nahoko, do you have bay rum?"
"Odd you should ask that," said Nahoko. "Hardly anyone asks for bay
rum anymore, but our shop happens to keep it in stock."
Tsuyoshi bought the aftershave, then stepped outside the
barbershop. Nothing happened, so he bought a manga comic and waited.
Finally a hairy, blond stranger in shorts, a tropical shirt, and sandals
approached him. The foreigner was carrying a camera bag and an old-
fashioned pokkecon. He looked about sixty years old, and he was very
The man spoke to his pokkecon in English. "Excuse me," said the
pokkecon, translating the man's speech into Japanese. "Do you have a
bottle of bay rum aftershave?"
"Yes I do." Tsuyoshi handed the bottle over. "Here."
"Thank goodness!" said the man, his words relayed through his
machine. "I've asked everyone else in the lobby. Sorry I was late."
"No problem," said Tsuyoshi. "That's a nice pokkecon you have
"Well," the man said, "I know it's old and out of style. But I plan
to buy a new pokkecon here in Tokyo. I'm told that they sell pokkecons
by the basketful in Akihabara electronics market."
"That's right. What kind of translator program are you running?
Your translator talks like someone from Osaka."
"Does it sound funny?" the tourist asked anxiously.
"Well, I don't want to complain, but..." Tsuyoshi smiled. "Here,
let's trade meishi. I can give you a copy of a brand-new freeware
"That would be wonderful." They, pressed buttons and squirted
copies of their business cards across the network link.
Tsuyoshi examined his copy of the man's electronic card and saw
that his name was Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman was from New Zealand.
Tsuyoshi activated a transfer program. His modern pokkecon began
transferring a new translator onto Zimmerman's machine.
A large American man in a padded suit entered the lobby of the
Daruma. The man wore sunglasses, and was sweating visibly in the summer
heat. The American looked huge, as if he lifted a lot of weights. Then a
Japanese woman followed him. The woman was sharply dressed, with a dark
blue dress suit, hat, sunglasses, and an attache case. She had a haunted
Her escort turned and carefully watched the bellhops, who were
bringing in a series of bags. The woman walked crisply to the reception
desk and began making anxious demands of the clerk.
"I'm a great believer in machine translation," Tsuyoshi said to the
tall man from New Zealand. "I really believe that computers help human
beings to relate in a much more human way."
"I couldn't agree with you more," said Mr. Zimmerman, through his
machine. "I can remember the first time I came to your country, many
years ago. I had no portable translator. In fact, I had nothing but a
printed phrasebook. I happened to go into a bar, and..."
Zimmerman stopped and gazed alertly at his pokkecon. "Oh dear, I'm
getting a screen prompt. I have to go up to my room right away."
"Then I'll come along with you till this software transfer is
done," Tsuyoshi said.
"That's very kind of you." They got into the elevator together.
Zimmerman punched for the fourth floor. "Anyway, as I was saying, I went
into this bar in Roppongi late at night, because I was jetlagged and
hoping for something to eat..."
"And this woman... well, let's just say this woman was hanging out
in a foreigner's bar in Roppongi late at night, and she wasn't wearing a
whole lot of clothes, and she didn't look like she was any better than
she ought to be..."
"Yes, I think I understand you."
"Anyway, this menu they gave me was full of kanji, or katakana, or
romanji, or whatever they call those, so I had my phrasebook out, and I
was trying very hard to puzzle out these pesky ideograms..." The
elevator opened and they stepped into the carpeted hall of the hotel's
fourth floor. "So I opened the menu and I pointed to an entree, and I
told this girl..." Zimmerman stopped suddenly, and stared at his screen.
"Oh dear, something's happening. Just a moment."
Zimmerman carefully studied the instructions on his pokkecon. Then
he pulled the bottle of bay rum from the baggy pocket of his shorts, and
unscrewed the cap. He stood on tiptoe, stretching to his full height,
and carefully poured the contents of the bottle through the iron louvers
of a ventilation grate, set high in the top of the wall.
Zimmerman screwed the cap back on neatly, and slipped the empty
bottle back in his pocket. Then he examined his pokkecon again. He
frowned, and shook it. The screen had frozen. Apparently Tsuyoshi's new
translation program had overloaded Zimmerman's old-fashioned operating
system. His pokkecon had crashed.
Zimmerman spoke a few defeated sentences in English. Then he
smiled, and spread his hands apologetically. He bowed, and went into his
room, and shut the door.
The Japanese woman and her burly American escort entered the hall.
The man gave Tsuyoshi a hard stare. The woman opened the door with a
passcard. Her hands were shaking.
Tsuyoshi's pokkecon rang. "Leave the hall," it told him. "Go
downstairs. Get into the elevator with the bellboy."
Tsuyoshi followed instructions.
The bellboy was just entering the elevator with a cart full of the
woman's baggage. Tsuyoshi got into the elevator, stepping carefully
behind the wheeled metal cart. "What floor, sir?" said the bellboy.
"Eight," Tsuyoshi said, ad-libbing. The bellboy turned and pushed
the buttons. He faced forward attentively, his gloved hands folded.
The pokkecon flashed a silent line of text to the screen. "Put the
gift box inside her flight bag," it read.
Tsuyoshi located the zippered blue bag at the back of the cart. It
was a matter of instants to zip it open, put in the box with the maneki
neko, and zip the bag shut again. The bellboy noticed nothing. He left,
tugging his cart.
Tsuyoshi got out on the eighth floor, feeling slightly foolish. He
wandered down the hall, found a quiet nook by an ice machine and called
his wife. "What's going on?" he said.
"Oh, nothing." She smiled. "Your haircut looks nice! Show me the
back of your head."
Tsuyoshi held the pokkecon screen behind the nape of his neck.
"They do good work," his wife said with satisfaction. "I hope it
didn't cost too much. Are you coming home now?"
"Things are getting a little odd here at the hotel," Tsuyoshi told
her. "I may be some time."
His wife frowned. "Well, don't miss supper. We're having bonito."
Tsuyoshi took the elevator back down. It stopped at the fourth
floor. The woman's American companion stepped onto the elevator. His
nose was running and his eyes were streaming with tears.
"Are you all right?" Tsuyoshi said.
"I don't understand Japanese," the man growled. The elevator doors
The man's cellular phone crackled into life. It emitted a scream of
anguish and a burst of agitated female English. The man swore and
slammed his hairy fist against the elevator's emergency button. The
elevator stopped with a lurch. An alarm bell began ringing.
The man pried the doors open with his large hairy fingers and
clambered out into the fourth floor. He then ran headlong down the hall.
The elevator began buzzing in protest, its doors shuddering as if
broken. Tsuyoshi climbed hastily from the damaged elevator, and stood
there in the hallway. He hesitated a moment. Then he produced his
pokkecon and loaded his Japanese-to-English translator. He walked
cautiously after the American man.
The door to their suite was open. Tsuyoshi spoke aloud into his
pokkecon. "Hello?" he said experimentally. "May I be of help?"
The woman was sitting on the bed. She had just discovered the
maneki neko box in her flight bag. She was staring at the little cat in
"Who are you?" she said, in bad Japanese.
Tsuyoshi realized suddenly that she was a Japanese American.
Tsuyoshi had met a few Japanese Americans before. They always troubled
him. They looked fairly normal from the outside, but their behavior was
always bizarre. "I'm just a passing friend," he said. "Something I can
"Grab him, Mitch!" said the woman in English. The American man
rushed into the hall and grabbed Tsuyoshi by the arm. His hands were
like steel bands.
Tsuyoshi pressed the distress button on his pokkecon.
"Take that computer away from him," the woman ordered in English.
Mitch quickly took Tsuyoshi's pokkecon away, and threw it on the bed. He
deftly patted Tsuyoshi's clothing, searching for weapons. Then he shoved
Tsuyoshi into a chair.
The woman switched back to Japanese. "Sit right there, you. Don't
you dare move." She began examining the contents of Tsuyoshi's wallet.
"I beg your pardon?" Tsuyoshi said. His pokkecon was lying on the
bed. Lines of red text scrolled up its little screen as it silently
issued a series of emergency net alerts.
The woman spoke to her companion in English. Tsuyoshi's pokkecon
was still translating faithfully. "Mitch, go call the local police."
Mitch sneezed uncontrollably. Tsuyoshi noticed that the room
smelled strongly of bay rum. "I can't talk to the local cops. I can't
speak Japanese." Mitch sneezed again.
"Okay, then I'll call the cops. You handcuff this guy. Then go down
to the infirmary and get yourself some antihistamines, for Christ's
Mitch pulled a length of plastic whipcord cuff from his coat
pocket, and attached Tsuyoshi's right wrist to the head of the bed. He
mopped his streaming eyes with a tissue. "I'd better stay with you. If
there's a cat in your luggage, then the criminal network already knows
we're in Japan. You're in danger."
"Mitch, you may be my bodyguard, but you're breaking out in hives."
"This just isn't supposed to happen," Mitch complained, scratching
his neck. "My allergies never interfered with my job before."
"Just leave me here and lock the door," the woman told him. "I'll
put a chair against the knob. I'll be all right. You need to look after
Mitch left the room.
The woman barricaded the door with a chair. Then she called the
front desk on the hotel's bedside pasokon. "This is Louise Hashimoto in
room 434. I have a gangster in my room. He's an information criminal.
Would you call the Tokyo police, please? Tell them to send the organized
crime unit. Yes, that's right. Do it. And you should put your hotel
security people on full alert. There may be big trouble here. You'd
better hurry." She hung up.
Tsuyoshi stared at her in astonishment. "Why are you doing this?
What's all this about?"
"So you call yourself Tsuyoshi Shimizu," said the woman, examining
his credit cards. She sat on the foot of the bed and stared at him.
"You're yakuza of some kind, right?"
"I think you've made a big mistake," Tsuyoshi said.
Louise scowled. "Look, Mr. Shimizu, you're not dealing with some
Yankee tourist here. My name is Louise Hashimoto and I'm an assistant
federal prosecutor from Providence, Rhode Island, USA." She showed him a
magnetic ID card with a gold official seal.
"It's nice to meet someone from the American government," said
Tsuyoshi, bowing a bit in his chair. "I'd shake your hand, but it's tied
to the bed."
"You can stop with the innocent act right now. I spotted you out in
the hall earlier, and in the lobby, too, casing the hotel. How did you
know my bodyguard is violently allergic to bay rum? You must have read
his medical records."
"Who, me? Never!"
"Ever since I discovered you network people, it's been one big
pattern," said Louise. "It's the biggest criminal conspiracy I ever saw.
I busted this software pirate in Providence. He had a massive network
server and a whole bunch of AI freeware search engines. We took him in
custody, we bagged all his search engines, and catalogs, and indexers...
Later that very same day, these cats start showing up."
Louise lifted the maneki neko, handling it as if it were a live
eel. "These little Japanese voodoo cats. Maneki neko, right? They
started showing up everywhere I went. There's a china cat in my handbag.
There's three china cats at the office. Suddenly they're on display in
the windows of every antique store in Providence. My car radio starts
making meowing noises at me."
"You broke part of the network?" Tsuyoshi said, scandalized. "You
took someone's machines away? That's terrible! How could you do such an
"You've got a real nerve complaining about that. What about my
machinery?" Louise held up her fat, eerie-looking American pokkecon. "As
soon as I stepped off the airplane at Narita, my PDA was attacked.
Thousands and thousands of e-mail messages. All of them pictures of
cats. A denial-of-service attack! I can't even communicate with the home
office! My PDA's useless!"
"What's a PDA?"
"It's a PDA, my Personal Digital Assistant! Manufactured in Silicon
"Well, with a goofy name like that, no wonder our pokkecons won't
talk to it."
Louise frowned grimly. "That's right, wise guy. Make jokes about
it. You're involved in a malicious software attack on a legal officer of
the United States Government. You'll see." She paused, looking him over.
"You know, Shimizu, you don't look much like the Italian mafia gangsters
I have to deal with, back in Providence."
"I'm not a gangster at all. I never do anyone any harm."
"Oh no?" Louise glowered at him. "Listen, pal, I know a lot more
about your set-up, and your kind of people, than you think I do. I've
been studying your outfit for a long time now. We computer cops have
names for your kind of people. Digital panarchies. Segmented,
polycephalous, integrated influence networks. What about all these free
goods and services you're getting all this time?"
She pointed a finger at him. "Ha! Do you ever pay taxes on those?
Do you ever declare that income and those benefits? All the free
shipments from other countries! The little homemade cookies, and the
free pens and pencils and bumper stickers, and the used bicycles, and
the helpful news about fire sales... You're a tax evader! You're living
through kickbacks! And bribes! And influence peddling! And all kinds of
corrupt off-the-books transactions?
Tsuyoshi blinked. "Look, I don't know anything about all that. I'm
just living my life."
"Well, your network gift economy is undermining the lawful,
government approved, regulated economy!"
"Well," Tsuyoshi said gently, "maybe my economy is better than your
"Says who?" she scoffed. "Why would anyone think that,"
"It's better because we're happier than you are. What's wrong with
acts of kindness? Everyone likes gifts. Midsummer gifts. New Years Day
gifts. Year-end presents. Wedding presents. Everybody likes those."
"Not the way you Japanese like them. You're totally crazy for
"What kind of society has no gifts? It's barbaric to have no regard
for common human feelings."
Louise bristled. "You're saying I'm barbaric?"
"I don't mean to complain," Tsuyoshi said politely, "but you do
have me tied up to your bed."
Louise crossed her arms. "You might as well stop complaining.
You'll be in much worse trouble when the local police arrive."
"Then we'll probably be waiting here for quite a while," Tsuyoshi
said. "The police move rather slowly, here in Japan. I'm sorry, but we
don't have as much crime as you Americans, so our police are not very
The pasokon rang at the side of the bed. Louise answered it. It was
"Could I speak to Tsuyoshi Shimizu please?"
"I'm over here, dear," Tsuyoshi called quickly. "She's kidnapped
me! She tied me to the bed!"
"Tied to her bed?" His wife's eyes grew wide. "That does it! I'm
calling the police!"
Louise quickly hung up the pasokon. "I haven't kidnapped you! I'm
only detaining you here until the local authorities can come and arrest
"Arrest me for what, exactly?"
Louise thought quickly. "Well, for poisoning my bodyguard by
pouring bay rum into the ventilator."
"But I never did that. Anyway, that's not illegal, is it?"
The pasokon rang again. A shining white cat appeared on the screen.
It had large, staring, unearthly eyes.
"Let him go," the cat commanded in English.
Louise shrieked and yanked the pasokon's plug from the wall.
Suddenly the lights went out. "Infrastructure attack!" Louise
squawled. She rolled quickly under the bed.
The room went gloomy and quiet. The air conditioner had shut off.
"I think you can come out," Tsuyoshi said at last, his voice loud in the
still room. "It's just a power failure."
"No it isn't," Louise said. She crawled slowly from beneath the
bed, and sat on the mattress. Somehow, the darkness had made them more
intimate. "I know very well what this is. I'm under attack. I haven't
had a moment's peace since I broke that network. Stuff just happens to
me now. Bad stuff. Swarms of it. It's never anything you can touch,
though. Nothing you can prove in a court of law."
She sighed. "I sit in chairs, and somebody's left a piece of gum
there. I get free pizzas, but they're not the kind of pizzas I like.
Little kids spit on my sidewalk. Old women in walkers get in front of me
whenever I need to hurry."
The shower came on, all by itself. Louise shuddered, but said
nothing. Slowly, the darkened, stuffy room began to fill with hot steam.
"My toilets don't flush," Louise said. "My letters get lost in the
mail. When I walk by cars, their theft alarms go off. And strangers
stare at me. It's always little things. Lots of little tiny things, but
they never, ever stop. I'm up against something that is very very big,
and very very patient. And it knows all about me. And it's got a million
arms and legs. And all those arms and legs are people."
There was the noise of scuffling in the hall. Distant voices,
Suddenly the chair broke under the doorknob. The door burst open
violently. Mitch tumbled through, the sunglasses flying from his head.
Two hotel security guards were trying to grab him. Shouting incoherently
in English, Mitch fell headlong to the floor, kicking and thrashing. The
guards lost their hats in the struggle. One tackled Mitch's legs with
both his arms, and the other whacked and jabbed him with a baton.
Puffing and grunting with effort, they hauled Mitch out of the
room. The darkened room was so full of steam that the harried guards
hadn't even noticed Tsuyoshi and Louise.
Louise stared at the broken door. "Why did they do that to him?"
Tsuyoshi scratched his head in embarrassment. "Probably a failure
"Poor Mitch! They took his gun away at the airport. He had all
kinds of technical problems with his passport... Poor guy, he's never
had any luck since he met me."
There was a loud tapping at the window. Louise shrank back in fear.
Finally she gathered her courage, and opened the curtains. Daylight
flooded the room.
A window-washing rig had been lowered from the roof of the hotel,
on cables and pulleys. There were two window-washers in crisp gray
uniforms. They waved cheerfully, making little catpaw gestures.
There was a third man with them. It was Tsuyoshi's brother.
One of the washers opened the window with a utility key. Tsuyoshi's
brother squirmed into the room. He stood up and carefully adjusted his
coat and tie.
"This is my brother," Tsuyoshi explained.
"What are you doing here?" Louise said.
"They always bring in the relatives when there's a hostage
situation," Tsuyoshi's brother said. "The police just flew me in by
helicopter and landed me on the roof." He looked Louise up and down.
"Miss Hashimoto, you just have time to escape."
"What?" she said.
"Look down at the streets," he told her. "See that? You hear them?
Crowds are pouring in from all over the city. All kinds of people,
everyone with wheels. Street noodle salesmen. Bicycle messengers.
Skateboard kids. Takeout delivery guys."
Louise gazed out the window into the streets, and shrieked aloud.
"Oh no! A giant swarming mob! They're surrounding me! I'm doomed!"
"You are not doomed," Tsuyoshi's brother told her intently. "Come
out the window. Get onto the platform with us. You've got one chance,
Louise. It's a place I know, a sacred place in the mountains. No
computers there, no phones, nothing." He paused. "It's a sanctuary for
people like us. And I know the way."
She gripped his suited arm. "Can I trust you?"
"Look in my eyes," he told her. "Don't you see? Yes, of course you
can trust me. We have everything in common."
Louise stepped out the window. She clutched his arm, the wind
whipping at her hair. The platform creaked rapidly up and out of sight.
Tsuyoshi stood up from the chair. When he stretched out, tugging at
his handcuffed wrist, he was just able to reach his pokkecon with his
fingertips. He drew it in, and clutched it to his chest. Then he sat
down again, and waited patiently for someone to come and give him