Ridley McIntyre

1. Start Switch

Shitamachi. The Manhattan Outzone. The Year of the Rat.

Darkness and rain pervade the quiet streets of the Outzone. Here, the Federal Government in its infinite wisdom has cut off all electricity, and left the running of the place to its inhabitants. In Shitamachi, the Asahi Tag Team run everything.

The DJ in Snakestrike is a tiger-haired poserboy with his brain connected to the turbo sound system at the end of a large dance floor, two thin blue wires dangling from the tiny electrodes stuck to his forehead. He is engrossed in the world of the music, every digitized blip and beep and thump pulsing through his nerves like the very blood in his veins. Electrical signals interfacing the sound system to his nervous system to allow him complete control over the mix. The ersatz sensory stimulation that runs through the 'trodes overrides his own natural senses. Every three minutes he switches to life to take a request.

The dance floor swarms with a thousand Shitamachi teenagers, sticking their heads into the blue lasers and flashing fluorescent gloves under the ultra-violet strobes. Every wall of the club writhes with holographic snake scales, a reptilian world that's constantly moving.

There's a hole above the dance floor where people from the level above can watch the dancers. Up here, on the left at the cocktail bar, Snakestrike stinks of dancer sweat. It also reeks of business. And for once, Dex has nothing to do with it.

Two women serve the cocktail bar. One dark-haired with natural beauty, the other a made-up half-Japanese blonde doll who is well known as an Asahi Tag Teamster. They call themselves sisters when a drunken Japanese Sony slave plays being a suit to them, despite his slave's company-grey jumpsuit. Dex watches them all with interest, then calls the dark-haired girl over to order his third Vijayanta tequila slammer.

Dex is here to see Laughing Simon, the Asahi Tag Team's best technojack, but he's been stood up again. So, he sits by the bar with his face cupped in his hand and a pocketful of stimulant wetware in his black pilot's jacket. He is just thinking of leaving when he feels a tap on his shoulder from the billy on the grey stool next to him: a muscular Australian kid with sideburns, a blue denim jacket, a quiff and a ginger moustache.

"So what do you do?" asks the billy.

"Why, are you collecting taxes?" Dex answers. His voice is English. The dark-haired girl returning with a plastic tumbler wonders if there are any Americans left in Manhattan. She turns the glass three times and fizzes it with a bang on the bar and Dex calmly downs it.

"You look like a ghost to me," says the Australian.

Dex shakes his head the way he's supposed to when they ask him these questions. All the time thinking, does it show that much? "Sorry, matey. Just your average ho-hum chipster."

The billy shuffles closer, his voice slipping gently into a business tone. "Shame. I'm looking at some hot paydata and I really need a ghost. One of the best. Someone like the Camden Town Boy. Dexter Eastman."

"You've found Dexter Eastman, matey. But I gave up the ghost over a year ago."

The billy makes a swift move from his jacket and Dex can feel a cold plastic tube dig into his hip. The Australian raises his eyebrows. "Looks like I've found my man, then." He motions to the exit with his head. "We're walking."

"You're walking. I'm here for a drink."

The Australian squints in Dex's face. "You'd better move, cause if you don't it's gonna be a Kodak moment."

Dex sits still. "Go ahead. Shoot me. You won't get out alive. The decision, as they say, is yours." A flick of Dex's eyes motions the Australian to look at the dark-haired bargirl. She holds the HK assault shotgun usually kept under the bar. Casually, and with a feisty smile, she rests the barrel on the bone of the Australian's nose and crunches the first round into the chamber.

"If you're takin' anyone out at my bar, it won't be with a plastic pistol, matey," she says curtly. "Give me the piece and deal with the man friendly-like."

The Australian gives over the gun with a taut look from Dex to the bargirl and back. He wipes sweat from his moustache.

Dex gives a thankful look to the bargirl. "Respect to you," he says.

"S'okay," she replies, "If he didn't look so dumb, I'd shoot him anyway." She puts the guns behind the counter, out of reach, and goes back to the Japanese slave.

Dex turns to the Australian. "You've got two minutes. Deal or step."

The billy talks through clenched teeth. Being challenged down in a club full of strangers by a girl who looked about seventeen has raised a storm inside his pride. It is a storm that has to subside just this once.

"My name's Priest. I'm a dealer for Kreskin."

"Kreskin the rigger?"

"The very same. Kreskin says you two used to work together. You used to do overnight laundry for him with the World Bank."

"That was a year ago."

"Yeah, well he's coming up against some tough opposition from the Martial Government Air Force along the North Route and he needs you to run the Ether for him. Hack into the MGAF shell and find out the reconnaissance flight plans for next week. Rabies just broke out again in the Seattle Metroplex and Kreskin has the contract to ship vaccine over the line. He says you did it before for him. He says you'll do it again."

Dex narrows his eyes. "Read my profile. Ex-hackerjack."

Priest smiles. "Kreskin said you'd be a little reluctant. I have read your profile. Ex-hackerjack. Ex-MGAF pilot. Ex-joker. You've done a lot in your time. Kreskin needs someone he can trust. Someone he knows. And of course if you refuse..." Priest takes a cold gyuza dumpling from a bowl on the bar and bites half of it.

"Kreskin publicly announces my whereabouts to the MGAF."

"I think he had something even worse in mind, but you're on the right track. Strictly business, you understand, Dex. Nothing personal.

Somehow Dex wishes it was personal. Then he'd have an excuse to smash Priest's face in.

Kitty slips into Dex's room and hands him steaming ration coffee in a polystyrene cup. She's like him, another smart young refugee from the authorities. The Manhattan Outzone is an excellent place to hide, but she wasn't born to this, and no one could hide forever.

She looks at Dex through superchromed Sony eyes as he drinks his coffee, sitting on his black leather swivel chair and fidgeting, and she realizes that she knows very little about him. He grew up in a shanty town in the Thames Midland Metroplex and found a way out through running the Ether; the Camden Town Boy. He was a hackerjack legend by the age of fourteen, teaching others like Dagger and Man Friday to run the Ether. At fifteen he was involved with a team rivalry squabble and left for North Am District, where he joined the Martial Government Air Force, flying missions against the nomad joker clans who smuggled anything from weapons to computer parts from one Metroplex to another, figuring that the MGAF's high security would make him harder to track down.

She heard that he turned joker after he had to shoot down his own wingman to save a busload of joker kids from being rocketed. So he joined the nomads as a pilot running recon missions and every once in a while he would launder joker clan money through the Ether.

Kreskin got him a new identity and he left the game for the Manhattan Outzone, where he moved in with Kitty and the Asahi Tag Team and became a chipster. Once, he told her that his main ambition was to live a normal life. Buy himself a piece of Happyville. The biggest problem he had was dropping his past.

Kitty only has to see the look on his face to know that the past is on its way back.

Dex downs the coffee and crushes the cup inside a sinewy hand. "You don't think I should do this, do you?"

Kitty stands with her back to the wall by the door to the kitchen, her arms neatly folded over her Omni T-shirt. She bites her bottom lip.

"No," she says to him. She kicks herself off the wall and leaves the room, closing the door behind her.

Dex is alone in a grimy-grey room with a swivel chair, a desk and a foam mattress to sleep on. Something inside him claws his stomach. An empty feeling.

A hunger.

He takes the machinery out of its bubble-plastic wrapping. It's been in storage in a tea chest in Kitty's room for so long that the wrapping sticks to the molded form of the Sony electronics, making the job more difficult. The sense 'trodes, like sticky silver beads with microthin wires, are wrapped around the Etherdeck. A procured military item in cold matte black, designated Ares IV.

The Ares IV has a stream of wires that plug into the input port of his stolen, unlicensed Fednet computer. Built in Poland, its bright red plastic casing and molded keyboard with old chunky keys seems tasteless to all but the billy tribe. Dex is no billy, he's too dragon, but he likes things in strange colors. The whole setup that has been updated for high-speed bias by Laughing Simon is plugged into the socket that runs a tap into the groundline. He sticks the trodes to his forehead and switches on all the equipment. "On" telltales glisten in the darkness of his room. The screen on the Fednet computer displays a prompt. Everything's ready except Dex.

He sits cross-legged in front of the setup and hesitates. The hunger inside his guts claws him again, and he nearly buckles with tension. With his left hand, he fingers the keyboard of the Fednet computer, preparing himself for sensory takeover.

With the other poised over the Ares IV, he touches the Start switch.

2. Ether

Just as Dex had taught the Dagger and Man Friday, so a girl called Kayjay introduced him to the Ether on a cold London night in a Sony-owned flat in the Camden Secure Zone. He was twelve years old and Kayjay was a small, thin- boned, pretty little Bangladeshi girl with nothing better to do than follow the latest fads.

She had spent most of the day playing with her father's electronic toys. His Sony computer... black and sleek and totally unlike the low-tech kit-boxes that Dex had seen in the shanty town. His wallscreen color TV that was constantly tuned into Disney 7 (The Children's Channel), showing the latest adventures of baby-faced anthropomorphic soldiers in space jungles, fighting the evil insectoids with their nuclear battlesuits, and Dex and Kayjay acted them out in the living room, firing remote control units at each other (Dex was always Mark and Kayjay was always Sukhi), and Kayjay won. When they raided the wardrobe for fancy costumes, Kayjay came across the thin non-descript box that she had seen her father use. It was densely heavy and as big as a Federal Government daily ration box.

He remembers her words now as she tried to explain the concepts to this bright, but uneducated, boy, lying on the thick carpet floor of her bedroom. She tapped the ridge on her black leather swivel chair.

"See this chair?" she said. Twelve-year-old Dexter Eastman nodded softly. "This chair doesn't really exist. It's just an amassment of atomic particles. But the way the light reflects from them, and the way our eyes see that light, leads our brains to come to the conclusion that this pack of particles is a chair. Without a way of translating the fact to us, it doesn't really exist. Without sight it has no color. Without touch it has no texture. Without taste it's not organic. Without sound it doesn't squeak when you turn it. Without smell it isn't leather. A person without senses has no world. It just doesn't exist, there's no way of translating it to them."

Kayjay moved around the room like some eccentric Disney 9 (Education Channel) science instructor and ended up grinning, pointing to her red telephone.

"Ever listened to the sound a modem makes when you send it down a phone line?" She made a weird screeching sound and an equally appalling face and Dex gave a little giggle.

"Data. Raw data. A computer talking to another computer. Not to us, because it doesn't speak our language, but that's by-the-by. The fact is that data has a sound. And if it has a sound, it has a smell. And a taste, and a texture and you must be able to see it. It exists. Only normally, there's no way to translate it to us."

She edged over to Dex and kissed him softly, ran thin brown fingers through his spiky black hair. "Somedays I go there... to this other world. Father calls it the Ether. Like ethereal, I suppose. But it's more like a checkboard than anything else. You want to go? I'll get Father to bring home another set of trodes. After that, we'll do it together..."

The processor is an empty blue cathedral. Code embodies him as the virus runs its course. There is a soft dent in the defense shell and Fednet's watchdog program lays in wait. Dex knows this, though, and avoids the obvious weakness in favor of the silent meltdown.

Another key is tapped and a silver thread streams from the melting roof where Dex has lived all this time toward the bounty. The defenses have been breached, the virus has become part of the defense program, shaping itself to the contours and Dex knows his trojan software can work well enough without him, that he can switch off any time and let a demon do the work for him. But it seems too easy, and something must be wrong.

He stays with it, observing... watching the trojan open and close files with lightning speed, knowing it's true target, but running a trick that it really is a routine file check. As soon as it finds the file, the thread snaps back, and Dex sends a program to cover its tracks. It doesn't matter. The breaching virus is old and faulty, and has caused a cancer in the defense shell that the watchdog can't fail to notice. Dex waits just long enough for the thread to return before he tries to rescue the virus which has gone wild. Eventually, before he can tear the trodes from his forehead, he feels the crushing smash of the MGAF trace program as it finds his home shell. His senses are dazed, rocked back and forth and he is pulled like spaghetti as he sees the trace's toothy smile.

He tears the trodes from his forehead and fights for breath. Suddenly nauseated, he crawls so fast through the door but vomits across the kitchen floor before he can reach the sink. Passing out, he can sense the far off rank smell of stagnant water and the cruel touch of a rough cloth. The stern tones of Kitty's voice echoing through his head...

Snakestrike. The pretty, dark-haired girl brings his drink over to him, loosely covered with a small cloth. She draws him closer to her. Her voice is an urgent whisper. "Your name's Dex, isn't it?"

Dex nods.

"Man in that booth behind you was asking for you not two minutes ago. He said he was an old friend. I told him you weren't here. He said he'd wait. If you're in trouble, matey, call for another drink. I'll bring the shotgun. Escort him out for you."

Dex sits back. She circles the tumbler three times and bangs it on the bar, turning the drink into wet foam. Dex lets her take away the cloth before downing it.

"What's your name?"

"Jess," she says.

"Enough respect to you, Jess." He taps the bar and takes a breath before pushing himself off the stool and looking for this Mister Dangerous. He spots him immediately, and knows his name is Turk.

"What are you doing here, Turk?"

Turk has his arms spread along the back of the seat, a dumb, superior grin on his Dixie City fat face. He wears a blue flight suit, wing commanders tapes on the epaulettes. He even has his own row of medals, including a purple heart that he must have got when Dex shot down his own wingman.

"Thought ah'd find you heah, Eastman," he drawls drunkenly. "Ah was gonna ask you that question mahself. How the hell can you live in this dump, anyways? What do the Sammies call it? Shitter-what?"

"Shitamachi. It's Japanese for downtown. Look, cut the gomi, Turk, just tell me what you want."

Turk laughs raucously and chews gum, bobbing his head. "Jeez, Eastman. You been heah so long, you'se even spoutin' like a Sammie. Bah the way, your friend Priest is dead. Ah did him mahself. But not before I managed to spill your deal outta him. So gimme the file you copied and we'll be friends again."

"We were never friends. What makes you think I've got it with me?"

Turk leans forward and takes a sip from his beer, then returns to his reclining position, absent-mindedly tapping his fingers against the ultra-suede. "Ah told you, Eastman. Ah know the deal. So gimme the data, 'cause I know you got it."

Dex takes on a wounded, irritated look. He runs his hands through his spiky black hair and then takes out a black silicate cube from his jacket pocket and tosses it over to him. Dex is angry as hell now, but he knows he has to contain it if he wants to stay alive.

"Sammie for downtown," Turk mutters. "Down is the operative word, Eastman." He turns his head to the end of the booth, which backs onto the hole above the dance floor. "Can't you play some Neil Young or somethin'? All this Sammie noise sounds the same and half of it ain't got no words!" He comes back and laughs. "You got insurance, Eastman? Ah'd take some out if Ah were you." He stands and finishes his beer.

"And don't let those Sammies take you in. Remember Pearl Harbor. Catch you 'round." Turk slips out of the booth and past the cocktail bar, shaking his head and laughing to himself when Jess throws him a dirty look.

Dex and Jess exchange a glance. Somehow the look on her face tells him exactly what to do.

3. Rehash

"Nixon. How are you? It's the Camden Town Boy. No, not anymore, I'm a free man now. In Shitamachi dealing software to the Asahi Tag Team. Yeah I know... fifty-five points last night, you get a share? Better luck tonight, eh? Anyway, I've got something you might like. I did a run for Kreskin last week, MG Air Force flight plans along the North Route. Yeah, well I asked for 750 marks, but Kreskin dropped his price, said he couldn't go any higher than 500 marks. Yeah, I know, I should have guessed he'd take me for a sucker. Anyway, the MGAF are wise to it, so they've changed their flight plan. Yep. And I've got the new one, too. I'll let you have it for 600 e-marks, what do you say? Ace, it's a deal. Transfer the money into a World Bank bin under the account name of Peter Townshend. Of course I know who Pete Townshend was, but they're too stupid to figure it out. I'll fax the details to you. Better send one of your jokers. Pickup point will be on the fax. Anyway, time is money and you're eating my phone bill. See you sometime."

Dex has an airbrushed wheel-dial telephone, the color of turtleshells. Kitty says he has no taste whatsoever. When Dex reiterates that he likes strange colours, she just shakes her head.

"Who was that?" asks Kitty. She stands half-in, half-out of the doorway to the kitchen. There is still a trace of vomit smell in the air in there after a week.

"Nixon's another Rigger. Officially him and Kreskin are rivals. So he'll buy it just to have something Kreskin hasn't." He wipes sleep from his eyes and pulls at itchy hair.

"Think it'll work?" Kitty sips on ration Vijayanta coffee and makes a face as she burns her tongue.

Dex collapses onto his mattress and sighs, looking out through his window at the condemned block across East 10th Street. Lines of age wrinkling the building. The circular port-hole windows, like a thousand eyes all crying at once.

"It bloody well better work," he finally replies, hoping that soon, things could get back to normal.

Nixon has his package. Another group of mercenaries known as the Harlequins are also interested in the information. Something to do with a hit they have to make on the MGAF.

He meets them at dusk in Tompkins Square, when the day is hottest, and the shadows are longest. The Harlequin Rigger's name is Fly, and he is a frail twig of a man who needs a metal walking stick to stand upright. He is known more for his abilities as a fence than for running a good merc group.

The boys around him are typical San Angeles Ronin, they are all six feet two inches and have deep tans, dressed in Twin Soul Tribe garb (very baggy green jeans and hooded sweaters). Dex has seen a million like these two muscleboys, and they don't impress him. Fly informs him that their names are J.D. and Mavik.

"So what's business like now, Dex?" Fly speaks in a dreamy, whispering tone, a voice much older than he is; looking at him with eyes that are much wiser than the frail man could ever be.

"To tell the truth, the chipster business could be bottoming out here. I might need to expand."

"Expansion's always a good thing, Dex. If you're going to think at all, think big. A real famous businessman said that once... But I'm damned if I can remember his name."

Fly gives a hoarse laugh and Dex joins in. J.D. and Mavik look calmly at the decrepit housing blocks that surround the concrete plaza of Tompkin's Square. Thermographic Sony vision scanning the windows for possible threats. They don't even have to show what weapons they carry. They have rewired nerves for inhuman speed and could probably take out a potential assassin before the hammer falls on his gun. Stuff like that doesn't come cheap, though. Most of the Asahi Tag Team who have rewired nerves had to go as far as the Tokyo Metroplex to find a neurosurgeon good enough to do it. These boys have it as standard with all the Martial Government trickery behind it. They probably don't even know about the glitches in the triggering software that runs the nervous system, something that Dex had to pay a lot to get ironed out when he deserted the air force.

"Where's Man Friday? How's he doing these days? I haven't heard from him in a long time."

Fly pulls a nicotine stick from his black denim jacket and bites a piece off the end. "He's still trying to find out what happened in Rio. Did he leave a girl behind there or something?"

Dex nods. "A wife, from what I remember."

"Oh. Well, we think the Feds caught up with her and she's gone missing. He's organizing an expedition to find her, I think. We're gonna go in with him. He wishes you were running Ether again. Says it ain't so much fun with you not around."

"Well, I'm officially retired. Except for this stuff. Good luck, anyway. If you need any chips for Portuguese, you know where to find me."

Dex and Fly banter this way for only a few more minutes, as both of them have other places to go to. Fly eventually gives him about 400 marks' worth of yen for the data cube.

Kitty watches Dex throughout these events. She can see his life here burning out slowly. She can see from his blue-eyed, thousand- yard stare that his feet are getting itchy again. Track record has proven that he doesn't stay in one place for too long. Kitty needs him here, or at least with her. The two of them aren't in love, not exactly, but what they have is more than a friendship. Some kind of closeness that she can't afford to live without.

He flicks the stop switch. Sweat pours from his face, stings his eyes, leaves salt on his pink lips. His black hair is stuck to his wet head. He gasps for air and finds the atmosphere is too thin for him in this grimy little room. He pulls the trodes from his head, rushes to the round port-hole window and wrenches it open.

Lukewarm air hits his face, cools him down. He sticks his head out into the night's rain. It rains every night in Manhattan. Something to do with the high humidity during the day condensing when the hot sun goes down.

Across East 10th Street, three Asahi Tag Teamsters in their canary yellow jackets and purple tiger-striped skintight jeans suck on nicotine sticks and slap with each other about previous clashes. One of them breaks into a spurt of superhuman martial arts to demonstrate his actions. Just visible behind the kid's ear a mini datacube shines from his neural software port. Chipped for Hapkune- Do, reflexes rewired and boosted by 10 percent, zen flowing from their new Sony eyes. Dex looks at these kids and sees the future of the world. A future he doesn't much care for.

He slides back inside and closes the window. Walking over to the middle of the floor, he looks at the green screen of the unlicensed Fednet computer and sees the results of this day's work. Two tickets to Heathrow waiting for him whenever he wants. One way. His life here is falling to pieces, and it's getting near the time to skin out. Tiny words glowing green in a dark room. He looks at that screen and thinks he can see his future.

4. Times Square

"Kreskin says he'll met you outside the old Slammer Cyberena at noon."

"Times Square."

That's where he is now. The north side, across from the entrance to the Cyberena. He sits in the uncomfortable seat of a magnesium alloy rickshaw that belongs to a young Irish-American kid called Bobby, who wears a white Big Pierrot says watch your back T-shirt and a conical straw hat to keep the blazing sun off him. Kitty's next to him, watching the windows behind the dead neon signs. She's not happy about this choice of venue at all. It's out of Shitamachi. Out of the protection of the Asahi Tag Team. It's the lower end of the Tangerine Tag Team's kill zone and it's totally open.

Dex figures the poor security of the area will work to the advantage of everyone, but he knows that Kitty doesn't get nervous without good reason. So when Kreskin's red rickshaw arrives and Kitty hands him a HK pistol, he doesn't give it back. Dex hates guns. He snaps a magazine in and loads a round, letting the hammer down softly. Before climbing out, he stuffs the thing down the back of his baggy red jeans.

Kreskin climbs out wearing a cheap business suit, hiding his eyes behind a pair of Mitsubishi anti-laser glare glasses. He keeps two of his joker muscleboys close to him, watching the area while toying playfully with their HK uzi copies. For a moment it almost looks like Kreskin doesn't recognize Dex as he strides across the street. But soon he's there and the smile creeps onto the Russian's chubby face. The huge arms extend and the two old friends hug each other with subtle reservation.

There's a swift conversation that seems to arrange another meeting time, and Dex hands over the data cube. Dex is full of himself as they talk. He's given Kreskin what he wanted, made enough money for Kreskin to sort him and Kitty out with new ID's so they can go to London when the heat is on. He has his future in his hands at last. A chance to create his own destiny.

There's a stifled thump and a cry and a woman's urgent shout behind him.


He spins to see the scene, pulls the HK from his jeans.

Bobby lies in a growing pool of blood, his life evaporating under the heat of the sun. Turk has Kitty by the throat, using her as human body armor; the cliched hostage position, with a thick chrome revolver pressed into her temple.

"Hi there, Eastman!" Turk breaks into his dumb grin showing bright white teeth and a piece of strawberry gum. "Think ah'd leave heah without takin' you wi' me? Ah think not."

Dex levels the automatic at Turk's head. Behind him, he can feel the presence of Kreskin and his boys, the sights of HK uzi copies sending shivers along his neck. Sweat tickles his chin before dripping off him.

"Let her go, Turk. This is you and me here."

Turk whistles and makes a face. "You been watchin' too much Big Pierrot, Eastman. Come up wi' an ole cliche like that. You put away your piece an' maybe, jus' maybe, Ah might let your li'l lady go."

Dex shakes his head. His guts wrenched with the feeling of betrayal, like nothing has happened but he's lost everything he has. "Come on, man. I throw this away and I'm giving you the edge."

Turk flicks back the hammer on the revolver, Kitty sucks in a breath. "What edge, fool. Don't try an' pull that mental shit on me, Eastman. Ah know you ain't gonna shoot me."

"Did it once before, Turk, remember? Nothing can happen without you dying at the end of it. You run and I'll shoot. You shoot me and I'll shoot you. You point the gun at me and I'll shoot you. You kill her and I'll shoot you. They shoot me and I'll shoot you. No win situation."

Dex cocks an eyebrow at Turk's expression. The smile falling from the fat Dixie City man's face, turning to a sneer.

"What's up, Turk? Run out of choices? Then call Kreskin's men off."

Turk licks salt from his lips.

"Better do as he says, man. You won't be quite so good-looking with a hole in your face." Kitty's mind is racing. She doesn't have the advantage that these boys have. All of them are probably rewired. Dex, she knows, definitely has been, she's seen how fast he can be. Only a 5 percent reflex boost, but it's enough of an edge against an unmodified man. No, she can't outrun them, so she has to outthink them. Be faster by pre-empting them all.

"Shut up, bitch!"

"What's it going to be, Turk, eh?" Dex can feel his wired nervous system, courtesy of the MGAF, speeding up. An effect like pins and needles all over the body. A slight vertigo and then the neural processor that runs it all from the base of his spine kicks in and the world turns slow-mo.

Frame by frame, a second of violence.

Everyone is surprised because Kitty moves first. Her elbow lifts up and back to push Turk's arm away and the revolver slips from his grasp and Kitty is in the air, diving for the cover of the rickshaw. Turk is a standing target, but Dex doesn't fire, instead, he jumps at wired speed to the floor and shoots at the red rickshaw. He empty's half a magazine into Kreskin.

Kreskin's boys are too slow, only now starting to speed up. Their first bursts of fire are at the place where Dex was, and find only Turk's fat body at the far side of the street, catching him in the throat and upper torso. Bullets rip through his spine and out the other side, pulling Turk with them like puppet strings.

The tall Dixie City man slaps against a metal shop front and slides silent to the ground in a bloody, crumpled heap of flesh.

One of Kreskin's boys managed to follow Dex's trajectory, and when Dex rolls up onto his knees to fire the other half of the magazine, bullets smash into his right arm and sends him spinning back to the floor.

Then the boy that shot him has an instant to realize that his boss is dead before his own head shatters sending blood and brain matter across the red rickshaw. The last Kreskin boy is stunned and silent. Kitty stands there with Turk's revolver in her small hands, trained at his head. The boy drops his HK uzi copy. Kitty walks over and kicks it away, then kneecaps the boy to stop him from leaving.

Dex is screaming in agony. He's been shot before, but that was just a flesh wound. He figures a bone's been hit here and it's drawing his entire mind to it. By the time Kitty's run over to help him, he's passed out from the pain.

Dex climbs lazily out of cot and moves to the window. Looking out, the hot sun is going down on East 10th Street and some half- Japanese kids are playing soccer with a ball made from rubber bands. These kids are going to grow up tough, he thinks to himself. Street Darwinism. But there's no future for them if they can't think, and Dex knows that being smart can just beat being tough. He knows, cause it's not him lying in the street in Times Square waiting for the Tangerine Tag Team to pick him up. That's Turk, and Turk was tough; but stupid.

"Well, there go your dreams, kiddo." Kitty stands at the door, the one place in his room where she feels comfortable.

"Not really. Turk said I may need an insurance policy. I'm going to keep the tickets open for that."

"What about for now?"

He turns around and sees her there. He smiles. His bandaged arm doesn't hurt much anymore. Not after Kitty pressed about 320 miligrams of endorphin analog into the bloody skin. He's as happy as a rat in a hole. But the sudden realization in his mind is that he needs Kitty. And he's never needed anyone before.

Dex shakes his head. "The chipster business is too slow to stay alive here. I mean..."

"You want to be the Boy again, don't you?" Kitty seems to raise her whole face, an expression which means to Dex that she knows the answer already.

"Man Friday said he misses me."

Kitty's expression turns into a rueful grin. She shakes her head and gives him a knowing look as she edges out the door.

Dexter Eastman looks back out the window, and for the first time in years, he feels he's found home.

Ridley McIntyre ( was born in London, but now lives in New Jersey with his fiancée. He has been writing SF since the age of 8, but took a brief hiatus in 1997 while exploring the potential of growing up. He plans to do this with grace, having many tales to tell other people's grandchildren.

InterText stories written by Ridley McIntyre: "Boy" (v2n2), "Seven" (v2n6), "Mercy Street" (v3n3), "Nails of Rust" (v3n4), "Monkeytrick" (v4n4), "Ghostdancer" (v5n5), "Life Without Buildings" (v8n4).

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 2, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1992 Ridley McIntyre.