The first time Jack Out picked Callie up for sure he locked in tight and when he felt her coming (through three floors and six walls) he rotated her one hundred and eighty degrees and it nearly killed him.
He was still in pure kinesthetic, and he could feel it pull her out of him as if his chakras were a string of beads a million miles long. He knew he would die if it broke.
"Only two rules on The Inside," CrayDaddy had told him:
1. DON'T SWEAT THE METAPHORS.
2. IT'S ALL METAPHOR."
But Jack O knew better, knew even a a virtual program could boil his wetware, and his twin Cray hookup was worlds beyond that.
Now visual was kicking in and she was over him in a convex curve of deep absolute gold, horizon to horizon, and sweeping over him degree by degree for eternity. If he had his body here, he would have fallen on his knees in awe. This Must Be Love, he thought.
On the main screen she was displaying in complex geometries dancing on the axis, and the second screen as always was limping along in verbal, tracking in that lame mechano prose because he was subvocalizing even through he didn't want to. Who cares, he thought, as the Crays in the closet sucked her imagery out of him, amped it up through the electrosensor inputs, and mainlined it back into him, through limbic now primarily, in flat nanoseconds of glory.
Already the direct lenses in the room were picking her and phasing out the thermals as Callie entered the room, crossed to his lounger, and tuned him down slow.
Callie eased off The Helmet, then unlaced his hand and took it away, while he was still trying to locate vocal. Jesus, even undressed he could see her auras were out to here, at least three different kinds, and not gold, but mostly a rippling pale violet like the seethrough flames of a fire in the noontime sun.
"We Are," he thought, even as the auras faded, and as the little flickering pentecostals around every item in the room faded out. Everything in the room came clear, and he was back in history.
"This Is Me," he thought, and it saddened him to know it.
Callie put her fingers on his lips as he tried to work them. "What you desperately need," she whispered, "is juice." And she was out of his line of sight He could hardly move his eyes, so he watched The Glove that had been his hand twitching on the table beside him, dreaming its own dreams like a dog by a fire.
"Did the Earth really move?" she asked, "or was that just you?" She was kneeling beside him again, holding a twelve ounce tumbler of orange juice to his lips. Then she came back with a refill, and a half-gallon pitcher of ice cube-filled water to follow it. When he could hold the glass himself she turned to the printout.
"Weight loss 3.7 kilos, mostly fluid, in what? twenty minutes since you phoned me? You ran a temperature of 101.5 most of that time, BP of 200 over 165, heart rate over 100 degrees. What happens the time I get stuck in traffic?"
She had the syringe in, the rubber tubing snapped off, the vials filled with his blood and into her straw bag before he could order his eyes over to watch.
"And I already know what these will show: platelets down, leukocytes down, potassium down. I just want a little of your blood, Jack, but those vampires in your closet want it all."
He took her hand and held on, kept trying, and finally he remembered human speech. "First. I. Felt. You..." he said, and rested. "All kinnie, at first. Callie, you were so smooth! And then, you were Gold!"
And he started to cry, he was so happy. "Oh shit," Callie said, and held him. as she always did. He was shaking with sobs as he tried verbal again: "I. Want you. With me. There."
"Mundus imaginalis," Callie whispered, stroking back his damp hair and staring at the Crays, sitting like a washer-dryer in the open closet. "And you want me to stake a claim and play Little House On The Prairie."
But you will, Jack thought, drifting down. You'll go there if I really call you to. Because you always have, because you'd never leave me in trouble, even out there in Big Sky. Because you're me my lover, sister, twin. Well, almost each, and even half has been more than anyone else has whole.
And then there's the biggest reason: it's not me that's calling. And you probably know that better than I do.
And Jack slid deeper, remembering one foster they were dumped in that had no audio or video, just rooms of books. And how she read to him when he wouldn't touch them, and they would ease him into sleep. One of the weirdest was a poem or play about sleeping prisoners. "Events now are soul sized," he heard, and said yes. "For pity's sake, awake!"
Later, he thought. All he wanted to do now was lean on this sweet bosom and ride Callie's breathing down and down. A few breaths later he rolled off the edge of awareness and drifted wobbling like a coin dropped into the sea, into the warm dark Marianas Trench of dream, and miles below him he could see it again, rising toward him: The Tree, the granddad tree, colossal, horizon-wide, soul sized, the thick branches spread wide as continents lifted to catch him. The farther he sank the larger it grew, and now he could see the monstrous trunk bulge and shiver. And inside its core he could feel the slow peristaltic surge of The Old One, Ourobouros with His tail out of His mouth for a change, on the move. On the move to come up, to come out, to come through to the arriving Jack.
As Jack thought, Yeah, come on, Old Motor! Let's do it! he was dimly aware that his body wasn't breathing anymore. Then it's a good day to die. He tried to say Ya-tah-hey, but Callie was slapping him in the mouth.
"Don't you! Dare! Go out! On me now!" she yelled and pounded at him, and poured the rest of the ice cubes down the front of his torso.
"So when are you going to let me?" he asked. Recovered, he sat in the lounger wrapped in two blankets with an overdose of caffeine in his hands, hot black Mandeling with three sugars.
Callie as usual was moving around, touching things, adjusting, lining up their edges, but she turned to face him.
"Never," she said. "Jack, if I tell you one-tenth of what I learned just this week, some guys in blue suits are going to come down here and brand COMPANY PROPRIETARY on your brain stem."
"Look at this gonzo shit," she said, picking up The Helmet and The Glove, their cables trailing to the display panels and the Crays. "No one has used this virtual reality gear for five years. It's total skin-quits now. No cables, totally mobile. Subcutaneous input. And this junk you carry around like an old fielder's mitt doesn't even have olfactory. You have to take it off to smell your own coffee."
He didn't say anything for a long time, and when he did it was very quiet.
"But you can change all that. You know it," he said.
"Beautiful Dreamer," Callie said, and reached out to rub his hair.
"You want to know how beautiful?" he demanded, grabbing her hand. "Here's one comes back all the time: we're in an endless meadow, running side by side. But we're not people, we're a pair of foxes, different colors. We're hunting, together, but between us there's this wire fence we can see through, but can't cross. Still, we're excited, and we keep running, because we know we're going to find a hole to get through, some day."
"Jack," she said.
"Dream's not over," he said, gripping her hand harder. "All of a sudden my fox just stops, and starts shivering all over. Your fox stops too, watching, worried. My fox is nauseated because he can feel, way out past anything they can see, that there's another, bigger fence circling the whole field, penning them in, and they can't even find it. And I wake up terrified that I might turn rabid."
"Sweet Jack," she said, easing him back down into the lounger. "Don't worry about the fence. Worry about what's right outside your walls."
Outside his walls was Greater Washington, DC. They were in Inner DC, the original District. Around them, spreading over a hundred miles in all directions, was the sprawl from Annapolis in the east to Frederick in the north, west almost to the Blue Ridge and south to Richmond.
Three years past the Millennium, fifteen million souls had filled in this space in just the past decade, there to grab a piece of the highest GNP in history. The New World Order spun out from this center, where thousands of Federally funded consulting firms were pushing the envelope of neotech so far and fast it was almost turning inside out.
At the top of this crest, waving and beaming on every channel, were the Wimp and the Bimbo who made it all possible, riding into their fourth term. After the Pan-Arab War of 1991 collapsed the Big Three automakers and started the Second Great Depression, who thought he'd have it in him to put it all on one roll and let it ride'
The Presidential Task Force On Biotechnology Development was his, and he acted on every recommendation. They left manufacturing to Japan and Europe, took all the brakes off biotech, raised taxes past the limit to pay for it, and told America to go for it. They unwrapped a total national economic development policy and program and called it The New Pyramid.
And it worked. It started a global brain drain that vacuumed up the brightest on Earth. It produced, spinning off daily miracles of co-creation between electronics and biology.
That was just stage one. In five years they had built the base for the next quantum leap: psychotechnology. What used to be catchword for motley New Age in the 80s was now what was happening inside The Pyramid: the linking of megacomputers and biotech with human symbolic systems. Now the symbolic and metaphoric worlds inside the skin could directly affect every electronically controlled instrument outside it, and the reverse.
A whole new democracy of talent, ambition, and greed sprang up. For now the game wasn't limited to rational, analytic, leftbrainers, the new system could use all seven types of intelligence at once. No formal education necessary. Anyone who could cut it could star, regardless of race or color, age or national origin, gender or preference. These were The Ins.
And The Outs, who had nothing to sell or couldn't or wouldn't fit? They had tax-supported homes and womb-to-tomb med and safe drugs and abortion on demand and three hundred channels of free cable. All they had to do was get the hell out of the way.
Callie, holding Jack in her lap and watching the shadows fall across his sleeping face, was Way In. Jack had taken his stupid street name, Jack Out, just to bug her. She had her PhD at nineteen, and followed the wave of semioticians and linguists and psychocybeneticists, who in turn had followed the first wave of computer designers and genetic engineers.
Now they needed her and others like her, endocrinologists and such. The Presidential campaign motto was "Climbing The Pyramid Of Possibility Together. Those on the inside had an unofficial one of their own: "Run Faster Than Frankenstein."
Callie's group was running the fastest, just one step ahead. They were the ones who had to find out, and damned fast, what was causing those deep structure changes in anyone who worked The Net.
And Jack wanted her to get him into it. My lovely loser, she thought. His eyelids were quivering, and he would wake soon. Just one, she thought, and bent to kiss him. When she raised her head Jack was watching her.
"Remember the one with the books?" he asked quietly.
"I remember every one," she answered. Every foster home they had been put in, an unwelcome set of weird half-twins produced by the latest in vitro grandstanding. Such homes, where everyone was soon afraid of them and turned cold, but didn't dare touch them.
"Remember the one with the videos?" he asked. In one foster they found no books, but did discover a huge library of porno tapes. She was eleven and he was nine, and they had mastered every move in a month, together. When they were discovered, they were relocated by nightfall.
Now, at twenty-one and nineteen, they had had dozens of lovers and one short marriage and long stretches of celibacy. And each other, whenever it felt right.
"I remember," she said. She looked over at the full-length mirror in the corner, where they were barely visible in the growing dusk. They could still stop traffic, on the street together: a matched set, six feet tall, loose as cats, and three percent body fat. Except that she was blonde and green-eyed, and he had that long ravenwing hair and eyes so pale gray they scared people.
"If we're such demigods," Jack said, following her gaze to the mirror, "who put us in the dumpster twenty years ago?"
Later, he noticed the small, solid gold pyramid badge on her coat. He reached out to run a finger over it. It looked like the one on the back of a banknote, except instead of that Godfather Eye at the top, it had a featureless radiance that might have been a million points of light.
"Should I congratulate you? " he asked, looking at it.
Yes, smartass, you should, Callie thought. I'm the youngest ever to get one, and I got it faster than anyone. You dream about running? I'm running with the best: NEO CAD/CAM, NCC, the smallest, hottest, fastest-rising tank in The Pyramid. "The Mystery School," outsiders said sarcastically. But the joke was that they really did work on the rim of Mystery every moment, where anything happened every moment. It was the only place on Earth that she could have gotten a Presidential Pyramid Award that fast.
"NEO CAD/CAM," he mused, hefting the PP. "'Re-Engineering The Human Spirit,"' he said, quoting the NCC motto sarcastically. "A long way from Computer-Aided Design and Manufacture, Cal. You know what they call it at the Down Time? Computer-Aided Dreams and Myths. And here, right in Jack's hand, is the key to The Net."
The Net: everyone talked about it but only one in fifty million touched it. No one knew how big it was or what was in it or not at any given moment. Jack knew it had all of the electromagnetic broadcast and narrowcast spectrum, all of the space probes and sea sensors and geosats and intellsats, all of the Federal system and its links to every other country, every system that linked into the Federal, and on and on, for starters.
And with neotech you could swim or fly through that information with all of your senses, and amp up any ratio you wanted, depending on the brain level or reference frame or mode of symbolics you chose.
The Net was the billions of parallel universes of paradigm, endless and immediate, close as the inside of your skin. It was the Web of Indra spun from data points. And she could jack him in.
"Come down, Jackie," she said. "If you grab The Net wrong, it overfeeds you. You get bigger fast or you explode. Choke and you die. It's the Big Nintendo, and you're not big enough to play it."
She waited for his back off, but he just grinned and opened his arms.
"You and me then, Callie. The Dream Team. What do you say? It's where we're supposed to go, and you know it."
"Story," she said, "called Pilgerman: in it a Jewish guy in the twelfth century gets castrated by Christians. He's still bleeding and he runs into Jesus, back on Earth again, and he demands to know why. Jesus says, "To know the why of that, you have to know the why of everything." Pilgerman says, "So tell me." And Jesus says, "You really want to know? Just look into my eyes." These dark, dark, dark eyes. And Pilgerman chickens out. Got it?"
She locked on him with her eyes, daring him to push it. I could pick you with those little Crays, he thought. Some day when you're not armed, when you're sick or sleepy.
He could see her response like letters a foot high: YOU'D LOSE. So he came in sideways.
"Talk to me about The Angels," he said.
Damn, he thought, she's faster than I've ever seen her. Her expensive neurolinguistic programming came down like a screen; her hands tensing just a fraction and her skin tone hardly tinting and her eyes down and away before he could scope the widening of the iris, but she wasn't fast enough to keep the soft light hairs on her forearms and neck from rising. Got you.
"Who talks about Angels?" she said lazily, picking up The Helmet, holding it up to her face and looking into it, poor Yorick.
"CrayDaddy for one," Jack said. "He says there've been dozens of sightings and even some third kind. He says Pyramid's sending Top Guns out on decoy every shift."
"CrayDaddy," she smiled, shaking her head. She put The Helmet in her lap and picked up The Glove. As she talked, she slid her hand and arm into it slowly, like an Edwardian actress sliding on an opera glove. The scratched metal skin looked reptilian under the dim light.
"Jack, every pharmaco bum at the Down Time sees angels. CrayDaddy probably saw his first on herbals in 1962. They even used to have some home cooking called Angel Dust."
But she still wasn't looking at him. The Glove on, she picked up The Helmet again and slid it down over her head. Now she was gone, and all he had was The Mask.
She sat upright in the highbacked oak chair with her arms flat on the wide arms, the light dim gold on her silk blouse. He ached, knowing she could do it all, looking now like Queen and Playmate and Prisoner and more, ready to pass judgment or play bondage or be electrocuted, whatever she made it, maybe all three at once. And she would know how it's done. Come with me! he thought angrily. For pity's sake, awake!
Callie drummed her fingers on the chair arm, once, twice. Crab claws. The screens behind her woke up and started gibbering in silent green. She's excited too, he thought.
"You want to hear my Angel story?" he said. "Yesterday I'm in, and just scanning the field in kinesthetic. I'm fastest and deepest in kinesthetic anyway, and I feel something big. And I'm scared enough to want to see it, so I go to full landscape visual in a flash, and it's gone. And what I feel is this swirl -- like a shark or killer whale might just miss you when you're swimming in the dark. I can still feel it, right now, Callie."
The screens were going crazy with nothing he could read.
"Little Brother," The Mask said, "if you start playing with Angels, I'll know. I'll probably know before you do."
"Because you love me."
"And because I'll have your blood. All I need is a peek at your DNA.
"You've seen my DNA naked before."
"Not like this," she said. "Because it'll look like nothing I've ever seen. Nothing anyone's ever seen."
Now Jack stood up straight. "Are you talking bioelectronic recombinance?"
"Not just any gene-butcher nip-and-tuck, Jack," the voice in The Mask breathed. "It'll be transformed."
He took a beat or two. Three. Then he gave her his best Aw Shit smile, and picked up her metal hand in his own, and stroked it with his other hand. The steel fingernails bit very gently into his palm as he lifted it to his lips.
"So the natives are restless," he said as he raised his face to hers. "Well, so am I, Callie. So am I."