Bzrk, p.26
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       Bzrk, p.26

         Part #1 of BZRK series by Michael Grant
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  Ophelia was able to pry his hands off her neck, but Wilkes never stopped, not until the side of the man’s head was red and bits of bone were showing.

  “Enough, enough,” Ophelia gasped.

  Wilkes buried a boot into him once more, a sort of final “And stay down” move.

  Wilkes, Ophelia decided, was a girl with some issues.

  Ophelia searched the semiconscious and definitely-not-going-anywhere TFD and came up with a Taser, a walkie-talkie, and a gun.

  She handed the gun to Wilkes, who tossed her toy away and said, “I think this one’s real.” Then, “I think I broke my big toe.”

  They looked around and saw that they were in a room with nothing but a chair and two more doors. One was easily opened and turned out to be a bathroom. The other was swipe card–protected, and a further search was needed to turn up the guard’s card.

  “Well,” Ophelia said. “We shouldn’t have made it this far.”

  “No, I don’t think Vincent expected us to. I think we already moved from C-plus to a solid B.”

  “I’d say it was lucky, but now we’re really in it.”

  “Distract and disrupt,” Wilkes said. “Right?”

  Ophelia drew a shaky breath. “If there are twitchers on the other side, they’re the target. Shoot them or infest them and get the hell out.”

  “A little of both?” Wilkes said.

  “Bang-bang, jab-jab, run like hell.”

  “Let’s rock it, sister.”

  Keats was marooned on the beagle’s fur. The hand was gone, and Plath’s biots with it.

  “Don’t worry about me,” Keats urged. “Go!”

  Plath sent her biots racing across the farmland of the palm. A biot leg brushed a sweat blossom and popped it like a water balloon.

  “I don’t know if it’s him. Them.”

  They were panting in a freezing, filthy alley, Keats holding both her arms. She leaned back against graffiti-scrawled bricks. They breathed the steam of each other’s mouth.

  “Keep moving. Toward the light. That’ll probably take you to the head. The head is the target.”

  “What about you?”

  “I’ll find another way,” Keats said.

  Sirens. Maybe not about them at all. This was New York, after all, and sirens weren’t exactly rare.

  “We can’t go too far, but we can’t stay here, either. They’ll have Armstrong people on the streets, and cops, too,” Keats said, feeling and sounding desperate. “Where can we go?”

  “There,” Plath said, pointing at the yellow sign of a car rental agency across the street.


  “Rent a car. Drive around the block.”

  “Yeah,” he said. “Okay. Okay. Wait. We’re too young.”

  “Goddamnit,” Plath cried as her biots ran from palm prints to land where the ground, deeply creased with valleys, rose up all around her, warping, buckling. The hand was closing, and her biots were in darkness, running around a circular landscape, going where? Going where?

  “There,” Keats said. He pointed at a Dumpster. He pulled Plath along with him. He lifted her with hands at the waist, feeling too much contact and at a really inappropriate moment as her behind went so close to his face. He piled in after her. It was dry at least, as most of the tossed-out Chinese food had frozen stiff during the cold night. That would change as their body heat thawed the worst of the garbage. But the smell wasn’t as bad as it might be.

  Keats pulled the lid over them, and they lay huddled together in the filth.

  “Maybe he’ll pet the dog again,” Plath said.

  “Maybe,” Keats answered.

  They were spooning in garbage. Their biots were a few hundred yards and a universe away.

  From the sky came hands. Keats saw the fingers again, reaching down toward the raked forest where the wound was. Fingers. Then, floating down from the sky, a huge tubular opening, like the world’s biggest fire hose. Like the water pipe they buried under the street.

  An eruption of crystalline goo vomited from the tube and landed in wondrous spirals on the injury.

  “They’re working on the dog,” Keats said. “Now I’m seeing a bandage. Like a white blanket the size of a city block.”

  “I’m off the hand. Up the arm,” Plath reported.

  “I want to get to you,” Keats said. “I don’t want you doing this alone.”

  “Don’t get hurt,” Plath said. His arms were around her and she felt his warmth and she was afraid, and she could hardly swallow her throat was so dry. How could it be that she was here, needing him to be with her not just here but there as well, needing him not just in the macro but down in the meat?

  Plath’s biots raced through a sparse forest of arm hairs. Then beneath a sleeve, a sky made of woven ropes. Was it even the correct arm? Was it one of them? Or was she racing up the arm of some minor player, some guard or secretary?

  “I’m going to tap the dog’s eye,” Keats said. And he sent his biot racing across the alien forest’s treetops.

  “I don’t want to lose my mind in a Dumpster, Keats.”

  “My name’s not Keats,” he said.

  “Don’t tell me your name,” she whispered.

  “I know yours.”

  “My name is Plath,” she said, sounding more determined than she felt.

  “I’m passing the bandage. It’s like a circus tent! Tape pulling at hairs. It’s …”

  “You think we’d have liked each other if it wasn’t like this?” she asked.

  “We wouldn’t have met,” he answered.

  The Dumpster top opened. Hearts in their throats.

  A McDonald’s bag dropped in, and the top closed again.

  They heard street sounds, alley sounds. Conversation, shouts and laughs and normality, and none of that helped because they were a million miles away from normal.

  “I’m at the head. Shorter hairs,” Keats said. “Here’s hoping this dog doesn’t have fleas or lice or … Eyelid. I’m there. Demodex. I hate demodex. These are different, though. Jesus.”

  Her neck was in his face. It smelled of French fries. And he could not resist the urge to kiss that neck as he raced toward the slow-blinking eyelid and the dark pool of a whiteless eye.

  She felt his lips on her neck and sighed and did not resist as she raced at full speed, two biots, two windows open in her head, one seeing the other biot pull ahead, a bug that was somehow her. She was there, there in those creatures even as she shivered from his touch.

  “I won’t let you go crazy, Keats,” she said.

  “Too late,” he said. “We’re already crazy.”

  She twisted around and kissed him as she recognized the shift from thin, wispy body hair to the chopped, torn stubble of a shaved face.

  Was she on the face of the Armstrong Twins?

  And if she was, what was she going to do about it?

  She kissed Keats, and felt her body respond, and wondered whether she would commit murder.

  And suddenly, there it was. A room, dimly lit, and two twitcher stations with two twitchers in place, gloved, reclining, helmeted, with screens hanging, showing nanobot armies on the march.

  Half a dozen faces turned to stare at Wilkes and Ophelia. The twitchers didn’t notice them at first, but others did, and the reaction was quick but not as quick as Wilkes, who started shooting BAM BAM BAM!

  “Fucking die!” Wilkes shouted, and fired at men and women and screens and walls.

  Ophelia ran at the nearest twitcher, a boy or young man, couldn’t see his face, but she jammed her hand up under the mask and her two biots leapt onto a pimple like Vesuvius, an angry red mound.

  The twitcher turned and ripped off his helmet and a Taser hit Ophelia, dropped her to her knees as a shoe swung hard and knocked her onto her back.

  “Ophelia!” Wilkes cried, and fired and fired until the slide on the gun stuck in the open-and-empty position, and then she threw it at the nearest monitor.

  Someone very large knocked her
back into the wall.

  Well, she thought, that was at least an A-minus.

  Tatiana’s fingernail, a vast curve of scaly keratin, touched the bamboo-in-crusty-dirt skin of the president.

  “Touchdown,” Nijinsky said.

  “Go,” Vincent said.

  They were in the crowd that had gathered at UN Plaza. A crowd of people who were there in vain hopes of seeing someone important, or of panhandling, or there to shout a slogan and wave a sign.

  A large percentage of this particular crowd seemed to be very upset about something going on in Gabon, a country Nijinsky placed vaguely in Africa. In any case they were chanting with great enthusiasm and in a complex, catchy rhythm.

  A smaller group was irate about global warming, and a third bunch was in a party mood and evidently about half in the bag. They had come to protest the closing down of nude beaches in France.

  Nijinsky had no strong opinion on Gabon and not much interest in global warming, either, but he’d seen a few nude beaches, and given the types of people who liked to take their clothes off on the beach, he thought he might be with the French government on this issue.

  The crowd provided anonymity. And twitching proximity to both the Hilton down the street and the UN itself.

  The downside was that they’d both had to go through security to stand here, and that meant no weapons. That probably didn’t matter too much since their weapons were at this moment launching themselves onto the president’s hand.

  Two biots each, racing along a very famous arm, zooming through thin hair, high-stepping over dead skin cells. Nijinsky had a sudden vision of being hauled in front of a congressional committee someday to explain just what the hell he thought he was doing scurrying across the presidential flesh.

  The NYPD, who managed the crowd, were old hands at demonstrations, and they stood casually at ease, watchful but not paranoid. But both Vincent and Nijinsky assumed this crowd was about half made up of various security people: Secret Service and intelligence services from basically every other nation on Earth that could afford spies. In fact it was entirely possible that there was not a single actual civilian in the crowd.

  So caution, Vincent had warned. Don’t think we aren’t being overheard. Don’t think just because the guy standing next to you is wearing a daishiki or flowing robes or a fishnet thong with an anarchist’s A tattooed on his bare chest, he’s not actually MI6 or Russian SVR or Mossad.

  “I hear sirens,” Vincent said.

  Nijinsky was taller; he could see over the crowd. Fire engines. A lot of them. And they were definitely turning in to the UN.

  “Fire,” Nijinsky said. He noted Vincent’s tight nod. They both had a good idea why fire engines might be rushing toward the UN headquarters.

  “They’re both tough,” Vincent said.

  Nijinsky said nothing but wished he believed in someone who listened to prayers. Ophelia was irreplaceable. And Wilkes? She was a mess. Even by BZRK standards, she was a mess. But she was their mess.

  “You prefer left or right?” Nijinsky asked Vincent.


  “What do you think this is? Shoulder?”

  Vincent glanced at a woman who was looking at him a little too closely. The woman was chanting along with something or other and her voice was into it, but her eyes were not.

  “Yeah. Shoulder,” Vincent said. “Jin, take my hand.”

  “Oh, how I’ve waited for this moment,” Nijinsky snarked. But he understood. He took Vincent’s hand and they smiled at each other in a very friendly way that caused the suspicious agent’s eyes to slide away to some more likely target.

  “Mite,” Nijinsky said, gazing into Vincent’s eyes.

  “I see it. I’m feeling the vertical. Neck.”


  A few hundred yards away, four biots might determine the fate of the human race. And here, in the macro, Nijinsky began to realize he needed a bathroom.

  More fire engines. It was an all-out five alarm, with ladder trucks and ambulances, and it was possible to feel the tension in the crowd. Something had clearly happened, and the demonstrators and tourists and spies all wondered what the hell it was.

  Word started to move through the crowd. “Fire. Some kind of a fire.”

  “Is it terrorism?”

  “Just fire trucks so far.”

  The NYPD were definitely interested, and a police captain talked into his walkie-talkie. Nijinsky saw worry in his eyes. And he could swear he saw the man’s lips form the words, “Shots fired.”

  The ripple of information moved through the cops, who were suddenly no longer taking an easy shift of crowd control and were beginning to realize something bad was happening.

  “Jaw,” Vincent said.

  Vincent’s phone lit up with a message. He let Nijinsky read it over his shoulder: Presumed terrorist incident at UN bookstore.

  So much for presidential speeches at the UN, Nijinsky thought. No way would the Secret Service let the POTUS near the UN Building now. He had no idea what the hell Wilkes and Ophelia had managed to do, but it was something rather more dramatic than merely drawing security to the hidden twitcher room in the UN basement.

  He glanced at Vincent and saw a tight-mouthed half smile.

  “Ear,” Vincent said. “Time to split.”

  “She could use a little electrolysis,” Nijinsky said.

  At the best of times Vincent had not much sense of humor, and none now. He did not answer.

  Both men aimed their biots up and headed for the presidential eyeballs.


  Partial text of speech by Grey McLure prepared for delivery at an MIT seminar on the dangers of nanotechnology. His wife’s illness forced him to cancel the trip, and McLure never spoke publicly on the subject.

  Begin with a square sheet of tofu perhaps eighteen inches on each side. Now carefully lift that fragile, gooey mess up and begin folding it. Soon you have a handful of wrinkled tofu, a sort of slimy ball of the stuff. That is the cerebrum. The part of the brain that makes a human human.

  It rests atop a sort of upside-down leek. That’s the brain stem. And stuck up underneath the tofu and resting behind the brain stem is the cerebellum. The cerebellum looks a bit like a wad of cooked but sticky spaghetti squished into a clump.

  But this map is nothing, not even a bare beginning. It’s the equivalent of having a world map that only names continents. You won’t find your way around with a map that just says “Asia.”

  No, there are countries down there. There are barriers and borders, individual nations called Wernicke or Thalamus or Broca. Hundreds of them, and each has a unique character.

  But you still don’t know your way around. Your map shows you how to find Mexico and France and Azerbaijan. And that’s better than just knowing the continents, but it won’t get you to a particular city or house.

  The complexity is as great as that of Earth itself. Three pounds of goo stuffed into an elliptical bone cage. Within that goo are arteries pumping oxygen—far more than to any other organ. And massive bundles of nerves running from nose and ears, from fingers and toes, from your stomach and your heart, and above all from your eyes.

  Those nerves are a fire hose of data. Millions of data bits. All of it pouring into what may be as many as ninety billion synapses. Those nerves are the oceans, the ports, the airspace of the brain. And each synapse is like a one or zero in a binary computer. These are the roads, the streets, the alleyways of our map.

  But we haven’t begun to see the complexity. Because those billions of synapses generate as many as a quadrillion connections.

  And you see now that we have gone from continents to countries to the oceans and rivers and then down to the roads and alleyways, and down there, down there if you see the map in its ultimate detail, you see a planet with a quadrillion—a thousand trillion—people.

  Imagine a large beach. Huntington Beach or Waikiki. Imagine the grains of sand on that beach. You may approach a quadrillion grains
of sand.

  So how do we begin to imagine that we can map out the human brain with sufficient accuracy as to allow manipulation at the physical level?

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