Count Zero by William Gibson

Count Zero

A stylish, streetsmart, frighteningly probable parable of the future from the New York Times bestselling author of Neuromancer.

A corporate mercenary wakes in a reconstructed body, a beautiful woman by his side. Then Hosaka Corporation reactivates him, for a mission more dangerous than the one he’s recovering from: to get a defecting chief of R&D—and the biochip he’s perfected—out intact. But this proves to be of supreme interest to certain other parties—some of whom aren’t remotely human…

“Potent and heady.”—Philadelphia Daily News

“An intriguing cast of characters and a tough, glitzy image of computer consciousness and the future of mankind.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch

Count Zero shares with Neuromancer that novel’s stunning use of language, breakneck pacing, technological innovation, and gritty brand-name realism.”—Fantasy Review

“William Gibson’s prose, astonishing in its clarity and skill, becomes high-tech electric poetry.”—Bruce Sterling

“Suspense, action…a lively story…a sophisticated version of the sentient computer, a long way from the old models that were simply out to Rule the World.”—Locus 

“This man has tapped right into our collective cultural mainline and shows no sign of stopping.”—Spin Magazine

Excerpt From Count Zero


They set a Slamhound on Turner’s trail in New Delhi, slotted it to his pheromones and the color of his hair. It caught up with him on a street called Chandni Chauk and came scrambling for his rented BMW through a forest of bare brown legs and pedicab tires. Its core was a kilogram of recrystallized hexogene and flaked TNT.

He didn’t see it coming. The last he saw of India was the pink stucco façade of a place called the Khush-Oil Hotel.

Because he had a good agent, he had a good contract. Because he had a contract, he was in Singapore an hour after the explosion. Most of him, anyway. The Dutch surgeon liked to joke about that, how an unspecified percentage of Turner hadn’t made it out of Palam International on that first flight and had to spend the night there in a shed, in a support vat.

It took the Dutchman and his team three months to put Turner together again. They cloned a square meter of skin for him, grew it on slabs of collagen and shark-cartilage polysaccharides. They bought eyes and genitals on the open market. The eyes were green.

He spent most of those three months in a ROM-generated simstim construct of an idealized New England boyhood of the previous century. The Dutchman’s visits were gray dawn dreams, nightmares that faded as the sky lightened beyond hi second-floor bedroom window. You could smell the lilacs, late at night. He read Conan Doyle by the light of a sixty-watt bulb behind a parchment shade printed with clipper ships. He masturbated in the smell of clean cotton sheets and thought about cheerleaders. The Dutchman opened a door in his back brain and came strolling in to ask questions, but in the morning his mother called him down to Wheaties, eggs and bacon, coffee with milk and sugar.

And one morning he woke in a strange bed, the Dutchman standing beside a window spilling tropical green and a sunlight that hurt his eyes. “You can go home now, Turner. We’re done with you. You’re as good as new.”

He was as good as new. How good was that? He didn’t know. He took the things the Dutchman gave him and flew out of Singapore. Home was the next airport Hyatt.

And the next. And ever was.

He flew on. His credit chip was a rectangle of black mirror, edged with gold. People behind counters smiled when they saw it, nodded. Doors opened, closed behind him. Wheels left ferroconcrete, drinks arrived, dinner was served.

In Heathrow a vast chunk of memory detached itself from a blank bowl of airport sky and fell on him. He vomited into a blue plastic canister without breaking stride. When he arrived at the counter at the end of the corridor, he changed his ticket.

He flew to Mexico.

And woke to the rattle of steel buckets on tile, wet swish of brooms, a woman’s body warm against his own.

The room was a tall cave. Bare white plaster reflected sound with too much clarity; somewhere beyond the clatter of the maids in the morning courtyard was the pounding of surf. The sheets bunched between his fingers were coarse chambray, softened by countless washings.

He remembered sunlight through a broad expanse of tinted window. An airport bar, Puerto Vallarta. He’d had to walk twenty meters from the plane, eyes screwed shut against the sun. He remembered a dead bat pressed flat as a dry leaf on runway concrete.

He remembered riding a bus, a mountain road, and the reek of internal combustion, the borders of the windshield plastered with postcard holograms of blue and pink saints. He’d ignored the steep scenery in favor of sphere of pink lucite and the jittery dance of mercury at its core. The knob crowned the bent steel stem of the transmission lever, slightly larger than a baseball. It had been cast around a crouching spider blown from clear glass, hollow, half filled with quicksilver. Mercury jumped and slid when the driver slapped the bus through switchback curves, swayed and shivered in the straightaways. The knob was ridiculous, handmade, baleful; it was there to welcome him back to Mexico.

Among the dozen-odd microsofts the Dutchman had given him was one that would allow a limited fluency in Spanish, but in Vallarta he’d fumbled behind his left ear and inserted a dustplug instead, hiding the socket and plug beneath a square of flesh-tone micropore. A voice had periodically interrupted the brassy pop to recite a kind of litany, strings of ten-digit figures, the day’s winning numbers in the national lottery.

The woman beside him stirred in her sleep.

He raised himself on one elbow to look at her. A stranger’s face, but not the one hi life in hotels had taught him to expect. He would have expected a routine beauty, bred out of cheap elective surgery and the relentless Darwinism of fashion, an archetype cooked down from the major media faces of the previous five years.

Something Midwestern in the bone of the jaw, archaic and American. The blue sheets were rucked across her hips, the sunlight angling in through hardwood louvers to stripe her long thighs with diagonals of gold. The faces he woke with in the world’s hotels were like God’s own hood ornaments. Women’s sleeping faces, identical and alone, naked, aimed straight out to the void. But this one was different. Already, somehow, there was meaning attached to it. Meaning and a name.

He sat up, swinging his legs off the bed. His soles registered the grit of beach-sand on cool tile. There was a faint, pervasive smell of insecticide. Naked, head throbbing, he stood. He made his legs move. Walked, tried the first of two doors, finding white tile, more white plaster, a bulbous chrome shower head hung from rust-spotted iron pipe. The sink’s taps offered identical trickles of blood warm water. An antique wristwatch lay beside a plastic tumbler, a mechanical Rolex on a pale leather strap.

The bathroom’s shuttered windows were unglazed, strung with a fine green mesh of plastic. He peered out between hardwood slats, wincing at the hot clean sun, and saw a dry fountain of flower-painted tiles and the rusted carcass of a VW rabbit.

Allison. That was her name.

She wore frayed khaki shorts and one of his white T-shirts. Her legs were very brown. The clockwork Rolex, with its dull stainless case, went around her left wrist on its pigskin strap. They went walking, down the curve of beach, toward Barre de Navidad. They kept to the narrow strip of firm wet sand above the line of surf.

Already they had a history together; he remembered her at a stall that morning in the little town’s iron-roofed mercado, how she’d held the huge clay mug of boiled coffee in both hands. Mopping eggs and salsa from the cracked white plate with a tortilla, he’d watched flies circling fingers of sunlight that found their way through a patchwork of palm frond and corrugated siding. Some talk about her job with some legal firm in L.A., how she lived alone in one of the ramshackle pontoon towns tethered off Redondo. He’d told her he was in personnel. Or had been, anyway. “Maybe I’m looking for a new line of work…”

But talk seemed secondary to what there was between them, and now a frigate bird hung overhead, tacking against the breeze, slid sideways, wheeled, and was gone. They both shivered with the freedom of it, the mindless glide of the thing. She squeezed his hand.

A blue figure came marching up the beach toward them, a military policeman headed for town, spitshined black boots unreal against the soft bright beach. As the man passed, his face dark and immobile beneath mirrored glass, Turner noted the carbine-format Steiner-Optic laser with Fabrique Nationale sights. The blue fatigues were spotless, creased like knives.

Turner had been a soldier in his own right for most of his adult life, although he’d never worn a uniform. A mercenary, his employers vast corporations warring covertly for the control of entire economies. He was a specialist in the extraction of top executives and research people. The multinationals he worked for would never admit that men like Turner existed…

“You worked your way through most of a bottle of Herradura last night,” she said.

He nodded. Her hand, in his, was warm and dry. He was watching the spread of her toes with each step, the nails painted with chipped pink gloss.

The breakers rolled in, their edges transparent as green glass.

The spray beaded on her tan.