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  ...presents...                 Life in Wartime
                                                         by The Deth Vegetable

                      >>> a cDc publication.......1993 <<<
                        -cDc- CULT OF THE DEAD COW -cDc-
  ____       _     ____       _       ____       _     ____       _       ____

     Here I lie in Mt. Hope Cemetery.  Not long to wait now.

     The wind moves through the leaves in the trees, brittle leaves brown and
frosted, crackling in the cold breath of autumn.  The sky is grey.  The name on
the gravestone beside me is barely legible after decades of acid rain: James F.
Bartlett, killed in 1865 at the age of twenty.

     Crystal was twenty-five.

     Lowell's Civil War dead surround me like brothers.  Behind me is a cement-
plugged Gatling gun, antique metal weathered green.  It rests on a granite
pedestal with a plaque that honors men dead a hundred and fifty years before I
was ever a soldier.  I can feel the weight of their names, and their silent
approval.  They understand about death and killing.

     Through the leaves I have a clear vantage of Phase bridge, a metal and 
concrete umbilical between the old university and the new campus, connecting 
ivy-bound brick to smooth polished steel and copper-filmed glass.  The bridge
is empty now.  It's early, and during October break most of the students will 
sleep in, quick to forget responsibility as only the young can.  Crystal was
twenty-five, and I am twenty-six, and she is dead, and I am old.

     The frost on the grass crushed under me is melting through my jeans.  I
lie stomach-down.  My jacket keeps my chest dry, and I wear a scarf wrapped
around my throat and tucked into my collar, but I don't feel warm.  I rest on
my elbows, flex cold fingers and rub my hands together, check the rifle sight
again.  Through the quartz optic I can follow the motion of the red laser spot
on the bridge rail.  Everything in place.  Kurt Andrysic will begin to cross 
Phase bridge in ten minutes, and I'll line up the crosshairs on his head,
behind the eye and above the ear.  Easy, just like Bogota and Medellin and
Cali.  Pull the trigger and it will be all over.

     The wind blows and the leaves sift down and scatter around me.  The
weather will be gusting later, blowing rain and soggy leaves through the ranks
of eroded gravestones.  It's a good day for rain.

     I remember the way it sounded on the windows beyond the vertical blinds.
I remember holding her and listening to it, rain tapping on the tall glass
panes.  Light would filter in, dusty beams through the drawn slats, but never
very much.  We were nocturnal creatures, working in the dark, sleeping in the
day.  Or not sleeping, sometimes, just listening to the rain.

     At times it was too peaceful.  One late afternoon I paced the bedroom 
naked while Crystal sat on the bed and brushed out her long brown hair.  Our 
loft apartment occupied the northwest corner of the eleventh floor, high enough
to see the sunset reflected in the water of the Merrimac river, and the burning
light filled the room.

     "Moran, stop it, you're making me nervous."  Crystal brushed her hair into
smooth ropes and began to braid it the way she always did before she sat down
at her computer to work.  "What's wrong?" she asked over her shoulder, twisting
and pulling the strands tight.

     "Nothing." I looked out the window.

     "I've heard that before."  She finished the braid and tied it off with a
bit of red plastic-coated wire; her side of the white dresser was always
covered with pieces of her latest hardware project.  "You've got the
wall-crawlies, don't you?"

     I shrugged.  "Probably just too much caffeine."

     The light on the water was fading; one by one, security lights popped on
across the neighborhood.  I heard Crystal's bare feet on the carpet behind me.
Her arms came around my waist and she laid her cheek against my shoulder.

     "You can stop checking your back, you know.  We don't live in the Combat
Zone anymore."  Then she slapped me on the ass.  "Come on, get dressed.  Time
to go to work."  I made a grab for her and she danced away, laughing, dispell-
ing the dark mood, and I tried not to let her see me like that again.

     With binoculars I scan left from the bridge, along the paved footpath 
that cuts behind the biggest dorms to the main library.  The clock in the white
library dome chimes three quarters of the hour, Big Ben-style, round notes
carried on the wind to my position.  And there he is, right on schedule.

     He steps clear of the revolving door and walks past the granite pillars
that support the protruding stories above the entrance.  His suit is grey,
well-cut and designed to be kind to the weight he's managed to accumulate in
his forty-odd years.  His silver hair gleams like a polished helmet even in the
dismal morning's grey light.  He carries a thick leather satchel and bobs along
with short pigeonish steps.  He is on his way to a nine o'clock meeting with
the rest of the cognitive science department, which he heads.  It will take him
four minutes to walk to the bridge, a few seconds more to reach its center, and
then it ends.  The meeting will have to proceed without him.

     Resting on my elbows I follow Andrysic with the binoculars.  Halfway
across the parking lot between the library and the footpath, he turns and
pauses, and a woman enters the fields of view: Amanda Vandermaas, neuro-
physicist and Andrysic's research partner, exiled from her homeland by the
South African government during the intelligentsia purges seven years ago;
Crystal introduced me to her once.  She is younger then Andrysic, maybe thirty-
five, sinewy and dark, with high Afro cheekbones and startling blue eyes.  Her
hair is cornrowed into shoulder-length braids, and her skin is the color of
Turkish coffee.  Crystal liked her.

     Vandermaas catches up to Andrysic and together they walk along the
footpath.  She shakes her head in response to something he says, and there is a
gleam from the steel inset at the base of her skull, the socket that allows her
to interface with the machine Crystal helped give intelligence to.  Wires,
artificial nerves, carry electrical impulses from the socket up the spinal
column to the visual cortex in the brain.  Crystal explained once why it was
necessary to bypass the optic nerve, but I've forgotten why.  I never
understood it anyway.

     Andrysic arranged the surgery at the university med center immediately
after Crystal was accepted as a doctoral student.  She was so wired she talked
about it almost continuously until the day she was scheduled to go under the

     "With the interface I'll be able to talk directly to Kurt's program," she
explained for the twentieth time as we dodged past each other in the kitchen
to make dinner one morning a few days before the operation.  "It'll be like
having an entire new set of senses, and a new world to use them in.  I'll be
learning things along with the AI, we can teach each other."

     The afternoon they admitted her, I stood behind her chair and watched her
sign the release forms.  The last time I'd seen so much fine print was when I'd
volunteered for experimental medical procedures to qualify for Special Forces
training.  The Army cutters had called what they did to me 'enhancement'; I
noticed Andrysic had printed the same word in the empty space on the forms
Crystal signed.

     In a white-tiled room I stood in a corner and watched a balding male
technician shave her head.  Long locks of red brown hair fell free and slid
down her smock to the green and white speckled floor.  I remember the oblate
sphere of her head, how shiny her scalp was above her dark brows and enormous
eyes.  Her hair lay on the floor in coils the color of newly fallen leaves.

     "There you go."  The tech shut off the razor and laughed.  "You can tell
your friends you're starting some new retro-fad."

     I picked up a handful of smooth chestnut hair and wound it around my

     "Moran, it's all right," Crystal said.  "It'll grow back."

     She took it from me and braided it quickly, shoved it into the side pocket
of her canvas carry-all.  "I'll save it for you," she told me, and I looked for
it later, but I couldn't find it anywhere.

     Andrysic had arranged to tape the operation and simultaneously run it on
closed-circuit video.  "You're welcome to watch the staff, Mr. Michaels," he
invited me.  "Since the procedure is still experimental, there's bound to be a
'standing room only' crowd."

     Crystal talked me into going.

     Andrysic saved me a seat in the front row of the auditorium.  The room
wasn't large, might have held fifty people and nearly every seat was taken.
The high-resolution video was projected onto an enormous screen at the front
of the room.  Static sparked on the screen behind Andrysic as he spoke a few
words of introduction to the assembled staff.  Then he sat down and pushed a
button on the remote control he held.  The static cleared and I saw Crystal.

     She lay on her stomach under a sheet, her smooth shaven skull bracketed
in place by gleaming steel pins.  Her eyes were half-open.  The surgical team
stood around her.  I knew one of them was Amanda Vandermaas, but I couldn't
pick her out of the rest of the anonymous green scrubs.  My hands clenched as
one of the surgeons drew dashed lines on Crystal's skin with a magic marker.
Another held the business end of a laser scalpel, a fiber optic cable connected
to a grey console with a few knobs and dials.  He flicked a switch on the panel
and a streak of static formed across the bottom of the screen as the beam came
on line.

     Dr. Vandermaas made the first cuts with a steel scalpel, silver blade
moving over Crystal's skin so lightly that at first I didn't think she'd
touched her.  Crystal started to bleed and my stomach churned.  I could swear
I saw her eyelids flicker.  Then the green smocks surrounded her and the video
switched from side view to directly overhead.

     The close-ups gave you the illusion that the doctors were just practicing
on a cheap piece of meat from the local butcher shop.  I was the only one in
the room who wasn't fooled.  I sat with my hands tightened into useless fists
as they cut away the back of her skull and threaded the hair-fine wires into
her brain.

     The room was too hot.  I got up and managed to walk out.  The hospital
corridor was quiet and a little cooler.  For a moment I just leaned on the
wall.  Then I went to the nearest men's room and threw up.

     Andrysic and Vandermaas have reached the point where the path crosses
behind South dorm.  Now they slow, come to a stop.  Vandermaas raises a
pointing finger and shakes it once, twice, punctuating the words I see her
lips shaping.  Andrysic shakes his head, a firm "No!" easily read in the
movement of his mouth.  He makes an openhanded sweeping motion as if to push
her away, and starts walking toward the bridge again.  Vandermaas says some-
thing, passion evident in her raised chin and narrow eyes.  She runs a few
steps to catch up with him, and they keep arguing as they walk.  Less then two
minutes now until they reach the bridge.

     I shift my weight, stretching my left shoulder where the regenerated
tissue has stiffened.  Damp weather does that to me, ever since I had the arm
replaced last year.  It was the last of the old military blackware; there's
nothing left in me now except the reflex booster built into the base of my
spine.  Makes me faster, hair-trigger, enough to give me an edge in a lot of
situations.  But it didn't do a damned bit of good against what killed Crystal.

     The shoulder is sore most of the time now.  This winter the ache will
probably become more permanent, without her to rub it away.  It isn't fair.
>From the beginning she knew just how to touch me.

     On the surface we didn't have much in common.  She professed growing up in
Canada, working her way south from Ottawa through Toronto and Buffalo to
Lowell.  Among the East Coast datarunners she had a reputation for being a
slickshot, intuitive and patient and smooth.  "Don't believe a word of that,"
Crystal would say, shaking her head.  "If I were THAT good, no one would know
who I was.  The problem is, my technique is my fingerprint; after a while,
people start to recognize it."

     That was how Andrysic found her.  Traced her down and made her an offer
she couldn't refuse: the chance to see life in software, to work intimately
with a sentence stored in patterns of electrons and magnetic fields.

     After a week of tests, Dr. Vandermaas let Crystal out of the med center,
sent her home with a sheet of dermal analgesics and an order to rest.  "We'll
work you hard enough once Kurt brings the project fully on-line," she told
Crystal, and handed her a green and red scarf, like the ones the rebels in
South Africa wear.

     "My brother sent me this from Johannesburg when I had my surgery," she
said.  "I wore it until my hair grew back.  I thought you might like it."

     Crystal thanked her and tied the scarf around her stubbly scalp with a
lopsided grin.  When we got home she made faces at herself in the mirror.
"I look like a pirate... all I need is an eyepatch."  She rubbed the bandage
on the back of her neck and yawned.  "And a big cup of coffee.  These damned
painkillers are knocking me out."

     I hooked my arm behind her knees and swung her against my chest.  "What
are you going to do, tie me down?"  She wrapped her arms around my neck.

     "You don't seem really worried about it."

     "That's because I know how to handle you."  She yawned again, turned her
face into my neck to muffle it, her breath warm on my skin.  "You Special
Forces types are all alike: too macho for your own good.  Go ahead, carry me
off, see if I care."

     She was asleep when I laid her down on the bed.

     She was home for six weeks, sleeping, playing at her workstation and
grumbling about the wait while she healed.  She started doing yoga to relax.
Her stubbly hair grew into a soft dark halo, more red then brown.  It felt
silky as fur, but I only saw it when she slept; she wore the red and green
scarf the rest of the time.

     Andrysic called every day to see how she was feeling, and to tell her
what was going on in the lab.  After four days I realized every time Crystal
spoke with him it only made her more anxious to get back to work.  He needed
her, needed the new interface she carried in the back of her neck.  "He can't
even boot up the damn thing without me there to plug it in," Crystal said from
a half-lotus on the couch.  "He needs the deep link, and that's me."

     "Sounds like a covert operation, and he's your CO or something."

     "He's my thesis advisor; it's the same thing."

     When she went back to the lab she came home with headaches that made her
squint against the light, and she started to keep the blinds drawn all the
time.  She swore there was nothing wrong but she talked in her sleep, in a
flat toneless language that I couldn't identify.

     We're almost there, Andrysic.  I remember the last time I crossed Phase
bridge, new campus to old, walking away from your lab and everything I'd seen
there, everything I'd touched.  You'd phoned and told me something terrible
had happened, but underneath the words I could hear the excitement in your
voice, could tell you were already sorting out what to document for scientific
prosperity.  I remember you wouldn't let the paramedics disconnect her until
you'd finished your backups.  You probably started to edit the data right after
I left.

     The sun was swimming up through the haze in the east, and she was gone.
Not dead, no, you were quick to point that out.  No, the meat was stable, still
breathing.  There was even a faint blush the color of normal sleep on its
cheeks.  It slumped over the terminal, white-jacketed cable in the back of the
neck snaking down to the grey and white cabinet that held the liquid nitrogen-
cooled guts of your pet AI.  An LCD monitor displayed datawindows striped with
a series of parallel lines.  A colorkey in the corner marked the AI's output as
red; the body's was blue.  The red lines bounced rhythmically, but the blue
lines were flat; there was no brain trace from the body, and its hands were
cold, like the frost melting on Jimmy Bartlett's gravestone here beside me.

     Crystal had no next-of-kin that I knew of.  We had no legal claims on
each other.  Now I wish we had, because then you couldn't have taken her body.
Is it still vivisection if the subject is braindead?  Dr. Vandermaas would

     And now I'm watching you, Andrysic, watching you walk toward the foot of
Phase bridge.  This is the last time you'll cross it, you bastard.  I'm going
to make damn sure of that.

     Amanda Vandermaas touched your arm and you shake her off.  I can't read
your lips but I know your expression.  Don't bother me with this, you're
telling her, I won't change my mind.

     You're a fool, Andrysic.

     Just ten more paces and you're on the bridge... there, your expensive
leather-clad toe touches the concrete, and then the sole of the other foot;
Vandermaas stands back on the footpath and watches you walk away, up the
arc to the middle of the bridge.

     You don't know this, Andrysic, but she came to the apartment last night,
while I was cleaning the gun.  I had the pieces laid out on an old sheet on
the kitchen counter, and the case leaned in the corner, gaping open and empty.
She saw it all.

     "'The Journal of Experimental Intelligence' accepted his abstract," she
told me.  I picked up the rifle barrel and rubbed oil over the smooth black
steel with a rag.  She leaned against the refrigerator and watched me for a
while.  "Banana Wars?" she asked.

     "Yeah, Colombia," I replied, and started to work on the firing mechanism.
"It'd be a good idea to stay off Phase bridge tomorrow morning."  She drew a
breath and nodded, and then she left.

     I exchange the binoculars for the flat 2D field of the rifle sight, and 
Andrysic's head comes into sharp focus, every pure silver strand of hair stiff
and still as wire.  Finger cocked, my thumb slides off the safety and now the
moment comes and he and I are the only two people in the world.  Forefinger
tightens and the silenced rifle jumps, butt nudging my chest, with the vented
hiss of ejected gas and faint smell of propellant.  Neat round hole.  Red
stains silver hair and the opposite rail of the bridge, and I watch him fold,
knees giving way with no outstretched arms to catch himself as he falls.  A red
and grey puddle starts to form around his head on the concrete.

     I pull my eye away from the rifle sight.  Dr. Vandermaas isn't looking at
him.  She's standing at the foot of the bridge, staring up at my position
behind the trees on the hill.  I can feel her watching me.  Slowly she raises
her arm in a closed fist salute that I've seen too many times to mistake now.
It must be cross-cultural, I guess, if it means the same thing in Colombia as
it does in South Africa: defiance and solidarity and sometimes, victory.

     But I don't feel anything.  I unwrap the red and green scarf from my neck
and fold back a triangle, keep folding the triangle to the end and tuck in the
last corner.  Lay it on the grave beside me.  Military history teaches that the
Civil War generation didn't have the salute.  They got flags instead, but the
scarf is all I have to give him.

     He was a soldier.  I think he'll understand.
 _______  __________________________________________________________________
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   (U)   |==================================================================|
  .ooM   |Copr. 1993 cDc communications by The Deth Vegetable  03/01/93-#217|
\_______/|All Rights Drooled Away.                 SIX GLORIOUS YEARS of cDc|