Snow Crash


Publishedby the Penguin Group
Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England
Penguin Books USA Inc.. 375 Hudson Street. New York, New York 10014,
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd. 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M4V 3B2
Penguin Books (NZ) Lid, 182-190 Wair.iu Road. Auckland 10, New Zealand

Penguin Books Ltd. Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex,

First published in the USA by Bantam Books, a division of Bantam
Doubleday Dell
Published Group. inc. 1992
First published in Great Britain by Roc 1993
7 9 10 8 6

Copyright ~ Neal Stephenson, 1992
All rights reserved

(iratefui acknowledgement is made for permission to reprint a drawing
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by
Julian Jaynes.
Copyright ~ Julian Jaynes, 1976. Reprinted by permission of
Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Roe is a trademark of Penguin Books Ltd.

Printed in England by Clays Ltd. St ives plc

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject
to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be
re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's
prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in
which it is published and without a similar condition including this
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
snow n... 2.a. Anything resembling snow. b. The white specks on a
television screen resulting from weak reception.

crashv.., .-infr.. . . 5, To fail suddenly,as abusiness or an economy.
-The Amencan I-Ientizge Dictionary

virus.. . . [L. virus slimy liquid, poison, offensive odour or taste.]
1. Venom, such as is emitted by a poisonous animal. 2. Path. a. A morbid
principle or poisonous substance produced in the body as the result of some
disease, esp. one capable of being introduced into other persons or animals
by inoculations or otherwise and of developing the same disease in them.. .
. 3. fIg. A moral or intellectual poison, or poisonous influence.
-The Oxford English Dictionary

    Neal Stephenson. Snow crash

OCR and Proofreading by


The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed subcategory. He's
got esprit up to here. Right now, he is preparing to carry out his third
mission of the night. His uniform is black as activated charcoal, filtering
the very light out of the air. A bullet will bounce off its arachnofiber
weave like a wren hitting a patio door, but excess perspiration wafts
through it like a breeze through a freshly napalmed forest. Where his body
has bony extremities, the suit has sintered armorgel: feels like gritty
jello, protects like a stack of telephone books.
When they gave him the job, they gave him a gun. The Deliverator never
deals in cash, but someone might come after him anyway - might want his car,
or his cargo. The gun is tiny, aero-styled, lightweight, the kind of a gun a
fashion designer would carry; it fires teensy darts that fly at five times
the velocity of an SR-71 spy plane, and when you get done using it, you have
to plug it into the cigarette lighter, because it runs on electricity.
The Deliverator never pulled that gun in anger, or in fear. He pulled
it once in Gila Highlands. Some punks in Gila Highlands, a fancy Burbclave,
wanted themselves a delivery, and they didn't want to pay for it. Thought
they would impress the Deliverator with a baseball bat. The Deliverator took
out his gun, centered its laser doohickey on that poised Louisville Slugger,
fired it. The recoil was immense, as though the weapon had blown up in his
hand. The middle third of the baseball bat turned into a column of burning
sawdust accelerating in all directions like a bursting star. Punk ended up
holding this bat handle with milky smoke pouring out the end. Stupid look on
his face. Didn't get nothing but trouble from the Deliverator.
Since then the Deliverator has kept the gun in the glove compartment
and relied, instead, on a matched set of samurai swords, which have always
been his weapon of choice anyhow. The punks in Gila Highlands weren't afraid
of the gun, so the Deliverator was forced to use it. But swords need no
The Deliverator's car has enough potential energy packed into its
batteries to fire a pound of bacon into the Asteroid Belt. Unlike a bimbo
box or a Burb beater, the Deliverator's car unloads that power through
gaping, gleaming, polished sphincters. When the Deliverator puts the hammer
down, shit happens. You want to talk contact patches? Your car's tires have
tiny contact patches, talk to the asphalt in four places the size of your
tongue. The Deliverator's car has big sticky tires with contact patches the
size of a fat lady's thighs. The Deliverator is in touch with the road,
starts like a bad day, stops on a peseta.
Why is the Deliverator so equipped? Because people rely on him. He is a
role model. This is America. People do whatever the fuck they feel like
doing, you got a problem with that? Because they have a right to. And
because they have guns and no one can fucking stop them. As a result, this
country has one of the worst economies in the world. When it gets down to it
- talking trade balances here - once we've brain-drained all our technology
into other countries, once things have evened out, they're making cars in
Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here - once our
edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships
and dirigibles that can ship North Dakota all the way to New Zealand for a
nickel - once the Invisible Hand has taken all those historical inequities
and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani
brickmaker would consider to be prosperity - y'know what? There's only four
things we do better than anyone else
microcode (software)
high-speed pizza delivery
The Deliverator used to make software. Still does, sometimes. But if
life were a mellow elementary school run by well-meaning education Ph.D.s,
the Deliverator's report card would say: "Hiro is so bright and creative but
needs to work harder on his cooperation skills."
So now he has this other job. No brightness or creativity involved -
but no cooperation either. Just a single principle: The Deliverator stands
tall, your pie in thirty minutes or you can have it free, shoot the driver,
take his car, file a class-action suit. The Deliverator has been working
this job for six months, a rich and lengthy tenure by his standards, and has
never delivered a pizza in more than twenty-one minutes.
Oh, they used to argue over times, many corporate driver-years lost to
it: homeowners, red-faced and sweaty with their own lies, stinking of Old
Spice and job-related stress, standing in their glowing yellow doorways
brandishing their Seikos and waving at the clock over the kitchen sink, I
swear, can't you guys tell time?
Didn't happen anymore. Pizza delivery is a major industry. A managed
industry. People went to CosaNostra Pizza University four years just to
learn it. Came in its doors unable to write an English sentence, from
Abkhazia, Rwanda, Guanajuato, South Jersey, and came out knowing more about
pizza than a Bedouin knows about sand. And they had studied this problem.
Graphed the frequency of doorway delivery-time disputes. Wired the early
Deliverators to record, then analyze, the debating tactics, the voice-stress
histograms, the distinctive grammatical structures employed by white
middle-class Type A Burbclave occupants who against all logic had decided
that this was the place to take their personal Custerian stand against all
that was stale and deadening in their lives: they were going to lie, or
delude themselves, about the time of their phone call and get themselves a
free pizza; no, they deserved a free pizza along with their life, liberty,
and pursuit of whatever, it was fucking inalienable. Sent psychologists out
to these people's houses, gave them a free TV set to submit to an anonymous
interview, hooked them to polygraphs, studied their brainwaves as they
showed them choppy, inexplicable movies of porn queens and late-night car
crashes and Sammy Davis, Jr., put them in sweet-smelling, mauve-walled rooms
and asked them questions about Ethics so perplexing that even a Jesuit
couldn't respond without committing a venial sin.
The analysts at CosaNostra Pizza University concluded that it was just
human nature and you couldn't fix it, and so they went for a quick cheap
technical fix: smart boxes. The pizza box is a plastic carapace now,
corrugated for stiffness, a little LED readout glowing on the side, telling
the Deliverator how many trade imbalance-producing minutes have ticked away
since the fateful phone call. There are chips and stuff in there. The pizzas
rest, a short stack of them, in slots behind the Deliverator's head. Each
pizza glides into a slot like a circuit board into a computer, clicks into
place as the smart box interfaces with the onboard system of the
Deliverator's car. The address of the caller has already been inferred from
his phone number and poured into the smart box's builtin RAM. From there it
is communicated to the car, which computes and projects the optimal route on
a heads-up display, a glowing colored map traced out against the windshield
so that the Deliverator does not even have to glance down.
If the thirty-minute deadline expires, news of the disaster is flashed
to CosaNostra Pizza Headquarters and relayed from there to Uncle Enzo
himself - the Sicilian Colonel Sanders, the Andy Griffith of Bensonhurst,
the straight razor-swinging figment of many a Deliverator's nightmares, the
Capo and prime figurehead of CosaNostra Pizza, Incorporated - who will be on
the phone to the customer within five minutes, apologizing profusely. The
next day, Uncle Enzo will land on the customer's yard in a jet helicopter
and apologize some more and give him a free trip to Italy - all he has to do
is sign a bunch of releases that make him a public figure and spokesperson
for CosaNostra Pizza and basically end his private life as he knows it. He
will come away from the whole thing feeling that, somehow, he owes the Mafia
a favor.
The Deliverator does not know for sure what happens to the driver in
such cases, but he has heard some rumors. Most pizza deliveries happen in
the evening hours, which Uncle Enzo considers to be his private time. And
how would you feel if you had to interrupt dinner with your family in order
to call some obstreperous dork in a Burbclave and grovel for a late fucking
pizza? Uncle Enzo has not put in fifty years serving his family and his
country so that, at the age when most are playing golf and bobbling their
granddaughters, he can get out of the bathtub dripping wet and lie down and
kiss the feet of some sixteen-year-old skate punk whose pepperoni was
thirty-one minutes in coming. Oh, God. It makes the Deliverator breathe a
little shallower just to think of the idea.
But he wouldn't drive for CosaNostra Pizza any other way. You know why?
Because there's something about having your life on the line. It's like
being a kamikaze pilot. Your mind is clear. Other people - store clerks,
burger flippers, software engineers, the whole vocabulary of meaningless
jobs that make up Life in America - other people just rely on plain old
competition. Better flip your burgers or debug your subroutines faster and
better than your high school classmate two blocks down the strip is flipping
or debugging, because we're in competition with those guys, and people
notice these things.
What a fucking rat race that is. CosaNostra Pizza doesn't have any
competition. Competition goes against the Mafia ethic. You don't work harder
because you're competing against some identical operation down the street.
You work harder because everything is on the line. Your name, your honor,
your family, your life. Those burger flippers might have a better life
expectancy - but what kind of life is it anyway, you have to ask yourself.
That's why nobody, not even the Nipponese, can move pizzas faster than
CosaNostra. The Deliverator is proud to wear the uniform, proud to drive the
car, proud to march up the front walks of innumerable Burbclave homes, a
grim vision in ninja black, a pizza on his shoulder, red LED digits blazing
proud numbers into the night: 12:32 or 15:15 or the occasional 20:43.
The Deliverator is assigned to CosaNostra Pizza #3569 in the Valley.
Southern California doesn't know whether to bustle or just strangle itself
on the spot. Not enough roads for the number of people. Fairlanes, Inc. is
laying new ones all the time. Have to bulldoze lots of neighborhoods to do
it, but those seventies and eighties developments exist to be bulldozed,
right? No sidewalks, no schools, no nothing. Don't have their own police
force - no immigration control - undesirables can walk right in without
being frisked or even harassed. Now a Burbclave, that's the place to live. A
city-state with its own constitution, a border, laws, cops, everything.
The Deliverator was a corporal in the Farms of Men Merryvale State
Security Force for a while once. Got himself fired for pulling a sword on an
acknowledged perp. Slid it right through the fabric of the perp's shirt,
gliding the flat of the blade along the base of his neck, and pinned him to
a warped and bubbled expanse of vinyl siding on the wall of the house that
the perp was trying to break into. Thought it was a pretty righteous bust.
But they fired him anyway because the perp turned out to be the son of the
vice-chancellor of the Farms of Merryvale. Oh, the weasels had an excuse:
said that a thirty-six-inch samurai sword was not on their Weapons Protocol.
Said that he had violated the SPAC, the Suspected Perpetrator Apprehension
Code. Said that the perp had suffered psychological trauma. He was afraid of
butter knives now; he had to spread his jelly with the back of a teaspoon.
They said that he had exposed them to liability.
The Deliverator had to borrow some money to pay for it. Had to borrow
it from the Mafia, in fact. So he's in their database now - retinal
patterns, DNA, voice graph, fingerprints, footprints, palm prints, wrist
prints, every fucking part of the body that had wrinkles on it almost -
those bastards rolled in ink and made a print and digitized it into their
computer. But it's their money - sure they're careful about loaning it out.
And when he applied for the Deliverator job they were happy to take him,
because they knew him. When he got the loan, he had to deal personally with
the assistant vice-capo of the Valley, who later recommended him for the
Deliverator job. So it was like being in a family. A really scary, twisted,
abusive family.
CosaNostra Pizza #3569 is on Vista Road just down from Kings Park Mall.
Vista Road used to belong to the State of California and now is called
Fairlanes, Inc. Rte. CSV-5. Its main competition used to be a U.S. highway
and is now called Cruiseways, Inc. Rte. Cal-12. Farther up the Valley, the
two competing highways actually cross. Once there had been bitter disputes,
the intersection closed by sporadic sniper fire. Finally, a big developer
bought the entire intersection and turned it into a drive-through mall. Now
the roads just feed into a parking system - not a lot, not a ramp, but a
system - and lose their identity. Getting through the intersection involves
tracing paths through the parking system, many braided filaments of
direction like the Ho Chi Minh trail. CSV-5 has better throughput, but
Cal-12 has better pavement. That is typical - Fairlanes roads emphasize
getting you there, for Type A drivers, and Cruiseways emphasize the
enjoyment of the ride, for Type B drivers.
The Deliverator is a Type A driver with rabies. He is zeroing in on his
home base, CosaNostra Pizza #3569, cranking up the left lane of CSV-5 at a
hundred and twenty kilometers. His car is an invisible black lozenge, just a
dark place that reflects the tunnel of franchise signs - the loglo. A row of
orange lights burbles and churns across the front, where the grille would be
if this were an air-breathing car. The orange light looks like a gasoline
fire. It comes in through people's rear windows, bounces off their rearview
mirrors, projects a fiery mask across their eyes, reaches into their
subconscious, and unearths terrible fears of being pinned, fully conscious,
under a detonating gas tank, makes them want to pull over and let the
Deliverator overtake them in his black chariot of pepperoni fire.
The loglo, overhead, marking out CSV-5 in twin contrails, is a body of
electrical light made of innumerable cells, each cell designed in Manhattan
by imageers who make more for designing a single logo than a Deliverator
will make in his entire lifetime. Despite their efforts to stand out, they
all smear together, especially at a hundred and twenty kilometers per hour.
Still, it is easy to see CosaNostra Pizza #3569 because of the billboard,
which is wide and tall, even by current inflated standards. In fact, the
squat franchise itself looks like nothing more than a low-slung base for the
great aramid fiber pillars that thrust the billboard up into the trademark
firmament. Marca Registrada, baby.
The billboard is a classic, a chestnut, not a figment of some fleeting
Mafia promotional campaign. It is a statement, a monument built to endure.
Simple and dignified. It shows Uncle Enzo in one of his spiffy Italian
suits. The pinstripes glint and flex like sinews. The pocket square is
luminous. His hair is perfect, slicked back with something that never comes
off, each strand cut off straight and square at the end by Uncle Enzo's
cousin, Art the Barber, who runs the second-largest chain of low-end
haircutting establishments in the world. Uncle Enzo is standing there, not
exactly smiling, an avuncular glint in his eye for sure, not posing like a
model but standing there like your uncle would, and it says
The Mafia
you've got a friend in The Family!
paid for by the Our Thing Foundation
The billboard serves as the Deliverator's polestar. He knows that when
he gets to the place on CSV-5 where the bottom corner of the billboard is
obscured by the pseudo-Gothic stained-glass arches of the local Reverend
Wayne's Pearly Gates franchise, it's time for him to get over into the right
lanes where the retards and the bimbo boxes poke along, random, indecisive,
looking at each passing franchise's driveway like they don't know if it's a
promise or a threat.
He cuts off a bimbo box - a family minivan - veers past the Buy 'n' Fly
that is next door, and pulls into CosaNostra Pizza #3569. Those big fat
contact patches complain, squeal a little bit, but they hold on to the
patented Fairlanes, Inc. high-traction pavement and guide him into the
chute. No other Deliverators are waiting in the chute. That is good, that
means high turnover for him, fast action, keep moving that 'za. As he
scrunches to a stop, the electromechanical hatch on the flank of his car is
already opening to reveal his empty pizza slots, the door clicking and
folding back in on itself like the wing of a beetle. The slots are waiting.
Waiting for hot pizza.
And waiting. The Deliverator honks his horn. This is not a nominal
Window slides open. That should never happen. You can look at the
three-ring binder from CosaNostra Pizza University, cross-reference the
citation for window, chute, dispatcher's, and it will give you all the
procedures for that window - and it should never be opened. Unless something
has gone wrong.
The window slides open and - you sitting down? smoke comes out of it.
The Deliverator hears a discordant beetling over the metal hurricane of his
sound system and realizes that it is a smoke alarm, coming from inside the
Mute button on the stereo. Oppressive silence - his eardrums uncringe -
the window is buzzing with the cry of the smoke alarm. The car idles,
waiting. The hatch has been open too long, atmospheric pollutants are
congealing on the electrical contacts in the back of the pizza slots, he'll
have to clean them ahead of schedule, everything is going exactly the way it
shouldn't go in the three-ring binder that spells out all the rhythms of the
pizza universe.
Inside, a football-shaped Abkhazian man is running to and fro, holding
a three-ring binder open, using his spare tire as a ledge to keep it from
collapsing shut; he runs with the gait of a man carrying an egg on a spoon.
He is shouting in the Abkhazian dialect; all the people who run CosaNostra
pizza franchises in this part of the Valley are Abkhazian immigrants.
It does not look like a serious fire. The Deliverator saw a real fire
once, at the Farms of Merryvale, and you couldn't see anything for the
smoke. That's all it was: smoke, burbling out of nowhere, occasional flashes
of orange light down at the bottom, like heat lightning in tall clouds. This
is not that kind of fire. It is the kind of fire that just barely puts out
enough smoke to detonate the smoke alarms. And he is losing time for this
The Deliverator holds the horn button down. The Abkhazian manager comes
to the window. He is supposed to use the intercom to talk to drivers, he
could say anything he wanted and it would be piped straight into the
Deliverator's car, but no, he has to talk face to face, like the Deliverator
is some kind of fucking ox cart driver. He is red-faced, sweating, his eyes
roll as he tries to think of the English words.
"A fire, a little one," he says.
The Deliverator says nothing. Because he knows that all of this is
going onto videotape. The tape is being pipelined, as it happens, to
CosaNostra Pizza University, where it will be analyzed in a pizza management
science laboratory. It will be shown to Pizza University students, perhaps
to the very students who will replace this man when he gets fired, as a
textbook example of how to screw up your life.
"New employee - put his dinner in the microwave - had foil in it
-boom!" the manager says.
Abkhazia had been part of the Soviet fucking Union. A new immigrant
from Abkhazia trying to operate a microwave was like a deep-sea tube worm
doing brain surgery. Where did they get these guys? Weren't there any
Americans who could bake a fucking pizza?
"Just give me one pie," the Deliverator says.
Talking about pies snaps the guy into the current century. He gets a
grip. He slams the window shut, strangling the relentless keening of the
smoke alarm.
A Nipponese robot arm shoves the pizza out and into the top slot. The
hatch folds shut to protect it.
As the Deliverator is pulling out of the chute, building up speed,
checking the address that is flashed across his windshield, deciding whether
to turn right or left, it happens. His stereo cuts out again - on command of
the onboard system. The cockpit lights go red. Red. A repetitive buzzer
begins to sound. The LED readout on his windshield, which echoes the one on
the pizza box, flashes up: 20:00.
They have just given the Deliverator a twenty-minute-old pizza. He
checks the address; it is twelve miles away.


The Deliverator lets out an involuntary roar and puts the hammer down.
His emotions tell him to go back and kill that manager, get his swords out
of the trunk, dive in through the little sliding window like a ninja, track
him down through the roiling chaos of the microwaved franchise and confront
him in a climactic thick-crust apocalypse. But he thinks the same thing when
someone cuts him off on the freeway, and he's never done it - yet.
He can handle this. This is doable. He cranks up the orange warning
lights to maximum brilliance, puts his headlights on autoflash. He overrides
the warning buzzer, jams the stereo over to Taxiscan, which cruises all the
taxi-driver frequencies listening for interesting traffic. Can't understand
a fucking word. You could buy tapes, learn-while-you-drive, and learn to
speak Taxilinga. It was essential, to get a job in that business. They said
it was based on English but not one word in a hundred was recognizable.
Still, you could get an idea. If there was trouble on this road, they'd be
babbling about it in Taxilinga, give him some warning, let him take an
alternate route so he wouldn't get
he grips the wheel
stuck in traffic
his eyes get big, he can feel the pressure driving
them back
into his skull
or caught behind a mobile home
his bladder is very full
and deliver the pizza
Oh, God oh, God
22:06 hangs on the windshield; all he can see, all he can think about
is 30:01.
The taxi drivers are buzzing about something. Taxilinga is mellifluous
babble with a few harsh foreign sounds, like butter spiced with broken
glass. He keeps hearing "fare." They are always jabbering about their
fucking fares. Big deal. What happens if you deliver your fare
you don't get as much of a tip? Big deal.
Big slowdown at the intersection of CSV-5 and Oahu Road, per usual,
only way to avoid it is to cut through The Mews at Windsor Heights.
TMAWHs all have the same layout. When creating a new Burbclave, TMAWH
Development Corporation will chop down any mountain ranges and divert the
course of any mighty rivers that threaten to interrupt this street plan -
ergonomically designed to encourage driving safety. A Deliverator can go
into a Mews at Windsor Heights anywhere from Fairbanks to Yaroslavl to the
Shenzhen special economic zone and find his way around.
But once you've delivered a pie to every single house in a TMAWH a few
times, you get to know its little secrets. The Deliverator is such a man. He
knows that in a standard TMAWH there is only one yard - one yard that
prevents you from driving straight in one entrance, across the Burbclave,
and out the other. If you are squeamish about driving on grass, it might
take you ten minutes to meander through TMAWH. But if you have the balls to
lay tracks across that one yard, you have a straight shot through the
The Deliverator knows that yard. He has delivered pizzas there. He has
looked at it, scoped it out, memorized the location of the shed and the
picnic table, can find them even in the dark - knows that if it ever came to
this, a twenty-three-minute pizza, miles to go, and a slowdown at CSV-5 and
Oahu - he could enter The Mews at Windsor Heights (his electronic
delivery-man's visa would raise the gate automatically), scream down
Heritage Boulevard, rip the turn onto Strawbridge Place (ignoring the DEAD
END sign and the speed limit and the CHILDREN PLAYING ideograms that are
strung so liberally throughout TMAWH), thrash the speed bumps with his
mighty radials, blast up the driveway of Number 15 Strawbridge Circle, cut a
hard left around the backyard shed, careen into the backyard of Number 84
Mayapple Place, avoid its picnic table (tricky), get into their driveway and
out onto Mayapple, which takes him to Bellewoode Valley Road, which runs
straight to the exit of the Burbclave. TMAWH security police might be
waiting for him at the exit, but their STDs, Severe Tire Damage devices,
only point one way - they can keep people out, but not keep them in.
This car can go so fucking fast that if a cop took a bite of a doughnut
as the Deliverator was entering Heritage Boulevard, he probably wouldn't be
able to swallow it until about the time the Deliverator was shrieking out
onto Oahu.
Thunk. And more red lights come up on the windshield: the perimeter
security of the Deliverator's vehicle has been breached.
No. It can't be.
Someone is shadowing him. Right off his left flank. A person on a
skateboard, rolling down the highway right behind him, just as he is laying
in his approach vectors to Heritage Boulevard.
The Deliverator, in his distracted state, has allowed himself to get
pooned. As in harpooned. It is a big round padded electromagnet on the end
of an arachnofiber cable. It has just thunked onto the back of the
Deliverator's car, and stuck. Ten feet behind him, the owner of this cursed
device is surfing, taking him for a ride, skateboarding along like a water
skier behind a boat.
In the rearview, flashes of orange and blue. The parasite is not just a
punk out having a good time. It is a businessman making money. The orange
and blue coverall, bulging all over with sintered armorgel padding, is the
uniform of a Kourier. A Kourier from RadiKS, Radikal Kourier Systems. Like a
bicycle messenger, but a hundred times more irritating because they don't
pedal under their own power - they just latch on and slow you down.
Naturally. The Deliverator was in a hurry, flashing his lights,
squealing his contact patches. The fastest thing on the road. Naturally, the
Kourier would choose him to latch onto.
No need to get rattled. With the shortcut through TMAWH, he will have
plenty of time. He passes a slower car in the middle lane, then cuts right
in front of him. The Kourier will have to unpoon or else be slammed sideways
into the slower vehicle.
Done. The Kourier isn't ten feet behind him anymore - he is right
there, peering in the rear window. Anticipating the maneuver, the Kourier
reeled in his cord, which is attached to a handle with a power reel in it,
and is now right on top of the pizza mobile, the front wheel of his
skateboard actually underneath the Deliverator's rear bumper.
An orange-and-blue-gloved hand reaches forward, a transparent sheet of
plastic draped over it, and slaps his driver's side window. The Deliverator
has just been stickered. The sticker is a foot across and reads, in big
orange block letters, printed backward so that he can read it from the


He almost misses the turnoff for The Mews at Windsor Heights. He has to
jam the brakes, let traffic clear, cut across the curb lane to enter the
Burbclave. The border post is well lighted, the customs agents ready to
frisk all comers - cavity-search them if they are the wrong kind of people -
but the gate flies open as if by magic as the security system senses that
this is a CosaNostra Pizza vehicle, just making a delivery, sir. And as he
goes through, the Kourier - that tick on his ass - waves to the border
police! What a prick! Like he comes in here all the time!
He probably does come in here all the time. Picking up important shit
for important TMAWH people, delivering it to other FOQNEs,
Franchise-Organized Quasi-National Entities, getting it through customs.
That's what Kouriers do. Still.
He's going too slow, lost all his momentum, his timing is off. Where's
the Kourier? Ah, reeled out some line, is following behind again. The
Deliverator knows that this jerk is in for a big surprise. Can he stay on
his fucking skateboard while he's being hauled over the flattened remains of
some kid's plastic tricycle at a hundred kilometers? We're going to find
The Kourier leans back - the Deliverator can't help watching in the
rearview - leans back like a water skier, pushes off against his board, and
swings around beside him, now traveling abreast with him up Heritage
Boulevard and slap another sticker goes up, this one on the windshield! It


The Deliverator has heard of these stickers. It takes hours to get them
off. Have to take the car into a detailing place, pay trillions of dollars.
The Deliverator has two things on his agenda now: He is going to shake this
street scum, whatever it takes, and deliver the fucking pizza all in the
space of


the next five minutes and thirty-seven seconds.
This is it - got to pay more attention to the road - he swings into the
side street, no warning, hoping maybe to whipsaw the Kourier into the street
sign on the corner. Doesn't work. The smart ones watch your front tires,
they see when you're turning, can't surprise them. Down Strawbridge Place!
It seems so long, longer than he remembered - natural when you're in a
hurry. Sees the glint of cars up ahead, cars parked sideways to the
road-these must be parked in the circle. And there's the house. Light blue
vinyl clapboard two-story with one-story garage to the side. He makes that
driveway the center of his universe, puts the Kourier out of his mind, tries
not to think about Uncle Enzo, what he's doing right now - in the bath,
maybe, or taking a crap, or making love to some actress, or teaching
Sicilian songs to one of his twenty-six granddaughters.
The slope of the driveway slams his front suspension halfway up into
the engine compartment, but that's what suspensions are for. He evades the
car in the driveway -must have visitors tonight, didn't remember that these
people drove a Lexus - cuts through the hedge, into the side yard, looks for
that shed, that shed he absolutely must not run into
it's not there, they took it down
next problem, the picnic table in the next yard
hang on, there's a fence, when did they put up a fence?
This is no time to put on the brakes. Got to build up some speed, knock
it down without blowing all this momentum. It's just a four-foot wooden
The fence goes down easy, he loses maybe ten percent of his speed. But
strangely, it looked like an old fence, maybe he made a wrong turn somewhere
- he realizes, as he catapults into an empty backyard swimming pool.
If it had been full of water, that wouldn't have been so bad, maybe the
car would have been saved, he wouldn't owe CosaNostra Pizza a new car. But
no, he does a Stuka into the far wall of the pool, it sounds more like an
explosion than a crash. The airbag inflates, comes back down a second later
like a curtain revealing the structure of his new life: he is stuck in a
dead car in an empty pool in a TMAWH, the sirens of the Burbclave's security
police are approaching, and there's a pizza behind his head, resting there
like the blade of a guillotine, with 25:17 on it.
"Where's it going?" someone says. A woman.
He looks up through the distorted frame of the window, now rimmed with
a fractal pattern of crystallized safety glass. It is the Kourier talking to
him. The Kourier is not a man, it is a young woman. A fucking teenaged girl.
She is pristine, unhurt. She has skated right down into the pool, she's now
oscillating back and forth from one side of the pool to the other, skating
up one bank, almost to the lip, turning around, skating down and across and
up the opposite side. She is holding her poon in her right hand, the
electromagnet reeled up against the handle so it looks like some kind of a
strange wide-angle intergalactic death ray. Her chest glitters like a
general's with a hundred little ribbons and medals, except each rectangle is
not a ribbon, it is a bar code. A bar code with an ID number that gets her
into a different business, highway, or FOQNE.
"Yo!" she says. "Where's the pizza going?"
He's going to die and she's gamboling.
"White Columns. 5 Oglethorpe Circle," he says.
"I can do that. Open the hatch."
His heart expands to twice its normal size. Tears come to his eyes. He
may live. He presses a button and the hatch opens.
On her next orbit across the bottom of the pool, the Kourier yanks the
pizza out of its slot. The Deliverator winces, imagining the garlicky
topping accordioning into the back wall of the box. Then she puts it
sideways under her arm. It's more than a Deliverator can stand to watch.
But she'll get it there. Uncle Enzo doesn't have to apologize for ugly,
ruined, cold pizzas, just late ones.
"Hey," he says, "take this."
The Deliverator sticks his black-clad arm out the shattered window. A
white rectangle glows in the dim backyard light: a business card. The
Kourier snatches it from him on her next orbit, reads it. It says


Last of the freelance hackers
Greatest sword fighter in the world
Stringer, Central Intelligence Corporation
Specializing in software-related intel
(music, movies & microcode)
On the back is gibberish explaining how he may be reached: a telephone
number. A universal voice phone locator code. A P.O. box. His address on
half a dozen electronic communications nets. And an address in the
"Stupid name," she says, shoving the card into one of a hundred little
pockets on her coverall.
"But you'll never forget it," Hiro says.
"If you're a hacker. . . "
"How come I'm delivering pizzas?"
"Because I'm a freelance hacker. Look, whatever your name is - I owe
you one."
"Name's Y.T.," she says, shoving at the pool a few times with one foot,
building up more energy. She flies out of the pool as if catapulted, and
she's gone. The smartwheels of her skateboard, many, many spokes extending
and retracting to fit the shape of the ground, take her across the lawn like
a pat of butter skidding across hot Teflon.
Hiro, who as of thirty seconds ago is no longer the Deliverator, gets
out of the car and pulls his swords out of the trunk, straps them around his
body, prepares for a breathtaking nighttime escape run across TMAWH
territory. The border with Oakwood Estates is only minutes away, he has the
layout memorized (sort of), and he knows how these Burbclave cops operate,
because he used to be one. So he has a good chance of making it. But it's
going to be interesting.
Above him, in the house that owns the pool, a light has come on, and
children are looking down at him through their bedroom windows, all warm and
fuzzy in their Li'l Crips and Ninja Raft Warrior pajamas, which can either
be flameproof or noncarcinogenic but not both at the same time. Dad is
emerging from the back door, pulling on a jacket. It is a nice family, a
safe family in a house full of light, like the family he was a part of until
thirty seconds ago.


Hiro Protagonist and Vitaly Chernobyl, roommates, are chilling out in
their home, a spacious 20-by-30 in a U-Stor-It in Inglewood, California. The
room has a concrete slab floor, corrugated steel walls separating it from
the neighboring units, and - this is a mark of distinction and luxury - a
roll-up steel door that faces northwest, giving them a few red rays at times
like this, when the sun is setting over LAX. From time to time, a 777 or a
Sukhoi/Kawasaki Hypersonic Transport will taxi in front of the sun and block
the sunset with its rudder, or just mangle the red light with its jet
exhaust, braiding the parallel rays into a dappled pattern on the wall.
But there are worse places to live. There are much worse places right
here in this U-Stor-It. Only the big units like this one have their own
doors. Most of them are accessed via a communal loading dock that leads to a
maze of wide corrugated-steel hallways and freight elevators. These are slum
housing, 5-by-10s and 10-by-10s where Yanoama tribespersons cook beans and
parboil fistfuls of coca leaves over heaps of burning lottery tickets.
It is whispered that in the old days, when the U-Stor-It was actually
used for its intended purpose (namely, providing cheap extra storage space
to Californians with too many material goods), certain entrepreneurs came to
the front office, rented out 10-by-10s using fake IDs, filled them up with
steel drums full of toxic chemical waste, and then abandoned them, leaving
the problem for the U-Stor-It Corporation to handle. According to these
rumors, U-Stor-It just padlocked those units and wrote them off. Now, the
immigrants claim, certain units remain haunted by this chemical specter. It
is a story they tell their children, to keep them from trying to break into
padlocked units.
No one has ever tried to break into Hiro and Vitaly's unit because
there's nothing in there to steal, and at this point in their lives, neither
one of them is important enough to kill, kidnap, or interrogate. Hiro owns a
couple of nice Nipponese swords, but he always wears them, and the whole
idea of stealing fantastically dangerous weapons presents the would-be perp
with inherent dangers and contradictions: When you are wrestling for
possession of a sword, the man with the handle always wins. Hiro also has a
pretty nice computer that he usually takes with him when he goes anywhere.
Vitaly owns half a carton of Lucky Strikes, an electric guitar, and a
At the moment, Vitaly Chernobyl is stretched out on a futon, quiescent,
and Hiro Protagonist is sitting crosslegged at a low table, Nipponese style,
consisting of a cargo pallet set on cinderblocks.
As the sun sets, its red light is supplanted by the light of many neon
logos emanating from the franchise ghetto that constitutes this U-Stor-It's
natural habitat. This light, known as loglo, fills in the shadowy comers of
the unit with seedy, oversaturated colors.
Hiro has cappuccino skin and spiky, truncated dreadlocks. His hair does
not cover as much of his head as it used to, but he is a young man, by no
means bald or balding, and the slight retreat of his hairline only makes
more of his high cheekbones. He is wearing shiny goggles that wrap halfway
around his head; the bows of the goggles have little earphones that are
plugged into his outer ears.
The earphones have some built-in noise cancellation features. This sort
of thing works best on steady noise. When jumbo jets make their takeoff runs
on the runway across the street, the sound is reduced to a low doodling hum.
But when Vitaly Chernobyl thrashes out an experimental guitar solo, it still
hurts Hiro's ears.
The goggles throw a light, smoky haze across his eyes and reflect a
distorted wide-angle view of a brilliantly lit boulevard that stretches off
into an infinite blackness. This boulevard does not really exist; it is a
computer-rendered view of an imaginary place.
Beneath this image, it is possible to see Hiro's eyes, which look
Asian. They are from his mother, who is Korean by way of Nippon. The rest of
him looks more like his father, who was African by way of Texas by way of
the Army - back in the days before it got split up into a number of
competing organizations such as General Jim's Defense System and Admiral
Bob's National Security.
Four things are on the cargo pallet: a bottle of expensive beer from
the Puget Sound area, which Hiro cannot really afford; a long sword known in
Nippon as a katana and a short sword known as a wakizashi - Hiro's father
looted these from Japan after World War II went atomic - and a computer.
The computer is a featureless black wedge. It does not have a power
cord, but there is a narrow translucent plastic tube emerging from a hatch
on the rear, spiraling across the cargo pallet and the floor, and plugged
into a crudely installed fiber-optics socket above the head of the sleeping
Vitaly Chernobyl. In the center of the plastic tube is a hair-thin
fiber-optic cable. The cable is carrying a lot of information back and forth
between Hiro's computer and the rest of the world. In order to transmit the
same amount of information on paper, they would have to arrange for a 747
cargo freighter packed with telephone books and encyclopedias to power-dive
into their unit every couple of minutes, forever.
Hiro can't really afford the computer either, but he has to have one.
It is a tool of his trade. In the worldwide community of hackers, Hiro is a
talented drifter. This is the kind of lifestyle that sounded romantic to him
as recently as five years ago. But in the bleak light of full adulthood,
which is to one's early twenties as Sunday morning is to Saturday night, he
can clearly see what it really amounts to: He's broke and unemployed. And a
few short weeks ago, his tenure as a pizza deliverer - the only pointless
dead-end job he really enjoys - came to an end. Since then, he's been
putting a lot more emphasis on his auxiliary emergency backup job: freelance
stringer for the CIC, the Central Intelligence Corporation of Langley,