|OTHER BOOKS BY GREG BEAR
Beyond Heaven's River
Strength of Stones
The Wind from a Burning Woman
The Forge of God
Queen of Angels
Anvil of Stars
Songs of Earth and Power
A TORN DOHERTY
This is a work of fiction. All the characters
and events portrayed in this novel are either
fictitious or are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 1997 by Greg Bear
All rights reserved, including the right to
reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
A Tor Book
Published by Torn Doherty Associates, Inc.
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Tor Books on the World Wide Web:
Tor® is a registered trademark of Torn
Doherty Associates, Inc.
Book design by Judith Stagnitto Abbate
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
[Slant] / Greg Bear. -lst ed.
The title consists solely of the slant sign.
"A Torn Doherty Associates book."
ISBN 0-3 I 2-85517-6 (hardcover: acid-free paper)
First Edition: July 1997
Printed in the United States of America
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
Budget: Select, Restricted
> Knowledge, Sex, Datafiow
TOPIC FILTER: >Community
"Tell all the truth,
but tell it slant''
Dataflow today is money/blood, the living substance of our human
rivers/arteries. You can steamboat the big flow, or slowly raft these rivers
up and down the world, or canoe into the branches and backwaters, with
almost perfect freedom. There are a few places you can't go--Saudi Arabia,
Northern Enclave China, some towns in Green Idaho. Nobody much cares to
go there anyway. Not much exciting is happening in those places.
--The U.S. Government Digiman on Dataflow Economics,
I EDUCA TED CORPSES
Omphalos dominates Moscow, Green Idaho. It glows pale silver and gold like
a fancy watch waiting to be stolen. A tetrahedron four hundred feet high, with
two vertical faces and a triangular base, it is the biggest thing in town, more
ostentatious than the nearby Mormon temple, though not so painfully white
and spiky. The leading edge points at the heart of Moscow like a woodsman's
wedge. The vertical faces descend, blind and windowless, to sink seventy feet
below ground. The single sloping face is gently corrugated like a dazzling
ivory washboard for the leaden sky.
Omphalos is a broad-shouldered edifice, Herculean architecture for the ages,
given the kind of shockproof suspension and massive loving armor once reserved
for hardened defense installations and missile silos.
Jack Giffey waits patiently in line for the public tour. It is cold in Moscow
today. Thirty people stand with him in the snaking line, all clearly marked
by their gray denims as young tourists biking through Green Idaho; all youthfully
unafraid of the reputation of the state's Ruggers, the legendary gun-wielding
rugged individualists, who see themselves not as lawless brigands but
as steely-eyed human islands in a flooded, corrupting stream.
But the state's reputation is exaggerated. Not more than three percent of
the population could accurately be labeled Rugger. And fewer than ten young
tourists each year vanish from the old logging trails in the regrowth timberlands,
their forlornly beeping Personal Access Devices and little knit caps
nailed to posts on the edges of the abandoned national forests.
In Giffey's opinion, Green Idaho has all the individuality ora zit on a corpse.
The zit may consider itself special, but it's just a different kind of dead meat.
Giffey is known to his few friends as Gill. At fifty-one he looks mild and
10 GREG BEAR
that attract the interest of children and discouraged women past their picky
twenties. He doesn't like Green Idaho any more than he likes the rest of the
nation, or the world, for that matter.
Old-fashioned radiant outdoor heaters mounted on poles glow raw-beef red
overhead, trying to keep the people in line warm. Giffey has been here before,
thirteen times; he's sure Omphalos knows his face and has tagged him as worth
paying marginal attention to. That is okay. He does not mind.
Giffey is among the very few who know that Omphalos absorbs knowledge
from the outside at the extraordinary rate of fifty million dollars a year. Since
Omphalos is publicly assumed to be a fancy kind of tomb for the rich and
privileged, its dead and near-dead must be very curious. But few ask serious
questions about it. The builders of Omphalos paid a lot for freedom from
oversight, the kind of freedom that can only be bought in Green Idaho.
The rulers of Green Idaho, true to their breed, hate the Federals and the
outer society but revere money and its most sacred benison: freedom from
Giffey has been to the Forest Lawn Pyramid in Southcoast California Omphalos
is, architecturally, by far the classier act. But he would never think of
robbing the truly dead in Forest Lawn, with their few scattered jewels adorning
The frozen near-dead are another matter. Entombed with all their palpable
assets--precious metals, collectibles, long-term sigs to offshore paper-deed se-curities-the
corpsicles racked in their special refrigerated cells in Omphalos,
Giffey believes, might be worth several hundred million dollars apiece.
Those rich enough to afford such accommodations have their choice of packaged
options: cheapest is capitation, bio-vitrifying and cryo-preserving the
head alone. Next is head and trunk; and finally, whole-body. There are even
more expensive and still-experimental possibilities ... For the wealthiest of
all, the plutocratic highest of the high.
The sloping face of the wedge gleams like a field of wind-rippled snow. The
line begins to move in anticipation there are sounds from within. Omphalos
opens its tall steel and flexfuller front doors. Its soothing public voice spreads
out over the crowd, only mildly funereal.
"Welcome to the hope of all our futures," the voice says as the line pushes
eagerly into the tall, severe granite and steel lobby. Great shining pillars rise
around the student tourists like steel redwoods, daunting and extra human.
The floor is living holostone, morphing through scenes of future splendor
beneath their feet: flying cities high above sunset mountains, villas on Mars
and the Moon, idyllic valleys farmed by obedient arbeiters while beautiful,
magisterial men and women of all races and creeds watch from the balconies
of their spotless white mansions. "This completely automated facility is the
repository for a maximum of ten thousand two hundred and nineteen biologically
conserved patrons, all expecting long and happy lives upon their recon
"Within Omphalos, there are no human employees, no attendants or engineers or guards..."
Giffey has never met a machine he could not beat, at chess, at war games,
at predicting equities weather. Giffey believes he may be one of the smartest
or at least most functionally successful human beings on this planet. He succeeds
at whatever he wants to do. Of course--he grins to himself---there are
many things he has never wanted to do.
He looks up at the distant lobby ceiling, studded with crystal prisms that
project rainbows all around. Above them, he imagines stacks of cold cells filled
with bodies and heads. Some of them are not frozen, he understands from secret
sources, but are still alive and thinking, suspended in nano baths in what is
euphemistically called warm sleep. They are old and sick and the law does not
allow them to undergo any more major medical intervention. They have had
their chance at life; anything more and they are classified as greedy Chronovores,
seekers after immortality, which is illegal everywhere but in the quasi-independent
republic of Green Idaho, and impractical here.
The terminally ill can, however, forfeit all but their physical assets to the
republic, and enter Omphalos as isolated wards of the syndicate.
Giffey presumes the still-living are the curious ones. They stay current as
Giffey does not care what they're dreaming, half-alive or wholly dead,
whether they're locked into endless rounds of full-sensory Yox, or preparing
themselves for the future by becoming the most highly educated near-corpses
in the datafiow world. They should be honorably gone from the picture, out
of the game. They don't need their assets.
Omphalos's occupants are just a different set of pharaohs. And Jack Giffey
is just another kind of tomb-robber who thinks he can avoid the traps and
break the seals and unwrap the mummies.
"You are now within the atrium of the most secure building in the Western
World. Designed to withstand catastrophic earthquakes, volcanic activity, even
thermonuclear explosions or microcharge dispersals--"
Giffey is not listening. He has a pretty decent map of the place in his head,
and a much more detailed map in his pad. He knows where the arbeiters must
come and go within the building's two entrances. He even knows who has
manufactured the arbeiters, and what they look like. He knows much else
besides. He is ready to go and does not need this final tour. Giffey is here to
legitimately pay his respects to a remarkable monument.
"Please step th-is way. We have mockups of hibernaria and exhibits usually
reserved only for prospective patrons of these facilities. But today, for you
exclusively, we allow access to a new and vital vision of the future--"
Giffey grimaces. He hates today's big lies--exclusively, only, I love you alone,
trust, adore, but ultimately, pay. Post-consumer weltcrap. He's glad he has paid
his money for the last time.
and behaviors. The system passes them through to the display area. The casket
room. Lie in silken comfort throzigh a/l eternity.
The young tourists in their denims and warm, upscale Nandex stand agape
before the ice-blue enamel and fiexfuller hibernarium, a long flattened tube
stretched across a mocked-up cubicle like a dry-docked submarine cemented
at both ends. Giffey knows what the tourists, the young students, are thinking.
They are all wondering if they will ever be able to afford this kind of immortality,
a chance at the Big Downstream.
Giffey doesn't care. Even riches and the high life do not matter to him
because unlike his partners, he has severe doubts they will ever be able to fence
such goods, nearly all of which will be marked with ineradicable tracers. Besides,
gold means much less than it used to. Datafiow is all.
He's in it to tweak a few noses, and to play against the machine he suspects
lies within. Hardly a machine at all...
"Our exclusive method of bio-vitrifying cryo-conservancy was pioneered by
four doctors in Siberia and perfected fifteen years ago. The fluids of a human
body normally crystallize upon freezing, but by vitrifying these fluids, making
them smoothly glassy, we eliminate crystals completely--"
Giffey believes he will face an unauthorized artificial intelligence--Omphalos's
own advanced petafiop INDA, perhaps even a thinker. He's always
wanted to go up against a thinker.
He suspects he'll lose. But maybe not.
And what a game!
M/F, F/M, M/M, F/F
e is what
/ is what separates us.
We are all different sexes, though with only two brands of equipment.
--The Kiss of X, Alive Contains a Lie
2 S T 0 N E H A M M E R
Alice Grale believes this is cataspace, all interaction but no motion. In the
small black room off the long black studio, waiting can be a dull chunk of
time filled any way at all. She and her co-star, Minstrel, are talking, waiting
for adjustments on the stage. Minstrel lounges naked on the old low couch,
/ SLANT 13
"So why don't you like those words?" Minstrel asks. "They're ancient and
traditional, and they describe what we do."
"They're ugly," she says. "I say them if I want to or when I'm paid to, but
I've never been fond of them." Alice sits on the folding metal chair before him,
illuminated by a soft free spot of white light, wearing a flimsy black robe, her
touching knees exposed. There is some relief in old friendship. She has known
Minstrel for nine years. They have been talking for twenty minutes and Francis
is still not ready for them.
"You never fail to surprise me, Alice. But I'm making a point. Try saying
the word," he challenges. "The tetragrammaton."
She considers, then says it, with a rise of her cheeks and a curve of her
lips and derogatory tilt of her head, her voice not very loud and void of
"You're not doing it justice," Minstrel complains. "God knows I've
heard you say it often enough. Say it professionally, if you can't get into it
Alice glares at him.
"I mean it," he says. "I'm making a point here."
Minstrel seems a little intense today, pushy. But she says the word once
more. Her eyes narrow and her nose wrinkles.
Minstrel sniffs. "Your heart isn't in it," he says dubiously, "but even so, it
brings a snarl, feel it?"
Alice shakes her head. "It's what somebody else wants me to say, and that's
the way they want me to say it."
Minstrel chuckles and taps her knee with one long square-tipped finger.
"Like all women, you are not your art."
Alice is both perplexed and irritated. "What's that mean?"
"The word is a snarl. It's old and hard and blunt--it's a stone hammer.
You say it when you really need the person you're with and you aren't embarrassed
to show yourself deep down. It means what's happening touches your
"You say that casually enough," Minstrel observes. He stands, applies finger
to cheek and inclines his head. In this pose, long and loose, he reminds Alice
of an E1 Greco saint. All he needs is a slack blue loincloth.
She feels the familiar deep appreciation, the yearning that has not diminished
in over fifty professional encounters in thirty-one vids, beginning with
her first when she was nineteen. That was ten years ago, and he was thin and
ribby, hollow-chested and uncertain of his peculiar talent. Now he is lean and
omni-asian brown, muscles finely toned and defined, his body a temple as well
as an office, long hair pulled back from a high forehead, long thin patrician
nose almost too sharp, lips proud as if recently slapped.
Alice pretends languid boredom, then shifts suddenly into seductive speed.
"Still not convincing," Minstrel teases.
"Fuck me with your.., penis," Alice says. They both laugh.
Minstrel's face crosses from saint to ascetic cherub. "Utterly, desperately
limp. Only a doctor or a therapist would call it that, to make you feel inferior.
Most men prefer cock."
"Crows only in the morning," Alice says. All conversations with Minstrel,
even in the down time between plugs, are contagious. "Penis sounds like a
planet or a country."
"Vagina. Labia. Clitoris," he prompts.
"Like characters in a Renaissance vid," Alice says. She muses. "They are all
royalty in the land of Penis. Vagina never touches another person without
wearing gloves. She is cool and dresses in black lace."
Minstrel's face lights up. "Labia is a dangerous woman, sister to Vagina and
Clitoris," he says. "A vampire and poisoner."
"Clitoris is the youngest, virginal sister," Alice says. She loves games. "They
are all daughters of..." Tongue tipping through her lips, catlike, while she
thinks. "Lucrezia Menarchia."
"Bravo!" Minstrel says. He applauds.
Alice bows and continues. "Clitoris is the only one with any decency. She
blushes with shame at how her family carries on."
Minstrel reddens with subdued laughter. They should not be too loud up
here; it might upset Francis, who can be very testy while preparing for a plug.
"All right. Cunt," he suggests.
Alice pauses, scowling. "That's a tough one."
"Not yours, my dear."
Alice gives him a beneath-me face and taps her finger on her nose, thinking. "Cunt is a barbarian princess from the outer reaches. She is raised by the outland
tribes of the province of Puberty."
Minstrel squints. "Not Puberty. Not quite right." He works at it and substitutes, "Pudenda."
Alice grins. "Pudenda it is. Cuntia is her name when she travels in the
Minstrel snaps his slender fingers. "We're on to something. Maybe Francis
will make us writers. Listen: Cunt is swapped in a hostage exchange between
Lucrezia Menarchia and Cunt's father, King Hetero. Lucrezia sends her daughter-her
hopelessly moral daughter Clitoris to learn the barbarian ways and
loosen up a bit. Clitoris finally lets her hair down and finds fulfillment in the
arms of Cunt's heroic brother, Glans. Cunt, however, must preserve her honor
in Menarchia rather than submit to temptation, for Lucrezia rules a corrupt
Alice takes a deep breath, pretending to be stunned by this burst of genius,
then laughs out loud, the hell with Francis, who shouldn't keep them waiting
so long. She seldom laughs this way, it sounds so much like an ass's bray to
her, but she is easy and open with Minstrel. "So who or what is your precious
Fuck, then?" she asks.
Minstrel holds his hands as if in prayer and pretends great gravity. "Not to
be spoken lightly, or profaned. The tetragrammaton... Fuck... is the most
powerful god of all, two-faced progenitor of the world. He prefers we see just
his benign face, the baby-making, world-renewing side. But we all know his
opposite: Trickster, the devil that rides us and whips us until we bleed."
At this profundity, Alice stands on long legs, yawns, and stretches. "As
always, you are uselessly instructive," she tells him. Minstrel gives her his slow
prankboy's smile and stretches his arms higher than she can reach. She subdues
a little shiver. Their chemistry is working, and holding back does her performance
Alice turns to the low horizontal slit window overlooking the black stage.
Something twinkles down there but they are off angle and cannot see the
projection. Francis is tediously careful with his plugs and backmind details,
but he could have laid in all of Chinese sexual psychology by now. "Francis
should be done. He'll want to hook us." Back in the real. Her forehead creases.
"Are you up, dear?" Minstrel asks.
Alice shows him her moon face. "Never less," she says. "Are you?"
Minstrel's muscles flex at the back of his jaw. He is hiding something behind
the cheer. He can hide from almost anyone but her; she knows him better than
most wives know their husbands. To Alice it seems they have come far and
survived much and against the odds, but at some cost. Minstrel hides his
minuses poorly in front of her.
A pity, she thinks, that his body is so seldom seen in the vids they make
now. Preferences of the blessed audience for the psynthe exotic.
"You look negged," she says.
Minstrel turns away as if unfairly poked. "Let me keep. my mood," he tells
Alice moves in, swaying her shoulders, clucking her tongue. "I'll need all
of you in five minutes, and you can't make me work harder to get it," she says.
"Not my libido," he shoots back.
"You've cheered me the last hour instead of leaving me to brood over twisted
thumbs." She wraps her arms around him. He pushes her off with what begins
as real and angry strength, and ends gentleness and restraint.
"Is it Todd?" she asks.
"Todd was a year ago," Minstrel says.
Alice nods sympathetically, lips pursed. "I should have known. Why didn't
you tell me?"
"I hide, you hide," Minstrel says, and tries to force more brave wit over
what is now a sad and lost face.
"Poor Minstrel," she says. "They do not deserve you."
"No, they fapping well do not."
"So what's his name?"
"The little fap's name is Giorgio and you, dear Alice, will never meet him.
He doesn't deserve to meet you."
The wound is seldom far beneath Minstrel's armor when she is doing the
probing; he comes to her, at long intervals, like a dog with a boil, knowing
she will hurt him with her lancet; also knowing it will do him good.
It is now that Francis chooses to blat his awful airhorn.
Minstrel closes up his cares and assumes a heavy-lidded rouCs smile. "It is
never duty with you," he says, "but whatever it is, it calls."
Alice loops her arm through his and they step down the broad railless stairs
to the stage, like royalty or Astaire and Rogers making a grand entrance.
Francis awaits them in the plug room beside the main stage. Here as well
as on the stage all is flat gritty black, no reflection allowed as the camera mixes
its own glittering fairy-light dreams with the quantized lux of the real. Francis
has named this camera Leni. Leni has become much more than an optical
device. She scatters over the stage, feeding images and projections at one end,
combining them with backmind layers at the other, a smooth silver and bronze
balled and coiled snake.
Francis is irritated. His AD, scrawny and unkempt--Ahmed, Alice remembers
vaguely; Francis goes through four or five ADs each production--hurries
to arrange the bottles of nano and their small shiny plastic conduits and dams,
to be applied to the occiput of Alice's skull and to Minstrel's temple.
"Alice, fabled Alice, what would you do?" Francis asks as they reach the
bottom of the stairs. "I'm two weeks behind, two mill over, I have general fibe
and sat release dates in four days--and I'm still layering!" Francis shakes his
head. He always appears a little sad and irritated. Alice accepts this in Francis,
as well as his fits of temper, only because what he does is unique and, she
thinks, good; though Francis is not extraordinarily commercial, working on a
Francis vid, even as backmind, can never hurt one's reputation.