The Infinite Matrix

Stories Columns Archive FAQ Home


  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey


Almost forty eight tons of the dying Russian space station, Mudrosti, enter the Earth's atmosphere somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Most of the debris burns up on re-entry, but thousands of tiny glass and metal particles shower down over the west coast of the United States. One of the particles enters the roof of an office building on the corner of Sansome and Clay Street in San Francisco's financial district. The particle, a fragment of a bolt that secured a transfer conduit to the station's solar panels, is traveling at three hundred yards per second, at an angle of thirty degrees.

On the twenty third floor, the tiny fragment strikes Sean Jackson in the back, just above his left scapula, and passes through his left ventricle, causing the heart muscle to spasm. Sean had been a track and football champion in high school and college. He can count the number of days he's been sick on the fingers of one hand. The heart attack is a revelation for him. In a hospital bed, where the doctors hold him overnight for observation, he uses his cell phone to call his girlfriend and ask her to marry him.

On the eighteenth floor, the Mudrosti fragment passes through Liv Ordesky's shoulder bag, striking her new PJ Harvey CD, instantly vaporizing the aluminum layer of the disk. When she finds the damaged disk on her way home from work, the streaks left by the evaporating metal strike her as profoundly beautiful. Two weeks later, she quits her job as a media buyer for an online marketing agency and re-enters the art school she'd dropped out of two years earlier.

Kate Weinstein is on the sixteenth floor of the building, rubbing her temples to relieve the pounding headache that is really the early stages of a stroke. As the falling fragment enters her brain, it dissolves the blockage in her cerebral artery, restoring normal bloodflow. Unfortunately, the rush of blood into her brain leaves her so light-headed that when she tries to stand, she collapses, face-first, into the gold fish tank on the corner of her desk, and drowns.

On the twelfth floor, Grant Burrows is climaxing between the tight, toned rock climbing thighs of his secretary, Megan Price. The fragment strikes the chip storing the numbers he's entered into his phone's speed dial, and calls his home number. A screw head in the base of the phone deflects the fragment so that it ricochets out of the device, and passes through the center of Grant's hands. When Grant hears his wife's voice coming through his phone's speaker he looks up, in mid-orgasm, and sees that he has developed stigmata. Neither Megan nor Grant's wife understand why he begins to scream or why he later insists on going to Confession for the first time in twenty-some years.

On the ninth floor, the particle smashes through the top of Timothy Jackson’s green iMac, striking the exact spot where a glob of dried sour cream (from last night's Chavo Supreme Super Burrito) touches a gallium arsenide chip in the heart of the machine. The strange primordial chemical cloud gives rise to a whole new form of life within the iMac. As the superheated plasma cools, the life grows and flourishes, building a vast civilization across the surface of the chip. But even with all the poetry and art they create, the civilization falls into a kind of existential despair when their science correctly describes the limits of their green and plastic-encased universe. A nuclear war breaks out between the different factions fighting for ultimate control of the chip. In the aftermath, the survivors envy the dead and all traces of their elegant empire are burned to dust. This all happens in .003 seconds. Timothy is forced to reboot his iMac when it mysteriously crashes.

Orlando "The Hammer" Sinclair is holding up a woman at gunpoint in the garage beneath the office building. As the particle travels down through the garage roof, it passes through Orlando's gun, igniting the primer in the chambered bullet. The gun goes off, killing Victoria Hartley next to her Jeep Cherokee. As Orlando watches her body crumple to the cement floor, the stupidity of the act and the violence of her collapse surprises him. Murder isn't nearly as much fun as he thought it would be.

From the floor of the garage, the particle continues down and enters the sewer, striking a spark when it punctures a water main. In the dark, a large and fierce rat is munching on a soggy carton of day old Mu Shu pork. The sight of the spark and the tiny geyser of water from the damaged main trigger a memory in the rat's tiny brain. The rat remembers another life, when he was known as Louis, the king of France. The Sun King, they had called him. He recalls the lovely fountains at his palaces, the emerald gardens outside Versailles, the ladies in waiting. That night, he dreams a mixture of rat and Louis dreams. Furry, whiskered women in elegant ball gowns chase him playfully through halls of mirrors as musicians play minuets in his endless palace. They all make love under the gilt wainscoting and dine on glazed cherries, fine wine and fresh pheasant bones, straight from the royal dumpster. Nothing less would be fit for his majesty Louis, the rat king.


[ Previous ]    [ Next ]

Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.

home | stories | columns | archive | faq |