(12) 00110001 00110010

"The Off-Ramp?" Reg was saying, surprised. "What about it? It's more of the viewer supplied. We don't watch it ourselves -- need me beauty sleep, don't I?" He tugged Fang out from under the desk and lifted him and the soup bowl to the back of the bus, where he levered them down to the floor. "Have a seat, my son," he said, gesturing to the floor beside him.

"What, you're saying you guys don't watch your own programming?" Edison said, dropping down to sit beside him.

"Special case," Dominique said, lighting another cigarette. "We have a receiver on the roof. Anyone can link in content for a few hours every day, and we record it. First come, first taped. We load up the decks in sequence and run them overnight."

"Anyone?" Edison said, surprised.

"Anyone, everyone, no questions asked. And why not?" Reg said, spooning soup from the bowl and holding it out for Fang. "Fun for all! Mind you, once in a great while I give it a glance, but I find it usually requires 80-proof lubrication."

"Would you, uh, happen to have any of those --"

"Sure, go ahead, cue him up an Off-Ramp, Dom, love," Reg said pushing out a tattered woven laundry basket filled with jumbled tapes from the corner beside him. As she plucked a cassette from the top, Reg asked him, "Now, care to explain the sudden interest?"

"One of your viewers sent in content featuring, uh, me," Edison said. "I think that might explain why the sudden interest in you from outside the Fringes."

"Really? What sort of content would this be?" Reg said with a frown.

"A clipvid --"

"Right, right, we do get those mixed in with the rest," he said nodding. "But I don't see --"

"Reg," Dominique prompted, as the terminal on a nearby ledge blared to ear-shattering life, featuring gyrating teenagers with guitars.

"Ah! 'Ere we are, then!" Reg shouted. "Basement band! Bloody awful from the sound of it! Dom, want to skim this?!"

She did -- and shrieked, "Oh lord, not him again!" A pudgy, naked man with a bag over his head was performing an odd dance in the middle of what looked to be an expensively furnished private study.

"Ah, yes, the Private Dancer," Reg said, "he does pop up periodically, or so I'm told. Harmless bit of exhibitionism."

"Harmless?" Edison said. "My eyes are bleeding."

"Skim, skim," Dominique chanted, scrabbling at the button. "Oh, this is worse . . ."

A stiff-looking man in a dark-blue suit, white shirt, black tie and horn-rimmed glasses was clutching a keyboard and intoning, "--ver forget, ours shall be the employment, forever and ever, and we of the All Blue must be faithful and ever wary of the Enemy, who shall be known by their fruity symbol, lest we be left behind when the redemption of superior sales and marketing comes --

"TV preacher," Reg said, amused, "skim, Dom, skim."

They skimmed through more basement bands, a woman performing magic tricks with a rabbit, then landed on an older segment of the Edison Carter Show on underground nuclear waste.

"Hardly a surprise, there. You've got fans, my son. They save the ones they want everyone to see again."

"Huh," Edison said, feeling the compliment.

Then another of the basement bands and another; a group of drunks in a corridor of the Ouzo Bar attempting to form a pyramid; a woman demonstrating how to cook soy burgers 'just like mom's'; a duo delivering a dramatic dialogue then offering resumes and headshots; and finally, a clipvid based on Lumpy's Proletariat.

"No," Edison said, shaking his head, "this clipvid wasn't in the group we watched."

"We've a whole basket 'ere," Reg said. "Your clipper could be on any of them. More than one even."

Edison thumped his head back against the wall. "Reg . . ."

"What's in this clipvid that's got you all riled up?"

"Oh, just a little nudity involving me --" Edison said.

"Really?" Dominique said, perking up and eyeing the basket.

"-- and somebody else," Edison finished.

"Like that, is it?" Reg said sympathetically. "Securicam footage?"

"No," Edison said. "It doesn't actually ring any bells with me. Some kind of video manipulation. I'm not sure. I thought at first that Bryce had --"

"Your Bryce Lynch?" Dominique said, surprised. "You think he'd do something like that?"

"He's not my -- well, no, I guess he wouldn't," Edison said doubtfully. "I don't know what to think."

"Well, I suppose at one time he might have," Dominique muttered.

Edison stared at her. "What was that?"

"You didn't know?" Reg exchanged a look with Dominique. "Think we were both rather surprised when you brought him in here, that time," he said. "Rather different impression than I'd been expecting, I must admit."

"Why's that?" Edison said. "You didn't know Bryce before, did you?"

"Not as such," Reg said, scrubbing his head. "We knew of 'im. Kept shutting down our operations, fair regular. Right little bastard."

"Oh lord," Dominique groaned, "even that time we had everything turned off and --"

"Weaseled in by our vidiphone link," Reg said, shaking his head. "Wiped all the data we 'ad that wasn't stored on tape. We were down for two weeks after that."

"Bryce did this?" Edison said, stunned.

"Started three years ago," Dominique said. "The trades said 23 had acquired its very own R&D Academy kiddie a few months before, so we wondered."

"That CEO of yours, wossname --"

"Grossberg," Dominique said, rolling her eyes. "Don't we love him."

"Yeah, 'im. All's fair, I know, I know, but that wanker -- not interested in 'ealthy competition," Reg said, "more like grinding us under heel. An' what's our option, I ask you? Shout for the Metros? Pity I'm more for the engineering," Reg added in a confidential tone. "Well, and the 'eadbangin' naturally."

"Naturally," Edison agreed. "You sound pretty certain now that it was 23."

"Bruno traced it back," Dominique said.


"Right, right. See," Reg said, "one day Bruno -- complete stranger, mind -- just waltzes in from god knows where with 'is own equipment. Sits right down, sets up, slaps back 23's cracker back on his heels. So we've some tasty ice now that's nipped our invasions in the bud." Reg leaned over and added sotto voce, "Bit squirrely, our Bruno, has these long chats with that toad of 'is. But he knows 'is stuff." He spooned out some more soup and crooned, "'Ere you go, Fang, a bit more Alphabetti Spaghetti for my darling."

"So, does that mean Bryce is still doing this?" Edison said.

"What? Nah nah. Think we'd 'ave give him free run of our palatial abode if he were? Stopped about -- what's it been, Dom?"

"About a year back," she said, pausing for a drag on her cigarette holder. "Likely due to that shakeup in your boardroom. Or he finally found some other way to occupy his time." Then she leaned over and purred, "You know, it's always the small and cute ones, isn't it? Sooo aggressive."

Edison stared at her, perplexed. "OK, so if it's not Bryce, that leaves the problem of who it really is. If the media's looking for you two, it doesn't sound like anyone but Bryce managed to record that broadcast."

"And we could make a tidy bit of credit selling it, if we find the proper tape, that it?" Reg said gently. Dominique sighed lustily, and Reg said, "Look. You've been a good mate, done us a few favors, we've done you a few, so let's keep the ball rolling along, eh?" He nudged the basket with his foot. "We tape over these throughout the month, but I'm thinking you'll not want to take the chance of the wrong one coming back into rotation by accident. So take 'em, erase 'em, bring 'em back when you're done."

"Or just pay for new ones," Dominique said eyeing Reg. "Those are older than IBM."

"All right," Edison said, relieved. "New tapes then. Thank you."

"Can't help with the clipper's copy though," Reg pointed out.

"Look, is there any way to identify the source of one of these transmissions your receiver picks up?"

"Hmm," Reg said. "Perhaps so. We'd need a tracker module." He glanced at Edison. "Tell you right now, though. Some of that's network source, not the home-brewed variety. And it's not being sent by antenna -- it's piggy-backing on Netsat signals. Most those clipvids come that way. Takes a lot more memory storage to work with those than a domestic system hack can handle."

"Network source?" Edison said, staring at him. "What?"

"Our audience," Dominique said, pulling herself up proudly, "is wider than you think."

"Or maybe it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you, mate," Reg said jovially. "Speaking of," he said, pointing at the blinking light on the vidicam, "yours wants a word, looks like."

When Edison flipped the switch, Theora said, briskly, "Control to Edison Carter, please confirm your status."

"I'm here, Theora," Edison said, "listen, I've got a lead on --"

"We've already located the source," she said abruptly. "You're coming in from the field, Murray's order. Barry's ETA to your location is approximately 10 minutes."

"Theora --"

"Control out."

They all three stared at the dead link, astonished. "Well," said Dominique at last, "that wasn't terribly enlightening, was it?"

"No," said Edison, "it wasn't."

(13) 00110001 00110011

Edison had never seen the door to Research and Development left open to the corridor like this, but he chose to interpret it as a hopeful sign as he strolled into the lab. Bryce's larger, orange parrot -- both the live one on the perch and its computer construct, now occupying the main monitor -- spotted him first, and they squawked raucously, flapping their wings.

Bryce, who'd been leaning against the stool in front of that monitor, was feeding slivers of cracker to the smaller green parrot that was gripping his fingers. He turned, looking flustered, "Edison," he said, "you're --"

"Bryce, hey," Edison said, "Theora said you had something to give me?"

Bryce stared at him silently for a few moments, then he stood abruptly and carefully assisted the green parrot onto the perch beside the other. "Yes, I do, in fact, I --"

"That's fine," Edison said, holding up a hand, "but hang on a minute. I need to explain, all right?"

"OK." Bryce sat back and folded his arms, his expression neutral.

"Listen, back there, I kind of lost my temper," he said, "my first thought was that you'd used that data rescan program to make that video."

"Kind of," Bryce echoed.

"But, see, then I realized that what you'd said was true. That program wasn't really far enough along to do it that well."

Bryce's expression fell into a frown. "Well. Excuse me for not having sufficient time to work on it," he said. "That's related to all of the interruptions I've experienced over the past --"

"That's not -- just let me finish the whole confession part here, Bryce, OK?"

"There's more?"

"Well, yeah," Edison said, rubbing the back of his neck. "See, my second thought, which seemed even more likely after Reg told me it was probably a network-generated clipvid, was that you'd pulled it out of Max's memory, and --"

Bryce's eyes went wide. "You think I'd --"

"I didn't know what to think, that's what I'm telling you here, Bryce!" But Bryce was now looking at him in a narrow, assessing way that didn't bode well. "Look, what I'm trying to say here, Bryce, is that when I thought about it, it didn't make any sense. The only face you can see in the video is mine. I mean, I do remember who I've slept with, so that meant --"

"Good to know," Bryce said, "considering there were so many."

"I knew it," Edison said, stabbing a finger at him. "You have been going through Max's memory."

"Of course I have," Bryce said flatly. "I had to. After he was first constructed, initially many areas of his memory were fragmented and had to be reintegrated." He added, "The sexual experiences were stored in sectors 258,963 onward on the --" he broke off, "it's not important. He's moved all of them since then."

"Moved them where?" Edison said, uneasily.

"Elsewhere. If you really want to access specific memories, then ask him," Bryce said. "Just like I have to."

"You mean you can't just --"

"Not without a significant amount of work, which I don't consider an appropriate use of my time." Bryce pulled off his glasses and began polishing them on the hem of his shirt. "Edison. Granted, my knowledge of these types of social adjustment is based largely on pod simulations at the Academy, but I'm certain this doesn't fit any of the standard templates for an apology. So I don't know what it is."

"Bryce, just hang on, I'm not finished yet."

Bryce shook his head. "I am," he said, ducking his head to shove his glasses in place and to adjust them. Then he made a curt gesture toward the metal grating that partially hid his bedroom alcove from view. "They're in there, under the bed. I suggest you take them with you now because I've asked Theora to not crack this iteration of my securicode. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some work to do with the mainframe."

"Wait, Bryce, what's under your bed? Theora didn't tell me --"

But Bryce simply brushed by him to walk down the short hall to the main door, then out into the corridor. The door shut with a firm, metallic clack behind him.

Both of the orange parrots, real and computer generated, tilted their heads to stare at Edison. "Stuuupid!" they squawked simultaneously.

"Thanks a lot," Edison growled at them. "Really. Today was only lacking that."

Bryce lived in his lab -- literally. What passed for his bedroom was an alcove that opened onto the main room, separated only by a sliding metal grate. Edison pushed the divider aside in its track; inside, it looked much the same as always: a single bed, and walls lined with shelving that were crammed with an assortment of toys, action figures, equipment parts, and small adjustable lights. Next to the bed were two small lab carts, one filling the role of bedside table and the other holding the netlink/vidiphone combination unit with mysterious extra attachments.

"Right," he said. Edison dropped to his knees beside the bed and hesitated before lifting up the blanket. "Any idea what's under here, Max?"

The monitor behind him replied, "B,based on our old beds? Dust bunnies, d,d,dead soldiers, d,dirty books --"

"Been lying low for any particular reason?" Edison said.

"You needed my help to open m,m,mouth, insert foot? I respectfully . . . decline," Max said.

"Don't know what you're talking about," Edison said, flipping up the blanket and leaning over to look. As it turned out, underneath Bryce's bed was nothing of interest -- it was unexpectedly dust-free and empty. All he could see was a bundle wrapped in Bryce's plaid bathrobe, which he hooked with his fingers and slid out. "Guess that's why he's not wearing it for a change," Edison muttered, pushing aside the flannel.

"And theeeere you have it," Max said.

Edison stared at the stack of familiar disk-shaped metal canisters. The fraying white cloth tape on the sides of each said, simply, "Paddy Ashton."

"I didn't have time to take these with me when we left," Edison said, numbly. "At Mind's Eye, I mean."

"We can p,put his and yours together for an evening of fun-filled Pornoviz p,p,p,programming."

"Max," he groaned.

"Ahh, so many waste,wasted bytes and opportun,tunities, the sordid tale of our mutual existence," Max said. He frowned. "I'd rather watch Porky's Landing."

"So this was the source of those clips. Where the hell did Bryce get these?" Edison said. "He had them all along?"

"Aaaand another g,g,good deed wasted on Edison Carter. Bryce'll learn eveeeentually," Max said. "Or may,maybe he already has?"

"He got them from someone else," Edison finished. "All right. I get it."

"I wonder if you do do," Max was peering down at him from the monitor.

"What?" Edison said, hauling himself and the bundle onto the bed. When he stretched out across it, his head brushed the nearby ledge, dislodging a half-finished circuit board from the pile. He hastily crammed it back in beside the tools and a metal lunchbox that had pride of place on that shelf.

"Soldering in bed, a d,dangerous hab,habit," Max said in pious tones.

"I wouldn't know," Edison pointed out. "Listen, Max, since Bryce is apparently no longer speaking to me, would you mind telling me --"

"Why should he? Smoooooth, Edison, very very smooth," Max said. "You've slid our way out of another one. Your score is now oh for how how many?"

"What are you babbling about, Max?" Edison said, rubbing his temple.

"Vanna gave it three yeeears before she kicked us to the c,curb, but p,p,poor Bryce, aaaall of the trials but none of the t,treats since you're refusing to p,p,put out. Me? I'm shocked, shocked he even gave us one year."

"I'm not dating Bryce, Max."

"Hmm hmm! Then what d,do you craaazy kids call it these days? I mean, I'm supposed to be the free free spirit around here, b,but you're the one making free with his toothbrush."

"He got another one," Edison protested.

"Someone is missing the p,p,point. I'm ashamed to say that it's me. Ahhh, we can be vedy vedy vedy dense. Edison Carter -- holding out for hearts! Flowers! Flying c,c,crockery!"

"Maaaax," he groaned. "I'm not discussing this with you."

"Edison," Max said, "may I be . . . serious?" With that, he screwed up his face like he'd eaten a basket of lemons. Long seconds crawled by.

Edison gave up. "Max. Stop being serious. Please."

"Ahhhh!" His face collapsed back to normal. "What a relief!" Then he said, "Theora has made it p,p,perfectly clear she will never date her operative. In case you haven't fig,figured it out, that's you. She finds us hand,handsome, charming, witty! -- as she should! -- but, alas, she p,p,p,prefers grownups. Named Ted."

"Max," he protested, "I haven't even asked her out! Well, not exactly asked her out . . ."

"Why, Eddie," Max said, with a suspicion of a brogue, "you've had sooo much success sl,sleeping around the newsroom, have,haven't you now?"

"Max, you're out of line, damn it," Edison said, hand going automatically to the cans, "just leave him out of this, all right?"

"And it's never occuuuurred to you that some someone who makes her living as a C,Controller might like c,c,control?" Max asked. He assumed a lofty expression. "Yes! That qual,quality of density, another part of our mmmysterious ch,charm."

"I just want, well, someone I can talk to about anything, including work --"

"Argue with?"

"Discuss things."

"And share the d,d,discussion with all your neighbors. Very generous,ous!"

"I don't argue with Theora, Max."

"You don't argue with your Controller. With Theora, when she says 'jump,' you always s,s,say 'Why?' not 'How high?' I think I rec,rec,recognize this street! D,d,daddy, are we driving in a circle?" Before Edison could object, Max said, "How much do you know about The,theora?"

"Well, she's . . ."

"Friends? Fam,family? Hobbies?"

"She's adopted," Edison said. "She has a brother."

"Go on. Waiting!" Max made ticking noises as Edison scowled at him. "Waste not, want want not," Max concluded in pious tones, "half a sheet should take c,c,care of it."

"So what's your point here, Max?" Edison shouted at him. "Save me some time and just get on with it."

"Edison," Max said simply, "where do you spend all your free time? For a fan,fantasy, you're throwing away the first stable relationship you've had in yeeears."

Edison heard the main door locks releasing, and the parrots began to squawk a greeting in the lab. "Damn," he said, "Max, I have to get out of here."

"Eeeedison!" Max sang.

"No. No, Max. We are not even thinking about this!"

"We're not?"

"Sixteen, Max!"

"Going on sixty."

"More like going on six!"

"Uh," Bryce said, "what are you guys talking about?"

Edison sat up and saw that Bryce was leaning on the grating to the alcove.

"The p,p,price of eggs in New,New Tokyo," Max supplied immediately.

"Isn't it still point five credit per egg?" Bryce said, looking confused. "I can find out."

"No, Bryce," Edison said, "ignore Max. Listen, about these reels --"

Bryce shrugged and shuffled into the alcove. "A few links, a few shares I'd have done eventually anyway. I had some spare time."

"B,b,bryce had spare time! Stay tuned for rioting in the streets, for the end it is n,n,nigh."

Bryce ignored him, waving awkwardly at the canisters. "That old type of film stock isn't hard to destroy. The easiest, quickest way would be to rent some time in a crematorium."

"That'd be appropriate, I guess," Edison said. "I'll think about it. Look, would you mind if I just left them --?" he patted the bed.

"Edison," Bryce said, frowning. Edison waited for Bryce's automatic protests-in-vain, defending his time and his turf, but they didn't come. Seconds stretched into a minute, two minutes, three. Edison had an uneasy sense, for the first time, of what his life was going to look like with Bryce shutting him out. Not helping him. Or entertaining him. Bryce would be locked away in the lab. If Bryce decided to take one of those contracts the other networks were always offering, Edison would get no say this time.

So maybe Edison was thinking about it after all.

Bryce slumped back against the grating. "I guess," he said, sounding defeated. "They should be fine under there. Link when you want to pick them up. Housekeeping never looks under my bed. It's weird." He watched Edison carefully slide the bundle back underneath, then he flopped down to sit on the bed beside him -- bouncing himself and Edison a few inches into the air.

"Whoa!" Edison yelped, flailing in the aftershocks.

Bryce grinned. "It's great, isn't it? Extra bouncy."

"Actually, yeah, it is," Edison said wonderingly, putting some weight into the next drop, and nearly sending Bryce off the edge. "Where'd you get this?"

"I requisitioned it, of course," Bryce said. "It's actually part of my research into comparative mass and motion --"

"Stop, hold it!" Edison cut him off. "Let me enjoy now, and you can explain the scientific validity later."

"Fine, fine," Bryce said, bouncing again. On the terminal, Max began to whoop and demand that Edison give him his own turn.

"You lack the necessary anatomy to appreciate it," Edison said.

"So so so? Isn't it time you do something ab,b,b,bout it?" Max shot back.

Bryce, who'd hit the floor moments before, was now peering over the foot of the bed adjusting his glasses. "I've been thinking of getting a bigger mattress," he admitted. "But I don't think Max's portable unit would --"

"That's not what he meant," Edison said. He knew he was going to regret this, but the short-term reward could be worth it. "That recent memories update you wanted to do for Max . . ."

"You said no," Bryce pointed out.

"Yeah, I did. But this isn't really a yes/no binary area. It's one of those gray areas we've talked about, where changing your mind is always a possibility. I needed to think more about Max, about me, about me and Max. Me and . . . other people. You see what I mean?"

"No," Bryce said. "No idea."

"Let's just say that I've finally come around to the idea of Max sticking around a while."

"The Vu-Age Church will be d,d,delighted to hear it," Max agreed, grimacing.

Edison needed to find a way to frame his idea in Bryce Lynch terms. "So you had trouble helping Max distinguish between TV and real life. Uh, real-time and fantasy, right? If you add more memory data from me . . ."

"Well, yes," Bryce said, climbing back onto the bed. "But your new data would be stored separately. Rather than overwriting Max's own new memories, he'd be able to select and integrate only the specific sectors he wants. It's part of the new decision functions I've installed; now that he has more experiential data of his own that's not shared with yours, he should be able to --"

"Would it help with that," Edison interrupted, "if you had your own data on a mutual experience for comparison?" He ignored Max's whoop of amusement. "I'd like to offer you an, uh, unparalleled research opportunity to -- let's call this expanding your personal parameters. And Max's as well."

Bryce tilted his head. "You know, I have no idea what you're --"

Edison leaned forward and kissed him, a light brushing of the lips. Bryce's reaction -- or rather, complete lack of one -- wasn't what Edison had expected at all. Bryce froze, eyes gone wide.

It was as good an opportunity as any. "And what I was going to say before was that I was an idiot for doubting you, OK?" Edison said. "So maybe I should have just said that first." The apology was apparently wasted because Bryce didn't even blink.

Then Max yodeled, "Ground control to Mr. Lynch, come iiiiin Bryce!"

"-- talking about," Bryce said.

"I think he j,just reset to the default val,values," Max said.

"Bryce," Edison told him, "I just kissed you."

"Not possible." Bryce licked his lips. "That doesn't happen in real-time," he said firmly. "Which means it hasn't --"

"Wait," Edison said. "So it happens when? Fantasies with me? Really?"

"No, I . . ." Bryce looked momentarily panicked. "Well, yes. But not exactly. It's more like . . ."

"Win-nah and still champion! I'm truly irresistible!" Max burst out, delighted. "Thank you, thank you verrrah verrrah much."

"You've got to be kidding," Edison said. But somehow it figured Bryce would find the thought of having sex with his software more exciting than the real thing. "I sure can pick 'em," he muttered.

Bryce looked annoyed. "Well, it's not like you'd ever . . . except," his eyes went wide and unfocused again, "except you just . . . ?"

After a few more silent moments, Max observed, "Exxcellent work, Dr. Carter. The patient is nonresponsive. You've b,b,broken our Bryce."

"This is great," Edison sighed.

"May,maybe his file queue is overload,loaded?" Max suggested.

"Or he's just stuck in a loop." Edison grasped Bryce by the shoulder and gave him a hard shake.

"Uh," Bryce said, blinking at Edison and Max over the top of his glasses. "Uh?"

"In real-time, which this is," Edison told him, "you have a number of options right now. As Network 23's head of Research and Development, one of them is to have my ass fired, Mr. Lynch."

"Uh," said Bryce. "No?"

"No? Enough with the binaries, Bryce. No means what?"

"No means . . ." Then Bryce stirred, and drew himself up, pushing his glasses back up his nose. "Naturally I'm aware of the theory and the visual models of, of . . . that. But the practical application of, of, I, uh." He stuttered to a halt. Finally he said, helplessly, "It seems unhygienic."

Which was all the reassurance Edison needed that Bryce was back online again. "Very," Edison agreed. "Very, very unhygienic. Let me demonstrate how much." He leaned in and ran the tip of his tongue along Bryce's lower lip, then a quick lick inside. He smiled when Bryce whimpered. "What else would you like me to do with my mouth, Bryce? I'm open to requests."

"I, I . . . wait! I have a pod floppy that deals with this type of interface," Bryce said suddenly. "Let me just --"

"Gimme a little credit here, Bryce," Edison said, exasperated. "No pod files necessary."

"As I told you, Bryce, Ed,Edison's more, more than willing to share our use,useful data from misspent college years."

"A conversation I never want to hear about again," Edison retorted. "Speaking of which, Bryce," he said, "how's this going to read in that ACS file?"

"Wh,what? The Academy?" Bryce stared at him. Then he gulped and croaked, "I guess. Some information. Isn't strictly necessary to share?"

"That answer wins you a deluxe package tour," Edison said approvingly.

"Welcome to the Gray Area, Bryce Lynch," Max intoned. "P,p,please. Enjoy your stay."

Edison tried one last question, just to be certain: "Thing is, Bryce, I wouldn't want to keep you from your work."

"What?" Bryce said, fumbling off his glasses. "I, no, I mean, yes, but . . . Later! Of course it can wait." That had to be as close as Bryce would ever get to a heartfelt declaration of love. But god, Edison thought, without his glasses, Bryce really did look six. An impression that was instantly spoiled when Bryce added, "But you know, Edison, considering your advanced age, we ought to consider your biological limitations, such as prolonged refractory periods and --"

"I'm not even 30 yet, Bryce!" he pointed out testily. "If you're going to explore that particular limitation any more than you already have, it's not going to come up at all."

"Oh. Does that mean --?"

Edison sighed, and Max chirped, "Bryce, the g,g,grouchy old codger wants you to be a g,g,good boy and strip."

"Oh." Bryce bounced a few times. "Well. I can do that."

"Max, c'mon," Edison said, leaning over to tap on the glass with a knuckle. "You'll get all the detail you can download later. Go bother Control for a while. Redirect that View-phone over to the lab while you're at it."

"But but but," Max said.

"Max, I'm just saying, if you want optimum performance data, then consider what I don't find particularly sexy."

"Good point. Network 23 skidoooo!" The terminal winked out and nothing replaced it.

(14) 00110001 00110100

When Edison woke up, he saw that Bryce was still right beside him, but had turned on the light by the side of the bed and was busily soldering on the circuit board. While Edison was pondering whether it was strictly safe to do that kind of thing in the nude, Bryce looked up. He said, cheerily, "Edison, that was better than Neurostim."

"You think?" Edison said.

"Oh, oh right, Max must have overwritten that data when he reuploaded your old memories," Bryce said. "But yeah, it's better. Plus I didn't feel any urge to stop for crunch fries."

"No ZikZak-sponsored station breaks?" Edison said. "Good to know."

"Absolutely," Bryce nodded. "I definitely want to do that more in future. At least once a month."

"Once a month?" Edison said.

"Unless we could arrange more," Bryce said hopefully. "When would you like to begin the negotiations?"

"Bryce, Bryce, no contract's needed here. Any time we're both free is fine. All you have to do is ask."

"Really?" He looked stunned. "But that's . . . that's excellent! Edison, is that a 'relationship'?"

"It's a reasonable facsimile, sure." Close enough for smartbombs and ScumBall, anyway. And in that respect, Edison thought it was pretty darn magnanimous of him not hold it against Bryce when he kept getting two names confused in flagrante.

"I'm glad to be in a relationship with you then," Bryce said, and he did look flatteringly pleased about it. "You know, I can't wait to get this new data uploaded to Max."

"Neither can I," muttered the vidspeaker on the ledge next to the bed.

"What did you say?" Bryce said.

"Nothing," Edison said, stretching out enough to accidentally smack it off to the floor.

"I think you're absolutely right, you know," Bryce said. "This additional two-way type data will help me a lot in compiling Max's new information."

"Th,three way, actually," muttered the speaker on the floor.

Edison buried his face in the pillow. "Bryce, you're unique."

"So people keep telling me," he said happily.