GREEN DAYS IN BRUNEI
First published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, October 1985.
Two men were fishing from the corroded edge of an offshore oil rig. After years of decrepitude, the rig's concrete pillars were thick with barnacles and waving fronds of seaweed. The air smelled of rust and brine.
"Sorry to disturb your plans," the minister said. "But we can't just chat up the Yankees every time you hit a little contretemps." The minister reeled in and revealed a bare hook. He cursed mildly in his native Malay. "Hand me another bait, there's a good fellow."
Turner Choi reached into the wooden bait bucket and gave the minister a large dead prawn. "But I need that phone link," Turner said. "Just for a few hours. Just long enough to access the net in America and download some better documentation."
"What ghastly jargon," said the minister, who was formally known as the Yang Teramat Pehin Orang Kaya Amar Diraja Dato Seri Paduka Abdul Kahar. He was minister of industrial policy for the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, a tiny nation on the northern shore of the island of Borneo. The titles of Brunei's aristocracy were in inverse proportion to the country's size.
"It'd save us a lot of time, Tuan Minister," Turner said. "Those robots are programmed in an obsolete language, forty years old. Strictly Neanderthal."
The minister deftly baited his hook and flicked it out in a long spinning cast. "You knew before you came here how the sultanate feels about the world information order. You shall just have to puzzle out this conundrum on your own."
"But you're making weeks, months maybe, out of a three-hour job!" Turner said.
"My dear fellow, this is Borneo," the minister said benignly. "Stop looking at your watch and pay some attention to catching us dinner."
Turner sighed and reeled in his line. Behind them, the rig's squatter population of Dayak fisherfolk clustered on the old helicopter pad, mending nets and chewing betel nut.
It was another slow Friday in Brunei Darussalam. Across the shallow bay, Brunei Town rose in tropical sunlight, its soaring high-rises festooned with makeshift solar roofs, windmills, and bulging greenhouse balconies. The golden-domed mosque on the waterfront was surrounded by the towering legacy of the twentieth-century oil boom: boxlike office blocks, now bizarrely transmuted into urban farms.
Brunei Town, the sultanate's capital, had a hundred thousand citizens: Malays, Chinese, Ibans, Dayaks, and a sprinkling of Europeans. But it was a city under a hush. No cars. No airport. No television. From a distance it reminded Turner of an old Western fairy tale: Sleeping Beauty, the jury-rigged high-rises with their cascading greenery like a hundred castles shrouded in thorns. The Bruneians seemed like sleepwalkers, marooned from the world, wrapped in the enchantment of their ideology.
Turner baited his hook again, restive at being away from the production line. The minister seemed more interested in converting him than in letting him work. To the Bruneians, the robots were just another useless memento of their long-dead romance with the West. The old robot assembly line hadn't been used in twenty years, since the turn of the century.
And yet the royal government had decided to retrofit the robot line for a new project. For technical help, they had applied to Kyocera, a Japanese multinational corporation. Kyocera had sent Turner Choi, one of their new recruits, a twenty-six-year-old Chinese Canadian CAD-CAM engineer from Vancouver.
It wasn't much of a job -- a kind of industrial archaeology whose main tools were chicken wire and a ball-peen hammer -- but it was Turner's first and he meant to succeed. The Bruneians were relaxed to the point of coma, but Turner Choi had his future ahead of him with Kyocera. In the long run, it was Kyocera who would judge his work here. And Turner was running out of time.
The minister, whooping in triumph, hauled hard on his line. A fat, spotted fish broke the surface, flopping on the hook. Turner decided to break the rules and to hell with it.
The local neighborhood organization, the kampong, was showing a free movie in the little park fourteen stories below Turner's window. Bright images crawled against the bleak white Bauhaus wall of a neighboring high-rise.
Turner peered down through the blinds. He had been watching the flick all night as he finished his illegal tinkering.
The Bruneians, like Malays everywhere, adored ghost stories. The film's protagonist, or chief horror (Turner wasn't sure which), was an acrobatic monkey-demon with razor-sharp forearms. It had burst into a depraved speakeasy and was slaughtering drunkards with a tremendous windmilling flurry of punches, kicks, and screeches. Vast meaty sounds of combat, like colliding freight trains packed with beef, drifted faintly upward.
Turner sat before his bootleg keyboard, and sighed. He'd known it would come to this ever since the Bruneians had confiscated his phone at the customs. For five months he'd politely tried to work his way around it. Now he had only three months left. He was out of time and out of patience.
The robots were okay, under caked layers of yellowing grease. They'd been roped down under tarps for years. But the software manuals were a tattered ruin.
Just thinking about it gave Turner a cold sinking feeling. It was a special, private terror that had dogged him since childhood. It was the fear he felt when he had to confront his grandfather.
He thought of his grandfather's icy and pitiless eyes, fixed on him with that "Hong Kong Bad Cop" look. In the 1970s, Turner's grandfather had been one of the infamous "millionaire sergeants" of the Hong Kong police, skimming the cream of the Burmese heroin trade. He'd emigrated in the Triad bribery scandals of 1973.
After forty-seven years of silk suits and first-class flights between his mansions in Taipei and Vancouver, Grandfather Choi still had that cold eye and that grim shakedown look. It was an evil memory for Turner, of being weighed and found wanting.
The documentation was hopeless, crumbling and mildewed, alive with silverfish. The innocent Bruneians hadn't realized that the information it held was the linchpin of the whole enterprise. The sultanate had bought the factory long ago, with the last gush of Brunei's oil money, as a stylish, doomed gesture in Western industrial chic. Somehow, robots had never really caught on in Borneo.
But Turner had to seize this chance. He had to prove that he could make it on his own, without Grandfather Choi and the stifling weight of his money.
For days, Turner had snooped around down on the waterfront, with its cubbyholed rows of Chinese junkshops. It was Turner's favorite part of Brunei Town, a white-elephant's graveyard of dead tech. The wooden and bamboo shops were lined with dead, blackened televisions like decaying teeth.
There, he'd set about assembling a bootleg modern phone. He'd rescued a water-stained keyboard and screen from one of the shops. His modem and recorder came from work. On the waterfront he'd found a Panamanian freighter whose captain would illegally time-share on his satellite navigation dish.
Brunei Town was full of phone booths that no one ever seemed to use, grimy old glass-and- plastic units labeled in Malay, English, and Mandarin. A typical payphone stood on the street outside Turner's high-rise. It was an old twentieth-century job with a coin-feed and a rotary dial, and no videoscreen.
In the dead of night he'd crept down there to install a radio link to his apartment on the fourteenth floor. Someone might trace his illegal call back to the phone booth, but no farther. With the radio link, his own apartment would stay safe.
But when he'd punch-jacked the payphone's console off, he'd found that it already had a bootleg link hooked up. It was in fine working order, too. He'd seen then that he wasn't alone, and that Brunei, despite all its rhetoric about the Neo-Colonial World Information Order, was not entirely free of the global communications net. Brunei was wired too, just like the West, but the net had gone underground.
All those abandoned payphones had taken on a new and mildly sinister significance for him since that discovery, but he wasn't going to kick. All his plans were riding on his chance to get through.
Now he was ready. He rechecked the satellite guide in the back of his ASME handbook. Arabsat 7 was up, in its leisurely low-orbit ramble over the tropics. Turner dialed from his apartment down through the payphone outside, then patched in through the Panamanian dish. Through Arabsat he hooked up to an American geosynchronous sat and down into the American ground net. From there he direct-dialed his brother's house.
Georgie Choi was at breakfast in Vancouver, dressed in a French-cuffed pinstripe shirt and varsity sweater. Behind him, Turner's sleek sister-in-law, Marjorie, presided over a table crowded with crisp linen napkins and silver cutlery. Turner's two young nieces decorously spread jam on triangles of toast.
"Is it you, Turner?" Georgie said. "I'm not getting any video."
"I couldn't get a camera," Turner said. "I'm in Brunei -- phone quarantine, remember? I had to bootleg it just to get sound."
A monsoon breeze blew up outside Turner's window. The wind-power generators bolted to the high-rise walls whirred into life, and threw broad bars of raw static across the screen. Georgie's smooth brow wrinkled gracefully. "This reception is terrible! You're not even in stereo." He smiled uncertainly. "No matter, we'll make do. We haven't heard from you in ages. Things all right?"
"They will be," Turner said. "How's Grandfather?"
"He's flown in from Taipei for dialysis and his blood change," Georgie said. "He hates hospitals, but I had good news for him." He hesitated. "We have a new great-grandchild on the way."
Marjorie glanced up and bestowed one of her glittering wifely smiles on the camera. "That's fine," Turner said reflexively. Children were a touchy subject with Turner. He had not yet married, despite his family's endless prodding and nagging.
He thought guiltily that he should have spent more time with Georgie's children. Georgie was already in some upscale never-never land, all leather-bound law and municipal politics, but it wasn't his kids' fault. Kids were innocent. "Hi, kids," he said in Mandarin. "I'll bring you something you'll like."
The younger girl looked up, her elegant child's mouth crusted with strawberry jam. "I want a shrunken head," she said in English.
"You see?" Georgie said with false joviality. "This is what comes of running off to Borneo."
"I need some modem software," Turner said, avoiding the issue. Grandfather hadn't approved of Borneo. "Could you get it off the old Hayes in my room?"
"If you don't have a modem protocol, how can I send you a program?" Georgie said.
"Print it out and hold it up to the screen," Turner explained patiently. "I'll record it and type it in later by hand."
"That's clever," Georgie said. "You engineers."
He left to set it up. Turner talked guardedly to Marjorie. He had never been able to figure the woman out. Turner would have liked to know how Marjorie really felt about cold-eyed Bad Cop Grandfather and his eight million dollars in Triad heroin money.
But Marjorie was so coolly elegant, so brilliantly designed, that Turner had never been able to bring himself to probe her real feelings. It would have been like popping open some factory- sealed peripheral that was still under warranty, just so you could sneak a look at the circuit boards.
Even he and Georgie never talked frankly anymore. Not since Grandfather's health had turned shaky. The prospect of finally inheriting that money had left a white hush over his family like fifteen feet of Canadian snow.
The horrible old man relished the competition for his favor. He insisted on it. Grandfather had a second household in Taipei; Turner's uncle and cousins. If Grandfather chose them over his Canadian brood, Georgie's perfect life would go to pieces.
A childhood memory brushed Turner: Georgie's toys, brightly painted little Hong Kong windups held together with folded tin flaps. As a child, Turner had spent many happy, covert hours dexterously prying Georgie's toys apart.
Marjorie chatted about Turner's mother, a neurotic widow who ran an antique store in Atlanta. Behind her, a Chinese maid began clearing the table, glancing up at the camera with the spooked eyes of an immigrant fresh off the boat.
Turner was used to phone cameras, and though he didn't have one he kept a fixed smile through habit. But he could feel himself souring, his face knotting up in that inherited Bad Cop glare. Turner had his grandfather's face, with hollow cheeks, and sunken eyes under heavy impressive brows.
But Canada, Turner's birthplace, had left its mark on him. Years of steak and Wonder Bread had given him a six-foot frame and the build of a linebacker.
Georgie came back with the printout. Turner said goodbye and cut the link.
He pulled up the blinds for the climax of the movie downstairs. The monkey-demon massacred a small army of Moslem extremists in the corroded remnants of a Shell refinery. Moslem fanatics had been stock villains in Brunei since the failure of their coup of '98.
The last of the reel flickered loose. Turner unpinned a banana-leaf wrapping and dug his chopsticks into a midnight snack of rice fried with green pineapple. He leaned on the open window, propping one booted foot on the massive window box with its dense ranks of onions and pepper plants.
The call to Vancouver had sent a shiver of culture shock through him. He saw his apartment with new eyes. It was decorated with housewarming gifts from other members of his kampong. A flat leather shadow-puppet, all perforations and curlicues. A gold-framed photo of the sultan shaking hands with the king of England. A hand-painted glass ant farm full of inch-long Borneo ants, torpid on molasses. And a young banyan bonsai tree from the kampong headman.
The headman, an elderly Malay, was a political wardheeler for Brunei's ruling party, the Greens, or "Partai Ekolojasi." In the West, the Greens had long ago been co-opted into larger parties. But Brunei's Partai Ekolojasi had twenty years of deep roots.
The banyan tree came with five pages of meticulous instructions on care and feeding, but despite Turner's best efforts the midget tree was yellowing and shedding leaves. The tree was not just a gift; it was a test, and Turner knew it. The kampong smiled, but they had their ways of testing, and they watched.
Turner glanced reflexively at his deadbolt on the door. The locks were not exactly forbidden, but they were frowned on. The Greens had converted Brunei's old office buildings into huge multilayered village longhouses. Western notions of privacy were unpopular.
But Turner needed the lock for his work. He had to be discreet. Brunei might seem loose and informal, but it was still a one-party state under autocratic rule.
Twenty years earlier, when the oil crash had hit, the monarchy had seemed doomed. The Muslim insurgents had tried to murder them outright. Even the Greens had had bigger dreams then. Turner had seen their peeling, forgotten wall posters, their global logo of the Whole Earth half-buried under layered years of want ads and soccer schedules.
The Royal Family had won through, a symbol of tradition and stability. They'd weathered the storm of the Muslim insurgence, and stifled the Greens' first wild ambitions. After five months in Brunei, Turner, like the Royals, had grasped Brunei's hidden dynamics. It was adat, Malay custom, that ruled. And the first law of adat was that you didn't embarrass your neighbors.
Turner unpinned his favorite movie poster, a big promotional four-sheet for a Brunei historical epic. In garish four-color printing, a boatload of heroic Malay pirates gallantly advanced on a sinister Portuguese galleon. Turner had carved a hideout in the sheetrock wall behind the poster. He stowed his phone gear.
Somebody tried the door, hit the deadbolt, and knocked softly. Turner hastily smoothed the poster and pinned it up.
He opened the door. It was his Australian neighbor, McGinty, a retired newscaster from Melbourne. McGinty loved Brunei for its utter lack of televisions. It was one of the last places on the planet in which one could truly get away from it all.
McGinty glanced up and down the hall, stepped inside, and reached into his loose cotton blouse. He produced a cold quart can of Foster's Lager. "Have a beer, chum?"
"Fantastic!" Turner said. "Where'd you get it?"
McGinty smiled evasively. "The bloody fridge is on the blink, and I thought you'd fancy one while they're still cold."
"Right," Turner said, popping the top. "I'll have a look at your fridge as soon as I destroy this evidence." The kampong ran on a web of barter and mutual obligation. Turner's skills were part of it. It was tiresome, but a Foster's Lager was good pay. It was a big improvement over the liquid brain damage from the illegal stills down on Floor 4.
They went to McGinty's place. McGinty lived next door with his aged parents; four of them, for his father and mother had divorced and both remarried. The ancient Australians thrived in Brunei's somnolent atmosphere, pottering about the kampong gardens in pith helmets, gurkha shorts, and khaki bush vests. McGinty, like many of his generation, had never had children. Now in retirement he seemed content to shepherd these older folk, plying them with megavitamins and morning Tai Chi exercises.
Turner stripped the refrigerator. "It's your compressor," he said. "I'll track you down one on the waterfront. I can jury-rig something. You know me. Always tinkering."
McGinty looked uncomfortable, since he was now in Turner's debt. Suddenly he brightened. "There's a party at the privy councilor's tomorrow night. Jimmy Brooke. You know him?"
"Heard of him," Turner said. He'd heard rumors about Brooke: hints of corruption, some long- buried scandal. "He was a big man when the Parlai got started, right? Minister of something."
Turner laughed. "That's not much of a job around here."
"Well, he still knows a lot of movie people." McGinty lowered his voice. "And he has a private bar. He's chummy with the Royal Family. They make allowances for him."
"Yeah?" Turner didn't relish mingling with McGinty's social circle of wealthy retirees, but it might be smart, politically. A word with the old com minister might solve a lot of his problems. "Okay," he said. "Sounds like fun."
The privy councilor, Yang Amat Mulia Pengiran Indera Negara Pengiran Jimmy Brooke, was one of Brunei's odder relics. He was a British tax exile, a naturalized Bruneian, who had shown up in the late '90s after the oil crash. His wealth had helped cushion the blow and had won him a place in the government.
Larger and better-organized governments might have thought twice about co-opting this deaf, white-haired eccentric, a washed-up pop idol with a parasitic retinue of balding bohemians. But the aging rock star, with his decaying glamour, fit in easily with the comic-opera glitter of Brunei's tiny aristocracy. He owned the old Bank of Singapore office block, a kampong of remarkable looseness where peccadillos flourished under Brooke's noblesse oblige.
Monsoon rain pelted the city. Brooke's henchmen, paunchy bodyguards in bulging denim, had shut the glass doors of the penthouse and turned on the air conditioning. The party had close to a hundred people, mostly retired Westerners from Europe and Australia. They had the stifling clubbiness of exiles who have all known each other too long. A handful of refugee Americans, still powdered and rouged with their habitual video makeup, munched imported beer nuts by the long mahogany bar.
The Bruneian actress Dewi Serrudin was holding court on a rattan couch, surrounded by admirers. Cinema was a lost art in the West, finally murdered and buried by video; but Brunei's odd policies had given it a last toehold. Turner, who had a mild long-distance crush on the actress, edged up between two hopeful emigres: a portly Madrasi producer in dhoti and jubbah, and a Hong Kong chop-socky director in a black frogged cotton jacket. Miss Serrudin, in a gold lame blouse and a skirt of antique ultrasuede, was playing the role to the hilt, chattering brightly and chain-burning imported Rothmans in a jade holder. She had the ritual concentration of a Balinese dancer evoking postures handed down through the centuries. And she was older than he'd thought she was. Turner finished his whiskey sour and handed it to one of Brooke's balding gofers. He felt depressed and lonely. He wandered away from the crowd, and turned down a hall at random. The walls were hung with gold albums and old yellowing pub-shots of Brooke and his band, all rhinestones and platform heels, their flying hair lavishly backlit with klieg lights.
Turner passed a library, and a billiards room where two wrinkled, turbaned Sikhs were racking up a game of snooker. Farther down the hall, he glanced through an archway, into a sunken conversation pit lavishly carpeted with ancient, indestructible synthetic plush.
A bony young Malay woman in black jeans and a satin jacket sat alone in the room, reading a month-old issue of New Musical Express. It was headlined "Leningrad Pop Cuts Loose!" Her sandaled feet were propped on a coffee table next to a beaten silver platter with a pitcher and an ice bucket. Her bright red, shoulder-length hair showed two long inches of black roots.
She looked up at him in blank surprise. Turner hesitated at the archway, then stepped into the room. "Hi," he said.
"Hello. What's your kampong?"
"Citibank Building," Turner said. He was used to the question by now. "I'm with the industrial ministry, consulting engineer. I'm a Canadian. Turner Choi."
She folded the newspaper and smiled. "Ah, you're the bloke who's working on the robots."
"Word gets around," Turner said, pleased.
She watched him narrowly. "Seria Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah."
"Sorry, I don't speak Malay."
"That's my name," she said.
Turner laughed. "Oh, Lord. Look, I'm just a no-neck Canuck with hay in my hair. Make allowances, okay?"
"You're a Western technician," she said. "How exotic. How is your work progressing?"
"It's a strange assignment," Turner said. He sat on the couch at a polite distance, marveling at her bizarre accent. "You've spent some time in Britain?"
"I went to school there." She studied his face. "You look rather like a Chinese Keith Richards."
"Sorry, don't know him."
"The guitarist of the Rolling Stones."
"I don't keep up with the new bands," Turner said. "A little Russian pop, maybe." He felt a peculiar tension in the situation. Turner glanced quickly at the woman's hands. No wedding ring, so that wasn't it.
"Would you like a drink?" the woman said. "It's grape juice."
"Sure," Turner said. "Thanks." She poured gracefully: innocent grape juice over ice. She was a Moslem, Turner thought, despite her dyed hair. Maybe that was why she was oddly standoffish.
He would have to bend the rules again. She was not conventionally pretty, but she had the kind of neurotic intensity that Turner had always found fatally attractive. And his love life had suffered in Brunei; the kampongs with their prying eyes and village gossip had cramped his style.
He wondered how he could arrange to see her. It wasn't a question of just asking her out to dinner -- it all depended on her kampong. Some were stricter than others. He might end up with half-a-dozen veiled Muslim chaperones -- or maybe a gang of muscular cousins and brothers with a bad attitude about Western lechers.
"When do you plan to start production, Mr. Choi?"
Turner said, "We've built a few fishing skiffs already, just minor stuff. We have bigger plans once the robots are up."
"A real factory," she said. "Like the old days."
Turner smiled, seeing his chance. "Maybe you'd like a tour of the plant?"
"It sounds romantic," she said. "Those robots are free labor. They were supposed to take the place of our free oil when it ran out. Brunei used to be rich, you know. Oil paid for everything. The Shellfare state, they used to call us." She smiled wistfully.
"How about Monday?" Turner said.
She looked at him, surprised, and suddenly blushed. "I'm afraid not."
Turner caught her eye. It's not me, he thought. It was something in the way -- adat or something. "It's all right," he said gently. "I'd like to see you, is that so bad? Bring your whole kampong if you want."
"My kampong is the Palace," she said.
"Uh-oh." Suddenly he had that cold feeling again.
"You didn't know," she said triumphantly. "You thought I was just some rock groupie."
"Who are you, then?"
"I'm the Duli Yang Maha Mulia Diranee.... Well, I'm the princess. Princess Seria." She smiled.
"Good lord." He had been sitting and flirting with the royal princess of Brunei. It was bizarre.
He half expected a troupe of bronzed eunuchs to burst in, armed with scimitars. "You're the sultan's daughter?"
"You mustn't think too much of it," she said. "Our country is only two thousand square miles. It's so small that it's a family business, that's all. The mayor of your Vancouver rules more people than my family does."
Turner sipped his grape juice to cover his confusion. Brunei was a Commonwealth country, after all, with a British-educated aristocracy. The sultan had polo ponies and cricket pitches. But still, a princess....
"I never said I was from Vancouver," he told her. "You knew who I was all along."
"Brunei doesn't have many tall Chinese in lumberjack shirts." She smiled wickedly. "And those boots."
Turner glanced down. His legs were armored in knee-high engineering boots, a mass of shiny leather and buckles. His mother had bought them for him, convinced that they would save his life from snakebite in savage Borneo. "I promised I'd wear them," he said. "Family obligation."
She looked sour. "You, too? That sounds all too familiar, Mr. Choi." Now that the spell of anonymity was broken, she seemed flustered. Their quick rapport was grinding to a halt. She lifted the music paper with a rustle of pages. He saw that her nails were gnawed down to the quick.
For some perverse reason this put Turner's libido jarringly back into gear. She had that edgy flyaway look that spelled trouble with a capital T. Ironically, she was just his type.
"I know the mayor's daughter in Vancouver," he said deliberately. "I like the local version a lot better."
She met his eyes. "It's really too bad about family obligations--"
The privy councilor appeared suddenly in the archway. The wizened rock star wore a cream- colored seersucker suit with ruby cuff links. He was a cadaverous old buzzard with rheumy eyes and a wattled neck. A frizzed mass of snow-white hair puffed from his head like cotton from an aspirin bottle.
"Highness," he said loudly. "We need a fourth at bridge."
Princess Seria stood up with an air of martyrdom. "I'll be right with you," she shouted.
"And who's the young man?" said Brooke, revealing his dentures in an uneasy smile.
Turner stepped nearer. "Turner Choi, Tuan Privy Councilor," he said loudly. "A privilege to meet you, sir."
"What's your kampong, Mr. Chong?"
"Mr. Choi is working on the robot shipyard!" the princess said.
"The what? The shipyard? Oh, splendid!" Brooke seemed relieved.
"I'd like a word with you, sir," Turner said. "About communications."
"About what?" Brooke cupped one hand to his ear.
"The phone net, sir! A line out!"
The princess looked startled. But Brooke, still not understanding, nodded blankly. "Ah yes. Very interesting.... My entourage and I will stop by some day when you have the line up! I love the sound of good machines at work!"
"Sure," Turner said, recognizing defeat. "That would be, uh, groovy."
"Brunei is counting on you, Mr. Chong," Brooke said, his wrinkled eyes gleaming with bogus sincerity. "Good to see you here. Enjoy yourself." He shook Turner's hand, pressing something into his palm. He winked at Turner and escorted the princess out into the hall.
Turner looked at his hand. The old man had given him a marijuana cigarette. Turner shook himself, laughed, and threw it away.
Another slow Monday in Brunei Town. Turner's work crew meandered in around midmorning. They were Bruneian Chinese, toting wicker baskets stuffed with garden-fresh produce, and little lacquered lunchboxes with satay shish kebabs and hot shrimp paste. They started the morning's food barter, chatting languidly in Malay-accented Mandarin.
Turner had very little power over them. They were hired by the Industrial Ministry, and paid little or nothing. Their labor was part of the invisible household economy of the kampongs. They worked for kampong perks, like chickens or movie tickets.
The shipyard was a cavernous barn with overhead pulley tracks and an oil-stained concrete floor. The front section, with its bare launching rails sloping down to deep water, had once been a Dayak kampong. The Dayaks had spraybombed the concrete-block walls with giant neon-bright murals of banshees dead in childbirth, and leaping cricket-spirits with evil Day-Glo eyes.
The back part was two-story, with the robots' machine shop at ground level and a glass- fronted office upstairs that looked down over the yard.
Inside, the office was decorated in crass '80s High-Tech Moderne, with round-cornered computer desks between sleek modular partitions, all tubular chrome and grainy beige plastic. The plastic had aged hideously in forty years, absorbing a gray miasma of fingerprints and soot.
Turner worked alone in the neck-high maze of curved partitions, where a conspiracy of imported clerks and programmers had once efficiently sopped up the last of Brunei's oil money. He was typing up the bootlegged modem software on the IBM, determined to call America and get the production line out of the Stone Age.
The yard reeked of hot epoxy as the crew got to work. The robots were one-armed hydraulic jobs, essentially glorified tea-trolleys with single swivel-jointed manipulators. Turner had managed to get them up to a certain crude level of donkeywork: slicing wood, stirring glue, hauling heavy bundles of lumber.
But, so far, the crew handled all the craftwork. They laminated the long strips of shaved lumber into sturdy panels of epoxied plywood. They bent the wet panels into hull and deck shapes, steam-sealing them over curved molds. They lapped and veneered the seams, and painted good-luck eye-symbols on the bows.
So far, the plant had produced nothing larger than a twenty-foot skiff. But on the drawing boards was a series of freighter-sized floating kampongs, massive sail-powered trimarans for the deep ocean, with glassed-in greenhouse decks.
The ships would be cheap and slow, like most things in Brunei, but pleasant enough, Turner supposed. Lots of slow golden afternoons on the tropical seas, with plenty of fresh fruit. The whole effort seemed rather pointless, but at least it would break Brunei's isolation from the world, and give them a crude merchant fleet.
The foreman, a spry old Chinese named Leng, shouted for Turner from the yard. Turner saved his program, got up, and looked down through the office glass. The minister of industrial policy had arrived, tying up an ancient fiberglass speedboat retrofitted with ribbed lateen sails.
Turner hurried down, groaning to himself, expecting to be invited off for another avuncular lecture. But the minister's zenlike languor had been broken. He came almost directly to the point, pausing only to genially accept some coconut milk from the foreman.
"It's His Highness the Sultan," the minister said. "Someone's put a bee in his bonnet about these robots. Now he wants to tour the plant."
"When?" Turner said.
"Two weeks," said the minister. "Or maybe three."
Turner thought it over, and smiled. He sensed the princess's hand in this and felt deeply flattered.
"I say," the minister said. "You seem awfully pleased for a fellow who was predicting disaster just last Friday."
"I found another section of the manual," Turner lied glibly. "I hope to have real improvements in short order."
"Splendid," said the minister. "You remember the prototype we were discussing?"
"The quarter-scale model?" Turner said. "Tuan Minister, even in miniature, that's still a fifty- foot trimaran."
"Righto. How about it? Do you think you could scatter the blueprints about, have the robots whir by looking busy, plenty of sawdust and glue?"
Politics, Turner thought. He gave the minister his Bad Cop look. "You mean some kind of Potemkin village. Don't you want the ship built?"
"I fail to see what pumpkins have to do with it," said the minister, wounded. "This is a state occasion. We shall have the newsreel cameras in. Of course build the ship. I simply want it impressive, that's all."
Impressive, Turner thought. Sure. If Seria was watching, why not?
Luckily the Panamanian freighter was still in port, not leaving till Wednesday. Armed with his new software, Turner tried another bootleg raid at ten P.M. He caught a Brazilian comsat and tied into Detroit.
Reception was bad, and Doris had already moved twice. But he found her finally in a seedy condominium in the Renaissance Center historical district.
"Where's your video, man?"
"It's out," Turner lied, not wanting to burden his old girlfriend with two years of past history. He and Doris had lived together in Toronto for two semesters while he studied CAD-CAM. Doris was an automotive designer, a Rustbelt refugee from Detroit's collapse.
For Turner, school was a blissful chance to live in the same pair of jeans for days on end, but times were tough in the Rustbelt and Doris had lived close to the bone. He'd ended up footing the bills, which hadn't bothered him (Bad Cop money), but it had preyed on Doris's mind. Months passed, and she spent more each week. He picked up her bills without a word, and she quietly went over the edge. She ended up puking drunk on her new satin sheets, unable to go downstairs for the mail without a line of coke.
But then word had come of his father's death. His father's antique Maserati had slammed head- on into an automated semitrailer rig.
Turner and his brother had attended the cremation in a drizzling Vancouver rain. They put the ashes on the family altar and knelt before little gray ribbons of incense smoke. Nobody said much. They didn't talk about Dad's drinking. Grandfather wouldn't have liked it.
When he'd gone back to Toronto, he found that Doris had packed up and left.
"I'm with Kyocera now," he told her. "The consulting engineers."
"You got a job, Turner?" she said, brushing back a frizzed tangle of blonde hair. "It figures. Poor people are standing in line for a chance to do dishes." She frowned. "What kind of hours you keeping, man? It's seven A.M. You caught me without my vid makeup."
She turned the camera away and walked out of sight. Turner studied her apartment: concrete blocks and packing crates, vinyl beanbag chairs, peeling walls festooned with printout. She was still on the Net, all right. Real Net-heads resented every penny not spent on information.
"I need some help, Doris. I need you to find me someone who can system-crack an old IBM robotics language called AML."
"Yeah?" she called out. "Ten percent agent's fee?"
"Sure. And this is on the hush, okay? Not Kyocera's business, just mine."
He heard her shouting from the condo's cramped bathroom. "I haven't heard from you in two years! You're not mad that I split, huh?"
"It wasn't that you were Chinese, okay? I mean, you're about as Chinese as maple syrup, right? It's just, the high life was making my sinuses bleed."
Turner scowled. "Look, it's okay. It was a temporary thing."
"I was crazy then. But I've been hooked up to a good shrink program, it's done wonders for me, really." She came back to the screen; she'd put on rouge and powder. She smiled and touched her cheek. "Good stuff, huh? The kind the President uses."
"You look fine."
"My shrink makes me jog every day. So, how you doin', man? Seeing anybody?"
"Not really." He smiled. "Except a princess of Borneo."
She laughed. "I thought you'd settle down by now, man. With some uptown family girl, right? Like your brother and whats-her-face."
"Didn't work out that way."
"You like crazy women, Turner, that's your problem. Remember the time your mom dropped by? She's a fruitcake, that's why."
"Aw, Jesus Christ, Doris," Turner said. "If I need a shrink, I can download one."
"Okay," she said, hurt. She touched a remote control. A television in the corner of the room flashed into life with a crackle of video music. Doris didn't bother to watch it. She'd turned it on by reflex, settling into the piped flow of cable like a hot bath. "Look, I'll see what I can scare you up on the Net. AML language, right? I think I know a--"
The screen went blank. Alphanumerics flared up: ENTERING (C)HAT MODE
The line zipped up the screen. Then words spelled out in 80-column glowing bright green. WHAT ARE YOU DOING ON THIS LINE??
SORRY, Turner typed.
ENTER YOUR PASSWORD:
Turner thought fast. He had blundered into the Brunei underground net. He'd known it was possible, since he was using the pre-rigged payphone downstairs. MAPLE SYRUP, he typed at random.
CHECKING... THAT IS NOT A VALID PASSWORD.
SIGNING OFF, Turner typed.
WAIT, said the screen. WE DONT TAKE LURKERS LIGHTLY HERE. WE HAVE BEEN WATCHING YOU. THIS IS THE SECOND TIME YOU HAVE ACCESSED A SATELLITE. WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN OUR NET??
Turner rested one finger on the off switch.
More words spilled out. WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE, "MAPLE SYRUP." YOU ARE TURNER CHONG.
"Turner Choi," Turner said aloud. Then he remembered the man who had made that mistake. He felt a sudden surge of glee. He typed. OKAY, YOU'VE GOT ME -- TUAN COUNCILOR JIMMY BROOKE
There was a long blank space. Then: CLEVER, Brooke typed. SERIA TOLD YOU. SERIA, ARE YOU ON THIS LINE??
I WANT HER NUMBER!! Turner typed at once.
THEN LEAVE A (M)ESSAGE FOR "GAMELAN ROCKER," Brooke typed. I AM "NET
THANKS, Turner typed.
I'LL LOG YOU ON, MAPLE SYRUP. SINCE YOU'RE ALREADY IN, YOU'D BETTER BE IN ON OUR TERMS. BUT JUST REMEMBER: THIS IS OUR ELECTRIC KAMPONG, SO YOU LIVE BY OUR RULES. OUR "ADAT," OKAY??
I'LL REMEMBER, SIR.
AND NO MORE BOOTLEG SATELLITE LINKS, YOU'RE SCREWING UP OUR GROUND LINES.
OKAY, Turner typed.
YOU CAN RENT TIME ON OUR OWN DISHES. NEXT TIME CALL 85-1515 DIRECTLY. OUR GAMES SECTION COULD USE SOME UPLOADS, BY THE WAY.
The words flashed off, replaced by the neatly ranked commands of a computer bulletin board. Turner accessed the message section, but then sat sweating and indecisive. In his mind, his quick message to Seria was rapidly ramifying into a particularly touchy and tentative love letter.
This was good, but it wasn't how he'd planned it. He was getting in over his head. He'd have to think it through.
He logged off the board. Doris's face appeared at once. "Where the hell have you been, man?"
"Sorry," Turner said.
"I've found you some old geezer out in Yorktown Heights," she said. "He says he used to work with Big Blue back in prehistory."
"It's always some old geezer," Turner said in resignation.
Doris shrugged. "Whaddya expect, man? Birth control got everybody else."
Down in the yard, the sultan of Brunei chatted with his minister as technicians in sarongs and rubber sandals struggled with their huge, ancient cameras. The sultan wore his full regalia, a high-collared red military jacket with gold-braided shoulder boards, heavy with medals and pins. He was an elderly Malay with a neatly clipped white mustache and sad, wise eyes.
His son, the crown prince, had a silk ascot and an air force pilot's jacket. Turner had heard that the prince was nuts about helicopters. Seria's formal wear looked like a jazzed-up Girl Guide's outfit, with a prim creased skirt and a medal-clustered shoulder sash.
Turner was alone in the programming room, double-checking one of the canned routines he'd downloaded from America. They'd done wonders for the plant already; the robots had completed one hull of the trimaran. The human crew was handling the delicate work: the glassed-in greenhouse. Braced sections of glass now hung from ceiling pulleys, gleaming photogenically in geodesic wooden frames.
Turner studied his screen.
IF QMONITOR (FMONS(2)) EQ 0 THEN RETURN ('TOO SMALL')
TOGO = GRIPPER-OPENING+MIN-OFS-QPOSITION(GRIPPER)
DMOVE(XYZ#(GRIPPER), (-TOGO/2*HANDFRAME) (2,2))#(TOGO), FMONS(2));
This was more like it! Despite its low-powered crudity, AML was becoming obsessive with him, its rhythms sticking like poetry. He picked up his coffee cup, thinking: REACH-GRASP- TOGO = (MOUTH) +SIP; RETURN.
The sluggishness of Brunei had vanished overnight once he'd hooked to the Net. The screen had eaten up his life. A month had passed since his first bootleg run. All day he worked on AML; at night he went home to trade electronic mail with Seria.
Their romance had grown through the Net; not through modern video, but through the ancient bulletin board's anonymous green text. Day by day it became more intense, for it was all kept in a private section of memory, and nothing could be taken back. There were over a hundred messages on their secret disks, starting coolly and teasingly, and working slowly up through real passion to a kind of mutual panic.
They hadn't planned it to happen like this. It was part of the dynamic of the Net. For Seria, it had been a rare chance to escape her role and talk to an interesting stranger. Turner was only looking for the kind of casual feminine solace that had never been hard to find. The Net had tricked them.
Because they couldn't see each other. Turner realized now that no woman had ever known and understood him as Seria did, for the simple reason that he had never had to talk to one so much. If things had gone as they were meant to in the West, he thought, they would have chased their attraction into bed and killed it there. Their two worlds would have collided bruisingly, and they would have smiled over the orange juice next morning and mumbled tactful goodbyes.
But that wasn't how it had happened. Over the weeks, it had all come pouring out between them: his family, her family, their resentment, his loneliness, her petty constraints, all those irritants that ulcerate a single person, but are soothed by two. Bizarrely, they had more in common than he could have ever expected. Real things, things that mattered.
The painfully simple local Net filtered human relations down to a single channel of printed words, leaving only a high-flown Platonic essence. Their relationship had grown into a classic, bloodless, spiritual romance in its most intense and dangerous sense. Human beings weren't meant to live such roles. It was the stuff of high drama because it could very easily drive you crazy.
He had waited on tenterhooks for her visit to the shipyard. It had taken a month instead of two weeks, but he'd expected as much. That was the way of Brunei.
"Hello, Maple Syrup."
Turner started violently and stood up. "Seria!"
She threw herself into his arms with a hard thump. He staggered back, hugging her. "No kissing," she said hastily. "Ugh, it's nasty."
He glanced down at the shipyard and hauled her quickly out of sight of the window. "How'd you get up here?"
"I sneaked up the stairs. They're not looking. I had to see you. The real you, not just words on a screen."
"This is crazy." He lifted her off the ground, squeezing her hard. "God, you feel wonderful."
"So do you. Ouch, my medals, be careful."
He set her back down. "We've got to do better than this. Look, where can I see you?"
She gripped his hands feverishly. "Finish the boat, Turner. Brooke wants it, his new toy. Maybe we can arrange something." She pulled his shirttail out and ran her hands over his midriff. Turner felt a rush of arousal so intense that his ears rang. He reached down and ran his hand up the back of her thigh. "Don't wrinkle my skirt!" she said, trembling. "I have to go on camera!"
Turner said, "This place is nowhere. It isn't right for you, you need fast cars and daiquiris and television and jet trips to the goddamn Bahamas."
"So romantic," she whispered hotly. "Like rock stars, Turner. Huge stacks of amps and mobs at the airport. Turner, if you could see what I'm wearing under this, you'd go crazy."
She turned her face away. "Stop trying to kiss me! You Westerners are weird. Mouths are for eating."
"You've got to get used to Western things, precious."
"You can't take me away, Turner. My people wouldn't let you."
"We'll think of something. Maybe Brooke can help."
"Even Brooke can't leave," she said. "All his money's here. If he tried, they would freeze his funds. He'd be penniless."
"Then I'll stay here," he said recklessly. "Sooner or later we'll have our chance."
"And give up all your money, Turner?"
He shrugged. "You know I don't want it."
She smiled sadly. "You tell me that now, but wait till you see your real world again."
Lights flashed on in the yard.
"I have to go, they'll miss me. Let go, let go." She pulled free of him with vast, tearing reluctance. Then she turned and ran.
In the days that followed, Turner worked obsessively, linking subroutines like data tinkertoys, learning as he went along, adding each day's progress to the master program. Once it was all done, and he had weeded out the redundance, it would be self-sustaining. The robots would take over, transforming information into boats. He would be through. And his slow days in Brunei would be history.
After his job, he'd vaguely planned to go to Tokyo, for a sentimental visit to Kyocera corporate headquarters. He'd been recruited through the Net; he'd never actually seen anyone from Kyocera in the flesh.
That was standard practice. Kyocera's true existence was as data, not as real estate. A modern multinational company was not its buildings or its stock. Its real essence was its ability to pop up on a screen, and to funnel that special information known as money through the global limbo of electronic banking.
He'd never given this a second thought. It was old hat. But filtering both work and love life through the screen had left him feeling Net-burned. He took to long morning walks through Brunei Town after marathon sessions at the screen, stretching cramped muscles and placing his feet with a dazed AML deliberation: TOGO = DMOVE (KNEE)+QPOSITION(FOOT).
He felt ghostlike in the abandoned streets; Brunei had no nightlife to speak of, and a similar lack of muggers and predators. Everybody was in everyone else's lap, doing each other's laundry, up at dawn to the shrieks of kampong roosters. People gossiped about you if you were a mugger. Pretty soon you'd have nightsoil duty and have to eat bruised mangos.
When the rain caught him, as it often did in the early morning, he would take shelter in the corner bus stations. The bus stops were built of tall glass tubes, aquaculture cylinders, murky green soups full of algae and fat, sluggish carp.
He would think about staying then, sheltered in Brunei forever, like a carp behind warm glass. Like one of those little bonsai trees in its cramped and cozy little pot, with people always watching over you, trimming you to fit. That was Brunei for you -- the whole East, really -- wonderful community, but people always underfoot and in your face....
But was the West any better? Old people locked away in bursting retirement homes... Soaring unemployment, with no one knowing when some robot or expert system would make him obsolete... People talking over televisions when they didn't know the face of the man next door....
Could he really give up the West, he wondered, abandon his family, ruin his career? It was the craziest sort of romantic gesture, he thought, because even if he was brave or stupid enough to break all the rules, she wouldn't. Seria would never escape her adat. Being royalty was worse than Triad.
A maze of plans spun through his head like an error-trapping loop, always coming up empty. He would sit dazedly and watch the fish circle in murky water, feeling like a derelict, and wondering if he was losing his mind.
Privy Councilor Brooke bought the boat. He showed up suddenly at the shipyard one afternoon, with his claque of followers. They'd brought a truckload of saplings in tubs of dirt. They began at once to load them aboard the greenhouse, clumping up and down the stepladders to the varnished deck.
Brooke oversaw the loading for a while, checking a deck plan from the pocket of his white silk jacket. Then he jerked his thumb at the glassed-in front of the data center. "Lets go upstairs for a little talk, Turner,"
Mercifully, Brooke had brought his hearing aid. They sat in two of the creaking, musty swivel chairs. "It's a good ship," Brooke said.
"I knew it would be. It was my idea, you know."
Turner poured coffee. "It figures," he said.
Brooke cackled. "You think it's a crazy notion, don't you? Using robots to build tubs out of cheap glue and scrubwood. But your head's on backwards, boy. You engineers are all mystics. Always goosing God with some new Tower of Babel. Masters of nature, masters of space and time. Aim at the stars, and hit London."
Turner scowled. "Look, Tuan Councilor, I did my job. Nothing in the contract says I have to share your politics."
"No," Brooke said. "But the sultanate could use a man like you. You're a bricoleur, Chong. You can make do. You can retrofit. That's what bricolage is -- it's using the clutter and rubble to make something worth having. Brunei's too poor now to start over with fresh clean plans. We've got nothing but the junk the West conned us into buying, every last bloody Coke can and two-car garage. And now we have to live in the rubble, and make it a community. It's a tough job, bricolage. It takes a special kind of man, a special eye, to make the ruins bloom."
"Not me," Turner said. He was in one of his tough-minded moods. Something about Brooke made him leery. Brooke had a peculiar covert sleaziness about him. It probably came from a lifetime of evading drug laws.
And Turner had been expecting this final push; people in his kampong had been dropping hints for weeks. They didn't want him to leave; they were always stopping by with pathetic little gifts. "This place is one big hothouse," he said. "Your little kampongs are like orchids, they can only grow under glass. Brunei's already riddled with the Net. Someday it'll break open your glass bubble, and let the rest of the world in. Then a hard rain's gonna fall."
Brooke stared. "You like Bob Dylan?"
"Who?" Turner said, puzzled.
Brooke, confused, sipped his coffee, and grimaced. "You've been drinking this stuff? Jesus, no wonder you never sleep."
Turner glowered at him. Nobody in Brunei could mind their own business. Eyes were everywhere, with tongues to match. "You already know my real trouble."
"Sure." Brooke smiled with a yellowed gleam of dentures. "I have this notion that I'll sail upriver, lad. A little shakedown cruise for a couple of days. I could use a technical adviser, if you can mind your manners around royalty."
Turner's heart leapt. He smiled shakily. "Then I'm your man, Councilor."
They bashed a bottle of nonalcoholic grape juice across the center bow and christened the ship the Mambo Sun. Turner's work crew launched her down the rails and stepped the masts. She was crewed by a family of Dayaks from one of the offshore rigs, an old woman with four sons. They were the dark, beautiful descendants of headhunting pirates, dressed in hand-dyed sarongs and ancient plastic baseball caps. Their language was utterly incomprehensible. The Mambo Sun rode high in the water, settling down into her new element with weird drumlike creaks from the hollow hulls. They put out to sea in a stiff offshore breeze.
Brooke stood with spry insouciance under the towering jib sail, snorting at the sea air. "She'll do twelve knots," he said with satisfaction. "Lord, Turner, it's great to be out of the penthouse and away from that crowd of flacks."
"Why do you put up with them?"
"It comes with the money, lad. You should know that."
Turner said nothing. Brooke grinned at him knowingly. "Money's power, my boy. Power doesn't go away. If you don't use it yourself, someone else will use you to get it."
"I hear they've trapped you here with that money," Turner said. "They'll freeze your funds if you try to leave."
"I let them trap me," Brooke said. "That's how I won their trust." He took Turner's arm. "But you let me know if you have money troubles here. Don't let the local Islamic bank fast-talk you into anything. Come see me first."
Turner shrugged him off. "What good has it done you? You're surrounded with yes-men."
"I've had my crew for forty years." Brooke sighed nostalgically. "Besides, you should have seen them in '98, when the streets were full of Moslem fanatics screaming for blood. Molotovs burning everywhere, pitched battles with the blessed Chinese, the sultan held hostage.... My crew didn't turn a hair. Held the mob off like a crowd of teenyboppers when they tried to rush my building. They had grit, those lads."
An ancient American helicopter buzzed overhead, its orange seafloats almost brushing the mast. Brooke yelled to the crew in their odd language; they furled the sails and set anchor, half a mile offshore. The chopper wheeled expertly and settled down in a shimmering circle of wind- flattened water. One of the Dayaks threw them a weighted line.
They hauled in. "Permission to come aboard, sir!" said the crown prince. He and Seria wore crisp nautical whites. They clambered from the float up a rope ladder and onto the deck. The third passenger, a pilot, took the controls. The crew hauled anchor and set sail again; the chopper lifted off.
The prince shook Turner's hand. "You know my sister, I believe."
"We met at the filming," Turner said.
"Ah yes. Good footage, that."
Brooke, with miraculous tact, lured the prince into the greenhouse. Seria immediately flung herself into Turner's arms. "You haven't written in two days," she hissed.
"I know," Turner said. He looked around quickly to make sure the Dayaks were occupied. "I keep thinking about Vancouver. How I'll feel when I'm back there."
"How you left your Sleeping Beauty behind in the castle of thorns? You're such a romantic, Turner."
"Don't talk like that. It hurts."
She smiled. "I can't help being cheerful. We have two days together, and Omar gets seasick."
The river flowed beneath their hulls like thin gray grease. Jungle leaned in from the banks; thick, clotted green mats of foliage over skinny light-starved trunks, rank with creepers. It was snake country, leech country, a primeval reek stewing in deadly humidity, with air so thick that the raucous shrieks of birds seemed to cut it like ripsaws. Bugs whirled in dense mating swarms over rafts of slime. Suspicious, sodden logs loomed in the gray mud. Some logs had scales and eyes.
The valley was as crooked as an artery, snaking between tall hills smothered in poisonous green. Sluggish wads of mist wreathed their tops. Where the trees failed, sheer cliffs were shrouded in thick ripples of ivy. The sky was gray, the sun a muddy glow behind tons of haze.
The wind died, and Brooke fired up the ship's tiny alcohol engine. Turner stood on the central bow as they sputtered upstream. He felt glazed and dreamy. Culture shock had seized him; none of it seemed real. It felt like television. Reflexively, he kept thinking of Vancouver, sailboat trips out to clean pine islands.
Seria and the prince joined him on the bow. "Lovely, isn't it?" said the prince. "We've made it a game preserve. Someday there will be tigers again."
"Good thinking, Your Highness," Turner said.
"The city feeds itself, you know. A lot of old paddies and terraces have gone back to jungle." The prince smiled with deep satisfaction.
With evening, they tied up at a dock by the ruins of a riverine city. Decades earlier, a flood had devastated the town, leaving shattered walls where vines snaked up trellises of rusting reinforcement rods. A former tourist hotel was now a ranger station.
They all went ashore to review the troops: Royal Malay Rangers in jungle camo, and a visiting crew of Swedish ecologists from the World Wildlife Fund. The two aristocrats were gung-ho for a bracing hike through the jungle. They chatted amiably with the Swedes as they soaked themselves with gnat and leech repellent. Brooke pleaded his age, and Turner managed to excuse himself.
Behind the city rose a soaring radio aerial and the rain-blotched white domes of satellite dishes.
"Jamming equipment," said Brooke with a wink. "The sultanate set it up years ago. Islamic, Malaysian, Japanese -- you'd be surprised how violently people insist on being listened to."
"Freedom of speech," Turner said.
"How free is it when only rich nations can afford to talk? The Net's expensive, Turner. To you it's a way of life, but for us it's just a giant megaphone for Coca-Cola. We built this to block the shouting of the outside world. It seemed best to set the equipment here in the ruins, out of harm's way. This is a good place to hide secrets." Brooke sighed. "You know how the corruption spreads. Anyone who touches it is tempted. We use these dishes as the nerve center of our own little Net. You can get a line out here -- a real one, with video. Come along, Turner. I'll stand Maple Syrup a free call to civilization, if you like."
They walked through leaf-littered streets, where pigs and lean, lizard-eyed chickens scattered from underfoot. Turner saw a tattooed face, framed in headphones, at a shattered second-story window. "The local Murut tribe," Brooke said, glancing up. "They're a bit shy."
The central control room was a small white concrete blockhouse surrounded by sturdy solar- panel racks. Brooke opened a tarnished padlock with a pocket key, and shot the bolt. Inside, the windowless blockhouse was faintly lit by the tiny green-and-yellow power lights of antique disk drives and personal computers. Brooke flicked on a desk lamp and sat on a chair cushioned with moldy foam rubber. "All automated, you see? The government hasn't had to pay an official visit in years. It keeps everyone out of trouble."
"Except for your insiders," Turner said.
"We are trouble," said Brooke. "Besides, this was my idea in the first place." He opened a musty wicker chest and pulled a video camera from a padded wrapping of cotton batik. He popped it open, sprayed its insides with silicone lubricant, and propped it on a tripod. "All the comforts of home." He left the blockhouse.
Turner hesitated. He'd finally realized what had bothered him about Brooke. Brooke was hip. He had that classic hip attitude of being in on things denied to the uncool. It was amazing how sleazy and suspicious it looked on someone who was really old.
Turner dialed his brother's house. The screen remained dark. "Who is it?" Georgie said.
"Oh." A long moment passed; the screen flashed on to show Georgie in a maroon silk houserobe, his hair still flattened from the pillow. "That's a relief. We've been having some trouble with phone flashers."
"How are things?"
"He's dying, Turner."
Turner stared. "Good God."
"I'm glad you called." Georgie smoothed his hair shakily. "How soon can you get here?"
"I've got a job here, Georgie."
Georgie frowned. "Look, I don't blame you for running. You wanted to live your own life; okay, that's fine. But this is family business, not some two-bit job in the middle of nowhere."
"Goddammit," Turner said, pleading, "I like it here, Georgie."
"I know how much you hate the old bastard. But he's just a dying old man now. Look, we hold his hands for a couple of weeks, and it's all ours, understand? The Riviera, man."
"It won't work, Georgie," Turner said, clutching at straws. "He's going to screw us."
"That's why I need you here. We've got to double-team him, understand?" Georgie glared from the screen. "Think of my kids, Turner. We're your family, you owe us."
Turner felt growing despair. "Georgie, there's a woman here...."
"She's not like the others. Really."
"Great. So you're going to marry this girl, right? Raise kids."
"Then what are you wasting my time for?"
"Okay," Turner said, his shoulders slumping. "I gotta make arrangements. I'll call you back."
The Dayaks had gone ashore. The prince blithely invited the Swedish ecologists on board. They spent the evening chastely sipping orange juice and discussing Krakatoa and the swamp rhinoceros.
After the party broke up, Turner waited a painful hour and crept into the deserted greenhouse.
Seria was waiting in the sweaty green heat, sitting cross-legged in watery moonlight crosshatched by geodesics, brushing her hair. Turner joined her on the mat. She wore an erotic red synthetic nightie (some groupie's heirloom from the legion of Brooke's women), crisp with age. She was drenched in perfume.
Turner touched her fingers to the small lump on his forearm, where a contraceptive implant showed beneath his skin. He kicked his jeans off.
They began in caution and silence, and ended, two hours later, in the primeval intimacy of each other's musk and sweat. Turner lay on his back, with her head pillowed on his bare arm, feeling a sizzling effervescence of deep cellular pleasure.
It had been mystical. He felt as if some primal feminine energy had poured off her body and washed through him, to the bone. Everything seemed different now. He had discovered a new world, the kind of world a man could spend a lifetime in. It was worth ten years of a man's life just to lie here and smell her skin.
The thought of having her out of arm's reach, even for a moment, filled him with a primal anxiety close to pain. There must be a million ways to make love, he thought languidly. As many as there are to talk or think. With passion. With devotion. Playfully, tenderly, frantically, soothingly. Because you want to, because you need to.
He felt an instinctive urge to retreat to some snug den -- anywhere with a bed and a roof -- and spend the next solid week exploring the first twenty or thirty ways in that million.
But then the insistent pressure of reality sent a trickle of reason into him. He drifted out of reverie with a stabbing conviction of the perversity of life. Here was all he wanted -- all he asked was to pull her over him like a blanket and shut out life's pointless complications. And it wasn't going to happen.
He listened to her peaceful breathing and sank into black depression. This was the kind of situation that called for wild romantic gestures, the kind that neither of them were going to make. They weren't allowed to make them. They weren't in his program, they weren't in her adat, they weren't in the plans.
Once he'd returned to Vancouver, none of this would seem real. Jungle moonlight and erotic sweat didn't mix with cool piny fogs over the mountains and the family mansion in Churchill Street. Culture shock would rip his memories away, snapping the million invisible threads that bind lovers.
As he drifted toward sleep, he had a sudden lucid flash of precognition: himself, sitting in the backseat of his brother's Mercedes, letting the machine drive him randomly around the city. Looking past his reflection in the window at the clotted snow in Queen Elizabeth Park, and thinking: I'll never see her again.
It seemed only an instant later that she was shaking him awake. "Shh!"
"What?" he mumbled.
"You were talking in your sleep." She nuzzled his ear, whispering. "What does 'Set-position Q-move' mean?"
"Jesus," he whispered back. "I was dreaming in AML." He felt the last fading trail of nightmare then, some unspeakable horror of cold iron and helpless repetition. "My family," he said. "They were all robots."
"I was trying to repair my grandfather."
"Go back to sleep, darling."
"No." He was wide awake now. "We'd better get back."
"I hate that cabin. I'll come to your tent on deck."
"No, they'll find out. You'll get hurt, Seria." He stepped back into his jeans.
"I don't care. This is the only time we'll have." She struggled fretfully into the red tissue of her nightie.
"I want to be with you," he said. "If you could be mine, I'd say to hell with my job and my family."
She smiled bitterly. "You'll think better of it, later. You can't throw away your life for the sake of some affair. You'll find some other woman in Vancouver. I wish I could kill her."
Every word rang true, but he still felt hurt. She shouldn't have doubted his willingness to totally destroy his life. "You'll marry too, someday. For reasons of state."
"I'll never marry," she said aloofly. "Someday I'll run away from all this. My grand romantic gesture."
She would never do it, he thought with a kind of aching pity. She'll grow old under glass in this place. "One grand gesture was enough," he said. "At least we had this much."
She watched him gloomily. "Don't be sorry you're leaving, darling. It would be wrong of me to let you stay. You don't know all the truth about this place. Or about my family."
"All families have secrets. Yours can't be any worse than mine."
"My family is different." She looked away. "Malay royalty are sacred, Turner. Sacred and unclean. We are aristocrats, shields for the innocent.... Dirt and ugliness strikes the shield, not our people. We take corruption on ourselves. Any crimes the State commits are our crimes, understand? They belong to our family."
Turner blinked. "Well, what? Tell me, then. Don't let it come between us."
"You're better off not knowing. We came here for a reason, Turner. It's a plan of Brooke's."
"That old fraud?" Turner said, smiling. "You're too romantic about Westerners, Seria. He looks like hot stuff to you, but he's just a burnt-out crackpot."
She shook her head. "You don't understand. It's different in your West." She hugged her slim legs and rested her chin on her knee. "Someday I will get out."
"No," Turner said, "it's here that it's different. In the West families disintegrate, money pries into everything. People don't belong to each other there, they belong to money and their institutions.... Here at least people really care and watch over each other...."
She gritted her teeth. "Watching. Yes, always. You're right, I have to go."
He crept back through the mosquito netting of his tent on deck, and sat in the darkness for hours, savoring his misery. Tomorrow the prince's helicopter would arrive to take the prince and his sister back to the city. Soon Turner would return as well, and finish the last details, and leave. He played out a fantasy: cruising back from Vane with a fat cashier's check. Tea with the sultan. Er, look, Your Highness, my granddad made it big in the heroin trade, so here's two mill, just pack the girl up in excelsior, she'll love it as an engineer's wife, believe me....
He heard the faint shuffle of footsteps against the deck. He peered through the tent flap, saw the shine of a flashlight. It was Brooke. He was carrying a valise.
The old man looked around surreptitiously and crept down over the side, to the dock. Weakened by hours of brooding, Turner was instantly inflamed by Brooke's deviousness. Turner sat still for a moment, while curiosity and misplaced fury rapidly devoured his common sense. Common sense said Brunei's secrets were none of his business, but common sense was making his life hell. Anything was better than staying awake all night wondering. He struggled quickly into his shirt and boots.
He crept over the side, spotted Brooke's white suit in a patch of moonlight, and followed him. Brooke skirted the edge of the ruins and took a trail into the jungle, full of ominous vines and the promise of snakes. Beneath a spongy litter of leaves and moss, the trail was asphalt. It had been a highway, once.
Turner shadowed Brooke closely, realizing gratefully that the deaf old man couldn't hear the crunching of his boots. The trail led uphill, into the interior. Brooke cursed good-naturedly as a group of grunting hogs burst across the trail. Half a mile later he rested for ten lone minutes in the rusting hulk of a Land-Rover, while vicious gnats feasted on Turner's exposed neck and hands.
They rounded a hill and came across an encampment. Faint moonlight glittered off twelve- foot barbed wire and four dark watchtowers. The undergrowth had been burned back for yards around. There were barracks inside.
Brooke walked nonchalantly to the gate. The place looked dead. Turner crept nearer, sheltered by darkness.
The gate opened. Turner crawled forward between two bushes, craning his neck.
A watchtower spotlight clacked on and framed him in dazzling light from forty yards away.
Someone shouted at him through a bullhorn, in Malay. Turner lurched to his feet, blinded, and put his hands high. "Don't shoot!" he yelled, his voice cracking. "Hold your fire!"
The light flickered out. Turner stood blinking in darkness, then watched four little red fireflies crawling across his chest. He realized what they were and reached higher, his spine icy. Those little red fireflies were laser sights for automatic rifles.
The guards were on him before his eyesight cleared. Dim forms in jungle camo. He saw the wicked angular magazines of their rifles, leveled at his chest. Their heads were bulky: they wore night-sight goggles.
They handcuffed him and hustled him forward toward the camp. "You guys speak English?" Turner said. No answer. "I'm a Canadian, okay?"
Brooke waited, startled, beyond the gate. "Oh," he said. "It's you. What sort of dumbshit idea was this, Turner?"
"A really bad one," Turner said sincerely. Brooke spoke to the guards in Malay. They lowered their guns; one freed his hands. They stalked off unerringly back into the darkness.
"What is this place?" Turner said.
Brooke turned his flashlight on Turner's face. "What does it look like, jerk? It's a political prison." His voice was so cold from behind glare that Turner saw, in his mind's eye, the sudden flash of a telegram: DEAR MADAM CHOI, REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON STEPPED ON A VIPER IN THE JUNGLES OF BORNEO AND YOUR BOOTS DIDN'T SAVE HIM....
Brooke spoke quietly. "Did you think Brunei was all sweetness and light? It's a nation, damn it, not your toy train set. All right, stick by me and keep your mouth shut."
Brooke waved his flashlight. A guard emerged from the darkness and led them around the corner of the wooden barracks, which was set above the damp ground on concrete blocks. They walked up a short flight of steps. The guard flicked an exterior switch, and the cell inside flashed into harsh light. The guard peered through close-set bars in the heavy ironbound door, then unlocked it with a creak of hinges.
Brooke murmured thanks and carefully shook the guard's hand. The guard smiled below the ugly goggles and slipped his hand inside his camo jacket.
"Come on," Brooke said. They stepped into the cell. The door clanked shut behind them.
A dark-skinned old man was blinking wearily in the sudden light. He sat up in his iron cot and brushed aside yellowed mosquito netting, reaching for a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles on the floor. He wore gray-striped prison canvas: drawstring trousers and a rough, buttoned blouse. He slipped the spectacles carefully over his ears and looked up. "Ah," he said. "Jimmy."
It was a bare cell: wooden floor, a chamber pot, a battered aluminum pitcher and basin. Two wire shelves above the bed held books in English and a curlicued alphabet Turner didn't recognize.
"This is Dr. Vikram Moratuwa," Brooke said. "The founder of the Partai Ekolojasi. This is Turner Choi, a prying young idiot."
"Ah," said Moratuwa. "Are we to be cell mates, young man?"
"He's not under arrest," Brooke said. "Yet." He opened his valise. "I brought you the books."
"Excellent," said Moratuwa, yawning. He had lost most of his teeth. "Ah, Mumford, Florman, and Levi-Strauss. Thank you, Jimmy."
"I think it's okay," Brooke said, noticing Turner's stricken look.
"The sultan winks at these little charity visits, if I'm discreet. I think I can talk you out of trouble, even though you put your foot in it."
"Jimmy is my oldest friend in Brunei," said Moratuwa. "There is no harm in two old men talking."
"Don't you believe it," Brooke said. "This man is a dangerous radical. He wanted to dissolve the monarchy. And him a privy councilor, too."
"Jimmy, we did not come here to be aristocrats. That is not Right Action."
Turner recognized the term. "You're a Buddhist?"
"Yes. I was with Sarvodaya Shramadana, the Buddhist technological movement. Jimmy and I met in Sri Lanka, where the Sarvodaya was born."
"Sri Lanka's a nice place to do videos," Brooke said. "I was still in the rock biz then, doing production work. Finance. But it was getting stale. Then I dropped in on a Sarvodaya rally, heard him speak. It was damned exciting!" Brooke grinned at the memory. "He was in trouble there, too. Even thirty years ago, his preaching was a little too pure for anyone's comfort."
"We were not put on this earth to make things comfortable for ourselves," Moratuwa chided. He glanced at Turner. "Brunei flourishes now, young man. We have the techniques, the expertise, the experience. It is time to fling open the doors and let Right Action spread to the whole earth! Brunei was our greenhouse, but the fields are the greater world outside."
Brooke smiled. "Choi is building the boats."
"Our Ocean Arks?" said Moratuwa. "Ah, splendid."
"I sailed here today on the first model."
"What joyful news. You have done us a great service, Mr. Choi."
"I don't understand," Turner said. "They're just sailboats."
Brooke smiled. "To you, maybe. But imagine you're a Malaysian dock worker living on fish meal and single-cell protein. What're you gonna think of a ship that costs nothing to build, nothing to run, and gives away free food?"
"Oh," said Turner slowly.
"Your sailboats will carry our Green message around the globe," Moratuwa said. "We teachers have a saying: 'I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.' Mere preaching is only words. When people see our floating kampongs tied up at docks around the world, then they can touch and smell and live our life aboard those ships, then they will truly understand our Way."
"You really think that'll work?" Turner said.
"That is how we started here," Moratuwa said. "We had textbooks on the urban farm, textbooks developed in your own West, simple technologies anyone can use. Jimmy's building was our first Green kampong, our demonstration model. We found many to help us. Unemployment was severe, as it still is throughout the world. But idle hands can put in skylights, haul nightsoil, build simple windmills. It is not elegant, but it is food and community and pride."
"It was a close thing between our Partai and the Moslem extremists," Brooke said. "They wanted to burn every trace of the West -- we wanted to retrofit. We won. People could see and touch the future we offered. Food tastes better than preaching."
"Yes, those poor Moslem fellows," said Moratuwa. "Still here after so many years. You must talk to the sultan about an amnesty, Jimmy."
"They shot his brother in front of his family," Brooke said. "Seria saw it happen. She was only a child."
Turner felt a spasm of pain for her. She had never told him.
But Moratuwa shook his head. "The royals went too far in protecting their power. They tried to bottle up our Way, to control it with their royal adat. But they cannot lock out the world forever, and lock up those who want fresh air. They only imprison themselves. Ask your Seria." He smiled. "Buddha was a prince also, but he left his palace when the world called out."
Brooke laughed sourly. "Old troublemakers are stubborn." He looked at Turner. "This man's still loyal to our old dream, all that wild-eyed stuff that's buried under twenty years. He could be out of here with a word, if he promised to be cool and follow the adat. It's a crime to keep him in here. But the royal family aren't saints, they're politicians. They can't afford the luxury of innocence."
Turner thought it through, sadly. He realized now that he had found the ghost behind those huge old Green Party wall posters, those peeling Whole Earth sermons buried under sports ads and Malay movie stars. This was the man who had saved Seria's family -- and this was where they had put him. "The sultan's not very grateful," Turner said.
"That's not the problem. You see, my friend here doesn't really give a damn about Brunei. He wants to break the greenhouse doors off, and never mind the trouble to the locals. He's not satisfied to save one little postage-stamp country. He's got the world on his conscience."
Moratuwa smiled indulgently. "And my friend Jimmy has the world in his computer terminal. He is a wicked Westerner. He has kept the simple natives pure, while he is drenched in whiskey and the Net."
Brooke winced. "Yeah. Neither one of us really belongs here. We're both goddamn outside agitators, is all. We came here together. His words, my money -- we thought we could change things everywhere. Brunei was going to be our laboratory. Brunei was just small enough, and desperate enough, to listen to a couple of crackpots." He tugged at his hearing aid and glared at Turner's smile.
"You're no prize either, Choi. Y'know, I was wrong about you. I'm glad you're leaving."
"Why?" Turner said, hurt.
"You're too straight, and you're too much trouble. I checked you out through the Net a long time ago -- I know all about your granddad the smack merchant and all that Triad shit. I thought you'd be cool. Instead you had to be the knight in shining armor -- bloody robot, that's what you are."
Turner clenched his fists. "Sorry I didn't follow your program, you old bastard."
"She's like a daughter to me," Brooke said. "A quick bump-and-grind, okay, we all need it, but you had to come on like Prince Charming. Well, you're getting on that chopper tomorrow, and it's back to Babylon for you, kid."
"Yeah?" Turner said defiantly. "Or else, huh? You'd put me in this place?"
Brooke shook his head. "I won't have to. Think it over, Mr. Choi. You know damn well where you belong."
It was a grim trip back. Seria caught his mood at once. When she saw his Bad Cop scowl, her morning-after smile died like a moth in a killing bottle. She knew it was over. They didn't say much. The roar of the copter blades would have drowned it anyway.
The shipyard was crammed with the framework of a massive Ocean Ark. It had been simple to scale the process up with the programs he'd downloaded. The work crew was overjoyed, but Turner's long-expected triumph had turned to ashes for him. He printed out a letter of resignation and took it to the minister of industry.
The minister's kampong was still expanding. They had webbed off a whole city block under great tentlike sheets of translucent plastic, which hung from the walls of tall buildings like giant dew-soaked spiderwebs. Women and children were casually ripping up the streets with picks and hoes, revealing long-smothered topsoil. The sewers had been grubbed up and diverted into long troughs choked with watercress.
The minister lived in a long flimsy tent of cotton batik. He was catching an afternoon snooze in a woven hammock anchored to a high-rise wall and strung to an old lamppost.
Turner woke him up.
"I see," the minister yawned, slipping on his sandals. "Illness in the family, is it? You have my sympathies. When may we expect you back?"
Turner shook his head. "The job's done. Those 'bots will be pasting up ships from now till doomsday."
"But you still have two months to run. You should oversee the line until we're sure we have the beetles out."
"Bugs," Turner said. "There aren't any." He knew it was true. Building ships that simple was monkey-work. Humans could have done it.
"There's plenty of other work here for a man of your talents."
"Hire someone else."
The minister frowned. "I shall have to complain to Kyocera."
"I'm quitting them, too."
"Quitting your multinational? At this early stage in your career? Is that wise?"
Turner closed his eyes and summoned his last dregs of patience. "Why should I care? Tuan Minister, I've never even seen them."
Turner cut a last deal with the bootleg boys down on Floor 4 and sneaked into his room with an old gas can full of rice beer. The little screen on the end of the nozzle was handy for filtering out the thickest dregs. He poured himself a long one and looked around the room. He had to start packing.
He began stripping the walls and tossing souvenirs onto his bed, pausing to knock back long shuddery glugs of warm rice beer. Packing was painfully easy. He hadn't brought much. The room looked pathetic. He had another beer.
His bonsai tree was dying. There was no doubt of it now. The cramping of its tiny pot was murderous. "You poor little bastard," Turner told it, his voice thick with self-pity. On impulse, he broke its pot with his boot. He carried the tree gently across the room, and buried its gnarled roots in the rich black dirt of the window box. "There," he said, wiping his hands on his jeans. "Now grow, dammit!"
It was Friday night again. They were showing another free movie down in the park. Turner ignored it and called Vancouver.
"No video again?" Georgie said.
"I'm glad you called, anyway. It's bad, Turner. The Taipei cousins are here. They're hovering around the old man like a pack of buzzards."
"They're in good company, then."
"Jesus, Turner! Don't say that kind of crap! Look, Honorable Grandfather's been asking about you every day. How soon can you get here?"
Turner looked in his notebook. "I've booked passage on a freighter to Labuan Island. That's Malaysian territory. I can get a plane there, a puddle-jumper to Manila. Then a Japan Air jet to Midway and another to Vane. That puts me in at, uh, eight P.M. your time Monday."
"There are no planes here, Georgie."
"All right, if that's the best you can do. It's too bad about this video. Look, I want you to call him at the hospital, okay? Tell him you're coming."
"Now?" said Turner, horrified.
Georgie exploded. "I'm sick of doing your explaining, man! Face up to your goddamn obligations, for once! The least you can do is call him and play good boy grandson! I'm gonna call-forward you from here."
"Okay, you're right," Turner said. "Sorry, Georgie, I know it's been a strain."
Georgie looked down and hit a key. White static blurred, a phone rang, and Turner was catapulted to his grandfather's bedside.
The old man was necrotic. His cheekbones stuck out like wedges, and his lips were swollen and blue. Stacks of monitors blinked beside his bed. Turner spoke in halting Mandarin. "Hello, Grandfather. It's your grandson, Turner. How are you?"
The old man fixed his horrible eyes on the screen. "Where is your picture, boy?"
"This is Borneo, Grandfather. They don't have modern telephones."
"What kind of place is that? Have they no respect?"
"It's politics, Grandfather."
Grandfather Choi scowled. A chill of terror went through Turner. Good God, he thought, I'm going to look like that when I'm old. His grandfather said, "I don't recall giving my permission for this."
"It was just eight months, Grandfather."
"You prefer these barbarians to your own family, is that it?"
Turner said nothing. The silence stretched painfully. "They're not barbarians," he blurted at last.
"What's that, boy?"
Turner switched to English. "They're British Commonwealth, like Hong Kong was. Half of them are Chinese."
Grandfather sneered and followed him to English. "Why they need you, then?"
"They need me," Turner said tightly, "because I'm a trained engineer."
His grandfather peered at the blank screen. He looked feeble suddenly, confused. He spoke Chinese. "Is this some sort of trick? My son's boy doesn't talk like that. What is that howling I hear?"
The movie was reaching a climax downstairs. Visceral crunches and screaming. It all came boiling up inside Turner then. "What's it sound like, old man? A Triad gang war?"
His grandfather turned pale. "That's it, boy. Is all over for you."
"Great," Turner said, his heart racing. "Maybe we can be honest, just this once."
"My money bought you diapers, boy."
"Fang-pa," Turner said. "Dog's-fart. You made our lives hell with that money. You turned my dad into a drunk and my brother into an ass-kisser. That's blood money from junkies, and I wouldn't take it if you begged me!"
"You talk big, boy, but you don't show the face," the old man said. He raised one shrunken fist, his bandaged forearm trailing tubes. "If you were here I give you a good beating."
Turner laughed giddily. He felt like a hero. "You old fraud! Go on, give the money to Uncle's kids. They're gonna piss on your altar every day, you stupid old bastard."
"They're good children, not like you."
"They hate your guts, old man. Wise up."
"Yes, they hate me," the old man admitted gloomily. The truth seemed to fill him with grim satisfaction. He nestled his head back into his pillow like a turtle into its shell. "They all want more money, more, more, more. You want it, too, boy, don't lie to me."
"Don't need it," Turner said airily. "They don't use money here."
"Barbarians," his grandfather said. "But you need it when you come home."
"I'm staying here," Turner said. "I like it here. I'm free here, understand? Free of the money and free of the family and free of you!"
"Wicked boy," his grandfather said. "I was like you once. I did bad things to be free." He sat up in bed, glowering. "But at least I helped my family."
"I could never be like you," Turner said.
"You wait till they come after you with their hands out," his grandfather said, stretching out one wrinkled palm. "The end of the world couldn't hide you from them."
"What do you mean?"
His grandfather chuckled with an awful satisfaction. "I leave you all the money, Mr. Big Freedom. You see what you do then when you're in my shoes."
"I don't want it!" Turner shouted. "I'll give it all to charity!"
"No, you won't," his grandfather said. "You'll think of your duty to your family, like I had to. From now on you take care of them, Mr. Runaway, Mr. High and Mighty."
"I won't!" Turner said. "You can't!"
"I'll die happy now," his grandfather said, closing his eyes. He lay back on the pillow and grinned feebly. "It's worth it just to see the look on their faces."
"You can't make me!" Turner yelled. "I'll never go back, understand? I'm staying--"
The line went dead.
Turner shut down his phone and stowed it away.
He had to talk to Brooke. Brooke would know what to do. Somehow, Turner would play off one old man against the other.
Turner still felt shocked by the turn of events, but beneath his confusion he felt a soaring confidence. At last he had faced down his grandfather. After that, Brooke would be easy. Brooke would find some loophole in the Bruneian government that would protect him from the old man's legacy. Turner would stay safe in Brunei. It was the best place in the world to frustrate the banks of the Global Net.
But Brooke was still on the river, on his boat.
Turner decided to meet Brooke the moment he docked in town. He couldn't wait to tell Brooke about his decision to stay in Brunei for good. He was feverish with excitement. He had wrenched his life out of the program now; everything was different. He saw everything from a fresh new angle, with a bricoleur's eyes. His whole life was waiting for a retrofit.
He took the creaking elevator to the ground floor. In the park outside, the movie crowd was breaking up. Turner hitched a ride in the pedicab of some teenagers from a waterfront kampong. He took the first shift pedaling, and got off a block away from the dock Brooke used.
The cracked concrete quays were sheltered under a long rambling roof of tin and geodesic bamboo. Half-a-dozen fishing smacks floated at the docks, beside an elderly harbor dredge. Brooke's first boat, a decrepit pleasure cruiser, was in permanent dry dock with its diesel engine in pieces.
The headman of the dock kampong was a plump, motherly Malay grandmother. She and her friends were having a Friday night quilting bee, repairing canvas sails under the yellow light of an alcohol lamp.
Brooke was not expected back until morning. Turner was determined to wait him out. He had not asked permission to sleep out from his kampong, but after a long series of garbled translations he established that the locals would vouch for him later. He wandered away from the chatter of Malay gossip and found a dark corner.
He fell back on a floury pile of rice bags, watching from the darkness, unable to sleep.
Whenever his eyes closed, his brain ran a loud interior monologue, rehearsals for his talk with Brooke.
The women worked on, wrapped in the lamp's mild glow. Innocently, they enjoyed themselves, secure in their usefulness. Yet Turner knew machines could have done the sewing faster and easier. Already, through reflex, as he watched, some corner of his mind pulled the task to computerized pieces, thinking: simplify, analyze, reduce.
But to what end? What was it really for, all that tech he'd learned? He'd become an engineer for reasons of his own. Because it offered a way out for him, because the gift for it had always been there in his brain and hands and eyes.... Because of the rewards it offered him. Freedom, independence, money, the rewards of the West.
But what control did he have? Rewards could be snatched away without warning. He'd seen others go to the wall when their specialties ran dry. Education and training were no defense. Not today, when a specialist's knowledge could be programmed into a computerized expert system.
Was he really any safer than these Bruneians? A thirty-minute phone call could render these women obsolete -- but a society that could do their work with robots would have no use for their sails. Within their little greenhouse, their miniature world of gentle technologies, they had more control than he did.
People in the West talked about the "technical elite" -- and Turner knew it was a damned lie. Technology roared on, running full-throttle on the world's last dregs of oil, but no one was at the wheel, not really. Massive institutions, both governments and corporations, fumbled for control, but couldn't understand. They had no hands-on feel for tech and what it meant, for the solid feeling in a good design.
The "technical elite" were errand boys. They didn't decide how to study, what to work on, where they could be most useful, or to what end. Money decided that. Technicians were owned by the abstract ones and zeros in bankers' microchips, paid out by silk-suit hustlers who'd never touched a wrench. Knowledge wasn't power, not really, not for engineers. There were too many abstractions in the way.
But the gift was real -- Brooke had told him so, and now Turner realized it was true. That was the reason for engineering. Not for money, because there was more money in shuffling paper. Not for power; that was in management. For the gift itself.
He leaned back in darkness, smelling tar and rice dust. For the first time, he truly felt he understood what he was doing. Now that he had defied his family and his past, he saw his work in a new light. It was something bigger than just his private escape hatch. It was a worthy pursuit on its own merits: a thing of dignity.
It all began to fall into place for him then, bringing with it a warm sense of absolute Tightness. He yawned, nestling his head into the burlap.
He would live here and help them. Brunei was a new world, a world built on a human scale, where people mattered. No, it didn't have the flash of a hot CAD-CAM establishment with its tons of goods and reams of printout; it didn't have that technical sweetness and heroic scale.
But it was still good work. A man wasn't a Luddite because he worked for people instead of abstractions. The green technologies demanded more intelligence, more reason, more of the engineer's true gift. Because they went against the blind momentum of a dead century, with all its rusting monuments of arrogance and waste....
Turner squirmed drowsily into the scrunchy comfort of the rice bags, in the fading grip of his epiphany. Within him, some unspoken knot of division and tension eased, bringing a new and deep relief. As always, just before sleep, his thoughts turned to Seria. Somehow, he would deal with that too. He wasn't sure just how yet, but it could wait. It was different now that he was staying. Everything was working out. He was on a roll.
Just as he drifted off, he half-heard a thrashing scuffle as a kampong cat seized and tore a rat behind the bags.
A stevedore shook him awake next morning. They needed the rice. Turner sat up, his mouth gummy with hangover. His T-shirt and jeans were caked with dust.
Brooke had arrived. They were loading provisions aboard his ship: bags of rice, dried fruit, compost fertilizer. Turner, smiling, hoisted a bag over his shoulder and swaggered up the ramp on board.
Brooke oversaw the loading from a canvas deck chair. He was unshaven, nervously picking at a gaudy acoustic guitar. He started violently when Turner dropped the bag at his feet. "Thank God you're here!" he said. "Get out of sight!" He grabbed Turner's arm and hustled him across the deck into the greenhouse.
Turner stumbled along reluctantly. "What the hell? How'd you know I was coming here?"
Brooke shut the greenhouse door. He pointed through a dew-streaked pane at the dock. "See that little man with the black songkak hat?"
"He's from the Ministry of Islamic Banking. He just came from your kampong, looking for you. Big news from the gnomes of Zurich. You're hot property now, kid."
Turner folded his arms defiantly. "I've made my decision, Tuan Councilor. I threw it over. Everything. My family, the West... I don't want that money. I'm turning it down! I'm staying."
Brooke ignored him, wiping a patch of glass with his sleeve. "If they get their hooks into your cash flow, you'll never get out of here." Brooke glanced at him, alarmed. "You didn't sign anything, did you?"
Turner scowled. "You haven't heard a word I've said, have you?"
Brooke tugged at his hearing aid. "What? These damn batteries.... Look, I got spares in my cabin. We'll check it out, have a talk." He waved Turner back, opened the greenhouse door slightly, and shouted a series of orders to the crew in their Dayak dialect. "Come on," he told Turner.
They left by a second door, and sneaked across a patch of open deck, then down a flight of plywood steps into the center hull.
Brooke lifted the paisley bedspread of his cabin bunk and hauled out an ancient steamer chest. He pulled a jingling set of keys from his pocket and opened it. Beneath a litter of ruffled shirts, a shaving kit, and cans of hair spray, the trunk was packed to the gills with electronic contraband: coax cables, multiplexers, buffers and converters, shiny plug-in cards still in their heat-sealed baggies, multiplugged surge suppressors wrapped in tentacles of black extension cord. "Christ," Turner said. He heard a gentle thump as the ship came loose, followed by a rattle of rigging as the crew hoisted sail.
After a long search, Brooke found batteries in a cloisonne box. He popped them into place. Turner said, "Admit it. You're surprised to see me, aren't you? Still think you were wrong about me?"
Brooke looked puzzled. "Surprised? Didn't you get Seria's message on the Net?"
"What? No. I slept on the docks last night."
"You missed the message?" Brooke said. He mulled it over. "Why are you here, then?"
"You said you could help me if I ever had money trouble," Turner said. "Well, now's the time. You gotta figure some way to get me out of this bank legacy. I know it doesn't look like it, but I've broken with my family for good. I'm gonna stay here, try to work things out with Seria."
Brooke frowned. "I don't understand. You want to stay with Seria?"
"Yes, here in Brunei, with her!" Turner sat on the bunk and waved his arms passionately. "Look, I know I told you that Brunei was just a glass bubble, sealed off from the world, and all that. But I've changed now! I've thought it through, I understand things. Brunei's important! It's small, but it's the ideas that matter, not the scale. I can get along, I'll fit in -- you said so yourself."
"What about Seria?"
"Okay, that's part of it," Turner admitted. "I know she'll never leave this place. I can defy my family and it's no big deal, but she's Royalty. She wouldn't leave here, any more than you'd leave all your money behind. So you're both trapped here. All right. I can accept that." Turner looked up, his face glowing with determination. "I know things won't be easy for Seria and me, but it's up to me to make the sacrifice. Someone has to make the grand gesture. Well, it might as well be me."
Brooke was silent for a moment, then thumped him on the shoulder. "This is a new Turner I'm seeing. So you faced down the old smack merchant, huh? You're quite the hero!"
Turner felt sheepish. "Come on, Brooke."
"And turning down all that nice money, too."
Turner brushed his hands together, dismissing the idea. "I'm sick of being manipulated by old geezers."
Brooke rubbed his unshaven jaw and grinned. "Kid, you've got a lot to learn." He walked to the door. "But that's okay, no harm done. Everything still works out. Let's go up on deck and make sure the coast is clear."
Turner followed Brooke to his deck chair by the bamboo railing. The ship sailed rapidly down a channel between mud flats. Already they'd left the waterfront, paralleling a shoreline densely fringed with mangroves. Brooke sat down and opened a binocular case. He scanned the city behind them. Turner felt a light-headed sense of euphoria as the triple bows cut the water. He smiled as they passed the first offshore rig. It looked like a good place to get some fishing done.
"About this bank," Turner said. "We have to face them sometime -- what good is this doing us?"
Brooke smiled without looking up from his binoculars. "Kid, I've been planning this day a long time. I'm running it on a wing and a prayer. But hey, I'm not proud, I can adapt. You've been a lot of trouble to me, stomping in where angels fear to tread, in those damn boots of yours. But I've finally found a way to fit you in. Turner, I'm going to retrofit your life."
"Think so?" Turner said. He stepped closer, looming over Brooke. "What are you looking for, anyway?"
Brooke sighed. "Choppers. Patrol boats."
Turner had a sudden terrifying flash of insight. "You're leaving Brunei. Defecting!" He stared at Brooke. "You bastard! You kept me on board!" He grabbed the rail, then began tearing at his heavy boots, ready to jump and swim for it.
"Don't be stupid!" Brooke said. "You'll get her in a lot of trouble!" He lowered the binoculars. "Oh, Christ, here comes Omar."
Turner followed his gaze and spotted a helicopter, rising gnatlike over the distant high-rises. "Where is Seria?"
"Try the bow."
"You mean she's here? She's leaving too?" He ran forward across the thudding deck.
Seria wore bell-bottomed sailor's jeans and a stained nylon wind-breaker. With the help of two of the Dayak crew, she was installing a meshwork satellite dish in an anchored iron plate in the deck. She had cut away her long dyed hair; she looked up at him, and for a moment he saw a stranger. Then her face shifted, fell into a familiar focus. "I thought I'd never see you again, Turner. That's why I had to do it."
Turner smiled at her fondly, too overjoyed at first for her words to sink in. "Do what, angel?"
"Tap your phone, of course. I did it because I was jealous, at first. I had to be sure. You know. But then when I knew you were leaving, well, I had to hear your voice one last time. So I heard your talk with your grandfather. Are you mad at me?"
"You tapped my phone? You heard all that?" Turner said.
"Yes, darling. You were wonderful. I never thought you'd do it."
"Well," Turner said, "I never thought you'd pull a stunt like this, either."
"Someone had to make a grand gesture," she said. "It was up to me, wasn't it? But I explained all that in my message."
"So you're defecting? Leaving your family?" Turner knelt beside her, dazed. As he struggled to fit it all together, his eyes focused on a cross-threaded nut at the base of the dish. He absently picked up a socket wrench. "Let me give you a hand with that," he said through reflex.
Seria sucked on a barked knuckle. "You didn't get my last message, did you? You came here on your own!"
"Well, yeah," Turner said. "I decided to stay. You know. With you."
"And now we're abducting you!" She laughed. "How romantic!"
"You and Brooke are leaving together?"
"It's not just me, Turner. Look."
Brooke was walking toward them, and with him Dr. Moratuwa, newly outfitted in saffron- colored baggy shorts and T-shirt. They were the work clothes of a Buddhist technician. "Oh, no," Turner said. He dropped his wrench with a thud.
Seria said, "Now you see why I had to leave, don't you? My family locked him up. I had to break adat and help Brooke set him free. It was my obligation, my dharma!"
"I guess that makes sense," Turner said. "But it's gonna take me a while, that's all. Couldn't you have warned me?"
"I tried to! I wrote you on the Net!" She saw he was crestfallen, and squeezed his hand. "I guess the plans broke down. Well, we can improvise."
"Good day, Mr. Choi," said Moratuwa. "It was very brave of you to cast in your lot with us. It was a gallant gesture."
"Thanks," Turner said. He took a deep breath. So they were all leaving. It was a shock, but he could deal with it. He'd just have to start over and think it through from a different angle. At least Seria was coming along.
He felt a little better now. He was starting to get it under control.
Moratuwa sighed. "And I wish it could have worked."
"Your brother's coming," Brooke told Seria gloomily. "Remember this was all my fault."
They had a good head wind, but the crown prince's helicopter came on faster, its drone growing to a roar. A Gurkha palace guard crouched on the broad orange float outside the canopy, cradling a light machine gun. His gold-braided dress uniform flapped in the chopper's downwash.
The chopper circled the boat once. "We've had it," Brooke said. "Well, at least it's not a patrol boat with those damned Exocet missiles. It's family business with the princess on board. They'll hush it all up. You can always depend on adat." He patted Moratuwa's shoulder. "Looks like you get a cell mate after all, old man."
Seria ignored them. She was looking up anxiously. "Poor Omar," she said. She cupped her hands to her mouth. "Brother, be careful!" she shouted.
The prince's copilot handed the guard a loudspeaker. The guard raised it and began to shout a challenge.
The tone of the chopper's engines suddenly changed. Plumes of brown smoke billowed from the chromed exhausts. The prince veered away suddenly, fighting the controls. The guard, caught off balance, tumbled headlong into the ocean. The Dayak crew, who had been waiting for the order to reef sails, began laughing wildly.
"What in hell?" Brooke said.
The chopper pancaked down heavily into the bay, rocking in the ship's wake. Spurting caramel-colored smoke, its engines died with a hideous grinding. The ship sailed on. They watched silently as the drenched guard swam slowly up and clung to the chopper's float.
Brooke raised his eyes to heaven. "Lord Buddha, forgive my doubts...."
"Sugar," Seria said sadly. "I put a bag of sugar in brother's fuel tank. I ruined his beautiful helicopter. Poor Omar, he really loves that machine."
Brooke stared at her, then burst into cackling laughter. Regally, Seria ignored him. She stared at the dwindling shore, her eyes bright. "Goodbye, Brunei. You cannot hold us now."
"Where are we going?" Turner said.
"To the West," said Moratuwa. "The Ocean Arks will spread for many years. I must set the example by carrying the word to the greatest global center of unsustainable industry."
Brooke grinned. "He means America, man."
"We shall start in Hawaii. It is also tropical, and our expertise will find ready application there."
"Wait a minute," Turner said. "I turned my back on all that! Look, I turned down a fortune so I could stay in the East."
Seria took his arm, smiling radiantly. "You're such a dreamer, darling. What a wonderful gesture. I love you, Turner."
"Look," said Brooke, "I left behind my building, my title of nobility, and all my old mates. I'm older than you, so my romantic gestures come first."
"But," Turner said, "it was all decided. I was going to help you in Brunei. I had ideas, plans. Now none of it makes any sense."
Moratuwa smiled. "The world is not built from your blueprints, young man."
"Whose, then?" Turner demanded. "Yours?"
"Nobody's, really," Brooke said. "We all just have to do our best with whatever comes up. Bricolage, remember?" Brooke spread his hands. "But it's a geezer's world, kid. We got your number, and we got you outnumbered. Fast cars and future shock and that hot Western trip... that's another century. We like slow days in the sun. We like a place to belong and gentle things around us." He smiled. "Okay, you're a little wired now, but you'll calm down by the time we reach Hawaii. There's a lot of retrofit work there. You'll be one of us!" He gestured at the satellite dish. "We'll set this up and call your banks first thing."
"It's a good world for us, Turner," Seria said urgently. "Not quite East, not quite West -- like us two. It was made for us, it's what we're best at." She embraced him.
"You escaped," Turner said. No one ever said much about what happened after Sleeping Beauty woke.
"Yes, I broke free," she said, hugging him tighter. "And I'm taking you with me."
Turner stared over her shoulder at Brunei, sinking into hot green mangroves and warm mud. Slowly, he could feel the truth of it, sliding over him like some kind of ambiguous quicksand. He was going to fit right in. He could see his future laid out before him, clean and predestined, like fifty years of happy machine language.
"Maybe I wanted this," he said at last. "But it sure as hell wasn't what I planned."
Brooke laughed. "Look, you're bound for Hawaii with a princess and eight million dollars. Somehow, you'll just have to make do."