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with human assistance, because that was when they
started bor rowing people. Doing them no physical
harm, but infesting them with the kinds of ideas and
compulsions that turned them into willing recruits.
The panic, the bombings, the Crash, had followed.
Lincoln hadn t witnessed the worst of it. He hadn t
seen conclaves of har mless sleepwalkers burned to
death by mobs, or elds of grain napalmed by the gov-
ernment, lest they feed and shelter nests of rats.
Over the decades, the war had become more sub-
tle. Counter ware could keep the Stevelets at bay, for
a while. The experts kept trying to subvert the Ste-
veware, spreading modi ed Stevelets packed with
propositions that aimed to cripple the swarms or,
more ambitiously, make them believe that their job
was done. In response, the Steveware had developed
veri cation and encryption schemes that made it ever
harder to corrupt or mislead. Some people still advo-
cated cloning Steve from surviving pathology samples,
but most experts doubted that the Steveware would
be satis ed with that, or taken in by any misinforma-
tion that made the clone look like something more.
The Stevelets aspired to the impossible and would
accept no substitutes, while humanity longed to be left
unmolested, to get on with more useful tasks. Lincoln
had known no other world, but until now he d viewed
the struggle from the sidelines, save shooting the odd
rat and queuing up for his counter ware shots.
So what was his role now? Traitor? Double agent?
Prisoner of war? People talked about sleepwalkers
and zombies, but in tr uth there was still no right word
for what he had become.
Late in the after noon, as they approached At-
lanta, Lincoln felt his sense of the city s ge-
ography warping, the signi cance of familiar
landmarks shifting. New information coming through.
He ran one hand over each of his forearms, where
he d heard the antennas often grew, but the polymer
was probably too soft to feel beneath the skin. His par-
ents could have wrapped his body in foil to mess with
reception, and put him in a tent full of bottled air to
keep out any of the chemical signals that the Steve-
lets also used, but none of that would have rid him
of the basic urge.
As they passed the airport, then the tangle of over-
passes where the highway from Macon merged with
the one from Alabama, Lincoln couldn t stop thinking
about the baseball stadium up ahead. Had the Steve-
lets commandeered the home of the Braves? That
would have made the news, surely, and ramped the
war up a notch or two.
"Next exit," he said. He gave directions that were
half his own, half owing from an eerie dream logic,
until they turned a corner and the place where he
knew he had to be came into view. It wasn t the sta-
dium itself; that had merely been the closest land-
mark in his head, a beacon the Stevelets had used to
help guide him. "They booked a whole motel!" his
"Bought," Lincoln guessed, judging from the
amount of visible construction work. The Steveware
controlled vast nancial assets, some at-out stolen
from sleepwalkers but much of it honestly acquired
by trading the products of the rat factories: everything
from high-grade pharmaceuticals to immaculately
faked designer shoes.
The original parking lot was full, but there were signs
showing the way to an over ow area near what had once
been the pool. As they headed for reception, Lincoln s
thoughts drifted weirdly to the time they d come to
Atlanta for one of Sam s spelling competitions.
There were three uniformed government Stevolo-
gists in the lobby, seated at a small table with some
equipment. Lincoln went rst to the reception desk,
where a smiling young woman handed him two room
keys before he d had a chance to say a word. "Enjoy the
conclave," she said. He didn t know if she was a zombie
like him or a former motel employee who d been kept
on, but she didn t need to ask him anything.
The government people took longer to deal with.
His grandmother sighed as they worked their way
through a questionnaire, and then a woman called
Dana took Lincoln s blood. "They usually try to hide,"
Dana said, "but sometimes your counterware can
bring us useful fragments, even when it can t stop
As they ate their evening meal in the motel din-
ing room, Lincoln tried to meet the eyes of the peo-
ple around him. Some looked away ner vously; others
o ered him encouraging smiles. He didn t feel as if he
was being inducted into a cult, and it wasn t just the
lack of pamphlets or speeches. He hadn t been brain-
washed into worshipping Steve; his opinion of the
dead man was entirely unchanged. Like the desire to
reach Atlanta in the rst place, his task here would be
far more focused and speci c. To the Steveware he
was a kind of machine, a machine it could instruct and
tinker with the way Lincoln could control and custom-
ize his phone, but the Steveware no more expected
him to share its nal goal than he expected his own
machines to enjoy his music, or respect his friends.
Lincoln knew that he dreamed that night, but when
he woke he had trouble remembering the dream. He
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