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calls software!" Roebel was breathing heavily. "Those
so-called tools you use---you can t drill one hole in a
girder without 40 interlocking safety forms!"
"If you re having trouble with your system, I d be
glad to have a look." Yuri popped the chromed clips
on his moroccan-leather shoulder bag. "I brought
some top-end diagnostics in the laptop."
"Put that stupid toy away, I know you re a software
monkey!" snarled Roebel. "ClearWorks is architec-
ture! Because it s software architecture by an infor-
"I haven t seen ClearWorks since I left college," said
Yuri. "Does ClearWorks interoperate with current
"I need your lawyers like I need a hole in the
His question answered, Yuri o ered a sunny smile.
"I always loved that kind of boldness, François! Fire
up your program---let s have a good long look!"
With his blu called, Roebel reluctantly pressed
the lozenge-shaped metal Start button on his tow-
ering desktop engine. Roebel still used a specialty
CAD workstation. The discolored machine, its shell
scr ubbed with acetone and its keyboard worn to nubs,
had a militant, str utting, look-at-me-being-all-cyber
aesthetic. Roebel s workstation looked t to redesign
the whole Milky Way, though, tr uth be told, it had
about 10 percent of the processing capacity of a mod-
ern kid s throwaway wristwatch.
"User lock-ins and proprietary formats," Roebel
muttered, his throaty old-man s voice matching the
ancient growl of his workstation s stricken hard disk.
"Those punk-ass chumps in the channels of distribu-
tion, they won t even show you the end-user license
The archaic vacuum tube ickered as the worksta-
tion str uggled to boot. "And what on earth happened
to the people?" Roebel griped, avoiding Yuri s eyes.
"The banks, the unions, the professions, every level
of government ... all of em melted down into one
giant ball of software mud! No more creative giants
... they re all nickel-and-dime windup monkeys in a
crazy world that gets more interactive every day!"
"Tell me about your client," said Yuri, angling for
a change of subject.
Roebel gave a sly yellow grin. "The Church of Sym-
"They re commissioning another temple from you?
That s terri c news," said Yuri. His heart sank.
The Church of Symbiosis ... could it get any worse
than this? François Roebel was the picture of sanity
compared with his favorite clients.
The Church of Computer-Human Symbiosis was
an aging group of California hacker cranks who
had inherited the vast fortune of a vanished social-
software company. They had long been Roebel s ideal
patrons, for they were crazily rich, all-forgiving, and
incapable of judgment.
Over the decades, Roebel had built the cult an
awesome set of monumental churches. His temples
were top-end architecture glamour hits; glossy photo
books about them weighed down co ee tables on six
Nobody ever worshiped in the amazing churches
Roebel had built, because the cult was too crazy and
scary. Furthermore, the roofs leaked and all the utili-
ties malfunctioned. Still, that didn t much matter to
the cultists. They were serenely indi erent to such
earthly concerns, since they spent most of their wak-
ing lives playing immersive simulation games.
Roebel tinkered aimlessly with his keyboard. The
glassy screen was blank.
"It ll launch any minute," he lied. "The system s
been a little temperamental."
Pity gnawed at Yuri. Pity was a dangerous senti-
ment in the company of the grand master, but Yuri
couldn t help it. Year by year, Roebel had lost so much.
His fancy downtown o ce, his sta ers, his nancial
contacts, his engineers and subcontractors. Roebel still
worked---when he worked at all---on this ancient CAD
system designed for building French ghter aircraft.
The screen ickered. "There it goes," he crowed,
as if the machine s e ort had achieved something.
"I ll just have to strap on the skull set. Later."
Whatever had happened to the old man? Nor-
mally he d shed a violent storm of wild schemes and
concepts, each one less practically achievable than
Yuri wasn t sure if this grim void meant disaster
or deliverance for him. In either case, he felt sincere
"François, I have a very positive feeling about your
new commission. We ll have a job of work with the
interoperation issues, but at least we ve got a client
sympathetic to your aims."
Roebel squinted. "You re not fooling me any, you
"I beg your pardon?"
Roebel tossed his peripheral aside and abandoned
his keyboard. "Just knock all that o , that crap when
you sweet-talk me! You sound like a real-estate agent!
You ran o with my daughter---and that s the last thing
you did that took any guts! You never soar, boy! You re
like a pig in mud!"
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