The Diamond Age
By Neal Stephenson
(C) 1996Neal Stephenson
All rights reserved.
FROM THE DIAMOND AGE
Now, a look inside...
A thete visits a mod parlor; noteworthy features of modern armaments.
The bells of St. Mark's were ringing changes up on the mountain when Bud skated
over to the mod parlor to upgrade his skull gun. Bud had a nice new pair of
blades with a top speed of anywhere from a hundred to a hundred and fifty
kilometers, depending on how fat you were and whether or not you wore aero. Bud
liked wearing skin-tight leather, to show off his muscles. On a previous visit
to the mod parlor, two years ago, he had paid to have a bunch of 'sites
implanted in his muscles little critters, too small to see or feel, that
twitched Bud's muscle fibers electrically according to a program that was
supposed to maximize bulk. Combined with the testosterone pump embedded in his
forearm, it was like working out in a gym night and day, except you didn't have
to actually do anything and you never got sweaty. The only drawback was that all
the little twitches made him kind of tense and jerky. He'd gotten used to it,
but it still made him a little hinky on those skates, especially when he was
doing a hundred clicks an hour through a crowded street. But few people hassled
Bud, even when he knocked them down in the street, and after today no one would
hassle him ever again.
Bud had walked away, improbably unscratched, from his last jobwith something
like a thousand yuks in his pocket. He'd spent a third of it on new clothes,
mostly black leather, another third of it on the blades, and was about to spend
the last third at the mod parlor. You could get skull guns a lot cheaper, of
course, but that would mean going over the Causeway to Shanghai and getting a
back-alley job from some Coaster, and probably a nice bone infection in with the
bargain, and he'd probably pick your pocket while he had you theezed. Besides,
you could only get into a Shanghai if you were virgin. To cross the Causeway
when you were already packing a skull gun, like Bud, you had to bribe the shit
out of numerous Shanghai cops. There was no reason to economize here. Bud had a
rich and boundless career ahead of him, vaulting up a hierarchy of extremely
dangerous drug-related occupations for which he served as a paid audition of
sorts. A start weapons system was a wise investment.
The damn bells kept ringing through the fog. Bud mumbled a command to his music
system, a phased acoustical array splayed across both eardrums like the seeds on
a strawberry. The volume went up but couldn't scour away the deep tones of the
carillon, which resonated in his long bones. He wondered whether, as long as he
was at the mod parlor, he should have the batteries drilled out of his right
mastoid and replaced. Supposedly they were ten-year jobs, but he'd had them for
six and he listened to music all the time, loud.
Three people were waiting. Bud took a seat and skimmed a mediatron from the
coffee table; it looked exactly like a dirty, wrinkled, blank sheet of paper. "
'Annals of Self-Protection,' " he said, loud enough for everyone else in the
place to hear him. The logo of his favorite meedfeed coalesced on the page.
Mediaglyphics, mostly the cool animated ones, arranged themselves in a grid. Bud
scanned through them until he found the one that denoted a comparison of a bunch
of different stuff, and snapped at it with his fingernail. New mediaglyphics
appeared, surrounding larger cine panes in which Annals staff tested several
models of skull guns against live and dead targets. Bud frisbeed the mediatron
back onto the table; this was the same review he'd been poring over for the last
day, they hadn't updated it, his decision was still valid.
One of the guys ahead of him got a tattoo, which took about ten seconds. The
other guy just wanted his skull gun reloaded, which didn't take much longer. The
girl wanted a few 'sites replaced in her racting grid, mostly around her eyes,
where she was starting to wrinkle up. That took a while, so Bud picked up the
mediatron again and went in a ractive, his favorite, called Shut Up or
The mod artist wanted to see Bud's yuks before he installed the gun, which in
other surroundings might have been construed as an insult but was standard
business practice here in the Leased Territories. When he was satisfied that
this wasn't a stick-up, he theezed Bud's forehead with a spray gun, scalped back
a flap of skin, and pushed a machine, mounted on a delicate robot arm like a
dental tool, over Bud's forehead. The arm homed in automatically on the old gun,
moving with alarming speed and determination. Bud, who was a little jumpy at the
best of times because of his muscle stimulators, flinched a little. But the
robot arm was a hundred times faster than he was and plucked out the old gun
unerringly. The proprietor was watching all of this on a screen and had nothing
to do except narrate: The hole in your skull's kind of rough, so the machine is
reaming it out to a larger boreokay, now here comes the new gun.
A nasty popping sensation radiated through Bud's skull when the robot arm
snapped in the new model. It reminded Bud of the days of his youth, when, from
time to time, one of his playmates would shoot him in the head with a BB gun. He
instantly developed a low headache.
"It's loaded with a hundred rounds of popcorn," the proprietor said, "so you can
test out the yuvree. Soon as you're comfortable with it, I'll load it for real."
He stapled the skin of Bud's forehead back together so it'd heal invisibly. You
could pay the guy extra to leave a scar there on purpose, so everyone would know
you were packing, but Bud had heard that some chicks didn't like it. Bud's
relationship with the female sex was governed by a gallimaufry of primal
impulses, dim suppositions, deranged theories, overheard scraps of conversation,
half-remembered pieces of bad advice, and fragments of no-doubt exaggerated
anecdotes that amounted to rank superstition. In this case, it dictated that he
should not request the scar.
Besides, he had a nice collection of Sightsnot very tasteful sunglasses with
crosshairs hudded into the lens on your dominant eye. They did wonders for
marksmanship, and they were real obvious too, so that everyone knew you didn't
fuck with a man wearing Sights.
"Give it a whirl," the guy said, and spun the chair aroundit was a big old
antique barber chair upholstered in swirly plasticso Bud was facing a mannikin
in the corner of the room. The mannikin had no face or hair and was speckled
with little burn marks, as was the wall behind it.
"Status," Bud said, and felt the gun buzz lightly in response.
"Stand by," he said, and got another answering buzz. He turned his face squarely
toward the mannikin.
"Hut," he said. He said it under his breath, through unmoving lips, but the gun
heard it; he felt a slight recoil tapping his head back, and a startling POP
sounded from the mannikin, accompanied by a flash of light on the wall up above
its head. Bud's headache deepened, but he didn't care.
"This thing runs faster ammo, so you'll have to get used to aiming a tad lower,"
said the guy. So Bud tried it again and this time popped the mannikin right in
"Great shot! That would have decapped him if you were using Hellfire," the guy
said. "Looks to me like you know what you're doingbut there's other options
too. And three magazines so you can run multiple ammos. "
"I know," Bud said, "I been checking this thing out." Then, to the gun,
"Disperse ten, medium pattern." Then he said "hut" again. His head snapped back
much harder, and ten POPs went off at once, all over the mannikin's body and the
wall behind it. The room was getting smoky now, starting to smell like burned
"You can disperse up to a hundred," the guy said, "but the recoil'd probably
break your neck."
"I think I got it down," Bud said, "so load me up. First magazine with
electrostun rounds. Second magazine with Cripplers. Third with Hellfires. And
get me some fucking aspirin."