Synners
seemed like a good idea."
    Rosa laughed. "And you left the hot hardware with me. You're just full of good ideas, aren't you?"
    "Oh, the hardware was never hot. Just the software, and I took that with me."
    "And what did you do, use it for earrings?"
    Sam grinned. "No, but what a great encryption idea."
    Rosa looked at her from under her brows. "It's not a real original idea. And I think the word you're looking for is camouflage. You've been in a computer too long."
    "Whatever." Sam looked at Fez. "Did you hear from Keely?"
    The lines around Fez's eyes deepened. "Keely is officially MIA. There's nothing on-line about him, and nobody knows where he is, not even Jones." "And where's Jones?"
    "I've got him," Rosa said. "Strictly temporary arrangement. He had the supreme tack-ola to suicide in Gator's tent, and she called me to pick up the body."
    Adrian was staring at her openmouthed. "You're keeping a dead guy in your apartment?"
    "Temporarily. I mean, he's temporarily dead. He's probably not dead anymore, just comatose, but he'll go again in another couple of days."
    The kid glanced at Fez a little dubiously. "Jeez, everything's different here. Where I come from, we usually die once, permanently."
    "Not if you've got fancy implants," Rosa said sourly. "Our friend Jones— or rather, our friend Keely's friend Jones—was suffering from real bad chronic depression, suicidal, all that. Ellectroshock didn't work, so he went to this feel-good mill, and they gave him these brain implants that let him kill himself. He flatlines for maybe a minute or two, and then they kick up his adrenal system, and he comes back."
    "Oh, she's not making it up," Fez assured his nephew. "It's actually an accepted alternative treatment for certain depressives who don't respond to any other kinds of implants."
    "Which probably doesn't describe Jones," Rosa went on, "since he didn't try any others before he let the feel-gooders drill him. So now he's addicted to death, and he'll stay that way until his adrenal system tells him to go to hell. Then he'll go."
    "Well, to purgatory, perhaps," Fez said good-naturedly.
    Adrian sat back on the couch, hugging himself. "And people think I'm weird."
    "I'd turn in the goddamn clinic that did him," Rosa said, "but they got canned for feel-gooding this week."
    "That leaves Jones really adrift, then," Sam said. "No clinic and no Keely. What's he going to do?"
    "Die. Periodically." Rosa turned to Fez. "So, should I take a hike while you look at the zap Sam got from Keely, or what?"
    "What," Fez said. "You can keep a secret, can't you?"
    Rosa drew a cross over her heart.
    "Wait a second," Sam said, and looked significantly at Adrian.
    He giggled again. "Don't worry, I'm perfectly safe. I guess Fez hasn't had a chance to tell you, but I can't read."
    "Can't read English," Fez said pointedly. "Or any other language with an alphabet."
    "Makes me safe for anything you wanna screen without a voice-over," Adrian added.
    "He has a brain lesion," Fez explained, sounding curt. "He's alexic. For various reasons implants have been unable to mitigate the problem, but we've managed to sneak around it. He learned Mandarin."
    Rosa's eyebrows went up. "Really? You can read Mandarin?"
    The kid shrugged. "It's not really reading. Not for me. As soon as the world goes to a dual ideogram and alphabet format, I'm really gonna have it made. Or I could just move to China."
    "Why not just use Spoken Text?" Rosa asked.
    "Same reason you don't," said Fez. "Time. Spoken Text takes at least twice as long as silent reading. If you could stand all that natter-natternatter. We've been routing the dataline through a homegrown translation program for him. Though I've noticed translation to ideograms does tend to put a slightly different spin on things."
    Sam set her untouched mug of soup aside on the floor. "I wonder what it would do with Keely's zap. It's pretty odd stuff. Not that there's a whole lot to read." She looked at Adrian again. "Look, I don't

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