This is a non sequitur that has been nibbling on the edges of Hiro's mind for the last ten minutes: Laser light has a particular kind of gritty intensity, a molecular purity reflecting its origins. Your eye notices this, somehow knows that it's unnatural. It stands out anywhere, but especially under a dirty overpass in the middle of the night. Hiro keeps getting flashes of it in his peripheral vision, keeps glancing over to track down it's source. It's obvious to him, but no one else seems to notice.
Someone in this overpass, somewhere, is bouncing a laser beam off Hiro's face.
It's annoying. Without being too obvious about it, he changes his course slightly, wanders over to a point downwind of a trash fire that's burning in a steel drum. Now he's standing in the middle of a plume of diluted smoke that he can smell but can't quite see.
But the next time the laser darts into his face, it scatters off a million tiny, ashy particulates and reveals itself as a pure geometric line in space, pointing straight back to its source.
It's a gargoyle, standing in the dimness next to a shanty. Just in case he's not already conspicuous enough, he's wearing a suit. Hiro starts walking toward him.
Gargoyles represent the embarrassing side of the Central Intelligence Corporation. Instead of using laptops, they wear their computers on their bodies, broken up into separate modules that hang on the waist, on the back, on the headset. They serve as human surveillance devices, recording everything that happens around them. Nothing looks stupider; these getups are the modern-day equivalent of the slide-rule scabbard or the calculator pouch on the belt, marking the user as belonging to a class that is at once above and far below human society. They are a boon to Hiro because they embody the worst stereotype of the CIC stringer. They draw all of the attention. The payoff for this self-imposed ostracism is that you can be in the Metaverse all the time, and gather intelligence all the time.
The CIC brass can't stand these guys because they upload staggering quantities of useless information to the database, on the off chance that some of it will eventually be useful. It's like writing down the license number of every car you see on your way to work each morning, just in case one of them will be involved in a hit-and-run accident. Even the CIC database can only hold so much garbage. So, usually, these habitual gargoyles get kicked out of the CIC before too long.
This guy hasn't been kicked out yet. And to judge from the quality of his equipment - which is very expensive - he's been at it for a while. So he must be pretty good.
If so, what's he doing hanging around this place?
"Hiro Protagonist," the gargoyle says as Hiro finally tracks him down in the darkness beside a shanty. "CIC stringer for eleven months. Specializing in the Industry. Former hacker, security guard, pizza deliverer, concert promoter." He sort of mumbles it, not wanting Hiro to waste his time reciting a bunch of known facts.
The laser that kept jabbing Hiro in the eye was shot out of this guy's computer, from a peripheral device that sits above his goggles in the middle of his forehead. A long-range retinal scanner. If you turn toward him with your eyes open, the laser shoots out, penetrates your iris, tenderest of sphincters, and scans your retina. The results are shot back to CIC, which has a database of several tens of millions of scanned retinas. Within a few seconds, if you're in the database already, the owner finds out who you are. If you're not already in the database, well, you are now.
Of course, the user has to have access privileges. And once he gets your identity, he has to have more access privileges to find out personal information about you. This guy, apparently, has a lot of access privileges. A lot more than Hiro.
- Нейл Стивенсон, Лавина @ lib.ru