The case was still in the closet, standing up against the back wall, just the way Antoinette had left it. She regarded the black nylon for a long moment before she pushed aside the clothes and reached for it.
She carried the case into the cramped bedroom. It was dark, except for the soft, steady glow of the computer screen. Toni put the case down on the bed and unzipped it.
Inside was a bass guitar.
Toni stared at and rolled her fingers across the bedspread. She stole a quick glance at the PET next to the computer; still in hibernation. She would be alone for a little while longer.
She dragged a miniature amplifier out from under the bed, plugged the bass in, and switched the amp on. The electrical hum hit her like a sonic boom after so long. After one more second of hesitation, Toni sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled the bass into her lap. She didn't feel like herself anymore. Another person woke up inside her, a person she hadn't paid attention to for many months now.
This other person flicked at the bottom-most string. The amplifier grumbled. The other person's fingers tumbled along the fretboard, slapping out a song that Toni didn't know from a band that Toni had never been in.
She knew this other person's name. Mac—
Beatnik's yowl almost made Toni drop the bass. The memory of a whole lot of money leaving her hands in order to put the instrument into them welled up inside her, and she lunged to catch the guitar before it hit the floor.
"What the hell do you want?" Toni snapped back. The iron jaws in her chest slammed down and locked the other person away again. She'd slipped for a moment there. That was bad.
"Can't friggin' believe you've got that thing. That's even still in the 'ouse?"
Toni's mouth locked into a line. She shoved the guitar back into its case, dove across the bed, and hit the STANDBY button on the PET.
All that was left was her, the bass, the amp, and the quiet glare of the computer screen. The moment was gone, though. Toni rolled over onto her back and laid one arm over her face. The sleeve had bunched itself back, and she could see the tattoos peeking out from underneath it. She jerked the cuff back down to cover them, but the ones on her hand still taunted her. She swore and flipped over onto her stomach.
Well, she was going to have to do something to get her mind off this. The easiest way to distract herself — and Beatnik — was to get out onto the Net.
Macken----Antoinette slid off the bed and settled into the chair in front of the computer.