Case takes a train to the dock where Aerol takes Case to the Garvey. Unfortunately, the Garvey cannot move on its own because Armitage’s ship has anchored itself to it. Maelcum greets Case as he enters the ship, and announces the ghost is asking for him. Case jacks in. Dixie tells him the Hosaka has been plugged into Armitage’s boat as well. He also tells Case that Armitage wants him to start the mission. Dixie transports Case to the Tessier-Ashpool core data center. Their ice as the thickest Case has ever seen. He considers backing out of the whole deal, taking Dixie with him, but Dixie encourages him to try the Chinese virus.
Case mostly understands the mechanics behind Dixie’s second life as a construct, but Maelcum, based on his life and experience, sees Dixie as a ghost. Case is concerned enough about the mission to consider backing out of the deal, even if it would compromise his ability to jack into the matrix (as he still has the toxin sacs). Although Dixie isn’t quite real, Case still thinks of him as a friend, and so would save him too.
Case jacks out for a moment, telling Maelcum he’s starting his mission, and to grab his arm if he needs anything. Case plugs in the virus and jacks back in, watching it unfold around him. He then activates Molly’s simstim. She’s in Straylight, in free falling through some central tunnel.
Dixie’s encouragement motivates Case to stick with his mission. Notably, it is not his rage, nor one of Wintermute’s manipulations, simply Case’s own curiosity and love of his work.
Back in the matrix, Dixie explains the virus to Case. It’s a slow virus, so slow the ice won’t even notice it. Dixie laughs in delight as he explains, and Case asks him not to laugh—it disturbs him—but Dixie argues that “ol’ dead man needs his laugh.”
Case sees Dixie as human much of the time, and it is only his voice (such as when Case is jacked out and Dixie speaks through the computer’s voice chip) and his laugh that remind Case that Dixie is a construct.
Case switches to Molly’s simstim but finds himself crashing through the Finn’s metal table. The Finn greets him, and Case recognizes Wintermute. Case complains that he doesn’t love Wintermute appearing as people he knows, but the Finn/Wintermute wonders if Case would prefer Wintermute “come to you in the matrix like a burning bush?”
Instead of connecting to Molly’s simstim, Wintermute has hijacked the feed in order to have a conversation with Case. When Case expresses frustration with this form of communication, Wintermute jokes it could come like a burning bush—like God appeared to Moses in the Old Testament.
The Finn/Wintermute explains he’s trying to help Case, and that he needs Case and Case needs him. Case wonders how Wintermute is so sure, and if he can read Case’s mind, but Finn/Wintermute explains he can only access Case’s memory, not his mind. Finn/Wintermute holds up the charred wasp’s nest from Case’s dream. He tells Case he made him have this dream. He explains the wasp nest is like the Tessier-Ashpool family. He hopes this will make Case “feel better,” and turn his hatred on to the family instead of onto Wintermute.
Wintermute often appears to be almost omniscient, but reveals here that, just like it relies on personality profiles to predict human’s behavior, it also must rely on memories in order to predict their thoughts. Still, memories and profiles give it a lot of information, and so it has used the wasp’s nest from Case’s memory to try and manipulate him into feeling a motivating, driving rage that will help him complete the mission.
The Finn/Wintermute takes Case through a reconstruction of the Villa Straylight. He leads him to a “perfectly square room,” in the center of which sits the automaton head from the Finn’s story. It recites the history of the Villa Straylight, built by and for the Tessier-Ashpool family. The Finn/Wintermute explains that the head is a “ceremonial terminal,” and that Molly needs to speak the “right word at the right time,” when the virus has made it deep into the system. The virus is necessary, but without the magic word, the mission will not be completed. Wintermute doesn’t know the word, and can never know the word. After it’s spoken, he will cease to exist.
As with many of the heists and missions in the novel, completion requires both a digital and an analogue component. Speaking the magic world alone is not enough, but neither is the virus. Even as technology progresses, the physical body is required to complete certain tasks. Likely this analogue component was also put in place to shackle Wintermute, who has complete control over cyberspace, but limited control in the real world.
Before releasing his hold on Case, the Finn/Wintermute tells him to watch out for his “other lobe,” warning “one burning bush looks pretty much like another.” He also tells him Armitage is beginning to crack.
This is the point in the novel where confusion about identities becomes a major plot point. Wintermute’s sibling can appear and look just like Wintermute, and Corto shares Armitage’s body, but has a different mind.