Case meets Molly as she emerges from a back alley hospital in Baltimore. He delivers Yonderboy’s message, which he’s written on a napkin: “W I N T E R M U T E.” Molly takes Case back to New York to meet in the Finn’s secure room on the East Side. She gives Finn the napkin and explains that she did a deal on the side with Larry to find out who owns Armitage.
Whether he wants it or not, Case is on a team with Molly now, a separate secret alliance within Armitage’s assembled troops. Molly doesn’t fully trust Armitage, and so has been working to discover what he is driven by and who he is working for.
The Finn tells Molly Wintermute is an artificial intelligence. Based in Berne, it has Swiss citizenship. Wintermute is running Armitage, but, because AIs aren’t allowed autonomy, both Molly and Finn assume it’s Wintermute’s owners, Tessier-Ashpool S.A., who owns the mainframe and software, who are pulling Armitage’s strings.
Both Molly and the Finn assume that Wintermute, as an artificial intelligence, is not capable of actually controlling Armitage, and is instead a puppet controlled by the corporation that owns it. This is a huge underestimation of Wintermute’s power.
The Finn tells Molly and Case a story about the Tessier-Ashpool family. Finn’s colleague, Smith, a fence who came to the Finn asking for information about the Tessier-Ashpool clan, had a supplier named Jimmy who had stolen a computerized bust from someone living in an orbital colony. The bust spoke using miniature organ pipes in its throat; despite being beautiful and elaborate, it was contemporary and thus not inherently valuable.
Advancing technology has confused the idea of what is valuable and what is not. Although this bust is an example of incredible craftsmanship, it only says what it is told to say, and has no artificial intelligence. In a world where any computer can be given a voice, it is almost worthless.
Smith researched the bust and discovered the Tessier-Ashpool family had commissioned it. He began to make passes at a Tokyo collector with an interest in “clockwork automata.” However, before he was able to sell the piece, a man named Hideo appeared in his office, looking for the bust. Smith recognized Hideo is a “vatgrown ninja assassin” and returned the head. Hideo paid Smith what Smith would have asked to collector for, took the head, and left. Days later, Smith learned Jimmy was killed.
Although Smith knows he could probably get some money for the head, it is clear to him, just by looking at Hideo, that he is not a man to be messed with. This instant judgment is proven right when Hideo (most likely) murders his friend, the thief Jimmy. Hideo’s only motivation is carrying out the family’s orders.
After this, Smith came to the Finn. The Finn discovered Tessier-Ashpool S.A. was technically a law firm, which owned all of Freeside—an enormous settlement in orbit around earth. Although it’s a corporation, it’s also a family organization, and no one can buy in. Additionally, the family seems to be made up of clones that rotate in and out of commission. Molly gives Case a paper with coordinates and entry codes for a database of Armitage’s. She asks him to crack it.
As both a corporation and a family, Tessier-Ashpool has even more motivation to protect itself and its own interests. This doesn’t clarify why their Artificial Intelligence is working with Armitage, however. Molly hopes that by looking at Armitage’s database, Case will get more information about his personal motives and background. Case cannot say no.
Case returns to the loft, passing a holographic advertisement for Freeside, with a T-A logo in the bottom corner. As he walks, he considers Dixie, remembering how they met in a bar when he was nineteen, when Dixie had chosen Case to be his assistant that summer. It’s hard to imagine him as a construct now, dead, but replicated in ROM.
Case begins to realize how influential the Tessier-Ashpool family really is. As he mentally prepares to meet Dixie, Case considers the strangeness of a construct of his dead former friend. He doesn’t quite know if Dixie will be human or not.
Back in the loft, Case turns on the Hosaka and connects the construct. Dixie exists as a mental presence “exactly the sensation of someone reading over your shoulder.” Case calls out to Dixie, introducing himself. Dixie answers. Case wonders what Dixie remembers. He says “nothin’.” Case disconnects the construct and reconnects it. Dixie doesn’t remember their previous conversation. He explains to Dixie that he’s a ROM construct, dead but preserved. Case asks for Dixie’s help accessing Armitage’s data. Dixie jokes that he has no choice.
Dixie sounds like himself, and retains the human’s memories, but the limitations of his software remind Case that he isn’t quite real. Just as Molly forced Case to collaborate with her, Case forces Dixie to collaborate with him. The difference, of course, is that Dixie is essentially a piece of software over which Case has complete control.