Case, Riviera, Molly, and Armitage fly into space. Riviera creates illusions as they fly—including a giant sperm in Case’s drink, and a black rose. Molly slaps him and tells him to stop playing games.
Sometimes Riviera’s illusions are funny and harmless, revealing his sense of humor. Still, Molly dislikes him and doesn’t enjoy his games.
Case has never been to space before, and briefly experiences space adaptation syndrome (a sped-up heartbeat and a rush of adrenaline) before managing to fall asleep. Case assumes their next transfer is Freeside, but their first stop is the Zion cluster. Zion was founded by workers who decided to create their own colony instead of working on the “gravity well” connecting Freeside to earth. They suffered accelerated aging working in zero gravity, but managed to establish rotation gravity, around which the colony was built.
Zion is an example of a community-first mindset, a colony created by men who sacrificed their own health and bodies in order to create a home for others. Freeside, which Case will soon visit, is a hierarchical capitalist playground, whereas Zion is much more democratic, and the residents live in comparative peaceful harmony.
Case arrives in Zion and struggles with SAS as Molly and a Zionate, Aerol, set up a temporary home and workstation inside a long hallway. Although Case is still nauseated, Molly forces him to help her set up cables and sheets to turn the hallway into rooms, and gives Case a place to plug in his Hosaka. In the background, dub pulses quietly. Molly describes the music as “worship,” and “a sense of community.”
Armitage and his crew stay in Zion for eighty hours, enough time for Case and Molly to acclimate to zero gravity, and for him to brief them on Freeside and the Villa Straylight. Case practices jacking into his deck in zero gravity. He notes “cyberspace, as the deck presented it, had no particular relationship with the deck’s physical whereabouts.” Being in space doesn’t change his experience.
Although technology is often described as almost a physical landscape, it has no relationship to the psychical world. Jacking into cyberspace in outer space reminds the reader of the constructed nature of the matrix.
Case greets Dixie and asks him how he’s doing. Dixie responds that he’s dead, and that nothing bothers him, which in turn bothers him. He tells a story about a friend who had his thumb amputated, but still felt it itch in the middle of the night. He asks Case to erase him when the mission is over.
Dixie is half alive, but retains a full personality and a full set of memories. Not a ghost but not a man, he feels a metaphorical itching in the body he has since lost. Even if he can’t feel pain or shed real tears, he knows he doesn’t want to be stuck in this half-life forever.
The Zionites confuse Case. Aerol tells him a story about “the baby who had burst from his forehead and scampered into a forest of hydroponic ganja.” Molly explains it’s the drugs Aerol has consumed and, although he’s hallucinating, Zionites “don’t make much of a difference between states,” and so hallucinations are real because “it happened to him.” Case offers Aerol a chance to jack into cyberspace, but Aerol dislikes it. To him, it looks like “Babylon.”
Ironically, although Case does drugs and uses technology that presents to him the illusion of a world that doesn’t actually exist, he has difficulty grasping the similar experiences of Zionites, who are often high on marijuana. Molly, however, does understand, that if an experience feels real to someone, it is respectful to treat it as such.
Case watches Riviera inject himself with an intravenous drug. Riviera performs a kind of show as he does—the needle appears as a scorpion, and the tourniquet around his arm appears as a snake. Case tells Riviera it “must be nice” to get high, explaining he “hadda give it up” himself.
Case, although unable to easily get high, nonetheless remains addicted, and misses his drugs of choice. Riviera once again displays his strange sensibilities, turning his injection into a small performance.
Armitage briefs Case, Molly, and Riviera on Freeside. Freeside is the shape of a “cigar,” most of the infrastructure is in the middle, as gravity lowers towards the edges. At one end of Freeside is the Villa Straylight. Riviera’s job is to get himself invited in.
Riviera was hired because his strange, perverse sensibilities are a perfect match for the residents of Straylight. The exact qualities that make Molly hate him will hopefully make the Tessier-Ashpools love him.
As Case and Molly sleep the next night, a Zionite named Maelcum wakes them, and invites them to meet with the Founders of Zion. Maelcum calls Molly Steppin’ Razor, from Zionite mythology about a woman who brings “a scourge on Babylon […] on its darkest heart.”
The Zionites like Molly because she represents a woman from their mythology, who brings down Babylon, or Western civilization. In contrast to the slur “razorgirl,” which equates modified women with their modifications, “Steppin’ Razor” is a term of endearment.
Only two of the Founders of Zion still survive, and they are old and frail now. They tell Case and Molly that they monitor many frequencies, and they heard the voice of Wintermute (whom they call “The Mute”) who instructed them to help Molly and Case, who might “serve as a tool of Final Days.” The have decided to send Maelcum as a pilot to transport Case and Molly to Freeside, but will also send Aerol to watch over them. Case wonders if they work for Armitage, but they cryptically explain they have “no regard for Babylon’s law,” only the law of “Jah,” although they may be mistaken.
Wintermute appears in different ways to different people, depending on how he thinks he can get their support and attention. This is another indication that Wintermute is more intelligent and complicated than Molly and Case originally suspected. The Founders dislike Babylon (mainstream society) and think Molly (Steppin Razor) and Wintermute together might bring about its downfall. Because of this, they are happy to offer help.