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Фантастика. Фэнтези
   Зарубежная фантастика
      William Gibson. Neuromancer -
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l house. His offices were located in a warehouse behind Ninsei, part of which seemed to have been sparsely decorated, years before, with a random collection of European furniture, as though Deane had once intended to use the place as his home. Neo-Aztec bookcases gathered dust against one wall of the room where Case waited. A pair of bulbous Disney-styled table lamps perched awkwardly on a low Kandinsky-look coffee table in scarlet-lacquered steel. A Dali clock hung on the wall between the bookcases, its distorted face sagging to the bare concrete floor. Its hands were holograms that altered to match the convolutions of the face as they rotated, but it never told the correct time. The room was stacked with white fiberglass shipping modules that gave off the tang of preserved ginger. "You seem to be clean, old son," said Deane's disembodied voice. "Do come in." Magnetic bolts thudded out of position around the massive imitation-rosewood door to the left of the bookcases. JULIUS DEANE IMPOъT EXPOъT was lettered across the plastic in peeling self-adhesive capitals. If the furniture scattered in Deane's makeshift foyer suggested the end of the past century, the office itself seemed to belong to its start. Deane's seamless pink face regarded Case from a pool of light cast by an ancient brass lamp with a rectangular shade of dark green glass. The importer was securely fenced behind a vast desk of painted steel, flanked on either side by tall, drawer Ed cabinets made of some sort of pale wood. The sort of thing, Case supposed, that had once been used to store written records of some kind. The desktop was littered with cassettes, scrolls of yellowed printout, and various parts of some sort of clockwork typewriter, a machine Deane never seemed to get around to reassembling. "What brings you around, boy?" Deane asked, offering Case a narrow bonbon wrapped in blue-and-white checked paper. "Try one. Tins Ting Djahe, the very best." Case refused the ginger, took a seat in a yawing wooden swivel chair, and ran a thumb down the faded seam of one black jeans-leg. "Julie I hear Wage wants to kill me." "Ah. Well then. And where did you hear this, if I may?" "People." "People," Deane said, around a ginger bonbon. "What sort of people? Friends?" Case nodded. "Not always that easy to know who your friends are, is it?" "I do owe him a little money, Deane. He say anything to you?" "Haven't been in touch, of late." Then he sighed. "If I did know, of course, I might not be in a position to tell you. Things being what they are, you understand." "Things?" "He's an important connection Case." "Yeah. He want to kill me, Julie?" "Not that I know of." Deane shrugged. They might have been discussing the price of ginger. "If it proves to be an unfounded rumor, old son, you come back in a week or so and I'll let you in on a little something out of Singapore." "Out of the Nan Hai Hotel, Bencoolen Street?" "Loose lips, old son!" Deane grinned. The steel desk was jammed with a fortune in debugging gear. "Be seeing you, Julie. I'll say hello to Wage." Deane's fingers came up to brush the perfect knot in his pale silk tie. He was less than a block from Deane's office when it hit, the sudden cellular awareness that someone was on his ass, and very close. The cultivation of a certain tame paranoia was something Case took for granted. The trick lay in not letting it get out of control. But that could be quite a trick, behind a stack of octagons. He fought the adrenaline surge and composed his narrow features in a mask of bored vacancy, pretending to let the crowd carry him along. When he saw a darkened display window, he managed to pause by it. The place was a surgical boutique, closed for renovations. With his hands in the pockets of his jacket, he stared through the glass at a flat lozenge of vat grown flesh that lay on a carved pedestal of imitation jade. The color of its skin reminded him of Zone's whores; it was tattooed with a luminous digital display wired to a sub-cutaneous chip. Why bother with the surgery, he found himself thinking, while sweat coursed down his ribs, when you could just carry the thing around in your pocket? Without moving his head, he raised his eyes and studied the reflection of the passing crowd. There. Behind sailors in short-sleeved khaki. Dark hair, mirrored glasses, dark clothing, slender. . . And gone. Then Case was running, bent low, dodging between bodies. "ъent me a gun, Shin?" The boy smiled. "Two hour." They stood together in the smell of fresh raw seafood at the rear of a Shiga sushi stall. "You come back, two hour." "I need one now, man. Got anything right now?" Shin rummaged behind empty two-liter cans that had once been filled with powdered horseradish. He produced a slender package wrapped in gray plastic. "Taser. One hour, twenty New Yen. Thirty deposit." "Shit. I don't need that. I need a gun. Like I maybe wanna shoot somebody, understand?" The waiter shrugged, replacing the taser behind the horseradish cans. "Two hour." He went into the shop without bothering to glance at the display of shuriken. He'd never thrown one in his life. He bought two packs of Yeheyuans with a Mitsubishi Bank chip that gave his name as Charles Derek May. It beat Truman Starr, the best he'd been able to do for a passport. The Japanese woman behind the terminal looked like she had a few years on old Deane, none of them with the benefit of science. He took his slender roll of New Yen out of his pocket and showed it to her. "I want to buy a weapon." She gestured in the direction of a case filled with knives. "No," he said, "I don't like knives." She brought an oblong box from beneath the counter. The lid was yellow cardboard, stamped with a crude image of a coiled cobra with a swollen hood. Inside were eight identical tissue-wrapped cylinders. He watched while mottled brown fingers stripped the paper from one. She held the thing up for him to examine, a dull steel tube with a leather thong at one end and a small bronze pyramid at the other. She gripped the tube with one hand, the pyramid between her other thumb and forefinger, and pulled. Three oiled, telescoping segments of tightly wound coil spring slid out and locked. "Cobra," she said. Beyond the neon shudder of Ninsei, the sky was that mean shade of gray. The air had gotten worse; it seemed to have teeth tonight, and half the crowd wore filtration masks. Case had spent ten minutes in a urinal, trying to discover a convenient way to conceal his cobra; finally he'd settled for tucking the handle into the waistband of his jeans, with the tube slanting across his stomach. The pyramidal striking tip rode between his ribcage and the lining of his windbreaker. The thing felt like it might clatter to the pavement with his next step, but it made him feel better. The Chat wasn't really a dealing bar, but on weeknights it attracted a related clientele. Fridays and Saturdays were different. The regulars were still there, most of them, but they faded behind an influx of sailors and the specialists who preyed on diem. As Case pushed through the doors, he looked for ъatz, but the bartender wasn't in sight. Lonny Zone, the bar's resident pimp, was observing with glazed fatherly interest as one of his girls went to work on a young sailor. Zone was addicted to a brand of hypnotic the Japanese called Cloud Dancers. Catching the pimp's eye, Case beckoned him to the bar. Zone came drifting through the crowd in slow motion, his long face slack and placid. "You seen Wage tonight, Lonny?" Zone regarded him with his usual calm. He shook his head. "You sure, man?" "Maybe in the Namban. Maybe two hours ago." "Got some Joeboys with him? One of 'em thin, dark hair, maybe a black jacket?" "No," Zone said at last, his smooth forehead creased to indicate the effort it cost him to recall so much pointless detail. "Big boys. Graftees." Zone's eyes showed very little white and less iris; under the drooping lids, his pupils were dilated and enormous. He stared into Case's face for a long time, then lowered his gaze. He saw the bulge of the steel whip. "Cobra," he said, and raised an eyebrow. "You wanna fuck somebody up?" "See you, Lonny." Case left the bar. His tail was back. He was sure of it. He felt a stab of elation the octagons and adrenaline mingling with something else. You're enjoying this, he thought; you're crazy. Because, in some weird and very approximate way, it was like a run in the matrix. Get just wasted enough, find yourself in some desperate but strangely arbitrary kind of trouble, and it was possible to see Ninsei as a field of data, the way the matrix had once reminded him of proteins linking to distinguish cell specialties. Then you could throw yourself into a high-speed drift and skid, totally engaged but set apart from it all, and all around you the dance of biz, information interacting, data made flesh in the mazes of the black market.... Go it, Case, he told himself. Suck 'em in. Last thing they'll expect. He was half a block from the games arcade where he'd first met Linda Lee. He bolted across Ninsei, scattering a pack of strolling sailors. One of them screamed after him in Spanish. Then he was through the entrance, the sound crashing over him like surf, subsonics throbbing in the pit of his stomach. Someone scored a ten-megaton hit on Tank War Europa, a simulated air burst drowning the arcade in white sound as a lurid hologram fireball mushroomed overhead. He cut to the right and loped up a flight of unpainted chip board stairs. He'd come here once with Wage, to discuss a deal in proscribed hormonal triggers with a man called Matsuga. He remembered the hallway, its stained matting, the row of identical doors leading to tiny office cubicles. One door was open now. A Japanese girl in a sleeveless black t-shirt glanced up from a white terminal, behind her head a travel poster of Greece, Aegian blue splashed with streamlined ideograms. "Get your security up here," Case told her. Then he sprinted down the corridor, out of her sight. The last two doors were closed and, he assumed, locked. He spun and slammed the sole of his nylon running shoe into the blue-lacquered composition door at the far end. It popped, cheap hardware falling from the splintered frame. Darkness there, the white curve of a terminal housing. Then he was on the door to its right, both hands around the transparent plastic knob, leaning in with everything he had. Something snapped, and he was inside. This was where he and Wage had met with Matsuga, but whatever front company Matsuga had operated was long gone. No terminal, nothing. Light from the alley behind the arcade, filtering in through soot blown plastic. He made out a snake like loop of fiber optics protruding from a wall socket, a pile of discarded food containers, and the blade less nacelle of an electric fan. The window was a single pane of cheap plastic. He shrugged out of his jacket, bundled it around his right hand, and punched. It split, requiring two more blows to free it from the frame. Over the muted chaos of the games, an alarm began to cycle, triggered either by the broken window or by the girl at the head of the corridor. Case turned, pulled his jacket on, and flicked the cobra to full extension. With the door closed, he was counting on his tail to assume he'd gone through the one he'd kicked half off its hinges. The cobra's bronze pyramid began to bob gently, the spring-steel shaft amplifying his pulse. Nothing happened. There was only the surging of the alarm, the crashing of the games, his heart hammering. When the fear came, it was like some half-forgotten friend. Not the cold rapid mechanism of the dex-paranoia, but simple animal fear. He'd lived for so long on a constant edge of anxiety that he'd almost forgotten what real fear was. This cubicle was the sort of place where people died. He might die here. They might have guns.... A crash, from the far end of the corridor. A man's voice, shouting something in Japanese. A scream, shrill terror. Another crash. And footsteps, unhurried, coming closer. Passing his closed door. Pausing for the space of three rapid beats of his heart. And returning. One, two, three. A bootheel scraped the matting. The last of his octagon-induced bravado collapsed. He snapped the cobra into its handle and scrambled for the window, blind with fear, his nerves screaming. He was up, out, and falling, all before he was conscious of what he'd done. The impact with pavement drove dull rods of pain through his shins. A narrow wedge of light from a half-open service hatch framed a heap of discarded fiber optics and the chassis of a junked console. He'd fallen face forward on a slab of soggy chip board, he rolled over, into the shadow of the console. The cubicle's window was a square of faint light. The alarm still oscillated, louder here, the rear wall dulling the roar of the games. A head appeared, framed in the window, back lit by the fluorescents in the corridor, then vanished. It returned, but he still couldn't read the features. Glint of silver across the eyes. "Shit," someone said, a woman, in the accent of the northern Sprawl. The head was gone. Case lay under the console for a long count of twenty, then stood up. The steel cobra was still in his hand, and it took him a few seconds to remember what it was. He limped away down the alley, nursing his left ankle. Shin's pistol was a fifty-year-old Vietnamese imitation of a South American copy of a Walther PPK, double-action on the first shot, with a very rough pull. It was chambered for .22 long rifle, and Case would've preferred lead azide explosives to the simple Chinese hollow points Shin had sold him. Still it was a handgun and nine rounds of ammunition, and as he made his way down Shiga from the sushi stall he cradled it in his jacket pocket. The grips were bright red plastic molded in a raised dragon motif, something to run your thumb across in the dark. He'd consigned the cobra to a dump canister on Ninsei and dry-swallowed another octagon. The pill lit his circuits and he rode the rush down Shiga to Ninsei, then over to Baiitsu. His tail, he'd decided, was gone and that was fine. He had calls to make, biz to transact, and it wouldn't wait. A block down Baiitsu, toward the port, stood a featureless ten-story office building in ugly yellow brick. Its windows were dark now, but a faint glow from the roof was visible if you craned your neck. An unlit neon sign near the main entrance offered CHEAP HOTEL under a cluster of ideograms. If the place had another name, Case didn't know it; it was always referred to as Cheap Hotel. You reached it through an alley off Baiitsu, where an elevator waited at the foot of a transparent shaft. The elevator, like Cheap Hotel, was an afterthought, lashed to the building with bamboo and epoxy. Case climbed into the plastic cage and used his key, an unmarked length of rigid magnetic tape. Case had rented a coffin here, on a weekly basis, since he'd arrived in Chiba, but he'd never slept in Cheap Hotel. He slept in cheaper places. The elevator smelled of perfume and cigarettes; the sides of the cage was scratched and thumb-smudged. As it passed the fifth floor, he saw the lights of Ninsei. He drummed his fingers against the pistol grip as the cage slowed with a gradual hiss. As always, it came to a full stop with a violent jolt, but he was ready for it. He stepped out into the courtyard that served the place as some combination of lobby and lawn. Centered in the square carpet of green plastic turf, a lapanese teenager sat behind a C-shaped console, reading a textbook. The white fiberglass coffins were racked in a framework of industrial scaffolding. Six tiers of coffins, ten coffins on a side. Case nodded in the boy's direction and limped across the plastic grass to the nearest ladder. The compound was roofed with cheap laminated matting that rattled in a strong wind and leaked when it rained, but the coffins were reasonably difficult to open without a key. The expansion-grate catwalk vibrated with his weight as he edged his way along the third tier to Number 92. The coffins were three meters long, the oval hatches a meter wide and just under a meter and a half tall. He fed his key into the slot and waited for verification from the house computer. Magnetic bolts thudded reassuringly and the hatch rose vertically with a creak of springs. Fluorescents flickered on as he crawled in, pulling the hatch shut behind him and slapping the panel that activated the manual latch. There was nothing in Number 92 but a standard Hitachi pocket computer and a small white styrofoam cooler chest. The cooler contained the remains of three ten-kilo slabs of dry ice carefully wrapped in paper to delay evaporation, and a spun aluminum lab flask. Crouching on the brown temper foam slab that was both floor and bed, Case took Shin's .22 from his pocket and put it on top of the cooler. Then he took off his jacket. The coffin's terminal was molded into one concave wall, opposite a panel listing house rules in seven languages. Case took the pink handset from its cradle and punched a Hong-Kong number from memory. He let it ring five times, then hung up. His buyer for the three megabytes of hot ъAM in the Hitachi wasn't taking calls. He punched a Tokyo number in Shinjuku. A woman answered, something in Japanese. "Snake Man there?" "Very good to hear from you," said Snake Man, coming in on an extension. "I've been expecting your call." "I got the music you wanted." Glancing at the cooler. "I'm very glad to hear that. We have a cash flow problem. Can you front?" "Oh, man, I really need the money bad...." Snake Man hung up. "You shit " Case said to the humming receiver. He stared at the cheap little pistol. "Iffy," he said, "it's all looking very iffy tonight." Case walked into the Chat an hour before dawn, both hands in the pockets of his jacket; one held the rented pistol, the other the aluminum flask. ъatz was at a rear table, drinking Apollonaris water from a beer pitcher, his hundred and twenty kilos of doughy flesh tilted against the wall on a creaking chair. A Brazilian kid called Kurt was on the bar, tending a thin crowd of mostly silent drunks. ъatz's plastic arm buzzed as he raised the pitcher and drank. His shaven head was filmed with sweat. "You look bad, friend artiste," he said, flashing the wet ruin of his teeth. "I'm doing just fine," said Case, and grinned like a skull. "Super fine." He sagged into the chair opposite ъatz, hands still in his pockets. "And you wander back and forth in this portable bombshelter built of booze and ups, sure. Proof against the grosser emotions, yes?" "Why don't you get off my case, ъatz? You seen Wage?" "Proof against fear and being alone," the bartender continued. "Listen to the fear. Maybe it's your friend." "You hear anything about a fight in the arcade tonight, ъatz? Somebody hurt?" "Crazy cut a security man." He shrugged. "A girl, they say." "I gotta talk to Wage, ъatz, I. . ." "Ah." ъatz's mouth narrowed, compressed into a single line. He was looking past Case, toward the entrance. "I think you are about to." Case had a sudden flash of the shuriken in their window. The speed sang in his head. The pistol in his hand was slippery with sweat. "Herr Wage," ъatz said, slowly extending his pink manipulator as if he expected it to be shaken. "How great a pleasure. Too seldom do you honor us." Case turned his head and looked up into Wage's face. It was a tanned and forgettable mask. The eyes were vat grown sea-green Nikon transplants. Wage wore a suit of gunme

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