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Фантастика. Фэнтези
   Зарубежная фантастика
      William Gibson. Neuromancer -
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the dead computer. "Good guess," he said to Maelcum. "Bridge locked, mon," Maelcum said, from the opposite side of the lounge. The lights dimmed, surged, dimmed again. Case ripped the printout from its slot. More zeros. "Win- termute?" He looked around the beige and brown lounge, the space scrawled with drifting curves of paper. "That you on the lights, Wintermute?" A panel beside Maelcum's head slid up, revealing a small monitor. Maelcum jerked apprehensively, wiped sweat from his forehead with a foam patch on the back of a gloved hand, and swung to study the display. "You read Japanese, mon?" Case could see figures blinking past on the screen. "No," Case said. "Bridge is escape pod, lifeboat. Countin' down, looks like it. Suit up now." He ringed his helmet and slapped at the seals. "What? He's takin' off? Shit!" He kicked off from the bulkhead and shot through the tangle of printout. "We gotta open this door, man!" But Maelcum could only tap the side of his helmet. Case could see his lips moving, through the Lexan. He saw a bead of sweat arc out from the rainbow braided band of the purple cotton net the Zionite wore over his locks. Mael- cum snatched the helmet from Case and ringed it for him smoothly, the palms of his gloves smacking the seals. Micro- LED monitors to the left of the faceplate lit as the neck ring connections closed. "No seh Japanese," Maelcum said, over his suit's transceiver, "but countdown's wrong." He tapped a particular line on the screen. "Seals not intact, bridge module. Launchin' wi' lock open." "Armitage!" Case tried to pound on the door. The physics of zero-g sent him tumbling back through the printout. "Corto! Don't do it! We gotta talk! We gotta--" "Case? ъead you, Case..." The voice barely resembled Armitage's now. It held a weird calm. Case stopped kicking. His helmet struck the far wall. "I'm sorry, Case, but it has to be this way. One of us has to get out. One of us has to testify. If we all go down here, it ends here. I'll tell them, Case, I'll tell them all of it. About Girling and the others. And I'll make it, Case. I know I'll make it. To Helsinki." There was a sudden silence; Case felt it fill his helmet like some rare gas. "But it's so hard, Case, so goddam hard. I'm blind." "Corto, stop. Wait. You're blind, man. You can't fly! You'll hit the fucking trees. And they're trying to get you, Corto, I swear to God, they've left your hatch open. You'll die, and you'll never get to tell 'em, and I gotta get the enzyme, name of the enzyme, the enzyme, man...." He was shouting, voice high with hysteria. Feedback shrilled out of the helmet's phone pads. "ъemember the training, Case. That's all we can do." And then the helmet filled with a confused babble, roaring static, harmonics howling down the years from Screaming Fist. Fragments of ъussian, and then a stranger's voice, Midwestern, very young. "We are down, repeat, Omaha Thunder is down, we . . ." "Wintermute," Case screamed, "don't do this to me!" Tears broke from his lashes, rebounding off the faceplate in wobbling crystal droplets. Then Haniwa thudded, once, shivered as if some huge soft thing had struck her hull. Case imagined the lifeboat jolting free,, blown clear by explosive bolts, a second's clawing hurricane of escaping air tearing mad Colonel Corto from his couch, from Wintermute's rendition of the final minute of Screaming Fist. "'Im gone, mon." Maelcum looked at the monitor. "Hatch open. Mute mus' override ejection failsafe." Case tried to wipe the tears of rage from his eyes. His fingers clacked against Lexan. "Yacht, she tight for air, but bossman takin' grapple control wi' bridge. Marcus Garvey still stuck." But Case was seeing Armitage's endless fall around Free- side, through vacuum colder than the steppes. For some reason, he imagined him in his dark Burberry, the trenchcoat's rich folds spread out around him like the wings of some huge bat. 17 "Get what you went for?" the construct asked. Kuang Grade Mark Eleven was filling the grid between itself and the T-A ice with hypnotically intricate traceries of rainbow, lattices fine as snow crystal on a winter window. "Wintermute killed Armitage. Blew him out in a lifeboat with a hatch open." "Tough shit," the Flatline said. "Weren't exactly asshole buddies, were you?" "He knew how to unbond the toxin sacs." "So Wintermute knows too. Count on it." "I don't exactly trust Wintermute to give it to me." The construct's hideous approximation of laughter scraped Case's nerves like a dull blade. "Maybe that means you're gettin' smart." He hit the simstim switch. 06:27:52 by the chip in her optic nerve; Case had been following her progress through Villa Straylight for over an hour, letting the endorphin analog she'd taken blot out his hangover. The pain in her leg was gone; she seemed to move through a warm bath. The Braun drone was perched on her shoulder, its tiny manipulators, like padded surgical clips, se- cure in the polycarbon of the Modern suit. The walls here were raw steel, striped with rough brown ribbons of epoxy where some kind of covering had been ripped away. She'd hidden from a work crew, crouching, the fletcher cradled in her hands, her suit steel-gray, while the two slender Africans and their balloon-tired workcart passed. The men had shaven heads and wore orange coveralls. One was singing softly to himself in a language Case had never heard, the tones and melody alien and haunting. The head's speech, 3Jane's essay on Straylight, came back to him as she worked her way deeper into the maze of the place. Straylight was crazy, was craziness grown in the resin concrete they'd mixed from pulverized lunar stone, grown in welded steel and tons of knick-knacks, all the bizarre impe- dimentia they'd shipped up the well to line their winding nest. But it wasn't a craziness he understood. Not like Armitage's madness, which he now imagined he could understand; twist a man far enough, then twist him as far back, in the opposite direction, reverse and twist again. The man broke. Like break- ing a length of wire. And history had done that for Colonel Corto. History had already done the really messy work, when Wintermute found him, sifting him out of all of the war's ripe detritus, gliding into the man's flat gray field of consciousness like a water spider crossing the face of some stagnant pool, the first messages blinking across the face of a child's micro in a darkened room in a French asylum. Wintermute had built Armitage up from scratch, with Corto's memories of Screaming Fist as the foundation. But Armitage's "memories" wouldn't have been Corto's after a certain point. Case doubted if Ar- mitage had recalled the betrayal, the Nightwings whirling down in flame.... Armitage had been a sort of edited version of Corto, and when the stress of the run had reached a certain point, the Armitage mechanism had crumbled; Corto had sur- faced, with his guilt and his sick fury. And now Corto-Armitage was dead, a small frozen moon for Freeside. He thought of the toxin sacs. Old Ashpool was dead too, drilled through the eye with Molly's microscopic dart, deprived of whatever expert overdose he'd mixed for himself. That was a more puzzling death, Ashpool's, the death of a mad king. And he'd killed the puppet he'd called his daughter, the one with 3Jane's face. It seemed to Case, as he rode Molly's broad- cast sensory input through the corridors of Straylight, that he'd never really thought of anyone like Ashpool, anyone as pow- erful as he imagined Ashpool had been, as human. Power, in Case's world, meant corporate power. The zai- batsus, the multinationals that shaped the course of human history, had transcended old barriers. Viewed as organisms, they had attained a kind of immortality. You couldn't kill a zaibatsu by assassinating a dozen key executives; there were others waiting to step up the ladder, assume the vacated po- sition, access the vast banks of corporate memory. But Tessier- Ashpool wasn't like that, and he sensed the difference in the death of its founder. T-A was an atavism, a clan. He remem- bered the litter of the old man's chamber, the soiled humanity of it, the ragged spines of the old audio disks in their paper sleeves. One foot bare, the other in a velvet slipper. The Braun plucked at the hood of the Modern suit and Molly turned left, through another archway. Wintermute and the nest. Phobic vision of the hatching wasps, time-lapse machine gun of biology. But weren't the zaibatsus more like that, or the Yakuza, hives with cybernetic memories, vast single organisms, their DNA coded in silicon? If Straylight was an expression of the corporate identity of Tessier-Ashpool, then T-A was crazy as the old man had been. The same ragged tangle of fears, the same strange sense of aimlessness. "If they'd turned into what they wanted to...." he remembered Molly saying. But Wintermute had told her they hadn't. Case had always taken it for granted that the real bosses, the kingpins in a given industry, would be both more and less than people. He'd seen it in the men who'd crippled him in Memphis, he'd seen Wage affect the semblance of it in Night City, and it had allowed him to accept Armitage's flatness and lack of feeling. He'd always imagined it as a gradual and willing accommodation of the machine, the system, the parent or- ganism. It was the root of street cool, too, the knowing posture that implied connection, invisible lines up to hidden levels of influence. But what was happening now, in the corridors of Villa Straylight? Whole stretches were being stripped back to steel and con- crete. "Wonder where our Peter is now, huh? Maybe see that boy soon," she muttered. "And Armitage. Where's he, Case?" "Dead," he said, knowing she couldn't hear him, "he's dead." He flipped. The Chinese program was face to face with the target ice, rainbow tints gradually dominated by the green of the rectangle representing the T-A cores. Arches of emerald across the col- orless void. "How's it go, Dixie?" "Fine. Too slick. Thing's amazing.... Shoulda had one that time in Singapore. Did the old New Bank of Asia for a good fiftieth of what they were worth. But that's ancient history. This baby takes all the drudgery out of it. Makes you wonder what a real war would be like, now...." "If this kinda shit was on the street, we'd be out a job," Case said. "You wish. Wait'll you're steering that thing upstairs through black ice." "Sure." Something small and decidedly nongeometric had just ap- peared on the far end of one of the emerald arches. "Dixie . . ." "Yeah. I see it. Don't know if I believe it." A brownish dot, a dull gnat against the green wall of the T-A cores. It began to advance, across the bridge built by Kuang Grade Mark Eleven, and Case saw that it was walking. As it came, the green section of the arch extended, the poly- chrome of the virus program rolling back, a few steps ahead of the cracked black shoes. "Gotta hand it to you, boss," the Flatline said, when the short, rumpled figure of the Finn seemed to stand a few meters away. "I never seen anything this funny when I was alive." But the eerie nonlaugh didn't come. "I never tried it before," the Finn said, showing his teeth, his hands bunched in the pockets of his frayed jacket. "You killed Armitage," Case said. "Corto. Yeah. Armitage was already gone. Hadda do it. I know, I know, you wanna get the enzyme. Okay. No sweat. I was the one gave it to Armitage in the first place. I mean I told him what to use. But I think maybe it's better to let the deal stand. You got enough time. I'll give it to you. Only a coupla hours now, right?" Case watched blue smoke billow in cyberspace as the Finn lit up one of his Partagas. "You guys," the Finn said, "you're a pain. The Flatline here, if you were all like him, it would be real simple. He's a construct, just a buncha ъOM, so he always does what I expect him to. My projections said there wasn't much chance of Molly wandering in on Ashpool's big exit scene, give you one ex- ample." He sighed. "Why'd he kill himself?" Case asked. "Why's anybody kill himself?" The figure shrugged. "I guess I know, if anybody does, but it would take me twelve hours to explain the various factors in his history and how they in- terrelate. He was ready to do it for a long time, but he kept going back into the freezer. Christ, he was a tedious old fuck." The Finn's face wrinkled with disgust. "It's all tied in with why he killed his wife, mainly, you want the short reason. But what sent him over the edge for good and all, little 3Jane figured a way to fiddle the program that controlled his cryogenic sys- tem. Subtle, too. So basically, she killed him. Except he figured he'd killed himself, and your friend the avenging angel figures she got him with an eyeball full of shellfish juice." The Finn flicked his butt away into the matrix below. "Well, actually, I guess I did give 3Jane the odd hint, a little of the old how- to, you know?" "Wintermute," Case said, choosing the words carefully, "you told me you were just a part of something else. Later on you said you wouldn't exist, if the run goes off and Molly gets the word into the right slot." The Finn's streamlined skull nodded. "Okay, then who we gonna be dealing with then? If Ar- mitage is dead, and you're gonna be gone, just who exactly is going to tell me how to get these fucking toxin sacs out of my system? Who's going to get Molly back out of there? I mean where, where exactly, are all our asses gonna be, we cut you loose from the hardwiring?" The Finn took a wooden toothpick from his pocket and regarded it critically, like a surgeon examining a scalpel. "Good question," he said, finally. "You know salmon? Kinda fish? These fish, see, they're compelled to swim upstream. Got it?" "No," Case said. "Well, I'm under compulsion myself. And I don't know why. If I were gonna subject you to my very own thoughts, let's call 'em speculations, on the topic, it would take a couple of your lifetimes. Because I've given it a lot of thought. And I just don't know. But when this is over, we do it right, I'm gonna be part of something bigger. Much bigger," The Finn glanced up and around the matrix. "But the parts of me that are me now, that'll still be here. And you'll get your payoff." Case fought back an insane urge to punch himself forward and get his fingers around the figure's throat, just above the ragged knot in the rusty scarf. His thumbs deep in the Finn's larynx. "Well, good luck," the Finn said. He turned, hands in pock- ets and began trudging back up the green arch. "Hey, asshole," the Flatline said, when the Finn had gone a dozen paces. The figure paused, half turned. "What about me? What about my payoff?" "You'll get yours," it said. "What's that mean?" Case asked, as he watched the narrow tweed back recede. "I wanna be erased," the construct said. "I told you that, remember?" Straylight reminded Case of deserted early morning shop- ping centers he'd known as a teenager, low-density places where the small hours brought a fitful stillness, a kind of numb expectancy, a tension that left you watching insects swarm around caged bulbs above the entrance of darkened shops. Fringe places, just past the borders of the Sprawl, too far from the all-night click and shudder of the hot core. There was that same sense of being surrounded by the sleeping inhabitants of a waking world he had no interest in visiting or knowing, of dull business temporarily suspended, of futility and repetition soon to wake again. Molly had slowed now, either knowing that she was nearing her goal or out of concern for her leg. The pain was starting to work its jagged way back through the endorphins, and he wasn't sure what that meant. She didn't speak, kept her teeth clenched, and carefully regulated her breathing. She'd passed many things that Case hadn't understood, but his curiosity was gone. There had been a room filled with shelves of books, a million flat leaves of yellowing paper pressed between bindings of cloth or leather, the shelves marked at intervals by labels that followed a code of letters and numbers; a crowded gallery where Case had stared, through Molly's incurious eyes, at a shattered, dust-stenciled sheet of glass, a thing labeled--her gaze had tracked the brass plaque automatically--"La mariee mise a nu par ses celibataires, meme." She'd reached out and touched this, her artificial nails clicking against the Lexan sand- wich protecting the broken glass. There had been what was obviously the entrance to Tessier-Ashpool's cryogenic com- pound, circular doors of black glass trimmed with chrome. She'd seen no one since the two Africans and their cart, and for Case they'd taken on a sort of imaginary life; he pictured them gliding gently through the halls of Straylight, their smooth dark skulls gleaming, nodding, while the one still sang his tired little song. And none of this was anything like the Villa Stray- light he would have expected, some cross between Cath's fairy tale castle and a half-remembered childhood fantasy of the Yakuza's inner sanctum. 07:02: 1 8 . One and a half hours. "Case," she said, "I wanna favor." Stiffly, she lowered herself to sit on a stack of polished steel plates, the finish of each plate protected by an uneven coating of clear plastic. She picked at a rip in the plastic on the topmost plate, blades sliding from beneath thumb and forefinger. "Leg's not good, you know? Didn't figure any climb like that, and the endorphin won't cut it, much longer. So maybe--just maybe, right?--I got a prob- lem here. What it is, if I buy it here, before ъiviera does"-- and she stretched her leg, kneaded the flesh of her thigh through Modern polycarbon and Paris leather--"I want you to tell him. Tell him it was me. Got it? Just say it was Molly. He'll know. Okay?" She glanced around the empty hallway, the bare walls. The floor here was raw lunar concrete and the air smelled of resins. "Shit, man, I don't even know if you're listening." CASE. She winced, got to her feet, nodded. "What's he told you, man, Wintermute? He tell you about Marie-France? She was the Tessier half, 3Jane's genetic mother. And of that dead puppet of Ashpool's, I guess. Can't figure why he'd tell me, down in that cubicle ... lotta stuff.... Why he has to come on like the Finn or somebody, he told me that. It's not just a mask, it's like he uses real profiles as valves, gears himself down to communicate with us. Called it a template. Model of per- sonality." She drew her fletcher and limped away down the corridor. The bare steel and scabrous epoxy ended abruptly, replaced by what Case at first took to be a rough tunnel blasted from solid rock. Molly examined its edge and he saw that in fact the steel was sheathed with panels of something that looked and felt like cold stone. She knelt and touched the dark sand spread across the floor of the imitation tunnel. It felt like sand, cool and dry, but when she drew her finger through it, it closed like a fluid, leaving the surface undisturbed. A dozen meters ahead, the tunnel curved. Harsh yellow light threw hard shad- ows on the seamed pseudo-rock of the walls. With a start, Case realized that the gravity here was near earth normal, which meant that she'd had to descend again, after the climb. He was thoroughly lost now; spatial disorientation held a peculiar hor- ror for cowboys. But she wasn't lost, he told himself. Something scurried between her legs and went ticking across the un-sand of the floor. A red LED blinked. The Braun. The first of the holos waited just beyond the

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