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Книга Neuromancer. Содержание - 2

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After a year of coffins, the room on the twenty-fifth floor of the Chiba Hilton seemed enormous. It was ten meters by eight, half of a suite. A white Braun coffeemaker steamed on a low table by the sliding glass panels that opened onto a narrow balcony.

`Get some coffee in you. Look like you need it.' She took off her black jacket; the fletcher hung beneath her arm in a black nylon shoulder rig. She wore a sleeveless gray pullover with plain steel zips across each shoulder. Bulletproof. Case decided, slopping coffee into a bright red mug. His arms and legs felt like they were made out of wood.

`Case.' He looked up, seeing the man for the first time. `My name is Armitage.' The dark robe was open to the waist, the broad chest hairless and muscular, the stomach flat and hard. Blue eyes so pale they made Case think of bleach. `Sun's up, Case. This is your lucky day, boy.'

Case whipped his arm sideways and the man easily ducked the scalding coffee. Brown stain running down the imitation ricepaper wall. He saw the angular gold ring through the left lobe. Special Forces. The man smiled.

`Get your coffee, Case,' Molly said. `You re okay, but you're not going anywhere 'til Armitage has his say.' She sat crosslegged on a silk futon and began to fieldstrip the fletcher without bothering to look at it. Twin mirrors tracking as he crossed to the table and refilled his cup.

`Too young to remember the war, aren't you, Case?' Armitage ran a large hand back through his cropped brown hair. A heavy gold bracelet flashed on his wrist. `Leningrad, Kiev, Siberia. We invented you in Siberia, Case.'

`What's that supposed to mean?'

`Screaming Fist, Case. You've heard the name.'

`Some kind of run, wasn't it? Tried to burn this Russian nexus with virus programs. Yeah, I heard about it. And nobody got out.'

He sensed abrupt tension. Armitage walked to the window and looked out over Tokyo Bay. `That isn't true. One unit made it back to Helsinki, Case.'

Case shrugged, sipped coffee.

`You're a console cowboy. The prototypes of the programs you use to crack industrial banks were developed for Screaming Fist. For the assault on the Kirensk computer nexus. Basic module was a Nightwing microlight, a pilot, a matrix deck, a jockey. We were running a virus called Mole. The Mole series was the first generation of real intrusion programs.'

`Icebreakers,' Case said, over the rim of the red mug.

`Ice from ICE,intrusion countermeasures electronics.'

`Problem is, mister, I'm no jockey now, so I think I'll just be going...'

`I was there, Case; I was there when they invented your kind.'

`You got zip to do with me and my kind buddy. You're rich enough to hire expensive razorgirls to haul my ass up here, is all. I'm never gonna punch any deck again, not for you or anybody else.' He crossed to the window and looked down. `That's where I live now.'

`Our profile says you're trying to con the street into killing you when you're not looking.'


`We've built up a detailed model. Bought a go-to for each of your aliases and ran the skim through some military software. You're suicidal, Case. The model gives you a month on the outside. And our medical projection says you'll need a new pancreas inside a year.'

``We.'' He met the faded blue eyes. ``We' who?'

`What would you say if I told you we could correct your neural damage, Case?' Armitage suddenly looked to Case as if he were carved from a block of metal; inert, enormously heavy. A statue. He knew now that this was a dream, and that soon he'd wake. Armitage wouldn't speak again. Case's dreams always ended in these freezeframes, and now this one was over.

`What would you say, Case?'

Case looked out over the Bay and shivered.

`I'd say you were full of shit.'

Armitage nodded.

`Then I'd ask what your terms were.'

`Not very different than what you're used to, Case.'

`Let the man get some sleep, Armitage,' Molly said from her futon, the components of the fletcher spread on the silk like some expensive puzzle. `He's coming apart at the seams.'

`Terms,' Case said, `and now. Right now.'

He was still shivering. He couldn't stop shivering.

The clinic was nameless, expensively appointed, a cluster of sleek pavilions separated by small formal gardens. He remembered the place from the round he'd made his first month in Chiba.

`Scared, Case. You're real scared.' It was Sunday afternoon and he stood with Molly in a sort of courtyard. White boulders, a stand of green bamboo, black gravel raked into smooth waves. A gardener, a thing like a large metal crab, was tending the bamboo.

`It'll work Case. You got no idea, the kind of stuff Armitage has. Like he's gonna pay these nerve boys for fixing you with the program he's giving them to tell them how to do it. He'll put them three years ahead of the competition. You got any idea what that's worth?' She hooked thumbs in the beltloops of her leather jeans and rocked backward on the lacquered heels of cherry red cowboy boots. The narrow toes were sheathed in bright Mexican silver. The lenses were empty quicksilver, regarding him with an insect calm.

`You're street samurai,' he said. `How long you work for him?'

`Couple of months.'

`What about before that?'

`For somebody else. Working girl, you know?'

He nodded.

`Funny, Case.'

`What's funny?'

`It's like I know you. That profile he's got. I know how you're wired.'

`You don't know me, sister.'

`You're okay, Case. What got you, it's just called bad luck.'

`How about him? He okay, Molly?' The robot crab moved toward them, picking its way over the waves of gravel. Its bronze carapace might have been a thousand years old. When it was within a meter of her boots, it fired a burst of light, then froze for an instant, analyzing data obtained.

`What I always think about first, Case, is my own sweet ass.' The crab had altered course to avoid her, but she kicked it with a smooth precision, the silver boot-tip clanging on the carapace. The thing fell on its back, but the bronze limbs soon righted it.

Case sat on one of the boulders, scuffing at the symmetry of the gravel waves with the toes of his shoes. He began to search his pockets for cigarettes. `In your shirt,' she said.

`You want to answer my question?' He fished a wrinkled Yeheyuan from the pack and she lit it for him with a thin slab of German steel that looked as though it belonged on an operating table.

`Well, I'll tell you, the man's definitely on to something. He's got big money now, and he's never had it before, and he gets more all the time.' Case noticed a certain tension around her mouth. `Or maybe, maybe something's on to him...' She shrugged.

`What's that mean?'

`I don't know, exactly. I know I don't know who or what we're really working for.'

He stared at the twin mirrors. Leaving the Hilton, Saturday morning, he'd gone back to Cheap Hotel and slept for ten hours. Then he'd taken a long and pointless walk along the port's security perimeter, watching the gulls turn circles beyond the chainlink. If she'd followed him, she'd done a good job of it. He'd avoided Night City. He'd waited in the coffin for Armitage's call. Now this quiet courtyard, Sunday afternoon, this girl with a gymnast's body and conjurer's hands.

`If you'll come in now, sir, the anesthetist is waiting to meet you.' The technician bowed, turned, and reentered the clinic without waiting to see if Case would follow.

Cold steel odor. Ice caressed his spine.

Lost, so small amid that dark, hands grown cold, body image fading down corridors of television sky.


Then black fire found the branching tributaries of the nerves, pain beyond anything to which the name of pain is given...

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