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Книга Neuromancer. Содержание - 17

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`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.

`Remember 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 Russian, 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 Haniwathudded, 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 Garveystill stuck.'

But Case was seeing Armitage's endless fall around Freeside, 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.


`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, secure 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 impedimentia 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 breaking 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 Armitage 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 surfaced, 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 broadcast sensory input through the corridors of Straylight, that he'd never really thought of anyone like Ashpool, anyone as powerful as he imagined Ashpool had been, as human.

Power, in Case's world, meant corporate power. The zaibatsus, 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 position, 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 remembered 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 organism. 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 concrete.

`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 colorless void.

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